Sunday, March 7, 2021

Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge

 We are truly lucky to have more than one major wildlife refuge within an hour's drive or less of our RV park here in Harlingen, TX. One of these, the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the largest protected refuges at 98,000+ acres in the wildlife refuge system. Nearly HALF of all the bird species in the continental U.S. fly through, nest, rest, or feed in this refuge. WOW!

It is one of the premier bird watching areas in the U.S. There are more recorded species of birds here than any other refuge in the National Wildlife system. There are OCELOTS here...only about 50 of them remain in this area, and they call Laguna Atacosa home. We saw the sign coming in, but they are VERY elusive...we didn't see any while we were visiting.

from the internet

Ocelots are a cat species--bigger than a house cat but smaller than a bobcat. They have spots like a leopard, with a long ringed tail which is about 1/3 as long as their bodies, and they have rounded ears. They are unique in that they can turn their ankle joints around, which enables them to climb DOWN a tree, unlike other cat species whose non-retractible claws make it difficult for them to get down once they are up. Ocelots are good swimmers. They need a LOT of space--males need to roam about 25 miles, and females need about 9 miles.

Everything was closed and the roads around the refuge were confusing with very little signage. So we paid a quick visit today as it was later in the afternoon and decided to return on another day to try and figure out the refuge better. Sparky got a couple of quick bird photos at the visitor's center. Those green jays have amazing coloring, don't they? There's that chachalaca bird again......


And on the way out, a pair of crested caracaras in a field, kind of far away, but they certainly are cool looking birds as well.


If anybody had told Sparky five years ago, she would get excited about seeing and photographing birds, she would have said, "Nah, not me!" But here she is, contemplating a better camera and longer lens so she can take better bird photos. (Uh-oh! WHA-A-A-T????? You mean those expensive long zoom lenses and camera body for a DSLR camera? asks a worried Eldo.) He's worried about Sparky blowing her budget. No worries, she's just looking....(He's still worried...)

To change the subject...here's a pretty female cardinal...Sparky always thought the females were so drab, but they really are not! 

Another fabulous wildlife refuge and birding center is just a short hour's drive or less on South Padre Island. That's our next stop...C'mon back and see some great spoonbills in the next few days.... Bye for now!

Monday, March 1, 2021

Add These to Your Harlingen, TX List of Things to Do

Harlingen, TX.      High: 76.     Low: 52    

You gotta visit Hugh Ramsey Nature Park more than one time while in Harlingen, TX. It's not the prettiest park. But it is a nature park with bird blinds, water, ponds, and narrative signage. Unfortunately, everything looks dead and dreary in it right now, except for the colorful birds flying around. It has a lot of trash along the river, the cactus suffered greatly in the 2021 freeze last week and a lot of them died. There are a LOT of big piles of dead branches/brush everywhere, and a couple of the bird blinds are in very bad shape. The park is struggling to keep up with maintenance, but every time Sparky goes, there are a lot of families there, so it's a much used and loved park with birders. Best time to go is during the week and early in the day. Look what Sparky saw this time!  A beautiful red cardinal, a yucca plant blooming, a rufous hummingbird, and a green jay. 


Oh! Almost forgot! Some chachalacas, a common Texas bird, (Sparky just loves to say that bird species name!) plus more javelinas! (see previous post for photos of the chachalacas and javelinas.)

art trail map
Be sure to see South Padre Island. This year, the island hosted an art trail with art galleries AND the Turtle Trail and the Sandcastle Trail. You get a map at the visitor's center on the island, and if you find all the turtle sculptures (10?) on the island and report back to the visitor's center with photos of each one and post on social media, they will give you a free tee shirt (if they haven't run out yet). 
So, off we went to see the turtle sculptures and a few sandcastles along the way. It was a really cool and windy day today, so we didn't stay long on the island. It started out in the low seventies, and by the time we got to the island, the temperature had dropped to 57 degrees! Yesterday, it was 87 for the high!

