Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sandy bottoms and missing swifts

For our last day on the ranch Yoss left our little band to join the rest of the family on horseback. Judith and I went off to the great sand-dunes national park, 20 minutes from the ranch. This is really a very strange area - mighty sand-dunes between the mountain and the plains, just popping up out of nowhere almost. Apparently it is caused over millennia by natural winds in the valley collecting the sand into that one corner. Anyway, they're really big and it was VERY hot!!!!
However, I firstly had an early morning trip with Lawrence, who lives part-time on the ranch, and is a UK birder but an expert over here as well. Really needed this as local knowledge was badly needed as I was struggling to get the bird list going. We only walked around the immediate area but we quickly got onto Evening and black-headed grosbeak, Lewis's woodpecker, mountain chickadee, pine siskin, Cassin's finch, chipping sparrow, rufous hummingbird, red-naped sapsucker and warbling vireo. To jump forward before going onto the dunes, we also went to a local lake that eveing and gor black-crowned night-heron, white-faced ibis, cinnamon teal, American wigeon, redhead, spot sand, loggerhead shrike, horned lark and sage thrasher.

Anyway, onto the sand-dunes. Basically its along walk up very soft sand in stifling heat, but well, well worth it. The views are spectacular and everyone seemed really friendly talking about what they were doing on the way up. I suspect it was a sneaky way to take a break!!! Thr loca sport is to surf down the dunes although we didn't have a go.
Finally, we went up into the mountains to Zapata falls. This is a local beauty spot, quite wooded and with a walk ALONG the stream to get to the foot of the falls. Apparently it is also a good spot for both black and white-throated swift although we didn't see them. A nice end to the day though. 


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A river runs through it

On our second day at the ranch the non-riders decided to try their hand at fishing (and watching the fishing!). So, an early start with Shane from the ranch saw us driving over the valley to pick up two fishing guides, some rods and waders and setoff for a river to get some trout. Neither me nor Yoss had ever fly-fished before so the start was some lessons in casting.
Followed by some serious fishing in a pretty fast flowing river. We then moved onto a nice small lake in the hills. Wouldn't say we decimated the fish stocks and we both caught our fair share of trees but a good time was had by all.

Back at the ranch after the customary few beers I had a walk out to watch the sunset - always spectacular - and found another great-horned owl lurking around. Apparently they are commonest N.American owl and 4 pairs hunt around the ranch!!!

Monday, 29 July 2013

How to be a cowboy part 2

Things really got going on the "western" part of our holiday today. I had an early start with Owen going birding around the ranch. Bloody hard all the small birds flitting about with no knowledge of their calls. I have arranged a tour later with Lawrence the local bird expert. Lovely morning though and managed to pick up American kestrel, common grackle, am robin, red-tailed and Swainson's hawk.
Then after breakfast the main business of the day - horse-riding. Me, Judith and Yoss decided just to do the trot round the paddock whilst the others got to know their horses and then went off a half-day trek. The rest of us got in the American version of a land-rover and went off on a drive round the ranch to find bison.
The ride round the ranch was really interesting. We visited some old buildings where the ranch used to be run from. Totally dilapidated now, but a hive of activity from the wildlife front. Main event was a roosting great-horned owl looking at us crossly from its tree. Also got common nighthawk, western meadowlark, Say's phoebe and broad-tailed hummingbird.

We then met up with the herd of a few hundred buffalo, all munching away happily on the plains. The sight of a few million when the settlers first arrived must have been totally awe-inspiring. 
For lunch we met up with the intrepid horse-riders where Judith was so desperate for her sandwich she mounted a horse and forded a stream!!
Finally around the hot-tub when we got back i managed to find a yellow-warbler in the bushes and some juvenile western wood-peewee's.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

How to be a cowboy part 1

After a later than expected start due to Owen and his giant breakfast burrito (note to any travellers to the USA - do not trust waitresses comments on portion sizes!) we set off on our drive to Zapata ranch. Thank god we upgraded to SUV's at the airport as the weather was verging on apocalyptic. One rain storm, fortunately whilst we were waiting for one of those giant trains to pass, had the road running like a river.
We had a quick stop at Pueblo on the way. Typical one street town, with some very un-British advertising.
although quite why sleeper middle America needs a specialist in chemical weapons destruction leaves the mind boggling. 

After a quick stop at a liquor store (trans: off-licence) to get beer and wine as the ranch is apparently "dry" its another two hours to the ranch - which is a sight for sore eyes after rain and cities. Quite small, literally in the middle of nowhere and birds galore!!! Within 5 minutes I had hairy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch and wood peewee. A short walk to check out the horses also got mountain bluebird, western tanager (below, courtesy of Owen) and violet-green swallow as well as chipmunks!!! Things are definitely looking up.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Mile-high club

Today was basically going to be travel day, with a bit of sight-seeing. We started early to get to Logan for our internal flight to Denver. Breakfast in the airport was interesting - enormous as every meal in the US seems to be, and topped off by a very early bloody Mary from two member of our party!! No problems, smooth uneventful flight, without many views as it was cloudy most of the way. We did get occasional views of flat prairies and straight roads. Landing at Denver we picked up our hire-cars, which was not as easy as it should have been. Confusion over drop-off charges didn't help but eventually we loaded up our SUV's and toddled off into Denver, about 45 minutes away. I always hate the first drive - automatics and wrong-side of the road, but I missed everything and the satnav got us to the hotel without incident.
Denver is hard to get feel for. Very modern, and the area we are in if basically a few shops and many restaurants. We has a free-form lunch, ranging from cheesecake to calamari and then shopped in the afternoon. A few books, cowboy shirts and a leather belt were acquired before another unstructured dinner of nachos and beer.
Off to the proper holiday tomorrow, with a long drive to Mosca and the Zapata ranch. Hopefully we'll stop along the way and might even get the bird list started, which is almost non-existent after 3 days so far.

