This is an ongoing tale of Alan and Jo's exploits in Austin, TX. Alan hopes there will be plenty of tasty beer involved, while Jo hopes to find lots of interesting aircraft.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Of Birds and Flying

I spent a good day on Saturday.

First stop was New Braunfels airfield, for their Pancake Breakfast fly-in. This is always entertaining and hey, they offer free pancakes! So I enjoyed a pleasant hour or so socialising with the usual posse of local pilots that attend these things.

When they all flew away, my attention turned towards the many swifts that were flying about, back and forth to their nests. There were at least four swift nests in an overhang close by, with chicks in.

Next stop was Aquarena Springs, which is a natural area in San Marcos that is home to freshwater springs and several rare species, as well as plenty of other wildlife. I wanted to see herons. I was not disappointed!

Green Heron

Great Blue Heron

Blue dragonfly

These fish live in deeper holes (bottom left) and come up now and again. This one is blowing the bubbles seen top right.

And a cute little green anole that leapt up to have his photo taken.

There were many other birds, fish, turtles, dragonflies etc; the place is teeming with life and is generally splendid.

Later on, I went into Austin and met up with Jim, in the Thai Kitchen restaurant. Not the most upmarket of places but the food was very good. We then decamped to Taylor airfield, and Jim took me in his aeroplane, a Vans RV-7A, for a bit of sunset flying. Most excellent!

Jim taxiing to the gas pump

Sunset over the ski lake

We watched the sun creep below the horizon, from 4000 feet. It was glorious. Thanks, Jim.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Things that are bigger in Texas

They say everything is bigger in Texas, don't they?

Well, here we have a Stick Insect. Nice little guy. For our UK viewers, the quarter I put next to him is about the same size as a 10p piece.

And we have some weeds. Though they look like small trees, we were actually able to just pull them up like a dandelion. They have that odd root structure which makes a 90 degree bend and runs just under the surface of the earth. They came up like giant tentacles! Most bizarre. That's my black glove in the middle there, for scale.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

A few random bits

Couple o' bits that may be of interest. Or not. But I'm posting them anyway so here we go:

Went over to Llano at the weekend, about 1.5 hours away, for a clay shooting competition. We stopped in Llano town first as we'd got there quite early. Found a very nice little coffe shop called Fuel, in which Alan enjoyed his usual quad espresso, in fact he complimented them on the coffee which means it must have been good. I had a huge peach smoothie which was delicious.

Here's the courthouse in Llano, it's quite pretty:

We moved on to the shooting club and plinked our way around a very hard clays course. There were 50 birds and only one guy had scored more than 40 by the time we left later on. Of course we didn't go anywhere until we had partaken of the immense barbeque feast that was laid on as part of the package. They have a coal-producing wood burner, they take the coal and put it in the smoker. The meat came out very tasty as only Texas BBQ can be. Add to this a huge array of home-made side dishes and desserts that all the locals provide and you don't leave hungry.

The wildflowers are out in force around Llano, they're really pretty at the moment, and the shooting club was no exception:

Lastly, I saw a huge snake today! OK, maybe not moster sized but easily the biggest I have yet seen in the wild. It was crossing the road when I was returning to the house earlier. I reckon it to be at least three feet long. It obligingly stopped long enough for me to grab this picture, before scooting into the verge.

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Friday, February 20, 2009


So yesterday morning I'm standing at the window after breakfast and there's a bunch of deer in the garden, as often happens.

If you stand very still, sometimes they don't notice you. And if you get lucky, they are more intent on chewing grass than looking in the window. So this particular individual was about four feet away from me, just by the house, while I was wielding my camera in her direction.

She has a very sore looking back foot, it looks like all the skin has been scraped off it. She seems to pick it up more than her other feet, it must hurt.

Meanwhile, it was Birdy Breakfast, if you were a sparrow, anyway. Six of them were clustered around Feeder No.1:

We actually bought another feeder, the same as this one. Feeder No.2 is installed a few feet away, under a bushier tree. The cardinals seem to prefer it over there now and the seed level is dropping at one heck of a rate. I guess they like the extra shelter.


Monday, January 19, 2009


The plot of land next door to us has been sold; we think it sold a couple of weeks before Christmas. On the 23rd December, we came home to the sight of diggers next door, destroying every last cedar tree on the property. Which was a bit of a shock, quite frankly.

