Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A day in the life

I think I mentioned a few days ago that I’m never quite sure what I’ll be doing each day on this refuge.  I went into headquarters this morning not knowing if I’d be working or not.  Phyllis and Albert, from New Jersey, finished up their volunteer stint here this past weekend, and will be pulling out tomorrow morning.  Tom is still in the hospital for his cellulitis and Sally has spent her days there being with him.  That leaves Don and Mary and myself to cover things with the visitor’s center and other duties.  We scrambled a bit this morning to figure out how to cover things this week.

I’ll be taking over for Tom and Sally tomorrow, and doing the tour in the morning.  I’ll probably be putting in more hours this week until the next couple arrives, but I really don’t mind.  RV volunteers are like the RV blogging community, and we tend to stick together and cover each other’s backs.  What with Tom in the hospital for over a week after Sally just losing her father, it’s the least I can do.

_MG_5960I stayed on this morning to run the visitor’s center for the day.  We had 30 visitors today, which is a real good number here.  In slow moments, I slipped outside to see what I could see, and found several butterflies fighting over the minute blooms in the mowed area around the building.  Get a load of the proboscis of this guy curving around to the flower.


The wind had picked up a bit, but this guy hung on to sip the nectar of that tiny flower.

66 MS Sandhill Crane NWR 201215

Then, it got into a battle with this itty bitty butterfly over the blooms.  This one was 1/3 the size of the yellow one, but it was successful in sending the first one on its way.  If I had a little ambition tonight, I’d spend some time with my butterfly book trying to identify these critters.  But, alas, I’m pooped.  Sad smile  Working the visitor’s center isn’t physically demanding work, but after eight hours, and then taking Emma out for some exercise, I’m pretty much done for the day.

The forecast for tomorrow is for heavy rains, but I’m hoping they’ll hold off until the afternoon.  I’ve got a full van load of people scheduled for the tour tomorrow, and heavy rains surely lesson the chances of seeing any cranes.  We’ll see what happens.  Oh yea, Tom was released from the hospital this afternoon, but he’ll be laid up for several weeks recuperating from his ordeal.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Monday, January 30, 2012

Generation gap?

The last two days have been taken up with necessary mundane chores, with a few hikes with Emma in between.  Today was shopping day for me, and I had a list.  First stop was J C Penny.  I needed some new sheets for the bed.  Am I the only person left in the US that thinks January is the month for white sales?  When I asked the very young salesgirl where the white sales were, she said that she didn’t know what I was talking about.  I wanted 400 thread count sheets with extra deep pockets, and nearly passed out at the price.  I guess it’s a good thing I don’t buy new sheets very often.

After a few more stops for essentials, I ended up at the grocery store in Ocean Springs.  I took four of my cloth shopping bags into the store with me.  It was not a major grocery day, but the things on my list were heavy items such as milk, laundry detergent, softener, bleach, and large cans of fruit and tomato juice.  When I reached the check out, I told the checker and packer that I had brought four bags so everything could be distributed without any one bag being too heavy.  They both nodded their heads in agreement.  I stressed that I didn’t want a bag too heavy to lift for this old body.  When I got to the car here is what I found: only three bags were used, and almost all the heavy items were in one bag!  Grr!  Hello young people!  Do you not understand English?  So, I repacked the bags and put them in the trunk.  I know these are small things in the scheme of life, but they do irk me at times.


Back at the refuge, Emma and I enjoyed our afternoon outside with our avian friends.  There are lots of chipping sparrows around, and they’ll soon be displaying their slightly more vibrant breeding plumage. 

