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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Oodles of fun!

I don't think the word "oodles" has entered my brain since the days I droodled (the 1950s). But today, as I was heading home from a little birding adventure, "that was oodles of fun!" popped into my head.

It was a lovely day, not to be wasted. Headed out early, got chilled, but didn't mind. The cemetery had too much human activity (any is too much. LOL) but enough bird activity to keep me happy. Got my best Grasshopper Sparrow photos ever, I think.

Managed to locate a few Red Crossbills off in the distance. Didn't relocate the Lewis's Woodpecker  by the golf course today. It was full of people too, as was the adjacent church that it hangs out at. But yesterday I got some photos of it near the church, so can't complain.

Also yesterday I got some nice shots of a Merlin dining on a bird.

This afternoon I went to my sister-in-law's place to see a finch that we thought might be a Purple Finch, which would be a lifer for me. It's probably just a Cassin's Finch, which is still a nice bird. Afternoons are slow birding and I was tired, so didn't get as good a photo as I would have liked.

Females of both species apparently look very similar and since no Purple Finch has ever been documented in Brewster County, experts call it a Cassin's. That raises the bar high on ever getting an unbiased ID. I always find that frustrating. 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

A little Christmas Mountains history

Way back when I bought my property in the Christmas Mountains (600 acres of cheap rugged land), there was a ranch, also in the Christmas Mountains, called Christmas Mountains Ranch. Now that ranch has ended up in the university system and is used for research purposes. Here's a recent article that contains more information. The article doesn't say the size of the former Christmas Mountains Ranch, but it's over 9,000 acres.

While I enjoy seeing new "life" birds, I also enjoy helping other birders find new birds. I've been helping people find the Lewis's Woodpecker here in Alpine. Today I wasn't really planning to take more photos of it myself, but when I saw it with a huge acorn, I grabbed my camera. Only got a couple of blurry shots because by the time I got my camera settings right, it was gone.

The acorn looks like it's from a Chinquapin Oak. Tomorrow I may try to locate the source of the acorns. That would be a fun treasure hunt! I'm wondering if the woodpecker stashed the acorn in this crevice. First photo taken 1:11 PM, next photo taken 1:12 PM, and the last photo taken at 1:13 PM.

UPDATE: I did a little online research and read that in fall and winter Lewis's store acorns in crevices. It happened so fast that, looking through my camera lens trying to take photos, I couldn't really tell what was happening at the time. So I assume it'll hang around that area for quite a while yet. YAY!

"In fall and winter, their diet shifts to include more acorns and other nuts, which they store in the furrows and crevices of trees. Lewis's Woodpeckers are protective of their winter stores of acorns and nuts."

NEXT DAY: Read comments below. Caused me to decide the nut was a pecan. Since the town is loaded with pecan trees I abandoned my oak tree search.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Fun home birding

Today was a cold day, so I decided to just bird out the window of my new viewing room. Beside a warm fire, of course. Two problems with birding from inside the house. One is photos aren't good taken through the ancient windows, and two, I can't tear myself away to get anything else accomplished. Today I had three Common Grackles, which was pretty cool! 

I still have the three hummers. It's like a treasure hunt. You never know what's going to show up. Plus it's fun just watching the regular birds. Like this Ladder-backed Woodpecker

First, a sip...

Then, one last check to make sure there are no threats around...

Next, testing out the bath....

And finally, bathing with abandon...

All good!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Persistence paid off

After happening upon a Lewis's Woodpecker at the Alpine golf course on Nov 21, I had been unable to relocate it, hoping for better photos. Finally, today after at least twenty attempts during the past week, I got lucky. Probably got as good of photos as my camera will do. With me at the controls, anyway. As per my usual modus operandi, I took an excessive number of photos, but one will suffice here.

Birding has slowed way down both at the oasis and in town, but I'll welcome chasing any interesting species that turns up. 

Planted a bit of color in the new planter box. Gives me something to tend when winter gardening is bleak. If I can keep them alive. Yellow is pansy; red is snapdragon.

Note: Due to wet dirt being inside the box, minerals and salts have leached out of the concrete, creating a white residue. It would eventually wear off, but I'm going to re-stain it. Just need to bring my stain back to town next time I'm at CMO.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

On a mission

My horrible photos of the purported Swainson's Thrush the other day made me determined to get a better photo of it, and clinch the ID. So I arrived at the oasis shortly after daylight today and began my vigil. Visiting birders snapped a photo of me focused on my mission.

Photo by Kevin McGowan

The good news is, I did get photos of the thrush. The bad news is, I'm still not positive it's not a Swainson's, but likely it's a Hermit. Keep in mind though, that not only I heard the Swainson's vocalization, but birders very familiar with that species did too. At least, we have a better chance of determining what it is now. Really need good photos of the back and tail. Fortunately, it's not of great importance. Not even a new oasis species. Just really want to know for future reference.

The oasis was not very birdy today. Before I headed back to Alpine, I climbed up to the top of the reserve water tank just to be sure it's still full. Yup! Life is good!

