Sunday, October 23, 2011

Butterflies Were Free - Mission Butterfly Festival

Disclaimer: My actual outfit for the butterfly walk was shorts + tee

Roger here....  Is this a birder, OR a butterflier?  Note the sensible long pants, the sun-protecting long sleeves, the many pocketed vest, the floppy hat, the sunglasses, the binoculars, and the identification books -- all very practical for both hobbies.  One really can't tell the difference between the two (birder or butterflier) by the wardrobe.  They both look the same.  In order to tell the difference, one must make careful observations of behavior.

You see, birders tend to be a quiet lot.  They move slowly behind bird blinds and seldom speak louder than a whisper.  It is considered bad form to talk loudly, sing, or make sudden jerky movements.  You will scare the birds and they will fly away.  The above person is probably a birder.

Butterfliers, however, are an enthusiastic and rambunctious group.  They tend to yell, flagellate, run, laugh, and occasionally swear when they spot a rare specimen.  Note the rare photograph below.  We were very fortunate to snap this picture at just the right instant before the butterflier made a blurry exit.

Case in point.....   Dianne and I attended the Mission City Butterfly Festival on Saturday.  It was located at the North American Butterfly Association's (NABA) national headquarters about a mile from our motor home.  Normally, there is a ten-dollar-per-person admission charge, but during the festival, admission was free.

It is our understanding that there are fewer butterflies than usual this year due to the drought and a rare early spring freeze.  Nonetheless, there were lots and lots of butterflies.  We had some time to wander through the park just prior to a scheduled guided walk.  It was fun reading the placards and seeing the different butterflies flying around the plants that attract them.  After a careful look, we discovered hundreds of Red-Bordered Pixies on the tree that served as their home.  Cool, huh?

Time for the guided walk and our observations of butterflier behavior.  We met our guide under one of the palapas. A dozen or so other people joined the group.  Our guide was dressed appropriately as a butterflier, and spent a moment pointing out how his garb was appropriate for his hobby.

At that point, our guide behaved much like a birder.  He was calm, knowledgeable, interesting, and non-demonstrative.  He quietly led us through the various planted areas of the park while pointing out a plethora of various butterflies.  Most of them were difficult for novices such as ourselves to photograph, because they were constantly flitting like -- like -- well, like butterflies.  However, we were able to get a couple of pictures:

Guatemalan Cracker
And then it happened!  Our first glimpse of true butterflier behavior.  A somewhat agitated butterflier approached our guide with his camera.  He apologized for interrupting the walk, but explained that he just MUST know the species of butterfly that he just photographed.  Our guide politely offered a couple of possibilities, and the man left.  Not a big deal.

However, within seconds a second butterflier began shouting.  "I KNOW WHAT IT IS!  I KNOW WHAT IT IS!  I KNOW WHAT IT IS!"  Picture a guy hurdling over plants, waving his arms, with binoculars swinging like a pendulum from his neck.  He looked like he was running the 110 low hurdles at a track meet.  He landed in the middle of a planting area insisting that everyone help relocate the butterfly.  At that point, we lost our guide (for a time) as he shuffled through the knee-high plantings --- the telescopic lens of his camera moving from plant to plant, searching for the elusive butterfly.  The frenetic butterflier (the running shouter) apologized for disrupting the walk, but stated that this would be the first sighting of this species of butterfly in the United States, and that it must be found.  At that point a wildly smiling lady, who had evidently photographed the butterfly, lifted her fist in the air and shouted, "Hot damn!"  She then apologized to several small children who were in the area.

Dutifully, we scanned the area for the prized sighting.  There were many questions and comments during the search:

-  "What does it look like?", a lady asked.  No response.  Again, "What does it look like?"  The answer, "Nondescript - dark brown."  "It might have some dots on one of its wings."  (So I am looking for a nondescript butterfly?)

-  "How big is it?"  Answer, "Small."

-  "Is that it?"  "Where, where!?" "Don't lose it!"  "No, thats not it."  

