Calvin and Her Calf

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Northern Right Whale (Calvin)

I attended the State of the Reserve at the GTM NERR today which was very interesting. I loved the talks on the different research being performed at the reserve. In the middle of the afternoon, there was a talk on the local dolphins which was fascinating. In the middle of the talk, I got a message that there was a Right Whale 5 minutes away. The GTM NERR borders the Atlantic Ocean and the whale was right off the coast. It was everything I could do to stay for the remaining 5 minutes of the talk (which I wanted to hear!!).

When I got to the location, the Northern Right Whale and her cub were frolicking about a 1/2 mile away. I did not have a camera but more importantly, I did not have binoculars! We’ve been talking about buying a pair of binoculars for the car and this is one of the many reasons why we need to do it.

I called Regis who was, at best, 45 minutes away. He can always be counted on in a crunch and he set off with camera, tripod, and two pairs of binoculars. When he arrived, the whales were still there but no longer as active and as close as they were.

Northern Right Whales are an endangered species and there are likely less than 500 left. The 4 minute video below is not “National Geographic” exciting, but does show the Right Whale mom and her calf at a distance. When I tried to edit, I noticed the birds plummeting into the ocean for fish and a couple dolphins cavorting in the area. So I left most of the video intact so you could see all the activity along with the whales.

Here is a link to the video.

I count my blessings today. The environment in Florida has changed so there is more support of the amazing research done at the GTM NERR and I saw an endangered Right Whale (who turned out to be Calvin) and her beautiful calf on a beautiful day by the sea.

 

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Northern Right Whale (Calvin)

 

Wind Cave National Park

We like to come to the Badlands area in South Dakota because of the abundant wildlife. The scenery is beautiful, but the wildlife is what brings us here. We picked Wall, South Dakota as our base camp because of its convenient access to the park. We like to go to the park in early morning or late evening, so a local campsite makes it much easier. We also love Custer State Park for wildlife viewing and it is accessible from a base camp in Wall although a bit of a drive. Wind Cave National Park is just south of Custer National Park and we have not been there. We decided to go to Wind Cave National Park and go through Custer State Park since they are located close together. On the way back, we figured we would take the scenic route through Badlands National Park. It was a lot for one day, but doable.

We woke up at 4:30 in the morning (just before sunrise) to head to Wind Cave National Park. We left from Wall, South Dakota, so we drove on the interstate for about 45 miles. (Wall was named for the geographic formations in the Badlands National Park. The town is most famous for the Wall Drug Store which is a pharmacy that opened in 1931 but developed into a roadside attraction.) The speed limit was 80 mph and I was driving. I cannot remember the last time I was able to drive that fast. There were very few vehicles on the road. It was a little intimidating to me. I know I could have driven slower but relished the opportunity to go that fast.

We made good time and entered Custer State Park, which is just north of Wind Cave National Park where we saw lots of deer, pronghorn, and bison. We drove on the wildlife loop until we could head south to Wind Cave National Park where we saw more wildlife and beautiful scenery. I love the Blackhills, which is the mountain range in southwest South Dakota. There is lush grass beneath conifers with lots of beautiful streams surrounded by wildflowers.

We thought we got our fill of baby prairie dogs after our visits to Badlands National Park, but not so. I can never get my fill of cute babies. We spent a lot of time driving slowly through some of the prairie dog towns in Wind Cave National Park and taking pictures of all those cute little baby prairie dogs. Almost every picture was taken from the car. If we leave the car, the prairie dogs scatter into their holes.

We stopped several times to enjoy the scenery and had a picnic lunch under a shady tree next to a small stream where there was a dedication to Bison Bob 1906-2006 (maybe 2009?). This is worth looking into. We don’t have good internet access, so we’ll research later. I think Dart was glad to get out of the car for a bit and I was able to wash my hands (after a messy baked potato) in the local stream.

On the way back, we took the scenic route and came back through Badlands National Park. We stopped at a favorite bridge where we have seen cliff swallows. Regis took the time to get some video of the activity. We tried to take pictures last time we came by the bridge, but the swallows were too fast so video was the way to go.  Click here. 

 

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Cave swallows.

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Deer eating in Custer State Park.

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Bison with a bird hitching a ride in South Dakota.

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Pronghorn in South Dakota.

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Pronghorn eating a flower in South Dakota.

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Prairie dogs in Wind Cave National Park.

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Family portrait of prairie dogs in Wind Cave National Park.

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Scenic view in Wind Cave National Park.

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Regis cleaning up trash in Wind Cave National Park.

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Bison in Custer State Park.

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Bison in Custer State Park.

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Baby bison in Custer State Park.