I think it was an even bigger shock for the local bird population, most of whom were quite happy flitting about over there. So it's no great surprise that we seem to have acquired some new feathered visitors to our feeding station, as there's a lot less trees now for them to go to.

We have seen and heard these Ladder-backed Woodpeckers mostly in the distance but now they like to come right up to the house. Mrs Woodpecker (black cap) loves the suet cake and can be seen pecking away at it pretty often. She lets me get really close with the camera, too, about 5 feet away.

Her husband wears a red cap and is a little shyer. He's also either less hungry or just isn't given much of a look in to the feeder.

They make a distincive tweet and of course the odd hammering sound gives their presence away. It's good to have them around.

Unrelated but cool: We had lunch today in the very new Fiddler's Hearth Irish pub in town. They sell cod and chips, served in newspaper, as it should be! Jolly tasty they were too :-)


Thursday, December 04, 2008

A few bits

I finally managed to photograph a Roadrunner the other day. One has been taking the same route past our house on a few occasions, and this time Alan was about to keep an eye on it while I ran for the camera. They don't hang about, these birds, which is why I've never captured one before.



Meanwhile, we have been waging war on a squirrel, which found a tiny hole in our roof (where the roofline meets another part of the roof and a joist ends there). Hearing the pitter patter of a herd of elephants in your ceiling isn't the most joyous of things, so we had to evict him. I managed to encourage him to leave after a barrage of loud rock music and thumping the ceiling with a rolled-up car sunshade... I got the ladders out, jammed some junk into the hole and watched with delight when the squirrel came back and was most bemused. Chased him away again. Alan came home early that night; I'd gone out to get some wire mesh and a staple gun. These items have been duly employed to cover the hole, much to the squirrel's disgust. He hasn't come back in yet (touch wood!).

Mind you he has been prowling around the house this morning. Look what I snagged on my webcam, right at the window!:

And here he is perched on the end of the roof, near the hole:
Little git

Finally, I hope you all saw the fabulous conjunction of the Moon with Venus and Jupiter the other night.
Here's a couple of views:

Venus is the brighter planet on the left.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dallas World Aquarium

Here is a Leafy Sea Dragon in this outstanding tropical habitat and aquarium in downtown Dallas. Top place. We are now in the West End Pub next door, enjoying a fine beer. Going to see Children of Bodom later tonight at House of Blues round the corner.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Wahey, it's creature time!

It's way past due for another creature round-up, so here's a few recent sightings.

First up, a black-and-yellow Agiope. Now, we last saw one of these a few months ago, sitting in it's web outside our bedroom window. Here it is:

Since then, it's been eating lots of pies! Here it is now - at least I assume it's the same spider. It's in exactly the same place although the colouring has changed a bit. My hand is about an inch in front of the web for scale:

See what I mean about those pies?:

Avert your gaze, delicate children, for here are two crickets doing things you shouldn't be seeing:

Finally, here's a little tiny baby Green Anole. He seems to have taken up residence in the bush nearest my outdoor chair; he's been there a couple of days now. He is only about three inches long and is very cute:


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Creature round-up

We've been living in the country for over a year now, and have seen lots of different creatures in the garden and surrounds.

Here's a round-up:

Deer (of course) and at this time of year; little deerlets!
Giant mutant rabbits (hares, probably)
Dogs (escaped)
A mouse
Alan thinks he saw a Groundhog (unconfirmed)

Green Anole Lizard
Racerunner Lizard
Ground Skink
Red-striped Ribbon Snake
Rough Green Snake
Unidentified yellow/brown Snake
Frogs (several and varied; unidentified)

Spiders, Insects etc
Scorpions (lots of these)
Crablike Spiny Orb Weaver Spider
Black-and-yellow Argiope Spider
Wolf Spider (loves to hide in piles of paper in the garage)
Jumpy Spiders (red, black; blue/green eyes; twitchy)
Black Widow Spider (Alan saw it just after we moved in)
Daddy Long Legs
Giant Walking Stick Insect
Ground Beetles
Ironclad Beetle
Gladiator Katydid
Florida Leaf-footed Bug
Giant butterflies
Humming Bird Moths
Swallowtail; and others, all impressive)
Dragonflies (assorted colours and sizes)
Mosquitoes (gits)
Dobson Fly
Wasps (Paper, Black, Red, Yellowjackets and lots of nests around our house)
Fire Ants (double gits)
Little Black Harmless Ants
Carpenter Ants

Red-winged Blackbird
Painted Buntings
Western Scrub Jay
Black-crested Titmouse
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-throated Hummingbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Mourning Doves
White-winged Doves
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Robin
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture

Now by this point you're probably wondering where the pictures are. I figured this has all got a bit too much for a simple blog post so I have made a new website for all the critters: Jo and Alan's Wildlife Repository All the pictures are on there. Some have been on this blog before but there's a lot of new stuff too, especially birds. Hope you enjoy it.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A hummingbird

Here's a lady Ruby-throated Hummingbird on our new window-mounted feeder. She seems to visit pretty often now.

