Endangered Whooping Cranes Winding Down Unusual Year

It’s been an unusual year for whooping cranes in Texas and the endangered species’ spring migration is the latest example.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. They have a wingspan of 7.5 feet. (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

Researchers report several whooping crane families initiated their spring migration nearly a month earlier than usual, with some birds having already reached South Dakota, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) news release.

Texans are asked to report sightings of these large white birds as they progress along their migration route northward from the coast through Central Texas and the Wichita Falls area.

After a winter distribution that surprised biologists and kept birders enchanted with unprecedented sighting opportunities for one of North America’s most ancient bird species, the unusually early start of the migration to nesting grounds in Canada does not surprise TPWD biologist Lee Ann Linam.

“This winter seemed to produce a ‘perfect storm’ of mild winter weather, reduced food sources on the Texas coast, and crowding in an expanding whooping crane population, which led whooping cranes to explore new wintering areas,” Linam said.

“Those same conditions have likely provided the impetus for an early start of their 1500-mile spring migration.”

Texas provides wintering habitat for the only self-sustaining population of whooping cranes in the world. Traditionally, whooping cranes spend December through March in coastal wetlands on and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, between Rockport and Port Lavaca.

Whooping cranes migrate more than 2,400 miles a year. (Credit: Canadian Wildlife Service)

In recent years whoopers have slowly expanded their winter range—usually using coastal marshlands adjacent to already occupied areas.

However, in 2011-12 whoopers made significant expansions southward and westward of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and one whooping crane apparently spent the winter with sandhill cranes in upland habitats near El Campo.

Even more significantly, nine whooping cranes, including six adults and three chicks, spent most of the winter near Granger Lake in Central Texas, and one family group of whooping cranes only traveled as far south as Kansas before heading back north to spend most of the winter in Nebraska.

The unprecedented shifts may be indicators of both bad news and good news for the Texas flock, which is thought to now number about 300 birds, according to Linam.

“We are concerned about the health of our coastal estuaries and long-term declines in blue crabs, one of the traditional primary food sources for this population of whooping cranes,” she said.

“At the same time, these cranes seem to be showing adaptability as the increasing population may be causing crowding in traditional habitats and drought may be producing less than ideal habitat conditions. I think it’s a good sign that whooping cranes are exploring and thriving in new wintering areas.”

This winter, birders and wildlife watchers in Texas have helped the state track some of the movements of whooping cranes, and Linam is asking Texans to be on the lookout for whoopers during the spring migration, which may extend through mid-April in Texas.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet tall. They are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched. During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night.

Whooping cranes mate for life. (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

They nearly always migrate in small groups of less than 4-5 birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller and darker sandhill crane.

Anyone sighting a whooping crane can help by reporting it to TPWD at 1-800-792-1112 x4644 or 1-512-656-1222.

Observers are asked especially to note whether the cranes have colored leg bands on their legs.

Related Stories

Worth Pondering…
In the end, we only conserve what we love.

We only love what we understand.

We will understand what we are taught.

—Baba Dioum, Sengalese poet

Read More

Five Things You Need to Know Today: February 24

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Federal Highway Administration Passes on I-15 Tolling Concept

Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, notified Arizona Department of Transportation Director John Halikowski that, at this time, Interstate 15 will not be considered for a federal toll road pilot program.

Instead, the federal government selected North Carolina, Virginia, and Missouri for the program that allows for tolling of existing roadways to support necessary improvements or reconstruction. Should one of those states drop from the program, the I-15 corridor may be reconsidered.

2. RV Park Approved for Nebraska Fairgrounds

The Lexington City Council in Lexington, Nebraska, has approved a special use permit from the Dawson County Agricultural Society for an RV park development on the north side of the Dawson County Fairgrounds in Lexington.

The 48-site RV park will be located on the east end of Walnut Street where there are currently parking spaces for fairgoers. The overnight camping area will have facilities for potable water, sanitary waste disposal, and 50-amp hookups.

The lots for campers would be 30-foot by 60 foot and have a standard street slope of no more than 2 percent. In addition, RVs could stay a maximum of 30 days, The Lexington Clipper-Herald reported.