Once you've located the turtles with their cool stories about their names, the theme the artist was going for and the sandcastles, then be sure to stop by and see the wonderful Wyland's Whaling Wall at the South Padre Island Convention Center. (shown in the center photo). It's 4 miles north of the causeway. This is the Detroit artist Robert Wyland's #53 (out of 100), "Orcas off the Gulf of Mexico", and is the only one by this artist in the area. It takes up three sides of the convention center's walls, is 153 feet long and 23 feet high. Wyland paints enormous outdoor murals to draw attention to the dangers marine mammals face in the wild. This particular mural has a lot of species on it--the Orca, Yellowfin Tuna, Tarpon, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, King Mackerel, Red Snapper, Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle, brown pelicans, and more.

After living in SW Florida for seven years and experiencing the white crystal sands of Siesta Key and local area beaches, the brown sand here was a little bit of a letdown. BUT--clever smaller sand sculptures all over town made a dreary March day much more fun as we drove around trying to find the turtles and the sandcastles.
Sparky was tempted to try and get Eldo to stop at Kelly's Irish Pub, it's almost St. Patty's Day, you know, but we will save that for another time...
We will be exploring more refuges in the near future...Stick around if you like that sort of thing! If you're a foodie, Sparky has got you covered, too. We are sampling some of the local cuisine before we report on that. (Uh-oh...there goes the food budget, worries E.) But hey, that's part of the fun traveling and using a camping membership. You can try a few more eateries in the process of saving money at campgrounds! (Sigh...Sparky's logical process needs a little fine 
tuning, thinks Eldo.). Bye for now!



Saturday, February 27, 2021

More Things to do in Harlingen, Texas Area

We were driving around town one day running errands and saw a HUGE flock of birds/ducks at a local park, Pendleton Park in Harlingen. Sparky got all excited..."ELDY!! We have to stop at this park! Look at all those birds/ducks/wildlife!" He gamely pulls over into the park and prepares to sit for awhile so Sparky can capture some photos.

Black bellied whistling ducks
 It was one of the largest flocks of  black bellied whistling ducks Sparky had ever seen. This is their hangout here in Harlingen. (How'd you like all that alliteration?! The teacher in me can't help myself) There must have been almost a hundred, and they were whistling to beat the band, haha! It sounds just like a whole bunch of bad whistlers, lol....Not sure if they were looking for a mate, taking a migratory break, or if they are here all the time, but they were all around the pond in droves at Pendleton Park. They are a cool looking species. They rest on one leg. These each have a leg tucked up under their feathers. You'd think they'd get really tired just standing on one leg!

Another cool species we saw at the same park was the Muscovy duck. It's the only domestic duck not descended from mallards. These strange, warty faced male ducks are the largest duck in North America. When they are young, they are considered good eating! They've been around for a very long time. The Aztec rulers wore cloaks made from their feathers. You can see why in the photo below.

A mother's got to love this face, right?


On another day, we headed out to Bentsen Palms State Park, in Mission, TX. It was about an hour's drive. We just wanted to check it out and as we got there later in the afternoon, we saw that there was a
lot more to explore than in just a day. There are nice trails there of short duration, anywhere from under a mile to a couple of miles. There are bird blinds and trails that seem to attract certain species. We saw a green jay just a few minutes after paying our 5.00 entry fee! What a gorgeous SW Texas bird! Sparky is having all kinds of problems with the focus on her Nikon Coolpix point and shoot 950 camera. It won't focus despite lots of different efforts to fix the problem and beyond the obvious ones like make sure it's on autofocus, or do a factory reset and try all kinds of different settings. It's still under warranty, so it's going back to the factory. The first five months, it worked great! Sparky managed to catch the cardinal before we headed over to another part of the park.

We are going to head back with our bikes soon. There's a butterfly center just down the road from the park as well. We will report back on that soon. We'd like to say we have all our ducks in a row, but when you are RVing, there's always something else that is going to pop up to change your plans.

One of those things was we got to get our vaccinations so now we will be spending an extra week added onto our three week stay here in Harlingen. 