Photo by Kevin McGowan

I was surprised to have at least 5 butterfly species this late in the year. My first Mexican Yellow for the year, too.

And a stray Monarch...

UPDATE: In spite of all my efforts, the experts have ruled the thrush a Hermit. Oh, well, win some, lose some! Like I said, it wouldn't have been a new species or anything. I was just so sure it was a Swainson's.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Snow day

Having my "viewing room" in Alpine now really did make cold weather more bearable, as I had hoped it would. Tallied about 14 species, none at the birdbath, but still nice to sit by a warm fire and watch birds on a day like today. I do realize by January, especially if there are no birds, it might not be interesting, but still better than sitting by the fire with no viewing window or birdbath, as has been the case for nearly 20 years. And by January, spring will be just around the corner.

The yellow flowers on the shelf in the above photo are pansies that I bought at the local store for $1. My husband really wants me to put pansies in the new planter box. These look like the trailing variety, so I thought I'd stick them in there for now and see how they do. They didn't come with any label, so just guessing at what they are. I'd like at least one plant in there to cascade over the sides of the pot. Not a big commitment, and if it doesn't do well, I'll try something else. 

For 40 plus years I fussed over plants in planter boxes at the courtyard of my house near the oasis. It's a little sad that I've now let that go, but I'm too old to spread myself that thin anymore. The courtyard is now in my son's hands to deal with. I just don't have the energy anymore. Since I'm not going to live there, there's really no reason for me to focus my dwindling energy on it. This new planter is more in line with my current situation.  And now I have more time to go birding, which I didn't used to because of the load I carried.

The brightest bird of today was definitely this Vermillion Flycatcher.

Here's photo my sister took today of our mountain overlooking the oasis.

UPDATE: The Washington State birders that discovered the Swainson's Thrush at the oasis on Nov 20th did get photos of the bird. They're very familiar with that species. So even though it's not a new oasis species, I'm glad to have documentation for it that I think the reviewers will validate. (Photo by Andrew Thomas) He also recognized its unique vocalization.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Shock and awe!

I was shocked at how tall the planter box looked when I put it into place. I had made it deep so there would be plenty of space for roots of a large bush, but as tall as it is already, I'm rethinking putting a tall bush in it. 

As the concrete dries, it'll fade somewhat.

I watered yesterday at the oasis. There was a purported (by other birders) Swainson's Thrush present. I tried and tried to get a decent photo of it, but it was too furtive. I was very disappointed. Here's the pitiful best I could do. Worst photo I've ever posted!

Back in Alpine, things are really hopping. Last Saturday (Nov 19th) the Greater Pewee showed up at our house in a pecan tree for about five minutes. The weather was just starting to sleet. I hope it survived. I keep looking, but haven't seen it since. In this "Alpine Madness," as birders are dubbing it, who knows? (The bird looks as surprised to end up back here as I was to see it.)

On Monday, the 21st, I was super surprised to discover a Lewis's Woodpecker at the golf course. Not so surprised one was there, as surprised I was the one who found it. With all the other rarities showing up in the area, birders have been on the lookout for a Lewis's. Just a fluke that I was the one that found it. I wasn't really looking that much. My photo is not good because it was out in the middle of the golf course where we're not allowed to go. Had to do the best I could from the street.

Red Crossbills have been relatively easy to locate, especially at the cemetery. I haven't driven around town this much since the Clark's Nutcracker was in town exactly two years ago.

Then a couple of days ago an ace birder, Stephen Falick, found a Cape May Warbler at the cemetery. It would have been a lifer for me, but even with Stephen's help, it couldn't be relocated. Yesterday he found a female Evening Grosbeak there. I did get to see it this morning, with Stephen's assistance. I had seen a male recently in Sunny Glen, but still a rare sight here.

Life is never dull! 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Big bad bear relocated

I wasn't among the many complaining about the bear, but I'm glad it has been removed and relocated. The people look small in comparison to the bear.

Maybe the oasis will get a couple of years relief before a bear that large comes around again.

I made a quick trip to the oasis this morning. Would have stayed longer but the weather is bad. Better off sitting in town by a warm fire watching the birdbath and TV, and playing on my superior computer. While there, I noticed the cold front has brought more birds in. Especially enjoyed the continuing Varied Bunting, and a White-throated Sparrow, the first I've seen in years.

As soon as weather permits, I'm going to finish the planter box. Have decided to plant Turk's Cap in it. Tolerates the shade well and grows fast. Hummers love it! I'll take a cutting off one here at our place in town. Maybe I can start it indoors, which will make winter more tolerable!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Planter box progress

In spite of the cold temperatures lately, I'm slowly plugging away at my new fake planter box. Here it is, formed and ready to stucco. I couldn't find any Youtube videos on how to make one of this type, so am totally on my own. I never follow their directions anyway, but I do use the videos for ideas.

When I couldn't stand waiting any longer, I bundled up and got a start on the stuccoing. My son came by and took some photos to share with my blog followers.