3. Webcams Installed at Wyoming State Parks

Webcams have been installed at Boysen and Glendo state parks by the Wyoming Division of State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails and are now operational.

Installed by Versatel Communications, the Boysen webcam will not only benefit the site’s recreationists, but will assist the Wyoming Department of Transportation by providing road and travel information.-

The cameras at both Glendo and Boysen will provide a glimpse of current weather conditions and water levels, and in some instances, can be used to assist with search and rescue efforts.

During the summer months, the webcams will take up to five pictures every 15 minutes and broadcast them to the respective parks’ websites.

The cameras were funded by the Wyoming State Legislature.

4. Kentucky State Parks Offer April Camping Discounts

Kentucky State Parks are offering a 20 percent discount on camping reservations made for April 1-26. To get the discount, campers need to make online reservations at parks.ky.gov (look for the “reservations” tab at the top of the page). Use the promotion code APR12. Guests may also call 1-888-4KYPARK for reservations.

The Kentucky State Parks will also be offering two nights’ camping for the price of one during Camper Appreciation Weekend, April 27-28. Many parks will be holding special events for campers that weekend.

The Kentucky State Park System is composed of 51 state parks plus an interstate park shared with Virginia. The Department of Parks, an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, operates 17 resort parks with lodges—more than any other state.

The Kentucky State Parks have 31 campgrounds across the state.

5. Camping World Opening North Carolina Store

Camping World Inc. announced the March opening of a new retail location in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Camping World of Asheville will offer convenient access for travelers at exit 44 on Highway 26 and will encompass both a Camping World retail store and Camping World RV Sales dealership, according to a news release. It is located in the facilities formerly occupied by Todd’s RV & Marine.

The tentative grand opening celebration is slated for March. The company is looking to hire at least 30 employees to increase their sales, service, and support needs for this local dealership.

“We look forward to having Camping World serve the Western North Carolina market,” said Camping World Chairman and CEO Marcus Lemonis. “Our strong Carolina presence, coupled with our affiliation with NASCAR through the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, made this an easy decision.”

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

I think that wherever your journey takes you, there are new gods waiting there, with divine patience—and laughter.
—Susan M. Watkins

Read More

Five Things You Need to Know Today: January 13

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Explore Pennsylvania 2012Now Available

Let's Go RVing to Pennsylvania. Pictured above is Lackawanna State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2012 edition of “Explore Pennsylvania” is now available according to a Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association (PRVCA) news release.

The official PRVCA membership directory and consumer magazine features 52 pages of RV and camping tips designed to provide the latest information in RV trends and make their next adventure to Pennsylvania a great one.

This year’s publication features 10 Pennsylvania destinations to explore by RV, tips on purchasing the right RV, renting an RV, RVing with extended family, details on America’s Largest RV Show, and a feature on Pennsylvania wine trails.

75,000 copies of “Explore Pennsylvania” will be distributed at over 40 RV shows throughout the East Coast (including America’s Largest RV Show). The magazine will also be on PRVCA’s website, at member locations, at welcome centers along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, through Pennsylvania visitor bureaus, and the RV Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana.

Additional information is available on the PRVCA website.

2. Nebraska State Park Entry Permits on Sale

Nebraska State Park permits for 2012 are now on sale. The permits are required to enter more than 80 state parks, recreation areas, and historical parks.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says the annual permit costs $25, duplicates cost $12.50, and daily permits cost $5. Vendors may charge an additional $1 for annual and duplicate permits and 35 cents for a daily permit. A $1 issue fee is charged for online purchases of annual and duplicate annual permits.

The permits are valid through Dec. 31, 2012.

Additional information about hunting, fishing, and park permits is available on the OutdoorNebraska.org website.

3. EverGreen Creates Luxury Fifth Wheel Division

Middlebury, Indiana-based EverGreen Recreational Vehicles, recently announced the name of its much-anticipated high-end fifth wheel division: Lifestyle Luxury Resort Vehicles.

