Geocaching: Year in Review

I was looking at a post on the Houston Geocaching Society’s forum regarding last year’s New Year’s resolutions, caching style.  These were my goals from last year that I posted:

IMG_20140718_1217341) Work on finding the caches near my house.  Specifically, I would like to see the first page of unfound caches be further than 3 miles from home.  Right now, we have ten pages of unfound caches within 3 miles.  Slackers!  Many of those in my area are puzzles, so I started actually solving some in September.  I haven’t gone looking for a lot of them, but I have loaded the final coords on the GPS.  Solving more each week.

 Update:  we are down to 8 pages of unfound caches within 3 miles of our house, and I did solve and find about 8 puzzles, most of which were nearby.  Progress, but not as much as I would have liked to have seen.

2) Catch up to my brother and cook cachers.  There was a summer we were all neck and neck in cache finds, but then they got way ahead of me.  We haven’t cached that much this year compared to previous years, but I want to change that this year.  More caching!

 Update:  Last time I saw cook cachers, she was telling me she had just reached 4000 finds, and I was terribly envious because that had been my goal for the  year, but I am still short (at 3664 finds as _DSC0719of today).  My NEW goal is to reach 4K finds by the end of 2015, and I still want to catch up to her, but I am not sure how reasonable that is, considering Sandi seems to have more time to cache than I do, and I am having a baby in a few months, which is probably going to slow me down a little.  My brother is currently 291 finds ahead of me, and Sandi is 377 ahead of me.  I only found 358 caches this year, so again that makes the odds of my catching up to Sandi seem low, but possibly I could catch up to my brother (if he slows down a little).

3) Clear out the parks in the Houston area.   I have a list of ones I want to work on this year, and dates I plan to go to them – I am going to host events at them when I do, I think, so we can have a chance to work on that in a group.  I really enjoy the friendships I made through geocaching, and events are one way to build on those.

 IMG_20140717_112608Update:  still have a ways to go on this.  I did host six events this year, three of which were at parks that I was trying to clear out (find all the caches in).  Jason is a little burned out on going to Spring to go caching, so I don’t know if I will continue my goal of trying to host an event at each of the parks along the Spring Creek Greenway, or if I will turn my attention to local parks (very intrigued by Arthur Storey and Bishop Fiorenza parks, and the Willow Waterhole Greenway area).  These goals will have to compete with a desire to go birding, hiking, biking, and nesting for new baby, though, so we will see what happens with those this year.

4) Bring back the Golden Ammo can to SouthEast Texas by leading our team to a victory this year!  I think we can do this!  I know we have the best team – now we need to bring that team out with a strategy that capitalizes on our strengths.

 We didn’t win the Gold, and I want to blame that on North Texas’s blatant cheating and the scoring inconsistencies this year. TX Challenge 2014 However, I did have a chance to re-score our team’s scorecards, and our overall score was still a little less than their reported overall score.  I am very pleased that our team won the Silver Ammo Can, though, and beat my brother’s team.  I think my strategy that I carefully thought out was very effective, and I do think I want the chance to lead our team again someday.  We are actually not going to participate in this in 2015 (for me, the first one I have missed since 2007, and for Jason, the second one he missed since like 2004 – that is a good ten years of history there).  Here is our t-shirt design for this year, in case you missed it/were curious:

2014 TC shirt mockup front and back5) Go back to Utah and claim a find on Potters Pond, the grandfather cache that Jason held us back from due to safety precautions.  More grandfather caches and western road trip adventures.

Camels Prairie Stash
Camels Prairie Stash

We did score a find on Potters Pond this year!  We found a total of ten of the one hundred oldest active geocaches, which puts me at 24 finds on the list.  This list is my geocaching “bucket list”, but it might take my lifetime to complete it, and saving money for travel.  Several of the caches on the list are in New Zealand, Alaska, Australia, Ireland, and Kenya.  It might be a while, but I do want to find them all before I die.

Other notable facts about this year – we attended two Mega events, two CITOs, and 22 regular events.  Fourteen of my finds were virtuals.  I found caches in 13 states this year, a few of which were new states.  Still have a goal to turn the whole US red on my “found in states” map, but missing the midwest and parts of the east.  IMG_20140710_084543We found four earthcaches (and I think I am almost done with the requirements to log drew8’s earthcache challenge, although I might be missing one type of earthcache, the closest of which is in Tennessee so might be a while before I get to it).  Only one month/year combo away from being able to complete the Jasmer Challenge (finding a cache hidden in every date/year combo since geocaching began).  Where is the closest January 2001 hide?  Argh!  

