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In a region of Texas some call the last great habitat, thorn forest intermingles with freshwater wetlands, coastal prairies, mudflats and beaches. Dense patches of thorny brush rise among unique wind-blown clay dunes called lomas.”  — US Fish and Wildlife Service

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge — US Fish and Wildlife photo

Birds Galore

            It was a warm November day in 2005 when I visited South Texas’ Laguna Atascosta National Wildlife Refuge, whose name loosely translates to boggy lake. My own description of the refuge, recorded in my journal, coincides somewhat with the official version. I wrote: “Laguna Atascosta is one big briar patch – a haven of thorns. It seemed as if every plant was armed.  Scattered purple and orange wildflowers sat among sage, yucca, and palm trees with shaggy trunks.”

A pair of aplomado falcons. — US Fish and Wildlife photo

Along with my descriptions of the landscape was a list of the birds I was seeing: osprey, white-fronted goose, great egret, great blue heron, white-tailed kite, long-billed curlew, loggerhead shrike, kestrel, sandhill crane, white-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, white pelican, Harris hawk, red-shouldered hawk – just to name a few. Half of the birds found in North America rest, feed, migrate through or nest on this landscape, the leader of our small birding group told us as we watched lesser and greater yellowlegs feeding in some shallow water.

It was easy to tell which was which of the two, not an easy task when looking at only one of the species, I thought, as I added dunlin, marbled godwit, black-bellied plover, northern harrier, gull-billed tern, black-necked stilt and willet to my bird list, which kept getting longer – and kept looking for the No. 1 bird on my priority list.

But as the day wore on, I became more and more doubtful I would see an aplomado falcon, a globally abundant species but rare in North America. Once widespread throughout the American Southwest, only two remaining pairs of aplomado falcons were known to exist in the states in the 1940s and ‘50s, most likely because of over harvesting of eggs, according to US Fish and Wildlife.

Aplomado falcon. — Wikimedia photo

Today, the aplomado falcon has made a comeback in South Texas due to an aggressive recovery program involving captive breeding and re-introduction efforts. As of 2004, more than 900 falcons had been released in the Rio Grande Valley, with 25 nesting pairs documented in 2006.

Finally, thankfully, I got to see one of those pairs. Our group finally identified one sitting regally on a yucca. The aplomado falcon was a good distance away, but my long-lens telescope brought it up close for a detailed view. As I watched the falcon, which was a new life bird for me, I noted a second one sitting a bit lower on the plant. What a delightful day for us birders.

But it wasn’t over. Before we headed back to our Harlingen Hotel, which was the base for those attending the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I added lesser scaup, crested caracara, belted kingfisher and a dozen or so more birds to my day’s list.

Laguna Atascosa may mostly be a briar patch, but I feel like Br’er Rabbit, who despite his words, would have been quite happy to be tossed back into that thorny thicket.

Bean Pat: Bay of Fundy https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/the-bay-of-fundy/#like-38633 One of my favorite blogs because I usually learn something new, especially how to identify wildflowers.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her patbean@msn.com

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It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

An old bristlecone pine at Great Basin National Park, where stars light up the sky at night. — National Forest Service Photo

A Walk Among the Trees

I was sitting on my third-floor balcony drinking my cream-laced coffee this morning, with my binoculars aimed at our resident great horned owl. We have a pair here, and since this was the largest of the two I assumed it was the female.

All that’s left of what was once the world’s oldest living tree. — Wikimedia photo

The owl was restless and flew off after a couple of minutes, but I continued to stare, this time at the magnificent Ponderosa pine in which the owl perched, and which graces my balcony view. I saw the tree as a living thing, and knowing that it is a tiny cog in the ecosystem that is necessary to my daily breath, I was awed and thankful,

And that thought took me back to the trip I made to Great Basin National Park, where I stood near the summit of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, and learned of the murder of what was thought to be the world’s oldest living tree.

I was with a small group of hikers led by a ranger at this time, and one of the men in the group asked: “Did they kill the murderer.”  The ranger responded: “They should have.”

Stella Lake at Great Basin National Park. — Wikimedia photo

But the truth is that the murderer was given a permit to cut the bristlecone pine tree down for research purposes. It was found to be 5,200 years old, and the oldest known living tree.

The silver lining from this tragedy – and the Pollyanna side of me always looks for this ray of sunshine – is that the hue and cry from this 1964 murder eventually led to the creation of Great Basin National Park.

“If anything good can come from the cutting of the world’s oldest tree, then it was that,” the ranger said, as we walked among other bristlecones, some of which were thought to be as old as 3,000 years.

That recorded memory, recalled from my journals and a newspaper story I wrote when the park was celebrating its 10th birthday, dates back to 1996. I made the trip to the Nevada park after then Rep. Jim Hansen, protesting the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which, I note, has recently been reduced in size, suggested that parks like the Great Basin didn’t deserve national protection.