This stand-alone division is housed in its own separate 100,000-square-foot facility recently purchased in Middlebury. According to national sales manager Elliott Bond, Lifestyle LRV will eventually employ a large staff consisting almost entirely of former key Carriage employees.

“The last several weeks have been full of activity with ongoing developments in the product and staff,” Bond said, “and there is a high amount of enthusiasm already circulating about the new Lifestyle LRV brand.”

Carriage, founded in 1968, closed its doors and laid off 180 workers on October 17 as an Indianapolis-based bank filed suit. On February 9, an Ohio-based company will hold an auction for all of Carriage’s assets at its long-time Millersburg headquarters.

4. Former RV Dealer Sentenced for Fraud

A former Mattoon, Illinois, woman who co-owned an RV dealership has been sentenced to 16 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $412,028 in restitution, consisting of $279,438 to the bank and $132,590 to the Illinois Department of Revenue.

Rebecca L. Shockley, 63, currently of Bradenton, Florida, was sentenced January 5 and will be allowed to remain free until March 7, according to the News-Gazette.

Shockley was co-owner of Quality Truck and Auto in Mattoon, which did business as Cross Country RV Center which sold new and used recreational vehicles.

Shockley pleaded guilty in May to one count each of mail fraud and bank fraud, admitting that from March 2007 to December 2008, she pledged vehicles as collateral to both the bank and another lender.

As financial conditions deteriorated, Quality Truck and Auto was unable to pay off the secured loans it had received from the bank and the bank learned that the RVs that were supposed to be collateral had already been sold and the sales proceeds forwarded to the other lender.

Shockley further admitted that from July 2006 to December 2008, she under-reported the amounts subject to sales tax by $1.8 million.

In addition, Shockley admitted that she under-reported the taxable retail sales of Quality Truck and Auto from 2006 to 2008.

5. Snowbirds Flock to Tucson

Let's Go RVing to Tucson, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With temperatures reaching the high seventies, owners of Prince of Tucson RV Park said they’re noticing more visitors are coming down to soak up the sun, reports KVOA.

“You know they’ve been going through sleet and snow, and they pull in here and they see some green grass and its seventy degrees, it’s a big sigh of relief,” Owner, David Christman said.

According to Arizona State officials, tourism added $2 billion to Pima County’s economy last year, and it also helped create more than 21,000 jobs in 2010.

Travelers in Arizona can visit az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather, and more.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.

—Ben Stein

Read More

Five Things You Need to Know Today: January 6

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. First RV Caravan into Mexico Reports No Problems

Let's Go RVing to the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wagonmaster for the first RV caravan into Mexico this winter said there were no problems during the 25-day trip, according to a Caravanas de Mexico RV Tours news release.

“Everything went very well in our Colonial Mexico Caravane Soleil which began on November 12 and ended on Decemver 8,” said Serge Loriaux, director general of Caravanes Soleil. “We traveled more than 2,400 kilometers of roads surprisingly beautiful all along our route.”

The first caravan visited Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo, Santuario de Atotonilco, Queretaro, Tequisquiapan, Bernal, Patzcuaro, Santa Clara del Cobre, Tzintzuntzan, Uruapan, Isla Janitzio, Morelia, Villa Corona, Guadalajara, Manzanillo, Barra de Navidad, Melaque and ended up in Puerto Vallarta.

2. 16 Whooping Cranes Released in Louisiana

State wildlife officials have released 16 juvenile whooping cranes into the wild, the Associated Press reports.

The birds were delivered to the state on December 1 and were released last week in the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Gueydan (GAY’ dawn), according to a statement from the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department.

The cranes had been flown to the site in Vermilion Parish from a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife research center in Laurel, Maryland.

To read an earlier report on the arrival of the cranes in Louisiana, click here.

3. Nebraska Online RV Scam Revealed

Let's Go RVing to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Online ads for expensive recreational vehicles and campers at bargain prices in Nebraska appear suspicious, according to a report by WOWT, Omaha.

A website posted photos and provided an address in Grand Island, Nebraska. But a Google map search and Grand Island police indicate there is only a vacant lot at the address listed on the website.

