Pictures of Life in South Texas

Here in South Texas, our winters are very short and we seem to leap right into spring in January. Here are some pictures of my year so far…

AK Shoot Feb 16

Drew finally got his AK-47 so we took it to the range to try it out.  I still prefer the AR-15 because it has a collapsible stock.  We’ve found our new favorite indoor shooting range: Point Blank Sporting Goods in McAllen.  It’s brand new and really spacious.  You don’t feel like you are right on top of everyone while shooting.

Green Jay Feeding Collage

I love Green Jays.  Just like their Corvid brothers and sisters, Green Jays are so smart.  This one found a weakness in the sunflower feeder and exploited it.  Sunflower seeds came pouring out.  The doves on the ground appreciated his hard work.

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A banded Kiskadee at Ruby Pond.  My goal is to one day be able to read all the numbers on a band one day so I can report them to the Bird Banding Laboratory.

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My first work trip!  We got to go see some nature centers and museums in Dallas!  This was the Trinity River Audubon Center.  Nice walking trails and boardwalks, and great indoor exhibits.  ???????????????????????????????

I also got to see a Rodin sculpture at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.  I wish we had more time to explore the whole museum but we had to rush through it.

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The Dallas Arboretum (which is really a Botanical Garden) was incredible and it was only January!  I would love to go back in spring or fall.???????????????????????????????

We finished out duck season and I got a Scaup for the wall!  Oakley is good retriever, even if he does chew the butt’s off.  I miss duck hunting already.  And its been too windy to get out in the boat for fishing.???????????????????????????????

Our resident Eastern Screech Owl at work picked a very visible cavity for a month or so and let me take a few pics.???????????????????????????????

I kind of stumbled upon this gathering on a house in Mission, across the street from a city park and pond.  These Black-bellied Whistling Ducks seem to prefer this one flat roof as opposed to all the sloping roofs in the neighborhood!???????????????????????????????

Our staff member who was filling the feeders had to run inside for a minute and the Chachalacas took advantage of a container of homemade suet that was left unattended!???????????????????????????????

The Red-eared Slider in Ruby Pond has gotten so big!  We don’t know exactly where he came from but he seems to enjoy having the pond to himself.???????????????????????????????

I love the call of the Curve-billed Thrasher!  And the look of their orange eyes and big down-turned bills.  This Curve-bill was hanging out in our parking lot at work.
QM Cactus in Bloom

Our newest garden is a Cactus Garden.  It was planted this year and already many of the cactus are blooming!  Its a beautiful site.Raptor Banding Feb 2nd 02

Drew and I had a fabulous opportunity to tag along on a Raptor Banding field trip with Bill Clark, who quite literally wrote the book on Raptors.  We banded several Red-tailed Hawks.  It was an unforgettable experience holding those giant birds.  They would look you dead in the eye but were quite docile while being worked up.  Then we got to release them right from our own hands.

Spartacus Jan 27 Bogie March 15

Now that duck season is over we are doing a lot of relaxing on the weekends and it has been really nice.  Its our busy time of the year at work so coming home to these two babies is always a highlight in my day.  As spring approaches are calenders are filling up even more (including a last-minute getaway to HAWAII over Easter!) and I can’t wait to see what South Texas has in store for us.

Hunting Season Wrap-Up in South Texas

Our hunting season was pretty great this year!  South Texas (Laguna Madre, specifically) is definitely under-utilized by duck hunters which is great for those of us who DO use it!  We hunted public land and public water all season.  There are several blinds that have been built that you can use if you get there first.  We also hunted from beaches and islands.  The only thing preventing more hunters from hunting Laguna Madre is access; you need a boat to get out there.  We purchased a small Alumacraft hunting boat at the beginning of the season and it really paid off!

We hunted with some friends who live close to the Laguna.  They would bring their sweet black lab, Oakley, to help retrieve ducks!  I love watching Oakley work, especially when the ducks dive away from him and he has to chase them!

Early season saw lots and lots of Redheads.  We would get our limit of Redheads (2 per person) almost every time we went out.  Pintails were also very common in the early season, but again the limit was only 2 per person.

As the season went on we started to see more Scaup but never could capture a whole limit (6 per person).  Buffleheads were few but we did take a few home.

Sarah even managed to get a banded Redhead!!  It was the third duck she’s ever shot.  Our boys were green with envy!


My favorite part about duck hunting in South Texas is the variety of wildlife you see!  Many different species of ducks and birds, not to mention dolphins!

We hunted one week in Arkansas over Christmas and sat in SNOW and got about 2 ducks.

But in South Texas, its like you are hunting at the beach!  I hunted barefoot in the sand during many of our trips this year!

This year we were lucky to be drawn for a rifle hunt at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge!  We were allowed to take deer, hogs and nilgai.  We never did see any nilgai on this hunt but we did get some meat in the freezers!