At least it was sunny when I took that shot. We've had 1.86 inches of rain today and counting...

Still, we reclaimed some of our garden from the jungle this weekend so there's a bit of progress!


Monday, August 20, 2007

Creatures round-up

Here's the latest batch of creatures we have spotted.

In addition to these, we have spied a snake! I think it was a Texas Brown Snake although it seemed to be more yellow and black in colour, but that's the closest match I can find. It was about 12 inches long, hanging around in the long grass at the edge of our lot.

Something has been attacking our bird feeders, too. Often we'll come out in the morning and they will be decimated, with all the seed on the floor. Probably squirrels or raccoons.

Here's a very big giant grasshopper on our window. He was about four inches long and slowly walked up the wall.

This is a Ground Beetle. They're quite cool, they's about 2 inches long and they scurry about, minding their own business.

This nasty mess is a big gaggle of daddy long legs. They are not true spiders as they don't have two part bodies, but they do have eight very long spindly legs. They cluster together like this, often under the eaves, and if they feel threatened the whole mass of them vibrates. They're a bit creepy but apparently they eat insects so they're probably doing more good than harm.

A nice butterfly to counter the creepiness above :-)

An Eastern Dobsonfly sitting on our gate post. It is a type of lacewing, about 2 inches long.

A Crablike Spiny Orb Weaver spider. This is a wierd little thing, with spikes on. He is pointing downwards in this photo. It made a huge web, with thick bits in the silk, like pulsations as he built it. Hard to describe.

A Rabid Wolf Spider. This is a small one, about an inch and a half across. We have one or two big ones resident in the garage which are about twice that size and have more black on them. These are good guys, they eat insects.

A Ground Skink. We have discovered these live in the ground at the bottom of the house. It is the smallest lizard in North America; this one was about three inches long.

Finally, here is a Hummingbird that got itself into our garage the other day. It was trying to fly out of the window. This window can't be opened, so I spent a merry 40 minutes trying to entice it out of the garage with every bright red thing we own dragged outside to attract it. Hummingbird instinct is to fly up, not out, when cornered so of course the daft thing wasn't finding the door. Eventually I hung the hummingbird feeder where it could find it and left the vicinity. Ten minutes later it was gone.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

More creatures

Lately, I've been pointing the camera at anything that moves. There's a lot of things that move around here, and not all of them stay outside...

Here's some more giant crickets. The first chap was on my Jeep tyre when I spotted him, then he jumped to the garage floor.

This green one was clinging to a drainpipe.

One of the local cats on the prowl :-)

Here's a big giant toad! I think this is the guy from the hole. He spent the entire night outside our front door. He wandered off in the morning, enticed out by the sprinklers coming on, I imagine.

There's at least two toads in the hole now (we're just waiting for some peas to go with that) - I've seen them in there. I reckon it's more of an underground chamber these days; who knows how far they've dug? I just hope they don't take out the entire underneath of our wall.

This is a Cicada (I think). Any rate, it sits in trees and makes the most enormous racket all day and all night. There's thousands of them out there. You know the tropical jungle crickety-type noises you hear on films? That's these guys. We have lots of trees, ergo we have lots of cicadas. They're hard to spot; I got lucky the other day and found this guy on a low enough branch that I (a) spotted him at all and (b) could photograph him.

And lastly, the one you've all been waiting for - Scorpions!
Here's one running across our kitchen floor. He didn't like the camera flash.

Here's another one on the stairs, with a cent beside it for scale. British pennies are about the same size as American ones. And this chap was about 2mm shorter in length than the kitchen one; most of the ones we have seen are around these sizes. We did see a little baby one, only a centimeter (1/2 inch) long. It was almost cute... but not quite cute enough... ;-)


Monday, July 09, 2007


A quick post, mainly to show some photos.

