Christmas Message from Vogel Talks RVing

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Indian Waters RV Resort
As we approach Christmas Eve we’re in the Coachella Valley enjoying the Southern California sunshine with Indian Waters RV Resort our winter roost. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Thank you for your readership this past year!

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season.

May the miracle of this wonderful season fill your heart with peace and happiness and bless your life throughout the year.

Merry Christmas are words of hope and joy.

We sometimes lose the focus of this holiday season. Shopping, wrapping presents, and sending Christmas cards. Planning dinner, cleaning, and decorating often distracts from the reason for the Season.

While in Quartzsite, check out the Hi Jolly Monument which honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert.
While in Quartzsite, check out the Hi Jolly Monument which honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we approach Christmas Eve we’re in the Coachella Valley enjoying the Southern California sunshine, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty tamales and other south-of-the border holiday treats—and the famous Coachella Medjool dates.

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Acadia, Mount Rainier, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual, long-legged silhouette. Watch for noisy flocks of these gaudy ducks dropping into fields to forage on seeds in the Rio Grande Valley. Listen for them, too—these ducks really do have a whistle for their call. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbird Christmas

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

cackling like contented

chickens under the hot Arizona sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

fifth wheel trailers, and old converted buses.

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

Credit: mcallencvb.com
Credit: mcallencvb.com

in the clubhouse by the artificial tree

reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

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Could Winter Texans Become Extinct?

The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), which has tracked Winter Texansfor 25 years through a voluntary biennial survey, found that the average age of respondents in 2011 was 71.2, compared with 70 in 2010, 69.5 in 2008, and 68.7 in 2006.

The Roseate Spoonbill uses its long, flat, spoon-shaped bil to strain small food items out of the water. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2006, nearly 10 percent of respondents were younger than 60, but last winter only 4 percent were. Similarly, respondents this year said they had been coming to the Valley an average 10.4 years, compared with 9.1 years in 2010 and 2008 and 8.8 years in 2006.

The responses suggest that the same Winter Texans may be returning to the Rio Grande Valley year after year without being replaced with new, younger ones, reports The Monitor.

“It is (a concern) to me and I would think it should be to the Valley businesses that are interested in targeting Winter Texans,” said Penny Simpson, who co-authored the study.

There is no way to tell for sure if the survey results from 1,443 of the estimated 133,400 Winter Texans represent an accurate sample. It is possible that older people responded more, but if so, that would be a shift from past years.

Overall numbers of Winter Texans are difficult to capture, but believed to be down slightly from an estimated 144,000 in 2010.

Janet Poor, manager of Shady Acres RV Park in Donna told The Monitor that every year at her 300-plus-site park the faces are the same. “We’re getting the same ones coming down,” she said.

The great kiskadee is a large member of the flycatcher family. It is about ten inches in length. It has black and white stripes on the crown and sides of its head. It has a white line above its eyes. Its chest and undersides are a bright yellow and its throat is white. Its back and wings are brown and its bill and legs are black. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I would love to get new people down here.”

Poor said that in her experience, national media attention on border problems made it difficult to recruit new visitors.

“When we get calls from new people asking about down here, the first thing they ask is: ‘How bad is it down there?’” she said.

But the vast majority of wintering retirees who do come to the Valley are still visiting Mexico — 84 percent, down from 95 percent in 2006. Several observers said the study is on par with their experiences.

Joe Nelson, 71, who has lived year-round at the McAllen Mobile Home Park for a decade, said that park has some 14 new units this year—but they’re all moving from other area parks.

“The young stuff isn’t coming,” he said.

Others in the Valley said they are still seeing young retirees come to town. Rod Graham, who operates a San Juan business creating photo directory books of Winter Texans for dozens of parks and operates the website, The Winter Texan Connection, said the survey findings did not align with his experience.

“I won’t dispute their average, but from my experience, I am seeing the baby boomers come,” said Graham, 57.

“I’ve been down here 13 years and when I came down here, everything was country western … Within the last three or four years we’ve had rock ’n’ roll bands go play in the parks and to me that’s indicative of my generation.”

Graham added that he has not noticed any demographic shifts in the hundreds of Winter Texans he photographs and has seen hugely increased traffic on his website, which he attributes to a potentially younger crowd viewing it.

Area cities are paying attention to the needs of the Winter Texans, who contributed some $800 million to the economy in 2010, according to the study.

