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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Migration winding down

Hardly saw any migrants today, but didn't have much time to look. This was a late migration I believe.

Trying to clean the tank a bit so when we (Bill Lindemann, Jane Crone, and myself) start patching it tomorrow it'll save us time. You can expect some photos tomorrow if I'm able.

We saw a little of what I call heat lightning off to the west. Maybe rain soon.

Here's a shot I took of an empidinax flycatcher late this afternoon after I was too tired to work anymore. I'm calling it a Willow.

Monday, May 30, 2011

All about water

Above the water (W Wood-Pewee)

At the water (female C. Yellowthroat)

Under the water (oops! Let me explain)

The leaves were falling off the cottonwood trees on this, another triple digit day, so I watered them. While I was at it I watered a few other things. Apparently a rabbit had a den under the mulch inside a tree basin, and it filled with water. Suddenly 2 baby rabbits were in water at my feet. In my haste to rescue them I only got this blurry photo of their heads. Then I took them out of the water and checked up on them until dark. No adult ever showed up, although they appeared healthy. I think they're orphaned. So sad.

Also saw this American Pipit with a wing injury foraging along the water.

Just another day at a West Texas oasis. Tomorrow I have to clean more dried mud out of the above tank and sift sand. Friends are coming to help me patch the tank. I'll post pictures of that operation on Wed or Thurs providing my arm still moves. Didn't see hide nor feather of yesterday's stressed warbler. I'm optimistically thinking it recovered and moved on. Supposed to cool down tomorrow. And maybe rain. We installed two more rain barrels today but they won't be plumbed in until Wed.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Not for the faint-hearted

I arrived at my oasis early this morning to find a stressed Townsend's Warbler. I expected it to topple over, belly up, legs pointed skyward, while I was taking this photo, but it seemed to get somewhat better throughout the day, so it will hopefully survive.

The oasis is still crammed with birds, but at least the insect population seems to be increasing, so I know they have food and water. Have many flycatchers, and I spent considerable time trying to ID them. I've decided, but correct me if I'm wrong, that this one is a Willow.

At 105° today (and my sister said it was hotter yesterday), I'm thankful I'm not finding any dead birds (since that Yellow-headed Blackbird on April 25).

With my storage tanks all dry or nearly dry, I'm paranoid about wasting a drop of water. However, somehow today I took a nap and left water running into one of my water features. Topped it off, which I hadn't planned to do. But the birds loved it. This MacGillivray's Warbler was one of several that spent hours in it. Flycatchers, including the one above, fought for prime perches above the water.

I've seen these W. Black-necked Garter Snakes catch frogs often, but I always assumed they swallowed them. Guess not always. Don't click on this photo if you're squeamish.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Anna's Hummingbird

After I finished the previous post I drove down to my oasis for one last look. It was around 7 PM. I heard a hummingbird chip note that sounded suspiciously like an Anna's Hummingbird. Sure enough, in a minute I spotted this adult female. The Black-chinned males were harassing her mercilessly, but she seemed to be getting her share of sugar water in spite of them.

It was a real treat to see an Anna's this time of year. I wanted to capture her gorget color but this was the best I could do. Even using flash didn't help. If you look hard you might see a hint of red.

I don't like what flash does to the look of the eyes, and it still didn't illuminate the gorget. Maybe tomorrow.

Oh, deer!

 I love seeing deer as much as anyone else, but this drought has my little water reserve dwindling even faster than evaporation zaps it. However, that isn't the problem that concerns me most. When the deer go down the steep slopes of the concrete tank to the water, then get spooked, then stampede out. With so many deer doing this most of the day, it pulverizes the concrete tank.

If you enlarge (by clicking on) the above photo you can see a recent patch I did at the spillway. But there are other areas badly eroded too. A couple of friends have committed to come help me patch some other places. I could pump the water to the other tank that they can't hurt but I'm afraid it might leak and that would be bad. I patched it last winter, but can't be sure until it's tested. I'll probably end up doing that, but this tank still needs to be patched.

On a more pleasant note, there are still birds everywhere. I'm calling this one a Western Wood-Pewee even though I didn't see the front to confirm the dark vest.

And here's a scruffy, but not all that muddy, looking 1st spring male Summer Tanager foraging among the mud. Hey, a bird's gotta do what a bird's gotta do, with the drought and all.

