. . .It's been three years
since Jim and I have taken a trip long enough to merit writing a diary.
This time I've decided to send it home in installments so our friends can
read it on the Sea and Sage website instead of waiting until we get home.
. . . .For those who have never heard of us and our travels, a little
biographical information is in order. We are both birders.
Sylvia teaches birding classes using sounds she records in the field and
photographs from the Sea and Sage Library of Nature Slides, most of which
are Jim's. Our goal in this trip is to zig-zag northward through
the prairies as springtime arrives. I've just finished teaching a
workshop on shorebirds and plan to do one on sparrows in a couple of years.
We expect to look for migrating shorebirds and breeding and migrating sparrows.
Jim would also like to photographs three lekking species, the Greater and
Lesser Prairie-Chickens and the Sharp-tailed Grouse. We'll see how
it all comes out.
. . . .I gave all my students a checklist of all the North American
shorebirds and assigned them the task of trying to find as many as possible
in as many plumages as possible in as many states as possible. Of
course, I have to try to do the same thing. In this diary I plan
to use the same abbreviations I used in the workshop for the plumages:
. . . . .. . . . .ap = alternate (breeding) plumage
. . . . .. . . . .bp = basic (nonbreeding) plumage
. . . .Charlie is our 12-year-old toy poodle, who loves to have
us close to him in the truck and trailer. Unfortunately he is fighting
congestive heart disease, but right now his health is pretty good.
We chose this destination partly to keep Charlie away from high elevations.
. . . .This diary is written partly for my many birding friends
who love to read about our travels. (Other titles are on sale at Sea and
Sage's Audubon House and are not on-line.) It's also written for people
who may like to repeat our trips in their own RV's, so I'll put in details
of good and bad campsite numbers, how to get to good birding spots that
are not listed in the standard bird-finding guides, etc. I also plan
to describe the weather each day, for I know it has a strong effect on
the nature of the migration and I might want to refer to it sometime.
There might even be non-birding details of our adventures that would interest
our relatives! If anything bores you, just skip it.
April 6, 2005
E of Barstow, CA
p.m., Thursday, April 7, 2005
Crater RV Park, 35 miles east of Flagstaff, AZ
. . .My shorebird workshop
finished up last Thursday, but we were not able to get away right away
because Jim was having some dental work done. It was finished yesterday
around noon, and he is finally equipped with nice new implants. He broke
his front bridge last summer! We are really grateful to his dentist
for putting in some extra hours and rushing the lab to get their part done.
. . . .We couldn't wait to get on the road, so we took off at 1:00
pm and drove to Barstow. We didn't dare venture farther because there
didn't seem to be anyplace to stay between there and Needles. It
turned out to be a good move. Traffic was very light at that time
of day. And this morning we got ahead of the rush of truckers leaving
the LA area. Except for the inevitable bumpy freeways, it was a good
drive. The only hitch was that I forgot that you have to light the
pilot as well as turn on the oven in order bake chicken. An hour
later, I opened the oven to raw chicken. So I stuck it in the microwave
oven a few minutes--a few too many, as it turned out--then crisped it up
in the oven. Jim kindly said it was just fine. But it wasn't:
it was tough as leather.
. . . .This RV park is pretty new--quite open, but with some young
trees. Best of all, a Gray Flycatcher has been foraging from the
tree right outside the trailer off and on while I've been writing this.
It's too windy for pictures and recordings, and I've heard no calls anyway.
It's an auspicious start to our trip list. (Yesterday's House Sparrows
and House Finches don't count.)
. . . .Temperature is in the 70's, but the wind must be 25-30 mph.
p.m., Fri., April 8, 2005
Birdwatchers RV Park, San Antonio, NM
. . .We thought the wind
was bad yesterday afternoon. Little did we know what was in store
for us. Around 1:00 am we were awakened by extremely strong winds
buffeting the trailer. The whole thing shook and everything attached
to the outside sounded as though it was going to come loose and fly off
to who knows where. If we had not experienced similar winds once before
at Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, we would have feared the trailer
was going to tip over. Reason told us it was a tail wind, our water
tank was full, and the truck was attached up front. Still I couldn't
sleep, so got up and read for an hour or more. Finally I decided
I had to go back to bed, so I put earplugs in my ears to dampen the roaring,
rattling, and whistling and made up my mind to pretend the shaking was
just Jim turning over.
. . . .By the time we awoke in the morning, the shaking had stopped,
but the wind was still blowing hard. We stopped on the road after
we had been driving for an hour or so and I measured the wind speed with
my little wind gauge. It was sustained at 20-25 mph with gusts to
35 mph. I know it was blowing harder in the night.
. . . .Another problem: Bettina, who lives in our guest house,
called last night describing problems with our watering system at home.
It took them forever for Jim to understand what she meant and for suggestions
to be communicated about what to do.
. . . .Still another problem: Last night Jim tried to retrieve
his Pocketmail email using the cell phone. No luck. He went
over to the pay phone, and it didn't work there either. So he worried
about that all night long. This morning he called customer support
for Pocketmail on our cellphone and after several minutes on hold and a
lot more with a technician whose accented English combined with Jim's hearing
loss meant that Sylvia, who knows almost nothing about Pocketmail, had
to serve as a translator. Ultimately the problem was solved.
It turned out that Jim had a "corrupted" message in his "outbox."
How it got corrupted is anyone's guess.
. . . .We looked for the Gray Flycatcher this morning, but saw no
sign of it. It would have been too windy to hold a camera steady
anyway. Instead we saw a Rock Wren.
. . . .We've decided we would definitely return to the Meteor Crater
RV Park on another trip. The grounds are nicely maintained.
The bathrooms are little private rooms with toilet, sink, and shower--not
the drafty community affairs of most places. Jim liked them.
The natural grassland/desert around the place was also appealing.
The place was far superior to where we've stayed in Holbrook on previous
. . . .We got on the road around 8:00 this morning, later than usual
because of the Pocketmail service call. We drove about 310 miles--east
to Holbrook, then southeast through St. Johns and Springerville.
From there we went eastward to Socorro., NM, then south to San Antonio.
. . . .A southwest wind blew the whole time, and is still at it.
The forecast is for one more day of this.
. . . .Jim has driven down to Bosque del Apache NWR to look over
the situation and get brochures. I was amazed that he wanted to do
this, for yesterday all he did was collapse when we got into the campground.
I think the difference is that we were driving on little-travelled 2-lane
roads today. Or maybe he's just glad to be here again. It's
been a good many years.
. . . .Temperature ranged from the low 60's to the low 80's today,
depending on the elevation. It was 81_ when we arrived here.
Sky has been clear with a few clouds, but we encountered lots of areas
of blowing dust on our drive. Everything in the trailer is gritty
with the stuff. Guess I'll quit and do a little dusting.
pm, April 9, 2005
Birdwatchers RV Park
. . .The wind finally
died down last night and gave us a good night's sleep. This morning
it was still calm, but it got up gradually as the morning progressed.
Right now it is blowing hard, and there are clouds signifying that a front
is coming. I think it'll be a dry one like the last, but we haven't
heard any weather forecast. Temperature is considerably cooler--in
the low 70's I'd guess.
. . . .We drove the tour route at Bosque del Apache NWR this morning.
The refuge entrance is only a hundred yards or so north of this RV park,
and there were ducks and shorebirds in the ponds shortly after we entered.
Of course, I'm looking hard at all the shorebirds. I got a good start,
finding both yellowlegs species (ap) and a few Long-billed Dowitchers showing
only a little bit of molt. Later in the morning I saw a few American
Avocets off in the distance. This place is not noted for shorebirds.
I expect more at Bitter Lake NWR over by Roswell.
. . . .We had been told that the Sandhill Cranes had all left except
one. Believe it or not, we saw one flying around and then descending.
We also saw a Wild Turkey cross the road in front of us. Lots of
ducks were present, and I think they all are breeding species: Green-winged
Teal, Northern Shoveler (most numerous), Mallard, Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal,
Redhead, Ruddy Duck. Jim photographed one bird, a Swainson's Hawk
flying round and round not far overhead. Land birds were hard to
come by because of the rising wind. Heard one Wilson's Warbler, but
found no other migrants except swallows (Barn and N. Rough-winged).