Friday, 26 July 2013

I see no whales

Today was going to be the highlight of the Boston leg of the holiday. In the morning we were on a 3 hour whale watching trip and in the evening we were on a sunset cruise of the harbour, all gin and tonics and watching the sun decline over the skyscrapers.
Skies were dark first thing, the weather forecast worse. We had to be at the pier by 8.30 or so. Found the booth where you check in, only to be told "sorry, the 9am cruise is cancelled due to high seas. You can rebook on the 12 o'clock." weather looked grim, but we took a vote and decided to try again. So, we had about 90 minutes to kill before they would know if the cruise would be on or not. After looking for options whilst slightly dripping onto the carpet of the Marriott hotel (posh!) we decided on Feneuil Hall for breakfast and coffee. Lots of options and between that and the shops we filled in the time till we could call the whale people. "Yes, its still on. Come along at 11.,30" - yippee!! So, a bit more shopping, including the most amazing Xmas shop. Everything you could imagine, including a string of light-up cats, which we now own!
Back at the pier at 11.30 the weather as even worse. We stood in line for about 10 minutes and then got the news we pretty much expected - cancelled. 6 to 7 foot swells.
So, sulking all round and back to plan B. We grabbed a cab and went to the Mapparium. Basically a giant globe where you are in the middle of the Earth looking at the countries all round you. Difficult to get a description to di it justice, but if you're ever in Boston make sure you go, although skip the museum dedicated to the founder of the Christian Science movement. After that we went to the Art museum to see the native American art galleries, and also had a surprise of a small but high quality Audobon exhibition.
So, our last trip was the sunset cruise - without the sunset clearly as it was still raining cats and dogs. We'd been assured (twice) there was at least shelter on the boat. On arriving though we were basically told you stand for two hours in the elements - no shelter, nowhere to sit down, imminent pneumonia. In no uncertain terms I expressed my displeasure at this thought, we gave it up as a bad job and retired to a nearby restaurant for beers and steaks, which was a much better option.
So, not exactly the day we wanted, but not a total disaster compared to what it could have been!!  I'll leave you with a couple of photos from our walk back to the hotel, with rain and car lights symptomatic of the day.  

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Graves, fish and tea!

As ever when you fly West, the day starts early with the "are you awake" conversation at 5.30 in the morning. By 7.30 we'd already had coffee, showered, unpacked, sorted out and arranged to meet for a(a second!) breakfast with HPH and the family. Despite overcast skies and a chill wind, we set out on our first days excursion. Opposite the hotel was the Granary Burying ground, a large cemetery with many and some famous graves. A bit morbid to start the day, but some interesting carving on the graves, although the most famous, Paul Revere of the midnight ride fame, was quite plain.

After this cheery start we walked about 20 minutes or so down to the harbo(u)r area to visit the Aquarium. We visited here in, we think, 1989 so it would be interesting to see if was like we remembered. This was particularly so after visiting Atlanta last year, with one of the best aquaria on the planet.
As per the plan for most aquaria nowadays there was a large central tank around which was displayed a number of smaller tanks, based on habitat mainly. It was good, albeit so crowded it was difficult to get to see some tanks. It was in 1989 by far the best  we'd ever visited, but now seemed a bit tired and certainly not a patch on Atlanta.
Highlights? One was watching 7-8 people manhandling a giant ray into a crate to weigh it before going off for veterinary treatment. Although it was in the crate, and they could weigh fish, crate and water together they didn't have a plan for getting to the weight of the fish!! Shame I wasn't online to work, I'd have had at least 10 solutions within 5 minutes!!!! 

 There were a few large turtles in the main tank, but they always look a bit sad and we got some nice arty photos using light and blurring.

Last stop, after lunch, was the Boston Tea Party museum. In UK, this would be a few exhibits, with a bit of interpretative display. In the USA, oh no, you get the full works. 90 minutes with actors playing all the parts, the best holograms I've seen, two paintings which came alive (think Harry Potter and Hogwarts) and getting audience involvement throughout. Given enough money and thought it's amazing what you can do. After that though the summer in Boston turned into a torrential downpour, so cabs and back to hotel. Just need to stay awake and fight off the temptation for a quick half-hour nap before Legal Seafoods and our lobster supper.
Overall verdict? Well, if the rest of the holiday goes as well as today then we're well set for a great time!!!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The start of the big holiday!!

This is going to be the first post of mine and Judith's sabbatical from work. Judith's is due to starting a new job in January, mine because, well who wouldn't turn down the chance of 4 1/2 months off work.

So, 24th July, the first full day when both of us are off, and when we start our travels to the USA on holiday with Helen (Judith's sister) and her family, Yoss, Jake, Owen and Amy.

Day 1 was always going to be a relatively dull day, with an early evening flight to Boston. Good news though - BA were nice to us and we got an upgrade to Club! On the downside though we had to put our new cats - Penny, Jet and Primrose - into the cattery for the duration. Same one we've used before, Convivial Cats, who are very good if you're looking for a cattery near Rickmansworth. Anyway, nothing else much happened today, flight was fine, hotel in Boston seems ok, so I'll leave you with photos of our cats!