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Big Bend Followup & Next

There are a few new things going on. We have the RV at the house readying it for a trip to the Broxton Rocks.

Before I go on to that here are a few photographs from Big Bend. If ever there was a place where photography fails…

Now, Broxton Rocks.

The Nature Conservancy posted through GABO (Georgia Birding Online) a trip to Broxton Rocks this coming Saturday, April 27, 2013. Seemed like a good short trip to use the RV and get out of the city. So I signed us up and begin to look around for information about this place. Turns out it is really interesting, a bit of ante-bellum history, a natural anomaly and a unique place in the coastal plain of Georgia.

There is a layer of rock beneath the coastal plain of the southeast US called, among other names, the Altamaha Grit. It is only exposed to be seen in a few places one of which is the Broxton Rocks near Broxton, Georgia in Coffee county. A small creek, Rocky creek, runs through the area to the Ocmulgee river a short distance before the Ocmulgee runs into the Altamaha. Over the years, because the layer is exposed, the creek has eroded the rock to form canyons and waterfalls and provided places for many plants not found anywhere else near there to grow. It has become a focus for the Nature Conservancy and the local county for preservation and study.

In addition to the nature angle there is archaeological evidence of early inhabitants of the area from pre-columbian to pre-civil war. We intend to find out more about this aspect of southern Georgia as well. We’ll be staying at General Coffee State Park and roaming around. On to the Broxton Rocks. Stay tuned.


On Again Off, Off, Off Again

Sorry for the absence, been fighting a cold and I think I’m finally out from under the fog.

Hasn’t diminished the experience of Big Bend but it has made me tired. And I …

* Outside the window a Pyrrhuloxia pair. That right next to a house finch pair. Comedic. (We see House Finches a lot in Atlanta.)

Yesterday we went to Chisos Mountains and hiked in the basin. Not an overwhelming number of birds but, nevertheless, birds we haven’t seen; Mexican Jay, Phainopepla, Cactus Wren and a Canyon Towhee. The area is fascinating. There are signs everywhere to be careful with bears and mountain lions. There are hikers, 18-25, taking off on 15 mile hikes without a care and pairs of elderly women who won’t go to a overlook point with wheelchair access and a total loop distance of .5 mile from the basin store, scared of lions.

We stayed and had dinner at the Lodge there and I think we would have done better eating at “home.” The food was OK and we had good service but when you can make exactly what you want to eat… better.

On the way home in the dark there were constant little eyes reflected on the road, Common Poorwill. We probably saw 15. We drove to within 5 feet, slowly, and rolled down the windows to look. Many of them never flew as we rolled past.

Sprinter Note: Gas mileage is improving as is our knowledge of the routines we need to perform for maximum efficiency. It’s really neat to come back from an arduous hike and take a nap in the parking lot. Instant privacy, bathroom, refrigerator. There were a couple of other Sprinters we encountered throughout the day. None very similar. Lots of people interested in how they work. We saw a vehicle the day we got here which was unusual to say the least. It was a … gotta go birding a minute. Oh yeah, the vehicleÔÇŽ It was 3 feet taller than the Sprinter. Wheels almost as tall as I am. “Living” compartment in the back and every kind of winching, towing, spare tire, etc. device in front. Must have a really big engine but I could never find the driver so I don’t know.

Big Bend National Park is a wonder. This seems to be a good time of year to go even though it’s a little in advance of full migration. At least it’s not too hot or buggy. We never had any bug problems and, if anything, were a bit cold sleeping.

Franca finally saw a roadrunner today. I saw one in 1965 on my way to California in North Texas. ­čÖé

The landscape is austere, vast and beautiful. The colors of the layers of rocks can vary from bright yellow through blue, gray, rust to purple. The vegetation can seem other-worldly, cactus, mesquite and lots and lots of wildflowers which we’re trying to learn.

The thing is, it would take months and a lot of patience as well as advice from the locals to see everything there is to see in the way of birds and other animals. The birds are liable to turn up anywhere. The roadrunner Franca saw was across the road from Stillwell’s Store where we stayed. In the parking lot I saw the thrasher, 4-5 species of sparrows, raven, house finches, cactus wren. I have noticed that a great many species of birds are located around human habitation or building in use. I think there is a constant source of water and, probably, food of some sort. Also, because much of Big Bend is desert a lot takes place at night. I’d love to come back, spend more time, learn more. (BTW I picked up the new National Geographic Field Guide to Western Birds….Great!)

