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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Allergy season

It had been quite a few years since I've had bad allergies, so I had pretty much figured it was something I had outgrown. But this fall it went from mild to bad to worse. So after a midnight trip to the ER* a couple of nights ago, I've been confined to the house, trying to get it under control with an inhaler and steroids. It's the first time in my life I've used an inhaler and my lungs resist inhaling anything akin to smoke, toxins, or albuterol. It's getting a little better to where I can inhale without choking on the fumes instantly.

But I got such cabin fever I decided to run outside to the ponds, photograph the first butterfly and dragonfly I saw, then come back inside. I gave myself ten minutes. Here are the results, less than even mildly interesting. I just had to photograph something, anything.

First I saw an Orange Skipperling alight on a dead leaf...

Then this Variegated Meadowhawk.....

and finally this Flame Skimmer before I made myself go back inside. Felt great to get out though.

I also saw a Variegated Fritillary, Dainty Sulphur, Bordered Patch, and a couple other butterflies I couldn't get photos of, but good to see, nevertheless.

The good news is that while I was at the hospital, and later, the doctor, I got completely tested, and checked over. Everything is great and normal. The doctor even checked my right shoulder that hasn't worked good since I coated the tank last winter, and said the rotator cuff is injured but will eventually get better. And in fact, it has improved slightly in the last six months, so that's wonderful to know...  that I can expect continued improvement.

* My bronchial tubes were inflamed and almost totally swelled shut. I googled and found out over 3,000 people die every year in the US from asthma. Something to take seriously, so I did, and I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Overwintering birds arriving

Came to the oasis this morning hoping my allergies would be better here, but if they are, it's not noticeable. The mosquitoes are nearly gone though, but so are the chances for new butterflies and odonates, I think.

It was pleasant to see my overwintering species again. The Northern Flicker (Red-shafted), Green-tailed Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and other species. I suppose winter isn't far behind.

Here is a photo of the raggedest butterfly I think I've ever seen.that could still fly. It acts like any other normal Common Mestra.

And here's a frog that has probably eaten his share of them. It's waiting patiently for something to mistake it for pondweed, and light on it. I've witnessed that happening, but never been quick enough to capture the action with my camera.

There are lots of Chinati Checkerspots around. It wasn't that long ago that I was thrilled to see my first one. Brian tells me this one is a female.

And here's a butterfly species that had me going for awhile. I couldn't figure out what it was. Brian solved the mystery though. It's a Bordered Patch, but one that looks more like the ones in Arizona than those in Texas. It does look like it's had a long hard journey.

I only saw one amberwing today and it was an Eastern Amberwing. You can compare it to the Mexican  from my previous post to see how hard they are to tell apart.

Friday, October 10, 2014

CMO's new Texas dragonfly record

I think I botched getting the record for Texas's first Mexican Amberwing dragonfly two years ago. I had this photo but thought it was of an Eastern Amberwing.

Then, yesterday I photographed another amberwing, and in trying to decide if it was an Eastern or Mexican, I went through old photos to compare. The only reason I considered Mexican is because I saw a map in one of my ode guides beside the photo of a Mexican showing it as being in Brewster Co. Only after I learned that it hasn't been recorded in Texas, did I go back to the book and see that the map was actually for the Slough Amberwing, a species I haven't yet seen.... to my knowledge. 

Meanwhile, being a novice, I sent yesterday's photo to Kelly. He suggested I send it to Greg Lasley and John Abbott, the experts. John replied that both my 2012 amberwing and my 2014 were indeed Mexican Amberwings. (It's a dragonfly primarily from southern Arizona and southern California.)

Next I decided a first state record needed a better photo. So I located it in the same area of the big tank as before. But in order to get the light right I would have to perch on top of some bushes on the edge of the nine feet deep tank. Nothing a devout citizen scientist wouldn't do. I didn't see the Christmas Cactus hiding inside the bushes. But like the stoic I am, I sat on the cactus until I got this photo.

I'd like to think I would have gotten a sharper shot without the cactus. I still don't have out all the spines I acquired. I tell you there was more pain than gain to that little venture. Do you see the cactus inside these bushes? Trust me, it's there.

Deep water just behind these bushes

UPDATE:  The experts convinced me it was important to have a specimen of the species in the university's collection. That seemed reasonable to me. I had seen at least 3 of them foraging. After all, they only live a few days anyway. I gather endless insects on my windshield and radiator. The psychological aspect seemed surmountable. And I do have a butterfly net, though I've never used it to collect a specimen of anything. And the amberwings were foraging way out over 9 feet deep water. No way could I catch one out there. So I gathered my net and an envelope to put one in, figuring it was late in the afternoon and I wouldn't see one. Or if I did see one within reach, I'd sure miss it. At least I could tell everyone I tried.

