Exploring San Antonio
November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Today JoLene and I drove to San Antonio, nearly a two-hour drive, to spend a half day seeing some of the sights. We rode the red City Bus, with its narration of the main points of interest.

I suppose the best-known site in this city is the Alamo.

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It was originally named the Mision San Antonio de Valero, and served as home to missionaries and Indian converts to Catholic Christianity for 70 years. In the 1800s the mission became a military headquarters, occupied at various times by Spanish, Rebel and Mexican forces. It played a critical role in the Texas Revolution against Mexico. In February 1836 General Santa Anna, President of Mexico, and his soldiers surrounded the Texans – about 200 of them –  in the Alamo. The defenders held out for 13 days. Then Santa Anna’s men were victorious, killing every Revolutionary fighter in the Alamo.

In April of that same year General Sam Houston led the Texans in defeating Santa Anna’s forces in the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. This battle lasted only 18 minutes and led to the Republic of Texas becoming an independent nation, which continued until Texas joined the United States in 1845.

The iconic Alamo building we see today was originally a church and is only a small part of the original Alamo complex.

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Here you see the plot  plan for the entire Alamo. The large rectangular space in the foreground marks the walls of the Alamo. The church (its facade is shown in my first photo above) is the small structure in the upper right section of the plot plan. Evidently during the battle of the Alamo the “church” served as ammunition storage.

Reflecting on the friendly relations between Mexicans and Texans today, I pondered the thought that surely there must be a better way than war to lead to friendship.

Later we rode an elevator up the Tower of the Americas.

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A 750-foot tall observations tower and restaurant. As we had lunch in the Chart House restaurant, the restaurant slowly revolved a full circle so we had awesome views of the entire city.

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Yes, the person sitting at the barely-visible table is JoLene.

Extensive water features are found on the grounds below the Tower.

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San Antonio has an attractive River Walk.

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Since today was cold and windy, we did not follow the River Walk.

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During the bus tour we saw this creative and impressive mural.

As for birding, en route to San Antonio through ranch lands we got a brief glimpse of the striking Crested Caracara.

Crested Caracara

I went on the internet and found this superb photo by Matthew Studebaker. You can check out his work at http://www.studebakerbirds.com.

I am also seeing many White-winged doves.

White-winged Dove

This image is from John Schwarz at http://www.birdspix.com.

What city have you visited recently? Or  what notable birds have you sighted?

The Joy of Bluebirds
September 24, 2012

As you may know from previous blogs, one of my hobbies is nature study, especially bird study. And the Eastern bluebird is of special interest to me because of the beauty of the creature and the situation with their nesting behavior.

This photo of a male Eastern bluebird is from Cornell Lab of  Ornithology – Cornell University. The female is less brightly colored than the male.

While bluebirds are fairly common in PA, and indeed in all of eastern USA, they are  quiet and somewhat unobtrusive, so many people have never seen one. Most people are more familiar with the blue jay, which is larger, noisy and very aggressive at bird feeders.

Back to the subject of bluebirds’ nesting behavior, they are cavity nesters but cannot hollow out cavities themselves because their beaks not designed for hammering or drilling like woodpeckers. The natural nesting sites for bluebirds have diminished in the 20th century because of changing farming techniques. So humans have discovered that bluebirds are quite willing to nest in man-made boxes. Therefore, thousands of birders, including me, set out nesting boxes, hoping to provide a safe home for these birds.

Here is the box across the street from our home here in the suburbs of Harrisburg, PA.

I paint the roof of the box to preserve it longer. The light blue color is incidental. Any color would do.

This year, 2012, is probably my best year for successful fledging (flying out of the box) of bluebird young. I had 21 boxes out:  6 in this area, 4 at Grantham on and near the campus of Messiah College, and 11 at Roxbury Holiness Camp which is located at the village of Roxbury, not far from Shippensburg.

In these boxes the female bluebirds laid a total of 74 eggs.

Number of eggs that hatched – 57.

Number of young that fledged – all 57.

I also had 9 tree swallow chicks that fledged, 6 house wrens (all in one box), and one chickadee.

