February 9, 2018 Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana

 

Osprey and seagull
Waiting for scraps

What Happened to the Birds?

Now I remember why I enjoy the desert in winter … the sunny, warm days, the cool dry nights. I arrived in Grand Isle one week ago today and it has rained at least part of every day I have been here. Several of the campsites are flooded at times, fortunately not the one I am on. Daytime temps have been in the 60’s and low 70’s, nighttime temps in the 60’s, and with the constant showers and high humidity, it’s often difficult to see out the fogged up windows of the motorhome. Haven’t seen the sun, nor a single nighttime star since I arrived, but lots of clouds and fog. Enjoying myself here so much, I just renewed for another week! And the forecast for next week?

Next Week

Rain … every day!

The reason for reupping is really just to kill time since my next destination is Bayou Segnette State Park on the outskirts of New Orleans, and this week is Mardi Gras week.

I have visited here three or four times over the years and have always enjoyed my stays here at the state park. It is a quiet, not terribly busy park this time of year and I have had good luck with wading birds and ospreys in the shallow waters along the highway coming into Grand Isle and Port Fourchon. However, this year I am wondering what has happened to all the wading birds.

Osprey Dining
Osprey Dining

I came upon this osprey enjoying his meal about a hundred feet off the Port Fourchon road ( those are storage tanks in the background ), when a passing truck apparently scared him off his dining perch.

Osprey Dinner Interrupted
Osprey Dinner Interrupted

I am always amazed at the incredibly long, narrow wings of an osprey that seem so disproportionally long for it’s body.

Osprey with Mullet
Osprey with Mullet
Osprey with Catch
Osprey with Catch

The ospreys are still plentiful and I am seeing large numbers of Brown Pelicans, with an unusually large number of immature ones. As in the image just below, the youngsters seem to outnumber the adults by a large margin. I guess that’s a good thing since just a few years ago, folks were worrying about the future of these birds.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

There is a spot along the highway frequented by folks fishing from shore ( for what I am not sure ) and also by about 50 or more pelicans. Mixed in with the Brown Pelicans were three White Pelicans, the first time I have seen the two different types of pelicans together.

White Pelican with Brown Pelican
White Pelican with Immature Brown Pelican

I was aware that the White Pelican was larger than the Brown Pelican, but I never realized there was this much difference in their sizes.

White Pelican with Brown Pelican
White Pelican with Brown Pelican

I have only caught a glimpse of one Roseate Spoonbill flying way off in the distance, whereas before I have always encountered numerous small groups of them wading along the roadside waters. I have seen a few Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and White Ibises, but nowhere near the numbers I remember. Perhaps I’ll have some better luck next week ( in the rain ).

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January 31, 2018 Port Aransas, Texas

Port Aransas Beach Camping
Port Aransas Beach Camping

A Short Stay in Port Aransas, Texas

Above is a photo of my camping spot on the beach in Port Aransas, a place I have visited three times in the past. I had planned on staying here a while but left after only three nights and continued on to Louisiana.

The beach itself apparently did not sustain much damage from the hurricane and looks pretty much the same as it did on my previous visits here. To camp on the beach you simply obtain a $12 beach parking permit at one of several different locations, I bought mine at one of the Stripes convenience stores. During the busy summer beach season, you are limited to just a few days of camping but during the winter season, you can stay an extended length of time. The beach road is graded regularly and is very firm, making travel safe for any kind of rig with many miles of beachfront camping to choose from. There were very few people camped here this year as compared to my other times here.

Deep Sea Oil Rig Transport
Deep Sea Oil Rig Transport

As I was having coffee my first morning on the beach, I saw this enormous deep sea drilling platform being escorted out of the Port Aransas shipping channel. Headed for a deep sea location somewhere south of New Orleans, it was being towed and pushed by nine huge tugboats. Each tug was probably about three stories high from water to the top of their masts, so that might give you an idea of the size of this oil rig, just absolutely gigantic. The jetty rocks that can barely be made out in this image are probably about 10 feet above the waterline.

There still were piles of demolition debris along the streets of Port Aransas awaiting pickup and there were plenty of blue tarps on the roofs of hotels and private homes. Several empty lots were visible where structures have been demolished and await rebuilding efforts. Probably half the businesses were now open and most of the rest had signs saying they were opening soon. All of the RV Parks appeared open and most were all but full, so the winter Texans have shown up in Port Aransas.

I drove down to the Padre Island National Seashore and checked out the birding areas there … and came away with nothing. I mean there was no kind of bird life anywhere there. One little roadside pond where I have photographed hundreds of ducks before was completely devoid of life. No shorebirds, no ducks, no raptors anywhere, really strange.

Sadly, the best birding attraction in Port Aransas, the Leona Turnbull Birding Area, was heavily damaged by the hurricane, the boardwalk and observation decks being completely destroyed and are awaiting reconstruction, of which there are no signs of immediate efforts to do so.