It was a pretty incredible hunting season.  My best, for sure.  Between the 4 of us, we ended up with over 100 ducks, not to mention the deer, hogs and nilgai.

Now on to fishing!!

Gift Ideas for the Hunter in Your Life

Buying for the hunter in your life might seem hard at first, especially if you aren’t in the field with him or her.  Hunters usually want very specific gear that they have spent time researching and deciding on.  If you aren’t able to get that information from them, or want their gifts to be more a surprise than a grocery list, don’t fret!  I’ve compiled this list of great gift ideas for your hunter that don’t require a lot of knowledge about their preferences.  Click on the picture of the product to go to the website where its for sale.  Prices as of November 27, 2012.

High-Dollar Gifts

High-dollar gifts are going to be the hardest to pick out.  Typically, hunters have very specific requirements for their gear.  They will usually want to pick out the perfect gun or bow themselves.  Avoid chosing specific gear like that and instead go for things that fit a variety of needs or wants.

Field Camera- Get a camera for your hunter that he or she won’t be afraid to take into the field.  Something rugged and waterproof to capture their adventures.

  • The GoPro HD Hero3 Silver Edition camera  is an incredibly customizable and versatile camera, made for the outdoors.  You can practically mount it to anything to get live video of your hunt.

GoPro HD Hero3 Silver edition, $299

  • The Nikon COOLPIX AW100 is a sleek waterproof, shockproof 16 Megapixel camera with a built-in GPS reciever and capable of recording full HD video.  The GPS receiver allows your hunter can record location info for each picture.   The camo colors mean your hunter can film during the hunt without worrying about his or her game spotting them.  And because its waterproof, your hunter can drop the camera in a lake and pick it right back up without having to worry about any water damage.

Nikon COOLPIX AW100, $206.46

Field Bag- Your hunter may have an old reliable bag that they will never give up, but if they are open to new options, treat them to a new, high-quality field bag, designed for their specific sport.

  • The Drake Floating Blind Bag would be a great gift for a duck hunter.  Spacious and full of pockets, this bag will carry your shells, extra clothes, food and even a thermos on top.

Drake Floating Blind Bag in Extra Large (Mossy Oak Duck Blind camo) $59.49

  • If your hunter spends a lot of time persuing their game on foot, check out this Badlands Superday Pack.  On the large end for a daypack, this backpack offers 1950 cubic inches of storage plus a place to carry a rifle or bow.  The molded foam suspension and hip belt insure a comfortable pack without the weight of a frame.

Badlands Superday Pack, $152.45

  • If your hunter travels to hunt, check out these awesome Scent Eliminator Bags by Watson Airlock.  Specifically made to keep your clothes dry and scent-free, this bag will be cherished by any big-game hunter.  The larger options even include an attached changing mat for changing into your scent-free clothes in the field!  With several sizes, there is a bag for your hunter at your price.  The standard bags are camo and black with orange accents but they also offer a bag with pink accents!   From $99.99 for the original Camo Carrier, up to $299.99 for the largest carrier (would be great for a couple or family!) at Watson Airlock.

Watson Airlock Bottomless 26 Pink, $209.99

Cooking Supplies.  Does your hunter take pride in filling his or her family’s freezer?  If so, they probably also enjoy cooking their game meat.  Help them out with some great cooking supplies.

  • Cast Iron Cookware.  Great for the kitchen and the camp, these pans will last a lifetime and help deepen flavor.  The Dutch Oven is definitely the most versatile piece of cookware a hunter can use.  You can bake, fry, cook, and even deep fry in a Dutch Oven.  Plus, if you get one with a lipped-lid and feet, its great for cooking at camp with charcoal.

Texsport Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven Gifts for Hunters, $49.99

  • Pressure Cooker.  Great for cooking tough meat quickly and preparing foods for canning.

All-American 15 1/2 Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner $174.99

  • Meat Grinder.  Help your hunter make their own ground meat in their kitchen instead of paying a meat processor to do it.  Maybe you’ll receive a batch of breakfast sausage as a thank you 🙂

Electric Meat Grinder by LEM Products $239.97

  • Dehydrator.  Have you ever had deer jerky?  If not, you haven’t lived!  Let your hunter make their own trail snacks!

Redhead Six Tray Food Dehydrator $69.99

  • Vacuum Sealer. This would be a great gift for anyone. Forget ziplocs and freezer burn forever!

FoodSaver V3240 Vertical Vacuum Sealer, $92.79

Mid-Priced Gifts

You have a lot more flexibility with mid-priced gifts.  You can buy gear, accessories, clothing, and everything in between!

Flashlight or Headlamp- No matter what game your hunter chases, they likely will be in the field in partial or full darkness at some point.  And a $10 grocery store flashlight just doesn’t cut it.  If your hunter doesn’t yet use a headlamp, then by-goodness by them one!  It will change their lives!  The higher the lumens, the brighter the light, but also the more expensive the light.  But high lumens is going to be worth it when tracking game after dark.

