Motoring Across America

With James "Alex" Alexander

with James "Alex" Alexander



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Blog 301: Return to the Sea

Turtle Release
In my last blog I shared the details of the turtle rescue. Five days later, 50 surviving turtles were returned to the sea. Jan and I and several friends drove over to Padre Island to see this spectacle. We were especially anxious to see if "Barney," one of the four turtles we dipped from the deep, had survived the ordeal. We arrived a half hour before the scheduled event and had the chance to talk with several of the dedicated folks from Sea Turtle Inc.

Sea Turtlers

After chatting about our roles in the rescue, they invited me to participate in the release. This unexpected honor was a blast. Two of us chosen ones grabbed the big guys and walked them into waist-high water (human level), and then let go as our captured reptiles flipped their way back home. Yes! Barney made it! (His unique barnacle square on top of his head was a dead giveaway.)

Alex and Turtle

Barney

Santa Ana NWR
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a sister refuge, west and south of us right on the Mexican border. Jan and I planned to be "mystery shoppers," checking out their refuge and comparing and contrasting it to Laguna Atascosa. We were especially interested in taking their tram tour so as to pick up a pointer or two. Alas, when we arrived, we learned that the tram driver was sick, and the tram was cancelled. So, we checked out their Visitor Center and walked a couple of their trails. Also got a nice picture of a chacalaca.

Plain Chachalaca

South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
On another day a group of us drove over to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. Great place to view birds, as a series of boardwalks gets you right up into the action.

Green Heron

Texas River Cooter Turtle

Around the Refuge
We continue to see lots of birds and critters on the tours and around the refuge. Here are some pics, including the rare aplomado falcon, a caracara, an armadillo, feral pigs, a green jay, a herd of nilgai, a stilt, and a rattlesnake that slithered across our yard, went under out Jeep, the headed over to rest by our neighbors.

Aplomado Falcon

Armadillo

Caracara 3

Feral Pigs

Green Jay

Nilgai Herd

Rattler II

Stilt

The yuccas are blooming all over, adding a nice touch of color to the browns and greens. Here is a photo of a white-tailed hawk atop a yucca flower.

White-Tailed Hawk on Flowering Yucca

Old Trucks
Here are two old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

See you next time.

Blog 300: Fire, Turtles, and Village Intrigue

Like an aplomado falcon rocketing toward a meadowlark lunch, time does fly fast. It is hard to fathom that this is my 300th travel blog…onward!

Tour Update
We have worked into a rhythm doing our wildlife open tram tours. Unless days are miserable, we come close to filling the 62 seats with passengers. On one of our tours we had a reporter from the Brownsville Herald along—sharp guy, excellent writer, and a wonderful judge of character. This link goes to his write up:

http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/premium/laguna-atascosa-refuge-opens-up-on-its-secrets/article_b63bc2bc-eb7d-11e7-b32f-9beace848926.html

Here are a few pics I have taken from our tours:

View from Redhead Ridge

Handsome Nilgai

Black Vulture

Harris's Hawk II

Bambi

Old Coyote Warrior

Undercover Thief Hits the Refuge!
Along with several other volunteers, we hang at "The Village" (not to be associated or compared in any way to the notorious and infamous "Villages" of Florida fame), where we relax and congregate after our hectic work schedules. Most are like family, and a strong level of trust is embedded in the fabric of our tribe. You can then imagine the shock and outrage that occurred when our women folk's "upper-body, strategic elastic underwear" started to disappear. False alarm—the culprit had just let things hang.

Support Center

Winter Texan Appreciation Day
Jan and I drew the short straw (actually we volunteered) to man the Refuge booth at the annual Winter Texan Appreciation Day in Harlingen. "Winter Texan" is the Texas term for "Snow Bird." It doesn't take much time in Texas to learn that anywhere else on the planet an indigo snake is called an indigo snake. Down here it is a "Texas indigo snake" and tortoises are "Texas tortoises," and so on. They seem to have this big thing about branding.

As "boothers" it was our duty to spread the gospel of the refuge, talking about all the cool nature stuff we have to offer. It really went well—in two short hours we had conversations with 214 people! Here is a shot of Jan before the action commenced.

Jan at Winter Texan Expo

Fire!
The refuge uses controlled burns as a tool to (1) add nutrients to the soil, (2 ) slow down the takeover of invasive grasses, and, most importantly (3) greatly minimize out-of-control wild fires. Here are a few pics taken from the tram during a recent controlled burn.

Fire Danger High

Fire Dude

The Fire Man

Longtime readers know that I occasionally "paint" photos with software in an attempt to make them a tad more artsy. I mention this because the last fire photo above "The Fire Man" is untouched except for a slight crop. The painterly appearance is just a result of the heat, smoke, and wind.

Turtle Rescue
The crazy cold weather we have been having is crazy hard on the sea turtles. Some (too many) become stunned from the frigid waters and end up floating with the current, becoming more lethargic with each passing wave.

I joined Captain Katrina and our friend Nikki, the versatile intern, aboard the good ship Thornscrub Princess, a flats boat powered by a 115 Evinrude outboard on a quest to rescue some of these beautiful creatures before death overtook their weary souls. Wearing long underwear, heavy socks, blue jeans, hiking boots, four shirts, one vest, three coats, a ski band, a wool beanie, two face masks, and a life preserver, I sat up front as we gently launched into a 33-degree temperature, with 20-mph winds, and three-foot seas to the Laguna Madre. I was tasked as the starboard lookout, looking for anything floating in the sea shaped like the round wooden shields of the 13th-century barbarian hordes.