I disagree one thousand percent.

Bean Pat: Old Plaid Camper https://oldplaidcamper.com/2018/06/22/hazy-lazy-low-tide-mornings/#like-10237  Life’s a marathon not a sprint.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her patbean@msn.com

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Bar Harbor park at the pier. — Photo by Pat Bean

“A minute of thought is greater than an hour of talk.” — John C. Maxwell

A Lesson in a Watchful Moment

I spent a week on Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park, at a campground  just outside of Bar Harbor, Maine. It was an awesome week that included visits to the park, a boat tour around Frenchman Bay, a lobster lunch at the pier, lots of bird watching, and free shuttle rides that let me explore the entire island while my canine companion stayed behind in Gypsy Lee, my small RV.

View from Acadia National Park on Desert Island in Maine. — Photo by Pat Bean

But travel is more than just being a tourist. And while I have fond memories of all the sights and activities I saw and did, when I think of Bar Harbor, the first thing I remember is watching two women trimming hedges on the village green, where I was waiting at the shuttle stop.

After the pair had finished, they walked to the other side of the street for an overall look back at their efforts. Their actions struck me as what should be a life axiom. Sometimes we need to stand back from our current activities and potential decisions so we can see the whole picture.

There have been many times in my life that I’m sure I would have made better decisions if I had done just that.

Bean Pat: Your voice https://www.janefriedman.com/you-have-a-voice-and-it-means-something/ I follow several blogs on writing, and this is one of my favorites – and most useful/

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, who spent nine years traveling North America from coast to coast and border to border in a small RV. You can read more about her Maine adventures in her book, Travels with Maggie, now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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View looking down Conejos Canyon. — Photo by Pat Bean

“The more I draw and write, the more I realize that accidents are a necessary part of any creative act, much more so than logic or wisdom. Sometimes a mistake is the only way of arriving at an original concept, and the history of successful inventions is full of mishaps, serendipity and unintended results.” — Shaun Tan

Following the Road 

Hmmm. I think I took a wrong turn a couple of dozen miles back. — Photo by Pat Bean

One lovely fall day a few years back, I took a wrong turn in Chama, New Mexico, a quaint village with a population of not much more than a thousand residents. After a bit of exploring the town’s charm by dawn’s light, I set off again toward my Texas destination.

My lack of directional sense, however, sent me driving in the opposite direction.

It was an awesome drive, and my fascination with the scenery distracted me so much that it wasn’t until I was near the top of Cumbres Pass, high in the San Juan Mountains, that I realized my mistake.

Instead of backtracking, I decided to simply continue on and discover what else the road had in store for me this day. While I usually carefully charted my daily routes during this  wandering without deadlines period in my life, I occasionally let the road decide my path.

However, with scenery like this, I think I’ll just keep going. — Photo by Pat Bean

This day was one of those, and I soon found myself in Conejos Canyon, one of the wildest places in the United States, and where grizzly bears once roamed.  I have seen a gazillion stunning landscapes in my travels across North America, but this day’s drive might have topped them all with its kaleidoscope of color and surprises.

I learned early on not to bemoan my flawed sense of direction, but to enjoy the unexpected wonders it brought. This day made me especially thankful for the lacking gene – and also for my willingness to simply go with the flow.

Bean Pat: Paperback Reader https://dereid99.wordpress.com/2018/05/24/paperback-reader/  Usually it’s just the opposite, so this tickled my funny bone.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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Looking out over the Badlands in South Dakota. — Photo by Pat Bean

“History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley

And Touching History

I have sat in the Old North Church in Boston, a landmark of the American Revolution. I have stood where Americans shed blood fighting each other over the issue of slavery. I have floated down the Mississippi River in a steamboat in the wake of Mark Twain. I have shed tears while standing in front of the black Lincoln in which JFK was riding when he was fatally shot. And I have walked on an Atlantic Beach near where The Virginia Company made its first landing in the New World.

In other words, I have traveled.

The Mark Twain Bridge over the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Missouri — Photo by Pat Bean

But it’s only now that I am coming to realize just how much history I was touching during the nine years I crisscrossed this country in a small RV – from ocean to ocean and border to border. Back then I was more interested in finding birds, camping beside a lake, admiring Mother Nature’s art, and exploring new hiking trails. Learning about history was never foremost in my mind.

My reasons for taking to the road, after retiring from my 37-year journalism career, were to satisfy my lifelong wanderlust and to see America’s wondrous landscapes – from gawking at a sunset over the Pacific from a cliff-top campground in Oregon, to wandering through the South Dakota badlands on a day so windy that my RV did a rock-and-roll dance.  Satisfying my late-blooming bird-watching addiction was an unexpected surprise bonus.