Princeton Tec Remix Headlamp, $30.84 at Amazon.com

Scent Eliminators- Mostly used by deer hunters, scent eliminators help you blend in with your surroundings completely by eliminating or masking your natural “human” smell to get your closer to your game.  The usual stuff you buy at Walmart or big box store does the job, but doesn’t feel all that great in your hair.  Check out the womens’ line Just for Does and the mens’ line Just for Bucks and treat your hunter.  Various prices at JustforDoes.com

Just for Does Scent Control Products

Just for Bucks Scent Control Products

Clothing

  • Tech Gloves.  Does your hunter use their phone in the field to check the weather, take pictures, or just pass the time?  Tech gloves will let him or her keep their hands warm inside their gloves while still letting them use a touch screen.  And its kind of a luxury item your hunter may not buy for themselves.  Thelightweight tech gloves pictured are thin enough to be used as glove liners when its very cold.

Seirus Innovation Men’s Hyperlite All Weather Glove $24.82

  • Thermals.  Just about every hunter (even those of us in South Texas) hunts in cold weather part of the year.  A new base layer can make a world of difference!  Chose cold-weather options in poly-fabrics and avoid cotton.  Go with the brand names to assure a great fit and a long life of use.  My favorite  is Patagonia Capilene while my husband prefers Under Armor.

Patagonia Women’s Capilene 1 Silkweight Scoop, $45.00

Under Armour Men’s Base 2.0 Layer Leggings, $54.99

  • Camo.  A little harder to buy because there are SO many options.  Your hunter may only like a specific type of camo (yes there are several brands and designs).  But if he or she lives in camo you probably can’t go wrong with a shirt or jacket.  And you can never go wrong with Columbia!

Columbia Camo Freezer Long Sleeve Shirt, $34.72

  • Wool socks.  You can never have enough wool socks.  They stay warm even when wet and are quite comfortable!  Go with a high quality brand to keep your hunter’s toes warm.

Smartwool Women’s Saturnsphere Sock, $17.95

Jewelry.  Not as universal, you really need to know your hunter’s personality to pick something out.

  • For men: Some options for men include duck band rings and paracord bracelets.

Wilkerson Sterling Silver Duck Band Ring $49.99

Cobrabraid Paracord Bracelets, starting at $9.99

    • Women have a lot more to chose from!  Depending on your huntress’ style, check out duck call necklaces, feather earrings, necklaces, bracelets… the possibilities are endless!

Heartland Mini Duck Call Necklace, $19.99

Shoot Like A Girl Charm Bracelet, $49.99

Pheasant Feather Earrings, $8.00

Bullet Casing Pendant Necklace, $12

Bullet Chain Necklace by Girls with Guns, $19.99

Bullet Stud Earrings by Girls with Guns, $19.99

Stocking Stuffers I love stocking stuffers because you can get so many more gifts for your money!

  • Ammo, ammo ammo!  Buying ammo can seem intimidating if you don’t own a gun, but it doesn’t have to be!  All you have to know the the type of gun you Hunter enjoys shooting.  Then head to your local outdoor store and someone to help you chose a box.  If you don’t know what your hunter needs, the cheap stuff works just as fine on the range for target practice!

Box of Remington .223 Ammo, $13.99

  • Field Snacks.  Fill your hunter’s stocking with jerky, nuts and chocolate!  All make for great snacks out in the field.  If you hunter is a adventurous, go for something a little more exotic than just beef.  I’ve never had Elk Jerky, but I know how delicious elk is and I’d love to try it!

Mountain America Original Elk Jerky, $7.95

  • Write in Rain Notebook.  Write In The Rain Notebooks are great for field work because the paper is coated and waterproof.  Maybe your hunter needs to write down a few notes about the location of his or her tree stand.  Or maybe they want to remember how the cold front affected the number of ducks they saw.  Either way, its a great addition to any field pack.

Rite in the Rain – Green Tactical Note Book, $6.31

  • Cooking Accessories
    • Silicone spatulas!  If you don’t have one or several in your kitchen, buy some for yourself too!  Such a great and versitle kitchen tool!  The silicone is heat resistant and allows you to scrape every last bit of sauce onto your plate!

Wilton Easy Flex 3-Piece Silicone Spatula Set, $7.96

    • Your hunter’s favorite marinade, spice blend, or sauce.

Allegro Original Marinade, $7.24

  • Key Chains.  Easy and tons of options!

Heavy Hauler Duck Call Key Chain, $5.99

12 Guage Shotgun Shell Key Chain, $3.99

9MM Bullet Keychain, $8.50

Duck Commander Happy Happy Happy Mug, $10

Real Hunters’ Wives Duck T-shirt, $20

  • Camo Tape.  An easy pick that will always come in handy!

