Quinta Mazatlan

Drew moved to the Rio Grande Valley in the summer of 2010 to accept a position with a national wildlife refuge.  We had just begun dating in May so it was pretty hard on me.  I drove 14 hours to visit him as often as possible.  One of those trips I left with some pretty new jewelry 🙂

We got married in May of 2011 and I moved down to Texas.

Thanks to a recommendation by Drew’s boss, I quickly found a job as a naturalist and supervisor at Quinta Mazatlan (QM).  Quinta means “country estate” and Mazatlan means “where the deer/antelope roam” and is also the name of a city in Mexico where the original builder of the estate loved to visit.


(front facade of the historic adobe home and “main house” at Quinta Mazatlan)

QM is currently a historic adobe home and 20-acre nature center featuring many gardens, native thornforest, and lots of programs for people to enjoy.  QM is also one of the 9 World Birding Centers that work together to promote eco-tourism and birding in the Rio Grande Valley.


(Green Jay- City of McAllen’s official bird – photo by John Brush)

We are under the stewardship of the City of McAllen therefore I have been an employee with the City for the past 2 years. We are also the host of the Valley’s biggest Earth Day Festival: Vida Verde (which means “live green”).

My job has included a bunch of different duties including website management, social media, program development and implementation, supervising staff, writing, public relations, and more.

I have LOVED working at Quinta Mazatlan. It’s a beautiful location in the heart of the city. Every morning I walk down Bougainvillea lane, say hello to the Eastern Screech Owl in the fallen palm, and make my way to my office in the Discovery Center.


(Eastern Screech Owl)


(Discovery Center at Quinta Mazatlan, and my office building)

The best part of this job has been working for and learning from my boss, our manager Colleen. Colleen is so inspired and she has such an incredible vision not only for Quinta Mazatlan for the the City itself. I often tell people there is no one else in the Valley that I would rather work for.


(QM board member, Jonathon Wood of the Raptor Project , and my boss Colleen)

I’ve learned SO MUCH during my time at Quinta Mazatlan. And I’ve enjoyed the beauty of our gardens, forest, and wildlife. Here are some other sights of QM:


(Texas Tortoise crossing the walkway)


(Strawberry Pitaya cactus in bloom in the Cactus Garden.  Photo by JAVIER AREVALO.)


(Red-bordered Pixie, City of McAllen official butterfly.  Photo by John Brush.)


(My favorite- Plain Chachalaca on the trails.)


(Blue Passionvine, a native vine and favorite of the Gulf Frittilary butterfly, has a beautiful bloom)


(Texas Spiny Lizard.  Photo by John Brush.)


(Buff-bellied Hummingbird)


(Bougainvillea- City of McAllen official flower)


(Red-shouldered Hawk juvie sitting over Ruby Pond.)


(The Forest Sculpture Trail features 25 life-size and larger-than-life bronze sculptures of animals native to South Texas.)

I am going to miss the people at QM most!  I’m very sad to leave my work family but excited to see where we go next.


(Sunset over Quinta Mazatlan)

So many people have asked us “So what’s Christine going to do” when we move? Short answer: I don’t know! When we get there, Drew will start right away in his new position. But as soon as possible (December? March?), they are going to send him to training which will take the better part of a year to complete, in a few different places around the country. We don’t know exactly how this will work for me. The first part of his training he has to stay on-site at the training facility and it’s a very intense program so I probably won’t get to stay with him. But his field trainings will be different. So my employment is wide open right now! Which is kind of a cool feeling. I started working when I was 16 and have had a job every since. This will be a new experience for me! We will see how long I will enjoying being a house wife before I go insane and have to find work, haha!

Move countdown: 10 days!!

RGV Bucketlist: Places

RGV Bucketlist: Places to See
As I mentioned in my last post, Drew and I are leaving the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in South Texas after living here for a few years.  I am reflecting on all the places we visited in the second part of my RGV Bucketlist.  I spent most of my time working in McAllen, but we got to see quite a lot while living here!

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo

Santa Ana was the first place I visited here in the Rio Grande Valley.  This refuge is the reason we moved here, for Drew’s job.  When Drew first moved down here, the Rio Grande was at flood stage and water was released upstream to prevent flooding of urban areas. Most of Santa Ana was under several feet of water. One day while I was down here visiting, Drew took my kayaking on the hiking trail!  Also in the 2,000 acre bird refuge is a hawk tower and canopy rope bridge.

