Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Black-necked Stilt and the Bike Rack

Tomorrow was my planned day to head toward hill country state parks.  As a newbie to the motorized RV world, I’m currently traveling without a dinghy tow.  That’s OK for now, as I want to get a feel for the capability, freedom and constraints of traveling with just 25’ of RV. 

Long term I’ll certainly want a day tripping vehicle, not to mention the capability to pick-up groceries or run other errands without breaking campsite.  But for now I want to make sure this RV and I are going to have a long term relationship…so far, I haven’t felt the love.

But traveling without my bicycle, especially in Texas, is not OK.  My bicycle gives me a lot of capability, in a lot of state parks, to cover ground from the campground to trailheads and/or multiple hike and bike trails, not to mention bird blinds.

My bicycle rack is the kind where the bicycle hangs from the arms of the hitch-mounted rack.  This rack worked great on the back of my car.  But what I discovered with the Winnebago View is that the rack is so high off the ground, I must lift my heavy mama-style bicycle above my shoulder height to put it onto the rack’s arm cradles.

Well, my old neck and back injury allowed me to lift the bicycle above shoulders just once; and then my body spoke loudly to me:  “This isn’t happening!”

So I got a little frustrated with myself and wasn’t happy over hauling my bicycle around without taking it off for use.  And then it dawned on me:  “Hey, I’m in a full hookup luxury site in the RGV; a site in an RV park with a mailing address. I bet I can order a bike rack from Amazon and have it delivered to my RV door step!  

And so I’ve ordered the same bike rack that I’ve owned in the past; the kind where the wheels sit in the cradle and a clamp comes down over the bike’s frame to hold it in place.

Problem solved—I hope.  Penalty?  Another lovely week of birding and biking in the RGV; and carefully rationing my food so I don’t have to RV to the grocery store.

With order in place yesterday, I rode my bicycle to Bentsen State Park and had a wonderful 4 hours in the park.  The wind picked up by afternoon and so I enjoyed a quiet rest in the RV, with maps and bird books as my day-dreaming companions.

But before I develop yesterday’s photos, I wanted to catch up by posting these Black-necked Stilt photos from my Thanksgiving Day at Estero Llano Grande.

I see a good number of Black-necked Stilts around the shallows of Galveston Bay, but none ever let me get close.  This beauty seemed to ignore me, as long as I didn’t try to move ahead of him for better lighting!

It feels pretty good to be a valley girl; especially knowing I’ll soon be a hill country girl.  And for today, I've got an interesting state park that is only a bike ride away.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving at Estero Llano Grande

Spending Thanksgiving in state parks is my second favorite way to give thanks on this all-American holiday.  Spending time with family and friends is my first favorite—that is if any of these good folk join me at a state park!  J

Estero Llano Grande State Park is a part of the RGV’s World Birding Center network of destinations.  It makes for a relaxing day of birding or just walking the lovely trails that meander through an old orange grove and around a series of ponds.  Dogs are welcome, if on leash and any poop is scooped.

The park has a covered veranda, with chairs, that looks out on one of the busier ponds; a park store and a nice set of bathrooms flank the veranda.

I especially enjoyed  yesterday's visit to this lovely park.  It was my first full day of NO RV-related maintenance work.  I give thanks!

I got exactly zero stellar photos, but it surely felt good to sit in the RV last night and develop my day’s digital view.  I thought I'd share a few:

A first photo of one of Estero Llano Grande’s ponds.  All of the ponds have nice, wide hiking trails and/or boardwalks surrounding them:


A photo of a Northern Pintail in the foreground.  (Note the Gadwall, at photo's back center, and the Green-winged Teal at back right).


This photo shows a Cinnamon Teal following what I believe to be a Blue-winged x Cinnamon Teal.  I see a lot of Blue-winged Teals at Brazos Bend but yesterday it was lovely to see so many of all three species:


Mr. and Ms. Gadwall watching me with a Pintail’s bottom up:


And I know I’m in the RGV because Least Grebe’s are everywhere:


And Great Kiskadee’s are watching my every move:


But this Upper Gulf Coast gal never tires of seeing “my” locals in other habitats, such as this pretty Tricolored Heron:


Well, my laundry is done—time to go outdoors and play!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

And Then There is the Furnace!