 Well, one by one, I'm trying to learn other species besides birds. I've been working on butterflies for a year or two, and now I'm starting to attempt lizards. Here is my first photo capture. A Rusty-rumped Whiptail.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Alpine habitat

My Christmas Mountains Oasis is twice as old as the habitat I'm working on in Alpine (nearly 16 years versus 8 years). At CMO I started with nothing, whereas, in Alpine there were 2 ponds and a neat row of Desert Pines already there. While I'm sure some of the recent nesting activity at CMO is a result of maturing habitat, in Alpine I'm not sure if bird numbers are up because of maturing vegetation, or because of the drought. Probably a little of both.

Seen today were Painted Buntings, an Indigo Bunting, a late migrating White-crowned Sparrow (oriantha), MacGillivray's Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, plus more migrants and all the regular yard birds. Thirty-one species in all. The only hummingbirds are about 15 Black-chinneds. And this female Common Yellowthroat was more cooperative than the male I saw a few days ago.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ash-throated Flycatchers nesting

.Of all the birds I saw today I failed to get photos of the two I most wanted to, a Black-chinned Sparrow and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I saw them when some birders were here and after they left I didn't see them again. Maybe tomorrow.

While I was watching for them I took a photo of a MacGillivray's Warbler way off in the distance. I was surprised when I downloaded the pictures and there was also an [Audubon's] Yellow-rumped Warbler on the shot. Neither bird is in focus, of course. They're at one of my water features.

The most fun thing to photograph today was an Ash-throated Flycatcher building a nest in a woodpecker hole in an agave stalk.

Very few birds are actually nesting because of the drought, so maybe the flycatcher's starting to nest is a good sign that it'll rain soon. I looked at my records and this is the longest dry spell we've had since my sister and I started keeping records in 1993. It's no wonder my oasis looks bad after record freezing in February that killed things way back, to the ground in some cases, and now a devastating drought.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


It hasn't rained here since last August. As my oasis depends on harvested rainwater, things are looking bleak. The bats are even gone. If one of my tanks hadn't leaked I wouldn't be in such bad shape now. I can't water my trees with the foot or so of water that's left in one tank because it's needed for the birds and deer to drink, as well as keep my gambusias alive. Without gambusias, when it does rain, the place would become unbearable with mosquitos. Gambusias eat the mosquito larva in the water. So, I sit and watch my trees languish. Here's a mulberry tree beside a mesquite. You all know how dense a healthy mulberry tree is.

Realistically, it probably won't rain until July, the beginning of our 3 month rainy season. The oasis is still crammed with birds desperately seeking food and water. And lack of water isn't entirely why things are puny. Without rain things will survive on watering, but not thrive. Something about rain. The desert is totally transformed when it rains, and hopefully my oasis will be too. Maybe I'll end up with a more natural habitat that won't require so much watering, but still be equally lovely. It's evolving. When I started out with bare ground I had to plant stuff to water and I planted what I thought would be good for me and the birds. I had to attract birds so they would plant the native stuff. Then when the native stuff gets mature, the stuff I planted isn't as important. But having it gives me the incentive to water, and the water helps the native stuff too. We'll see.

Monday, May 16, 2011

American Redstart

I haven't posted for nearly a week because I was busy helping Kelly Bryan and Fred Bassett band hummingbirds. The drought is so bad that hummers don't have nectar sources anywhere other than feeders. We banded over 80 Lucifers alone (at three S Brewster Co banding sites). We simply must have rain soon, like yesterday.

Quite a few migrants still seeking refuge at the oasis. When I wasn't distracted by a MacGillivray's Warbler and empidinax flycatchers, I was determined to get photos of an American Redstart foraging close to where I sat. The problem was, besides the bird moving constantly, that the bird was between me and the sun. So the results weren't good, but better than what I got of that Slate-throated Redstart (see April 20 post), which was nothing.

I'm not a snake afficionado, but if I have to see one, I'd rather it be this W. Coachwhip (Red Racer, to some) than a rattler.

