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Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Rode in a Stearman WWII-era Plane Today

Blue sky, plenty of sunshine, a pilot willing to share his BT-13 Stearman, and me with anticipation spilling out at the thrill of riding in an open cockpit, 2-seater plane - what a day! It was an awesome experience!

David Hughston, the pilot, chairs the annual air show, the Air Fiesta, at the Brownsville Airport. He's also the finance officer of the Rio Grande Valley Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). The Stearman is his plane. (Photo at left.)

As we taxied out to the runway, a sense of adventure filled me. I've never been in an open-cockpit before and here I was in the front seat - up close and personal with all the working parts of the plane.

As we left the ground, I thought I understood those pilots who decades ago flew these planes. There's a closeness and an openness that hits you at the same time. The thrill of flying is magnified when the wind hits your face and grit gets in your eyes.

The Stearman served as a training plane during the war. Even as those young pilots trained and experienced the beauty of flight, they knew they had a graver purpose. They knew the danger. That's something I couldn't even imagine as I looked up at the blue sky and down at the city below.

Tom Santos, wing leader for the Rio Grande Valley Wing, and his wife Kate invited me to ride in a flyover for a Salute to the Troops celebration at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville.

We arrived at the CAF building at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport before 9am. As Tom prepped his plane, Kate took me through the museum. In addition to the aircraft and vehicles, the museum houses numerous artifacts from WWII. Focused on the role that Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley played in the war, the artifacts are varied and beautifully displayed.

An entire display case is dedicated to actual newspapers printed during the war with headlines like: "Japs Attack Pearl Harbor."

World-famous aviators flew in and out of here. I saw a picture of Charles Lindbergh when he landed at the airport. His famous landing in 1929, the first non-stop flight from Mexico City to a US city, proved the speed and efficiency of airmail. Another photo shows the many planes lining the runway waiting to greet him on this historic flight.

Amelia Earhart was in the crowd that day. She earned her pilot's license in Brownsville. Both she and Howard Hughes frequently landed here.

Pan American Airways based their WWII operations out of the Brownsville Airport.

These are just a few of the facts I learned as we waited. I only touched the surface. I'm going back. The museum is a fantastic resource and I encourage everyone to visit and experience the history of this corner of Texas. The museum is another story...

The CAF will host Air Fiesta 2010 on the weekend of March 13 and 14. I plan to be there. Before then, I plan to spend some quality time in the museum learning the history and enjoying all the photos and displays.

Oh yes, Tom's plane is an L-17, made during the Korean War. But that's another story...

A third pilot, Ed Mishou, prepped his plane, a small red and silver Ercoupe. Ed is retired Air Force and serves as the Wing's Adjutant Officer. For some reason, he didn't fly with us. Ed and his plane are another story...

A big thank you to Tom, Kate and David for making my day!

Stay tuned for more stories about this treasure chest of history called the Rio Grande Valley Wing, Commemorative Air Force Musuem. Check out for more info.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dolphin Mohawk is Free to Swim the Laguna Madre

I've followed Mohawk's story since the discovery that he was entangled in fishing line. Rescue efforts took weeks to organize. Large nets, the Marine Mammal Rescue Team, local community efforts and Scarlet Colley's organizational skills all came together this week.

It took two days to capture Mohawk and his mother. Dolphins in the Laguna Madre are adept at avoiding fishing nets. Once they swam into shallow water, the team successfully rescued him.

Once captured, the team removed the fishing line and checked him out. The line was around his body and in his mouth.

In her blog, Scarlet Colley wrote: "This was a fatal entanglement and if it had not been removed it would have cut through his arm, mouth and back. The crew was awesome and Mohawk is now free."

Just one more example of how people working together can protect our world and its inhabitants.

I wish Mohawk a long and happy life in the Laguna Madre and I thank Scarlet and everyone involved in his rescue.

Well done!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dolphin Rescue Effort on the Way

Mohawk, the young dolphin, is still swimming around the Laguna Madre Bay, entangled in fishing wire. Although Scarlet Colley, director of the Dolphin Research Center, said he's losing weight, he is doing fine.

Organizing a rescue effort with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network required teamwork and time. It will all pay off when the rescue team arrives in the South Padre Island area this Wednesday.