The 2015 Winnebago View issues continue!  On Monday’s blog, I mentioned cycling the furnace on, so that I could use it Monday night instead of the noisy heat pump (I’ve never met a quiet RV heat pump).  When I cycled the furnace, I was also running lots of water in the RV, including flushing the toilet, to test and resolve the holding tank monitoring system issue of being backwards (previous blog).

With the water noise, I did not focus on the burst of noise that came out of the furnace—until Monday night; all night Monday night.

And here is THIS RV dysfunction story: 

Each time the furnace cycles on, I hear the normal “click” of the furnace activating, the normal blow of the blower, the second “click” to ignite the pilot, and then after about a 10 second delay, a LOUD shrill-like whistling, SCREECHING noise that lasts 10-30 seconds.  The furnace does come on, and it does blow hot air, but EACH TIME it cycles on, this LOUD noise erupts.  As you would guess, I got NO sleep Monday night.

Now here is the good news:  I’m in the RGV.  Three recent winters here taught me about the Winter-Texan neighborliness and the sharing of good and bad experiences.  And so in previous years I’d learned of a RVIA licensed repairman, who is recognized by multiple appliance warranties, and drives TO YOUR RIG, to perform repairs on an assortment of RV issues.

Thankfully, I still had access to his phone number; and THANKFULLY he and his wife still bring their RV to the RGV half the year (and spend the summer half of the year in Colorado); and THANKFULLY he is warranty-work licensed with Suburban, the manufacturer of this Winnebago furnace.

This handy repairman was at my View within 10 minutes of the phone call.  I cycled the furnace while he listened at the outside furnace bay and he immediately confirmed this unit should NOT be making that noise.

Now I like to watch people who are good at what they do, and take pride in what they do.  I’ve watched artists paint; quilters quilt; mechanics repair; teachers teach; and hardware builders and repairers work their magic with their tools.  This RVing entrepreneur with his own business takes pride in what he does, does his work well AND neatly, and shows an incredible integrity of NOT ripping off the customer.

Mr. Harris worked over an hour, taking out the furnace and listening to it by running it from his small portable LP tank and a battery.  The removal of the furnace showed that the entire housing was cracked; the screws that should have mounted the furnace to the subfloor were screwed into thin air; and the internal system of the furnace had shavings and debris in it.  A really, REALLY shabby job was done when Winnebago installed it.

And as I’m typing this morning, Mr. Harris called me.  He has already called Suburban, the furnace manufacturer, and they are sending him a new “burner” and a new housing.  It will probably take a couple of weeks to arrive, and I will GLADLY return to the RGV to have him install it and as he said, confirm that the problem is truly solved.

Mr. Harris did all this work yesterday as warranty work, with no charge to me.

I asked his permission to share a photo while he was working; I did not think to take a picture when he hooked up the furnace to his LP tank and battery—I was too interested in the work being performed.


This picture shows the cracked housing of the furnace:


And so I think my readers would agree with Mr. Harris’s expertise and with my ongoing RV brokenness:  if the dealership had performed a true PDI of the furnace, they would have heard this LOUD off-nominal noise!  But I am SO thankful that Mr. Harris is working the problem and that I don’t have to leave my condo-on-wheels at a dealership.

And if you are growing weary of my RVing product issues, here is some good news:  I rode my bicycle into Bentsen State Park yesterday!  I decided not to lug the 400mm lens on this first-in-a-long-time bicycle birding, but my binoculars, daypack and pocket camera were grand companions:


I have no birding photo to share, but I got long, amazing looks at a male Lazuli Bunting!  A new lifer for me!  I frequently see, and saw yesterday, Indigo Buntings.  One winter I sighted the rare Blue Bunting.  And yesterday the Lazuli!

The birding was fabulous, but no more writing this morning; this beautiful day is calling me back outdoors.
(One correction from last post on birds--I saw a Couch's Kingbird, not a Western.)
Hope you have a birdy, RV trouble-free day!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Black is Grey and Grey is Black

The lovely news? I spent last night in my new View!