Neotropic Cormorants were visible in a few places, but all too far away
for better pictures than we have already.
. . . .After making the loop, I went into the visitors center and
watched the video on how the refuge is managed for Sandhill Cranes.
Especially interesting was how they save the corn for the cranes and discourage
the all-too-numerous Snow Geese from eating it. They plant tall corn,
then row-by-row knock over the tops of the stalks so the cranes can reach
the ears on the bent-over stalks, but the geese can't. This process
is done gradually so there is never a surfeit of corn and the cranes don't
leave any on the ground for the geese. Snow Geese are a serious problem,
not only here but in the Arctic, where their huge numbers are devastating
their tundra breeding habitat. Of course they are too numerous because
of all the grain grown on their wintering ground and left in the fields
. . . .We gave up around noon and came back to the trailer for the
afternoon. I've been hearing a Pyrrhyloxia and just took a walk to
try to see it, but didn't even hear it while I was out. The wind
chased me back to the trailer. I certainly hope this is the last
front to come through and we'll have some calm days.
pm, Mon., April 11, 2005
Lakes SP, southeast of Roswell, NM
. . .Yesterday we simply
drove from Bosque del Apache NWR to this location, a distance of about
170 miles. After stopping at Wal-Mart and and waiting in an interminable
check-out line, then finding a table at Chili's right after all the after-church
crowd had placed their orders and waiting another interminable interval
for food, we didn't get here and settled until 3:00. By then the
usual afternoon gale was blowing. It quieted down with the sunset
and didn't get up again til this afternoon. That seems to be the
normal pattern around here. Sky has been clear with a few clear-weather
cumulus in the afternoons. High temps. in the 70's. Delightful,
. . . .We've been to Bottomless Lakes SP before and will visit its
lakes tomorrow before we leave. They are sink holes produced by water
flowing through calcium sulfate deposits and gradually dissolving them.
The campground is beside an artificial lake with a bath house, swimming,
etc, although our site is rather nice and backs up to a cliff. A
Say's Phoebe is starting to build a nest under the roof of the shelter
over our picnic table. He's not in a big rush, though. Rock
Wrens come down out of the cliff behind the trailer.
. . . .This morning we spent several hours driving the tour route
at Bitter Lake NWR, just northeast of Roswell. Both it and Bottomless
Lakes SP are in the bottomlands of the Pecos River.
. . . .This refuge is supposed to have the best shorebirding in
New Mexico, but we saw only American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Killdeer
and a few Greater Yellowlegs. I did get a fairly nice recording of
the latter doing its continuous series of alarm calls.
. . . .For me the highlight of the morning was the flowers.
Several places there were carpets of white evening-primroses plus other
species that were white, yellow, and magenta. I'll have to figure
them all out from my notes and photographs. I do have a book that
I think covers this area. There was a desert nature trail with some
of the shrubs identified, and I photographed those. We're right on
the boundary between the Chihuahuan Desert and the southern border of the
short-grass prairie, so I don't know which habitat these flowers are native
. . . .Bitter Lake NWR seems to have both fresh water from the Pecos
River and brackish water from streams flowing into it through calcium sulfate
deposits. Some places it smells just like the Salton Sea. Other
places look as though they are fresh and don't have white deposits on the
shoreline. Unfortunately the auto tour leaflet doesn't explain all
. . . .We saw lots of ducks of mostly the same species as at Bosque
del Apache--plus Bufflehead and Lesser Scaup. Other interesting species
included Cassin's Sparrow (a short-grass prairie bird), Scaled Quail (Gambel's
at Bosque), Black-throated Sparrow, and Curve-billed Thrasher (Chihuahuan
Desert birds, the latter two of the Chihuahuan Desert subspecies).
Total for the morning was only 28 species.
. . . .After a quick lunch of forgettable fast-food seafood in Roswell,
we went to the BLM office to get information on Prairie-Chicken leks.
Unfortunately the knowledgeable staff member was out to lunch, so we had
to wait for about 20 minutes for him to return. He suggested certain
leks as being particularly accessible and told us we were welcome to camp
there in our trailer and suggested places. Late this afternoon we
drove out to the area, the Caprock Wildlife Habitat Area, part of the Mescalero
Sands 40 miles east of Roswell. Pat and Dick Cabe had suggested we
come here. They parked their RoadTrek camper right beside a lek,
but we wondered about our larger rig.
. . . .It was with much difficulty that we figured out where we
were supposed to go. All of the leks are off a caliche road that
runs north from a gate opposite the only roadside rest area on that stretch
of highway--US 380 just west of the junction with SR 172 at Caprock.
Pat and Dick had given us a copy of a map of the area, and the biologist
had marked suggested leks for us.
. . . .We had a hard time finding the right cross roads out in that
labyrinth of narrow dirt roads. First we drove two miles too far
because one road on the map was barely detectable and we miscounted.
We didn't dare make a bad turn, because some of the roads narrow to sandy
two-trackers impassable to two-wheel-drive vehicles. There are also
few places to turn around. We finally think we found the place the
biologist had suggested would be best for photography (area 24n on the
map). If it was the right place, it was pretty poor. The birds
would either have to display on the road or concealed in the low vegetation.
We could find no open lek. The birds were in the area, for we could
hear them clucking. It was supposed to be on an old oil-well pad,
but the only road that seemed to go in that direction was an abandoned
sandy two-tracker--totally undriveable. I walked it a ways and saw
nothing. To cap the experience, we had had to open a gate to get
out the road and had a terrible time getting it closed again. Finally
Jim was able to get the loop of wire onto the top of the post, but it took
both us to do it, one on each side of the gate. Then Jim had to crawl
under the gate to get out, but we couldn't have done it any other way.
We were really puzzled and discouraged.
. . . .We decided to check out other leks on the map. Number
2n had looked pretty good as we drove back from two miles farther than
we were supposed to go. It even had some standing water nearby where
birds seemed to be drinking. [After talking to the chicken-counter
the next day, it turned out we weren't at 2n at all. Where we were
was not a lek.]
. . . .Then we caught sight of a decent looking road that headed
northeastward from the "main" north-south road. A study of the map
revealed that it didn't go very far, and that it also ended at an old oil
pad labelled lek 22n on the map. We drove out there--about 100 yards
from the road and lo-and-behold there were a bunch of chickens displaying--and
lots of room to park the trailer on a firm surface. Jim took a few
pictures, but of course they're much more active in the mornings, then
we drove back to the trailer, getting back here around 7:45 pm, tired but
happy. I fixed a quick dinner, and Jim went to bed. I wanted
to write this up first, though.
. . . .Tomorrow morning we'll bird around Bottomless Lakes SP, then
take the trailer out to the lek in the middle of the day when the birds
are not displaying.
Apr. 12, 2005
Wildlife Habitat Area
am, Wed., April 13, 2005
Wildlife Habitat Area between Roswell and Tatum, NM
. . .We're
camped on an abandoned oil pad (dry well) four miles north of the roadside
rest area just west of Caprock. It's also Lesser Prairie-Chicken
lek number 22n, which was the reason we selected it. This area is
very lonely. The only traffic on the one-lane caliche road was the
BLM biologist who was out counting chickens this morning.
. . . .We got here around 1:00 yesterday afternoon after spending
the morning sightseeing at Bottomless Lakes SP. I finally saw my
first true spring migrant of the trip, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, which
I was able to record giving a tremendous variety of calls.
. . . .The "bottomless" lakes are in a series along the base of
the bluff between the high plains and the Pecos R. bottomlands. All
of them are quite round. In one place two of them come together,
and the sign said one of them was much saltier than the other despite their
tangency. It also said fish could not survive in the saltier one.
Despite this I saw a good-sized one jump right in the middle of it.
. . . .Another lake was surrounded
at least 3/4 of the way around by a steep vertical cliff. Flying
around over the water were Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Nesting
on the cliff face were Rock Pigeons. I got excellent recordings, and the
reverberation off the cliff face made for most interesting acoustics.