A California woman believed there was a dealership and that her $20,000 down payment would lead to purchase of a motorhome. “On the website there were pictures of RVs with a sign in the background so absolutely I thought there was a big lot there,” she said.

Nebraska State Patrol Auto Fraud investigator Gene True said he couldn’t find any state license for Grand Island Truck and RV center. He said three buyers have filed reports that campers or motorhomes they purchased had not been delivered. True said one man drove to Grand Island from Oregon only to discover the dealership was not at the address on the website.

True said the victims have reported losses totaling almost $60,000, adding, “I’ve never heard of anybody getting their money back.”

4. California State Park Managers Want New Director

California state park managers said they have lost confidence in their director and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint a replacement.

The 125-member California State Parks Peace Officer Management Association sent a letter to the governor’s office expressing disapproval of Ruth Coleman, who has been serving as state parks director for nearly a decade, the Associated Press reports.

Scott Elliott, president of the association, said there is frustration over how Coleman has handled budget cuts. A survey of the association’s members found that 93 percent have no confidence in their leader and want a new director, he said.

“Director Coleman is an honorable person, but she has been largely absent in making sense of the new economic realities,” the letter said. “We understand that there is some discussion within the administration regarding the director’s appointment process. Consequently, we wanted you to know our position.”

5. Montana State Park Reservations Online

Let's Go RVing to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana State Parks announced that the public can book campsite reservations for 2012 online at stateparks.mt.gov or by phone at 1-855-922-6768 for the summer season. The summer reservation season runs from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day. The reservation window allows campers to plan their camping visit up to nine months in advance.

Montana State Parks reservation campsites include Bannack, Beavertail Hill, Big Arm, Black Sandy, Brush Lake, Cooney, Finley Point, Hell Creek, Lake Mary Ronan, Lewis and Clark Caverns, Logan, Makoshika, Missouri Headwaters, Placid Lake, Salmon Lake, Thompson Falls, Tongue River, Wayfarers, West Shore, and Whitefish Lake.

Basic campsite costs are $15 per night for residents and $23 per night for non-residents during the peak spring/summer season. The fee to reserve a campsite online or by phone is $10.

Each park holds back approximately 25 percent of its campsites outside of the reservation program, for first-come, first-served camping visits.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

Home Too

—On the front of a motorhome

Read More

2011 National Park Holiday Celebrations

‘Tis the season! From Alaska to Georgia, there are countless holiday activities to enjoy in America’s national parks.

The National Park Foundation and National Park Service kicks-off the holiday season in Washington, D.C.’s President’s Park with the National Christmas Tree Lighting. This annual event can be seen LIVE December 1, beginning with the pre-show at 4:30 pm ET.

In addition to this 89 year-old tradition, the National Park Foundation reveals some of not-to-be-missed holiday festivities for national park visitors around the country this holiday season:

Alaska – Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

December 2, 2011: Join in the holiday cheer with performances by local talent, sing along carols, stories, poems, and refreshments at the Yuletide Christmas Concert in the National Park Service Auditorium.

Colorado – Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site

December 2-3: Witness the joys, pleasures, and pastimes of the 1840s at an isolated trading post with candlelight tours of the fort.

Georgia – Fort Pulaski National Monument

November 27: Fort Pulaski will commemorate the 149th anniversary of the Grand Thanksgiving Fete and Festival of 1862 by recreating the 48th New York Infantry first Thanksgiving in the fort with activities for all ages including foot, sack and wheelbarrow races, demonstrations, and a Civil War garb burlesque parade.

Indiana – Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

December 10: Visitors can take part in Holiday Traditions in the Dunes including activities in four different park locations, tree decorating, and a live performance from Nordic Kids.

Iowa – Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

December 2-4: The birthplace of Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, will host A Christmas Past.

Louisiana – Cane River Creole National Historical Park

December 10: Stop by the Magnolia Plantation Overseer’s house for Christmas crafts and live music by the LaCour Trio. The entire plantation complex will be open for self guided tours.