66 MS Sandhill Crane NWR 201214

I heard some loud chipping sounds across the way, and grabbed my camera.  What I found was one excited Carolina wren.  It was just very upset as it sat on the Blue Ox toad hitch of Don and Mary’s rig.  In another month or so, these little buggers will be trying to build nests in every nook and cranny that’s available.  I’ve had them try to set up housing under my slide topper awnings in the past.  I like wrens.  They’re so bubbly and audacious!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The tale of Crossbill continues…

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.  Or maybe, life in the natural world rivals manmade soap operas.  Take the saga of Crossbill for instance.  She is a 10-12 year old female Mississippi sandhill crane with a disability; her bill is malformed.  For ten years, she had no mate.  She spent her time traveling around with a normal pair of sandhills.  It was thought that because of her crossed bill, she couldn’t find a mate.  Then, a little over a year ago, the female of that pair died.  Can you guess what happened?  Suddenly she looked pretty good to that four year old lonesome male crane.  Last spring, they became a pair even though he was much her junior.  (I’ve heard that young men have more stamina!) 

They built a nest, but I don’t think they successfully raised any young last year.  In a stellar year, only four wild born cranes make it in this endangered population, so this was not surprising.  However, these cranes do mate for life, so they’ll try again this year. 

Fast forward to early this morning when JERRY and Wanda joined me for the Saturday crane tour.  It turned out that between those that had signed up for the tour, and two people that just showed up, we had to take two vehicles for the tour.  A young college student and her mother joined the three of us in our vehicle.  If the young lady could get a picture of a Mississippi sandhill crane, she would get an A on her assignment for her biology course.  Alrighty then, there’s the challenge!


We hit pay dirt as we drove past the crane company on route 57.  For two years I’ve hoped to get a picture of the sandhill cranes at the crane company. It seems only fitting.Open-mouthed smile


Using my 300mm lens, I was able to get a shot of the pair showing their leg bands, and the transmitter on the back bird.  I’ll report that to the biologists next week.  That’s red over orange on the right leg, and green on the left leg of the front bird, for instance.  That’s enough to identify this pair.

_MG_5926 _MG_5928

Generally, one bird stands guard as the other member of the pair feeds.  They switch off with each other.  Once I looked at the pictures when I got back home, I noticed something a little unusual.


Sure enough.  It’s Crossbill!  This is not the usual haunts that she and her mate are seen in, but I’m happy that her saga will continue.


We continued on our way with the tour, and ended up seeing a total of 19 Mississippi sandhill cranes, and watched four adult cranes chasing off six youngster cranes from their feeding territory.  What a cacophony of sound that was along with  the aerial dynamics.  We also enjoyed watching this adult red-tailed hawk.  It was a successful tour in many ways.  I was happy to touch base with Crossbill again, and I think a young college student is going to get an A in her biology course.  Those are a few of the reasons that I do what I do.


                                                                               THE END!

(if you look closely, you will see a white projectile being sent toward us demonstrating what this hawk thought of our observance of him/her. Smile with tongue out)

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, January 27, 2012

I got taken out back to the shed today

And I didn’t even do anything wrong! 


The SHED is a local barbeque joint that has been featured on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” on the Food Channel.  If you like barbeque and are along the Mississippi gulf coast, this is the place to go.

66 MS Sandhill Crane NWR 201213

Its name is a good one, because you won’t find fine dining here.  There is seating inside and out with gravel outside and wooden boards inside.  Thousands of one dollar bills are attached to the ceiling.  Watch your step, though, because the footing is rather uneven.

JERRY and Wanda, in their Casita, were stopping in the area overnight, so we got together for a late lunch this afternoon. 


I last met them while I was making my challenging trip from Indiana to the repair shop in Louisiana last fall.  They are native Mississippians, and offered to give me a tour of Natchez should I head that way when my gig is up here at the end of April.  I’m thinking that sounds like a great plan.  They are a delightful couple, and they recently met JANNA and Mike in Florida when they found themselves in the same campground.  Members of this RV blogging community seem to cross paths quite often.  How cool is that?  Thanks, Wanda and Jerry, for good food and fun conversation. 

I’ll actually be seeing them again early tomorrow morning as they take advantage of our free guided crane tours here on the refuge.  I sure hope I can find as many cranes for them to see as I did on the last tour I gave.  Fingers crossed  The rest of the day I spent chilling out, and taking Emma for a hike.  It was my day off after all.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Volunteer field trip day

At a few of the refuges that I have volunteered at, an occasional day is set aside to take all the RV volunteers on a field trip.  To be honest, it is one of the things that endears certain refuges to their volunteers.  That was on the calendar for this morning, but I wondered if it would be cancelled as a front with severe storms began moving through the area.  Our intrepid volunteer coordinator, Doug Hunt, cast the weather aside and said to hop into the van.  So, we did.