It's frustrating because the stucco sticks to my gloves tenaciously and when I pull my hand away from the surface, it pulls the concrete with it. Sometimes I feel like I'm frosting a big cake, and sometimes I feel like I'm too old to be making mud pies.

A while ago I saw my first hummingbird bathing in the birdbath. Wasn't fast enough to get a photo, but I will eventually. I intend to plant flowers in this planter box I'm making, so it'll be fun to watch hummers at them too. I'm thinking Darcy's Sage, as it grows large and blooms a lot, but it'll be a work in progress as to what flowers do best in it. It'll be in the shade mostly, so I'll see what options I have.

Here's an interesting article on the bear situation in S Brewster Co.


UPDATE: Darcy's Sage needs full sun, so I've decided on good ole Turk's Cap. I always have good luck with that!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Never satisfied!

It seems I'm never satisfied. Now I want a fake rock planter box to go with my fake rock outlet cover.

I'm going to start making it as soon as the weather warms up a bit. And I'll put it where I temporarily have the potted plants in the above photo.

The Greater Pewee was present for four days before it moved on. Right now there aren't many interesting birds around. I went chasing a Juniper Titmouse being seen in Davis Mountains State Park, but was unsuccessful in locating it.

Today I went to the oasis to water trees and service feeders. The seed feeder is still hanging. I raised it another 4-6 inches. The bucket had already been so high I can't reach it, so maybe the extra inches will do the trick. And maybe it helped that my son welded the pipe. We shall see. Some of the local residents on Terlingua Ranch are pestering Texas Parks & Wildlife to relocate the troublesome bear, but that's not their policy. As long as the bear isn't a threat to humans, then humans need to adapt. Which makes sense to me. I'm adapting the oasis as best I can, but it's a work in progress. Here's a photo someone took of the bear somewhere on Terlingua Ranch. It's a big one. I didn't see evidence that it had climbed the pole. It was just large enough to reach the feeder and pull it down.

I was really surprised to see a late Varied Bunting on the feeder. It stuck around near or on the feeder for the whole morning, until I left to come back to town. I've never seen one look quite like this, but then I haven't ever seen one in November, either. I think it must be a juvenile male.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Another special bird in Alpine

I'm getting spoiled by all these rare birds showing up in town. After spending nearly two days at the oasis, I was tired and busy catching up in town. I vaguely remember glancing out the window earlier today and seeing a different bird. Made a mental note to go check, then forgot all about it.

So this afternoon I decided to take a quick look around the yard to see what's there. As soon as I stepped outdoors I saw and heard a Greater Pewee. Kicking myself for not being more aware of what's going on in the yard. It's not a life bird for me, but my first photo and first one in Brewster Co.

Just hope it sticks around awhile so others can see it.

The birdbath is still popular, but unless it's a rare bird, the new has pretty much worn off of taking photos.

Myrtle's Yellow-rumped Warbler

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Old age and treachery

I squeezed all the work I could out of my reluctant body today. I realize that about the most I can hope to accomplish by myself on the big hill is to put bandaids on the worst spots, so that's what I attempted today.

Looking south

Looking north

I think it'll help and it might be a long time before we get a monsoon that'll erode it further. I'll keep monitoring it and if I have to, I'll hire help. For now it'll be fine. More controllable than the slope we had concreted was.

Don't know how long this "bandaid" will hold, but it'll keep visitors from falling into a hole. And might hold permanently. We'll see.

Looking south

Monday, November 7, 2022

Beary and birdy

 The bear is winning!

At least I know the unwelcome mat isn't working, so I can remove that. Gonna put a larger pipe on top, maybe even weld it. We had the current one screwed in tight. I don't know how the bear could have gotten it down. However, and that's a big HOWEVER, I reckon he'll pull it down again. The weakest part gives first, and now something else will be the weakest part. But gotta keep on keepin' on...

Of course the bear left his usual oversized calling card. Not that I need one to know who visited.

So, I watered today, which was enjoyable because there were so many birds. White-throated Swifts swarmed over the big tank for about two hours, which never fails to delight me! I estimate there were between 75-100. Impossible to count, or photograph.

There are still a couple of juvenile male Lucifers around, which is really late for them I think. Nothing real unusual like I've been having in Alpine, but the oasis looks lovely for it being well into November.

Here's a bobcat my sister got on her game cam a week ago.(I just took this still from her video)

Tomorrow I'm hoping to start building a rock and concrete retainer wall at the top of the big hill where the ditch is washing into the road. Don't know if I still have that kind of work in me. We'll see.

I also want to mention that day before yesterday at my birdbath in town a male Red Crossbill showed up ever so briefly. Looking out the window to the birdbath means looking toward the sun, which is bad for photography. At least I can document stuff that I otherwise wouldn't have, or see.

Usually, when there's a year that crossbills visit (called an irruptive year), they forage on pines and junipers at the cemetery. So yesterday morning I went out to the cemetery to check, and serendipitously got to witness a flock of about thirty fly in. I posted it online, and soon birders were out there getting to enjoy them too. That was fun!