Missouri – Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

December 3, 10, 17: Enjoy the 2011 Historic Holiday Traditions Weekend Series. The Historical Old Courthouse will feature music and activities that will take place in the rotunda, which will be adorned beautifully with Victorian decorations. Complimentary cookies and juice will be served during all weekend events.

Montana – Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

December 4: Explore the elegant Kohrs’ family ranch house. It will be decorated to reflect a Victorian Christmas.

Nebraska – Homestead National Monument of America

November 25-December 31: The Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures celebrates the winter traditions of people who lived on the Great Plains during the homesteading era.

New Mexico – Petroglyph National Monument

November 26: Visitors can celebrate the beginning of the 2011 winter season at a Holiday Open House in the Visitor Center. Light holiday refreshments will also be served. A traditional horno oven Pueblo Indian bread baking demonstration will take place.

Let's Go RVing to Petroglyph National Monument. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New York – Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

November 25-December 21: Visit the Vanderbilt Mansion to view the holiday decorations; or kick off the holiday season at the special Holiday Open House on December 4.

Ohio – Cuyahoga Valley National Park

November 17-December 20: Journey to the North Pole on The Polar Express Children’s Holiday Train. Enjoy hearing a reading of The Polar Express en route to the North Pole. Passengers are encouraged to wear their pajamas. Cookies and hot chocolate are served.

Pennsylvania – Steamtown National Historic Site

November 23, 24, December 1: Join in the merriment and festivities aboard the steam-powered Holiday Express rides to Moscow, Pennsylvania. Enjoy holiday songs, stories, and other fun activities for the children at both the former passenger station and freight depots.

Utah – Golden Spoke National Historic Site

Let's Go RVing to Vanderbilt National Historic Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

December 28–30: Visitors can take part in the annual Winter Steam Festival and watch one of their locomotives in action at the same spot where the transcontinental railroad was completed over 142 years ago.

Washington – Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Friday evenings through mid-December: Visitors take park in a guided lantern tour through the Fur Store, the Counting House, and Bake House. You will learn what activities would have occurred once the sun set at Fort Vancouver


National Parks Service

84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites are protected in America’s nearly 400 national parks.

Website: nps.gov

National Park Foundation

The National Park Foundation is the national charitable partner of the National Park Service.

Website: nationalparks.org

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

Read More

2011 Top 10 Great Neighborhoods in America

The Great Neighborhoods designation is part of the American Planning Association (APA) Great Places in America program, which began in 2007 and recognizes unique and exemplary streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces each year.

Highland Park, Birmingham, Alabama

Built around swales and ridges at the foot of Red Mountain, picturesque Highland Park continues to attract generation after generation of new residents with its enduring and distinctive public spaces, diversity of uses, University of Alabama’s Birmingham campus, medical facilities, popular businesses, and entertainment districts.

Northbrae, Berkeley, California

Nestled in the rolling foothills amidst outcroppings of volcanic rock, Northbrae stands out for its spectacular vistas of San Francisco Bay, environmentally sensitive design, connections to a unique network of 136 paths and steps crisscrossing Berkeley, and two nearby commercial areas for shopping and entertainment.

Ansley Park, Atlanta, Georgia

Large expanses of lush green parks are the hallmark of this 107-year-old garden suburb, which reflects design principles espoused by Frederick Law Olmsted. The brainchild of attorney and real estate developer Edwin P. Ansley, the 275-acre neighborhood was designed so that no home is more than a 10-minute walk from one of 14 parks, five of which create a continuous link from northeast to southwest.

The Pullman Neighborhood, Chicago, Illinois

The Pullman District was the first model of a planned industrial community in the United States and is designated on the National Register of Historic Places. (Credit: city-data.com)

Pullman’s timeless features have contributed to the renaissance of this handsome former company town. An experiment in industrial order and community planning, the neighborhood features a design that was intelligent in 1880 and “smart” today.

