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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not ready yet

I'll never be ready for winter. You can forget that. But I thought I was well enough to go on a little adventure to Marathon. I hadn't used my inhaler for days; had breathed fine all night long. But as soon as I got out at the Post Park, it felt like a vise grabbed my chest. Hadn't even occurred to me to take the inhaler with me. Having driven all that way, and having been cooped up in the house way too long (anything over 30 minutes is too long), I toughed it out. Didn't stay long. Thought the manicured Gage Gardens inside town would maybe be better. Fewer weeds. It was only slightly better. But all so worth it! Just as I was heading back to the car, I spotted a stupendously gorgeous butterfly.

Whenever I see a species I haven't seen before, some name pops into my head, right or wrong. The name that popped into my head on this one was Palamedes. Never seen one. That's just what my brain's computer spit out. Based, I guess, on my subconscious absorption of photos in my guides. On the way back to Alpine I opened my butterfly app. It's not very good, especially at 70 miles an hour, but from what I could tell, it looked like a "Desert" form of Black Swallowtail. No idea of what its range is, but figured it was not that unusual. When I got to Alpine and downloaded my photos, I still wasn't sure. Didn't look like the Desert, either. And way out of range.

Determined to figure it out without Brian's help, I searched online and in my book. Nothing matched exactly, but Anise Swallowtail looked like the best fit. Way out of range for that species, too. Hmm...  Seemed I would have to consult Brian, after all. 

He says it's a rare form of Black Swallowtail called "pseudoamericus." I would never have figured that out. It's not in my butterfly book either. So that was pretty exciting!

Everything else from today certainly pales in comparison. This lovely little flower was out in a grassy area all by itself. I'm told it's called "Devil's Bouquet." (Nyctaginia capitata)

I saw more Black Swallowtails today than I've ever seen at one time before. Here's a lovely specimen from the same place today that shows how I expect a Black Swallowtail to look.

While I was disappointed I couldn't ID the "pseudoamericus" by myself, it was perfectly understandable to me why I couldn't. But I really was irritated at myself for not identifying these Autumn Meadowhawks without help. I should have gotten it, but didn't.

And I love the pink blush on this Southern Dogface. Not that a name like that isn't worthy of a blush.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New oasis bird

Was surprised to discover a Band-tailed Pigeon hanging out at the oasis this morning. They're noticeably larger than even domestic pigeons. I figure it's enjoying one of its favorite foods, acorns.

While I enjoyed watching an American Redstart foraging among the vegetation, they're familiar migrants here, so I didn't try for a photo. But I took over a hundred photos of the pigeon. So wouldn't you know it, ebird flagged the redstart, and not the pigeon. Apparently, I would have been better off with documentation of the redstart. 

There are even a few acorns on one of my young Gray Oak trees. (The weather has been misty off and on today so there's moisture on the acorn.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ode to odonates

I'm just really getting passionate about dragonflies and damselflies. I had recorded the National Geographic Wild documentary this summer called "Sky Hunters... Dragonflies," (or something similar). Lost track of how many times I've watched it. It'll air again Nov. 4th. It's amazing that odonates were on earth 100 million years before dinosaurs, and even at that time were so perfectly evolved that, except for getting smaller, are virtually the same as they were back 300 million years ago. Such fascinating creatures. Back then their wingspan could be as big as two feet. Today it's barely two inches. Reduced oxygen levels in the atmosphere caused most everything to evolve smaller.

Finally was able to get back to CMO this afternoon. I started watering because you can't depend on rain, even though there's a good chance of it in the forecast, and it has sprinkled a little bit off and on today. Sure seems to be taking my allergies a long time to clear up, but I haven't resorted to the inhaler yet since I arrived.

This dragonfly was seemingly struggling in some brush near the ground where I sat and I just happened to notice it. Unable to figure out what exactly it was, or what was going on with it, I posted this photo to the awesome Facebook group "Western Odonata." Within minutes they told me that it appeared to be a Wandering Glider adult that had either had some injury or a bad emergence.

Dragonflies go through up to a dozen metamorphoses in their lives. And another astounding fact is about their eyes. Each compound eye has up to 30,000 individual simple eyes. No wonder they have better vision than any other insect on earth.

For 3 weeks I've had a critter cam in a pine tree aimed at one of the Chinkapin Oak trees that got ravaged by bears last fall. The acorns are gone off that tree now. I suspect Western Scrub-Jays. When I took down the camera of about 500 photos, not a single critter or bird was pictured. This is basically what every frame looked like. I guess the wind tripped the shutter. Bummer!

I see I didn't set the date in the camera when I set it up. Oh, well...

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