I love visiting Drew at work because I always get the VIP tour 🙂

Everyone goes to Santa Ana for the birds, and the birds go to Santa Ana for the habitat.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

By far my FAVORITE wildlife place in the Valley. I see something spectacular every time we go. Nilgai, Deer, Javelina, Pauraques, Chachalacas, Green Jays, Osprey, Roadrunners, Indigo Snakes, Texas Tortoises, Alligators, and many species of hawk! Driving out to Laguna every Saturday evening in duck season felt like we were going on vacation. Luckily, our friends that work and live on the refuge let us stay in their guest room (and eat their delicious food)! I was always on the look-out for Ocelot but never did see one. They are so secretive and really only move at night. It’s just nice being out there in the middle of the Thornscrub, miles from traffic and people.

American Kestrel on a Spanish Dagger at Laguna Atascosa

White-tailed Buck at Laguna

Altamira Oriole on a nectar feeder at the Visitor’s Center at Laguna

American Alligator at a water guzzler on the trails at Laguna Atascosa. I love gators.


We also had some great hunting at Laguna. More on that in another post.

South Padre Island

End of the road: South Padre Island

If there weren’t so much fishing and hunting to be done, I would’ve spent more time on the Island. It’s easily the nicest beach in Texas. The best days on the Island rival good days in Pensacola, my favorite Gulf Coast beach. There is a cute little bar on the beach that even has a small pool in the middle. I could spend days swimming and sunning on the beach. My favorite places besides the beach are Sea Turtle Inc, and the Birding Center Boardwalks. Tons of wildlife to see including lots of ducks and wading birds. We end up visiting every time we head to the Island.
 

The Birding Center Boardwalk

Gator at the Birding Center. Are you seeing a pattern? My favorite reptile.

Happy grebe swimming very close to the gator!

Sea Turtle Inc Rescue, Rehab and Educational Center

My favorite little island bar: Boomerang Billy’s

Rancho El Charco in La Joya

This one has been on my list for months, every since our new Education Supervisor started at work. She used to be the Education supervisor over at Rancho. This is a really interesting ranch. It’s privately owned and used to be open only for weddings and school field trips. Now they open the whole ranch up on the weekends to the public (for a $10 entry fee) as well. Its got something for everyone! I had seen pictures of their waterfalls and swimming holes and it looked like an oasis in the dessert. Turns out… it is! I LOVED visiting Rancho! We got a private tour and had the whole ranch to ourselves for an afternoon.

They have free-roaming horses (that they used for carriage rides when they are open), wild black bucks, pinned bison and gemsbok, pinned goats that you can go pet and feed, a fishing pond, views of Walker Lake, trails, a rope bridge leading to a waterfall that you can explore, and much more!

My favorite part? The swimming holes. They call them “holes” but the water is actually treated and safe to swim in. There are 3 pools. Two look more like swimming pools and have chlorinated water as warm as a bath!

The “Charco” (which means “puddle” in Spanish) is natural-looking and fed by cold water pumped in from a windmill on the ranch. I could spend all day in these pools. If you get the chance to go to Charco, I highly recommend it!!

Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco

Ring-necked Duck at Estero

We made a quick visit to Estero. The Visitor’s Center deck overlooks a small lake and you can see a ton of birds without having to go far!  Really enjoyed our short day there.

My first good view of a Cinnamon Teal at Estero!

Rio Grande River

This one is a bit controversial. You can see the river from various places (including Santa Ana) but it is not recommended to actually get ON the river. From what I hear, people used to kayak and bird on the river all the time. But being that the Rio Grande is the border between the US and Mexico, increased border violence has shut down most River trips. One River trip that still happens is the Pontoon birding tour during the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. I was invited to go on this field trip as an assistant to the guides. I got to see a “life bird” – the Zone-tailed Hawk!

Big beautiful black and white raptor. Can you see it in the middle of the picture above?  I also got to see all 3 species of U.S. Kingfishers in 1 trip!  We didn’t see any active border issues that I’ve heard about (like cartel men crossing the river with their rifles over their heads), but we did see something disturbing that I’ve never seen before: a body floating in the river. A dead man against the bank on the Mexico side. I called Border Patrol to report it but it was hard to explain to the other birding tourists that were also on the field trip. No, I didn’t take a picture; I felt like that would be disrespectful to that man and his family.  Some people do want to visit the River for eco- and recreational tourism, but I will not go again.