Eldy had been watching and registering us everywhere he could think of, and we were beginning to think we were in RV No Man's Land for a vaccination--not a Texas resident but here for the winter in Texas, Florida resident but not in Florida. UNTIL---he got a news article on his phone saying that a pop up clinic was opening up in Harlingen yesterday. It started at 8:00 AM. You had to come in and get a wristband. There were 1,000 allotted. You get a wristband, you get to get vaccinated THE NEXT DAY. It was about 2:30 when he saw the news article. No way, there's probably not going to be any left. BUT--Eldo doesn't give up that easily. He called the city health department THREE times to find out if they had any left. He got through on the third try. They had a few left, they said. We boogied over there, got in line, and they shut down the line RIGHT AFTER US. Sparky was #999, Eldo was #1,000. We were able to be vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine. Four weeks from now, we go back. So-o-o-o...with all this extra time in the valley, we should know the area pretty well by the time we get ready to leave in late March...Stick around, there'll be more to share! We love having you along for the ride, wherever we go....Thank you for reading!


Friday, February 26, 2021

Houston, We Have a Problem, Part 2

Sunshine RV Park     Site: 749      High: 87  Low: 67

After spending hours trying to disassemble a recalcitrant motor, Tim Fairchild, of Fair RV Inspection, finally broke it loose yesterday after a long afternoon. He wanted to take it to his shop to see if he could get it to work, recheck schematics and talk to the company who makes the slide modules, Lippert. He had checked all the wiring to the batteries, all the connections to the motor, but the motor was still not working when it was hooked up to our rig.  Looked like we would be here for another day.

The next day he was back bright and early to try again. He reported he got the first motor working. This time he took off the second motor and tested it. It worked just fine. Then he tested trying to get the slide closed manually. It was interesting to see how the guys ratcheted the big heavy slide open and closed with their tools. If we couldn't get the motors to work, we at least knew we could get the slide in if we had to order another motor.

The cost of a new motor? About a thousand dollars from Lippert. Tim was shocked at the price. He said, "Lippert must think a lot of their motors!" We were shocked at the price, too. Tim said he thought he might be able to find one cheaper than direct from Lippert. At any rate, they reassembled both motors, and his assistant said he thought one of the connections seemed to seat itself better as they pieced everything back together. Lo and behold, when they pushed the button to retract the slide, it came in. And went out. And came back in.

"Woo hoo!" Sparky shouted. "You're the man!" We were so happy! We were going to be able to leave the park that same afternoon, headed for our next destination, Sunshine RV Park, also in Harlingen. Why didn't we just stay put? Because the park we were in, only allows a two week stay with our Thousand Trails membership, you go out for a week, then you can come back in again if you wish. It's just how it works. They try to cycle people in and out so more people can visit the parks in the system. At the next park, we can stay for THREE weeks for free before we have to move out and change parks.

We HIGHLY recommend Fair RV Inspection for any repairs in the Harlingen, TX area. Tim is highly qualified and has additional training in slides and is a licensed Lippert dealer. He is out of Mercedes, TX and is a full time RVer so he understands the needs of his traveling customers. He is also very patient and VERY fair with his prices. He could have told us we needed a new motor, and we could have been stuck for weeks in the area, but he persisted and problem solved until he got it fixed. He was on the phone with Lippert each day, making sure he was accurate and efficient with his repair efforts. RVs with all their hidden wiring, and inaccessible places where manufacturers place important components and wiring is very complex. Every RV is different, even among the same manufacturer models. It can be a very challenging fix when things go wrong. Thank you, Tim and Terry!

We headed over to Sunshine RV Park yesterday afternoon. This park is just a couple of miles down the road from Tropic Winds RV Park, where we just left. It has over a thousand sites, many are older trailers and park models. Both parks are located in the heart of the Rio Grand Valley. It is VERY windy here most of the time. Fishing and bird watching are supposed to be outstanding here. Sparky will say, it's not a pretty area, after coming from SW Florida, where landscaping is THE artwork of the area...flowers changed out for each season in all the subdivisions (of Bradenton and Sarasota). Not here, it's dry, it's dusty, and it's much more desert like. Everything is gray and brown, kind of like winter up north without the snow. You don't see flowers in people's yards, or even shrubs. Maybe it's just the area where we are, it's a little on the dreary side. But we like the park. The people who work the front office are super friendly and helpful.

