Rig is Home Again

We have a large aluminum lawn ornament in front of our house after I moved it yesterday from its storage place downtown.

Hey, you're blocking the view!

Hey, you’re blocking the view!

Many thanks for our friends Shawn and Helen for loaning us some flat space beside their big rig while we waited a couple of weeks for the snowbanks to melt and the driveway to firm up.

We must have made a half-dozen trips to pick up items we’d left back at the Airstream and needed.  The worst was Saturday when I was baking bread — well, I wasn’t really baking because I had the dough through the three rises, the oven up to temp, and realized that the bread tins were eight miles away in the rig.  (Good preflight, as I love to say to others!)

I have a long list of items to fix, including the replacement of the refrigerator.  I’m starting with a leaky shower hose and a leaky faucet unit in the kitchen sink.  I picked up the parts today and will tackle the work in the morning.  Much of this can wait but it will be nice to tweak things in case we want to do some early summer camping.

Airstream2W

We’ll move the unit down to the only flat space on our property once we get completely unloaded and some of the major work finished.  Nice to have it home safely.

Posted in equipment_issues, refrigerator, repairs, rig maintenance | Leave a comment

Back in Vermont, Birding

We survived the last several days of intensive tractor-trailer rasslin’ on I-81 and after a real long drive got to the saner roads of Vermont. We dropped the trailer downtown at Shawn & Helen’s (which will work great) and came home to snowbanks and mud, and our home base. We’re catching up on rest and doing some unpacking but every night, I wake up and wonder where I am – which park? what route tomorrow? It’s wonderful to be grounded.

So we outpaced the warblers that confused me in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and I’ve got a week or two to review their calls again. Meanwhile, I’ve started checking out our Vermont birds since some of the winter folks (Purple Finches) are still around and new arrivals (Eastern Phoebe) are showing up each day.

This morning, I took the dog in the truck on an outing to check out some back roads in an adjacent county. About six miles into the trip, I came up to this old barn on Route 12 and automatically checked the fields. I glimpsed a hay wagon with some sort of white contraption on it, and after I passed the barn and moved down the highway hill, saw this:

Snowy1WI

I thought Snowy Owls had left but sure enough … I had traffic to deal with but dodging a trash pickup truck and commuters, got turned around and took a few pictures out the window. I then backtracked, turned around again, and parked in the farm’s muddy turnoff.

The bird was actively scanning for food and never turned my way.

When I returned a few hours later, it was gone. I heard from Chip at North Branch Nature Center that they seem to be moving – reports are trickling in – perhaps as a result of the warm weather we are experiencing. It was a great start to the birding trip and added a Snowy to my year’s list. Who knows when they’ll be back again like this winter? Vermont birding rocks!

 

Posted in Vermont Birding, Washington County | 2 Comments

Less Road Trip Drama, Please!

We were booked to stay four nights in Mississippi, to see our friends and to let things melt more at home. Well, that changed when we learned that Kevin would be away at work and I got looking at weather forecasts. We had paid through Sunday night but a system was due there Saturday night into Monday so we ate two days fees and just left before sunrise on Saturday morning. In hindsight, it was a good move because we avoided tough weather and got our "let’s get home" juices flowing. Here’s how the weather looked Sunday afternoon with heavy T-storms listed until mid-day Monday. We got out of Dodge at the right time.

Driving on an early spring Saturday morning in the south is enjoyable, in spite of the good ‘ol boys in beatup pickups going to town at their pace. Try to get around them hauling an Airstream.

We got past Tuscaloosa, Birmingham easily but had a rougher time as the traffic got the frenetic "got to get to the mall" pace to it. We were aiming at Harrison Bay State Park where we have stayed in the winter. (I had checked availability and it looked to have lots of slots – but, I had forgotten that it was for Monday, our original arrival date.). We showed up after a long drive about 2:00, having lost an hour entering EDT, to find it completely filled. We snaked through the windy roads looking for a vacancy but all we got was stares. Let me just say that the typical camper was a local yahoo who smoked, drank, probably was on meth, with a pickup full of relatives and firewood. It was out of a Grade B movie.

We got out of there, a bit shaken with no plans. I remembered a little church with a big parking lot so we headed there, caught our breaths, and pondered next moves. I have an iPad app called All-stays that shows a lot of campgrounds, fuel stops, rest areas, even Walmarts on a Google map. The only thing that I could see on our route was a KOA campground about 90 minutes away. I called them, found that they had room, so off we went to a good experience – our first stay at a KOA. What a save – we kept thinking, as quiet settled in, of the circus we had run away from.

