Friday, November 30, 2012

What is a birder?

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Bentsen SP 034Birding is the biggest attraction here at the World Birding Center of Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. The really nice thing about birding is that it doesn’t really take much to become a “birder.” And just because you start looking at birds doesn’t make you what I call a “rabid birder.”

All it takes to be a birder is a pair of binoculars, a field guide to birds, and the desire to watch and enjoy birds anywhere. Some recreational birders (like Sharon) have said that they don't even really need to know what the birds are so a field guide to birds may be optional to those without interest in nomenclature. The rabid birder on the other hand will have all the field guides to birds that are in print. They also own multiple pairs of binoculars, a high zoom capable camera and most importantly a “rabid birder” is Bentsen SP 052a person who will often call the Birding Hot Line to get the locations of all the rare birds in the area. Once a new “lifer bird” (one the birder has never seen before) shows up on the rare bird alert they will drop everything and travel 10’s to 100’s of miles just to see this new lifer bird.

I am somewhere in between… I have one pair of binoculars, two field guides, a mid level point and shoot camera with a 12X zoom and I do keep a life list although it is out of date. Nonetheless this area of the Rio Grand Valley offers the chance to add a few “lifer” birds for me if I am lucky enough to see them. But one bird I always enjoy watching in this area is the endemic Green Jay.

Found only in the southernmost tip of Texas in all of the USA this colorful bird is all decked out in brilliant shades of blues, greens and yellows. Combined with a Bentsen SP 035specially fitted black mask and bib they are truly splendid birds to watch. These normally shy birds are easily attracted to bird feeding stations thus allowing this bird watcher the opportunity to watch them interact not only with each other but also with other species.

Bentsen SP 041I find it very fun to simply watch them hop from branch to branch or to the feeder to chase off a squirrel. They also make many varied sounds as they have a very extensive voice repertoire. This is one bird that I feel should be observed for a long while to really enjoy their antics…

This last photo is for Judy and provides what I think is an appropriate ending… and yes, as you may have noticed it is censored…

MESSAGE TO A READER: Kay and Larry D. that we met at Toledo Bend – if you still read our blog email us – we plan to travel your way this spring and we lost your contact information…

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park…


Bentsen SP 002Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park is a world-class destination for bird-watching and since it is less than a 5 minute bike ride we will visit this park often. Nearly 500 species have been documented in this unique part of Texas. A great place for birding as birds from multiple flyways head south through this area as well. However many birders " flock" here seeking out the endemics of the area (birds they can’t find anyplace else in the country) including the Green Jay, Great Kiskadee imageand the Chachalaca to name a few.

Since automobile access is limited to only park vehicles we like to ride our bikes over to the park HQ, get our entrance wrist bands and then proceed into the park. The park sets up multiple bird feeding stations to ensure the park visitors have more chances to see the birds that are local to the Rio Grande Valley.

Our purpose this day was to hike along the Resaca Vieja Trail. This is a short 1-2 mile trail with many side trails. Javalina TrackOne thing noticeable upon entering the park is the large percentage of dying trees. Not too long ago, due to a hurricane, the area was flooded and inundated with up to four feet of water. It took a long time for the water to recede and by the time it did there were many tree casualties. As a result many species of wildlife and birds left the park and are only now slowly returning.

Bobcat TrackThe main feature of this trail is a chance to view the density of the vegetation near the Resaca's. A Resaca is an old river meander that has been cut off from the main channel, in this case the Rio Grande River. These channels eventually dry up but provide water during the more rainy time of the year. As a result they provide refuge for many critters such as the bobcat, javalina, ocelot and jaguarondi. The latter two are rare critters found only in the very southern reaches of Texas in the United States.

All along the trail we saw many land snails, most likely belonging the genus Rabdotus.Rabdotus  sp. As we hiked the trail we also saw many different animal tracks. Photos in the blog today include the tracks of a javalina and one of a bobcat. You can tell the difference in cat tracks from dog tracks by the lack of toenails visible in the tracks. In this case it can’t be a coyote or dog since it had no toenails imprinted in the track. That leaves only the three cats that are found here and due to the rarity of two of them the track was most likely left by a bobcat. In fact as we were walking back near the nature center Sharon looked up and said “What’s that?”  I immediately said “It’s a bobcat!” Cool sighting this was! Even better than the Chachalacas that greeted us upon our entry into the park as seen in the header photo…

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort–Take 2…

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Bentsen Birds 049One of the reasons many flock to the Rio Grande Valley is for the excellent birding and butterflying that is found throughout the area. One of the huge advantages of staying at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort is its proximity to Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. The park is a very short (less than 5 minute) bike ride to the main entrance of the state park. Once at the park’s main entrance you simply go inside and pay the daily entrance fee of $5 per person or show your annual park pass ($70 per year) to  receive a day pass bracelet. Since there are Bentsen Birds 046no cars allowed in the park other than state owned vehicles the best was to get around is by either walking or riding a bicycle.