It's still been raining every day here. The usual pattern seems to be thunderstorms in the afternoon, and by mid-to-late evening the stars are out again.

Friday was mostly sunny, but some clouds built up during the late afternoon. Suddenly a huge storm appeared. We had gone out to find something to eat and ended up in La Salsa, in the mall next to I-35. During our meal, the heavens opened. I have never seen so much rain fall, and so quickly. The parking lot turned into rivers feeding a lake (guess where we were parked?!) Making a dash for the car got us soaked of course, but luckily we had brought the Jeep rather than the Golf. Driving home was interesting to say the least, as every road was waterlogged, some parts with water cascading over the road surface. We had to make a long detour home as a train decided to park itself over the level crossing. And of course there's always some twat who wants to go faster - not content with my bimbling along, mindful of the atrocious road and weather conditions, a red truck caned past me. He didn't get past the train either though so boo sucks to him!

We spent the weekend shopping for homebrew components. Unfortunately Alan's brew barrel lid cracked open so the current batch of beer has gone flat as a pancake. We had to go and buy a keg and CO2 system (Happy birthday Alan!) in an attempt to rescue the beer. We'll need to force carbonate it to make it drinkable. We've got a chest freezer on the way too so we can cool the keg properly and now we will be able to do lagering also.

Saw the film 'Transformers' over the weekend, it was very good.

Anyway, on with the photos. In the grand ongoing vein of 'Things spotted in the garden', we have:

A Turkey Vulture! Alan spotted this on the electric pole yesterday afternoon. We see these quite often, soaring around, but don't often see one landed.

All the rain has brought out these weird creepy mushrooms all over the mulch in our flower beds. Eeew.

Here's one of the frogs I was on about the other day. We noticed a big hole had appeared under our gate post. Next time it rained I investigated and found this chap inside it. He's been there a good few days now. I think it's either a Texas Toad or Gulf Coast Toad, not sure.

Here's one from a few days previous, in the flower bed. This guy later burrowed into the mulch. This is a different species, this looks almost more frog-like rather than a toad but I'm still unenlightened as to exactly which type.

And a gratuitous deer shot; there had to be one!

We've also seen Painted Buntings in the garden, these are tiny bright coloured birds; red underneath with blue and yellow on top. Will try to get a picture soon but they're hard to catch.

Here's a giant cricket. He's about two inches from head to tail.

Remember the rain I keep talking about? Here's a storm front moving in, the other day.

Here's the sunset later that night. You do get some big skies around here at the moment.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tracy, Paul, Helicopters and Deer

Lots of pictures this time - let 'em download, they're nice, honest.

Tracy (Alan's sister) and her boyfriend Paul have been visiting recently. We had a great time while they were here. They arrived on June 1st. I met them back at the house after Alan had picked them up as I'd been down in Hondo for a big fly-in that day - furthest I've driven yet in my Jeep!

They arrived to a slight kitchen-based technical hitch - the sink had collapsed! We had to get the plumber out to fix it. He came out Saturday morning but it had to remain unused until the glue had set and they checked it Monday morning.

Not enough glue... you can't screw it into marble.

Other slight mishaps included the headlight on my Jeep getting shattered. No idea how or when; probably on the way back from Hondo. We eventually found a replacement light unit in O'Reilly Autoparts for $8 which was a damn sight cheaper than the $94 the dealership wanted for it!

We also took some tree damage on Saturday night, along with most of the other houses in the community here, from a truly monster thunderstorm that crashed its way through here. A neighbour said the news had spoken of a hurricane forming northwest of Austin and heading southeast - straight for us. We certainly got it, and with the winds came almost constant lightning - you could have eaten your dinner in the flickering light. It was a doozer! Woke up next morning to bits of tree scattered everywhere and two major branches down. We got off lightly; other people had roof damage and one chap lost eight trees. It also completely totalled the frame of the community pavilion that had been erected - a pile of matchsticks is all that was left.

Anyway, we went out for some Mexican food, the first of many far-too-huge meals we'd eat that week. Other eateries included Hula Hut, the Salt Lick, the Oasis (for lunch, not sunset), and just staying in to grill our own food after going out far too much.

Tracy and Paul at the Oasis, wearing their new Western hats!

We didn't really seem to actually do a whole shedload of specific activities; we went down to San Antonio to see the Alamo and take a boat ride around the Riverwalk, which was very pleasant. I took Tracy and Paul down to Aquarena Springs too.