Left the Big Bend area today. Headed to Abilene and arrived about 4:45 PM, I-20 a lot of the way. Not too much traffic. On the way we saw 2000-3000 windmills, the big white ones near Midland, Big Spring and into Abilene.

I miss Big Bend. I’ll add some photos soon.


Words fail.

The we I will refer to here is a bunch of really great folks mostly from North Carolina and Georgia who came to Costa Rica with Georgann Schmalz to see birds here. There are some.

We were guided through the mist and rain and sun and wind by Charlie Gomez, Marco Ni├▒o and Georgann. Pretty amazing trio. Charlie and Marco are native Costa Rican birders. Charlie has 27 years of experience, a great personality, lots of patience… an awesome guide. Marco has a really quick eye for birds in obscure places and can dodge dogs, children, trucks, and tractors while driving our bus and getting us where we needed to be on time, in good shape. Together they are awe-inspiring. Georgann, who’s no slouch at findin’ em’, looked out for those of us sorta out of our depth, making sure we saw what was spotted and told us what it was. Without her several of us would have stood around with our mouths open gazing at blitz birding, amid the plethora of species, by people who seem to be constantly detecting birds by sight by sound and by instinct. What a crew!

We were on the birding trail every morning until late in the evening some days. Many of the crew were up at 5:00 AM and out. Franca and I couldn’t always pull that off but everyone in the group was at it by 7:00 AM every day. We started the trip at the El Cafetal Inn, near San Jose. After El Cafetal, 1 night, we went to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, 2 nights,┬áNatural Lodge Ca├▒o Negro, 2 nights,┬áCeleste Mountain Lodge, 2 nights and the Solimar Ranch in Guanacaste on the way back.┬áBack in San Jose we stayed at the Bougainvillea Hotel, fantastic garden… great food!

Of course every trip has a hitch or two… I made the airline reservations more than a year before the actual dates of the trip and assumed that we were all on the same flights, going and returning, so we went to the airport with the rest of the gang only to discover our flight had left several hours before. As it turned out we got to stay 2 more days, see a bit of San Jose and even more birds including a White-winged Dove nesting within three feet of our hotel window. The Museo Nacional was really nice, lots of pre-Columbian artifacts and cultural examples from the early inhabitants of the area.

This was a great trip. We learned a lot, saw some beautiful landscapes and, of course, birds. We’ll do it again.

One thing I know about photography… it can never convey the total experience of sight, sound, and smell in a manner that is a ┬ásubstitute for being there. The lighting conditions as well as the weather forced me to shoot in a manner to which I am not accustomed, to wit, higher ISO settings,consequently more noise in the images, and the possibility of a lack of sharpness because of low light levels necessitating that higher setting which also called for slow shutter speeds. Nevertheless photographing the birds and flowers of Costa Rica was great fun. Just remember this is no substitute for being there.

On to Austin on the 22nd.

150 Pounds Later…

For most of the month of February we’ve had from 20 to 75 Red-winged Blackbirds at the feeders in the backyard at 712. Mixed in, a few Downy woodpeckers, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens… the usual suspects. Collectively they’ve gone through 150 pounds of black sunflower seeds. As the weather warms I’m filling the feeders a bit less and less frequently, but keeping the suet current. So, they eat all the suet.┬áSo beautiful, so hungry.

We’ve received all the notifications about the Sprinter; price, accessories, dates and cost. It’ll actually be ready March 6 but we leave March 7 for Costa Rica. We’ll stick to our original schedule and pick it up on March 22. I spent 2 days organizing the trip to Texas. The internet makes putting a trip together possible in a short time. Emails, a few telephone calls, a ready map and, most importantly, reviews of campsites and locations along the road we want to travel turn one into a mini travel agency.