We bought an annual Texas park pass while at Lake Casa Blanca (the Texas State Park in Laredo).  We stayed four nights and with the card came coupons allowing us to stay one night at half price.  We felt the card purchase was a wise choice since we will visit many other state parks in Texas this winter and use some more of those valuable coupons attached to the card.

Today 010Another advantage for many staying at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort is that they offer free daily passes to the state park which is great for those wintering in this park who do not have the annual pass. The resort also provides free kayak and bicycle usage which turned out great for us as Sharon’s bicycle got yet another flat… I think this is the fourth or fifth flat she has had this year!

Bentsen Birds 050Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is part of the World Birding Center, is a world-class destination for bird-watching. The World Birding Center is a partnership between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Rio Grande Valley communities, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The center is composed of nine distinctly different birding sites, set along a 120-mile historic river road. For natures lovers, such as myself, wintering in the Rio Grand Valley provides plenty of Today 012opportunity to observe critters in the wild.

Many of the World Birding Center entities also have some daily programs offered free to visitors. Bird walks, butterfly walks, dragonfly walks, nighttime sounds walks, geocaching workshops are examples of some of the many programs offered this winter at these entities. Most of them have modest entry fees of $5 or less per person so I imagine we will visit many if not all of these entities while staying in the Rio Grande Valley.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend…

Thanksgiving Drive 011Thanksgiving Drive 010Wednesday we hit the road north on State Highway 83 and the drive was pretty slow with all the traffic and construction on that stretch of asphalt. As you may recall we had kind of had our fill of the park we are currently staying at and felt it best to get away for a bit to clear the senses and allow us to start fresh and anew upon our return. Thanks to an invite from our friends to share Thanksgiving with them and their family in Laredo we had the perfect getaway…

The last few days we enjoyed the camaraderie with our friends and their family, our new friends… Not only were we treated to a fantastic feast we had fun learning a few new games to play. We are not big gamers but we were introduced to a couple of new games that were fun and enjoyable. One is a dice game called Thanksgiving Drive 014Farkle which uses six dice that you roll using a cup and the objective is to use your rolls to score points without "farkeling". We had a lot of fun that night enjoying cocktails, conversation and of course the game of Farkle.

Another night we were introduced to another game, new to us, called Mexican Train, a dominoes game. The object of the game is for a player to lay all the dominoes from their hand onto one or more "trains" that start from a central "station". An additional train that everyone is allowed to play on makes the game fun as each person must strategize as to how best get rid of all their dominoes. Again we had fun with an evening filled with laughter and "hey,who did that” comments interjecting the festivities…

Today we will stop by a local favorite restaurant in Laredo before heading out called Danny’s where we enjoyed breakfast with our friends. Some last minute story telling and some Huevos Rancheros and it was time to go… hugs and goodbyes soon followed.

Thanksgiving Drive 015

We took a different route back as we drove through the Texas brush country and avoided all the construction and small towns on 83. The drive back to the park was mostly uneventful and as we turned the corner to enter Bentsen Palms RV Park we agreed that the tranquil time had the desired affect.  We have come back completely refreshed from our getaway. We are now cheerful and ready to begin our new adventure at our winter destination in the Rio Grande Valley…

And we are hoping it will start with a Texas A&M win against Missouri tonight and that we hear “Go Johnny Go” a lot…

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This and that… A Rant…

The Big Dig 003

A follow up on the spaghetti squash… we made half the squash into spaghetti and then the next day for lunch I scraped out the other half to make another dish. I added some olive oil to a pan and sautéed onions till caramelized. Then I added about 1.5 tablespoons of butter, some oregano, some basil, some garlic powder, salt and pepper. Once the butter was melted I added the leftover cold squash and some fresh spinach and stirred till squash was heated and the spinach became wilted. Now I personally thought this was a pretty good dish but Sharon preferred the spaghetti sauce on top.. …. So we may not have it again but I thought I'd share the second recipe with those of you that like it since I thought the second dish was great.