Tracy and Paul at the Alamo.

Tracy and Paul at the Aquarena Centre boardwalk, where many turtles, fish and dragonflies reside.

The United States Post Office are celebrating 30 years of Star Wars with a special set of stamps, and these post boxes. This one is in San Antonio, right near the Alamo.

A lot of the time seemed to be spent in shopping, waiting for plumbers, and playing with tiny remote controlled helicopters. I bought one a couple of weeks back ($20 from Costco!) and Paul just had to have one too as soon as he saw it!

Paul's micro helicopter in full-on Ride of the Valkyries mode...

Still, they seemed to enjoy themselves and they have now gone off in a rental car. They should be in Dallas as I write, about to board an aeroplane for Las Vegas. We are due to meet them there tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, the deer have been visiting in large numbers. There must have been a dozen of them hiding in the trees yesterday, including a couple of young males, the first ones I've seen, and certainly more deer than I've seen together before.

Action shot of a baby deer, in weird soft focus because I shot it through a mesh screen.

Doe, a deer, a female deer (you knew that was coming at some point, right?)

The twins, eating. No idea if they really are twins but they seem to hang out together. I think there's a third baby around somewhere too.

I've got an audience! Five of the herd here, before they all ran away.

A young buck and doe in a Texas meadow.

A few other things to round off this altogether far too lengthy blog entry.

Here's the latest run-down of Things We Have Seen In Our Garden:

Wolf Spiders - these live around the outside and in the garage. They're lovely chunky spiders that pounce on insects.

Daddy Long Legs Spiders - these are less charming, with tiny bodies only 4-5mm across but long thin legs of about 8 inches span.

A Boxer Dog, taking itself for a walk - so that's what's been making the mysterious tracks across our driveway...

The aforementioned deer, of course. The neighbour across the way feeds them every afternoon, so it transpires.

Fireflies - these come out when it's quite dark and pulse their way across the garden, leaving you wondering if you really saw something or was it just your eyes?

Road runners - they don't say Beep Beep! They make a Craaak sound and run up and down through the garden on their way to places.

Humming birds - have been seen fleetingly, both here and elsewhere in the Ranch.

Cardinals remain happy and colourful in the trees round about.

Big giant crickets! About three inches long and very handsome. I hear them clattering around as they fly across the garden; not true flight but kind of an extended jump, I think. One found its way right inside Tracy's shirt where it hopped and jumped about - she was not amused!

Walking sticks - these are impressive. About 7-8 inches long, the longest insect in the USA, here spotted sitting on our windowframe. They are harmless; quite attractive really.

Scorpions are ever-present and occasionally appear on the kitchen floor. They apparently like the cooler insides of a house and are frequently found in new build properties. We'll just have to bide with them for a few months and they should disappear. Also noted for finding their way into Tracy's suitcase!

Pussycats still prowl through every now and then :-)

Big vulturey birds. There's two big birds about - one with white parts and one without. I think the all-black ones are Turkey Vultures. You see groups of them at the roadside now and then, feasting.

And in the flora world, our Mesquite trees are blooming:

We apparently have Persimmon trees as well, which should bear fruit if we're lucky.

Finally, here's a glorious Texas sunset as seen from our balcony.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

'Tis the season

Yesterday was Memorial Day, which here in America is traditionally the beginning of summer. And in America, the summer is Grilling Season.

So behold, our new gas grill, with Alan at the helm. Note the Margarita held in Alan's hand - no grill chef should be without one ;-)

Y'all will be happy to know the grill works very well. Visitors should be primed to the prospect of eating plenty of burgers and sausages from this fine outdoor kitchen.

We are looking forward to being able to do more outdoors cooking. The advantage of a gas burner is that you don't have to wait for a barbeque to heat up, which makes it more useful on a weekday evening.

Other things that occurred this weekend - rain. Lots of rain. It was a bank holiday, after all. However we did go into town on Saturday night in my Jeep, with the top down, after the clouds had threatened all day but not actually done anything. We met Peggy and Lloyd at their trailer, which just happens to be right next door to Austin's new brew pub. We felt it was our duty to go and sample some of their beers, which turned out to be very drinkable. After a very pleasant evening with our friends, we drove back just in time - the heavens opened just as we got back to the ranch! We managed to get the Jeep under cover before we got too wet but some rain did get in. All part of the fun ;-)

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Flowers and birds again

It's springtime, and I may have mentioned the wildflowers once or twice. Here's some more for your delectation.