Here are some of the activities pre-Covid with a few going on now:


There are two sections to this park. If you are a Thousand Trails member, you will probably be assigned to the "Lakeside" area of the park, it has newer facilities in that section. Sites have reasonable room between them, there is a small pool, spa, and a classroom/kitchen area. The bigger section, the main park, has the same--a pool, a spa, a library, activities buildings and individual rooms for specific activities like cards, billiards, and the activities mentioned above plus they have the biggest laundry room Sparky has ever seen!

There are three pickle ball courts, one outside and two inside. 

We are in a very nice part of the park. Someone was in our spot when we got here, so we had to be moved to a different site. We have a picnic table--YAY!

Sites are laid out like a parking lot in the newer section...in the older one we are in, they vary in their positioning. We are in a pull through, we love that as well.
We are looking forward to checking out more than one wildlife refuge and a couple of birding centers in the area very soon....And, a trip over the border, too....Does Sparky know any Spanish? No habla Espanol, seƱor....See you later!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Houston, We Have a Problem....Part 1

 Well, OK, technically, it's Harlingen, TX. Wrong city, but right state. Sparky always liked that tag line....

Today was moving day....Key word, "WAS"...we went to pull in the slides, and the BIG one, the big wall slide with the heavy residential fridge didn't budge. No sound, no power, nada, nothing. It's an RVer's worst nightmare. Slide problems are notoriously difficult to solve. The other slides work fine, so that says something about power not making it to the big one. First, we tried unhooking the power cord from the power pedestal, flipping the battery disconnect switch to shut off all power from the batteries to the rig, then reversing the steps and turning everything back on. Nope, nada, nothing.

Next step--get on the phone to Jayco. They tell us there is a power module in the main bathroom that has a reset button and you push that button six times, then on the seventh time you hold it and the other person tries to bring in the slide by pushing the button. We thought the main bathroom meant the big bathroom upstairs. An hour later, after Sparky had removed every single thing from every single cabinet, (And that included all her craft stuff, explains Eldo), there was no switch box to be found. Well, maybe it was outside. Another call to the RV place that is a Jayco dealer in Indiana. They said it should be on the driver's side in the bay, behind an access panel, (maybe).

For the next hour, we removed stuff from the bay, moved it around and looked for the switch box. FOUND IT!

Wrong switch module...that was for the bedroom slide. It works great. Keep looking. Another call back to Jayco. They sent a schematic diagram to Eldy. We look at it. Ever tried to read one of those? Jayco says it's 56" from the floor and they insist it's in the main bathroom. They keep saying it's "above the shelf". Sparky says, "You mean the bathroom with the double sinks and double vanity cabinets, right?" No, it's the bathroom that is in front of the front door. OOOOOOHHHHHHH...that's not the main bathroom, that's the HALF bathroom. Sparky goes looking again. She swears there is no module box and shines a flashlight in the cabinet. The schematic says there is one.

THEN......she got WAY down, almost upside down herself and peered UP into the dark cabinet corner. AHA! There it was. Thirty-one inches from the floor. It was
installed UPSIDE DOWN, jammed into the right corner of the lower cabinet and with bifocals, impossible to see the entire box, to locate a teeny weensie reset button that takes a paper clip or pencil point to push it. Sparky took a photo to email the techs. The manufacturer put it in a narrow, 5.75" shelf corner, so narrow you can't stick your head in there to get a good look at it. They COULD have put it in the lower bottom cabinet which is 16" tall and Sparky COULD have had a fighting chance to find the reset switch. 
NOW WHAT????? 

We call in reinforcements. There are NOT a lot of RV repair places in Harlingen that work with slide problems, but we got a guy who seems to know his stuff, and is a Lippert dealer (the company that makes our slide motors/modules.) The company is Fair Mobile RV Repair and Inspection. He started at 12:30 and 4.5 hours later, he had tested the batteries thoroughly, was able to read the error codes on the upside down slide module in the bathroom (he said that's how they are all installed for the big living room slides on our Jayco model!) and said that it was probably a bad motor. (There are two motors for the big living room side). If he gets the one motor off, then we can use the power from the second motor to move one side of the slide and with the guys pushing in on the other side, (the one with the motor out), and that way we will get the slide in. 