Yet looking back now, I realize that the history of the sites I visited almost always prompted additional research that ended up being what I wrote about in my blogs and in my book, Travels with Maggie.

I came to realize early on that travel is as much about discovering oneself as it is about seeing new vistas and meeting new people. So, it seems strange that I am only just now realizing how much traveling is also like taking a ride in a time machine through the pages of history.

Bean Pat: Don’t take life too seriously https://bebloggerofficial.com/2018/05/11/dont-take-life-too-seriously/  Good advice, especially these days.

Pat Bean: is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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 “Maybe you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth, but like every American, you carry a deed to 635 million acres of public lands.”  — John Garamend

Dragon Mouth Spring in Yellowstone. — Photo by Pat Bean

 

For over 20 years I lived just five hours away from Yellowstone. I’ve visited this national treasure over 25 times, long enough to see Mother Nature redecorate and remodel her landscape.

Black Dragon Caldron, which can also be seen along the Mud Volcano Trail. — Photo by Pat Bean

 

The changes have been many, but one that has been personal to me are the changes that took place at Dragon Mouth’s Spring. I first saw this steam-spurting, hissing feature in the late 1960s. It is located along the Mud Volcano Trail, a 2/3-mile loop through a varied landscape of mud pots and geysers.

It was easy for me, the first time I saw this sight, to imagine a dragon huffing and puffing as steam and water sloshed out from the entrance to a small cavern. But each time I revisited, which I always did when in Yellowstone, the dragon seemed mellower than the time before. And the dark green boiling water of the spring, which was easily envisioned as acidic dragon slime, began turning a bubbling light gray, the color of my hair today.

Interpretive sign along Mud Volcano Trail. — Photo by Pat Bean

Scientists reported the changes, but weren’t exactly sure why the dragon had stopped huffing and puffing so strenuously

As I watched the dragon settle, I began to imagine it as an old broad like me, no longer always on the run, but settling into contentment with no need to continually prove one’s worth — and with time to simply enjoy life.

So, it was that each time I hiked the Mud Volcano Trail, I took more and more time to enjoy the sights along the remainder of the trail, and not just the more memorable dragon. Each hike seemed to offer a new surprise: a fox lazing beneath a tree barely visible through my binoculars, a Clark’s nutcracker flying between hillside trees, the yellow hues of rocks painted by the minerals whose aroma taints the air with rotten eggs.

I can’t imagine visiting Yellowstone without revisiting the Mud Volcano Trail. While not as colorful as the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, or as spectacular as the geyser-dotted trail to Morning Glory Pool – which of course I can’t miss either – there be a dragon that calls to me.

Bean Pat: Boondocking https://nomadadvocate.wordpress.com/2018/04/18/boondocking-love-it-or-hate-it/   I boondocked at Lone Rock at Lake Powell the very first night I spent in my RV. What a wonderful time. And this blog brought back all those good memories.

Pat Bean: is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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Leon Dormido, also know as Kicker Rock. — Wikimedia photo

The Galapagos Islands provide a window on time. In a geologic sense, they are young, yet they appear ancient.” – Frans Lanting

Pages From My Travel Journal

Shortly after boarding the Archipell II, a 16- passenger catamaran in which I would spend the next eight days sailing around the Galapagos Islands, we motored around Kicker Rock, which is actually two volcanic rocks split apart.

Pages from my journal.

The English name refers to the rocks’ resemblance to a boot when viewed from one angle. Our guide, Luiz, called it Lion Rock, or Leon Dormido in Spanish, however, because viewed from another angle, the 400-feet tall rock towers look like a sleeping lion.

We had set sail for our adventure from the harbor at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island, where sea lions seemed to be everywhere. One group of sea lions had even commandeered a small boat tied to a larger boat, and one, a young juvenile lying near where our group boarded a panga for the ride out to the Archipell, sniffed my leg when I passed it.

Sea Lion in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. — Wikimedia photo

It was a bit chilling, but I was thrilled to have such an experience. My friend, Shirley Lee, who was behind me, was less thrilled. The sea lion nipped her instead of just sniffing. While we had dutifully been instructed not to touch the animals, someone forgot to pass the message on to the islands’ wildlife, which had absolutely no fear of humans.

By the time we got to Kicker Rock, I had seen dozens of birds, many that would go onto my life list, such as great frigatebirds, a striated heron, blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and several of what are known as the Darwin finches, a group of about 15 birds studied by Darwin because of diversity in beak form and function.

And this was only day one. What fun it is to relive this great adventure. I’ll write more about it next week.

Bean Pat: Spring Equinox https://marinakanavaki.com/2018/03/20/spring-equinox-2018/?wref=pil An artist’s rendition.

Pat Bean: is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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