Our scheduled hummingbird banding was cancelled today so I went back to my oasis to work. Here's the tank after we finished cleaning it yesterday. If the rest of that sludge dries up before it rains, we'll clean that out too. I could remove it now but it makes a horrible mess, and is a lot more work when it's wet and heavy. For starters it has to be shoveled with a big scoop instead of the small square shovel I normally use. I end up falling and skidding in the foul-smelling mud. Enough said.
The swallows don't use it anymore, but many other birds and wildlife do. The swallows are now going to the other tank where I'm hauling clean water to. To give you a perspective, when this tank is full the water at the center is about 9 feet deep.
Today I hauled 4 loads (1300 gallons) from the lodge, then watered my trees, filled feeders, and came back to Alpine. It's been a long hot day. Temperature was 103° when I got back with my last load. It goes faster now that I take the dirt road. I should have done that all along.
It was a rather nostalgic time for me. Brought back memories of when my kids were young and I used to take them on that road to go swimming at the lodge. We didn't have air conditioning then either. Now that I have my short cut road to the Highway 118 via the Terlingua Ranch Road blacktop, I never used that back dirt road that goes to the lodge. I never had a reason to go before this killer drought. While I was waiting for the tank to fill (approximately 15 minutes), I saw a Western Wood-Pewee and Western Tanager in that big mesquite tree. Surprised me because it's been several weeks since I've seen those species at my place. I thought they were long gone from the area. I'll be glad when I have a mesquite tree that large.
When I got back with my last load of water, a herd (?) of deer was ravaging my oasis. They were stripping bushes like sumacs, etc. So in desperation, I put out a tub of high protein deer pellets. Hope that keeps them at bay until Hugh fills the deer feeders Saturday. I'm regretting putting the tub so near the habitat. I should have dragged it farther away. They tend to hang around feeders and clean out all vegetation near them while they're lounging around. We'll see.
Rain is forecast for this weekend. Even if it misses me, having it in the area will cool things down, at least. Meanwhile, I'll go back in 2 days and haul more water.
It was all I could manage to shovel the tank silt into the loader bucket while Hugh sat in it with the engine running. Taking time off to go get my camera out of the truck and ask him to photograph me shoveling didn't seem like a good idea at the time. I was just so glad to have the loader bucket to shovel into after all the weeks I spent shoveling into a five-gallon bucket and climbing out of the tank with it. The latter I did at 10 buckets a day, where this time I did all that was dried out in 2 hours. So it's a bigger workout for my body. I guess we did about 7 or so loader buckets full. Occasionally Hugh would climb out of the loader and shovel some so I could catch my breath, but it hurts his back real bad, even climbing in and out of the loader hurts him. (When he was young he was in an oil rig accident and broke his back. Now he has some fused discs.) He must love me a lot to be out in this heat shoveling for however long. There's still about 10 bucket loads left in the tank but they're mostly sludge now. The wildlife enjoy it. If it dries before it rains, we'll shovel it out.
After we got that done we loaded different dirt into the dump truck and I dumped it on bad spots on the road. It doesn't make a lot of difference and will wash away the first big rain, but it makes me glad to have it done. Right now the new dirt is powdery, but hopefully, we'll get a light shower one of these days so it'll settle in good. Then driving on it will pack it. And then rain will wash it away. It'll be worth it though. One year it started raining immediately after my late husband and I finished padding the road to perfection. Our work washed away really bad before we'd even had a chance to drive on it. Now I don't even try for a good road. I just keep the rocks picked up, try to keep the worst high center shaved off (for low-clearance vehicles of birders who visit), and the roughest spots patched a bit. It's never going to be a good road. When I built it 30 some years ago locals told me it wasn't possible to build a road between the canyon wall and arroyo on a mountain of solid rhyolite rock. The impossible does take me a little longer to do. I'll take some photos of the road and post them soon. It's just one mile long.
I dozed on the way to Alpine today. Wednesday I'm going to go back down there and haul water to water my trees with. I'll be using the dump truck (no a/c) and I think I'll take a shorter route to the lodge for the water. It's about 6 miles versus 15 but it's all dirt road, whereas the other has 7 miles of blacktop. I came back that way on my last trip the other day and the road wasn't as bad as I remembered it, probably because my road used to be better, but now is worse. Everything is relative.
I coerced my son, Eric Faust (builder and owner of Alpine Furniture Store), to go from Alpine today and fix my pumps. He's a genius and can fix anything, even computers.
So now both my tanks have working pumps in them, just no water. Can't have everything.
While I was rushing around filling feeders and helping locate the stuff Eric needed, I spotted a Greater Roadrunner on its nest. All I saw at first was the tail.
Tomorrow my husband is going down with me to help clean out the big tank and patch bad spots on the road. It'll be too hot for us to work after lunch, but we're leaving early to get as much morning cool as possible. It's going to be grueling work for me. I'll be shoveling dried silt into the bobcat bucket, and later driving the dump truck to dump dirt on the road. I'll be trading the shovel for a rake before it's over. No air-conditioning in the truck either. I'll try to take a few photos to post tomorrow.