In the afternoon when the light got better I tried for better photos of the redstart. I like these shots better. I'm pretty sure it's a first summer male. (Notice the blotchy black areas that show up best on the last photo.) You can always click on any photo on my blog to enlarge.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Blue-throated Hummingbird

This is the first time I've ever posted twice in the same day but I figured the BLUH that arrived in my courtyard at around 4 PM (after my first post) warranted a separate posting. Initially, he seemed to be exhausted. The temperature was the hottest so far this year--- over 100°. After he had remained for 2 hours, I called my sister to come see him. The BLUH is the largest US hummer. She drove the mile from her place to see this young male hummer, and I couldn't find him anywhere. I figured he had recovered and left. After my sister left, I went to my oasis to turn off the pump on my water feature, and there the hummer was, bigger than life.... well, bigger than the other hummers anyway. He was energetically defending four feeders. I called my sister and she returned to enjoy the antics with me until nearly dark. I had briefly seen a BLUH years ago at my oasis, but this is the first documented one.

To get an idea of how big he is, check out his size compared to the feeders.

Very hot and very birdy today

This is the hottest day so far. It got up to 100 degrees here, which it seldom does. The birds (over 62 species) are trying their best to stay cool.

Yellow Warbler

Just in case you think that the birds sit and pose for me all day, let me assure you that 99.9% of my photos are either clear shots of a branch the bird just left as I snapped the photo, such as this one....

...or part of a bird, such as these.

Painted Bunting

Western Tanager

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Finally found the catbird

I had given up on locating the Gray Catbird after spending most of the morning looking in the oasis, but the little bugger was in the courtyard. There's a native fruiting mulberry there that he was attracted to. Because of the courtyard wall between the bird and the sun, I knew I'd never have good photographic conditions, but did the best I could.

We played hide-and-seek for quite a while before he finally got hungry enough to forage on the ground under the mulberry tree.

Earlier, at the oasis, I was suprised to find a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird defending a feeder. I thought it was way too late in the spring for hummers, other than the nesting species (LUHU & BCHU). There were shrubs in the way but I wanted to document him for now at least, and later try for an unimpeded shot.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Back at CMO

If you can't keep up with my comings and goings, don't feel bad, I can't either. I got here late this afternoon just in time to experience a lovely little spring shower. Even though it wasn't enough to water anything, it did my heart good to see the ground look wet for even a short time. I'm thinking we'll get some serious rain before long.

I'm still seeking the catbird to photograph. I hope it's still around. If it is, I'll locate and photograph it tomorrow. The mulberry trees were so colorful with birds, and beneath them were colorful warblers and buntings, except for this less than colorful female Varied Bunting. They're eating berries or bugs, or both.

Here's a 1st year male Summer Tanager. Talk about colorful!

As beautiful as Scott's Orioles are, I never seem to be able to photograph them when they're not mostly hidden by foliage.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Alpine hummingbird nest

I located an active Black-chinned Hummingbird nest in an ash tree that usually has hummer nests this time of year, so that confirms they're nesting in Alpine. I know they're nesting in the Christmas Mountains, but I haven't located a nest yet.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Finally a few more warblers

I hated having to come to Alpine this afternoon to catch up on things here. Before I left I saw warblers, without even looking for any. No telling what's there if I really looked. Here's a MacGillivray's Warbler I managed a quick shot at.

I saw a Gray Catbird but didn't have a chance to get photos.

Another fun group visited this morning and I shared their great lunch while watching great birds with great weather. Oh, that it could have been this lovely two days ago when there were over 30 birders here. My long time friend, Bill Lindemann (3rd from the left with his wife, Janet beside him) brought the group. I don't really remember anyone else's name, sorry, but I loved them all anyway. A rose without a name remembered is still a rose.

When I arrived in Alpine my husband (who lives in Alpine) told me a duck was setting in the duck nest I made some time ago (see photo posted 3/28). I was disappointed it wasn't the Mexican Ducks that have taken up residence here. It's a domestic mallard runner, or something like that. But it's still exciting to have a duck nesting in it and it'll be so fun if we end up with baby ducks. Next year, if I can keep my husband from mowing around the ponds, the Mexican Ducks might nest.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Except for a paucity of warblers, migration is moving along with a seemingly normal diversity. Still inundated with Brown-headed Cowbirds.

I love seeing a Lark Bunting in (almost) summer plumage. Normally, I see them only in winter plumage.

And who would have thought Varied Buntings don't just eat mulberries. I had been thinking of dubbing them "Berried Buntings."

Of the approximately 150 shots I took today, this Western Tanager is my favorite.

Below is what  you would have seen had you been walking my dike trail back towards the oasis today. Since you weren't able to do that, I did it for you. Of course, it was a terribly unselfish thing for me to do. LOL

The End.