Mourning Doves were also in the recording. Curiously enough I'm happiest
about the Rock Pigeons. This highly urban bird is hard to record
without extraneous noises. I was out of business, though, when an angler
came up and started casting for fish.
. . . .We went back to the trailer and took showers so as to save
our water when we're dry-camping in the wildlife area. Then we returned
once more to Roswell for gasoline and a few groceries.
. . . .The road north from the roadside rest to "our" lek is graded
caliche, but the first mile was very washboardy. When we got here
I discovered the vibration had knocked the TV cockeyed on its perch on
Jim's table. It had also dislodged all sorts of other things.
Most curious was that it had unscrewed the lids off a couple of jars in
the refrigerator and then knocked them off.
. . . .The place is very quiet. Only a few bird species are
around. We took naps, then to be on the safe side Jim went out to
his blind 50 ft east of the trailer arond 4:00, for the information said
the chickens start their evening display in the "late afternoon."
It turned out they didn't arrive until around 6:45 pm. Jim had his
book and a glass of wine, but it was still a tedious wait.
. . . .While he was in the blind a pair of meadowlarks wandered
by the trailer. They were making short buzzy calls and a buzzy rattle that
I was not familiar with, so I decided they must be Eastern Meadowlarks.
I got some nice recordings out the trailer window. Later I heard
an Eastern song not too far away and that clinched the ID. I also
. . . .Jim came back to the trailer discouraged about the pictures
he took. It seemed the birds were always behind small bushes or clumps
of grass. I suggested he take the truck around to the other side for the
morning display. It's higher than the blind. He did it in the
evening, so it would be ready for the morning.
. . . .I wasn't happy with the few chicken recordings I made, because
big buzzy flies were constantly right outside the screen, so I gave it
up, figuring morning would be better. I had my scope in the trailer
with me, so set it up and watched their behavior for a long time, knowing
they would be back-lit in the morning.
. . . .This morning Jim got up at 4:45 and was in the truck by 5:00
to await the arrival of the chickens. He said he heard them clucking
withing 15 minutes, so his timing was perfect. The sun didn't rise
until after 6:00, so he sat there and froze for an hour. But it was
all worthwhile, for the truck turned out to be in just the right spot to
catch the action of the dominant male. He was thrilled with his photos.
His only complaint was that the females left before the sun rose, and he
didn't take any pictures of them not realizing they wouldn't stay around.
Tomorrow he'll shoot them with flash. (They were really close!)
. . . .While Jim was in the truck, I slept in another hour, then
got up and recorded them out the trailer window. Conditions were
ideal, and I just let the recorder run for about 15 minutes during the
peak of the action. I couldn't see the birds as well as I could last
night for the sun was behind them. Also the trailer window was very
. . . .Jim drove the truck back over to the trailer around 7:30
for breakfast, but there were still a few chickens around even then.
They left when they were good and ready. If he had walked back, they
might have flushed.
. . . .After breakfast we drove north about a mile to a place where
there was a 20-foot long patch of standing water, possibly from a little
spring. We had seen it in our scouting Monday evening and thought
it was lek 2n. We hoped there would be interesting birds there.
Most of them were Mourning Doves, but there was also a Mockingbird and
a Savannah Sparrow. Once I saw a couple of Scaled Quail scurry off.
It was the place where we saw a Burrowing Owl Monday evening, but we saw
no sign of it this morning.
. . . .While we were there a BLM biologist came back from his morning
chicken count. He proceeded to tell us of all sorts of other leks
that might be better than the one where we are camped. I listened politely,
and so did Jim, but when we compared notes later, we agreed we'd stick
with the one where we are camped.
. . . .Now for the bad news. As I was talking with the biologist,
I happened to look down at our truck tire, and discovered it was very soft.
Worst of all, Jim discovered that he could not figure out how to use the
jack to extract the spare from underneath the truck. We read the
instructions, but the thing just didn't add up. Our cell phone doesn't
work here, so Jim dropped me off at the trailer and drove slowly back to
the roadside rest on the soft tire. He plans to get help from a passing
traveler or worker there. They can drive toward town and call AAA
to come and assist him. He'll probably then drive back to Roswell
to get the tire fixed and perhaps purchase a better jack than the one that
came with the Suburban. (We've had lots of flat tires on the trailer,
but this is the first on the truck.)
. . . .I'm sitting here with Charlie in the trailer with a nice
breeze blowing in the window, the temperature in the low 70's. Poor
Jim has to contend with the leaky tire. Guess I'll quit and fix lunch,
then wash that trailer window.
pm, Fri., April 14, 2005
Duro Canyon SP, nr. Amarillo, TX
. . .I
was just settling down for a nap when Jim drove in a little after 2:00
pm with the tire all taken care of. He had found a truck driver at
the roadside rest whose wife has a similar type of spare tire assembly
(under the rear of the vehicle). He succeeded in getting the spare
loose so Jim could change it. Jim then drove back to Roswell to a
tire store. They weren't busy, so patched the tire in only a few
minutes, and he was soon on the road back to our campsite, munching a sandwich
. . . .He did some more blind work on the afternoon visits of the
male chickens, but for some reason the birds are spooked by the blind,
but not by the truck. Perhaps it's because this lek is where groups
of people come to see the chickens and they're use to vehicles. Because
he knew afternoon was not the optimal time, he took his digital camera
out this time and shot a few pictures to e-mail to Nancy to accompany this
log--we hope! We'll just have to find somewhere we can connect up
a computer or a place with wi-fi. Our travels so far haven't taken
us to very high-tech places to say the least.
. . . .This morning he again got up early and sat in the truck until
the birds came in. Yesterday he found he had selected just the right
place in the lek--where the dominant male's territory was. He defended
it from two birds on territories on either side of his.
. . . .This time Jim knew that the females came and left before
sunrise, so he shot lots of flash pictures of them, then more of the males
after sunrise. All in all, a totally satisfactory photo opportunity.
. . . .It was around 8:30 when we got ready to leave our unforgettable
campsite. This time Jim drove extremely slowly over that washboard
road so as not to dislodge things the way he had when we came in.
Our slow pace was rewarded! We saw a few land birds, all Savannah
Sparrows, I think, but the highlight was a Pronghorn that didn't run away
when he spotted us. It was on the right-hand side of the road with
the morning sun illuminating him beautifully. Jim got out on the
driver's side and took what I thought was an interminable amount of time
getting just the right lens/extension tube/setting/whatever on his camera.
That wonderful animal just stood there, occasionally stooping down for
a mouthful of grass. Jim got several side views, then some more head-on.
Definitely the best Pronghorn opportunity he's ever had, and we've been
trying hard for years.
. . . .As I mentioned yesterday, the only other vehicle we've seen
in the area was that of the BLM man counting chickens. He went by
early this morning, Jim said and hadn't come out when we left. So
we were astounded to meet another car on the road as we were leaving.
This caused some consternation because it's a one lane road with soft sand
on either side most places. Luckily the driver of the other car had
arrived at one of the extremely rare turnouts and waited for us to pass.
. . . .As we approached the car, we were surprised to see that it
had a California license, so we had to stop and chat with the driver.
To our amazement, it turned out to be our good friend Clair de Beauvoir,
also a bird photographer. (His wife Sue was back in their motel in
Roswell fighting a bout of food-poisoning.) We hadn't known they
was coming this way at all, although we had told them what we were planning
to do. He had the same map and information sheets from the BLM office
that we did. Jim turned the map over and diagrammed precisely where
he should park his truck tomorrow morning. He told him, "Just put
your tires where mine are." It was pretty windy this morning, and
tomorrow may be windier. I hope it isn't too windy for the birds
to display for him. According to the literature, they don't like
extremely hard winds.
. . . .All in all, a wonderful experience. Even the flat tire
wasn't too bad.
The rest of
the day was pretty uneventful. We drove east to Tatum, north to Clovis,
then northeastward to Canyon, TX. Palo Duro SP is about 12 miles
west of Canyon. We lost an hour to a time-zone change enroute, so
got here close to 5:00 pm. It was windy and warm, so I sat outside
a while, but the place is infested with hordes of little flies that like
to crawl over you. I put on some insect repellant, but finally gave
up. Unfortunately a lot of them got inside the trailer, so I've been
swatting them all the time I've been writing this log. There also
seem to be some tiny things that crawl right through the screen.