As we continue to travel, we find that most places do not require interaction with a human to proceed. For example, we were able to pay for the State Park access with cash in an envelope. We got gas without going inside. We are staying in a campground that we paid for online and did not have to check-in when we arrived. Some of the vault toilets in the parks are open and I have sanitizer for afterwards. As always, It is best to be prepared in case there is no toilet paper and/or sanitizer.

I do not have sufficient internet access to preview this post, so I am hoping for the best.  Most of it appears to be okay, so I’m going to publish.  If all the pictures aren’t there, I apologize.

Badlands Wildlife

We arrived in Wall, South Dakota after a long drive from Sioux City North.  There are abundant birds in our campground, so we spent some time watching and photographing them.  After dinner, we headed into the park and saw lots of bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, meadowlarks, and bison.  We woke up very early this morning and headed into the park and saw few people for the first several hours.  But, we saw lots of wildlife.  I’m including a sampling in this post.

I’m having difficulty getting usable internet access, even with my hot spot.  I’m not sure whether they throttled me or something else is wrong.  If it keeps up, we will have trouble posting regularly.

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Badlands National Park

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Yellow-headed blackbird in our campground.

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Western kingbird in our campground.

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View from our campsite after a rainstorm.

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Bison in Badlands National Park.

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Prairie dogs in Badlands National Park.

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Baby bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park.

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Western meadowlark in Badlands National Park.

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Short-eared owl in Badlands National Park.

Adventure 2020 West of the Mississippi

Our campsite in the KOA in Sioux City North.

After Manchester, Tennessee we camped in Benton, Illinois. The campground was nearly full, as were the first two campgrounds where we stayed. While walking on the nature trail the next morning, Dart and I startled some deer and Dart brought back his first tick.

We crossed the Mississippi River and arrived in Kansas City, Missouri yesterday. We have stayed in this KOA campground a few times and this was the least number of campers we have seen. It is usually full. There were lots of robins flitting around the campground and I wanted to take some time to photograph them, but I got a big, bad migraine headache and spent the afternoon and the evening useless. I felt better when we got going this morning.

When Regis stopped for fuel today, we were told the station was closed because someone hit the pump ripping out the main fuel line and it would take several hours to fix. We got back on the road and stopped at the next truck stop. It was closed – not just closed but empty, abandoned. We took advantage of the empty lot and stopped for lunch. I saw lots of swallows beginning to build nests on the side of the empty building. When I attempted to get closer for a photograph, they all left. They were very wary even though they were high up by the top of the building. I left them in peace.

I took one shot to check my exposure settings and everyone left before I could fix it. These are cliff swallows.
This picture is taken from inside the RV on the other side of the parking lot with my 100-400 lens. There were only a few nests that were almost complete. Every other bird is just getting started.

This afternoon, we arrived in a campground just inside the South Dakota state border. It is lovely and well-maintained. There are few people here. I spent time doing the wash today instead of what I wanted to do, take a swim in the empty pool. The campgrounds east of the Mississippi River were full and west of the River there have been significantly fewer campers. We are early in this trip, so perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into it.

We have not had to interface closely with many people on this journey so far. We have only stopped for fuel and camping. We have stayed in KOA campgrounds and they have all adopted safety precautions as a result of COVID-19. We usually don’t have to go inside to check-in but when we do, precautions are in place.

The biggest problem has been the fueling stations. We stop at truck stops to fill our tanks with diesel. We have two tanks. When Regis swipes the credit card at the pump, it is usually declined and he has to go inside. The card always works inside and then we can fuel. About the time we are finished fueling, we get a fraud alert text message or phone call from the credit card company. We let them know it was authorized and they unlock the card. Regis has called the credit card company twice but it hasn’t done anything to change the situation. Regis just ordered a corporate fueling card that can be used at the truck pumps in the future. He is having it mailed to our son and hopefully it will arrive while we are in Washington and can use it on the way back. This has often been a problem, but with a desire to limit physical human interaction, it has become more urgent to find a way to resolve this issue.

I purchased frozen lobster bisque when I went grocery shopping prior to our trip and we left it to thaw out to heat up for dinner tonight. It was disgusting. Regis and I took a spoonful at about the same time and crinkled up our noses the same way. It was not edible. It wasn’t that it turned bad, it was that way in the first place. Thank goodness this campground offers pizza and chicken wings. It was a better option then breaking out a can of tuna fish.

While eating dinner, Regis jumped up in a frenzy. He often leaves the hood of RV open to cool the engine after the day’s drive. There was a squirrel looking in our front windshield. Regis was too upset about the consequences of a squirrel chewing engine parts to consider stopping to take a picture. The squirrel was darn cute. It is a shame Dart was more interested in getting some leftovers than doing his job.