Lower Laguna Madre


A bit further from the US-Mexico border is one of my other FAVORITE places in the RGV.  Laguna Madre is a bay in between  main land Texas and Padre Island.  In the map above, the Lower Laguna Madre runs north-south from the top where it says “Laguna Madre” all the way down to Port Isabel.

We spend our weekends in long, shallow, hyper-saline bay.  The average depth of the whole Bay is just 3.6 feet. Other than where the Intercoastal Channel cuts through, you would wade across it. I have fallen in love with “The Bay” as we call it. It’s become a magical place for me, probably because we’ve seen so many sunrises and sunsets over the Bay.


We usually launch our boat in Arroyo City, head down the Arroyo Colorado (river), and enter the bay from the Intercoastal.  If it weren’t for the port of Harlingen and the Intercoastal Channel, we probably wouldn’t be able to launch a boat because it’s so shallow! But huge barges have to get into Harlingen so the Channel is dredged to maintain its depth. We always see dolphins feeding and porpoising in the Channel.


Out on the sand and grass flats, we see redfish, sting rays, wading birds, and lots of people fishing. This bay offers incredible hunting and fishing but I will have to devote a whole post for that!

Corpus Christi and the Texas State Aquarium

Texas State Aquarium Outdoor Exhibits: Stingray Touchpool

I feel like Corpus is a mix of Houston and South Padre. We went to Corpus to buy our boat and while we were there we did a little sight-seeing. We drove over to North Padre but didn’t really get to see the beach. The Corpus waterfront was a lot like any big city waterfront. I wanted to see the Aquarium because they have billboards down here with dolphins on them, haha. They have a few great exhibits including the Stingray touch pool, but we saw the whole aquarium pretty quickly. We didn’t see too much more of Corpus so I don’t really feel like I can judge the whole city based on that one visit.

Schlitterbahn New Braunfels

While not in the RGV, I’ve wanted to visit the original Schlitterbal forever! On our way home from visiting family in Baton Rouge, we made a side trip to San Marcos/New Braunfels. I can’t believeI did it, but I convinced D to go to Schlitterbahn!! Schlitterbahn has been the mecca of waterparks ever since I was a kid. I’d heard stories of how the park intermingles with the river and it sounded incredible. As an adult I have since lowered my expectations, thinking it the con’s of the crowds and lines would outweightto pro’s. But we had to go to San Marcos for D so I figured, why not check it out! I am sooo glad we did! Schlitterbahn is so much fun!!! Even with the crowds we had a blast and spent most of our time in the (cold) water! The park was built into the banks of the Comal river and even uses river water in several of the “rides.” Most of the rides were actually tube chutes where you hop in a tube and ride the chutes and falls for miles. You can get out and back in in many places. The older part of the park does a great job of incorporating nature into the chutes, but the water was low and all of us adults kept getting stuck! I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard as when we all got bunched up in an eddy and couldn’t manage to get out! The newer part of the park has 3 sections all connected by Tubenbach tube chute. This was my FAVORITE part. The water was still fed from the river and cooold at first! The falls and obstacles were so much fun and so fast! You also got great views of the river. AND we got to ride a conveyor belt, IN YOUR TUBE, to get to the top of the chute! Finally, there was the newest section, Blastenoff, home of the Master Blaster. This was a true waterpark RIDE and we waited an hour in line (it went by quickly). This is the ride that you see on all the tv shows and has been voted Best Waterslide a million times. The cool part is that right after the first drop, you go back up using only the force of the water! Very cool. Worth the hour-wait once, but we didn’t ride it again.  I didn’t have my water-proof camera housing with us so we didn’t really get any pictures inside the park.

I think Drew’s favorite place we visited on this trip was Buc-ee’s. It’s a gas station the size of a department store! So much jerky, candy, home goods, clothes, ice cream, and souvenirs!  You can only see a small part of it in this picture! We bought t-shirts, sunglasses strap, a beautiful cow-hide pistol case, and lots of Dippin’ Dots (ok, I bought lots of Dippin’ Dots because no day at the waterpark is complete without Dippin’ Dots).