66 MS Sandhill Crane NWR 20129

Our destination was the Southeast Louisiana Refuges Bayou Lacombe Centre’, about 100 miles away.  It houses the visitor’s center for seven of Southeast Louisiana’s National Wildlife Refuges.  I’m sure glad I wasn’t driving that van, because we encountered an absolute deluge as we headed west through Biloxi.  Doug then hopped off of the interstate and gave us a narrated tour as we drove through all of the towns along historic route 90.  He has such a wealth of knowledge and stories about the southern Mississippi coastal area, that I truly enjoyed being a passenger on this excursion.

66 MS Sandhill Crane NWR 201210While the others toured the visitor’s center that I had visited last year, I went outside to enjoy the surrounding camellia garden.  This morning’s rain gave me one of those photographic opportunities to capture the freshness of the blooms with the rain drops still upon them.


                                                                   This one was my favorite. 

66 MS Sandhill Crane NWR 201211

Then we took the Grotto trail that led to Bayou Lacombe.  Part of the trail was an old brick path that had to be unearthed after this became refuge property.  There’s a lot of history about this land that would take me too long to relate; from a former governor to priests, a school, and a church…

After stopping for lunch where I had a delicious shrimp po'boy, we headed out to spend some time at Big Branch Marsh NWR.

66 MS Sandhill Crane NWR 201212

We took a hike down a wonderful long boardwalk in search of the elusive and endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  I’m too tired to go into the interesting story of this species tonight, but I’ll probably go into it next year when I hope to be working with them at Okefenokee NWR in Georgia.  Smile 


Let’s just say that we had one little woodpecker cooperate and give us all a chance to observe it.  That sighting was the frosting on the cake to today’s outing in my opinion.  As we headed back the 100 miles to our home refuge, it seemed awfully quiet in the back of the van as I believe several volunteers reviewed the day in a movie viewed from the back of their eyelids.  Winking smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A great tour, and a decision

I got a phone call at the refuge from NICKIE and Jim the other day.  They are fellow RVers and bloggers, and they wanted to sign up for a tour of the refuge on their way to Baton Rouge this week. 


As it turned out, they ended up being the only folks that showed up for the tour today, and what a tour we had!  It’s always great to meet up with fellow bloggers, and what a joy to be out with people that harbor a similar interest in the natural world.  They’re known as the intrepid-decrepit travelers, and since I’ve been feeling a little decrepit lately, we got along just fine.  Winking smile


The weather forecast wasn’t the greatest, but it tuned out that we saw a record number of cranes today.  If I got the count right, we saw 38 Mississippi sandhill cranes today.  We might have seen six of them twice, but even so, if you consider that there are only about 120-130 of these cranes left on earth, that’s quite a few.  If you click on this picture you’ll notice all the colorful bands on their legs.  This group was most cooperative for pictures.

IMG_5853 IMG_5854

Most groups of cranes took off in flight as we approached.  I love the sound of cranes, and if you look closely you can see several of them with their beaks open trumpeting away.


During our journey through the back roads of the refuge that are closed to the general public, we came upon the lead biologist with two of his interns.  I believe they were out in the savannah doing a bird survey.  They use those long sticks to swish back and forth through the grasses on a transect to flush rails and sparrows.  That’s about the only way to get a count of those types of birds using the wet pine savannah during the winter.

_MG_5857We also checked on the eagle’s nest while we were out and about.  This time, I could see a little more than just an adult head peeking out from the nest. 

I enjoyed my time with Nickie and Jim, and plans are in the works for me to visit them over in Alabama so they can show me their neck of the woods.  I believe they have a condo outside of Mobile, and travel in their RV during the summer.

Now, as for my decision.  As I’m sure most of you figured out, I made a commitment tonight to return to Alligator River NWR.  I appreciated all of your comments on last night’s post, but two in particular hit home.

