Ubiquitous plastic

P1070199Ubiquitous: present everywhere or in several places simultaneously

Plastic: any of a number of synthetic polymeric substances that can be given any required shape

(The Concise Oxford Dictionary)

This lone plastic water bottle floating in a sea of green gunge in Brazos Bend State Park in Texas caught my eye. The park is pristine, tidy and well-kept. Staff and volunteers do a great job keeping it clean so visitors can enjoy the wildlife. So this lone bottle jarred.

It definitely should not have been there and I wondered which unthinking clown had thrown it into the lake rather then into one of the bins (there are plenty of them).

It jarred especially because of the context it was in. I was watching a Great Egret at the time. It was still and peering into the water at the edge of the green and gunky lake. Here it is peering – it let me get quite close but not too close. What a beauty.

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And here it is in context with the discarded plastic bottle

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It just doesn’t go. It shouldn’t be there and it’s a reminder of the vast amounts of discarded plastic we humans are allowing to overtake our planet. Recycling helps of course, but do we need SO MUCH plastic I have to ask.

You’re probably already aware of the plastic problem so I won’t bang on about it. While I was in the US I refused plastic straws given with any drinks ordered in cafes and restaurants. One place didn’t offer them – a small start but it was encouraging to see it nonetheless.

 

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Roseate Spoonbill

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That flash of pink in the treetops…..what was it?

We’d just embarked on the walk along by Forty Acre Lake at Brazos Bend State Park, when a ruffling kerfuffle of pink erupted in the mid-distance treetops.

My brain said “Flamingoes? Here?” My binoculars said “Roseate Spoonbills – 4 of them!”

This was a first ever sighting of these rather weird large waders, with their prehistoric-looking spoon-shaped bills. What a treat! A trip to Brazos Bend is always rewarding, but the spoonbills made this trip even more so.

These birds were heavily persecuted in the late 1800s when feathered hats were in vogue and they all but died out, thanks to vain fashion and plume hunters. Thankfully they have made a recovery but the message is clear: persecute and destruction and/or extinction will follow.

What a treat it was to see these birds. The photo isn’t great – I was lucky to get it – but you’ll get the overall impact of this stunning, peculiar, wonderful bird.

Muscovy Duck

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These are weird, unusual birds, but there are usually several hanging around near one of the artificially created ponds in Terry Hershey park in Houston. They are found across North America and we do have them in the UK too.

I watched a family of them, parents sitting down doing nothing much, while their smaller, younger offspring pottered around on a nearby bank of the bayou.

This one let me get close; they’re used to humans hanging around. Now why do I want to call him or her Warty McWartface?

 

Llano, Texas

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You can pick up quite a lot about a place, even if you’re only staying there overnight.

Llano is a small Texan town, quite rural and quite pleasant. There are antique shops on the main street, full of interesting clutter, jumble and a few possibly genuine pieces too. Such shops can be interesting for tourists to browse around – who knows what you might find? But as it gets dark, the shops close, the lights come on and the town exudes a different lifestyle.

Cafes and bars are open and busy, the lights draw those who are out and about on a Saturday night (as I was) and the lure of the Opry at the Lantex was calling to some (not to me; I’ve no idea what the Opry might be in Texan terms! Singing, music, a dance hall?).

P1060752 (2)Around the main square everything was closed but the sedate and respectable front of the building housing the Llano News drew my attention. Drab, proper, tidy and rather unexciting. I wonder if the kind of articles that make it to the pages of the local rag are as mundane as those in the local paper where I live?

Turning the corner of the square, ready to head back, I got a clue about something which goes on in the area. The well-illuminated sign bore the call to attend “License to carry classes” provided twice monthly at the Midway gun and ammo shop. This is rural Texas after all…..

I was puzzled by the lit up leaping deer, but discovered later via a poster in a shop window that there is an annual deer fest in the town, so it’s a huntin’ shootin’ kinda place.

Not my cup of tea, but the take out BBQ we had to eat that night was.P1060757 (2)

A strange gurgling in the night

P1060986There it was again –  a loud, odd gurgling sound – a bit like the warble of a bird but far more urgent. I was suddenly wide awake. Confused too, as I briefly wondered if I was at home and hearing the dawn chorus. But no, I was definitely not at home because I was sleeping in a cabin-style house in the desert, surrounded by mountians. And it was dark.

