Big Bend – Hot Springs

The Hot Springs Historic District preserves a rich history of human occupation from thousands of years ago to the not-so-distant past. Visitors can study rock art left behind on the limestone cliffs, picture farms of corn, squash, and beans along the river’s floodplain, or imagine what it would have been like to meet at the Hot Springs Post Office in the early 1900s to collect your mail each Monday. J.O. Langford’s impressive bathhouse is long gone; today the spring is contained by the foundation remains of the bathhouse, on the north bank of the Rio Grande.

I drove down a very scary narrow road for 2 miles, to get to this amazing place. Then an easy 1/2 mile hike to the hot springs. A hidden roadrunner squawked at me, another scary moment. It was well worth it to soak in the hot water at the end.

Terlingua Ghost town

Located in Terlingua — just a few exits past the end of the world — Ghost Town is a special place.  This primitive Texas landscape and the ruins of the Chisos Mining Company are the setting for exploration. This is not some abandoned movie set or a fabricated tourist trap. This was once a thriving cinnabar mining operation, when the market for mercury crashed the miners walked away, leaving their homes behind.

It was fun walking around and imagining life for the miners. I kept and an eye and ear open for rattlers, but didn’t see any. I stopped by the original Chisos Mine company store now The Terlingua Trading Company and browsed their goods. Unfortunately the old-timey Starlight Theatre was not open for business from what I could tell.

Estero Llano Grande State Park

Estero Llano Grande State Park is one of my favorite sites of the Rio Grande World Birding Centers. It’s a pleasant respite from the otherwise harsh landscape of South Texas. The birding was fantastic. The 2 specific birds I remember from my trip 7 years ago, the pauraque (click on the link and check out the cool sound they make at night) and the vermillion flycatcher were both in the same places I remember from last time. The black crowned night herons and yellow crowned night herons were where I expected around the same pond. The bird that made my day was the glossy ibis. It’s nice to see that nature is still thriving here.

Green Parakeets

7 years ago, during a Wings Birding Tour led by a great tour guide, Gavin Bieber, we made a stop at a strip mall in McAllen, TX at dusk. At that time hundreds of Green Parakeets descended on a huge tree in the parking lot chattering away about their day. This week, I went back to the same spot near Dirty Al’s Bayou Grill (if you are interested in seeing for yourself). The tree lost a limb since I last saw it, and the Great Tailed Grackles now out number the Green Parakeets 10 to 1. The Grackles are just as noisy as the parakeets. I was sad to see the grackles push some of the parakeets out of the trees and onto the electrical wires, some though, stood their ground, or should I say branch as witnessed in the photos below.

Sabal Palm Sanctuary

The Sabal Palm Sanctuary is a 557-acre nature reserve and bird sanctuary located in the delta of the Rio Grande Valley. It is noted for being one of the last locations in the Rio Grande Valley with a profuse grove of sabal palms, an edible-heart-bearing palm much prized by pre-Hispanic inhabitants and noted by early explorers. As a relatively habitat-rich remnant of this Valley, it is a prized birdwatching and butterfly watching location. The Sabal Palm Sanctuary is the southernmost point accessible to the public.

I came here to hopefully capture some pictures of the colorful perching birds that winter there. I was not disappointed. I got a few cute looking mammals as well.

The Turtle Lady of South Padre

Ila Fox Loetscher is the sole founder of Sea Turtle Inc Prior to her fame as “The Turtle Lady of South Padre”, Ila was well known as a pilot. She was the first licensed female pilot in both Iowa and Illinois! She was a contemporary and frequent correspondent of Amelia Earhart as well as one of the original “99’s” (a support group of women pilots organized in 1929). By 1977, Ila was receiving so many guests into her home that she formed Sea Turtle, Inc. into the present non-profit. The all-volunteer organization assisted her in education and rehab work with the sea turtles.

My visit to Seattle Inc. filled my heart and soul. Their mission is to educate the public, rehabilitate injured turtles, and lead with conservation efforts.

They have a hospital area where they work with turtles in order to release them back to the wild. They also have a residential area for turtles that can’t be released. One of these turtles is Allison

Meet Allison

Allison The Sea Turtle with one flipper

SPI Birding Nature Center

The South Padre Island Birding Center and Alligator Sanctuary is a Rio Grande Valley’s premier destination for birdwatching. Their unique location on South Padre Island is the perfect place to observe the birds, butterflies and natural wildlife in coastal South Texas.  You can walk the bayfront boardwalks, take a birding tour and explore the natural life of the Rio Grande Valley.

I visited 3 times during the 8 days I was in South Padre Island. Every time I visited I saw different birds. I also enjoyed all the turtles and alligators. I would love to volunteer here.

Great Blue Heron Ritual

I was lucky enough to observe a strange Great Blue Heron (GBH) ritual. Here is what I saw. One GBH with a large stick in his beak flew to another GBH who then slowly stretched her head and neck all the way up and even more slowly shrank back down until I could not see any neck. I witnessed this multiple times as there were many pairs of heron is the grove of trees near Rockport, TX. One of these days I will improve my video skills so I can share a video instead of a bunch of still shots.

For the Love of Whoopers

I first got introduced to Whooping Cranes while reading Tom Robbins (my all time favorite author) book: Even Cowgirls get the Blues. I got hooked when I read that they wintered in Port Aransas, TX, the same small island town where my parents had a condo.

The story of the whooping crane plays out like a Hollywood script: it starts with tragedy, continues with struggles toward redemption, and ends with renewed hope and dreams for the future.

It all started in the 1800’s and early 1900s, as habitat loss and hunting drastically reduced the whooping crane population. Before human interference, there were believed to be 15,000 to 20,000 whooping cranes, which fell to roughly 1,400 in 1860 and then plummeted to an all-time low of 15 birds in 1941. All signs pointed towards the end of the whooping crane.

The 15 surviving whooping cranes all belonged to one flock that migrated between Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Conservationists worked with local, federal, and international governments to protect the flock and encourage breeding. Their efforts paid off slowly as the numbers reached 57 by 1970 and 214 by 2005.

Today, all 500 or so of the world’s wild whooping cranes belong to one of four flocks. The largest flock is also the only natural migratory flock. It spends winters in Texas and breeds in Canada as mentioned above. The non-natural migratory flock winters at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and breeds in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. The non-migratory flock was formed in Florida as a reintroduction program. They live near Kissimmee in Florida year-round. About 70 birds live in the wild in Louisiana. But only six — this year’s chicks and one hatched last year — were born there. The rest were raised in captivity.

I have taken a handful of trips to the Aransas National Wildlife refuge. I was blessed the last 2 times with a good camera, and got to see some Whoopers up close. Here are a few of my favorite shots.

Mardi Gras Museum

Laissez les bons temps rouler. (Let the good times roll) This museum was great, it holds the largest display of Mardi Gras costumes in the world. The Mardi Gras Museum is a unique treasure in Lake Charles, LA. It is the central place where traditions, history and artifacts are on display preserving the cultural heritage of the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana. 

I loved getting to see all the costumes close up. The workmanship on the costumes was exquisite.  I can only imagine the amount of work put into each costume. I was informed that costumes can take up to 6 months to create and cost upwards of $10,000 – to be used for only that years Mardi Gras.

I also learned about Krewes. A krewe is any group or organization of revelers to band together to host a Mardi Gras ball, ride on a Mardi Gras parade float and participate in social events throughout the year. In Southwest Louisiana, there are more than 50 krewes, a number that continues to grow each season. Just as one pot of gumbo varies from the next, krewes are formed for many different reasons and one can gain acceptance to a krewe in many different ways.