No more open windows in the evening here!
. . . .This park is in a deep canyon, reached by descending two
miles of 10% grade. The setting is spectacular with red rocks on
the walls, etc. For Texas it is unique. We're in a campsite
that's not too far from a creek. The setting is low riparian woodland--hackberry,
juniper, mesquite, willow, etc. So far I haven't seen very many birds,
although a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is nesting in a tree in the campsite next
to ours. I did see a Cardinal and a Black-crested Titmouse.
This canyon appears to be the northernmost extent of the titmouse's range.
Tomorrow morning I'll do more birding. Hope it isn't too windy.
A front is supposed to come through.
pm, Fri., April 15, 2005
Duro SP, TX
. . .An
interesting morning, but a not-so-interesting afternoon! Right after
breakfast I had Jim drive me about a mile farther south along the campground
road, where a creekside trail comes out to the road. Then I walked
back to our campsite along the creek. There was almost no wind and
almost no traffic on the road that early. Everyone sleeps late around here.
. . . .There wasn't a wide variety of birds, but those I found yielded
excellent recordings. I found myself forever looking at the range
maps in my field guide. It was interesting to find western and eastern,
northern and southern birds' ranges meeting here. I had Carolina
Wren at its westernmost, and Ash-throated Flycatcher and Ladder-backed
Woodpecker near their northeasternmost. Black-crested Titmoause and
Golden-fronted Woodpecker are at their absolute northernmost. I guess
nothing was at its southernmost. The Pine Siskins I saw are probably
still on their wintering ground.
. . . .While I was out on the trail, Jim was busy photographing
the Wild Turkeys that wander all around the campground. He got a
tom with his tail fanned, but only from the rear.
. . . .This reminds me of an encounter I had with a couple who were
just starting down the trail as I was exiting it. They had an obvious
New York or New Jersey accent and were apparently urban folks, as evidenced
by the question the man asked me: "What are those big creatures wandering
around the campground? We think they're birds." .I
replied, "Do you mean the Wild Turkeys?" "Yes! We wondered
if that's what they were," he responded.
. . . .Jim also got nice pictures of the pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
attending their nest in a still-bare hackberry tree. It is in the
campsite next to ours, and the woman staying there pointed it out to me
yesterday. She didn't know what bird it was, nor did she know we
were birders. She just thought it was interesting. She told
me she was going to have to see if she could find the birdwatcher she ran
into that morning. I told her I could probably tell her what it was.
When I walked over by the tree, the little "pwee" call told me right away
what it probably was, and sure enough that's what flew up to the nest.
. . . .In the late morning we drove to the town of Canyon to visit
the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, which was highly recommended by
the AAA Guide, and also the woman in the next campsite. It's on the
campus of West Texas A & M University. I learned that it was
originally an independent institution, but now belongs to the university.
It's a very well-done, large museum and interprets a wide variety of natural
and human historic subjects. Particularly intriguing were the megamammal
skeletons. It seems as though every present-day mammal's extinct
relatives were larger than what's around now--wolves, pigs, horses--and
of course there were the dinosaurs. Skulls with horns of four or
five bison species were on display. The farther back in time the
skull came from, the larger the horns.
. . . .I also particularly enjoyed the windmill room. Without
them, this country could not have been settled as early as it was.
Some of them were enormous and quite beautiful. I was disappointed
in the "textiles" exhibit. There were only two quilts and most of
the displays were of gowns that were probably not ever worn by women in
. . . .Noon-time rolled around, so Jim suggested we go out to lunch,
then come back afterwards. We were told of a nice Mexican restaurant
a couple of blocks away, which we enjoyed. After lunch, Jim decided
not to go back to the museum at all. His blind fell out of the truck
yesterday and a crucial part broke. He wanted to find a hardware/lumber
store to get materials to fix it. He had also mentioned the possibility
of finding a cabinet-maker to fashion the part for him.
. . . .He left me at the museum around 1:00. I was finished
by 1:45, but Jim didn't get back until 4:15. I couldn't imagine what
had kept him and started imagining a cabinet-maker fashioning his blind
part while he waited. I had looked in the gift shop/book store earlier,
but found nothing interesting. After sitting in the front room of
the museum staring at a sculpture of a buffalo soldier (nice, but not that
nice) for half an hour, I decided to look again at the books and not be
so picky. I found one and read it for the rest of the afternoon.
(It's about a woman's girlhood in the 1930's and 1940's on a ranch in what
is now Big Bend National Park. I'm glad I bought it.)
. . . .When Jim walked in the door at 4:15, I kiddingly asked him
if he got lost--and he sheepishly agreed that that's exactly what happened.
He'd received directions to a Lowe's in Amarillo 15 miles away, but he
swears it was 30 miles. Then he got lost on the way back and found
himself way down the freeway headed for Lubbock. Then when he came
back, he took the wrong road east, thinking it led to the museum and then
to the park. It even had a similar looking flooded pasture with a
duck on it. By the time he finally found his way back to the museum,
he'd put at least 100 miles on the truck--an expensive wild-goose-chase,
even with gasoline "only" $2.099 a gallon instead of what it is at home.
He was most contrite and kept repeating, "I don't know why I didn't stop
and look at the map. I thought I knew where I was going."
. . . .Anyway, we topped off the gas tank and drove back here, the
afternoon pretty well over. After we got back, Jim decided to try
to figure out how to download the digital images he took of Lesser Prairie-Chickens.
I was afraid that as tired as he was, he'd not succeed, but after some
trial and error he brought them up--and they were nice! He thinks
the film ones will be even nicer. We'll e-mail Nancy a couple to
put with this log if we can find a place to hook up his laptop computer--and
if he can figure out how to use the new version of PhotoShop he has.
pm, Sat., April 16, 2005
Duro Cyn. SP, TX
. . .At dinner tonight
Jim confessed a little more about his misadventure of yesterday.
It turns out he ended up in the town of Dimmitt before he decided maybe
he should stop and look at the map. When I looked at the map, I discovered
he drove south on I-27 35 miles past the correct exit in Canyon and got
off at the next town, which was Tulia. Then for some strange reason,
he drove west; Palo Duro Cyn. and the museum are both east of the
freeway. Still he was sure he was on the right road, for he saw that
flooded pasture I mentioned yesterday. (Could there be more than
one of those?) Finally when after 31 miles more he came to Dimmitt,
he resorted to the map. The map showed a slightly shorter way back
to Canyon, where he should have turned east. Still, according to
the mileages on the map, he made a 117-mile detour that he didn't want.
He's still very ashamed of himself and agrees he deserves to suffer the
penance of having me write up his foolishness in my diary.
. . . .Today things went quite a bit better. He fixed his
blind. He learned a lot about downloading digital images on his new
computer and his new edition of Photoshop Elements. There are still
things that aren't working quite right, but he'll probably figure those
out in time.
. . . .While he was doing all this, I took the truck and poked around
in other portions of the park. I especially wanted to check out the
areas near some of the shear cliff walls. Sure enough, I found some
new birds for my park list. Got a nice Rufous-crowned Sparrow (interior
form) song. I also recorded another sound--a simple, slightly upslurred
whistle--that I couldn't identify. It wouldn't come in for playback,
so will have to remain unknown.
. . . .I also saw several beautiful flowers and photographed them.
One I identified later, but the other two I had to give up on. Maybe
with the photos and my books together, I'll succeed. One was a shrub,
which probably isn't in any book I have.
I also checked out
the junipers and found the ones on the flatland to be One-seed Juniper.
The bird-finding guide to Texas was a help on those, for they said there
are only two species in the park. The Rocky Mountain Juniper must
be on the canyon walls. If I'd wanted to, I could have driven back
up the entry road, but I figure I have lots of chances to see that tree.
Besides it was getting along toward lunch time.