Bentsen Birds 047The Big Dig 006

Another follow up… you may have noticed in our last blog a picture of a picnic table in it (above left). Well… one of the park volunteers came by to inform us that he was going to have to take away our picnic table as only premium sites have tables. He said our having a table "created quite a stir".   I said, "well, geeeezzzz, we can't have that now, can we? ". He said he'd come by later withThe Big Dig 007 his truck later so as to give us time to take our table cover and other stuff off.  This little event just added to the negative energy we have felt since our arrival at this park.

Upon our arrival the picnic table was situated on the patio of our site amongst vegetation so overgrown that half the patio pad was covered. Fortunately I had some pruning shears. After reading the rules that enhancing one's site is encouraged and appreciated I carefully pruned the bushes leaving most of its foliage and height as to provide flowers for the butterflies and to allow for screening between our site and the one next door. If you look again at the site photo in our previous blog you will see this screening and the pretty yellow flowers… Well, a crew came by and completely hacked down most of our screening and ALL of the flowers so now all we have is a small hedge of leafy stubs (above right). Removal also revealed a big water leak and sink hole so now our water has been turned off and a crew is digging a massive hole while trying to discover the source of the leak.....sigh... 

imageWe chose this park for its location as it is right next to the state park where we could enjoy some hiking, biking, bird watching, and butterflying. But we also chose the Rio Grande Valley for some socializing and had heard such great things about this park.. Well, we certainly have not had a good start here at Bentsen Palm Village… We originally planned to have Thanksgiving here but we got an invite to return to Laredo and have Thanksgiving with our friends there. Thanks Beth and Eduardo for a timely invite…

With all the hubbub and Sharon's emotions brimming, we think it best to have Thanksgiving in Laredo with our friends and then come back to the park and have a do over here. Our attitudes certainly need adjusting…We know its all small stuff but unfortunately it is cumulative and added up to this rant… fortunately writing is cathartic so now we both feel better about venting and can now put this behind us…

We hope everyone out there has a fantastic Thanksgiving with your friends and/or family…

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Settling in at the Rio Grande Valley…

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

It is still pretty slow here in the Bentsen Rio Grande Village RV Park and in the Rio Grande Valley as well. The snow birds or "Winter Texans" are just starting to trickle in so there's not much activity in the park. However, I was able to sneak Our Siteover to the pool and enjoy a swim and afterward a relaxing soak in the hot tub. An added plus was that I had the entire pool and hot tub to myself. Sharon has had a similar enjoyable singular experience in the fitness room.

One task we really needed to do while here was get the motorhome and car registered here in Texas. Fortunately the county we last registered it in allows on-line registration. Since we have an address here at the park while we are staying for two months it will be nice to take care of things that need to be mailed to us. Unfortunately registering Abbey and the CRV set us back over $300.00 so no eating out for a while… :(

More bad news occurred when I was able to spend some time evaluating the problem with our Kwickee retractable steps. I had originally diagnosed the problem as a stripped gear that I thought we could get replaced or fabricated at a machine shop. However, once I removed the gears and motor table unit it was Premium Site apparent that the smaller gear was also stripped. Preliminary internet searching revealed that this part is very expensive so I have sent out emails to get quotes. Worse case scenario I will replace these really expensive triple steps with a much cheaper two step unit that can be supplemented with a portable adjustable third step.

I have had a bit of time to ride the bike around the park and Bentsen Rio Grande State Park and was able to determine that we will have plenty of places to walk and ride bikes. In Laredo we had invested in an annual State Park Pass and am glad we did because there are other parks to visit in the area as well. The bird watching here will be excellent as there are many endemic species found only in this part of the USA with the exception of some that are also found in southern parts of Arizona.

Pull Through Site like oursWe also had the opportunity to try a spaghetti squash as we bought one on sale at the HEB in Laredo, Texas. I have seen several other bloggers mention trying this dish so we were curious. We cut the squash in half and deseeded it.We added about one half cup of water to one half sitting cut side up and put the other over the top to in a sense “put it back together.” Then it was in the microwave for 10 minutes, cooled a bit then and scraped out the "noodles".  We then added our favorite pasta sauce and a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Our temporary Picnic TableMy thoughts about this dish? Looked like spaghetti but didn’t taste like it at all. The crunchiness of the spaghetti strings of squash was also unexpected. I assumed (for no real reason) that the texture would be like pasta normally is…. Overall it was okay but in my opinion it had to have a zesty and hearty sauce along with a generous sprinkle of garlic powder to make it work for me.. Would we have it again? Maybe but not in the near future....