Adventure 2020 Begins

Dart patiently waiting while Regis and I pump fuel. There is a fuel tank on each side of the RV, so Regis pumps one side while I do the other. Dart’s bed is in the middle of our two seats.

We started our Adventure 2020 trip on Saturday, May 30. While packing on Friday, the released blue jay showed up and supervised our efforts for awhile. During our final packing on Saturday morning, the blue jay returned and “talked” to us the entire time it hung around. I’m going to miss that bird. I’m glad my neighbors will be keeping an eye out for it. We did not see the mockingbird before we left, but it has been getting more independent, so I am hopeful it is not a bad thing.

When doing the final packing, we ran out of ideas where to put everything and just tossed the final items in the RV in any old cubby hole. We’ll spend the first week sorting things out and reorganizing. Because of the Covid-19 situation, we packed more dry supplies than normal to reduce our shopping requirements. We plan to return home mid-September if our plans hold up, so we have enough dog food, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. to last that long. Since we don’t normally do that, we are finding that we need to rethink how things are packed.

Fortunately, we had an uneventful trip to our first stop in Forsyth, Georgia. The weather was hot but beautiful when we arrived. There was time to sit around after setting things up and enjoy the weather and the birds. The campground pond had more than 30 Canadian geese hanging around. I took some pictures but I did not get the camera settings correct so I’m not happy with them.

Canada geese.

When we arrived in the campground, I pushed the button for the RV to level itself. It does a pretty good job when we are in a fairly level spot. We weren’t in a level spot and it complained after it had all the wheels off the ground. At this point, Regis usually comes in with his app and levels it manually (pressing the appropriate up down buttons himself). He was a little lazy and used his gut and said that’s good enough. The next morning I was preparing a perfect egg in my Hestan Cue smart cookware when the pan started to slide off the burner. Regis’ gut needs some adjusting.

Regis enjoying that the packing and planning are done and the enjoying starts.

We got stuck in bad traffic on Sunday going around Atlanta and got held up for an hour. All lanes were blocked on Route 75 and we had to wait it out. In a situation like that, a motorhome comes in handy. We had access to a toilet and snacks. Fortunately, Regis was driving so I got to read a book. It was my turn to drive before we got to Chattanooga. I thought it would be a breeze going through, but there was a lot of traffic and congestion. It paled in comparison to Atlanta. I was the one to drive through the Appalachians. The scenery was beautiful, but we were the ones chugging up the mountains going between 40 and 50 mph most of the time. I shared the experience with another trucker in the same boat while everyone else passed us off. It’s good not to be in a hurry.

We arrived in our Manchester, Tennessee campground mid-afternoon. We made a dent in the storage organization and Regis hooked up the battery tender to the Jeep. We learned on a prior trip that the battery slowly drains while hooked up to the motorhome. If we don’t disconnect and drive the Jeep for several days, the battery dies. Regis determined the battery was very low this evening and thinks getting stuck in the traffic in Atlanta may have contributed to the problem by having to step on the brakes so often. The Jeep is hooked up electrically to the motorhome so that the tail lights work on the Jeep but there is no charging from the RV.

Cottonmouth

Topaz spreading her wings like a baby bird asking for food.

I ran out of mealworms on Sunday for the released baby birds. When I brought the bowl out Monday morning with other food, they were not pleased. Sweetie (the mockingbird) left. Topaz (the blue jay) spit the food out and begged for something else. Later in the day, I offered raisins. Sweetie took a few then left. Topaz filled up with them and left to bury them in the mulch. Then, she came back for more. Sometimes, she removed a raisin from one location to relocate it. (My neighbor and I decided to declare both birds females even though we don’t know. It is nice to use she or he instead of it.)

Sweetie (mockingbird) and Topaz (blue jay) eating mealworms.

I’ve been trying to get rid of the remaining peanuts since we are leaving on Saturday, so I have been putting more on the ground than usual. I have attracted raccoons and a couple deer. The feast will be over soon for these guys.

I was driving out of our little area of the community to run errands today and saw something in the road. That stretch of road often has brown palm fronds lying about and subconsciously that’s what I figured it was. But, as I got closer it moved. I swerved to miss but wasn’t sure I was successful. I looked in the rear view mirror and realized it was a snake. I pulled over to check the snake to see if I had killed it. At first it wasn’t moving. I was only 1/2 mile from home and was considering roping Regis in to help me get the snake and take it to the vet. The snake started to move and I encouraged it to get off the road with a piece of vegetation. I started to take video (below) and as I was doing so, I realized it wasn’t the water snake I thought it was. In the very short video, you will notice the snake does not remain in the center as it dawns on me that I need to get out of there. I could see by the head it was venomous and later confirmed it was a cottonmouth.