With this week being Thanksgiving, I realized the delayed timing of my maiden voyage would not make for a state park being a good destination.  Most school year weekdays are lovely and quiet in Texas State Parks, but I give over Thanksgiving week, two Spring break weeks and a few other times to the masses that take their family vacations in the parks. I'm glad to see this holiday use by families, and so I gladly avoid these holiday times.

And so a bit of good luck came my way, and I'm renting a lovely RV site, with full hookups, in the RGV. I drove seven hours yesterday. Some other day I'll blog more about the feel of this RV on the road. Summary: great driver's seat and ergonomics; but horribly rough and noisy ride.

And so I was exhausted on arrival in this lovely place and mainly focused on getting water and electric and leveling and other basic needs set up. But one thing boiled my frustration: when I turned on the air conditioner, HUGE amounts of sawdust and metal shavings and other debris blew out of all the ceiling vents! All over everything--including my bedding!

Cleaning that mess after such a long day was exhausting. AND I realized why the dealership PDI person left all the vents closed when he cycled the A/C!

 I hoped for an easier day today but ended up spending more than expected time on testing the holding tanks and monitoring system. Are you ready for what I discovered? The monitoring system has the tanks backwards!

When filling the grey tank with kitchen sink and shower water, the black tank monitor showed the sensors going from Empty to 1/3 to 2/3 to Full while the grey tank monitor stayed Empty for its reading! And just the opposite when I filled the black tank by flushing the toilet and running the bathroom sink--the black tank monitor showed Empty and the Grey tank monitor went to Full! (And yes, one of the compromises was buying an RV where the bathroom sink is dumped into the black tank--I don't know what type of maintenance issues I may face in my future, especially if not using the RV over the hottest summer months.)

Do you think the dealership PDI or the manufacturing Quality Control get a passing grade for the tank monitoring system?  Imagine a new RVer that didn't test the system--I think they would have black water mess in their RV, thinking the black tank monitor was sitting with an Empty reading!

But at least the monitoring system works. It's just backwards.  I'm rolling with that punch--for now.

And so this evening, I'm beginning to relax. I tested the furnace today and I'll be able to run it tonight.

And I did go for a short walk late afternoon with binoculars around my neck. The RGV is an amazing place where East meets West meets Far South for bird specialties. Where else will a casual walk give me Chacalacas, Green Jays, Western Kingbird, Orange-crowned Warblers, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Verdin and Black-and-white Warbler to name not all?

Tomorrow's goal includes more play time; a bit of cooking; and getting out my camera and laptop.

This post is my first try using my iPad. So the font and grammar may be awful. But this gal is SO glad to be blogging with RV WANDERING in my immediate future!

And if you are WONDERING why so many winter Texans come to the RGV, take a look at the Weather Channel's 10 day forecast for Mission, Texas!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Filth + Brokenness = My New RV

Wouldn’t it be lovely if I hadn’t blogged these past two weeks due to being out and about in my NEW RV?—in some remote location that didn’t have internet access?  Yes, that would be REALLY lovely.

The good news?  I closed my eyes, swallowed really hard, and two Monday’s ago I DID buy the new RV. 

The bad news?  I haven’t spent one night in it—yet. 

I realized, while going through the buying process at the dealership, that this brand new RV was too dirty to use that first night.  Being six hours from home, I did what I most hate:  I parked the RV and spent a sleepless night in a hotel.

Early that Tuesday morning I faced an unexpected long drive home in strong crosswinds and cold--and a realization that this RV wasn’t just dirty—it was FILTHY—and would require a whole LOT of cleaning before I could put anything into it, much less use it as my condo-on-wheels.

I went from being disappointed; to being frustrated; to being angry—to being really P___ OFF!  (And that is not a term that is in my usual vocabulary.) 

Regarding my use of the word filthy—as I got into the cleaning process I quickly realized three things: 

First, no cleaning from the manufacturing process had occurred.  EVERY surface was filthy.  Even the insides of cabinet walls (where I’d put clothes and groceries) were covered in sawdust and dirty hand prints.  The vinyl ceiling had oily handprints.  Every surface was covered in a fine sawdust, metal shavings and oily grime.  The toilet base and surrounding area were FILTHY from what I assume was installation.  The shower corners and piece-parts could have come from an automotive garage’s  workbench.

