Bob descending into Ft. Worth Water Gardens, Ft. Worth, TX, December 30, 2018

Bob descending into Ft. Worth Water Gardens, Ft. Worth, TX, December 30, 2018
Bob descending into Ft. Worth Water Gardens, Ft. Worth, TX, December 30, 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Best $6.00 We Ever Spent! - Sat., March 31, 2018

After a great night's sleep at the Inn at Chachalaca Bend Bed & Breakfast in Los Fresnos, Texas, we headed to McAllen, Texas, to make the 8:00 a.m. birding tour at Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center.

Tomorrow is Easter and at 9:00 a.m. today, thundering hordes of kids will descend upon this place for an Easter egg hunt and other activities. Oh my, do slap-happy kids and birders go hand-in-hand? I don't think so. 

We paid our $6.00 admission ($3.00 each) to visit Quinta Mazatlan historic adobe mansion. The birding tour is free. We had time to explore the beautiful mansion before our tour.

Ready to go birding!
I couldn't be happier (unless roller coasters
were involved).
Quinta Mazatlan has a Folk Art Room which is an explosion of color. A sign on the wall explains the contents of the room: 

"Folk art - the art of the people - expresses creativity and imagination using simple materials while exploring themes of nature, family, humor and spirituality. We see in this collection...both a celebration of the shared cultural history of South Texas and Mexico and a newly transformed magical world where the artist/collector has lent her hand and color palatte to create a vision greater than the sum of its parts."
Folk Art Room
Folk Art Room
More interior photos of Quinta Mazatlan follow:

Hall/Sun Room
View from the dining room to the sitting room
Formal dining room with fireplace
Formal sitting room with fireplace
Roman bath

Roman bath entry steps
One room is now a dedicated art gallery:

"Mariposa Azul," by Dalice
"Leopardo," by Dalice
 There is a beautiful inner courtyard complete with pools.

Courtyard with pools
It is time for us to gather for the birding tour. Bob is not much of a birder. He usually goes along quietly but gets fidgety quickly. Not so today. 

The leader of our tour is an ornithologist who grew up identifying birds. He kept our attention and spotted birds left and right, up and down.

Yellow-bellied flycatcher pair in this bush.
Part of our birding group
Yellow-bellied woodpecker
Below is a pair of birds common to South Texas: chachalacas. Normal behavior for a courting pair is to hang out at the top of a tree. When the male is courting a female, he will collect food and feed it to her. We had a nature moment when a male chachalaca fed a female on a chain-link fence right in front of us at eye level. 
Chachalaca pair high in a tree
Altamira Oriole with nest (sculpture)

Our guide led us through the property at Quinta Mazatlan. Our next stop was the bird-feeding station.
Chachalaca feeding on the ground
Great Kiskadee at the bird feeders
From the bird feeders, we headed down another path. Our guide stopped dead in his tracks and set up his spotting scope to zero in on an Eastern Screech Owl in a hole in a pole. This little owl is just darling!

Eastern Screech Owl
Male chachalaca getting ready to feed the female.
Our birding group 
Great Kiskadee high atop a tree
Me birding
We were looking at a dove sitting on her nest.
Two yellow-bellied woodpeckers on top of a palm snag
Our tour was just about over. We finished at the house where we watched a video about the birds of Texas. The movie was just a teaser to keep us wanting more birding opportunities.

We then headed out on a Volksmarch of McAllen, Texas. Quinta Mazatlan is the start point. So far, the temperatures were tolerable (before 10:00 a.m.), but, we had been walking on shaded paths in the compound.

As we left the grounds, we had less and less shade. We walked along a city street with the street on one side of us and a country club with golf course on the other. We did our best to follow the walk instructions, but we messed up somewhere on the golf course grounds. I don't think we were supposed to actually be on the golf course!

Blooming bougainvillea separated us from the golf course.
How we ended up at a Forward Tee I have no idea.
We found a path to take us off the golf course. For the next mile or two, we would be walking on a bike path along another busy road with no shade in sight. The temperature was in the high 80s. AND we were hungry! The bike path followed a canal. 
At this point, we figure the canal goes under the freeway
After walking another 1/2 hour or more, we found a fast food Mexican restaurant and had a delicious meal there. We continued walking through neighborhoods. 

Our walk instructions then said to walk through the cemetery. Apparently, the cemetery did not like those instructions...all entrances into the cemetery on the side we were supposed to enter were locked. Since we couldn't go into the cemetery, we walked all the way around it.

Only one open gate
From the cemetery, we headed into old town McAllen and walked a few blocks in downtown. 
Mexican olive trees in full bloom
A colorful mural
Old town McAllen
A beautiful mural!
Obviously, a birder lives here.
A mural about the following musician:
Narcisco (Chicho) Delgado

As we finished the Volksmarch in McAllen, the temperature was 90 degrees. It was time to cool down. We drove the hour back to the Inn at Chachalaca Bend where we showered, changed clothes, and cooled down. I took a stroll out to the resaca to see if any birds were about. 