We plan to leave Saturday on a 3 1/2 month trip across country and back. We understand that our plans anywhere along the way may change overnight. I have reservations for the entire trip, but my favorite public campgrounds in Washington state are currently closed. I was able to get a backup reservation in a private campground for one of the three planned stays but may not be able to get a backup if the other two campgrounds don’t open by the end of June. The county where the campgrounds are located is authorized to open campgrounds but that doesn’t mean the campgrounds are staffed to do that. We understand that flexibility is required on this trip. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

We have done multiple cross-country trips at this point and it doesn’t seem as far once you do it several times. The worst case scenario requires us to return home without stopping. We have a motorhome and Regis and I can swap driving while someone sleeps in the back. Although we need to replenish food and gas on the trip, we are stocked with everything else we need. If things get bad, Dart may have to share his months supply of dog food with us.

Baby Birds 0522 and a Raccoon

A raccoon that regularly visits our yard.

Sweetie (recently released mockingbird) and Topaz (recently released blue jay) continue to show up for handouts at both our house and the neighbor’s. Following is a video of the two from this morning. After they eat their fill of mealworms, a pair of bluebirds eats the rest. Our neighbor fed the two birds blueberries today and saw Topaz spit out an unripe blueberry before taking one from her. We have three small blueberry bushes in the yard that have blueberries on them.

Sweetie and Topaz showing up for mealworms.

A little raccoon has been visiting the yard because I have been tossing some peanuts on the ground. Dart usually doesn’t notice it because he is busy looking the other way at the neighbor’s yard because they have three dogs. Dart can wait for hours for the dogs to come out. The raccoon leaves when it sees Dart, but Dart rarely sees it.

Raccoon eating peanuts.

Baby Birds 0520

Mach 1, on our roof, who has been renamed Sweetie by our neighbors.

Mach 1 has been mooching at the neighbors and regularly getting raisins from them. Yesterday, I was chatting with my neighbor over the fence and Mach 1 showed up. Mach 1 landed on my neighbor’s arm while she hand fed it raisins. I make it eat from the bowl, so it prefers her. Unbelievable! They named the bird Sweetie and that’s fine with me. Mach 1 is now Sweetie.

Topaz (the blue jay) has been getting very active, so I allowed it to be free on the lanai. After dinner, Dart and I went out to bring mealworms to Sweetie and Topaz escaped. It went up to the tops of the pine trees and Sweetie promptly joined it. That is the first time I saw Sweetie fly that high. I watched Topaz with binoculars until almost dark. Topaz was having a wonderful time up in the pine trees and Sweetie kept joining it now and then. At almost dark, Sweetie landed on our roof and started calling to Topaz. Topaz landed on the nearest neighbor’s roof for a few seconds, then shot off like a missile through the trees. There was no interest in spending the night on the lanai. Even Sweetie didn’t want to.

I laid in bed that night worried about Topaz and wondering how I was going to tell the Ark I allowed the bird to escape. Can you get fired from a volunteer position? The next morning I went out with mealworms and Sweetie came up to the bowl and ate. Immediately afterward, Topaz showed up and ate mealworms but I couldn’t grab the bird.

At this point, I figured there wasn’t much I could do and started to clean all the bird poop out of the lanai. I took the cage outside with the intention of hosing it down after I finished on the lanai. Sweetie showed up in the cage, soon to be followed by Topaz. I caught them. I let Sweetie go and put the cage back on the lanai. Topaz went to the food dish and ate well and then promptly fell asleep.

I reached out to the Ark because I was concerned that Topaz was not going to be satisfied in the cage. It had a taste of freedom and loved it. And, in spite of the feathers not being completely grown in, the bird flew better than the first blue jay I released. They agreed that I could release it, so I did.

Then, I didn’t seen the bird for hours. I’m a worry wart and eventually took the dog for a walk hoping to find Topaz somewhere along the way. When we got back home, Sweetie and Topaz were in the backyard. I gave them a bowl of mealworms and the neighbor spoke to me from across the fence. She told me the birds had landed on top of their screen and made a bunch of noise so they fed them apricots.

So, Sweetie has now taught Topaz how to mooch. Thankfully, the neighbors are enthralled. Since we will be leaving next week, I’m happy to know the birds will be well taken care of. I would never have guessed about the bonding across species and the recruitment into a mooching gang.

Topaz and Sweetie. Topaz is having no trouble finding food and Sweetie is having no trouble asking for it.
Topaz looking for a handout.