That sums up our year and our future goals in this shared pastime of ours.  Here are some fun photos from this year in caching:

IMG_20140723_105850 IMG_20140718_191650 IMG_20140717_114517 IMG_20140711_141728 IMG_20140712_102840 IMG_20140712_210100 IMG_20140713_134751 Diamond searching _DSC1123


A Year of Birds on the Brain

It’s Christmas day, and I am ridiculously excited about two of the presents I received – an audio CD of bird songs from Jason to learn how to identify species by ear, and a birding journal from my mom.  “It’s so funny that you got so into this bird thing,” he says, “considering you’re so scared of birds”.

I was scared of birds, potentially still am in the up-close and personal, and it is true that I never really cared for them before I got involved with Jason.  I reminded him of what changed that for me; an experience during our 2010 road trip in which we stopped at a wildlife refuge in Wyoming, and we saw a bird do something I didn’t know birds did – pretended to be injured in order to lure us away from what was probably her nest.  I was intrigued about this but didn’t even know what kind of bird that was to be able to describe it in a story form.  Later research would teach me that this bird was a Killdeer, and this is one of their identifying behaviors.

Also, Jason was mildly into birds, mostly birds of prey, and I indulged his interest and began to share it with him.  I am a lot more obsessive than he is, so when I latched on to this as an interest of ours, I became absorbed in learning all kinds of details.

Also, he pointed out, the thing that is remarkable about birds is that they are truly free.  I love the concept of freedom and that is probably what roped me in.  I always loved wild horses because of the the freedom they represented, but they are bound to the land, with restrictions on their roaming.  Fish are free, but bound to the water.   Birds know no master; land, sea or sky, and have no care about the constraints us humans have put on the earth.  Only the laws of nature restrict them.

So this year, I said I was going to keep a record of all the species we identified, as we got better at visual identification.  The rule was we were not going to go out of our way per se to find birds, but just keep track of the different species that we encountered on our normal path.   However, our paths did meander quite a bit this year.  Work sent me to Florida, Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia.  Recreational travel had us in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.  We also visited some places in Texas that may or may not be outside our normal flight path.  Some birds we saw were unique to those places or ranges, so they might be birds we rarely or never see again.   This is a record of what we saw and where the first place is that I recorded seeing this species at this year, divided by type.

Ducks, Geese and Swans

Black Bellied Whistling Duck (Brazos Bend State Park)

Greater White-Fronted Goose (Paul Rushing Park)

Canada Goose (Michigan)

Muscovy Duck (neighborhood)Ducks

Wood Duck (San Marcos)

Gadwall  (Paul Rushing Park)

American Wigeon (Paul Rushing Park)

Mallard (neighborhood)

Mottled Duck (Florida)

Blue Winged Teal (Brazos Bend State Park)

Northern Shoveler (Florida)

Ring-Necked Duck (Hermann Park)

Lesser Scaup (Cross Creek Ranch – Polishing Pond)

Barrows Goldeneye (Montana – I think)

Hooded Merganser (Houston Zoo)hooded merganser

Partridges, Grouse, Turkeys and Kin

Wild Turkey (Florida)

New World Quail

Northern Bobwhite (Caprock Canyons State Park)


Common Loon (Plano)


Pied Billed Grebe (Brazos Bend State Park)


American White Pelican (Bishop Fiorenza Park reservoir)20141102-_DSC1162

Brown Pelican (Houston Zoo)


Neotropic Cormorant (Sylvan Rodriquez Park)

Double-Crested Cormorant (Florida)

Bitterns, Herons and Egrets

Great Blue Heron (ubiquitous)

Great Egret  (Bishop Fiorenza Park reservoir)

Snowy Egret (Brazos Bend State Park)

Little Blue Heron (Florida)

Tri-Colored Heron (Florida)

Cattle Egret (ubiquitous)

Green Heron (Bastrop)

Black-Crowned Night Heron (Cinco Ranch)

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (Cinco Ranch)

Ibises and Spoonbills

White Ibis (Bishop Fiorenza Park reservoir)

Glossy Ibis (Cross Creek Ranch)

Roseatte Spoonbill (Cinco Ranch)


Black Vulture (Brazos Bend State Park)BB 8 vultures

Turkey Vulture (Brazos Bend State Park)

Hawks, Kites, Eagles and Kin

Osprey  (Florida)

Mississippi Kite (Cinco Ranch – Willow Fork Trail)

Bald Eagle (The Woodlands)

Coopers Hawk (Florida)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Addicks Reservoir)

Broad-Winged Hawk (Houston Arboretum)

Swainson’s Hawk (neighborhood)

White-Tailed Hawk (Katy Prairie)20140721-_DSC1133

Red-Tailed Hawk (ubiquitous)

Ferrunginous Hawk (Montana)

Caracaras and Falcons

Crested Caracara (Paul Rushing Park)