-  "What is its name?"  Answer, "We don't know for sure."  "I know the scientific name, but I don't know for sure."

I thought, all this ruckus and you don't know what it is called?  

Oh well, I have to admit that watching the ecstatic butterfliers as they whooped, hollered, and flitted around (like butterflies) in their butterfly garb was great fun.  What enthusiasm.  These people truly love their hobby.  Good for them.  Selfishly, I am glad I didn't miss it.  I am still smiling.  (Dianne here:  Later during the tour, our guide remembered the name of the butterfly that caused all the excitement, an "Osca Skipper."  It feeds on sugar cane, and since there are large sugar cane fields next to the butterfly park, that is probably what it is.)

The pet picture of the day shows Bandido napping with what remains of the third "indestructible" squeaky duck that was his favorite toy.  He is able to disembowel them in record time now, so no more duckies for Bandido! 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Birding, Exercising, Hanging Out -- It's Good to be Home!

Green Jays
Hi all -- Dianne here.  We've settled back in at Retama Village, and both of us have restarted exercise routines (still trying to work off the midwestern pounds we gained this summer).  

We take turns, one of us taking Bandido for a long power walk or to the dog park for playtime, and the other can get up and out the door before the heat of the day sets in, and ride bikes, swim laps, or go to the fitness center here at Retama.  Both of us enjoy riding our bikes next door to and through Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (we get in free with our neighborhood pass).  Roger here....  on the days that Dianne bikes, upon her return, I head to either the fitness center or the pool.  Today was a pool day.  I reached my goal of swimming a mile.  Yippeee.

The state park is especially nice for biking, because there is no vehicle traffic, other than the park rangers.  R: Also, the roads are laid out in concentric circles, so it is easy to keep track of the miles while enjoying the ever-changing scenery.  

Here's my bike this morning, ready to take off for some exercise and birding:

My birding friends (unless they live here) can only drool at the recent sightings below:

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker
I didn't see all of these birds, but in addition to the green jays in the opening photo, I did see an Altamira Oriole, a road runner, and these birds at one of the bird blinds along the route:
Plain Chachalaca

2 Great Kiskadees

The chachalacas and green jays were sparring
over rights to the seed feeder --
But the green jays won out (as shown in the opening photo).  On Roger's bike ride yesterday, he was lucky to see some wood storks and a 
green kingfisher at the hawk tower.  There are usually serious birders staked out at the 
hawk tower with telescopic lenses, and they
 always happy to share their knowledge and
 point out unusual birds to us novices.  Roger 
also saw a bobcat.  I saw lots and lots of
 javelina scat, but no actual sightings.  They
 were all over the place at the park the first
 winter we were 
here, but after the park flooded during the 
spring of 2010 hurricane, they are just re-establishing themselves again.

Our little spot at Retama, being right next door, also has golden-fronted woodpeckers, kiskadees, and other occasional exotics.  I'm still partial to my gang of mockingbirds that 
stop by for a drink now and then.

We also got some good clean exercise by 
washing the thousands of miles of grime off 
our motor home the other day.  I'll let Roger elaborate:

The picture above looks like yet another 
picture of our back pergola area, but its not! 
  It is actually a picture of the newly-cleaned 
side of our motor home.  Pay attention, and 
you can see the graphics of the motor home.

Saturday was wash the motor home day.  I got
 out of bed, and with dogged determination vowed that the task that we had been putting 
off for a week would be accomplished on that day.  No excuses and/or rationalizations would
 be accepted --- 

-  It's too hot!
-  We would have to skip exercise for the day.
-  We'll have to move all the furniture.
-  I'm too tired today.
-  It might be cooler tomorrow.
-  It might rain later in the week and rinse off 
    the grime -- yeah right! 
-  It will get dirty again anyway.
-  I don't want to get wet.
-  Bandido will be bored.
-  Dianne doesn't like to sweat.
-  Yada, yada, yada.