Something was definitely going on outside. Scuffles? That gurgling noise again, like an alarm call. It stopped and I went back to sleep.

Next morning there was excited talk amongst our family party about the noise which I’d heard, husband had heard, son and daughter-in-law had heard. The grandchildren slept through it all.

Our cabin’s location was just outside Big Bend National Park in the far south of Texas. Wildlife in that area includes deer, road runners, javelina and mountain lions. The conclusion was that what we’d heard was a mountain lion in pursuit of prey. The gurgling sound could have been the prey, or the alarm call of a bird aroused by the lion.

Our son, sleeping at the front of the house, had got up and looked out, shining a torch into the blackness of the night. He’d seen the lion attacking something else; the light from his torch had startled the lion and it (and preseumably the prey) hadP1070004 (2) run off.

We went to look at the loose sand and soil outside the cabin where he’d seen the activity and found the evidence – paw prints and what looked like deer hoof prints. No blood.

Just another night in the desert maybe – but a real bit of colourful excitement for us.

In the land of height barriers

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We went into North Wales in our motorvan one day last week when the sun shone and temps got up to an unseasonable-for-February 16 or 17c.  We were aiming for a walk on a beach, but as we’d never been to the town of Holywell – home of St. Winefride’s well and the pilgrimage shrine to this early martyr – we stopped there first. We were very disappointed.

Signs saying that Holywell is The Lourdes of Wales  had greeted us and  we wanted to see the holy well, but access is nigh on impossible if you’re in a motorvan. There’s a small car park (with maybe 12 max parking slots) opposite the church & well, but it has a height barrier. Height barriers are the bane of the motorhomer’s life – it’s impossible to get in and they are usually erected to keep out travellers.

There was nowhere else to park. We went back into the town, found another very small car park we could get into (no height barrier), decided not to walk along the busy major through road to the church and explored the town instead. Disappointing, dead and depressing. Shut up shops, cheapo pound shops, 2 betting shops, a couple of cafes. It was dreary, crummy, downtrodden. The people didn’t too happy either. How sad. Holywell, according to info boards in the main street, appears to originally have been a thriving market town. Not any more.

Surprised that a town calling itself the Lourdes of Wales hadn’t provided better parking for the visitors it hoped to attract, we went on to find the nearby Greenfield Valley Heritage Park which claims to be worth a visit. It boasts 5 ponds, water birds, wooded walks etc. Guess what? More height barriers.

We drove on, aiming for the Point of Ayr RSPB reserve, passing more car parks with height barriers along the way. Turning off towards Point of Ayr we were soon engulfed in a horrible pong. A farmer was muck spreading in an adjacent field and it wasn’t nice. We carried on a bit and as the pong receded,  another nastier, more evil smell emerged. It was from the chemical works at Point of Ayr. No way were we going to go anywhere near that, it was vile.

Feeling sorry for any birds who were breathing it in we turned round and headed towards Prestatyn. Looking for somewhere to park near the beach, or with a sea view, we were foiled yet again by another series of height barriers on car parks, and decided that this neck of North Wales must have had some pretty bad experiences with travellers taking over their car parks to have gone so heavily down the height barrier route.

We pressed on, still looking for somewhere to stop and have lunch, preferably with a sea view. Rhyl, not the most enticing of seaside towns, loomed close by, but we hit the jackpot without having to go into the town. On the outskirts there was a stretch of seafront prom, with a large grass verge, and unrestricted parking. So we had lunch in our van, in the sun, overlooking the beach and sea and then took our dog for a very long walk on the sands, enjoying distant views of the Snowdonia mountains.

Rufous Motmot

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What better thing to do on a cold, gloomy and snowy January afternoon than trawl through the archives of photos taken in Costa Rica. We were there getting on for two years ago, and I’ve still not ID’d some of the birds and other wildlife we saw.

I knew this was a Motmot, but had forgotten what sort. The guide must have told us because as soon as I looked it up I remembered the “Rufous” part of its name. I clearly remember, though, that the guide pointed out its tail which was moving from side to side, like a pendulum. “Tick tock” he said.

Rufous Motmots eat invertebrates, small vertebrates and various fruits. They feast on beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, scorpions and small crustaceans.