Other checks on my Places bucketlist:

  • Rio Grande Valley Outlet Center in Mercedes(don’t laugh, I’ve gotten some incredible deals here!)
  • Bentsen RGV State Park in Mission (biking trail)
  • Rancho Lomitas in Rio Grande City (native plant tour and longhorns!)
  • National Butterfly Center in Mission (beautiful trails and gardens)

Trail at the National Butterfly Center

  • Bass Pro Shops Harlingen (we actually volunteered at the Grand Opening!)
  • Boca Chica (birding on the beach)
  • King Ranch and Kingsville (loved the museum)

  • Choke Canyon (our first time RV camping thanks to our neighbors, and a great swimming spot)
  • Southmost Preserve (inside the border wall)

I hate to make an RGV Places Bucketlist and not include Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, but I’m not including it on this post because it has been so much more than a check-mark. I’ve worked at Quinta Mazatlan for 2 years and I’m going to miss it terribly. More about QM in another post…

My PLACES RGV Bucketlist is not yet complete. I still want to visit our local Schlitterbahn on South Padre Island and Clayton’s beach bar!  Hopefully we will get to see those places before we move!

RGV Bucket List: Wildlife

I’ve lived in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas for 2 years now. D moved here a year before me to take a refuge management job, and I followed right before we got married in 2011. We planned to stay here for 2-3 years, both of us working full time and building our savings. Now that time is coming to a close, as D has accepted a position in northern Montana! Yes, we are moving from one border to the other!
Mexico to Canada
We have a little over a month left in Texas and I’m contemplating all the things I wanted to do while we were here. I call it my RGV Bucket List. We also did lots of things we never expected we would be doing 3 years ago! Here I outline the Wildlife and Animals part of my RGV Bucketlist.

Birds!

Chachalaca Crossing

Chachalaca Mom and Chicks right out of the nest!

The first time I visited Santa Ana with D I took my picture next to a sign that said “Chachalaca Crossing.” I’d heard about these loud pheasant-like birds and couldn’t wait to see one. I didn’t seeing on that day, but I did end up working at a nature center where Chachalacas are encountered daily! In my first week, I watched a momma coral her two chicks that had just left the nest in a palm tree! I love these hilarious birds and their big personalities. One of my favorite moments was filling the suet feeders on a cold winter morning and feeding them suet right out of my hand.

Banded Great Kiskadee at work

Before I began working, I remember seeing a big yellow bird in our backyard while D was at work one day. I was amazed and had never seen anything like the Great Kiskadee. I pulled out my bird field guide and learned about this large flycatcher. Now I listen to their calls every day from my office window.

Green Jays on the Picnic Table at Laguna Atascosa

The Green Jay is the City Bird of McAllen. Pictures show it to be a brightly colored big bird and I assumed I would see them all the time, like Blue Jays back in the Southeast. Turns out, they are VERY well camouflaged and quite secretive. I’m still thrilled when I see a pair at our sunflower seed feeders. One of my favorite Valley birds.

Common Pauraque and it’s incredible camo

I had seen pictures of Common Pauraques on Birdchick’s blog. Well, she said the bird was in the picture, but I couldn’t really tell! Incredible leaf-litter camoflauge paired with the un-moving nature of this night-jar, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see one. But our groundskeeper always knew how to point them out and I eventually became quiet adept at finding them! I always love showing visitor’s this forest-floor bird because once you see it, you feel like you’ve been let in on a secret!

Green Parakeets on the Powerlines in McAllen

I had no idea there was such a large population of wild parakeets and parrots. I now know how to tell if its a grackle or a parakeet on the powerlines at dusk. There will always be a few parakeets upside down, and grackles never do that! I also enjoyed the parrots coming to Quinta this spring to feed on the Coral Beans early in the mornings. Both Red-crowned and Lilac-crowned visited us.

Lilac-crowned Parrot in a Coral Bean tree

Other species I love to see: Crested Caracaras, White-tailed Hawk, Eastern Screech Owls, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and Groove-billed Ani’s!

Crested Caracara

Eastern Screech Owl at work

White-tailed Hawk stretching on a fence post

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on a flat roof in Mission, TX

Groove-billed Ani’s

Nilgai and Deer!

