I Like Lists

Looking into Mexico from Texas.
Looking into Mexico from Texas.

What can I say? I like lists. I like lists so much that I take a vacation every spring with my family to make lists of the birds we see. But even before we step foot out the door or pack a bag, I make lists of where we will go, what we might see and how long it will take to drive there.

Birding is about observation, tracking and cataloging as much as it is about getting into nature. The Greater Texas Birding Classic gives my husband, mother and myself a reason to make a crazy run around the state to count as many birds as we can see in 6 days.

This year we are planning on increasing our reach by heading out to Big Bend National Park to start our listing of birds. Big Bend is known for a few types of birds that can only be found in the strange and wonderful ecosystems of the park. From there we will journey to the Rio Grande Valley, up the coast, then inland to our home in Austin.

List From Smith Point

In the past we have witnessed around 250-275 species of birds per trip. Texas has amazing birding and the spring migration is where its at if you are an avid birder. The migratory birds journey up from Central and South America on their way to points north and Texas is smack dab in the middle of three major flyways.

The other benefit of this mad dash around Texas is it takes me to places I’ve never seen and would never normally travel to unless I was looking for birds. Last year we touched the very tip of Texas at Boca Chico at the mouth of the Rio Grande River and the Gulf of Mexico. This year I’m hoping to visit 3 state parks I’ve never been to before so I can get a little closer to having visited all 92 state parks in Texas.

Sable Palms Birding Center south of the boarder fence between Texas and Mexico.
Sable Palms Birding Center south of the boarder fence between Texas and Mexico.

The other thing I like about our journey is it blends together my love of Texas history, sociology, travel and nature.  We get to see so many great historical sites and some wonderful snapshots into the human activities of small town life, the oil boom of south Texas, campers at parks, and other birders who are on their own quest.

I make a lot of lists in my life. Most are for work, some are for daily life tasks, but the ones I make of the birds are purely for me and purely for fun. Well, I guess they aren’t all for me, I load them into eBird to be a citizen scientist to do my part to help better understand the bird populations and migrations. Stay tuned of for updates from the road on The Atomic Cowgirl Facebook page.

Adding to the list on the Texas Coast.
Adding to the list on the Texas Coast.



The Rocking B Riders

I’ve been having fun playing with the GoPro and learning how to use iMovie.  I made a little movie trailer from footage of one of the rides I took with the women from Rocking B Stables in Austin, TX.

A Day in the Woods With My Friends

I’m lucky to live in a place that is close to where I can keep my horses and still have some open lands to ride them on.  This video is a short chronicle of a day doing some trail work with my dogs before having a nice ride with friends.  Most of the footage is shot from the backs of Chief, the dog with the pointy ears or Casino, the one with the floppy ears, or from the back of my big grey mare- Breeze.  Ranger, the dun mustang, didn’t make the ride today- but he got lots of attention, which is what he loves the most.  The rest of Austin, TX is knee deep in SXSW- but I would much rather be in the woods with the real wildlife, and my friends.

Dog Vision

For Christmas the dogs got me a harness that they could wear the GoPro on so I could see the world the way they do.  This a short mix of clips from the dogs at the park.  As you can see, there is a lot of joy in every step as they explore the park. Casino makes a big run at the opening and for those that know my giant lazy dog- this is a long sprint for the Big Guy.


Wildlife in the Woods

Our nephew helping us move the game camera.
Our nephew helping us move the game camera.

A year ago, my husband and I moved around the corner from our old house into the home we are in now. One of the main reasons we moved was because the property of our new house is buffered on 2 sides by greenbelt with a little wet weather creek and thick woods. Even though we are in the City of Austin, we feel like we are in the country within the confines of our little sanctuary.

In January we decided to document the wildlife that lives in the small greenbelt that buffers the neighborhood and connects up with Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. We installed a game camera on a tree that was near the little path that the animals made in the woods.

Grey Fox walking through the woods at night.
Grey Fox walking through the woods at night.

In the first two days we found that the woods have a ton of wildlife. The first photo was of an armadillo, then a fox, possum, deer, feral cat, squirrel, birds, a big buck, mouse, and finally kids playing in the woods.

Since then we have moved the camera to several different spots to see if we can capture photos of any other species of animals wandering through. So far we don’t have a photo of a cotton-tailed rabbit, jackrabbit or a coyote, but we’ve heard coyotes on more than one occasion. However, I don’t think we have bobcat this close into the city.

When the weather gets warmer, we will move the camera closer to the creek to see if we can document any type of reptiles. We have also documented over 25 species of birds that live in the area or migrate through.

Here is a list of all the wildlife we’ve seen so far in the yard or in the woods behind the house.

Game Camera hiding in plain sight.
Game Camera hiding in plain sight.


Armadillo, Fox, Raccoon, Squirrel, Mouse, Deer, Possum


Great Horned Owl, Screech Owl, Red Shoulder Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Crested Cara Cara, Carolina Wren, White Wing Dove, Mourning Dove, Red Bellied Wood Pecker, Downy Wood Pecker, Ladder Back Wood Pecker, Chimney Swift, Purple Martin, Cedar Waxwing, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Great Tailed Grackle, American Gold Finch, House Finch, Lessor Gold Finch, Blue Grey Gnatcatcher, Tennessee Warbler, House Sparrow, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Black Chinned Humming Bird, Back Crested Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee.