. . . .After lunch I spent a little more time figuring out the little
digital camera with the 12x optical zoom. I'm happy to report that
the first significant pictures--other than the three nothings I snapped
yesterday--were Wild Turkeys that came to eat Jim's birdseed. I also
tried out the macro feature on the common yellow flowers (Arizona Bladderpod,
I discovered later) #that carpet the ground between the trees on the flat
canyon floor. Later in the day, after Jim had figured out how to
download the pictures, I was able to see them on the computer screen.
The turkeys were quite nice, but I'm most thrilled by the flowers.
That camera really blew them up BIG. The depth of focus was also
much better than with the macro feature on my film camera. Now I'll
be able to photograph the flowers that I can't identify and figure them
out at leisure later. That beats picking a sample and having it wilt
even when I put it in water. Also, I never pick flowers unless they
are quite common.
. . . The rest of the day I worked on my embroidery and enjoyed
the balmy, intermittently cloudy day. It rained some last night,
but there wasn't any today. The flies weren't so bad--or I just got
used to them. Temperature this morning was 51_ when I was driving
around. It probably got up to the upper 70's this afternoon.
No wind in the morning made for excellent recordings. A comfortable
breeze this afternoon made for a perfect day.
pm, Sun., April 17, 2005
Salt Plains SP, OK
. . .One final installment
of Jim's Panhandle Odyssey. It turned out he drove 10 miles past
Tulia, got off the freeway, turned around and went back north before he
headed west. He thought he had gone too far--an understatement!
As we were trying to get to the bottom of why he did all this at breakfast,
it seemed he saw no exit that said, "Canyon, next ---exits." So he
kept driving hoping to find one. When he discovered he was lost,
he figured if he kept making circles he'd spiral in on his destination.
Besides he kept seeing familiar-looking landmarks. What he didn't
realize was that he was actually spiraling out, and every place looks like
every other place in that country. What it boils down to is that
he'd rather fog around and find things on his own. It's too much
trouble to look at a map or ask someone. Usually he ends up where
he wants to be sooner or later, but not this much later. I like to
have my finger on where we are on the map all the time. In fact,
I'm probably too compulsive that way, but at least I rarely get us lost.
. . . .Not much new today. We drove about 300 miles northeastward
to Great Salt Plains Lake and the state park campground here. The
place is practically deserted now after all the weekenders have left.
(That was why we stayed that extra day in Palo Duro. Never arrive
at a resort area on Saturday night!)
. . . .We stopped for lunch in the cafe (that's all the sign said)--the
only one, it looked like--in Arnett. It was a classic small-town
midwest cafe, run by a couple of friendly women. Food was classic
midwest cuisine, too. The Sunday special was a choice of hamburger
steak with gravy, fried chicken strips, roast beef or chicken-fried steak.
This came with mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, canned pea and cheese
salad, beverage, and dessert (sort of a mock cheesecake topped with cherry
pie filling) for $5.50, $4.25 for a half order. I figured in this
country one should really have chicken-fried steak. I had the half
order, Jim the full one. Mine was plenty, but Jim polished his off.
It was all delicious! Only the carrots were just average cooked carrots.
. . . .This campground is in a turf-with-trees, park-like setting,
but surrounded by natural habitat--brushy mixed woodland with junipers
(species to be determined, I hope), deciduous trees of various types, and
miscellaneous shrubs--all in an impenetrable tangle. There's also
a patch of marsh. On one side of the park flows the Salt Fork of
the Arkansas River, and not too far upstream is the spillway where it came
around a dam. This spillway is the major drawback of the place, for
it's like a perennial waterfall, making sound recording difficult.
. . . .We selected the same site we had in June, 1988, the only
other time we've been here. It's at the end of the row, facing a
nearly dry, tree-lined ditch.
. . . .The wind blew pretty hard until sundown, but now is very
gentle. I took a walk all around the park area. We're getting
into more of the typical eastern birds--the first Blue Jays and Carolina
Chickadees of the trip. Again lots of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers [discovered
a nest up in the tree right outside our dinette window the next day--too
concealed for photos]. American White Pelicans are hanging around
with the human fishermen below the spillway of the dam.
. . . .Much of the lake and its shoreline is a National Wildlife
Refuge. We'll explore some of the nature trails and the short wildlife
drive tomorrow. There's also a visitors center, which will probably
have other information. I really hope to see some shorebirds.
So far I've only see Killdeer.
pm, Mon., April 18, 2005
Salt Plains SP, OK
. . .Gale-force winds
all day long made birding difficult. I certainly couldn't look for
the shorebirds I came here for. All I've seen are two Killdeer on
the shores of the river opposite the trailer. Anytime we went out
into the open the wind was super-strong, so we kept to more protected areas.
Temperatures are quite mild--not cold last night and not hot today.
Sky mostly cloudy. More of the same, with the addition of isolated
thunder showers, is forecast for the next few days.
. . . .The NWR has planted a variety of trees native to the southeastern
states all around the lake, producing extensive stands of woodland.
Most of these trees are not found naturally this far west, I discovered
when I checked out some of them in my tree guide. Still, it was interesting
to try to learn some of them from the interpretive signs on the NWR nature
trail. Eastern Redcedar (actually a juniper) and Southern Catalpa
were two I really studied.
. . . .After walking a portion of the nature trail--not the part
right along the edge of the lake where the wind was too strong--we drove
the 2.5-mile auto tour road. It runs past forest, marsh, pond, and
fields where they grow grain for the wintering and migrating cranes (even
an occasional Whooping) and waterfowl. One of the crops mentioned
in the leaflet was cowpeas. I wonder what they are.
. . . .Blue-winged Teal is the most common duck, but we've also
seen a few Northern Shovelers, and Mallards. Giant Canada Geese are introduced
here and breeding. We saw a variety of herons and egrets, including
Little Blue Heron and others common at home.
. . . .I discovered a pair of Eastern Bluebirds nesting in a tree
cavity yesterday, and Jim spent some time near it with his camera this
afternoon, but all he could get was a head peeking out of the hole.
He thinks they're incubating eggs right now.
. . . .This afternoon, Jim discovered a Harris's Sparrow eating
birdseed outside the trailer. This bird is expected in this area,
but we have a number of pictures from California and Arizona, where it
is casual. Still, it was nice to get photos of one in full breeding
plumage. This morning I saw a House Sparrow eating the birdseed,
so when Jim told me about the Harris's, I thought I had made a mistake
this morning. The two species look somewhat alike, and I only ID'd
the House Sparrow with my naked eye through the screen. However,
I was gratified to see a House Sparrow and a Harris's Sparrow together
for a short while this afternoon. The Harris's is quite a bit bigger
and, of course, there are many other obvious differences.
. . . .With the above two exceptions, land birding has been pretty
mediocre. I'd love to see more migrants. Perhaps when we get
farther east we will. The refuge bird list shows most eastern migrating
warblers to be rare here.
. . . .I didn't do anything outdoors this afternoon because of the
wind. I just stayed inside and bathed Charlie, napped, figured out
some more features on my digital camera, and worked out the details of
the next few days of our trip. We'll probably stay here one more
day and check out a few other sites around the lake. That is, if
the trainer jets aren't screaming around loudly as they were this morning.
There's an auxiliary airport close by, and the pilots seem to be practicing
take-offs and landings there.
pm, Tues., April 19, 2005
Salt Plains SP, OK
. . .More clouds, but
less bluster today. No rain, although thunder storms were forecast.
They're forecast for tomorrow, too, and then it's supposed to be clear
and cooler for a few days. It hasn't really been hot, highs seem
to be in the upper 70's.
. . . .This morning we drove the ca. 45-mile loop around the lake
in order to make two widely spaced stops where shorebirds could be found.
I found quite a few (9 species; about 40 have occurred here), but none
close enough for Jim to photograph--had to use scope myself. I loved
the deep rusty Long-billed Dowitchers in full ap. Also present were
the first Baird's Sandpipers I've been aware of seeing in ap. I may have
seen them on another trip but not paid attention to their plumage.
One Pectoral completed the list of the most interesting sandpipers.
I also saw a single Snowy Plover, which is in even more trouble in this
part of the country than it is in the west. They breed here.