Nilgai on GLO land at the mouth of the Arroyo Colorado river

When D first told me about Nilgai I didn’t understand. So it’s an antelope, as big as a horse, from India and Pakistan, just roaming free in a wildlife refuge? Now they are a regular part of our visits to Laguna Atascosa, and a regular meat in our freezer. Because nilgai are exotic, there is no closed season for hunting them. As long as you are in the right place, you can shoot them. When we were duck hunting, we always passed public land where nilgai roamed and subsequently we always had a rifle with us, just in case. This planning paid off when a friend of ours shot 2 nilgai in the middle of a duck hunt and has been sharing that meat with us since! If you’ve never had nilgai steaks, I highly reccommend them!

Escaped Fallow Deer

White-tailed Deer buck at El Canelo Ranch

Herps!

Texas Tortoise at Laguna Atascosa

I love most of the herptefauna down here too. The Texas Tortoise, a species of concern, is spotted regularly in wild places, munching on Prickly Pear Cactus fruit.

Holding an Indigo Snake I found at the McAllen Nature Center (currently closed)

The beautiful blue-black Indigo Snake (another species of concern) is a big strong snake that eats rattlesnakes, but is very docile when handling. And of course there are more dangerous herps here as I learned when a Black-striped Snake bit me and sent me to the ER for pain and swelling for 16 hours. This happened at work too, so that was some fun paperwork (/sarcasm).

American Alligator near a water trough at Laguna Atascosa

I ALWAYS love seeing American alligators!

Ranch Animals!
I’ve gotten to get up close and personal with lots of ranch animals. Ranching both cattle and white-tails is big down here. Here are some of my favorites…

Saying Hello to Longhorn cattle at Rancho Lomitas

Texas Longhorn at Rancho Lomitas in Rio Grande City

Feeding Bison at Rancho El Charco in La Joya

Wild-roaming Black Bucks at Rancho El Charco in La Joya

Gemsbok Oryx at Rancho El Charco in La Joya. She was not interested in my apple.

Bottle-feeding White-tailed Deer fawns at El Canelo Ranch

Surprises!

“Playing” with Dolphins in the Intercoastal Channel in the Lower Laguna Madre

Every time we go fishing or duck hunting from the Arroyo Colorado, we see dolphins using the deep channels! One of our first times out, they came right up to our boat!

Assisting with a White-tailed Deer artificial insemination program at El Canelo Ranc

We also got the opportunity to assist with a White-tailed Deer artificial insemination at El Canelo. Fascinating!

Holding a Cannonball Jelly in the Lower Laguna Madre

Another surprise was holding canonball jellyfish! They don’t sting the same way the beach jellies do, and they rarely harm humans. We were wade-fishing one day and they were swimming around us, so we took some pictures!

Red-tailed Hawk ,Raptor Banding in the RGV with Bill Clark

We got a special invitation to help out with Raptor Banding in the sugar cane fields on the border. This was such a thrill! We watched as the expert took measurements and attached bands to hawks he caught using a field trap. Then Mr. Clark let us hold the raptor and release it! This was a once-in-a-lifetiem experience for sure and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. (Mr. Clark is actually doing a Raptor Banding Field Trip as a part of the RGV Birding Festival this November if you are interested in being able to do this!)

I would still like to get a better look and even photograph Javelina. I saw one from the road one morning on our way to duck hunting, so I’m counting it, but I’d like to see them closer. Other than that, my RGV animal bucket list is pretty much complete!

Roadrunner at Laguna Atascosa

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!!

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!

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!

Day at the Range

Wow, what a great day at the shooting range! We finally found an outdoors range in the Valley. Before we were going to Hole in the Wall which is an indoor range. It’s a nice place but all 5 lanes are always full and it’s very tight quarters. Not to mention you can’t move up and down the range, you can only move your target up and down. But when D’s friend told us about this off of Hwy 100 in Los Fresnos, we were in!  It’s a simple but spacious set-up.  2 handgun ranges with several target stands, and 1 rifle range.  You pay $10 for the day.  Easy!

Shooting Range Los Fresnos, TX

Shooting the Springfield XDM .40 semi-auto is so much fun!

We shots lots of guns today. S&W .38 Special (my CC snubnose revolver), Ruger .357 (Drew’s CC revolver), Springfield XDM .40 (Drew’s newest pistol), AR-15 rifle, and a few of other people’s guns. One of my favorite things about going to a big range is talking with other people and sharing experiences.

Shooting Range women's holsters

D brought a friend who is new to handgun shooting so they focused on the basics. That gave me the opportunity to practice drawing my .38 from my holsters. I reminded myself that I really don’t like my inside-the-waistband holster.  It does NOT work with my curves and sticks out way too much as you can see in the picture above.   I just tossed it aside.