Hunters Specialties Camo Gun and Bow Tape, $5.79

 

Just for Fun/Gag Gifts

  • Paracord Grenade.  P-cord accessories are definitely in right now.  I have a bracelet and a key chain and my husband has a bracelet.  But this is something all new!  A paracord grenade!  BOOM!

Cobrabraid Paracord Grenade $12.99

  • Lock and Load Alarm Clock.  Hate your alarm clock in the mornings?  Then shoot it!  Ok, this is a super cheesy gift and more of a toy than a good alarm clock, but it would make for a great gag gift!

Gun And Target Recordable Alarm Clock , $13.33

I hope you got a few ideas from this post and your hunter gets a great gift this year!  For more inspiration, check out my Pinterest board Huntress.  And if you’re curious what I want for Christmas, check out my Wish List 😉

Duck Dynasty – Have the Bearded Boys Helped Increase the Numbers of Duck Hunters?

Have you been watching Duck Dynasty on A&E?  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that show!  Duck Dynasty is a reality tv series about the Robertson family, creaters of the Duck Commander and Buck Commander brands.  Mostly through sales of duck calls and other branded outdoor gear, the Robertsons have gone from down-home, self-proclaimed rednecks to down-home, self proclaimed redneck MILLIONAIRES.  The show gives us a little insight into the family-run business, but more so into the quirky antics of the family members.  If you don’t hunt you may think you wouldn’t enjoy the show but you’d be wrong!  These guys are so hilarious in their one-liners and their homemade projects that everyone can find something to relate to.  I love the show so much that for Halloween, I dressed as Willie Robertson (the main “character” on the show and CEO of Duck Commander)!   I even carried a Duck Commander teal call with me 🙂

Yup, that’s me, a 25-year old girl, as Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty on Halloween!

For those of us that do hunt, you’ve probably noticed the wide-spread popularity of Duck Dynasty.  Many of our friends who’ve never picked up a shotgun enjoy the show.  So the question is, will the Robertons’ new fans move over into an active conservation role?  Will more duck hunters be born from Duck Dynasty?  Guest blogger Travis Brenson sheds some light…

Duck Dynasty – Have the Bearded Boys Helped Increase the Numbers of Duck Hunters?

Well, that’s the million dollar question and unfortunately it’s too soon to tell. Certainly there are those who work in State Regulated Fish and Game Agencies that might hear of stories about hunters who retrieved those dusty duck hunting caps to revisit those frigid duck blinds of their youth only after watching A & E’s wildly popular reality series, “Duck Dynasty”. Or there are those who’ve been seen trading hikes into the mountains with their scopes and rifles for waders, shotguns and duck calls.

The bearded boys doing what they do best, duck hunting.

But without hunting or license statistics, duck stamp purchases and ammunition sales, it is hard to predict. Even looking at the most recent copy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Migratory Bird Hunting Activity and Harvest During the 2009 and 2010 Hunting Seasons can’t prove or disprove the numbers since it was released in July 2011, long before the show first aired in March of 2012. So, is there any evidence to support the claims?

Duck Commander brand duck calls, available in their online store: http://store.duckcommander.com/

There is. Namely, duck calls. As in millions of dollar’s worth. According to Celebritynetworth.com, Willie Robertson has a net worth of ten million dollars directly related to his family-owned and operated duck call business. Well, that and an ever-increasing cult popularity that Duck Dynasty has created with their diehard duck fans. On their website you can find episodes to download and watch in case you missed anything big that might have happened between this week’s show and lasts or you can find the location of their next live appearance. That’s right, you can meet the bearded boys in person. Trade frog leg recipes or talk turkey (or duck) about which of the many duck calls work best in each and every duck hunting situation.

It’s a family business. Phil Robertson, the creater of Duck Commander, along with his brother Si, his son Jase, and his son and current CEO of the company, Willie Robertson.

But best of all, if you grew up hunting then you can experience firsthand the love of family and tradition and how hunting can be the glue to tie generations together with. Either way, Duck Dynasty is sure to please with its light-hearted humor, bumbling brothers and their juvenile antics. Something that is always in short supply it seems. But whether or not the show will end up reviving the age-old traditions of duck hunting is only left to anecdotal evidence, for now. Or until we get the most current U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Migratory Bird Hunting Report.

Who knows, maybe the beards will be the catalyst for a whole new generation of duck hunters.

Travis Brenson is an avid hunter and marksman who enjoys the big Texas outdoors and appreciates a good venison steak. When he’s not in his deer stand he’s working for Scopes n More, home of the best deals on scopes.

Hearing Protection during Hunting Season

Most of the hunting/shooting community knows the importance of using hearing protection while on the range.  But not many hunters will use hearing protection while in the field.  We often need to be able to use our ears to detect prey or to make sure we aren’t making noise ourselves.  But at what cost?  Guest blogger John O’Connor offers some insight.