American Kestrel (Katy)

Rails and Coots

Clapper Rail (Galveston)

Common Moorhen (Cullinan Park)

American Coot (Cullinan Park)


Sandhill Crane (Florida)

Lapwings and Plovers
Killdeer (Brazos Bend State Park)

Stilts and Avocets

Black-necked Stilt (Cinco Ranch)

Sandpipers, Phalaropes and Kin

Lesser Yellowlegs (Sylvan Rodriquez Park)

Willet (Galveston)

Spotted Sandpiper  (Cinco Ranch)

Long-Billed Curlew (Paul Rushing Park)

Western Sandpiper (Cinco Ranch)

Long-Billed Dowitcher (Inks Lake Fish Hatchery)

Gulls, Terns, Skimmers and Kin

Laughing Gull (Galveston)

Ring Billed Gull (Plano)

California Gull (Montana – I think)

Black Skimmer (Galveston)

Pigeons and Doves

Rock Pigeon (Katy)pigeons

Eurasian Collared Dove (Katy)

White Winged Dove  (Katy)

Mourning Dove  (Katy)

Inca Dove (Riverside Park – Sugarland)

Common Ground-Dove (Burnet)

Cuckoos, Roadrunners and Allies

Greater Roadrunner (Oklahoma)

Typical Owls

Great Horned Owl  (neighborhood)

Nighthawks and Nightjars

Common Nighthawk (San Marcos)


White-throated Swift (Utah)


Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Sugarland)

Broad-Tailed Hummingbird (Colorado)

Rufous Hummingbird (Idaho)


Belted Kingfisher (Spring Creek Nature Center)

Woodpeckers and Allies

Red-Headed Woodpecker (Bear Creek Park)

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Brazos Bend State Park)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Brazos Bend State Park)

Ladder-Backed Woodpecker  (Spring Creek Nature Center)

Downy Woodpecker  (Cinco Ranch – Willow Fork Trail)

Tyrant Flycatchers

Eastern Phoebe  (Brazos Bend State Park)

Gray Kingbird (Florida)

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher (Katy Park)


Loggerhead Shrike (Cinco Ranch)

Northern Shrike (Colorado)


Blue-headed Vireo (Sylvan Rodriquez Park)

Warbling Vireo (Colorado)

Jays and Crows

Blue Jay (ubiquitous)

Pinyon Jay (Utah)20140721-_DSC1134

Black-Billed Magpie (Colorado)

American Crow (Brazos Bend State Park)

Common Raven (Burnet)


Purple Martin (neighborhood)

Cliff Swallow (Michigan)

Barn Swallow  (Cinco Ranch)

Chickadees and Titmice

Carolina Chickadee (Brazos Bend State Park)

Tufted Titmouse (Brazos Bend State Park)

Black-Crested Titmouse (Burnet)


Brown-headed Nuthatch (Florida)


Carolina Wren (Katy Park)

House Wren (Oklahoma)


American Dipper (Montana)


Ruby-Crowned Kinglet (Brazos Bend State Park)

Old World Warblers and Gnatcatchers

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (Brazos Bend State Park)


Eastern Bluebird (Brazos Bend State Park)

Mountain Bluebirds (Utah)

Townsends Solitaire (Utah)

American Robin  (ubiquitous)

Mockingbirds, Catbirds and Thrashers

Northern Mockingbird   (ubiquitous)


European Starling (ubiquitous)


Cedar Waxwing (neighborhood)

New World Warblers

Yellow Rumped Warbler (Brazos Bend State Park)

Yellow Throated Warbler (Bastrop)


Scarlet Tanager (Rosharon)

New World Sparrows

Spotted Towhee (Utah)20140713-_DSC0874

Eastern Towhee (Houston)

Chipping Sparrow (George Bush Park)

Field Sparrow  (Paul Rushing Park)

Savannah Sparrow (George Bush Park)

Song Sparrow  (Cinco Ranch – Willow Fork Trail)

Dark-Eyed Junco (Arkansas)

Cardinals and Kin

Northern Cardinal  (ubiquitous)20141203-_DSC1189

Blue Grosbeak (Caprock Canyons State Park)

Blackbirds, Orioles and Kin

Red-Winged Blackbird  (ubiquitous)

Eastern Meadowlark (Florida)

Brewers Blackbird (Paul Rushing Park)

Common Grackle (ubiquitous)

Boat Tailed Grackle

Great Tailed Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird (Florida)

Old World Sparrows

House Sparrow (Sugarland)

That makes 134 recorded species for 2014.  I am sure there is a lot we missed.  Now, for next year, let’s see how many more we can find.  In 2015, we might even go out of our way for birds ;-).  It also appears, from the difficulty I had finding pictures for this entry, that we need to work on taking pictures of the birds we see.