A yellow-bellied woodpecker was drumming
on a palm tree snag
Black-bellied whistling ducks
We decided to look for red- and lilac-crowned parrots, and yellow-headed parrots at Oliveira park in west Brownsville. Apparently, a number of parrots took up residence in the park and the adjoining neighborhood. The parrots head to the trees to roost for the night. Our eyes scanned the sky for the birds. Other birders were in the park as well. A few parrots flew over but they all went into trees in a neighborhood.

We saw another Great Kiskadee in the park.
We waited until it was almost dark and finally called it a day. No close-ups of parrots for us. On the way back to our B&B, we stopped at DQ for dinner.

Sunset from Oliveira Park
The day was long and hot, but we enjoyed it. Our overall walk was 11.7 miles! Travel Bug out.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Weekend Get-away to "the Valley" - Friday, March 30, 2018

I am going back in time and out of chronological order, but I guess my mind works that way sometimes. On Friday afternoon, March 30, Bob and I wanted a "stay-cation" in "the Valley" (or Rio Grande Valley). It is a four-hour drive from San Antonio.

As far as I can tell, "the Valley," on the southernmost tip of South Texas just north of the Rio Grande River, includes a number of towns including Brownsville, McAllen, Pharr, Harlingen, Weslaco, Edinburg, Mission, San Juan, and Rio Grande City. According to the Texas State Historical Association:
"What Texans call "the Valley" centers on Starr, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties in the lower Rio Grande Region and extends from the mouth of the Rio Grande up the river for a distance of some 100 miles. The lower Rio Grande contains good agricultural land, the region being a true delta and the soils alluvial, varying from sandy and silty loam through loam to clay...
"The lower Rio Grande Valley became a curious urban and rural combination by the1940s. Intensified agricultural development resulting from irrigation dotted U.S. Highway 83, sometimes called the "Main Street," with communities made up of homes of farm owners and workers and the various stores, processing plants, industries, and marketing agencies that served them. Farms varied in use and character from ranchland to fine citrus land. The Valley bacame a truck garden center for tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, beets, corn, green beans, onions, and minor crops. Cotton and sorghum became important staples early on, but the most important crop in the region is citrus fruit (especially grapefruit [emphasis mine])...
"The year-round mild climate brought an increasing number of vacationers from the North during the winter months. McAllen, Brownsville, and other Valley communities have become winter homes for many northerners; in 1988 Hidalgo County hosted 80,000 of these "snowbirds." Fishing--freshwater, saltwater, and deep-sea--is a great attraction. Access to Mexico also promoted tourism as an important part of the Valley economy."
What the Texas State Historical Society did not mention in the way of tourism is birding. Birding is one of the reasons we are visiting the Valley; the other reason is Volksmarching. 

The Valley has about six World Birding Centers, including Quinta Mazatlan which we will visit tomorrow, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park which we will visit on Sunday. Interesting birds live in and pass through the Valley. It is a major migration flyway.

On our southern migration from San Antonio, I realized I forgot to pack my T-shirts for our walks. We stopped at Bass Pro Shops in Harlingen, Texas, and I bought two T-shirts and a polo shirt. Just a minor detour off our route. 

We checked into the Inn at Chachalaca Bend Bed & Breakfast at 3:30 p.m. Three years ago we stayed at the same B&B and loved it. 

This evening, we have a dinner date at Pirate's Landing in Port Isabel. We headed to Port Isabel at the same time as Friday afternoon rush hour traffic to South Padre Island, a weekend playground on the Gulf of Mexico. We had stop-and-go traffic for the last few miles into Port Isabel. 

Dinner was very good. After dinner, we looked at the parrots and cockatoos on display outside the restaurant, and then we walked to the Port Isabel Lighthouse. 
Ahoy, mateys, I found a pirate!
Nice sculpture by the Port Isabel Lighthouse
Fish carved from a tree trunk
Port Isabel Lighthouse, built 1852
The Port Isabel Lighthouse reopened in January 2018, after being closed two years for repairs. It is the only lighthouse accessible to the public in Texas. We paid the nominal admission fee and climbed to the top. 

View of Port Isabel
View of Pirate's Landing and South Padre Island
(in the distance)
Bridge to South Padre Island
Bob climbing up steep steps to top
Looking straight down from the top
When it was time to descend, here's what I saw when I looked down...
A very steep spiral staircase (it required
going down backward).
Not quite so step
Me in the lighthouse
We didn't realize it but we were the last people in the lighthouse. As soon as we left, they locked the door behind us. We walked around the small downtown area next. A decorated porpoise and a mural were on our walk back to the car.

"Fantasia del Mar"
Artist: Ralph Ayers
"Fantasia del Mar"
Mural at a wine bar
After our walk, we headed back to the B&B. When we got there, there were a number of black-bellied whistling ducks on the roof. One of them cooperated for a photo.

Torch ginger, I believe
The B&B's backyard backs up to a resaca. A resaca is what's left of a river after parts of the river are cut off by land. There are lots of resacas in the Valley. We love them!
Inn at Chachalaca Bend patio overlooking the resaca.
Another view of the Resaca

Bob and I
When we returned to our room, we relaxed and read. The evening was a great start to our weekend. 

Tomorrow: Quinta Mazatlan for a birding tour, and a Volksmarch around McAllen, Texas.