Gold Coast & Hamburg Historic District, Davenport, Iowa

Spectacular vistas, superb architecture, and active residents distinguish the Gold Coast-Hamburg Historic District, among Iowa’s oldest residential neighborhoods. Bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River afford unsurpassed views of the water, Davenport’s downtown, and the Illinois side of the Quad Cities. Lining the neighborhood’s streets are some of the city’s largest and most opulent houses, built between 1840 and 1910 by prominent citizens, many of them German.

Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Recognized for its Southern charm, the picturesque Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood retains many of the bucolic features that helped shape this urban treasure 127 years ago. Streets are lined with mature oaks and crape myrtles.

Dundee-Memorial Park, Omaha, Nebraska

A sense of community is palpable in the Dundee-Memorial Park neighborhood, where residents and merchants have sought National Register status, funded a streetscape plan, restored historic street lamps, and pushed to be declared a neighborhood conservation and enhancement district. A mix of uses, from quaint shops and restaurants to lovely early 20th century homes and inviting parks, infuses the neighborhood with vitality.

German Village, Columbus, Ohio

Unpretentious, renovated houses and cottages stand shoulder to shoulder. Small,

meticulously maintained front yards front tree-lined streets with brick sidewalks and cultivated village planters. German Village has remained true to its mid-19th century history, architecture, and character despite periods of disinvestment, decline, and near ruin.

Swan Lake, Tulsa, Oklahoma

As the name implies, Swan Lake is filled with beautiful swans and a majestic fountain. (Credit: tulsahomeforsale.net)

Replete with swans—real and handcrafted—Swan Lake is an idyllic neighborhood a mile and a half from downtown Tulsa. The neighborhood has made frequent use of the bird as a decorative motif ever since architect Joseph Koberling incorporated a swan into the facade of his French Eclectic-style stone house in 1944.

College Hill, Providence, Rhode Island

College Hill brings the past into the present. Its history reaches back to 1636 as the site of Rhode Island’s first permanent Colonial settlement. Cobblestoned Benefit Street, known as the Mile of History, is lined with 18th, 19th, and 20th century municipal structures, churches, and gracious homes. Two educational institutions—Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)—have contributed to the neighborhood’s vitality and character together with residents and organizations, including the Providence Preservation Society (PPS).


American Planning Association (APA)

The American Planning Association (APA) is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities.

Website: planning.org

Note: This is the second of a three-part series on the American Planning Association (APA) Great Places in America program.

Part 1: 2011 Top 10 Great Public Spaces in America

Part 3: 2011 Top 10 Great Streets in America

Worth Pondering…
This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Read More

What do Ohio, Tennessee & British Columbia Have in Common? Part 2

America’s State Parks

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout America, state parks are struggling.

These are your parks. Get out and enjoy them.

What do Ohio, Tennessee & British Columbia Have in Common?

Ohio, Tennessee, and British Columbia are among a handful of a few states and Canadian provinces that DO NOT CHARGE ENTRY FEES to their parks. Admission is also free to park users in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Alberta, and Manitoba.

Park fees vary in other jurisdictions. The following is a sampling of day-use fees currently in place:

Alabama          $1-3/person

Arizona           $2-20/vehicle

California        $3-15/vehicle

Colorado         $7-8/vehicle

Connecticut     $9-22/vehicle

Delaware         $3-8/vehicle

Quail Gate State Park, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida             $4/vehicle

Idaho               $5/vehicle

Kansas             $3.70-4.20/vehicle

Massachusetts $2-9/vehicle

Minnesota       $5/vehicle

New Mexico   $5/vehicle

New York       $6-10/vehicle

Montana          $5/vehicle

Ontario            $10.75-19.25/vehicle

Oregon             $5/vehicle; some parks free

Saskatchewan $7/vehicle

Texas               $1-5/person

Utah                $5-10/vehicle

Vermont          $3/person

Wisconsin        $7-10/vehicle

State Park Pass

Shenandonah River State Park, Virginia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state park entrance pass system works differently in each state. Many states offer some sort of pass that allows for unlimited entry at most state parks, while other offer park passes on a park-by-park basis.

Other State Park News

Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska vetoed a bill that would have increased annual resident permits for state parks and recreation areas from $20 to $25 and nonresident permits from $25 to $30.