I just read that "finding your passion" is one of the things to ward off Dementia -so more hours now may lead to a longer life :)”  and

Exciting your soul is a necessary survival skill. Making work hours feel like play hours is worth doing. Work hours that feel like work hours can kill your soul. But, you already knew all that. Besides, as much as we enjoyed our autumn drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, it's not like they are going away anytime soon. :)

Yep, and a number of you pointed out my aversion to office work, and preference to being outdoors.  Hey, that gives me a couple of months to slowly make my way to the Outer Banks!  Hmmm, guess I’ll have to get out the drawing board again.  Smile

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

A Step Back in History-Kyoto

Our last and most favorite stop of the trip was Kyoto. We arrived into Kyoto Station from Osaka by the JR lines. Below is the gorgeous station that we were greeted with. Never have I been in such an innovative and futuresk (please excuse the creation of new words) public space.

This is the road leading up to the Kiyomizu Temple. While on a student exchange to Japan 10 years ago, my host family brought me to this same temple. It was so exciting to be sharing the same place with hubs years later.
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Outside the entrance of the temple
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Visitors light incense and try to cover their head with the smoke
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Overlooking the city of Kyoto
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Beneath the main hall is the otowa waterfall. Three different channels of water fall into the pond below. Visitors can hold long sticks with metal cups at the end and get a drink from these falls and get a wish granted.
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
There is a popular saying in Japanese that is similar to the states "take the plunge" and it is "jump off the stage at Kiyomizu". In the Edo Period (no idea what year that is) the tradition held that if you were to survive the 13 meter jump off of the veranda, your wish would come true. 234 jumps were recorded during that time with a 85.4% survival rate. It does not list, however, what injuries were gained by those who survived. Shockingly, the practice is not prohibited.
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Late at night we would walk the streets of Gion which is said to be one of the last areas of Japan where geishas are still at work in the teahouses. Unfortunately, we were unable to see any for ourselves but the streets were a gorgeous mix of old and new that we loved to wander around.
gion, kyoto
After wandering around the streets for awhile, we started to wonder if geishas were real at all or if we were on the hunt for an imagined animal. At least we weren't alone. I'm pretty sure all the other foreigners walking anxiously down the street that night with cameras ready in hand were looking for the same thing.
gion, kyoto
My favorite site of all was the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is a shinto shrine put in place in order to worship the God Inari, the God of Rice. Foxes are said to be its messengers which is why several fox statues can be seen along the trail. The large orange gateways are called toriis and there are thousands of them along the two hour trail. All of them are donations from individuals and businesses. Prices for the smaller ones start at around 5,000 us dollars while the larger ones start at around 13,000 us dollars.
Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto
 It was a gorgeous view of all the torii gates heading deeper into the forest. 
Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto
 The black lettering is the name of the donator and the date of the donation
Fushimi Inari Shrine, kyoto
We stopped briefly at the golden pavilion. It really has little history but it's a cool looking building in the middle of the water and there were about a hundred other people there taking pictures of it. I'd say it was worth it.
golden pavilion, kyoto
golden pavilion, kyoto
golden pavilion, kyoto
We stopped by a nearby temple for new years where they were setting up for a festival. We decided to come back when it got a little closer to the countdown. When we showed back up, the streets were packed with thousands of people with apparently, the same mindset as us. The police had barricaded the streets surrounding the temple so no one could get in until after midnight. When I think of sneaking into a place, often times a concert or some sort of show comes to mind. Apparently to people in Kyoto, the best place to try to sneak into is a temple. I guess 'sneak' is the wrong word. Jumping across barricades, running across lanes of traffic and dodging police is more along the right lines. The first few people were successful, the rest...were not. The police became pretty good at lunging at the hooligans and wrestling them to the ground, then proceeding to throw them into cop cars and haul them off to jail. It made for good entertainment while we were waiting.
A group of ladies at the temple all dressed up in their traditional kimonos.
Kyoto was by far our favorite stop in Japan. Around every corner was another historical site and another attraction to see. We had no problem filling up the short amount of time we were there.