The rescue requires large nets. It may take more than one effort to locate and capture the dolphin. His injuries will be examined and the fishing line removed. If he requires further rehabilitation, the team will fit a tracking device on the mother so that Mohawk can be reunited with her after his treatment.

Rehabilitating a dolphin is an expensive project - costs average $400 per day. The Dolphin Research Center, 110 N Garcia St, Port Isabel, TX 78578, is accepting donations to help in his care. The local community has stepped up to the plate, offering housing and food for the rescue team.

Colley named the dolphin Mohawk because of a deep scar on the top of his head, caused when a boat's prop sliced a huge gash across his head. He survived that injury. Locals and visitors have followed Mohawk's story and hope this is another success story for him.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunken Ships in Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay

I'm forever fascinated by shipwrecks. I want to know the stories of the ships and the people who sailed on them. It's not a fascination with the morbid, but rather a human pain for lives cut short and in most cases, a piece of history unacknowledged.

In mid-September I will have the opportunity to visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan near Traverse City. Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay have the unfortunate distinction of being the final home of many ships that never reached the harbor.

Michael Norton with the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau sent me the following information:

"There's saying in Northwest Michigan's dune country. The sand gives, and the sand takes away.

"Over the years, the golden sands along the towering Sleeping Bear Dunes have buried farms, forests and settlements. Just as unpredictably, though, they can retreat and bring to light what they have buried - as happened, for instance, in the case of the Three Brothers.

A 160-foot wooden steamer, The Brothers ran aground in 1911 on a sandbar off the coast of South Manitou Island and vanished without a trace. For nearly a century, boaters and beachcombers fished and swam right over the wreck without knowing it was there, until the current shifted the sand away in 1996 and uncovered the vessel - completely intact - in a mere 12 feet of water.Since then it's become a magnet for scuba divers and snorkelers from all around the country."

The cold, fresh waters of the Great Lakes has preserved the wreckage of ships and their contents. It's become an explorers' haven rich in artifacts of the mid-1800s when ships served as major transporters of people and goods. A weel-preserved ship wreck gives us a glimpse of a time gone by.

According to Norton, underwater tourism is a popular activity in the area:

"'The Great Lakes have more shipwrecks than anyplace else in the world, and they're in much more pristine condition than, say, the Caribbean, because they haven't been eaten away by salt water,' says Jack Enger of Great Lakes Scuba, one of several Traverse City's dive shops that serve the area's growing number of underwater visitors.

"Underwater tourism is increasingly popular in Traverse City, especially in late summer when Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay get warm enough for deep exploration. But the best diving is in autumn, says Enger; the water's still warm but there's much less recreational boat traffic and the already phenomenal clarity of the water is at its best."

I will be blogging about my entire trip to northern Michigan - my first. I've heard only marvelous comments about the beauty of the area and the diversity of activities to enjoy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Young Dolphin in Laguna Madre in Trouble

A year-old dolphin in the Laguna Madre near South Padre Island is entangled in fishing line. It's wrapped around his body and in his mouth. Rescue attempts are awaiting the arrival of large nets. Scarlet Colley, director of the Dolphin Research Center, is coodinating the rescue effort.

Scarlet called on the community to house rescue workers and to boaters to help in the rescue. She is keeping a close eye on the dolphin, and so far has located him everyday. Check for up-to-date reports.

The dolphins is one of the tribe of approximately 150 dolphins that make their home in the Laguna Madre Bay.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Conservation Critical to Save America's Birds

In the 2009 State of Bird Report, the government's first comprehensive study on the bird population in the United States, the alarming news is that nearly one third of the known species are endangered or in decline. Of the more than 800+ species, 251 made the list.

Habitat loss is the number one threat to birds. Sixty-seven million birds succumb to pesticide exposure each year. The positive news is that habitat restoration and conservation can reverse the decline of certain species.

According to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar: "From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells."

Wetland species such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey and ducks have responded to conservation efforts. The report calls for more intense efforts with other species.

The study combined the work of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, which includes partners from American Bird Conservancy, The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and the US Geological Survey.

For more information, check out From there you can download a pdf of the report.