Got up around 5:30 AM (I hate getting up that early), left Alpine for my oasis, got there before 8 AM, filled feeders, then headed for Terlingua Ranch Lodge to buy water and haul it home. Did 3 trips.
My daughter from Austin visited during the heat of the day, only 106° today. Since the pumps are down in both tanks it took me 4 hours to water my trees with the 900 gallons I hauled today. But I'm WINNING!
That's my husband's pickup. My arm hurts from shifting it all day. But it's air-conditioned and has satellite radio. It takes about 15 minutes to fill my 325 gallon tank. My place is 6 miles from the lodge. One round-trip takes me over an hour. Saw this big javelina in my water tank today. He was just laying in it when I first saw him, but he got up and ambled off when he saw me.
That was the new water I hauled in (to the leaky tank). Here is a shot of a couple of the many deer that were in and out of the tank with the old water in it. Note all the dried mud on the water's edge. I need to clean it out, but am truly not up to the task.
I had more I wanted to post today, but I'm too tired. Maybe tomorrow. The reason I said. "I'm winning," is because no trees have died yet. If they have, they don't know it yet.
Some trees are really having a hard time this year. Here's my beloved Texas Pistache that froze in February, then leafed out nicely only to have nearly all the leaves gobbled up by insects. Next to it (left side) is a Western Honey Mesquite that's just trucking along unperturbed. (These are inside my courtyard.)
Below is my Japanese Loquat that froze in February and is bravely trying to recover. Less heat and some rain would have been helpful in that process. I don't know if it'll make it or not. I hope so because it adds a nice tropical look to the courtyard. And some years I get to sample its delicious fruit. That little tuft of greenery on the lower right foreground isn't from the loquat. It's some other bush. Evergreen Sumac, I think. Same bush as is on the first photo upper right foreground.
Here's my new tube feeder that seems to deter cowbirds and bees. When bees aren't so bad I'll put regular bird seed in it. The mesquite in the background has never been watered, although it's beside a mulberry that gets watered.
I couldn't believe my eyes when this bird showed up today. It's not supposed to be here this time of year. Can you see which bird on this photo I'm referring to? You may have to click on the photo to enlarge it.
I can hardly imagine that it's an early or late migrant, nor a post-breeding wanderer. What does that leave but a confused or desperate bird? (TOS Handbook of Texas Birds says, "Lark Buntings begin moving south as early as late July, and northbound birds can be found through mid-May.")
The new feeder setup seems to have almost eliminated the bee and cowbird problem. Or the cowbirds were ready to leave anyway. There're still a dozen or so cowbirds around, but not like there were.
Below are four of the 40 or more species present.
In case you couldn't spot the out-of-place bird, here's a closer shot of the Lark Bunting.
I really had so much I wanted to post lately but yesterday the electricity was off all day and I got behind on everything. It's disgusting how dependent I am on electricity. I couldn't cook anything to eat, and couldn't even make a fire to cook because of the burn ban. To open a can of pork and beans I had to scrounge around in the guesthouse for a manual can opener. So I survived the day, working in the triple-digit heat, on one can of beans. I kept my clothes wet to stay cool.
Turkey Vultures smell the dying gambusias and are hanging around in larger than normal numbers.
I was in the thought process about titling this post, "Another day in the inferno," when, in a freak accident, my right index finger got stabbed deeply with a dinner fork. I'm not superstitious, but still, why tempt fate? Dinner fork, pitch fork.....
And that, right on the heels of my sister finding a Black Witch moth in her house. I'm serious, I couldn't make this stuff up. My sister, Ann's house is a mile down the arroyo from my oasis. Her daughter, Julia Green, took this photo of it.
Here's some lore about the moth-
"The nocturnal Black Witch - the largest moth in the continental United States, with a wing span of six to seven inches - has been vested with a foreboding aura of darkness and mystery. It bears common names such as Mariposa de la Muerte (Butterfly of Death) in Mexico, Duppy Bat (Lost Soul) in Jamaica, or Sorciére Noire (or Dark Sorcerer) in French-speaking Caribbean islands.
According to folklore, if the Black Witch flies into your field of view, it conveys a curse from an enemy. If it flies over your head, it will cause your hair to fall out. On a happier note, if the Black Witch appears before you after someone has died, it represents the soul of the person returning to bid you farewell. Should one alight on you, you will become rich. Should one land above the door of your home, you will win the lottery.
If it flies into your home when you are sick, you will not get well. You will die."
Luckily, my sister and her daughter aren't sick, and I didn't go see the moth. LOL
I'm not making much progress cleaning the mud out of the big tank as it dries.
It's not the heat that stops me, but the pain it causes my shoulder carrying the full buckets of dirt out. I've learned from past experience that if I keep going in spite of the pain I end up with a joint that has osteo-arthritis and doesn't work anymore. So I quit when my shoulder doesn't want to cooperate. Getting old sucks!