Second, what I assume to be abuse from the manufacturer’s driver, driving this new RV from the IA manufacturing plant to the Texas dealership, added to the filth.  He/she had spilled coffee or cola or such in the driver’s door drink compartment.  The driver’s floor area was black with grime; and so on.

And third, what little “pre-delivery inspection” occurred at the dealership before my arrival seemed to add to the filth.  Even the foot pedal for the toilet flush had mud and grime on it.  I found small pieces of hard, clear plastic in the toilet bowl.  Whatever broke during manufacturing installation may have found its way into the black tank!

This was and is a brand NEW Winnebago View RV.  My anger at the filth echoed what I’ve already learned from this past year’s RV search:  the RV industry has NO respect for the products that they make and sell. (The exceptions may be Tiffin and Foretravel, but I don’t know as unfortunately, I can’t afford either.)

But this time, I was purchasing; not walking away.  This time, I felt personally disrespected!  Shame on THEM for thinking it was OK to be so disrespectful to my purchase. 

And then there was the brokenness that I found, while cleaning: 

At the dealership I knew that the bathroom door was not closing correctly (as it had obviously banged against a drawer during the trip from IA to Texas).  The dealership told me it was just the latch that needed adjusting and that they’d fixed it.

As I drove away (and toward the hotel), the door banged open.  In the midst of my deep cleaning this week I realized this curved door is extremely warped, top to bottom.  AND I knew that THEY knew!  And my anger boiled a bit.

But it was when pulling off a piece of random masking tape from the side of the “leatherette” dinette that I reached the PO state.  Guess what was under the masking tape?  Yep, about a 3/4 inch rip in the leatherette material.  That masking tape was NOT an accidental placement by SOMEONE.

I could go on about the kitchen sink's trap leaking; and other brokenness that I've uncovered, while cleaning.  I could wring my hands over all the unknowns I now face since I haven’t yet spent the night; I have not yet tested the major systems such as furnace, appliances, hot water, etc.

But late yesterday evening I’d cleaned all I could clean.  I FINALLY placed clothes and kitchen items and such in the RV.  I found a place to store my binoculars and day pack.

This morning I got an EZ tag for the RV. And then spent the rest of this day on my stick house sofa, doing mostly nothing.  Until now; blogging and typing therapy.
Tomorrow I’m going to stay in my stick house and do nothing much more than watch it rain.

And Sunday?  I’m going to begin my first adventure in my brand new Winnebago View.  Will I love it?  I surely hope so.
Right now?  I’m too frustrated and angry with the manufacturer’s poor treatment and the dealer’s mistreatment of this rig; and therefore, mistreatment of me.

I’m ready to wander; I’m ready to wonder about Mother Nature’s beauty.  I’m ready to see less of human bad behavior.

Thanks to my readers for letting me express a bit of what I’m now ready to put behind me.  If all NOW goes well…

I’m ready for traveling in this condo-on-wheels that I hope to end up loving; and I’m SO ready to spend time with the feathered Ones.

But mostly, this Texan is ready to be on the road again…

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Scissor-tailed was Watching and So Am I

Birders, as well as most Texans in general, are familiar with the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  These LONG-tailed beauties pose for us on telephone and power lines, and perch at eye-level on barb-wire fences. 

It is not a Scissor-tail’s perch that so amazes—but their acrobatic fly-catcher chase.  These Lovelies open those long scissor-tails while maneuvering 360 degree loops, giving chase to many an airborne insect.  Scissor-tails are the royalty of the Aves Family Tyrannidae:  Tyrant Flycatchers.

And so a recent day’s end at Galveston Island State Park found me sitting behind the driver’s seat of my rather large, white vehicle.  I was headed home when I noted a Red-tailed Hawk flying “heavy” toward the top of a power pole.  I pulled over and stopped, noting this hunter had his protein dinner in talons, seeking out the pole’s flat-wooden top to serve as his dining table.

The Red-tailed was too distant for a good photo, and I didn’t want to drive closer.  Birders know that buteos are chicken-littles, and I didn’t want to disturb a well-caught dinner.

So I sat in the car and enjoyed the view of fall-flowering fields.  I had that relaxed, peaceful feeling after a day of walking, birding and photography.