I know these numbers because I am a bluebird fanatic, keeping record on index cards of every box and the activity in it.

I also set out on our deck dried mealworms and suet and raisins for the bluebirds, and occasionally, but not every day, they come for a snack.

What do you do for fun? If you enjoy your hobby as much as I do mine, I am happy for you.

More about Roxbury Camp
September 16, 2012

At camp meeting I had the privilege of baptizing two older teens whom I have know since they were small children. The creek on camp property is dammed up to form a swimming hole, which served nicely for the baptism. Our tradition is to have the person kneel in the water; then the minister dips the person forward three times in the name of the Trinity.

On the second Saturday of camp meeting we had the children’s parade – on the theme of Christmas, which was the theme this year for the children’s department, which is known as the Sunbeam Center.

Two angels led the way.

My sister Eileen Blowers, who is director for the Sunbeam Center, and I were the parade marshalls, riding in a decorated golf cart.

Three of our grandchildren walked in the parade. Jeffrey was the king!

Our daughter Melanie and her husband Julio Avila and their two daughters, missionaries to Guatemala, were at camp meeting for the second half of the week. The two girls pictured above are their daughters, Samaya (center) and Genesis (right).

The board of directors devised a gracious plan for honoring the fact that I was retiring after 35 years of serving as camp director. Knowing that birding is a favorite pastime of mine and that I put up nesting boxes for bluebirds,the board encouraged people to write notes of appreciation to me on bluebird-shaped note cards and to give donations  for me and JoLene to go on a major birding trip of our choice. People could drop the notes or donations into a modified,  over-sized nesting box, beautifully decorated with bluebird art!

Such creativity! We were overwhelmed by people’s kindness.

After researching various options for a major birding trip to Central America (the dream of every North American birder), we decided just last week that we will take a ten-day trip to Costa Rica, starting December 29.

Looking for hawks and other raptors
November 12, 2011

On November 5, 2011, I went in the late afternoon to Waggoner’s Gap, a place where route 74 crosses Blue Ridge Mountain (part of the Allegheny Mountains) northwest of Carlisle, PA.

The Gap is the location for a Hawk Watch every fall. Volunteers scan the skies constantly for raptors that ride the air currents along the mountain as the birds fly south for the winter.
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Birds in Florida
February 6, 2011

We have had sunshine most of the week, with some clouds a few days. Temperatures from 70 to 80 degrees. To all my friends in cold and snowy PA, I wish you were here!

I went birding on several days, at Fort De Soto Park, Lake Seminole Park, the beach behind our condo, and any pond anywhere that looked interesting.
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Days in Delaware
October 10, 2010

In early September we spent some sun-filled days in Lewes, DE, with our daughter Sheryl and Ed and their three children.
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How many robins are too many?
April 2, 2010

The robins are active, singing early in the morning before the sun comes up, and carrying nesting material to their nesting spots.

Roger Tory Peteson described the American robin as “the one bird that everyone knows.”

Every year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors the Great Backyard Bird count, a weekend for any interested person to record all the individual birds he sees and send in a report to Cornell. This year the Count was on February 12-15.

As of the most recent report that I saw, the most-reported bird across Us and Canada was the Northern cardinal.

Back to the robin. Saint Petersburg, FL, had a roost of robins topping one million birds. Now that is a lot of birds for one city!

My own report to the Count showed sightings of 19 species within about a mile of my house, with the American crow being the most individuals, namely 12.

Trip to Guatemala – Part 8
August 26, 2009

Everywhere I go I see and hear the rufous-collared sparrow. I suppose it is quite ordinary to local people, but I find it delightful. Its note is a chip-chip; its song is short but musical and pleasant and reminds me of the song of the Eastern meadowlark back home.
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Trip to Guatemala – Part 6
August 24, 2009

This country has many volcanoes, so when I learned that my language school was sponsoring a walking trip to a lake in the crater of a volcano, I was interested. This would be an extinct volcano, of course.

The name of the volcano and lake is Chicabal (also spelled Chikabal).
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Trip to Guatemala – Part 2
August 18, 2009

Next we went to Hotel Atitlan, so named because it is located on the shore of the lake by that name.
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