Safe Shooting

Hi my name is John O’Connor, I am a father, outdoorsman and passionate about living a healthy lifestyle.  Over the past few years I have become more and more interested in hearing loss.  My father and grandfathers, who are and were all hunters, are affected by hearing loss.  I feel that there is a general lack of understanding around the issue and it is our job to spread awareness where we can.   

How to Protect Hearing While Hunting

For many, hunting is a fantastic hobby that allows a person to live off the land and spend time with their loved ones.  While hunting can be a fun sport, it is also important to understand just how damaging it can be to a person’s hearing.  Many hunters put most of their emphasis on their guns and the game that they catch, but they may forget about protecting their ears from hearing damage.  In order to ensure that your hearing health is up to par in the future, it is essential that you protect your hearing each time you go out hunting.

Radians Rad Band Banded Hearing Protection $6.22

First, you may be interested to know why hearing loss is so common amongst hunters.  The reason for this is simply because some hunters use guns without using ear protection or are not using the proper hearing protection when hunting.  The loud noise that guns make when they are fired can drastically damage hearing and cause hearing loss over a period of time. My father who is now in his late 70’s has been an avid hunter for years.  He often times neglected his hearing while out in the woods and now uses a hearing aid to help increase his hearing levels. Although he still finds time to get out to the range he always makes sure he has the proper hearing protection with him to protect his ears from further damage. If you notice that you constantly use your gun while hunting without wearing ear protection, you are putting your hearing at risk.  There is also another thing that you should consider if you are going hunting with family members and friends.

3M Peltor Combat Arms Earplugs $12.84

All of your loved ones should also be wearing some type of hearing protection while they are in the wilderness with you.  You don’t have to be the one to fire the gun to get severe hearing damage.  If you have children or teenagers with you, it is imperative that you protect their hearing every single time that they come hunting with you.  You can do this by visiting a local pharmacy or by looking in your local sporting goods store to find the best type of hearing protection available.  Most hearing protection products are cheap and easy to wear while hunting for game.

3M Peltor Optime 98 Earmuff $13.81 on Amazon

There are a couple of options available to you if you make the decision that you need to wear hearing protection.  Your first option is to buy a pack of earplugs from your local pharmacy.  Earplugs are great because they insert right into the ear canal and stay put for as long as you need them to be there.  They reduce the amount of noise that would have reached your eardrum, causing damage and hearing loss over time.  Earplugs are great for people who want something small and convenient.  You can also invest in noise-reducing headphones that can be found in your nearby sporting goods store.  These will be a little more expensive, but are a good investment for those who want something more long lasting.

MSA Safety Works 10087625 Foam Ear Plugs $13.08 for 80 pairs

Your hearing is such a precious thing and is often taken for granted every single day.  Even if you don’t want to protect your hearing in other areas of your life, at least consider wearing ear protection when firing guns and hunting.  You should also have everyone else in your hunting party wear some type of hearing protection as well to ensure that everyone enjoys the hobby to its full extent.

Howard Leight R-01526 Impact Sport Electronic Earmuff $43.59

When someone in my group is shooting and I am not, I will always plug my ears with my fingers.  If we are hunting from a blind and I have the time and space to put earmuffs on before shooting I will do that as well.  If you don’t want to limit your ability to hear your game while hunting, a great option is to use electronic ear muffs.  Electronic muffs have a microphone on the outside that allows you to hear sounds with low amplification (conversations, movement) but will automatically turn off loud noises, such as blasts from guns!  I have a pair and I love them.  I find I can actually hear things better while wearing them, which is kind of neat!  And there are some cheap options at your local shooting or sporting goods store!  

Thanks for reading and stay safe this hunting season!

The fall season…

The fall season is in full swing and I am busy busy busy!  The educational programs at the nature center where I work have been going great with full classes.

Pronghorn Hunting in South Dakota

Last month I got to go home to Baton Rouge while D went Pronghorn hunting in South Dakota.  I didn’t get to go on this hunting trip but I had a great weekend back home with friends and family.  I hadn’t been home since last Christmas.  I was so excited to see TREES, big beautiful TREES again!

Road Trip with the babies!

While I was in Baton Rouge, my best friend and I stopped by Red Jacket firearms (home of Sons of Guns, on Discovery Channel). In their parking lot was a TANK!

A Tank at Red Jacket Firearms in Baton Rouge, home of Sons of Guns

Back here in South Texas we are prepping for Nilgai and Duck season! We have a few hunts lined up already. In December we will be rifle-hunting Nilgai and Hogs at Laguna Atascosa NWR so we are spending some time at the range with friends and rifles.

With friends, shooting rifles at the range on a cold and wet day.

And the big news… We got a boat!!