 I took the dog for a walk and assembled all 
the cleaning supplies while Dianne went on a shortened bike ride.  As soon as Dianne 
returned, the fun began.  

I hosed down each section, starting with the
 roof.  (Those colorful Texas birds tend to 
make nasty messes on the roof.)  (Scissor-tail flycatchers are beautiful birds, but I can tell you for certain that their poop is just as unsightly as the grackles --  D.)  

 I then scrubbed with soapy water, then 
scrubbed again with a wet brush attached to 
the hose.  Dianne followed by re-hosing the
 clean surface with soft water, using a squeegee
wipe off the water, then going over the surface one more time with a microfiber cloth. 
 Bandido hid under the outdoor furniture to 
avoid getting wet.  Dianne and I actually
 enjoyed being soaked.  The hot day did not
 seem nearly so hot.  It took several hours,
 the results were worth it. 

Ah!!!!!!!!  The sense of accomplishment!  
Time to sit in the shade with a good book
 and several glasses of ice water.

The pet picture of the day is an older one of Bandido at the dog park with one of his toys. 
 I think that particular toy survived about a
 week before all of the outer surface 
came off.  He loves plush squeaky toys, but 
has become an expert at disembowling them within 10 minutes, so now he has to make do with the indestructible types. -- D.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Drenching Rains in Mission

Roger here....  The storm clouds are gathering.  Yay!!!!!   We are finally going to get a soaking rain in Mission.  

Dianne and I watched the radar on our I-phones.  It is headed this way!  We brought in the chair cushions and took pictures of the clouds as they rolled in.

The winds picked up.  It was blowing so hard that the water from our fountain blew away from the collecting bowl and onto the driveway.

I am so glad we spent the money to have gutters installed on the coach house.  We are really going to need them today.

Here it comes!  A four-incher!  Just to clarify, a four-incher in Indiana would mean four inches in depth.  A four-incher in Texas means four inches between the raindrops.  In Indiana, rain is measured with a rain gauge.  In Texas, rain is measured with a ruler.  

Dianne and I actually sat outside during the hour-long spitting of rain and enjoyed getting splattered even though we did not really even get wet.  Bandido thought it was fun.  

All of last season's potted plants died during the five months we were away -- not nearly enough rain.  (Zero probably equates to not nearly enough).  We expected that would probably happen.  As Dianne mentioned in the last post, one of our first tasks was to buy new plants to replace them.  With daily watering, the new plants are doing well. 



Firecracker Plant
Since we were already playing in the dirt, we decided to add a couple large blue pots to our landscaped areas.

Pride of Barbados

We even found a place to grow a couple of tomato plants that Dianne grew from seed and has been babying in the motor home.  The pots are on rollers so we can move them inside if it gets too cold --- right now it is hard to imagine that it would ever get too cold here.

Almost all of the plants that were in the ground survived the drought.  Our planting areas and our lawn have an underground drip irrigation system.  However, I must say that they are doing even better with a daily squirt of water.

The survivors (a few of them)......

"Belinda's Dream" Shrub Rose

Aloe Vera
Dianne here:  They try to keep with organic landscaping here at Retama.  The other day the landscaping crew sprinkled composted manure on all the beds, and yesterday they came back with fresh mulch.  Roger and I have spread truckloads of mulch over the years at our various homes, and it's so nice to just enjoy the results here without the backbreaking sweat that goes along with it!  

Prickly Pear Cactus & Meyer Lemon
We measured lemon tree (I grew it from seed about 5 years ago) just before we left last May, and it was 16" tall.  The day we returned, Roger re-measured it, and it is now 24" tall (shown on the right in the above photo).  I guess lemon tree likes it here! 

The pet picture of the day shows Bandido inspecting the pumpkin zombie that appeared in our back yard after the drenching rain.  His first reaction was to growl at it while slowly slinking forward.  Then he figured out that it was one of Dianne's toys.