After about 30 minutes, I felt like a half-slab of beef left in the locker freezer over the weekend. I have never been this cold, and the rest of the crew admitted the same. Yet, when a turtle was spotted, Captain K. got us close, I netted the turtle, and then Nikki helped me deposit our catch gently into the boat. We operated as smoothly as the Jamaican bobsled team—position, net, release, repeat. Oh, I wish you could have seen this poetic performance…it would have brought tears to your eyes and elicited "bravos" from your lips.

Finally, we headed back, alerting our people (Dick and Jan) of our expected return, and they met us with the rescue van when we pulled out of the water. We quickly relocated the really cold turtles into the van and Dick drove Nikki, Jan, me, and our four guests to Turtle Inc., on South Padre Island, the turtle rescue folks. Here they checked-in the new patients and started them on their path the recovery. Wonderful experience.

Alex and Turtle in Van

Barny Checking In

Four Saved Green Turtles

Turtles Awaiting Admittance

More Pics
Here are a few more shots taken at the Refuge.

Roadrunner

Female Great-Tailed Grackle

Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Male Myrtle)

Javalina

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time with Blog 301.

Blog 299: Christmas on the Island

Laguna to South Padre Island KOA

Hard to believe, but we had been at the Refuge for almost two months—time for a break! We cranked up the coach and took the easy 40-minute trek over to the KOA on South Padre Island.

KOA
The KOA is right over the causeway from the mainland, right on Laguna Madre, with views of the Gulf and South Bay. We watched out our front windows to see white ibis and roseate spoonbills feeding on the mud flats.

Pier 19
Another benefit of our location is that Pier 19, the over-the-water restaurant, adjoins the KOA property and is a three-minute walk from our coach. Good, reasonably priced food and drinks that you can enjoy while watching pelicans, shorebirds, and tourists heading out to fish, watch dolphins, or play pirate.

Runs on the Beach
If you head north on Highway 100, you soon reach the end of the road. With sand all around, one is bordered by Laguna Madre on the west and the Gulf of Mexico on the east. Here I let Mitzy loose and let Jack run wild on the light-brown sand. While we were playing, Jan picked up trash.

Running Jack on Sand

Sea Turtle Rescue
Just down the road is the Sea Turtle Rescue. As the name implies, they rescue sea turtles in need, nurture them back to health, and then release them or provide permanent homes for those unable to return to the wild.

Best-Laid Plans
We had plans to go to the beach another time or two, visit the birding center, and do more general exploring. Alas, the temperature dropped like cash at a casino (all the way down to 49 degrees), the mist/light rain gained momentum like a lead dog at the Iditarod, and the winds picked up like politicians at a rally. So, we buttoned up, settled down like bears entering hibernation, and headed back to Pier 19.

More Bird Pics from the Refuge
Here are an American avocet, a black-necked stilt, a ladderback woodpecker, a red-tailed hawk, a mourning dove, and a royal tern.

American Avocet

Black-Necked Stilt

Ladder-Back Woodpecker

Red-Tailed Hawk

Mourning Dove

Royal Tern

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.

Blog 298: Let it Snow

Oh, Christmas Tree
With lots of help from our young neighbor, John Harvey, we got our Christmas tree up, trimmed, and lighted. In South Texas, snow is something youngsters only see on TV—except for this year! Only the third snow in 125 years fell and, combined with the famous Texas wind, blew down our Monument to the Seasons. Oh well, it quickly warmed and the tree was restored (and bolstered by the addition of more bricks).

Christmas Tree

John Harvey and Christmas Tree

Snow

BRRRRRRRRR!
I took a short trip to the north country—visiting the Detroit area for work. Great client, but the weather was dreary, cold, and snowy—had an unexpected weather stayover in Dallas, but made it back to Brownsville eventually. Great to be back.

Stray Dogs
We like this area a lot—beautiful area populated with lots of good people. However, on a sad note, too many people discard their pets like trash into a bin—dropping them off in the country to fend for themselves. Often they link up with other strays for comraderie and protection. Our friends here at the Refuge have taken the lead in supporting the dogs’ survival: daily feeding the strays and also paying the vet bills on one pup and making it adoptable. The county constable also feeds this crew and we carry a 50-pound bag of whatever-is-on-sale dog food in the back of our Jeep. Guess it does take a village.

One worn down, tail-dragging, blind-in-one-eye pup wandered into the Refuge. Nikki quickly provided food, water, and comfort. On a strong note, John Harvey’s family adopted this pup. He is in good hands.

Nikki and Talbott Pup

Speaking of pups, here is a shot of a brown dog (well taken care of) that daily guards the entrance to its master’s ranch.

Neighborhood Pup

Birds and Critters
Here are more animal pics taken at the Refuge—Jan’s favorite is the close up of the Caracara—she says he looks like the Shah of Iran!

Coyote

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker

Great-Tailed Grackle

Mockingbird on Yucca Flower

Sandhill Cranes with Moon

Caracara Close-Up

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.

Blog 297: Hot Then Cold, Short But Sweet

We are enjoying our stay at the wildlife refuge--nice to be experiencing an area we had never explored. Our tours have started, and so far, so good.

Birds
Here are a few shots of birds we have seen. In order, great kiscadee, kestrel, great blue heron, and roadrunner:

Great Kiskadee

Kestrel

Great Blue Heron

Roadrunner 3

Horse Crippler
Here is a photo of a rare cactus, the Horse Crippler--any guesses why it has this name?

Horse Crippler Cactus

Texas Tortoise
Here is a Texas tortoise, related to the gopher tortoises found in Florida. Kind of boxy, but cute.

Texas Tortoise

Nilgai
Last time I posted a male Nilgai. This week it is a female chowing down.

Nilgai Cow

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks from the Old Truck Reserve.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.