Oil Rigs From the Ferry
Oil Rigs From the Ferry

So, the next day I hopped on the ferry and headed about 25 miles north to check out one of my favorite all-time places to stay, Rockport. There were three oil drilling platforms being refurbished alongside the north ferry terminal. These rigs would have been dwarfed by the rig seen going out the shipping channel the day before … and these are pretty impressively large structures themselves.

Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps

The remnants of the demolition debris piles from the hurricane were spread over a half mile of the bypass highway median as you approached it’s northern terminus. A few months ago these piles were about ten times this size according to what some of the locals told me. There was a lot of obvious damage all through the town and my favorite spot to stay here, Goose Island State Park, has yet to reopen for camping.

The entire area is pretty gray looking and forlorn. Tremendous numbers of oaks have been blown down or uprooted and all the foliage in the area has been blown off or browned, it really is a pretty depressing looking area right now. The cow pastures along the coast, just outside the State Park, the usual haunts for the endangered Whooping Cranes, are no exception to the bleak looks of this part of the Texas coast. Finding this all a little depressing, I packed up after just three nights and continued on towards Louisiana and Grand Isle.

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January 7, 2018 Tucson, AZ to Salineno, TX

City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park

On the Road East to Texas

Frustrated with the traffic and congestion in Tucson, I left the Snyder Hill BLM area after just two nights there and headed east on I-10, but only as far as the Pima County Fairgrounds, just 30 miles or so from my last camping spot. Why? Well, the weather forecast farther east called for below freezing temperatures and the possibility of freezing rain or snow, so I thought it prudent to hunker down until the hazardous weather passed.

Pima County Fairground

The Pima County Fairground offers full hookup sites for $25/night. Parking lot ambience, but nice level spacious pull through sites, with good WiFi, and very convenient access to I-10. I would certainly stay there again for the price and convenience.

81 Palms RV Resort in Deming, NM

After two nights at the fairgrounds, the weather forecast cleared enough that I dared proceed a little farther east and so I headed to Deming, NM, where I had arranged to have my monthly prescription of Revlimid FedEx’ed. A snafu with the special pharmacy involved in supplying the drug necessitated a 4 day stay in Deming, during which I checked out a few local attractions, mainly the New Mexico City of Rocks State Park.

Of the many RV Parks in Deming, I chose the 81Palms RV Resort and was glad I did. $32/night for a  large, level pull through site with full hookups ( below freezing night temps meant I only used the electric ), and incredibly immaculate laundry and bathrooms. I would stay there again just to do laundry. There is a lot of highway and railroad noise here as there would be in the other campgrounds in town.

City of Rocks State Park

City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park

Thirty miles north of Deming is this state park I had heard rave reviews for.

City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park

Unusual volcanic rock formations popped up in the middle of the desert in the middle of nowhere.The cluster of rigs seen here are electric reservable sites, all occupied. The best sites are the primitive sites (though there are few that would accomodate a large rig) are spread throughout the rock formations, most of them also reservable, making it difficult to get into this popular park.

City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park

The remote location of this park makes for some memorable night skies and I noticed that there were several star gazing events on the park schedule.

City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park

A very strange shaped rock!

With the weather forecast finally showing a return to decent temperatures and no threat of rain or ice, I left Deming Saturday morning and proceeded east on I-10 to Fort Stockton, Texas where I overnighted at Walmart … along with what must have been 50 other rigs, looked like an RV resort, taking up a good quarter of the store’s large parking lot. Makes one wonder how much longer Walmart will permit this to continue.

Hit the road at 5 AM Sunday morning to San Antonio where I picked up Route 16 south to Zapata and then Route 83 to Salineno and the county park recreation area where I boondocked for the night before checking in to the Falcon Lake State Park Monday morning for my week long stay in the area.

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December 30, 2017 Tucson, Arizona

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

A Short Stay in Tucson

Slowly heading east to the Texas coast and then on to Grand Isle, Louisiana, I had originally planned to stay and explore the Tucson area for a week or so while waiting for the strange Texas winter weather to moderate before heading that way. I have never been a big fan of city life, I just have no idea how people put up with the congestion. There seems to be road construction everywhere I went and traffic was just too much for me, so I ended up staying only two days.

Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ
Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ

I managed to find the Snyder Hill BLM area just off Highway 86 that I had read about on some blogs.

Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ
Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ

Not a terribly attractive place, located next to the highway, there are decent gravel interior roads, though getting off the highway into the site proved pretty touchy because of the road construction. There are no facilities here, no dumpster, water, or dump station and the folks camped here proved to be a mixed bag. There are some tenters here ( loud music ), but mostly used by self contained RV’s. Common courtesy, at least during my stay, was a little lacking here. The 5th wheel pictured above ran a light show on the side of his rig and found it necessary to run his generator ALL night.

Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ
Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ

These folks across the way from me were nice enough to shut their generator down around 11 PM.

Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ
Snyder Hill BLM Boondock Area, Tucson, AZ

There are many level spots with a little vegetation around them, but all of the nicer ones were occupied so I ended up setting up along the wide main gravel road within the site, as did most others that arrived after me. The price is right ( free ) but I doubt I would stay here again.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

I drove north to the west section of Saguaro National Park my first day here and did the East section the next day.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

I had visited this area several years ago, but still enjoyed the seeing the dense saguaro forests here.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

I managed to handle all the dusty gravel roads in the West section of the park with no problems, the East section has a very nice paved eight mile one way loop road. I was there around noon and though the drive is very interesting, the harsh noontime light made me forget about doing any shooting. Definitely would recommend doing the East section in the early AM or very late afternoon.

Phainopepla
Phainopepla

Not much in the way of birds in either section of the park.

Phainopepla
Phainopepla

I saw several Phainopeplas, but shooting a black bird under brilliant blue skies does not produce great results.

Phainopepla
Phainopepla

Still, I had to take the opportunity since I really haven’t had that many chances at this particular bird.

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird

The only other bird that showed itself was the Northern Mockingbird.

Pinal Air Park

Pinal Airpark
Pinal Airpark

Driving east on I-10 just northwest of Tucson, you catch a glimpse of some brightly colored tails of some large aircraft, so I went online and found that what I saw was the Pinal Air Park.

Pinal Airpark
Pinal Airpark

Since it wasn’t that far from Saguaro N.P. ( west ), I drove up to investigate.

Pinal Airpark
Pinal Airpark

Unfortunately, you really can’t see all that much once you are there since the area is fenced and to really appreciate the scale of the place and the size of some of the aircraft there, you would need to be able to get inside. The part of the Air Park nearest the road seems to be a boneyard of older commercial aircraft.

Pinal Airpark
Pinal Airpark

Farther away, you can see some of the newer aircraft stored here.

Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

I drove up I-10 to visit the Sweetwater Wetlands, within the city of Tucson, to check out the birds there. This is a very nice city park where they treat waste water and have created several vegetation filled holding ponds that attract a great variety of birds. Apparently not that many in December it would seem.

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

But after walking all the two plus miles of level gravel paths throughout the park and not taking a single bird shot, just saw a few sparrows and coots, with a couple ducks in the distance, I did come across the most cooperative wild bobcat I have ever encountered. This animal was obviously very habituated to humans.

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

I almost walked right past it, no more than 15 feet away in the shadows on the side of the path. When I realized what it was, I figured as soon as I stopped and put the camera to my face, it would obviously bolt and disappear in the brush.

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

Well, to my great surprise, that certainly didn’t happen … and I got to take as many shots as I wanted as it went about it’s business watching something on the edge of the water ( though it never did make any attempt to catch whatever it was watching ), then surprising  me by stretching out and relaxing, even doing some grooming, while I stood just 20 feet away.

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

Finally it tired of playing wildlife model for me and slowly walked off …

Sweetwater Bobcat
Sweetwater Bobcat

… disappearing into the brush along the gravel path.

Sky Island Highway

Sky Island Highway
Sky Island Highway

I drove the 29 mile Mount Lemmon Scenic Highway ( Sky Island Highway ) on a warm early afternoon where the temperature at the base of the mountain, on the outskirts of the city, was a balmy 78 degrees.

Sky Island Highway
Sky Island Highway

Arriving at the end of the road, at the appropriately named summit town of Summerhaven, located at an elevation of 8,000 feet, the temperature was a refreshing 55 degrees. As everywhere else I went around Tucson, this place was crammed with traffic, no place to park …. I can’t imagine what it must be like in the summer up here, when getting away from the scorching desert floor heat must bring a lot of the Tucson population up here.

Sky Island Highway
Sky Island Highway

The highway is an interesting drive, with an elevation change of around 6,000 feet over it’s 29 mile distance. Lots of turnoffs with some spectacular vistas over the desert and the city of Tucson.

Sky Island Highway
Sky Island Highway

I particularly enjoyed the hoodoos that tower over the road about two thirds of the way up the mountain. On this day, the distant vistas were a bit obscured by haze.

To return to my campsite from the base of the mountain, I had to travel through about ten miles of congested road through the city to get to I-10. At 2:30 in the afternoon, this ten miles took over an hour to do, untold number of traffic lights, a little road construction, and bumper to bumper traffic made me lose my desire to further explore the Tucson area. Can’t begin to imagine what that traffic would be like in another hour or so when there would be commuter rush hour traffic joining the parade. I simply do not understand how people can handle this sort of stuff on a continual daily basis.

So I will depart Tucson and continue on my way to Texas tomorrow. Watching the unseasonable cold weather in Texas, I will be stopping in Deming, NM for a few days to wait for the cold weather to break, and to arrange a FedEx delivery of my Revlimid to the Deming Walgreens. It looks like the weather will warm up enough to continue east by Thursday, but if not, I will stay put until the danger of ice or snow has passed.

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