The catalog picture of our Alumacraft 17-foot Hunting/Fishing Boat.

It’s spectacular. We love it. We’ve only gotten to take it out once since D brought it home and we drove all over the Arroyo Colorado. The weather was crazy that weekend, in the 60’s and no sun. It was like 1 weekend of winter and now we are right back in summer with temps in the 90’s. South Texas, man.

Taking our boat out for the first time!

We have about 3 weeks left til Duck season and we can’t wait! Work will keep us busy between now and then!

My Bogie 🙂

Birder Non-Birder

I don’t consider myself a “Birder.”  When I think of a Birder, I think of someone who can ID just about any bird AND  can say if the bird is ambiguous enough that it can’t be identified.  If it’s a little woodland bird or a little shorebird, I pretty much can’t give a positive ID, ever. Which is perfectly OK with because those are not the birds I enjoy watching.  My favorite birds are big, colorful, and full of personality.

The first bird to really capture my heart was the Roseate Spoonbill, as seen here in the Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana.

I began to learn and love birds while in undergrad at LSU.  One of my favorite classes (Ecology of Louisiana Wildlife) brought us into the field for wildlife-watching and whatever we spotted in the field we had to learn and be quizzed on (by photos or calls) later in the classroom.  Outside of class I found I really enjoyed knowing birds.  I could IS an ibis and a roseatte spoonbill in the Atchafalaya basin.  I could hear “peter-peter-peter” and say “Tufted Titmouse!” while walking on campus.  Combined with my minimal knowledge of trees from Dendro, I enjoyed impressing people with my knowledge of the natural world.  In Arkansas, I liked seeing the delicate Tufted Titmouse at my feeder in the winter.  And the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds battle for territory during migration.  But I haven’t really expanded my desire to learn the nitty-gritty details of birding, or to travel specifically to see a certain bird.  I continue to be enraptured by everyday ducks, wading birds, and hawks on powerlines.

A banded Harris’s Hawk on a power line on my way home from work.

Now I live in the Rio Grande Valley (also known as the RGV or the “Valley”) which is one of the USA’s birding hot spots.  Tourists come from around the nation and around the world to spot a bird they won’t be able to see anywhere else in the country.  I’m lucky to work at a World Birding Center where I have learned about and seen many of our specialty birds and can share the experience with birders, non-birders, tourists, and locals.

The beautiful Green Jay, a South-Texas specialty and one of my favorites!

Many local people have no idea what a rich resource is contained in our small portion of Texas.  Coming from Louisiana and Arkansas where if you see a hawk it’s probably a Red-tailed, I still get a thrill seeing a beautiful but fairly common Harris’s Hawk on my drive home from work.  If I were a “lister,” I would’ve made several life-checks since I moved down here last year but what really makes me happy is watching Chachalaca parents corral their young as they run across the floor of the thornforest.

I will never get tired of watching the incredibly personable Chachalacas!

Sometimes living in the Valley has its drawbacks but going out to a wetland and watching Cinnamon Teal forage and rest has a way of reminding me to slow down and appreciate this tropical world that surrounds me every day.  When we move to begin another part of our lives, the birds of the RGV will always have a special place in my memories.  Here are some more of my South Texas favorites…

A White-tailed Kite. Beautiful bird of prey seen mostly in South Texas, South Florida, and coastal California.

Beautiful Altamira Oriole drinking from a feeder, not far from it’s nest at Laguna Atascosa NWR.

The crypticl Common Pauraque. Can you spot it?

Black-bellied Whistling Duck taking flight at Santa Ana NWR

Cinnamon Teal (center) at Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Greater Roadrunner doing what it does best- running away!

A pair of Groove-billed Ani’s. Even though they look like grackles, these birds are in the same family as Road Runners and Cuckoos. And they have a unique call!

Things I learned While Traveling In Hawaii

Recently, D and I were lucky enough to spend 11 days in Hawaii.  We spend most of the trip staying in Waikiki and seeing much of the island of Oahu.  Then we flew to Kona and got to spend a few days on the Big Island of Hawaii.  I’ve been reading a lot about minimalist travel and light travel for backpacking and got inspired to try to go minimalist.  I got about half-way there.  Here are some lessons I learned on our recent trip.