These were taken at the Wildflower Centre on a sunny day last weekend.

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes

Ah, no idea what this is called. Some kind of honeysuckle?

Not a clue about these either but they look nice:

These purple ones are seen a lot on roadsides. These butterflies are big, too.

Flowers are on our lake, too:

And here we have one of the many resident ducks:

We also have a resident Hawk. I initially thought it was a Harris Hawk but now I think it is either a Broad-Winged Hawk or a Red-Tailed Hawk; not entirely sure which. Either way, this chap is really quite large and is a lovely bird. I see him fairly often in the mornings particularly; he likes to perch on the lights around the edge of the lake during pauses in his mouse-hunting exploits.

Here he is the other morning, after catching something. He flew up into a tree where he thoroughly annoyed a couple of blue Jays. This picture would have been better with a bit more light; never mind.

This is the hawk just 10 minutes ago. His other favourite perch is the lighting fixtures right above my office window. Today he is sheltering there from the peeing rain - hence why he looks a little bedraggled.

More as and when...


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Of travellers and bullfrogs

We have had a busy few weeks since my last post here. Three weeks ago, I went to Pensacola, Florida, for the annual International Symposium of Aviation Photography. This proved to be a blast. Three days of world-class speakers, top quality photography and a field trip to various museums and military bases. I met some really cool people and came away feeling very encouraged, and wanting to do more photography. A lot more.

Here's a military Texan 2 about to fly off on a training exercise from Pensacola Naval Air Station, one of our field trip destinations:

Pensacola itself is the land of pure white beaches on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There are several islands that line the edges of the mainland. Our hotel was on a place called Gulf Breeze, two islands away. It's very touristy and there's not a lot to do if you don't want to sit on the beach, but it looks nice from the air. I took this as my flight left to return to Dallas:

On arriving back, I had only a couple of days to start sorting photos out before the British Invasion Party arrived. Our friends Paul and Sarah were coming out from the UK, stopping first in Washington to see some other friends before arriving in Austin to spend 10 days with us.

Here they are in the Salt Lick, about to enjoy some quality Texas barbeque:

We gave them the whistle-stop tour of Austin eateries, bars and shopping; as much as could be fit into their time here. We went Hula Hut on Town Lake to start them off, fed them breakfast tacos, went to Manuel's on Congress for some excellent Tex Mex, got them tipsy in the Ginger Man, the Draught House and the Parlor.

They very kindly paid for us all to have a night in Fredericksburg last weekend, so off we went over there, about an hour and a half's drive west of Austin. We visited the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War, did some shopping, and retreated into Fredericksburg Brewery where we were to spend the night. These people very civilizedly give you a free sampler of all their beers when you book a room, so we duly enjoyed some of the local produce. Sunday night in Fredericksburg is pretty quiet though and the bar shut at 7pm, so we went looking for food elsewhere, and found it at Allison's Speciality Foods which we found out had recently opened a restaurant on the side of their shop. We had a very splendid meal there.

We paid a visit to Luckenbach on the return journey, but the rain was intense and we spent the rest of the day hiding indoors. Some creatures have been enjoying the rain however - it seems to be bullfrog mating season. About four or five nights ago, the lake outside the apartment began to resound to the croaks of these frogs as they try to attract mates. These things are LOUD! The sound rings around the lake and bounces right up to our apartment windows, keeping our poor guests awake all night. There must be hundreds of frogs down there.

While Alan was at work, I took them down to San Marcos for the shopping, and to San Antonio to visit the Alamo. They took themselves into town to visit the Capitol, the LBJ and the Bob Bullock museums.

We also went to the Star of Texas Rodeo on Friday night. This is a three week long extravaganza out at the Travis County Expo Centre east of Austin. It had all the usual things you have at rodeos, such as calf roping, bareback riding, steer wrestling, bull riding etc. It was very dark in the arena though and even maxing the speed of my camera as fast as it will go, I was only able to get a very few shots that weren't completely blurred. Here's a lady rider in the barrel racing competition:

We said 'later, dudes' to Paul and Sarah on Saturday morning, when the sun finally shone for the firt time since their arrival. Paul is a rain god - this is the man who filled reservoirs in Australia for the first time in 60 years during their visit there - and he brought the (much-needed) rains to Austin, too! Damn shame for them, really. Anyway, it was lovely to see them; we had a great 10 days and we hope they did too.