Interview on New 8 Austin

From the interview with Jeff Stensland: 

Just a few hundred feet from one of the area’s busiest highways, you might hear a trickle from a nearby waterfall at the nature and Science Center in South Austin. The center has engaged visitors you and old for more than a century.

Margaret Russell runs the center, which is a city park and free to the public. There you can find native Texas wildlife like roadrunners and Moxi the Bobcat.

“We have a stretch of pretty diverse, wild natural areas to explore,” she said.

Jennifer Bristol is with Texas Children in Nature. The organization’s name is its mission helped by websites like Nature Rocks Austin and Nature Rocks San Antonio.

“It seems strange to have so much research to say that being outside is good for kids, but in fact we need it,” Bristol said.

Bristol says the average kid will spend between seven and 11 hours a day sitting indoors, which is why programs at the nature center are so important.”

“We really want time in the outdoors to be family time, so this is time families are getting outside together learning about nature,” Bristol said.

City tax revenue covers operating costs for this nature preserve, but programs get boosts from donations and grants while staff get a boost from seeing nature through the kids’ eyes.

“It feeds our soul,” Russell said. “We get to see the impact we make with kids. It is pretty immediate.”

Press Release for Texas Children in Nature

“Every Kid In A Park” Initiative Addresses Problems of Inactivity and Obesity, Promotes Health and LearningQvhzU1-3db00eef65d1469b9f002fbe66554262

AUSTIN — A new National Parks Foundation initiative announced Feb. 19 by the White House emphasizes goals shared by a growing Texas coalition of partners with chapters in major cities, the Texas Children in Nature collaborative.

The ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative gives fourth graders free admission to all National Parks and other national lands during the 2015-2016 school year.

“We are so excited about the new ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative,” says Jennifer Bristol, Coordinator for Texas Children in Nature. “In Texas this really expands the efforts that many of our partners are working on to create more access to nature for families in our rapidly growing state.”

Bristol says kids 12 years old and younger already can play for free at all Texas State Parks and many city and county parks around the state. She said studies show children and their families who spend more time in the outdoors tend to be healthier, happier and smarter.IMG_4785

With children spending up to 8 hours per day indoors, sedentary with media and only minutes per day playing in the outdoors, experts say this is a step in the right direction.

Texas Children in Nature is part of a national grassroots movement that ignited after the release of author, Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. Louv participated in a summit held this week in Chicago to publicize the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative.

“[This] announcement and new initiative may well be a turning point,” said Louv. “It will help support the people who have worked so hard, many of them for decades, to connect children to nature. It will encourage new actions by local government, education, religious organizations, the health care professions, and, crucially, by our business communities. The greatest change must happen beyond government, in the daily decisions that all of us, as individuals and members of families, take in our daily lives. Ultimately, only we can make sure that every child receives the gifts of the natural world.”

Richard Louv and experts from around the nation will be speaking on this topic this spring the Children & Nature Conference being held in Bastrop at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort on April 7-9. The Conference and Gala are being co-hosted by the Children & Nature Network, Texas Children in Nature and Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center. The three day event will bring together leaders from the conservation, health, education, technology and built environment communities to explore ways to encourage families, schools, churches, non-profits and businesses to support getting kids off the couch and into nature.

The surprise of Nature.
The surprise of Nature.

Registration is required for the event. More information can be found by visiting the conference webpage.

“We really want to make outdoor time, family time in Texas,” says Bristol. “The announcement of the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative and the Conference coming up in April are both great steps towards raising awareness that all children and families need to have access to nature to be healthier and happier.”

Wasteful Guilt

I feel like I am making really good choices today and that feels great. For example, I chose not to make a sandwich with the 10-day-old lunchmeat. I also chose to put the lunchmeat in the trash instead of back in the fridge, and that felt like a good choice as well.

Coke Classic from 1989.  Discovered in pantry 2014.
Coke Classic from 1989. Discovered in pantry 2014.

But these choices do not come without a flicker of guilt. I was raised in a home where sciences experiments were commonplace when it came to food. Blame cannot be placed on any one person, for the list of ancestors who helped our family arrive at this disposition is too long to list. My mother simply held dearly her Scottish / American upbringing and believed in the values of statements such as, “waste not, want not” and “a penny saved, is a penny earned.”

But is old Mayonnaise saved, Mayonnaise earned? What about Folgers coffee cans filled with bacon grease? How does that apply to the savings factor? If the grease is used, I guess it could save money from buying lard- hmm? I’m not sure, because I only saw the bacon grease be used once or twice; but by-golly we had cans full of it under the counter neatly saved in Folgers coffee cans.

My parents were not at fault, she was simply following a strange custom that was passed from one generation or friend to another. My brother and I were equally part of the disfuntional equation. We too had heaps of guilt internally piled on us for wasting things. More often than not, we would simple put the 10 -day -old lunchmeat back into the fridge for the next person to deal with. But when no one in the family likes to waste, then the issue starts to compound.