The motor was THE WORST to try and get it removed from the slide. Someone who doesn't RV asked for clarification about what a slide is. It's the extensions of the rig that slide out when you push a button to extend your living space. Here are two of our 3 slides, the other one is on the other side:


We were frustrated, he was frustrated, and on the phone a lot to Lippert. Finally, it was free and clear after several hours of ominous banging, pounding and sawing. We were nervous wrecks. That should have taken care of the error codes because there was a second motor that operates the slide and it should be ok. Right? WRONG! The error code was still there and exhibiting the same errors. Sigh....By the way....Sparky was not seeing things or missing things when she tried to read the slide module upside down in the 5" deep shelf space. There was NO RESET button as Jayco had said there would be. Apparently, Jayco's customer support reps are not aware that the particular slide mechanism model we have for the living room slide is NOT the same slide model they have specs for at the help center. So no reset button. Geez, Louise...hope they get THAT straightened out soon. Sparky is going to read them the riot act tomorrow. (Now, Sparky, simmer down, cautions Eldo.)

At this point, we all called it a day....The repair guy is coming back tomorrow with fresh information from Lippert (the slide/jacks mechanism company), he's going to study the diagrams and schematics again, talk to Lippert and see if there is anything else we can do to get that slide in. We may be looking at TWO new motors for the slide. Stay tuned for part 2......


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Things to do in Harlingen, TX

We always stop at a the visitor's center to get info wherever we go. We talk to others at our park and find out local eating places, places of interest, and then make a list of things we'd like to do. We stopped at the visitors' center in Harlingen, and Sparky scooped up bags of info on different areas in Texas. (Eldo heaves a big sigh here....it's a lot of brochures and heavy paper!) Here's the first stop on our list, lots more things to do coming soon in the blog. 

Hugh Ramsey Nature Park. A fellow park resident told us he saw javelinas (have-a-leen-as) and there are bird blinds and feeders there. We hit the jackpot within two minutes of arriving there and starting down the first path...a bird blind right away, a half a dozen javelinas, AND tons of birds flitting and flying around. 

A javelina is similar to a wild boar, and NOT a pig, although they resemble one. They are also known as a collard peccary, you can see why! They weigh 40-60 pounds and stand about 20" tall. They have poor eyesight but a good sense of smell. They have scent glands on their backs and rub against each other resulting in a "herd" smell, so they can identify their social group. They are usually in groups of 6-12. People say you can often smell them before you see them as they have a strong musky smell. (We didn't smell anything!) They can be aggressive if babies are near, so be careful if you see them! 

The bird feeders were exceptionally active the day we visited.
"Harry, is that you?"

We saw cardinals, hummingbirds, sparrows, and we think warblers....This little guy landed on the hummingbird feeder, but didn't partake.

We also saw a large bird that we found out was a chachalaca. It's a tropical, long tailed chicken-like bird. They are common in this area, love thickets and brush, and walk along the branches of trees. They are a tree loving bird rather than a ground bird. They can make quite the ruckus, too! They are kind of a weather predictor, they kick up a fuss when the weather is going to change or a storm is approaching.

(The name of this bird makes Sparky think of the "Scoop, there it is! Scoop, there it is, shakalaka, shakalaka" chocolate chip cookie dough/insurance commercial. What the heck does ice cream have to do with insurance? Sparky doesn't get it.

Sparky went back a day later, and NADA. NOTHING. No birds at the. feeders, no javelinas. But it IS a really nice park to explore with uneven paths and LOTS of different kinds of cactus that got hit hard by the three day freeze. Dang, those spines are hard and SHARP!

Sparky is in explorer mode. For those of you who read the blog the first time around when we traveled in a motorhome, when Sparky would see something that would catch her eye while traveling, she would yell out, "Eldy--STOP THE CAR! I want to take a photo of__________". Eldo always stops if it's safe to do so, so today, Sparky saw some different ducks in a pond on South Padre Island while we were driving around today. "ELDY! YOU GOTTA STOP THE TRUCK. I SEE SOME COOL DUCKS!" Eldy just rolls his eyes, (No, I don't! he says) but he finds the quickest, safe place to pull over. Isn't he sweet? Sparky had to get a photo of this duck....It's a redheaded duck--that's it. That's the name of it.

