well, yes, it’s only 5 degreees with a minus whatever wind chill out there, but i’m toasty warm here at home, gotta do a massage soon, but right now things are quite fine anbd calm.  chester is curled up on the couch next to me.  i’m actually sitting in his sleeping place, and even though he’s all curled up so sweet, looks like he’s sleeping so peacefully, i know he’s just waiting for me to GET THE HELL UP so he can claim this place on the couch which is RIGHTFULLY HIS.

so.  kevin and i took a little vacation last week, down to gulf shores, AL again.  we went last february for just a few days, and we took mollie with us.  she had a wonderful time; we walked on the beach a lot and she was happy to be with us.

so this time it was bittersweet.  as are many things lately.

but we took many pictures, had a nice time staying with our friends wayne and aggie in their rental condo on the 17th floor of a very nice place.

the drive, though, i hate that drive.  we left last saturday, the 11th, and didn’t manage to get in the car and go til 10:30 in the morning.  yeah, very late, but there were many many things we had to do.

we drove to decatur, AL, and i’d picked a hotel from trip advisor but it seemed to take approximately forever to get to the hotel from the highway.  so decatur is waaaaaay too far to stop.

however, on the way out of decatur on sunday morning, we drove right past the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.  i’d found it online on saturday when we were driving, and it sounded very interesting – it’s home to a big bunch of whooping cranes.  on saturday they’d had a “festival of the cranes,” which of course was completely over by the time we got to decatur on saturday night.  but here’s something from their website about these cranes, it’s one of the many events that had on saturday:

International Crane Foundation Presentation with Joan Garland: The elegant Whooping crane is on the verge of an extraordinary comeback after nearly becoming extinct due to human activities.  In 1941, the last migratory flock was reduced to only 16 birds.  A reintroduction project is currently underway to restore a migratory flock of Whooping cranes to eastern North America.  Now in its 13th year, the project is being undertaken by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a team of non-profit and governmental agencies (including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), whose founding members include the International Crane Foundation (ICF).  ICF works worldwide to conserve cranes and the wetland and grassland ecosystems on which they depend.  ICF is dedicated to providing experience, knowledge, and inspiration to involve people in resolving the threats to these beautiful birds.

here’s more about the refuge:

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established July 7, 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. It was the first refuge ever superimposed on a hydro-electric impoundment and in the early stages, considered an experiment to determine the possibility of attracting migratory waterfowl onto a multipurpose impoundment.

Although designated as a waterfowl refuge, Wheeler provides for a wide spectrum of wildlife. Its great diversity of habitat includes deep river channels, tributary creeks, tupelo swamps, open backwater embayments, bottomland hardwoods, pine uplands, and agricultural fields. This rich mix of habitats provide places for over 295 bird species to rest, nest and winter, including over 30 species of waterfowl (ducks and geese) and an increasing population of Sandhill cranes and a small number of Whooping cranes.

The refuge is also home to 115 species of fish, 74 species of reptiles and amphibians, 47 species of mammals, 38 species of freshwater mussels, and 26 species of freshwater snails. Other animals such as the endangered Gray bat and benefit from the protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the care of dedicated refuge staff and other friends of wildlife, like you.

i read all this stuff to kevin, and said that maybe we should stop by the refuge on our way out of town on sunday.  but by sunday morning i just wanted to GET OUT OF TOWN and get the driving over with.  but kevin thought we should stop by, since we’d probably never be in decatur, AL again in our lives.

so we did, and it was so cool!  when we got out of the car at the refuge we could hear the cranes.

we walked out to an observation building.

ok, this isn’t a great picture of the cranes, but there they are, way back there…it’s funny that i only had my cell phone to take pictures, because there were a lot of people and most of them had big fancy cameras with very very long lenses, plus they had tripods.  these were serious birdwatcher picture takers and i felt a little bit silly taking pictures with my phone.

this was a cool little pond they’d made outside the observation building.

this shows just how VERY IMPORTANT the sanctuary is!

yeah, a fancy camera with a long lens would have been helpful…

so we got on the road by the crack of 10, and drove and drove and drove some more.  by the time we got to gulf shores, it was in the low 60s and it was awesome to be out on the beach.

ok, many, many more photos to come!  stay warm and don’t go outside if you can avoid it!

mrs. h.