The final result of a family being food thrifty is a kitchen filled with little items like mustard getting tucked into the door of the fridge with an expiration date six years old. Or Coors Light beer from a party five years ago sitting in the back of the fridge, just waiting for the right person to come along. Or a box of Casbah from 1999 hiding behind several layers of soup. Poor, lonely, unconsumed products. Maybe instead of being worried about being wasteful, I should have more concern for their feelings.

Best before March 1999. Discovered in 2014.
Best before March 1999. Discovered in 2014.

With that mindset, I know I made a good choice today. I didn’t eat the aging lunchmeat and I placed it in the trash where it now has friends whose expiration dates have also passed.

I am now grown woman with my own kitchen, but the familial practices run deep.  It is quite a thing to overcome the generational institution of Scottish guilt, but that is what I did today. And tomorrow I shall repent.



Chuck gets stuck
Chuck gets stuck on a small log

Perhaps the signs were right there in front of us the entire time.  From an early age it was clear that Chuck simply was not an outdoor dog. He preferred luxury and comfort, and enjoyed the fast, hard city life. He filled his days with lounging and his nights with fancy swirled drinks and belly rubs.

Chuck on the town
Chuck on the town

City life for a dog only 13 inches from floor to shoulder can be rough. He recruited security, and trained with dogs ten times his size.

Chuck and Casino
Chuck’s personal body guard- Casino

Then the signs really started showing up and patterns of reckless behavior increased.  He started sleeping on the furniture, shredded stuffed toys, stole socks and underwear from the laundry, and on more than one occasion stalked and killed a bug.  The cruel world of nature dealt him one last final blow when he was stung in the nose by a bee.  This rejection from nature thrust him only deeper into the sinister indoor and urban world.

Chuck at the vet
Chuck- rushed to the vet after bee sting

Determined to be an indoor high roller, he flew with his people to Minneapolis and demanded breakfast in bed at the Eden Prairie Marriott. Soon after the trip to Minneapolis he started dressing in questionable outfits with sculls and crossed doggy bones.  The other dogs found it disturbing.

Punk rock dog
Chuck on the edge

This fall, we decided it was time for an intervention.  We took Chuck on a family campout to try to break the cycle of sleeping on the sofa, lounging on the chair in the back yard and demanding endless belly rubs.  But camping proved too much, and Chuck snapped.  In a daring attempt to align himself with another pampered pooch from the ritzy RV side of the park, he escaped his harness for a full 15 seconds and made a run for it.  Park police were called in, a two hour investigation ensued, and without a mention of voluntary compliance to the leash laws, Chuck was made into a known criminal in Kimble County Texas.

The intervention was a bust.  Chuck was grounded from sleeping on the furniture for a week and was subjected to rigorous walks in the neighborhood.  It will be a long road to rehabilitation. I am proud to report he is 20 days clean from escaping his harness. But he did growl at the rain this week.




Why I Trail Ride

I’ve never been one to want to spend my time in the saddle just going in circles around a dusty arena. As a kid I did my time in lessons and horse shows, but it was never where I wanted to be. I’m happiest while riding when I’m on a trail, enjoying nature.

Last ride with Pinto- one of the best.
Last ride with Pinto- one of the best.

When I was six I got my first pony for my birthday. Squaw (she came pre-named) was a fearless Pony of America that would do anything and looked great while doing it. My mom would hike along with us and we would ride from the corner of Loop 360 and Bee Caves Road down into the Wild Basin Nature Preserve and be gone all day. Loop 360 was just being built back in the 1970’s so the cars, houses and businesses had not yet filled the wooded hills of Westlake. I loved those early days of walking slowly along the loosely defined footpaths and game trails- exploring what seemed at the time to be an endless forested world.

Winter shadows of me and Ranger.
Winter shadows of me and Ranger.

As I got a little older, the freedom of riding was even more desirable. In those hard early teen years when nothing else seemed to make since- being on a horse’s back, riding in the woods offered sole-soothing comfort. I could lose myself for hours in the woods, riding without a saddle, getting to know every tree and every rock, and constantly looking for evidence of wildlife. But I wasn’t always alone. I had several friends that also held in them a fearless heart and they would swing up on their horse to ride for hours with my bold pony and me.  I still get to ride with those lifelong friends and they still have fearless hearts.


As an adult, I feel exactly the same now as I did as a child. I still love to ride the trails either alone or with friends, looking at nature from the slow, easy pace of a horse. Oh sure, it’s much harder to get on and off my mount these days, and I can’t imagine riding without a saddle and helmet. But I also can’t imagine a life without horses or friends to ride those horses with.

Watching the coming storm and trying to get back to the barn in time.
Watching the coming storm and trying to get back to the barn in time.

Along the way I have made new friends to ride with when the old ones are too far away and it is always nice to find a kindred soul who is still willing to venture out into the woods.  Some day I might have to make my peace with riding quietly in a circle when I get too old to do much else or when there is no more open land to ride. Until that time, I will enjoy every day that I’m able to ease along a trail with my trusty horse(s).

Trail ride with the Rocking B Riders
Trail ride with the Rocking B Riders