. . . .We also visited the actual salt plain, a flat, featureless
25-square- mile surface. The area was once covered by a shallow sea.
This sea dried up and was covered by sediments washed out of the Ozark
and Rocky mountains. More recently these sediments have eroded away,
once again revealing the salt. A crust of sodium chloride coats the
surface of the flat. It is produced by wicking action as the water
evaporates. Under the surface of the mud, the slightly soluble compound
calcium sulfate dihydrate is continually dissolving and recrystallizing.
The resulting mineral is called selenite. Despite the implication
of the name, it contains no selenium, which is highly poisonous.
. . . .The selenite crystals here assume an unusual hour-glass shape,
due apparently to the nature of the sand, silt, and clay particles found
here. The exact mechanism of this crystallization is not known.
. . . .The salt flats slope gradually until they end abruptly in
a reservoir that was excavated in 1941. Our campground is below the
dam of that reservoir.
. . . .From April through October cars are permitted to drive in
a marked route out about a mile onto the salt flats. People enjoy
going out there and digging up the selenite crystals. The procedure
is to dig a hole about two feet deep and two feet in diameter, wait for
water to rise in the hole, then use the water to rinse off the crystals.
They're rather fragile at first, but fairly sturdy when dry. I looked at
some at the visitors center yesterday. They're sort of brown due
to included iron compounds. The ones I saw, which were free for the
taking, didn't show the hour-glass shape. They were probably broken.
Each year a different portion of the salt flat is open for digging. Then
it is closed to allow new crystals to grow.
. . . .The salt flats are the nesting home of two endangered species,
the Snowy Plover and the Least Tern. Biologists have enhanced the
habitat a bit for the terns by putting out T-shaped boards; they
place their nests in the resulting angle.
. . . .Crystal-digging actually enhances the habitat for the Snowy
Plovers. The mounds of dug-up mud provide elevated places for plover
nests, so they won't flood in a heavy rain. The discarded crystals
are used instead of the usual rocks for nesting material. The plovers
also eat the brine flies that are attracted to the water-filled digging
. . . .The salt plains are also of great interest to microbiologists.
Seventy or more microbes found nowhere else on earth occur here.
A few of the bacteria most closely match microbes found in deep-sea hydrothermal
. . . .Jim photographed the Eastern Bluebirds some more this afternoon.
He thinks the chicks just hatched, for now the adults are bringing food
to the nest. This time he got shots of the male clinging to the outside
of the nest. The female entered it directly. He shot film most
of the time, then switched to digital for a few token shots just before
he quit. Unfortunately that was the only time both adults were visible
at the nest at the same time. He got a wonderful digital image of
the pair when the male came in to feed the female. He missed the
actual moment of feeding, but in the picture she seems to be looking at
him very affectionately. (How's that for anthropomorphism?)
pm, Wed., April 20, 2005
Acres RV Park, Hutchinson, KS
. . .I
awoke to a dawn chorus of Northern Cardinals and Carolina Chickadees and
decided to try to record the latter. They were singing, not just
giving their rough "chik-a-dee" call. Unfortunately they stopped
the instant I got my recording gear ready. I decided to take a walk
anyway and try to get behind trees from the roar of the spillway.
That proved to be impossible, and I didn't hear anything special anyway.
. . . .What I did find was a nice low Red-bellied Woodpecker nest.
After breakfast when the sun was a little higher, Jim went down there and
got some pictures of the male. We debated staying longer and trying
to get the female, but decided to leave. He does have good pictures
of her from a previous trip.
. . . .We left around 10:00 and drove north around 110 miles on
various back roads to Hutchinson. We tried to find a restaurant for
lunch along the route in several towns, but without success. Then
when we were only about 20 miles short of our destination we caught sight
of a "cafe" sign in Arlington, a tiny town about 20 miles southwest of
Hutchinson on SR 61. After turning the corner onto the main street,
we discovered the restaurant was pretty scroungy looking, but figured it
must be good for there were lots of cars parked all along the street.
Then a very short block and a half off the highway (left side of street),
we saw a clean-looking storefront restaurant painted white with blue trim,
Carolyn's Essenhaus. We decided to try it and easily found a place
to park the trailer on a nearby side street. When we opened the door
of the place, we found it absolutely jammed with people--and it was a fairly
large place. We decided this must be a pretty special place, for
the town is so tiny the whole town would have to eat there nearly every
day to generate such a crowd.
. . . .Because of their dress, we soon realized it was a Mennonite
establishment. Food was old-fashioned country fare. We opted
for the day's special--fried chicken (thigh, 2 wings, leg) plus mashed
potatoes, gravy, corn and beverage for $5.50. It was outstanding.
. . . .Jim struck up a conversation with a woman who was just leaving,
and it turned out she and her party had driven all the way from a town
25 miles away where we had failed to find a place to eat. The couple
in the next booth to us were from Hutchinson, 20 miles away. After
more conversation, we learned that this man is a construction worker who
is working on the road near Quivira NWR, where we want to go tomorrow.
He cleared up some discrepancies between two maps I had and told me exactly
how to get to the portion of the refuge I wanted to visit. (I recall
it looked good when we were getting tired on a previous trip.) A
great many of the roads on the AAA map of Kansas have no highway numbers
on them, making it difficult to know which is the one you want to take.
The road I thought I wanted is labelled SR 19 on the AAA map, but has only
county numbers on the refuge map.
. . . .That's about it for the day, except for a trip to a Super
Wal-Mart for all sorts of things. It takes forever to find things
in those gigantic stores.
. . . .Weather was very warm and muggy--temperature in the upper
80's. Right now it's starting to rain and there's thunder and lightning
in the distance. Severe thunderstorm warnings are in effect west
. . . .This RV park is pretty nice. It's not listed in the
Trailer Life Guide, but is in AAA's camping guide, although the directions
in the book are pretty bad. (Fortunately the construction worker
knew where it was, too, and gave us detailed directions how to find it.)
It's located on the northwest side of SR 61 and US 50 between the Arkansas
R. and where the two highways part company right in town. There's
a sign on the highway for the park and it's not 0.3 mile off the road;
the registration house is right next to the road, and the campsites are
only a little bit farther. We have a site that backs up and is partly
under some tall trees to the west, so we were in full shade most of the
afternoon. The trees seem to be part of a city park--and possibly
the camground is, too. We did register at a house/office combination
at the entrance. The park has showers, but Jim didn't like the looks
of them. That may be why Trailer Life doesn't list the place.
But we've been in places they do list with equally bad rest rooms.
Also TL sometimes lists places that have no rest rooms or showers at all.
. . . .We plan to go to Quivira NWR tomorrow. Last time we
stayed in Great Bend and also visited Cheyenne Bottoms State Wildlife Area.
It's supposed to have more shorebirds than Quivira, but our experience
was that everything was tremendously far away--scope distance only--affording
no photo opportunities. So I decided to skip it this time.
Besides, we hated the RV park where we stayed there. We do have a
list we got off the internet of other RV parks in that city. None
are in the TL guide and if they are as bad as the one where we stayed,
they don't deserve to be. Great Bend is sort of midway between Quivira
and Cheyenne Bottoms, so is the place to stay if you want to visit both.
However, Quivira is almost midway between Great Bend and Hutchinson, which
is why I selected the latter as a place to stay.
pm., Thurs., April 21, 2005
Acres RV Park, Hutchinson, KS
. . .Quivira NWR was pretty
much a bust this morning. We saw almost no shorebirds, just a handful
of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, two Baird's Sandpipers, Killdeer, Black-necked
Stilt, and American Avocet. Land birds were just the most common
ones that we see everywhere. Jim wishes we'd stayed longer at Great
. . . .Perhaps the most interesting thing we observed was the mating
behavior of two avocets. They were right next to one another in some
shallow water. The female had her head lowered so the lower curve
of her bill was tangent to the water. After a few seconds of this,
the male mounted her briefly, then hopped off. Then they linked bills
and blended their adjacent wings as though they were holding hands and
did a little pirhouette. It was all very elegant and graceful
. . . .We did photograph two turtles that were standing in the middle
of the refuge roads. I took digital images and will try to ID them
from those, but for now they remain just turtles. They were definitely
not the same species.