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bentsen Rio Grande Village RV Park…

Apache Trail AZ 026

Apache Trail AZ 027The “Abbey” has landed… Well we finally made it down to the Rio Grande Valley as we pulled Abbey into site 419 at Bentsen Rio Grande Village RV Park about 3:00 pm in the afternoon yesterday. We came in a day early but there was no problem accommodating us. The drive down State Road 83 was slow and full of construction so thank goodness the drive was only about 134 miles. The only down side of being here is that we will have overcast skies with intermittent drizzle for the next several days, but at least it isn’t cold!

Apache Trail AZ 024Now that we have landed in a place we will be for two whole months (hope the hitch itch doesn’t get me too bad) we will be able to take care of some lingering maintence issues. The main concern is getting our extending steps fixed. Some time ago the main gear started to strip and we have been having to assist in retracting the steps before leaving. This has been a pain in the butt and it needs to be addressed now, not later.

Otherwise there are some small issues we hope to resolve such as replacing a toilet seal since the bowl won’t hold water anymore, replace the strings in our dining room shade, replace the hot water heater anode rod, and just take care of some other smaller issues. This time will allow us to wax the motorhome, clean out and re-organize the bins, and to make some minor upgrades and improvements to Abbey to make life in her better.

Apache Trail AZ 025We are in a nice setting however as nice as everyone said this park is for the Rio Grande Valley it doesn’t have anything on the wintering parks in Arizona which in our opinion offer many more amenities for about the same price. So life will slow down while we are parked for a longer period and as a result the blog post may come a bit less frequently… unless of course we find we have things to say…

NOTE: The pictures today are from a walk we took in Arizona where a nature trail had a recently paved walkway where the desert critters couldn’t read the signs about staying off the freshly poured concrete… My best guess on the tracks are bobcat and desert cottontail on the header, bobcat paw, gamble's quail, and the last one I think may be a road runner. Anyone else?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Laredo, Texas… friends and fun…

Laredo TX 001

We accomplished what we set out to do when we headed to this part of Texas at Lake Casa Blanca International State Park. We were able to scoot far enough south to not be shivering after the cold front passed through. The weather here was beautiful the day we arrived but yesterday after the cold front blew through the temperature dipped down in the 50’s… Still too cold for my liking but if it is in the 50’s here it was plenty colder where we were further north, therefore mission accomplished!

So we have been just chilling a little while here (pun intended) after moving so quickly south. A few minor maintence issues have been taken care of as we made our rounds of interior cleaning and tightening the various screws, nuts and bolts that have a tendency to wiggle loose during our drives. Going down the road we are constantly simulating 4.5 earthquakes on the interior living space. Without this routine maintenance I am sure many things would simply fall apart.


One goal we had while here was to visit with some dear friends that we met in College Station who now live in Laredo, Beth and Eduardo. We emailed them before arriving here and were able to nail down a night to chat and have dinner together. The tex-mex we had for dinner was a welcome treat as was the lively conversation we had with our friends. Realizing Eduardo had to be out of town for work the next few days, we invited Beth to drive over to our park after work for happy hour and a home cooked meal.It was fun for us to create this treat for Beth as we prepared chicken cordon bleu, home baked artisan bread, grilled squash and roasted rosemary red potatoes.  We topped off the meal with my homemade key lime pie topped with fresh made whipped cream.  During preparation we were amused remembering and reflecting on our initial struggles to learn how to use our convection oven.  Over this year and a half journey we have mastered the convection oven allowing us to have all our family favorites.  Having good food, good wine and chances to visit good friends sum up the best reasons to be full timers…

Tomorrow we head down to the Rio Grande Valley where we have reserved two months allowing us time to wind down and enjoy the slower pace…

Monday, November 12, 2012

Onward toward Laredo, TX…

Laredo TX 009

Saturday we left Alpine and the beautiful Texas mountain region as early as we ever leave. We did so for two reasons. One was the cold front that was coming through early in the morning with 20 mph winds. These winds would provide a nice tailwind all the way past Dryden, Tx. before they would dissipate. Secondly, Texas A&M and Alabama kicked off their college football game at 2:30 pm.

The drive was really peaceful as we saw less than 20 vehicles on the 200 mile drive down highway 90 and most of those were border patrol trucks. We pulled into the Trav-L RV Park just outside of Del Rio around 12:30 pm. Plenty of time for lunch before kickoff.