After a while you can “read between the lines” on reviews. Sometimes someone has a suspect bone to pick and the people running a park suffer. If you have 15 reviews and 1 of them condemns the park manager and the rest praise them… the review is about an individual camper, not about the park. But, when there are 15 reviews and they all say, “Dirty bathrooms, muddy drive-thrus and the manager is an %#*@#!&&,” I pay attention. It’ll be interesting to see what the actual experience is like and whether or not the reviews are any help at all.

1. March 22 — Atlanta to Austin – Southwest Air
2. March 22 — Austin to Del Rio – Broke Mill RV Park
3. March 23 — Del Rio to Big Bend – Stillwell Store RV Park
4. March 28 — Big Bend to Abilene – Abilene RV Park
5. March 29 — Abilene to Ft. Worth – Treetops Carefree RV Resort C
6. March 30 — Ft. Worth – Shreveport – Tall Pines RV Park
7. March 31 — Shreveport LA – Greenwood MS
Get to see my aunt Helen Tucker Allen and her family in Greenwood!
8. April 3 — Greenwood MS – Atlanta GA

Next post from Costa Rica, couple of days in. Can’t wait!

Time Passes…

If you could stand at the same spot, a position of some altitude and horizon, and watch all about you as time lapsed, everything would be moving. It’s impossible to see it happening in “real time” not to mention that everything is also operating through time in its own scale. An ant may be really motoring down the fence but with slow steps for a human you can walk off and leave it far behind. The ant would never know you were there anyhow. Makes you wonder what we may be missing… The earth’s plates are grinding away, somewhere a sheep bot fly is cruising at speed, as fast as anything that moves and, for those of us in this hemisphere, the stars rotate around Polaris, seen as concentric circles but only through photographic images designed to distribute light over time. We get used to it, mostly within a range of visual cues that have events attached, like fireworks.

We’re waiting; waiting for warmer weather, waiting for a trip to commence, for the adventure, a gaining of experience and knowledge, waiting to have an opportunity to satisfy certain requirements for another event… all connected in a “plan.” Already for the coming season there are events all around. I see today we have half a dozen Daffodils blooming. We’ve had Hyacinths already and, on and off, the Forsythia has ventured a few blooms, not the profusion spring will bring, but promise. The Chipmunks are more in evidence.

The annual bird migration is nearly upon us too. As a child I thought of migration as all birds south of where I lived suddenly flying north, stopping off at places they remembered, raising a few chicks, waiting until school started for me and then flying south again. They all did it, exactly like that. ┬áAt this age, along with learning how few things in nature are anywhere near that predictable comes the knowledge that bird migration is a never ending study made more difficult by the changes in our climate and habitats around the world. I know we’ll enjoy the appearance of the birds as they come back and hope they fare well as the planet warms. They must adapt or perish.

We leave for Costa Rica a month from tomorrow. Ready in my mind but with some work to do to accommodate reality. Waiting…

Everything has a beginning.

We’ll soon be “on the road.” Our Sprinter has arrived in Texas and Sportsmobile, in Austin, will be through with the modifications around March 22. We’ll take a break-in trip to Big Bend and then wander back to Georgia. It has taken a huge amount of research and a leap of faith to spend the money and commit to this company, but I trust them.

We plan a trip to Nova Scotia later in the year with Franca’s mom. That’s after a few small trips to make sure we always know what we’re doing. Presumptuous, huh?

So this ongoing narrative is going to be about trip experiences, where we stay, what we think about facilities, how the Sprinter performs, travel tips as we discover them and birds, lots about birds.

Speaking of birds…

We’ve had about 45-75 Red-winged Blackbirds at the backyard feeders for about 3 weeks. They’ve gone through 100 pounds of black sunflower seeds and 8 suet blocks. They’re accompanied at times by Common Grackles, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, Wrens, the usual suspects. It’s been interesting to watch the squabbling and frenzy. I’m always amazed at the White-breatsed Nuthatches, they never seem intimidated or to even notice the other birds much.

March 7 we’ll be headed down to Costa Rica for 9 days on a birding trip. We went to Nicaragua a couple of years ago, not on a dedicated birding trip, mostly to see how shade grown coffee is farmed. This time we are on a trip with seasoned birders and a great guide. It’ll be the first of many trips to Costa Rica I hope. This time to Arenal, Ca├▒o Negro and Tenorio.