Raising fees during these difficult economic times is not the appropriate way to better Nebraska’s state parks, Heineman said in his veto letter. Nebraskans have had to cut their spending, and they expect the same from government, he said.


BC Parks

Washington State Parks

Discovery Pass

The Discovery Pass can be purchased at almost 600 sporting goods stores and other retailers statewide next month. The pass can also be purchased online or by calling 1-866-320-9933. Starting next fall, the state Department of Licensing also plans to sell the pass.

Worth Pondering…
Your travel life has the essence of a dream.

It is something outside the normal, yet you are in it.

It is peopled with characters you have never seen before and in all probability will never see again.

It brings occasional homesickness, and loneliness, and pangs of longing.

But you are like the Vikings or the master mariners of the Elizabethan age, who have gone into a world of adventure, and home is not home until you return.

—Agatha Christie, British mystery writer

Read More

Tornadoes: The What, When & Where

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms.

A sequence of images showing the birth of a tornado. First, the rotating cloud base lowers. This lowering becomes a funnel, which continues descending while winds build near the surface, kicking up dust and other debris. Finally, the visible funnel extends to the ground, and the tornado begins causing major damage. This tornado, near Dimmitt, Texas, was one of the best-observed violent tornadoes in history. Image courtesy Wipikedia

People, recreational vehicles, cars, and even buildings may be hurled aloft by tornado-force winds—or simply blown away. Most injuries and deaths are caused by flying debris.

A tornado is a vertical funnel of violently rotating air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.

The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 miles (400 kilometers) per hour or more and can clear-cut a pathway in excess of one mile (1.6 kilometers) wide and 50 miles (80 kilometers) long.

Once a tornado in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, carried a motel sign 30 miles and dropped it in Arkansas!

These violent storms occur in many parts of the world, but the United States is the major hotspot with over 800 tornadoes reported every year. “Tornado Alley,” a region that includes eastern South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, northern Texas, and eastern Colorado, is home to the most powerful and destructive of these storms. U.S. tornadoes cause 80 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries per year.

Canada gets more tornadoes than any other country with the exception of the United States. Tornadoes are relatively common in Canada, but only in specific regions: southern portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Tornado season in Canada extends from April to September with peak months in June and July, but they can occur at any time.

Tornadoes’ distinctive funnel clouds are actually transparent. They become visible when water droplets pulled from a storm’s moist air condense or when dust and debris are taken up. Funnels typically grow about 660 feet (200 meters) wide.

Tornadoes move at speeds of about 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) per hour, although they’ve been clocked in bursts up to 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour. Most don’t get very far though. They rarely travel more than about six miles (ten kilometers) in their short lifetimes.

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Image courtesy Seymour

Tornado forecasters can’t provide the same kind of warning that hurricane watchers can, but they can do enough to save lives. Today the average warning time for a tornado alert is 13 minutes.

Tornadoes can also be identified by warning signs that include a dark, greenish sky, large hail, and a powerful train-like roar.

What causes tornadoes?

Thunderstorms develop in warm, moist air in advance of eastward-moving cold fronts. These thunderstorms often produce large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes.

Tornadoes in the winter and early spring are often associated with strong, frontal systems that form in the Central States and move east. Occasionally, large outbreaks of tornadoes occur with this type of weather pattern.

During the spring in the Central Plains, thunderstorms frequently develop along a “dryline,” which separates very warm, moist air to the east from hot, dry air to the west. Tornado-producing thunderstorms may form as the dryline moves east during the afternoon hours.

Along the front range of the Rocky Mountains, in the Texas panhandle, and in the southern High Plains, thunderstorms frequently form as air near the ground flows upslope toward higher terrain. If other favorable conditions exist, these thunderstorms can produce tornadoes.

This extremely dangerous tornado occurred on June 22, 2007 in the town of Elie, west of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The winds in this storm were rated to be between 260 and 320 miles (419 and 512 km) per hour, the most powerful tornado possible! The rare combination weather features converged this day in June, allowing for the most powerful tornado in Canadian history to be recorded. Image courtesy Steinbach Weather

The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction. The average forward speed is 30 mph but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.