Martha Noell, president of the Weslaco Chamber of Commerce, presented the findings to the City Commission last month and discussed things the city could do to attract visitors from colder climates, including keeping areas clean and marketing up north.

The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luis Bazan, president of the Pharr Chamber of Commerce, said many businesses in the city had noticed a Winter Texan decline overall, but that there did seem to be some newcomers, which he called “a new breed” looking for different activities.

Simpson agreed and said she would consider further analysis on what types of activities the next generation of retirees prefers.

“That’s an important question I think we need to have answered: How do we target baby boomers?” she said.

UTPA Survey Average Winter Texan ages by year:

  • 2012: 71.2
  • 2010: 70
  • 2008: 69.5
  • 2006: 68.7

Texas Spoken Friendly Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Wings of Spring: South Padre Island Nature and Birding Center (SPI BNC)

Padre Island is a gorgeous island off the southern coast of Texas, the largest of the Texas barrier islands and the longest barrier island in the world. Padre Island is made up of North Padre Island, which is 26 miles long and runs south from Corpus Christi’s south jetty to the Padre Island National Seashore.

The Black Skimmer is easy to identify by its large red and black bill, which is extremely thin, with the lower part longer than the top. It has white underparts, a black back and cap, and very short red legs. Look for it while bird watching on Padre Island as it flies along the water, dragging its bill to catch fish. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore then begins south for an additional 70 miles to the artificial Port Mansfield Cut, where jetties were built in 1964, separating Padre Island into two parts.

If you are looking for some incredible bird watching, this is the place to visit in South Texas.

A slender thread of land between the shallow Laguna Madre and the rolling Gulf of Mexico, South Padre Island anchors the World Birding Center with nature adventures in every season.

Wildlife watchers have been coming to the Island for many years, in search of birds, primarily, and these nature-tourists come by the thousands.

The ribbon-cutting for the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center was held September 26, 2009, after a long delay due to Hurricane Dolly in 2008, and several million dollars having been spent on the Birding Center.

The center itself is an interpretive center that not only teaches you about the birds and natural surroundings, but also has an outlook five stories in the air that offers scenic views of the dunes of South Padre Island, South Padre Island skyline, beaches, and Laguna Madre.

The Roseate Spoonbill uses its long, flat, spoon-shaped bil to strain small food items out of the water. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on 50 acres adjacent to the convention center, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center presents a microcosm of the rich habitats that contribute to this very special place. Dune meadows, salt marsh, and intertidal flats are all represented here, along with thickets of native shrubs and trees that are irresistible to migrating birds in their season.

Although March to early May is the ideal time for seeing migrants, enough avian visitors spend spring and summer in the area that the birding remains good through summer and into the southbound fall migration. Waterfowl gather here in winter.

I consider myself an advanced beginner, able to identify backyard birds, numerous South Texas specialties, and a share of other species in various regions of the United States and Canada.

South Padre Island is located on the “Central Flyway”, the major migration route to and from North, Central, and South America.

South Padre also has a variety of habitats for different birds, making bird watching that much more exciting—beaches, coastal prairies, wind tidal flats, wetlands, and ponds.

A large, orange-billed tern, the Royal Tern is found along ocean beaches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Attractions include over 4800 linear feet of connected boardwalk (or 0.9 miles), seven shaded bird blinds, a five-story tall building tower with spectacular views, a beautiful Butterfly Garden, auditorium showing a short Richard Moore documentary movie about the wildlife of South Padre Island, and a nature-oriented gift shop.

There is always something happening at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.

Bird Walks are held each Thursday and Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Since the group size is limited to 15 people it is recommended that you call ahead or sign up to make sure you can make the tour.  They last about 1.5 hours, so bring a hat, sun screen, camera/binocular, and your birding field guides—or buy what you need in the excellent gift shop.

The Winter Seminar series is held Saturdays from 10:00-11:30 a.m. Call ahead to check the website for topics.