The rain has really brought on all the Spring vegetation around the area, and with this being wildflower season, the flowers have been coming up all over town. They're really very impressive. Here's a field of bluebonnets and prickly pear cacti near Buda:

Saturday afternoon saw Alan and I back out at the Expo Centre to see the Lone Star Rod and Kustom Round Up, a huge gathering of hot rods and wild cars from all over the country. Paul, Sarah and I had gone to Jo's Cafe on South Congress for lunch on Friday, and found the street to be crawling with these cars, so of course I had to wield my bigger camera in their direction. The show was really quite large, with all kinds of 50's cars which had been modified, chopped, slammed and painted in bright colours (apart from the rat rods, which are made of rust). Photos are a-comin' but here's one to kick off:

Today is Sunday, during which we have been roasted by some blazing sunshine (sorry, Paul and Sarah!) and visited the Wildflower Centre, before enjoying a couple of cold tins back home.


Monday, March 12, 2007

A few flowers. And a bird.

Here's a few flowers that are blooming at the moment (descriptions have been researched and I think they're correct but I reserve the right to be spectacularly wrong):

This is a redbud, of which there are plenty about. They are a beautiful bright pink, very reminiscent of cherry blossom in the UK which would be starting in about April time and is always a herald of Spring.

There's a house along 43rd street with this yellow trumper-shaped flower draped all over the fence. Although there is a 'yellow trumpet flower', that one has spiky-edged leaves, and I think this is a Yellow Jessamine as it has smooth leaves:

These blue flowers have been opening over the last week or two, on small trees found locally. They smell fantastic, very sweet and aromatic as you walk past. I believe it is a Mountain Laurel.

Finally, I spotted this bird hanging around in a tree. I think it is an American Robin. It's about 6-8" long, bigger than a UK robin but with similar colouring. This isn't a great picture but you get the idea.

I'm sure there will be more of this to follow... it's getting into Wildflower season :-)


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spring is Sprung

Spring is here at last. Blossom is on the trees and we actually saw some daffodils in the park the other day. I wasn't even sure if they have daffodils over here or not; I love daffs, they bring bright colour into the world after a long dark, dank winter (in the UK, anyway) so it is cool to see them here:

Meanwhile, I put some pictures into the local camera shop, who invite submissions from their customers to have pictures in the window. This a very excellent camera shop, with far too many juicy things inside for the safety of our bank account :-) Anyway, here is the latest addition to the beautification (and aeroplane-ification) of Austin ;-)

House buying, lesson 2:

Sit and wait for various people to talk to each other. These include the title company, the bank, and the homeowners insurance provider, amongst others. One obviously needs a mortgage in order to pay for the thing, and one needs insurance before the mortgage will be granted. The title company seems to pull all the various strands together, and they are the people who ensure you will have clear title to the property and that no oputstanding loans or claims exist on it. They also send out the homeowners association (HOA) stuff to the buyer.

The HOA is not something that exists in the UK but most places in the US seem to have one - generally it will be local to the subdivision or estate that the house is on. The HOA is the body that both looks after common spaces within the community and also enforces general rules over the area which are designed to maintain the look of the area and thus also maintain the house prices and quality of living.

These rules will vary according to where you live. There's an area southwest of Austin called Circle C Ranch which has strict rules including having to have grass out front of your house; i.e. you're not allowed to have natural gardens or gravel or anything else, and they police the length of your grass and chide you if it gets too long! The chiding probably comes as a warning first but if you let it grow unhindered they can fine you. Needless to say, we didn't want to live in Circle C where everything looks the same and you can't have your garden the way you want it. I think most of the rules are generally reasonable though; no parking boats in your driveway, no parking cars out front that don't work or are mid-repair; that kind of thing. There's not much getting away from the HOA anyway and most of the time membership is compulsory, with fees such as $120/quarter being payable.

Sometimes you get amenities in return though, there might be a tennis court or swimming pool if you're lucky which is maintained by the HOA and available for anyone in the community to use. It all depends on where you live.

Big thunderstorms tonight. It's been lovely weather this past week or so but we have a day or two of heavy rain, which we do need, for sure. Lots of flashy lightning tonight; always good to watch.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mayfield Nature Preserve

I found a new place today, just off the end of 35th St down by the river. There are many trails here and it is very peaceful. The summerhouse has lovely gardens, filled with peafowl. They come right up to you if you stay still. There's a few photos here.