Frequency of Tornadoes

The meteorological factors that drive tornadoes make them more likely at some times than at others. They occur more often in late afternoon, when thunderstorms are common, and are more prevalent in spring and summer. However, tornadoes can and do form at any time of the day and year.

In the southern states, peak tornado occurrence is in March through May, while peak months in the northern states are during the summer.

Note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series on tornadoes

Worth Pondering…
There are two big forces at work, external and internal. We have very little control over external forces such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness, and pain. What really matters is the internal force. How do I respond to those disasters? Over that I have complete control.

—Leo F. Buscaglia, advocate of the power of love, 1924-1998

Read More

Flock to a Birding Festival near You, Part 2

RVers are flocking to bird-watching (commonly referred to as birding) as an activity like never before.

It’s For the Birds

Sandhill cranes readying for the fly our at sunrise at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birder, or not, if you’re looking for a great way to spend a day, check out your local birding festival. Most areas have several fairs and festivals going on during the year, and they are an excellent way to enjoy nature, learn something new, and have fun.

February 2-5: Laredo Birding Festival (Texas)

Local birding enthusiasts have come to describe Laredo as the only place in the U.S. to have boasted four species of Kingfisher, the Ringed, Belted, Green and Amazon. The Laredo Birding Festival will feature some new, family oriented programs and a starter program for those beginners who may be curious about birding and what it takes to get into it.

Venue: La Posada Hotel

February 5: SPARROWFEST (Texas)

When Spanish explorers first saw the layers of hills northwest of what is now Austin, Texas, they named the land Balcones. These limestone hills and spring fed canyons make up most of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, located north of Lake Travis. The primary purpose of the refuge is to conserve the nesting habitat of the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. The vegetation found in this area, known as the Texas Hill Country, includes various oaks, elm, and ashe juniper trees (commonly called cedar). The Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo depend on different successional stages of this vegetation. Both of these birds nest in Central Texas, the warbler exclusively.

Venue: Flying X Ranch, Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge (about 30 miles northwest of Austin)

February 18-20: 32nd Annual Winter Wings Festival (Oregon)

Burrowing owl at Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in both south central Oregon and northern California, the Klamath Basin is a key stopover on the Pacific Flyway, hosting 80% of the birds that use the Flyway. A total of six separate nearby refuges comprise the total National Wildlife Refuge complex spanning nearly 200,000 acres. A unique, strong cooperative partnership between farming, water resources, and the refuges provides an abundance of prime habitat that attracts vast numbers of waterfowl and raptors including one of the large concentration of wintering Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states.

Venue: Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls

February 24-27: 15th Annual Whooping Crane Festival (Texas)
The Whooping Crane Festival (formerly the Celebration of Whooping Cranes and Other Birds) is a celebration of the annual wintering of the whoopers and other species in Port Aransas and Mustang Island. Festivities include guided trips by land and sea to observe the endangered Whooping Cranes and other birds, lectures by renowned birding experts, photography workshops, a nature-related trade show, and tours of the Animal Rehabilitation Keep and Wetlands Education Center at the University of Marine Science Institute.

The City of Port Aransas has been named the 2010 ‘America’s Birdiest City’ in the Small Coastal City division for the first time ever. Utilizing the peak of migration, Port Aransas birders counted 208 different species of birds during the 72-hour window for the competition which was conducted April 24-26. The count was held in conjunction with the Great Texas Birding Classic in which several Port Aransas teams competed.

Venue: Port Aransas Civic Center, 710 W. Avenue A (next door to City Hall), Port Aransas

March 17-20: Rivers and Wildlife Celebration (Nebraska)

Hummer at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come to the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World in the heart of the Central Flyway to witness North America’s greatest migration spectacle. See 500,000 cranes, 10 million snow geese, and countless other migrating waterfowl. Sign up for birding trips, crane blind viewing trips, prairie grouse lek viewing, workshops, talks from bird experts, enjoy wildlife art and photography, and more.

Venue: Kearney

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…
Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

Read More