So I did some checking and found another KOA in Virginia and booked Sunday night. Then I checked the distance and realized that it would be another eight hour day on the road. So off we launched and enjoyed two or three hours of easy travel, before the truck traffic hit. It was easy getting through Knoxville for a change and I-81 was busy but moving ok. We stopped for some lunch at a Subway franchise and leaving the store, I encountered some serious potholes in the access road.

Just a few minutes later, I got back into the moving stream of trucks and was just up to speed when I noticed blue smoke in my left mirror. At first, I thought it was the engine but as I pulled over to the shoulder and shut down, I found one of the trailer tires had blown. (There are two on each side.)

It was scary working right beside the road with 18-wheelers flying by, shaking the trailer. I got the lugs loosened, the trailer elevated, and the still-smoking tire removed. I rammed it in the truck and checked my iPad to see if there was an off-ramp up ahead because I knew that I’d have to unpack the truck to get to the spare. There was a road about a mile ahead so after waiting for hundreds of trucks to pass, I found an opening, drove gingerly on the one wheel, and found a quieter spot to extricate and mount the tire.

The last two hours were just grinding it out but we got into another rural campground where we are going to take a day off and just get rested and caught up. Then, a rather easy day into Pennsylvania where we will winterize the rig against late freezes and then pperhaps we’ll make another long haul to Vermont.

In the military, we used to describe flying as hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark raving, terror (or something like that.) This long-distance travel seems sometimes to be like that. We’d like a little less drama – give me some boring driving for the rest of the way.

Posted in equipment_issues, repairs, Southwest trip 4 | 4 Comments

Spring Plumage

Well, in spite of my last post on taking our sweet time returning, we’ve decided to make a run for it from Mississippi, trying to stay ahead of some thunderstorms in the forecast, as we feel the tug of the Green Mountain State. We head for the Chattanooga area today (Saturday.)

I wanted to share some images that I took in Texas and Louisiana last week of some birds showing their breeding plumage. The first is an odd couple, a Cattle Egret (I had never seen the rust color) and a Tri-colored Heron.

Just a little further along, I spotted this Great Blue Heron looking quite dapper.

We didn’t see many Roseate Spoonbills this trip but this one, actively feeding, is well on the way to full breeding plumage.

When you take photos of perched or resting birds, often they are preening. Just as you shoot, the beak goes down to get to work. I dump tons of such images but this Great Heron just seemed to take the cake. I stood there, camera raised, foot on the dog’s leash, just waiting, and waiting. He won the battle because right after this shot, he flew, gronking away at us.

Still a handsome bird – and one that we won’t see again for a month or two in Vermont.

Posted in Southwest trip 4, Trip Planning | 1 Comment

“Don’t Hurry Home”

I’ve been watching the temperatures in Vermont finally climb into the 40′s and hearing reports of signs of spring. I even emailed my friend who with his wife, keeps an eye on the house, and he replied that "Your driveway is opening up nicely" with the caveat that the Airstream could not make it.

Then later today, I got an email from my brother Barry with one sentence, "Don’t hurry home" and attached this photo of our driveway.

Meanwhile, we are cruising up Highway 59 in Mississippi looking at a dashboard that gives this picture.

So while we have a kind offer from friends Helen & Shawn for a temporary storage spot at their place in Montpelier, I think we are going to wait a bit, as originally planned, before heading too far north.

I just saw a pair of Hooded Warblers here at Clarko State Park and the Northern Cardinals are singing loudly as we enjoy a nice summer-like evening.

Posted in Barry, Southwest trip 4, Trip Planning, winter travel | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts About Driving – While Driving

I drove about five hours on I-10 from Beaumont, Texas across most of Louisiana, including an 18-mile (29 km) stretch of elevated highway between Lafayette and Baton Rouge known as the Atchafalaya Swamp Freeway, as it goes over the Atchafalaya River, across the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, and the adjacent swamps. It crosses the Mississippi River at the Horace Wilkinson Bridge. I learned once again, as each passing tractor trailer pulled the Airstream toward it, how much I dislike interstate driving.