At the pond I immediately spotted one perched near me in vegetation on the edge of the water. "Oh, dear," I thought, "I'm really going to have to do this." I observed it coming and going for awhile before moving close enough to its perch that my net would be within reach if it landed. I waited quite awhile, satisfied that by my moving in close, it chose a different perch. I waited as still as I could be, mentally coaching myself what to do, how to swing the net, etc. Suddenly, it landed at the perch, I swung the net, and didn't see a thing in or outside of the net. Hmmm, must have escaped too fast for me to see. Then I heard a fluttering from inside the net. My heart missed a beat. I hurried to my pickup, scrunched the net inside and shut the doors and windows. Taking no chances on it escaping when I took it out of the net. I remembered the directions, "pick it up by the wings together." Did that. Slipped it into the envelope, the envelope that moments before I thought was folly to carry with me. Then I pretty much panicked and emailed the guys. Help, what now? With a little guidance, I put it in the freezer and that's where it is now. I hope I caught a Mexican Amberwing, and not an Eastern, because I don't ever want to do that again


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Did I just yesterday use the word "serenity"?

Yes, I marveled at the "serenity and beauty" of my place. But upon further reflection, I probably have a greater chance of dying from a snake bite here than I do of contracting Ebola somewhere else. Just today I had another encounter with one. It was rattling at me as I took this photo. Not my definition of serenity.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake

As death lurks under the rocks, there is surprising life lurking amid the rocks, waiting for a good soaking rain to resurrect it. These Living Rock cacti are invisible except when they're blooming, and they're blooming by the millions right now.

I had never noticed the head of a Filigree Skimmer dragonfly before. It looks like a banded agate. Pretty cool!

So much to keep discovering in nature!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My natural high

I don't know where to start so I'll start at the beginning of today. I had to take benadryl to breathe throughout the night (too many things blooming). As a result I didn't get up until 9 AM. Pushed myself to put the concrete on the road, anyway.

Note the 3 yellow flowers blooming center left
Closeup of 3 Hibiscus flowers keeping me company as I worked

After a quick lunch, I decided to look for butterflies at the oasis. Suddenly, my Canon 400mm lens wouldn't focus at 400. I was beside myself. Called my son, no answer. Called the camera dealer, on vacation for two weeks. Despair. How could I possibly survive without it for probably weeks? Next I decided to see how far out it would focus. Maybe, if 350mm, I could live with that until I could get a replacement. Tried it again, and it worked fine. Wow, I started out the day on a rather even keel, and now I was euphoric! Way to go!

In my state of a natural high, I decided to go to Lajitas. A good day to go since there are too many golfers there on the weekend, and having risen late, I could forego a nap. Since I thought it was Thursday, I felt pressured to go while I could. Only when I got home and saw on my computer that it was Wednesday did I realize my error. A working camera and now an extra day to enjoy before going back to town!

Eventually, I wore myself out, and didn't see any exciting odes or butterflies at Lajitas. It was fun looking and soaking up the ambiance though. Here's a Fiery Skipper that Brian assures me is not a Sandhill Skipper like I thought it was. I probably won't ever learn the butterflies, so it's good I have Brian available.

Driving home from Lajitas, I marveled at the serenity and beauty of my dot in the world at a distance.

And just on the off chance that you might someday wonder, I stop to pick up rocks in the road way more often then I stop for photos.

I've already taken so many photos of Flame Skimmers, about my most common dragonfly, but something about this one I couldn't resist. He looks like such a jolly fellow.

I couldn't wait to get out of Alpine with all the Careless weeds, then thought I'd be fine at CMO, but apparently the overabundance of those yellow flowers (daisies/asters, or whatever they are) overwhelmed my system yesterday. So I thought Lajitas might provide a respite. But before I knew it, I was wading through Salt Cedar blooms there, which I'm allergic to, also. It's been a difficult time for allergies. Almost everyone I talk to is suffering, and they aren't outdoors all the time like I am.

And, yes, first available chance I'm going to shop for a used backup camera. I speculate that the problem may have been a speck of dust on the sensor. Every time I turn it off it automatically cleans the sensor but my son says it really doesn't get rid of the dust, just moves it around. My pictures all have dust spots on them and I think a spot of dust got right in front of the camera's eye. I did turn it on and off, but it didn't seem to help at that time. And I don't know if the dust was in the lens or in the camera body. My son says he'll clean the camera when he comes visit next time. The son I'm referring to lives in Austin. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I came to the oasis this morning and enjoyed an abundance of everything (except birds). Water, odonates, butterflies, and flowers. The best bird of the day was this Western Scrub-Jay. I hope it beats the bears to the acorns. The trees will be better off if bears don't ravage them like they did last year.

Had no trouble locating and getting better photos of yesterday's lifer, the Cardinal Meadowhawk. Kelly had generously shared his with me in case I couldn't relocate it, and since his are better, I'll just post one of his.

photo courtesy Kelly Bryan
As there are so many butterflies around, I was determined to find a species that I hadn't photographed before, but was unsuccessful. The longer my list is, the harder it is to get a new one. Here's a pair of mating Bordered Patches. 

And a Chinati Checkerspot. That's about it. Will try harder tomorrow.