. . . .We had a pretty good thunderstorm last night, but it never
seemed to be right where we are--just a fair amount of rain. TV news
said large hail (baseball, golf ball, etc. sizes) fell in some areas.
I hope we never get any of that. It could do bad things to our solar
panels and vent covers.
. . . .This morning as we were driving west to the refuge, we could
see a strange line of clouds ahead in the sky. Pretty soon they were
right over us, then they were to our east. Simultaneously the temperature
cooled down, a brisk breeze started, and the sky got less hazy. We
decided we had seen the cold front pass. This all happened in a period
of an hour or two. High today seems to be at least 8 degrees lower
than it was yesterday and the humidity is much lower.
. . . .We're going to indulge ourselves at the Dutch Kitchen tonight.
We were told by others at Carolyn's Essenhaus yesterday that it's similar--and
it's not far from where we're staying.
pm same day.
. . . .The Dutch Kitchen was also very good. We both had roast
beef. It's about 7 fast miles southwest of our RV park on SR 61 and
April 22, 2005
City Lake SP, nr. Independence, KS
pm, Sat., April 23, 2005
. . .Yesterday was an
uneventful day of travel. We drove 170 miles southeastward to Independence,
Kansas. My reason for coming here was to visit the site of the original
Little House on the Prairie that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in her
. . . .We found a campsite at Elk City Lake SP only five miles from
town. It consists of mostly open turf and trees with narrow windbreaks
around the edges. Very few birds, but also very few people.
We have a pretty nice site?a back-in right next to a little ditch, so there
should be birds, but all we see are robins, mockingbirds and Blue-gray
. . . .The wind was blowing a gale yesterday and most of the day
today, although it has calmed down now and promises to be fairly calm tomorrow,
according to weather radio. Todayís high was only in the high
50's, making it unpleasant to be outside.
. . . .Yesterday afternoon after we were rested up a bit, we went
into Independence to the library, where they taught Jim how to access any
email waiting for him on his home email address. There was nothing
of value, so he just deleted it all. They wouldnít let him hook his
laptop up to a phone jack; he had to use their computers, but it worked
. . . .This morning we drove a little ways around the reservoir
and spent some time in an area near the Project Headquarters area.
Saw a FLOCK of Harrisís and White-crowned (leucophrys) Sparrows plus a
fleeting glimpse of an Orchard Oriole. Eastern Bluebirds were nesting
in nest boxes.
. . . .By then it was nearly 10:00, time for Little House on the
Prairie to open, so we drove down there?only about 9 miles away.
The discovery of the site is an interesting bit of detective work by a
local woman. The Ingalls family was here for only one year, 1869-1870,
but 1870 was a census year and their names are all on the census, although
their last name is misspelled ďIngles.Ē They were here before the
area was officially open for homesteading, so never filed a claim.
However, the names before and after the Ingalls family on the census rolls
had filed claims. By looking at all the names on the census-takerís
list, it was possible to discern the route he followed. There were
two quarter-sections that might have been where the Ingalls family lived.
A visit to the two areas revealed that on one of them there was an old
well (Laura described the digging of the well) and some foundation stones
that might have been from an old cabin. Furthermore even today the
appearance of the surroundings fits what she described in the book to a
T. Not far away is a depression with a creek and trees. Beyond
that is a low bluff.
. . . .A replica of the cabin has been built near the old farmhouse
that is now on the grounds. The only problem with it is that
it is on a concrete foundation and it has store-bought wooden shingles
on the roof. It was built out of logs from the nearby creek though.
The well is also there, although it has been capped for safety. The
clerk in the gift shop (in the old farmhouse next door) didnít know where
the rock foundation stones were. (They should have been featured!)
Also, according to the AAA guide to the site, it was supposed to be possible
to hike to the creek. The clerk thought there was a marked trail
with a sign, but said, ďI havenít checked it this year.Ē I
fogged around all over the place, but could find nothing. Every mowed
trail led to a pasture fence. I really wanted to see the creek bottom,
where the Indian encampment had been.
. . . .An old schoolhouse and post office have also been brought
in and set up near the replica cabin. The schoolhouse dates from
about 10 years after the Ingalls left, but the girls would have gone to
school there had they remained in Kansas.
. . . .When Laura wrote here book, she thought their cabin was in
Oklahoma, not realizing that this corner of Kansas was still Indian territory.
That was why she said Pa had to go 40 miles to Independence for supplies.
Actually it was only 13 miles.
. . . .In her book, Laura says the Ingalls left because he heard
that the US government was going to kick the squatters off their land.
Actually they didnít do so, and the Indians ďagreedĒ to move to Oklahoma.
In fact, Laura describes the caravan of them moving out right past their
cabin. They apparently didnít know it was for good.
. . . .Probably the real reason they moved was that the man who
bought their property back in Wisconsin didnít want to continue paying
for the land. He wanted to go west. So Pa had to return there
to reclaim the property.
. . . .Laura was only three years old when the family was in Kansas,
although in the book she is more like five. Everything she wrote
was based on what her parents told her about the place, for she was too
young to remember it. Itís remarkable how well the actual setting
fits the book.
. . . .I know Iíve carried on at length about this visit, but it
meant a lot to me. As a child I read and reread the Wilder books.
Just before leaving home for this trip, I reread Little House in the Big
Woods and Little House on the Prairie once more. As I read them,
I realized how much she influenced the way I try to live my life today.
Over the years in my travels Iíve now visited all the homes she featured
in her books. The only childhood home Iíve not visited is in Burr
Oak, Iowa, which she did not write about - probably because it was an unhappy
. . . .The afternoon was spent resting and figuring out where weíre
going to go next, and staying in out of that cold wind.
pm, Sun., April 24, 2005
City Lake SP, KS
THE FIRST TWO PARAGRAPHS
DESCRIBE COMPUTER PROBLEMS I'VE HAD. I WANTED A RECORD OF IT.
IF YOU'RE NOT INTERESTED, SKIP THEM.
. . . .Last night when I
went to write up my diary, my computer refused to bring up Windows.
It's been giving me problems for quite a while, but usually after several
tries, it would start. Jim had just gone to bed, so I awoke him and
used his computer. Unfortunately it has WordPerfect 12 for Windows,
while I'm still using my old friend WordPerfect 6 for DOS. It was
extemely difficult to do even the most rudimentary tasks on it. I
didn't get it written up and saved to my satisfaction (on his computer
and on my diskette) until 11:00. In the process I created a number
of extraneous files on Jim's computer and despite all my searches I could
not figure out how to do the simple task of deleting them! I doubt
he knows either.
. . . .Today I looked in the instruction book for my computer
to see if it addressed what to do. It said to start it up from the
start-up diskette. I looked in my box of diskettes and was overjoyed
to find a copy of it there. I started it with that, did a couple
of things, including a 45-min scandisk, which found no problems.
It ended up at A:\. When I tried to change to C:\, where my WordPerfect
is, it balked. So I just turned the computer off at the switch.
Then I turned it back on. IT STARTED right away. So I'm now
using my old friend, WP 6, again. I was even able to access the WP
12 document I created last evening, (TR-PRAI.423) although for some reason
it has twice as many bites as my usual installments do. I hope it
doesn't cause any problems for Nancy.
THE DAY'S ACTIVITIES
. . . .After last night's computer problems were more or less under
control, I had to stay up another hour to calm down--to bed at midnight.
They my Restless Legs Syndroms (RLS) kicked up a couple of hours later,
as it frequently does when I'm upset, so I got up and read for another
45 minutes. A good nap this afternoon, plus a computer that is now
working has me back in good shape.
. . . .Today dawned clear, and CALM for a change. It was still
cold (44_). We spent several hours in the bottomlands along Card
Creek on the north side of the lake. This is an area of narrow channels,
but they seem still to be full of water backed up by the dam. Tall
trees are in the area--and finally some interesting birds and wonderfully
quite recording conditions. I saw (and recorded) the first two eastern
warblers of the trip, Prothonotary and Northern Parula. I suspect
both will breed in the area. Also fun were the first Field Sparrow,
Summer Tanager, and Indigo Bunting of the trip.