The speed limit in Texas is 75 and in Louisiana it is 70 and that seems like a suggestion. I drive about 68 or so, even though that kills gas mileage, because to run much slower is an invitation for problems. Truckers, like all drivers, come in many flavors and some are just crappy at driving. Turn signals are for the weak, speed consistency is boring, and boring down behind slower vehicles, like that shiny Airstream, puts some spice in a long haul.

So I got thinking about this – and having driven across the country and halfway back, I decided to stop whining about truck traffic and point out some things we like, or dislike.

Mary and I find it interesting that the billboards for adult stores start as you hit the Bible Belt and continue throughout the South and Southwest. Billboards are obnoxious, as are wind farms, but they seem more acceptable in someone else’s backyard. We have apps for gas stations but billboards help us make our fuel stops.

Most gas stations, even truck stops, are tough when you pull a trailer. The diesel folks have all sorts of room but we have to fold in with the cars, often making either the entrance or exit adrenaline-producing. Love’s, Truck Stops of America, Flying J, Pilot are all focused on truckers and RV’s are just tolerated. That’s one reason our favorite stops are Buc-ees: there’s room, they don’t cater to 18-wheelers, and they are immaculate. They are a Texas outfit and use clever Burma-Shave type billboards to lure you in.

The speed limits in the West are insane – we’ve seen 80 mph on some parts of I-8. Even a narrow two-lane road with no shoulders often has a 70 mph limit – to me 50 is pushing it. Some of the interstate has direct access from dirt roads and driveways, and it is not unusual to see walkers or cyclists legally using it.

The worst drivers I encountered was on Highway 83 in the "Valley" of Texas where merging and passing on the right is an art form. A close second is Highway 5 out of San Diego where guys in white pickup trucks seem to have a driving death wish.

One of the fun aspects of travel for me is to see how communities handle their water tanks. In New England, we often hide them or partially bury them but elsewhere, there are lovely murals, descriptions of the local football team, or just the community’s name.


My favorite, which I always look for as we approach Marion, VA on I-81 is this pair.

One of the big changes we’ve seen this trip is the impact of fracking. We drive by miles of oil firms, each with their collection of RV’s set up with wifi and cable TV for workers, and get chased by oil trucks just barrelling (pardon the pun) along on once-quiet secondary roads. The piping, the smell, the massive containment ponds, the flares of gas all are ugly. And talk about euphemisms in signage – of course you never see the word fracking – it’s more like Southwest Energy Services.

Yet, I can’t help but consider our energy footprint as we fill the big gas tank day after day. At least we are offsetting some by longer stays in places and by using much less fuel oil at home. Lots to ponder on the last 1700 miles of the journey.

Posted in personal reflection, RV Travel, Southwest trip 4 | 1 Comment

Trying To Chill Out

Back at Balmoreah State Park, I wrote about our string of calamities and promised to provide an update on our malfunctioning refrigerator. Here’s the update: it’s dead and probably needs a complete replacement. Got ice?

It began about the day, weeks back, when Mary bought a lovely group of yellow tulips for the Airstream. Even in their coffee mug holder, they were lovely until they began to emit a strong odor. We put up with it for a couple of days but then ditched them – but even wrapped in plastic, they smelled.

It wasn’t until later, in Lost Maples SNA, when I had a fellow camper, who has done a lot of rv fixing, take a look at the refrigerator unit. Since I had no power to the unit, he was going to check electrical circuits. He took one look at the scene shown below, noticing the yellow stain and the still-lingering smell of "tulips," when he said, "Your unit has corroded and all the ammonia is gone. It’s dead."

We discussed options which included:

*replace coolimg system with an Amish-overhauled unit. (He had done this with his and felt it was still penny-wise etc since you still had 15 year-old circuit boards.

*find a big RV outfit in San Antonio or Houston and see if they could install a new one.

*limp home and get a local rv outfit to do the work

*limp home and replace it yourself

I had an email exchange with my brother who has a lot of Airstream experience ans am leaning toward enlisting his brains and brawn and do it in Vermont. In the meantime we have a plan which is working.

We had no cooler with us so I bought one in the first Walmart we came to after Lost Maples – about 60 miles away. We used that, and the refrigerator, with ice.

Then, once at Goose Island, I found a cooler that runs on 12 volt power and so far, is doing well. (Friends have said that they burn out, don’t work well, but all it has to do is last three weeks more.)