 

Lesson 1. Just because you can save $25 in baggage fees by only checking 1 bag between two people does NOT mean it’s going to be worth it!!
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Thanks to having only 1 checked bag between the two of us (filled mostly with scuba gear), tor the first time I managed to not overpack my clothing!  But we still brought a ton.  Any time I vacation somewhere I’m in the water a lot I tend to wear a lot more clothes because I end up changing twice a day.  Not to mention we were gone for 11 days.
Here is the breakdown of our luggage (for two people):
  • 1 giant checked bag (that was over 50 pounds every time we checked in at an airport) which held both of our snorkel/dive gear, some clothes that didn’t fit into the carry-ons, and everything that isn’t allowed on planes (toiletries and liquids, dive knives)
  • 2 rolling carry-on bags- packed to the absolute maximum with clothing and shoes.  1 for each of us.  (By the way I had 4 pairs of shoes- flip flops, tennis shoes (worn on the plane), boat shoes, and heels.  Wore every pair.  D had tennis shoes (worn on the plane) and boat shoes.)
  • 1 laptop bag that D carried which held his laptop and cords, plus all our plane snacks (we flew for about 8 hours to get there and the airlines did not offer a free meal)
  • 1 giant tote bag that I carried which held: my purse (wallet, tickets, chapstick, etc); all my electronics and cords (camera, cell phone, nook plus chargers); a jacket, blanket and pillow (if I’m not comfortable I will NOT be able to sleep on a plane), my binos, my scuba diving regulator and computer (I don’t check those because they are the most expensive things I travel with and I don’t want to take my eyes off of them); and a water bottle (that I filled up inside the security checkpoint which subsequently leaked all over the place on the plane- lesson learned).

Watching White-tailed Tropicbirds outside of the Jagger Museum, Volcanoes National Park, HI.

If the Airlines actually enforced the whole “1 Carry-On and 1 Personal Item” rule I would’ve been in trouble as that giant tote back didn’t actually hold all that stuff, but I find that as long as you only have one carry-on in the overhead compartments and can fit everything else under the seat they overlook the number of items.
They do, however, enforce the “50 pounds per checked bag” rule and we had to re-pack twice and paid the overage fee once.  On top of that we had a LOT of stuff to drag through airports while trying to catch a connecting flight.  Next time we will spend the additional $25 and pack another 50 lb checked bag and it will save a lot of airport stress.
Lesson 2.  Minimize clothing and maximize accessories.

Dressed up for a Catamaran Dinner Cruise off of Honolulu, Oahu, HI. The only time I wore my heels while in Hawaii.

This is something I did right and it’s the first time I’ve attempted.  I usually travel with wayyy too many clothing choices and just one or two necklaces.  I wear the same earrings daily and don’t bother with bracelets, hair pieces, etc.  Well this time I packed a ton of jewelry into a toiletries bag and went with the minimum clothing to cover the activities we would be doing (lots of time on boats, lots of walking, and a few nice nights out).  I wore everything I brought and some pieces I wore over and over but I never felt like I was wearing the same thing because I would change up my jewelry.  Not to mention I bought lots of clothing and jewelry while there.  By the way the most common and easiest accessory?  Flowers in your hair!
Lesson 3.  Pack for the style of the place you are going.

Dressed up for a Luau in my swimsuit, a sarong and accessories!

I brought most of my ~tropical~ style clothing and accessories and I’m so glad I did.  It’s not everywhere that you can wear a giant flower in your hair or a bright orange and white sarong as a dress, but you can do it in Hawaii and fit right in.  And it really helps get in the ~island~ mood which in my opinion made my vacation richer.  I’m glad I brought that stuff with me or I would’ve wanted to buy more than I did.  I know I won’t wear this stuff much at home but on a beach vacation I definitely will!
Lesson 4.  Things I’m Glad I Brought

My ScubaPro split fins. They are big and bulky in my suitcase but so worth it to have my own fins while snorkeling and diving.

  • My super awesome new cell phone (an unlocked, rooted and ROM’d HTC Rezound) with a great camera on it, for quick pics, easy uploads, and check-ins on Facebook.  By the end of the trip I was checking in at EVERY place we went so when I got home I could go through and remember where we went.
  • My rooted Nook (Android tablet) for internetting, reading, and playing games on the long flights.  This replaces my big clunky laptop which I used to bring on every trip.  I’m so glad I’ve switched to a tablet for travel.  Lighter and you don’t have to take it out while going through airport security!
  • All my snorkel and dive gear (includes: mask, snorkel, fins, booties, regulator, and air-integrated computer).  We got to snorkel a lot more than I expected and I was so happy to have our own gear.  Our gear was superior to the rental gear and we were always first in and last out of the water.  Yeah we had to lug it around and clean it but it was worth it to be able to jump in ready to go.
Lesson 5.  Things I’m glad I left:

Taking pictures of coral and fish while free diving off the Big Island of Hawaii. I’m always happy that I brought my camera’s underwater housing!

  • My big Canon DSLR.  I instead opted to carry only my Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot and it’s underwater housing.  My Canon takes superior pictures but it is heavy and changing out lenses is kind of a pain.  If my mother-in-law didn’t have her DSLR with her I would’ve regretted not bringing mine but she got a lot of great pics and shared them with us.
  • Lots of toiletries.  I really minimized the toiletries I would have normally brought and instead used the hotel’s shampoo/conditioner.  I also minimized the size of the bottles.  I poured some makeup remover into an old hotel shampoo bottle to avoid bringing the whole 6 oz. bottle.
Lesson 6.  Things I Wish I Brought:

I probably wore this shirt the most while in Hawaii!