The Rio Grand Valley is world renown for birding, we hope to see many more species of birds as we spend more time in the area. It's almost the time of year for spring migration for birds to be returning to the north.  There are several really cool wildlife refuges in the area, we will check them out and get back to you. See you later!

Friday, February 19, 2021

The Texas Vortex-Traffic and Weather!

 We thought we had it rough, being without power for 36 hours....

The areas north of us are much much worse...Until you are in the middle of it, you don't realize how bad it really is...we only have seen the edges of it down here in Harlingen, TX. Gas stations running out of gas, people lined up trying to get gas for generators and their cars 20-50 cars deep, blocking local streets as they try to jockey their way into the station.  Restaurants are running out of ingredients and menu items. Stores are running out of food, because supplies aren't making it to them. People are trying to find hotel rooms for their elderly parents and maybe themselves and their families, there aren't any for miles and miles. ATM machines are not working, so you can't get cash. (Sparky went to the grocery store and got a few items with cash back). Water station pipes and valves are freezing and bursting down here and all over Houston. Sixty percent of the homes are electric. Texas has been hit harder because of some lack of preparation by the power people, according to the governor. The Texas power grid is privatized and not subject to federal regulation and that's how they wanted it! It's complicated but right now, the blame game is in full force. But you probably already knew that, since it's all over the national news.

Dallas has been colder than Anchorage, Alaska! Whoa!

OK, so now that we have power, let's talk about the park! Tropic Winds RV Park in Harlingen, TX.

This is an Encore park, (they are a big player in the RV campground system), a gated community, and we can stay here two weeks for free with our Thousand Trails membership. The park is laid out in a grid, we like that..It makes it easier to get in and out of sites. It does have the look of a parking lot, however. 
There are palm trees scattered throughout but no trees at the sites. Bet it's hot in the summers! Sites are grass/concrete. They are all 40' X 50' for the RV sites. The concrete pads are 10' X 40'.You have to park your rig on the grass, and your vehicle on the concrete pad, so no picnic tables, and no fire pits--because it's so windy all the time here? (Uh, Sparky, it's called Tropic WINDS RV Park, patiently explains E.)
AHEM! They have a full service laundry, heated pool and spa, an ADA pool lift, 

lighted shuffleboard courts, lighted pickle ball courts, a free wifi hotspot, a bocce ball court, a fitness center, free Warner cable, and tons of activities when COVID lifts. Some of them include: concerts, dances and shows, yoga, aerobics and water classes, SPANISH lessons, organized tours, organized golf at nearby courses, woodshop club, kite flying club, Spanish classes, Silver Sneakers Club, AND remote control racing. Check out this RC course!

They have a beautiful little birding park nestled in at one end of the park. Unfortunately, the multiple day freeze damaged most of the plants and flowers. The cacti were just getting ready to bloom, too.

There is a little dog park and it's right in the same area as the bird park. Sparky wonders if the birdies will show up with dogs around, but it's been too cold to tell.

People have been wondering why we didn't just get up and move to where it was warmer before all these problems with the cold hit? But where were we going to go? Look where we are...Can't get much further south! The weather was just as bad east, west and north of us. So we just decided to tough out the weather and we made it through.

What are some of the cons of this park/area? Not very many!

1. No picnic table --Sparky really misses a picnic table...she likes to do crafts sitting at the table, and of course, eat outside! Not sure why they don't provide them here. It's the first campground we've been in since July that hasn't had them.

2. Harlingen streets in the business district/shopping areas are hard to navigate. They seem to be laid out willy nilly with highways and interstates intertwining, rapid lane changes and confusing lane decisions to be made at stoplights. It's laid out a lot like the Houston metro area which does a really great job of traffic direction and flow. But here, it's more tangled. It's very confusing the first few days you are here, at least we think so. 

We will be in the area three more weeks, and the weather is going to turn wonderful, soon. Sparky is looking forward to exploring South Padre Islands, some birding refuges, and butterflies, if they are still around! 

We plan on visiting a little town, Nuevo Progreso, just past the border bridge, in Mexico soon. We will tell you all about the experience of crossing the border and what lays just beyond! Apparently, this is a little town that is a mecca for RVers to get dental work and vision care at VERY reasonable prices for competent, excellent care. We will also be visiting the local interests and tourist attractions. Stay tuned!