This is me practicing drawing and shooting from my Flashbang.

I really focused on drawing from my Flashbang. At first I wasn’t even hitting the target at 7 yards but I finally got a flow down and began to hit it continually. I learned that I should not even try to draw and shoot a person-sized target any further than 10 yards. And in a real-life situation 10 yards would be enough for me to escape danger. But inside 5 yards? I can confidently say I can eliminate a threat! That’s a great feeling. You just can’t figure these things out in an indoor range.

Shooting from the Flashbang Holster

Above is a quick video of me drawing and shooting from my Flashbang. That goofy grin on my face at the end was because I hit the target close the the bullseye!  Let me tell you, the Flashbang always gets attention at the range!  Most people are fascinated with how it works because they’ve never seen any holster like it.  I love to watch jaws drop when I draw my .38 from my bra!  By the way, ladies, if you are single and looking for a guy at the range, use the Flashbang!  It’s the easiest way to strike up a conversation and grab the attention of all the men around you!  I’m lucky I’ve already grabbed a man that knows his way around a gun 😉

After shooting a ton of rounds through our handguns we moved over to the rifle range for some AR-15 fun!

The Rifle range with our targets at 50 yards.

Once D sighted in the AR-15 we had a great time shooting at a 50-yard target.

Shooting our AR-15, another really fun gun!

Just using the iron sights (and not a scope) seems a little intimidating at first because you feel like you can’t see anything but once you shoot and see how you did, micro-adjustments can get you shooting in the right spot.  The gun range had home-made shooting bags- made of old pants legs!  How genius is that?!

Shooting Target AR15

I was very happy with my target after shooting the AR.  It’s such a great feeling to hit that bullseye at 50 yards with no scope!  Now I just need to get the chance to use the AR on a hog!  Another guy at the range was practicing with  his AK-47 and he let us try it out. That was a first for both of us!

I couldn’t quite figure out how to use that collapsible stock on the AK-47.

Shooting Range AK-47

Drew showing me how it’s done.

I only took 2 shots and it wasn’t particularly different feeling than the AR-15. But I did pretty well for standing at 50 yards with iron sights!  Guess what gun just got added to our wishlist…

My two shots with the AK-47! Very happy with those shots!

It was such a beautiful day I’m glad we got to go out and shoot. With every visit to the range I get more and more confident with my gun and that’s a great feeling.  I would love for other people to experience that feeling!

What I’m Wearing

Whitetail Hunt at El Canelo

Since moving to Texas, D and I have realized there is very little public land available for hunting down here, and very few permits at that. Last year we got to hunt once, back in Arkansas, and didn’t even see a deer (or a hog!). This year we were worried the same thing was going to happen so we booked a ranch hunting trip at El Canelo Ranch. Our freezers had been empty for a whole year and corn-fed Walmart beef is just not what we want to be eating.

As the “No” notices came in for all the permits we applied for we were very happy with our decision!

The first evening when we got there, our host and owner of El Canelo, Ray, met us at the door. We unloaded our gear and got out into the field. It was a beautiful evening and we watched does grazing with their fawns.

I ended up getting my first hog!

I really enjoyed sitting in the blind, listening to the birds, and watching the deer. We even got to see two bucks clash antlers!

Dinner at the ranch was delicious, prepared by Ray’s wife, who happens to be a Paris-trained chef. But a little too much meat for me, haha!

Our first night I got to cheer on LSU as they crushed Bama in an all-field-goal game!

On Sunday we went on the search for my mature buck. We came upon this guy:

We spot-stalked him for a while until he stopped in some brush. He was chasing a doe and acting like a buck in rut. We got right up close to him, set up the shooting sticks and pulled the trigger. Down right away!

What an experience! My first rack-buck. He was 14 points and non-typical. Beautiful big-bodied deer.

Our last morning at El Canelo we got to tour the breeding facility. Most of the deer bred are sold to other breeders. It was a really nice facility; Ray was obvsiously incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about his deer. He really cares for them. I also got to feed the baby fawns! They were so sweet and curious. Their tiny little legs were so delicate.

What an awesome weekend. We ended up with 4 deer and 2 hogs which filled both of our deep freezers. We’ve got healthy lean venison for the next few years!

This is my submission for the Sportsman Channel Writing Contest for Hunters hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.