  • Febreeze and laundry detergent.  I remembered the Oxyclean but I really needed more laundering stuff.  I wore some of the same clothes over and over and they got pretty stinky, especially the ones I put on after getting out of the ocean.  Then when we traveled to the big island and I had to pack everything together, EVERYTHING got a bit stinky.  I was very glad to be home and in fresh clothes.  On-the-go laundry stuff will definitely be in my luggage next time.
  • A USB car charger.  I knew that most of our flights were going to have power ports but I didn’t realize that most of them would be for car lighter chargers.  I had a charger perfect for this but I left it at home.  Next time I will definitely be in my bag.  At one plane ride had regular power outlets and we watched videos on D’s laptop, played Angry Birds on my Nook, and listened to comedy albums on my phone.
  • TWO blankets.  D raises his eyebrows when he sees me bringing a jacket, pillow, and blanket all the way across the Pacific Ocean, but on the way back on our overnight flight, he was trying to get some of my blanket!
It was an amazing trip and I learned so much.  Not only about the Polynesian culture but about myself and how I like to travel.  I can’t wait to incorporate what I’ve learned into our next trip!

Fishing in South Texas and Cobrabraid Review

I’ve officially lived in Texas for over a year now  and thanks to friends and coworkers we have finally figured out where and how to fish down here.  The coast is only about an hour and a half from where we live which is great because we love us some speckled trout and red fish!  Of course, we don’t have a boat, but that’s ok because Laguna Madre (the bay between South Padre Island and the main land) is very shallow and we can wade fish.

I had never been wade fishing before but now I LOVE it!  I love the salt water, the sun, and spending time with Drew.  The water is the perfect temperature.  And of course setting the hook and reeling in trout is always fun!

Speckled Trout must be between 15-25 inches to keep (except for one a day that can be greater than 25 inches).  So far I haven’t bagged a big enough fish but I still like catching and releasing the smaller ones.

Of course Drew has brought home all the bacon. I’m still learning the gear and the feel of fishing while wading. I did get to try out some new gear while fishing…

I recieved a Cobrabraid 550 Paracord (“p-cord”) Survival Bracelet from the Outdoor Blogger Network. The point of the bracelet is that you always have a good length of rope on your wrist incase you would need it in any emergency (or non-emergency) situation. The Cobrabraid Bracelet is the Small Bracelet in DigiCamo. They also sent along a Key Chain in Purple Camo which I was not expecting!  They must know me and know that I loooove purple!  The Key Chain is currently attached to my (purple) tackle bag.

As part of the Cobrabraid Bracelet review, I was asked to wear the Bracelet in the field and actually USE it! Take it apart to use the Paracord! I love that they included this in the review guidelines cause I would never have done it otherwise.

I wore the Cobrabraid Bracelet out fishing because I knew I would find a reason to use it. D and I fish side-by-side and he had both the net and live bait bucket attached to his wading belt. The rope he was using for the bait bucket was too long and getting a new shrimp involved me pulling in the bucket while D was trying to fish. Then when we would hook one, the rope that connected the net to D’s belt was too short! There was my chance to use my Cobrabraid Bracelet!


The rope holding D’s net was falling apart and way too short.


I had to take apart the Cobrabraid Bracelet while standing in the bay and holding my rod/reel. I found where to start but had to use pliers to get it going. There’s no way I could’ve done it with just my finger nails. But that’s ok because I don’t think it would ever unravel on its own while you were wearing it. Once I got it started the Bracelet unraveled quickly! I saved the connecter pieces to re-make the Bracelet later!

I was able to quickly wrap the rope around my belt and tie it to the bait bucket.   It was the perfect length.  The bucket was accessible to both of us but not so long that it was a pain to grab a new shrimp.

Then I used the long bait bucket rope for the net and used the old short net rope for my Plano dry box (which held my camera)!  Perfect!  I went back to fishing and we had a great morning out on the bay!

My Cobrabraid Bracelet is still unraveled and attached to the bait bucket and that’s where its going to stay.  I can’t wait to go back and try to get some take-home trout 🙂

I received the Paracord Bracelet free of charge from Cobrabraid to test and review. The opinions expressed above are my independent thoughts and experiences.

What I’m Wearing

  • Seamless headband by Buff in Bihar.
  • Fishing Shirt by Columbia.
  • Most comfortable swimsuit ever by Speedo (available at Academy).
  • Convertable fishing pants by Worldwide Sportsman (available at Bass Pro Shops). Yes I am wearing my husband’s pants because I don’t have a pair that fit!
  • Sunglasses- not sure the brand but they are polarized and I got them at Bass Pro for about 15 bucks!