A final note from Dianne:  This little scarecrow (it's an iron frame with a loop on top to place a pumpkin head) has had several incarnations over the years, as shown in the following photos from our former home in Pendleton, Indiana:

White Pumpkin Scarecrow + "Little Mermaid" Kaia
Here it is another year, with another photo of a very young Kaia posing beside it (I've shown this photo before; it's still one of my favorites of Kaia):

Painted Pumpkin Head + Kaia
And finally, Kaia and her mom, Amanda, posing with my scarecrow on a different Halloween:

Amanda, Kaia, and Carved Head Pumpkin Scarecrow
I haven't been able to use my scarecrow frame for the past three years that we've been full-timing, so it was fun to get it out to use it here in Texas, with a few minor modifications!  A real pumpkin wouldn't last a week in 90+ degree temps, so we found a metal one here at the local grocery store.  I substituted a small prickly pear cactus instead of a basket of apples for the same reason.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Port Lavaca and Home to Retama

Hi all, Dianne here.  Well, we're back at our winter home, Retama Village, in Mission, Texas.  First, though, I'll chronicle our short stay at Lighthouse Beach RV Park in Port Lavaca on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Lighthouse Beach RV park is a municipal-run park right on the bay.  We enjoyed full hookups and a view of the bay for $29/night.  The sites are close together, but we were lucky in that the sites on either side remained empty during our stay.

Most of our time was spent either enjoying the view and tropical breeze at our site or walking the 2,200-foot-long boardwalk over the marsh and viewing the shore birds.  Egrets, small blue heron, willet, roseate spoonbill, ibis -- these are just a few of the interesting birds that we saw during our walks.  Bandido enjoyed the boardwalk until it ventured out over open water and he could see the water through the cracks; then he didn't like it at all!

There is a small beach area at the park.  We didn't use it, because dogs are not allowed on the beach.  

Here's a final sunset shot from Port Lavaca, bringing this summer's travels to an end.  We've been on the road for five months; it's time now to settle in and save our pennies for next summer's adventures.

We were anxious to finally get home to our winter spot.  We pulled into Retama Village around 3:00 p.m. last Monday and made our way down Mallard Drive to our tiny little home.  It was still all buttoned down for the winter, with Reflectix in the windows and all of our outdoor furnishings stacked inside.  (This is necessary in case of hurricane winds; even the garbage can is supposed to be stored inside in our absence.)

We had only been home an hour or so, when down the street came our friends Jim and Sue (who we met up with in Duluth this summer), bringing us each a cold beer and a chew-bone for Bandido!  What a nice welcome!   They've been back a couple of weeks, getting their newly-purchased home furnished and settling in.  

Most folks have not returned yet, but several have arrived even since we came in on Monday.  It's fun to renew acquaintances, and we look forward to lots of fun times this season.

Bandido is very happy to be able to chase balls and run free at the dog park.  He will enjoy it even more when his pals arrive from up north.  He has already renewed his friendship with Gabe and Click, Jim and Sue's whippets.

If I sound a little tired, it's because we've spent all week moving our things back outside, buying new plants for our containers, cleaning, and doing the loads and loads of laundry that I saved up, waiting to use my own washer and dryer -- no more laundromats for me until next summer!

Here are a few photos of our place now that we've settled back in:


This year we can just enjoy our place and not have construction going on, as we did all last winter.  Our only chore this year is to repaint our faded Adirondack chairs a brighter red; they've pretty much faded to pink, as shown in the above photo.

We moved my antique metal comfy/bouncy chairs to the side area in order to take advantage of the afternoon shade.  It's still really hot here (mid-90s), but with the constant breeze and low humidity, it's actually very pleasant so long as you stay in the shade.

We probably won't be updating the blog quite as often while we're holed up here for the winter, but we'll keep you posted on our Retama winter fun as things occur.

The pet photo of the day shows Bandido and Charlie laying on the bed in Port Lavaca, keeping vigil out the open window at night.  (See why we keep a sheet on top of the bedspread?  It's Charlie's favorite spot, especially when that window is open.)