Laredo TX 004

I am sure that if you follow college football I won’t have to tell you who won the game.  If you don’t then you should know that the Fightin’ Texas Aggies kicked some ‘Bama butt. Alabama was ranked number 1 and lost by 5 points… Actually Bama’ could have easily won the game so saying Texas A&M kicked their butt may be a bit extreme since we may have been lucky to get the win. But, a win is a win and when you upset number 1 in the nation and the defending national champion there is cause to celebrate… and so we did…

The next morning rolled around and we left Del Rio around 10:00 am again running from the cold front. We planned to get some diesel at Walmart but when we pulled in it became obvious that there was no way the short hose would make it to our rig no matter what we did. So we pulled out and figured we could find another diesel spot further into town only to encounter a Veteran's Day Parade… Laredo TX 008Instead of getting angry about the delay we simply put our emergency flashers on, turned off the engine and enjoyed the 45 minute procession celebrating our veterans…  It gave me time to pause and reflect upon my father’s service during World War II and the Korean Conflict. Thanks Dad for your service! I also served but was stateside during the Vietnam Conflict as I was stationed in Ellsworth Air Force Base working on our nuclear arsenal of minutemen missiles.

School bands and floats drifted by as we enjoyed the show. Even our favorite Laredo TX 006grocery store in Texas, HEB, had a float go by… As the parade passed by we headed on down the state highway 277 to state highway 83 and finally on into Laredo on Interstate 35. It was interesting to drive through this area rich in oil and gas known as the Eagle Ford Shale. This oil boom has brought lots of temporary workers in the area and as a result “RV Parks” and oil support service businesses are popping up everywhere. We are now tucked into our site where we will stay for a few days at Lake Casa Blanca International State Park. We finally got far enough south that the cold front will not bother us too much at all…

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Alpine, TX and Big Bend National Park…

Alpine and Big bend TX 046

Alpine and Big bend TX 033Leaving Deming it was a long but easy drive until we got to Interstate 10 where we had to compete for asphalt with all the other 18 wheelers. A while later we pulled into the sleepy town of Alpine, Texas, home of Sul Ross State University. A few miles north of town we pulled into our space at BC Ranch RV Park. While it is a nothing special park, it has hookups and cable TV so it is more than adequate for a stay for a few days up to a week.

Alpine and Big bend TX 064One of the things we planned to do here was visit Sul Ross State University. Since it would not take too long to tour this small University we did that right after we arrived in town. The campus and I have a connection since I almost went there for my Master’s degree but after careful consideration I went to Texas A&M University instead. The campus is nice and is perched on the mountain side overlooking the valley Alpine and Big bend TX 066and town of Alpine below. Well worth a visit and we were glad we made the effort. A friend's son who graduated from Sul Ross also suggested we grab cold beers at his favorite dive bar in town called Railroad Blues.  It was a fun Texas honky-tonk bar and we very much enjoyed our draft pumpkin wheat brews there.

Alpine and Big bend TX 050But the real prize “to do” in this area is to visit Big Bend National Park. Now it is still over 100 miles to the park but once you are in this part of Texas 100 miles is not that far… Our plan the next day was to drive down to Big Bend National Park and only visit a small part of it – Santa Elena Canyon. Once we got to the main entrance it was $20 per vehicle to enter the park and since our annual pass had expired we coughed up the 80 bucks for a new one.

Alpine and Big bend TX 056

Alpine and Big bend TX 045Big Bend NP is expansive to say the least, and as you drive along you will better understand this as you experience its vastness, wildness, and serenity… The Chisos Mountains are the biggest feature of the park but since we only had one day we chose to drive around the western edge of the Mountains and drive south to Santa Elena Canyon.

The drive down offers several vistas to observe such features as Mules Ears, Alpine and Big bend TX 048Sotol Vista, Blue Creek Canyon, the Dodson Ranch and of course one of nature's best displays of geology. Displays of pyroclastic layers, dykes, tuff and old volcanic stacks are available upon nearly every turn. We reached the trading post at Costolon and continued on to Santa Elena Canyon. The shear stark canyon walls rise virtually out of nowhere and rise high into the sky as the Rio Grande River that separates the USA from Mexico has carved a deep canyon within the layers of rock.

On the way back we took the opportunity to stop by and visit Ara and Spirit at the “Oasis.” Ara and Spirit have a blog, The Oasis of my Soul, and they have been on the road for many years following the passing of Ara’s son Lance at an early age from a Alpine and Big bend TX 054terminal disease.  I followed Ara’s blog even before we hit the road and it was his philosophy along with his wonderful photos that tended to capture each moment that I looked forward to experiencing for myself. I especially loved watching his videos of his dog Spirit riding in the side car of his motorcycle on the dirt roads in and around Big Bend National Park. Thanks Ara for inviting us into your Oasis..

So as the cold front creeps closer to us again (it didn’t make it here yet) we plan to do another 200 mile drive to Del Rio, TX and hope we keep in front of it.We need to get an early start as we certainly don't want to miss the A&M vs Alabama football game later today!