Cross Creek Ranch: Where Nature Resides

wpid-wp-1418566868556.jpegScenes from dawn to dusk at Polishing Pond, an area within the Cross Creek Ranch neighborhood dedicated to nature.  The fifty acre series of connected ponds acts as an engineered water quality basin, filtering water for use in irrigation in the nearby community.  It also attracts a LOT of wildlife, mostly birds.  Although primarily waterfowl can be seen here, we have also spotted many other types, such as blackbirds and hawks.  wpid-wp-1418566904221.jpeg
There are several boardwalks around the lakes to get a closer look.  Can you see the two white ibis at the end of this one?  A Glossy Ibis (#125) was also spotted this morning flying over the southwestern-most pond.
wpid-img_20141214_071144.jpg Although it seems quiet and calm in these pictures, the waters are literally teeming with ducks.  Hundreds of them make their way through the ponds; mostly American Coots, but also other exciting species such as Northern Shovelers, Lesser Scaups (#126), and Gadwall. Pied Billed Grebes can be seen ducking under the water, sometimes just the tip of their heads peeking out as they swim under the water surface.  Also, numerous egrets, herons, and ibis can be found along the shores or perched in low-hanging branches.wpid-wp-1418566941899.jpeg
One of the best parts about this place is that it is relatively quiet. We have rarely run into other people out here, although if the secret gets out about how great this place is, maybe the humans would flock here, too. I found this place due to geocaching, due to the fact that I needed a find on a specific day, and one cache was hidden out here. Since then, we have hidden another on the other side of the pond ourselves, and visited a few times to look at the birds.wpid-wp-1418566984886.jpeg
We have also been spending time at the Canine Commons dog park in the neighborhood, and enjoying some brief walks with the dogs along 150 acre Flewellen Creek Park. The Cross Creek Ranch neighborhood was brought to you by the Johnson Development Corp, the same company that also planned Sienna Plantation, Imperial Sugar Land, Harmony, and many other familiar master planned communities. The mission here was to accomplish two objectives: an enhanced lifestyle for its residents, and to be eco-friendly in the process. They have planted 1,000 trees, native grasses and shaped new trails for hiking and biking that wrap around waterways and creekbeds. wpid-wp-1418567067058.jpeg
We entertained the idea that we might like to live here, until we looked at the price range of the houses. The houses we saw listed in the neighborhood ranged from 350K to almost a million. I suppose we will have to just be happy living a short drive or long bike ride away for now, but it is nice to know there is so much to explore here. wpid-wp-1418567037232.jpeg

Kaleb: Destroyer of Peace and Serenity

My second child is sometimes a bit of a mess.  He doesn’t really know how to be quiet.  Given that, we should have known better when we decided to bring him into the forest with us when we stopped in Bear Creek Park to look for the rare and elusive Greater PeeWee.

However, what are we going to do with him while we look.  Besides, he is very interested in “legendary” birds, and I am trying to keep him interested in looking for birds so it will be easier to drag him along with us.

Only, he did kind of ruin the experience for us.  We were trying to walk softly through the woods as not to scare the birds away, and he was clomping behind us.  No matter how I tried to quietly explain how to roll from heel to toe to make as little noise as possible, he insists on shuffling loudly and then lifting his feet heavily.  His brother says he is about as quiet as an elephant in the forest.  He’ll never sneak up on anything.

It is frustrating though, when you are trying to listen for little noises, like cheeps and peeps.  Some of the bird noises are at such a frequency that Jason can’t hear them.  In a way, you would think Jason and I would make a great birding team, because I can hear the birds better, yet he is better at making them out visually.  However, I don’t know how to identify them on sounds alone yet, and he is no good at identifying at sight.  So it is kind of like the blind leading the blind out in the forest, followed by the loud, when the three of us are out together, and we get little accomplished.

Jason was trying to show me the place in the park that he has discovered as a peaceful escape during his lunch break.  He wanted me to understand the tranquility he finds there, and let me see and hear all the birds that surround him in his lunch walks, but mostly we just heard kids in the park nearby screeching, Kaleb clomping, and the thumps he was making with a stick he picked up along the way.  He is forever picking up sticks and wacking the trees and bushes with them, playing at swordmanship.

We didn’t see the Greater PeeWee today (although I almost had a zzGreaterPewee1visual on a bird that MIGHT have been it). We did hear a Barred Owl out there, and saw a handful of robins, warblers, and kinglets, but it was nothing compared to the experience Jason usually has out there.  I’ve decided we should go back in the early morning or late afternoon sometime and just sit for a while…without my noisy second child…in order to see this ordinary-looking bird that happens to be living way outside its normal range.