. . . .When we got back to the trailer, a Baltimore Oriole was singing
right next to it, and he's been doing so most of the rest of the day.
. . . .Jim had to repair the battery box he made for the front of
the trailer, so I took the truck to what they call a nature trail, that
makes a 2/3-mile loop through the upland forest near the Memorial Overlook
of the dam. This was a bust. The only birds were Northern Cardinals.
I did find some pretty pink flowers. They had four united petals
on a long tube, and leaves like some geraniums. I couldn't find them
in my only flower book.
(I took digital images
and worked from them.)
. . . .I also photographed the leaves of a couple of the trees and
brought back samples, too. These I succeeded in identifying--Northern
Red Oak and Shagbark Hickory. They call the trail the Post Oak Nature
Trail--don't know of that tree is there, too.
. . . .Although they call the trail a Nature Trail, there were no
interpretive signs or numbered posts and a leaflet. That disappointed
. . . .We had planned to leave this morning, but since it was noon
by the time I finished my sightseeing and Jim finished his battery box
repairs, I suggested we stay another night. Besides, I really needed
that nap after my ordeal of last evening.
April 25, 2005
SP, north of Girard, KS
pm, Tues., April 26, 2005
SP, north of Girard, KS
. . .Again, I've had horrendous
problems getting this computer started. Finally--and unfortunately
I'm not quite sure what I did--I got it started once again. I guess
I might as well update my diary and save it on my diskette.
. . . .Yesterday morning it started raining around 3:00 am and rained
off and on, mostly on, all day long. During a mid-morning lull in
the rain Jim hooked us up and we drove about 100 miles to this state park,
which is almost to the Missouri border.
. . . .The park is beside a fishing lake and surrounded by woodland.
Around 5:00 I took a short walk around the campground, but found nothing
special in the way of birds. I keep hoping for some migrating eastern
warblers, but all I saw were Yellow-rumps (Myrtles).
. . . .Our purpose is coming here was to visit Prairie State Park
in Missouri, which has the largest expance of tall-grass prairie in the
state. It's about 30 miles from here, but this was the closest campground
I could find to it. Knowing that its visitors center would probably
not open very early, we arrived shortly after 9:00, which was when it opened.
By then the wind was blowing a gale.
. . . .We viewed the excellent diorama of a Bison surrounded by
prairie wildflowers and animals. We also viewed their orientation
video, which was quite nice. The information we got was not what
we wanted, though. They do have a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek, but
you have to view it from the road, which is scope-distance from the birds.
Henslow's Sparrows are along the trails, but you can be on them only from
9:00 am to 4:00 pm, which is when the wind is up in these parts.
I did get a couple of books on wildflowers and a very nice free publication
showing where all the prairies open to the public in Missouri are located.
It indicates which ones have chickens and which have H's Sparrows.
I think we'll try to find some on our own.
. . . .The rest of the morning we drove some of the county roads
that run north-and-south through the park and took some pictures of prairie.
By then the remains of yesterday's rain clouds had become beautiful high
puffies. Since this is the largest prairie, it seemed as though it
would be a good idea to get pictures here. Other places there will
surely be farmers' fields in the scene along with the native prairie.
. . . .I photographed half a dozen prairie wildflowers with both
of my cameras. Will try to identify them using my new books and the
digital images this evening.
pm, Wed., April 27, 2005
RV Park, Osceola, MO
. . .I
think I may have figured out why my computer is giving me conniptions.
I have my Thayer Birding Software in the CD-Rom drive. That may be
confusiing the thing. When I opened that drawer immediately after
turning on the computer, it brought up Windows just fine. The question
still is, why was it working OK earlier in the trip, but not lately?
Oh, well, I doubt I'll ever begin to understand these exasperating machines,
useful as they are.
. . . .I spent three hours last evening identifying EVERYTHING I
had photographed with my digital camera. That must be a record, for
usually I have to give up on something. There were a lot of plants,
plus the two turtles at Quivira NWR. The little one was a Yellow
Mud Turtle, and the big one was a Snapping Turtle. Jim had picked
up the little one so I could get a picture of the plastron (underside),
but he hadn't picked up the big one. At the time, the thought crossed
my mind that that turtle looked mean. When I compared notes with
Jim today after telling him what it was, he said he had had the same thought;
that was why he didn't pick it up. I thought it was surprising to
find either of these turtles on a road, but the book said that occasionally
they do occur there. Anyway, they'll be nice additions to the Sea
and Sage Library.
wildflowers from Elk City Lake, 4/23:
. . . .Dwarf Larkspur, Delphinium tricorne
. . . .Rose Vervain, Glandularia canadensis
I also photographed
a Harris's Sparrow in a bush there. It was a bit small, but identifiable.
I considered myself lucky to even find the bird in the view-finder to take
from Prairie State Park, 4/27:
. . . .After lunch and a nap, we decided to scout Taberville Prairie
so we wouldn't waste morning time doing not knowing where we were going.
The place is about a 25-minute drive west from here through beautiful rolling
farmland, forests, creeks, etc. The road seems to have no or curves
cuts; it just goes up to the top of each hill and down to the bottom
in a straight course.
. . . .The guidebook said the lek was near the end of a particular
two-track road and that a blind is sometimes set up there during the breeding
season. We didn't find a blind, but we're pretty sure we located
the lek. It's on the top of a gentle hill several hundred yards from
the parking area. Lekking season is about finished now; that
is, the females are probably no longer coming in. However, the males
often continue to display in a somewhat half-hearted manner for several
weeks afterwards. We've decided to go out one morning around sunrise
and see if we're right about where the lek is and no doubt scare the birds
away. If we succeed in finding activity, Jim will wrap himself in
camouflage netting, carry a chair and go out well before daybreak the next
morning. I'll probably have to carry some of his gear, for with camera
and tripod, it'll be too much.
. . . .Yellow Star Grass, Hypoxix hirsuta
. . . .Prairie Violet, Viola pedatifida
. . . .Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea
. . . .Wood Betony or Lousewort, Pedicularis canadensis
. . . .False Garlic, Nothoscordum bivalve - probable
ID, flower closed
. . . .Rose Vervain (again)
Again I didn't get
to bed until almost midnight, but this time after a most satisfying evening.
My new digital camera really takes nice close-ups of flowers. My
pictures are much better than some of the ones in the flower guides I bought.
. . . .This morning we drove about 90 miles to Osceola, Missouri.
It is a town of 870 people, but is the county seat of its county.
I selected it because its RV park is the closes to Taberville Prairie.
That is a place I've visited on two previous trips, once with Mother and
once with Jim. Two bird-finding guides that I brought along recommended
it for both birds and flowers. One even said where there is a Greater
. . . .The Osceola RV Park is a real gem of a place. It's
owned by the city, and is on the shore of one of the arms Truman "Lake"
(a reservoir). There is lots of parkland besides the RV Park.
The sites are all pull-throughs; we prefer back-ins, but the setting is
under oaks with natural forest nearby. This all sounds very rustic,
but listen to what else it has: full hook-ups (including sewer, which
we haven't had for since Bosque Birdwatchers in New Mexico), cable TV (good
assortment of basic channels), and even wi-fi (wireless internet access).
The latter was "down" today, but the manager said it should be fixed tomorrow.
The price: $14.00 a night with senior discount ($15.50 without).
We paid $22.00 a night in Kansas state parks for just electric and water--and
the showers were solar-heated, which means they weren't hot because the
weather has been quite cold. We weren't sure how long we'd stay here,
so we told the manager we'd just pay for two nights to start. He
said, "Why don't you just register, then pay when you leave?" That's
unheard of in RV parks.
. . . .It looks as though none of this can happen tomorrow, for
it's supposed to rain tonight through tomorrow morning. Guess we'll
do laundry tomorrow. There's a laundromat here in Osceola.
. . . .Today was a beautiful partly cloudy day, with a high of around
60'. The clouds were starting to thicken around sunset, so I think
the weather forecast will turn out right.