 Two Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were on a close-by wire.  One flew to ground, a bit of a surprise, especially as she flew toward me.  She didn’t feed but rather seemed curious about the large, white object that was my vehicle:

She came closer, looking hard at my white vehicle, as if I was some mega-mother of a flycatcher:

 It was amazing to get this ground view of her, with her orange-pink underwing coverts showing as colorful armpits:

Only when I made too much movement, with my arm and camera hanging out the window, did she depart.  Showing off her scissors as she acrobatically found higher ground.

And now it is I, doing the watching; to the weather, that is.  Monday looks like a stellar day to get my RV.  And what does Tuesday bring?  That “polar vortex” of a strong cold front; the one that will overtake much of the U.S.

And so I’m watching the weather forecast and will probably change where I head for my first RVing trip in almost a year and a half. I’ve camped in cold and heat, and love those heavenly days with a high of 70 degrees and a nighttime low of 50.  But when the lows are in the 30’s, I start looking for a different destination; especially with an RV that is unknown to me in terms of how well it handles cold temperatures.

But that’s OK.  A great thing about Texas, from September until end of May:  somewhere in the Lone Star State one can usually find great weather.  Not to mention birding.

I will post again soon.  But not until I’ve had a few days with my new condo-on-wheels.

Stay warm!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Monday's the Date!

It’s all confirmed!  I get my RV this Monday!

My world is about to go from a whole lot of inside black and white:

To a whole lot of outside color:

 Oh happy day!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Close Encounter of the Reddish Egret Kind

Today has been all about making lists; and about creating somewhat “organized piles” of stuff.  

Around 2 a.m. this morning I realized that I’m getting awfully close to my first encounter with the new RV, and I’m not one bit prepared to go get it! I realized at that infamous 2 a.m. “can’t sleep” moment that I was somewhere around 9 months pregnant and no hospital bag was packed and ready for the call:  time to go!

Creating lists are my comfort tool for feeling prepared. And so at this evening's end of a long indoor day, I have 3 sets of lists on my kitchen counter: 

My first list reminds me of things I need to buy before I go get my RV, such as toiletries and paper products.  My second list reminds me of things I want to take, and includes multiple hats, beloved binoculars, trusty daypack and such. My third list includes the multitude of items I really need to take, from outfitting the RV with bedding and towels, to kitchen wares and creature comforts such as a small electric heater and heated blanket.

These last items, things that I really need to take, were mostly tucked away into multiple stick-house closets after saying goodbye to my Airstreaming life.  This morning I realized I’d surely forget them if I didn’t take them out of the closets and make them annoyingly visible. 

And so I’ve plunked down closeted items into an annoying pile, right in the middle of my living room floor.  Sitting next to them are a surprising number of clean garbage bags, filled with newly washed bedding and towels.

But I have a goal:  go get the RV and IMMEDIATELY start using it!  Ahhctober is gone; I surely don’t want to miss November’s lovely Texas weather.

Today’s indoor projects, driven by the closeness of encountering my new RV, reminded me that I had not posted photos from my recent surprisingly-close encounter with a Reddish Egret at GISP:

I’ve seen a good number of Reddish Egrets along the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas; and true to field guides, I always find them singly, in expanses of shallow salt water.  A few lucky encounters have rewarded me with glimpses of their drunken dance, foraging and fishing as only they do.

I’ve never gotten close to a Reddish Egret; my views have been kept at a polite distance, as they saw fit.  But this Reddish beauty was just behind me and to my left, watching me as I took a series of photos of what I hoped to be a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Elegant she is, yes?

The Reddish Egret is not nearly as common as the other egrets and herons.  And any sighting other than along the coast of Texas or Louisiana, or the southern tip of Florida, can be considered a rare U.S. sighting.

This day’s lovely One let me quietly come close:

And closer:

This non-breeding adult (all black bill) seemed as interested in my funny hat and protruding camera-eye as I was interested in her EVERYTHING:

She soon lost interest in my squatted presence and turned her attention to a needed meal. Her pre-dance posturing began:

And then the drunken dance began:

And I knew it was time for me to quietly back away; after all, what fisherman wants anyone to distract them from their time-honored focus?  I could have stayed and gotten better photos; but it might have cost this Lovely a meal.  And so staying was not an option.

Time for me to go add another item to my list-- state park and birding guides!