I should probably be more disturbed by this next photo, but after watching frogs gorge themselves on gambusias, I've become quite inured to these images.
And finally, here's a shot I took of a Verdin that I was pleased with.
I made a quick trip to CMO from Alpine to work on a problem of bees at the seed feeder. They emptied my tube feeders in less than 2 hours the other day so I decided to just put sunflower seeds in them and see what happens. I ordered a larger tube feeder that should arrive in Alpine today. The bees started shoveling out the sunflower seeds but seemed to be tapering off by the time I left. As for the feeding tray, I took the reservoir off the tray and suspended it where cowbirds can't feed on it, just the buntings, sparrows, etc. Now I googled and it seems bees might shovel out the sunflower seeds too, looking for pollen on them. Oh, well, maybe I'll eliminate cowbirds anyway. Times are tough. I got stung twice while servicing and moving the feeders. That is very unusual.
I saw a bat clinging to the courtyard wall. Here's a photo of it. I don't know what species it is. I'm told I probably have a dozen or more species at CMO.
It's always great to have a silver lining to these rainless clouds. While watering my trees today with what I consider to be the last of my water until it rains, except a puddle for the wildlife, of course, I saw an Elf Owl. Very unusual during the daytime, but it does happen.
Soon thereafter I saw two fledgling Barn Swallows. While I was photographing them their lunch wagon dropped by... over and over. Such fun to watch. I have no idea where they fledged from.
You can tell by the throat which one got that morsel.
Usually water and trees keep my oasis from being as hot as other places in the area but with scant water and little vegetation due to record cold in Feb, prolonged windy spring, and drought, there's nothing buffering it from the heat. I took this photo of a Western Tanager as it was enduring 108° heat, then I came inside to the air conditioner.
It was over 100° and not much bird activity so I put up my camera and was ready to leave the oasis when I heard 3 Cave Swallows come in. They crash landed in the stagnant puddle that's left in my tank. One clung to a twig sticking out above the water and the other two slowly fluttered their way to shore. I held my breath, ready to dive in to save them. (Well, since there's only a couple of inches of water, that's probably a little dramatic.) When I saw they were safe, I retrieved my camera.
Earlier today White-throated Swifts visited, and so did about 8 Cliff Swallows, but this is the first time any swallows, other than Barn Swallows, have landed, in or out of the water. Could it be they were trying to avoid a raptor, or do you think they were just hot and exhausted?
Other than that, all I photographed was this cooperative Yellow-breasted Chat.
That's an understatement! It's always so great having Jane and Bill visit, and getting help plus a Black-capped Vireo was over the top! Here is Jane surveying the finished leak-proof tank. Surely you'll want to click on the photo to see it better.
No time to watch birds today. I had to go to Alpine and they had to go back to Fredricksburg.
Ever since I started my oasis visitors have asked me tons of questions. One of them has occasionally been, "What are your goals for this place?" I always answer that with, "To have nesting Black-capped Vireos." Well, to my knowledge that hasn't happened YET, but today Jane discovered the first one ever documented for the oasis. It took me a lot of patient sitting, something I'm not good at, but I finally got a photo of it.
I can't even express in words how awesome Bill and Jane are. They've literally slaved away for 2 days, giving their all, as I've personally never before witnessed from someone under these circumstances. I can't say enough praise to do them justice. I'll just say they're my very best friends forever. I love you guys!
Jane worked just as hard as we did, but didn't have her hands in the concrete as much so became the unofficial chronicler of the project.
Clicking on the photo might give you a better idea of the task. Basically, we're coating the bad places, where there are cracks, or the concrete is crumbling due to wave and deer action, with an adhesive/cement slurry, then stuccoing it with much the same stuff, but with sand added. The surface has to all be brushed clean first. The finished results seem tough and durable. Only time will tell. Tomorrow we have to finish.
When it cools down some from the triple-digit °s, we may sit and watch the birds, and I may post some more photos later today.
At the crack of dawn we got to work, and worked until lunch time. Thereafter it was too hot to work. Made a good start, I'd say one third of the project. If our bodies will just hold out for the rest. Here is Jane cleaning the surface. It's impossible to work on a steep concrete surface that has dirt on it. Quick way to end up in the mud.
There's less than a foot of water in the tank right now.
Late in the afternoon we sat and watched this flycatcher. I think it's a Willow, though there were several other empidinax species around and it does getting confusing.
And I saw a female Townsend's Warbler looking mighty fit that was probably the same individual I saw on May 29th (see post for that day) near exhaustion. This was the only shot I got of it today. She was very active, unlike the other day when I could take as many closeups as I wanted to.
I have lived in the Christmas Mountains since 1976, and started my oasis in 1996. You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for visiting instructions if you are a birder or naturalist. No minors. Pet rules are the same as for Big Bend National Park.