We are at a place with $.99 ice so it’s only costing a buck every two days. We have quickly learned to buy less perishables, and shop more frequently. We miss the ice cream and have fond memories of the nearly-thawed pints of Ben & Jerry’s we had to trash, after stuffing ourselves, when the unit died.

I’m tempted, in the Vermonter way, to loosen the damn thing up and kick it out the Airstream door on a back southern road and keep driving. Thinking more rationally, I’ll end up hauling it a thousand more miles to East Montpelier, pay the disposal fee, and stay out of southern jails.

Posted in equipment_issues, refrigerator, repairs, rig maintenance, Southwest trip 4 | 1 Comment

Hooded Warblers

We have been having some unsettled weather here at Goose Island State Park which has resulted in mini-fallouts of warblers.  After each set of showers, a few new birds show up.  Mostly, it’s been Black & White Warblers and the ubiquitous Yellow-rumps but we’ve seen Black-throated Greens, Yellow-throated Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Orange-crowned Warblers.

We had a pretty stiff thunderstorm this afternoon.  Afterward, Penny and I took a long walk, seeing little besides the normal suspects, but at the far end of the wooded part of the park, I noticed some movement on the ground and approaching, saw a Northern Mockingbird and a couple of yellow spots.

HoodedW1

It was a couple of male Hooded Warblers, feeding on the ground, tired from their journey, and essentially ignoring us.  I got closer and grabbed a couple of shots although they were still quite far away.  I saw five other warbler species on the ground as well.  (This was not like a major fallout with hundreds of exhausted birds — it was more of a rest stop by a few migrants.)

HoodedW3 HoodedW2

This was not a life bird for me: I saw one two years ago here.  I was exciting because what’s not to like about a colorful bird, right out in the open, giving you plenty of time to watch and wonder.  And no warbler neck problems.

The forecast for the week looks pretty lousy, weather-wise, but for birders, it may provide some more opportunities.  It’s still running 40 degrees or more warmer than home so we aren’t complaining.  And I may get to see some of these guys and gals, or their cousins again, later this spring.

Posted in fallout, Southwest trip 4, Texas birding | Leave a comment

Birds of Goose Island

Birding at Goose Island State Park is always a treat although right now, we have a slight dearth of species since some of the winter birds (Eastern Phoebe for example) have left and the migrants and nesters are yet to arrive. Still, it’s normal to get 30 or more species on woods bird walks and over 50 on the shore walk. Then, just up the road are still the Whooping Cranes that spend each winter in a farmer’s field.

We got here a day or so ago and got the campsite that we like and I’ve logged 54 birds so far in rather laid-back birding. Here are some photos that I took to give a sense of the variety here:

This Great Blue Heron is developing breeding plumage. A Little Blue Heron We have seen several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, perched and in action.  Always a treat. A Tri-colored Heron A Great Egret checking out the Tri-colored Heron

 

This Forster's Tern was working hard for lunch.

We are expecting a cold front tomorrow (72 down to 63!) and hope it produces a little warbler fallout action. We are here another week and I hope to hit 100 birds in the county by then – it’s fun to sort out the shorebirds once again.

Posted in Photography, Southwest trip 4, Texas birding, Texas birds | Leave a comment

Pushing The Camera’s Envelope

I have pretty much switched to my Canon SX50 HS digital zoom, leaving my more expensive camera back at the trailer. Generally, this is a good strategy but every so often, I end up pushing the digital zoom too much.

In some settings, the zoom will go all the way in to 200x or the equivalent of 4800mm. At this distance, the photo quality gets grainy, especially in poor light – but it captures a record of what you saw.

We had a great visit to Lost Maples State Natural Area where I got three life birds (more on that next time.) I heard about a nesting Great Horned Owl late one day so we drove out to the picnic area and soon located her in a cave-like impression in the cliff across the valley. The light was fading and she was in the shade but the photo, grainy as it is, looks almost like a painting. She was there the next day but sleeping.

Not far away, in another cliff in a neighboring valley, there is a Red-tail Hawk nest. The local bird hosts have built a pipe-tube pointer to allow you to pinpoint the far-away site. The first two times I checked it there was no activity. The next morning, I saw a RTHA flying over the campsite and later, when I took Penny for a walk up the trail, she was on the nest. Again, another long-range shot at the limits of the camera.

Even though it snowed in Vermont the first day of Spring, these nesters give one hope that warmer days are ahead. Happy Spring!

Posted in Nesting, Southwest trip 4, Texas birding, Texas birds | Leave a comment