Details

South Padre Island Nature and Birding Center (SPI BNC)

Attractions include over 4800 linear feet of connected boardwalk (or 0.9 miles), seven shaded bird blinds, a five-story tall building tower with spectacular views. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hours: Visitors center open 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily; Boardwalks and nature trails open 7 days a week with paid admission, 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset (turn style system available for credit card payment)

Center/Trails Admission: $5; Seniors/Students $4; Children $2; Passes (weekly/ 3 month, annual) available

Physical Address: 6801 Padre Boulevard, South Padre Island, Texas 78597 (between Sea Turtle Inc., and the SPI Convention Centre)

Phone: (956) 243-8179

Website: theworldbirdingcenter.com and spibirding.com

Please Note: This is the eleventh in a series of stories on Rio Grande Valley nature hot spots

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

—Dixon Lanier Merritt

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Birds of a Feather: Harlingen Arroyo Colorado World Birding Center

Gateway to the entire World Birding Center (WBC) network of nine sites, Harlingen Arroyo Colorado World Birding Center is close to the U.S. 77/U.S. 83 Expressway and the Valley International Airport, but remains a quiet wooded retreat from the hustle of urban life.

The Green Kingfisher occurs from the Rio Grande Valley south through Central and South Americal to central Argentina. Green Kingfishers are often seen perched on a low shaded branch close to water before plunging in head first after their fish prey. They also eat aquatic insects. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Harlingen Arroyo Colorado is unique in that it is the only WBC site composed of two separated properties: Hugh Ramsey Nature Park to the east and Harlingen Thicket to the west.

The two sites are connected by major streets and hike-and-bike trails, and the Arroyo Colorado (“arroyo” is Spanish for stream) which is the largest flowing waterway in the Lower Rio Grande Valley with the exception of the Rio Grande River.

Texas Ebony woodlands dominate 55-acre Hugh Ramsey Park, while the 40-acre Harlingen Thicket is primarily composed of mixed upland thorn forest. Volunteers help to restore both to their native beauty, with trees, shrubs, and flowering plants that support varied wildlife. Together with other habitat preserved along the arroyo, they provide a rare refuge for birds and other creatures in the heart of the city.

The great kiskadee is a large member of the flycatcher family. It is about ten inches in length. It has black and white stripes on the crown and sides of its head. It has a white line above its eyes. Its chest and undersides are a bright yellow and its throat is white. Its back and wings are brown and its bill and legs are black. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Harlingen’s wing of the WBC provides much-needed breeding grounds for many “Valley specialties” like the green and ringed kingfishers, common pauraque, groove-billed ani, long-billed thrasher, and olive sparrow. Endangered red-crowned parrots are found here, and during migration periods, the two sites are an important stopover for avian travelers seeking food and rest.

Harlingen Thicket is often overlooked by wildlife watchers, because Hugh Ramsey Nature Park is so fantastic. This is a mistake, because Harlingen Thicket can also be great for birds, butterflies, and dragonflies.

To reach Harlingen Thicket from Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, leave Hugh Ramsey’s parking lot and turn left (west) onto Ed Carey Drive/Loop 499 back towards the Expressway. Drive 1.0 miles west to Business-77/Sunshine Strip and turn right onto Bus-77/Sunshine Strip.

Here it can get just a little tricky: take Business-77/Sunshine Strip to Commerce Street, which will come in on your left. Take Commerce Street to the north for a very short distance and turn left onto Taft Avenue. Go 0.1 miles on Taft Avenue, across the railroad tracks, and immediately turn left into the Harlingen Thicket parking lot.

A small, stocky wading bird, the Green Heron is common in wet spots across much of North America. It can be difficult to see as it stands motionless waiting for small fish to approach within striking range. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you messed up at the Business-77/Sunshine Strip exchange with Commerce Street, just take the first left you can from Business-77 and go to Commerce Street, turning back south to Taft Avenue, then right on Taft Avenue to the Harlingen Thicket.

If you come into Harlingen from the west and want to go directly to Harlingen Thicket, take the Expressway to Harlingen and take the Downtown Exit to Tyler Avenue.  Continue east on Tyler for 1.2 miles to Commerce Street and turn right onto Commerce and travel south for 1.3 miles to Taft Avenue. Turn right on Taft, go 0.1 miles, crossing the railroad tracks and turn left into the Harlingen Thicket parking lot.

Details

Harlingen Arroyo Colorado World Birding Center

Hours: Nature trails are open seven days a week, sunrise to sunset

Admission: Free

Physical Address: 1001 S. Loop 499, Harlingen

Phone: (956) 427-8873

Website: theworldbirdingcenter.com

Please Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories on Rio Grande Valley nature hot spots

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The Hummingbird’s Hum

Hummingbird, Hummingbird
Hum a lovely song.
Hummingbird, Hummingbird
Let me hum along.
Hummingbird, Hummingbird
a song so sweet.
Hummingbird, Hummingbird
Oh, please let me.

—Hayley Jordan

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