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Monday, August 29, 2011

Making the best of it

I do enjoy my oasis, and if I can enjoy it in the worst of times, that's good. And think of the millions of people worse off. For them, no rain can mean crop failure and starvation. Even if they had the money to buy water, there's no water for them to buy. And I do enjoy not having snakes, grass, weeds, or mosquitoes. This whole experience is educational. (I'm trying to be upbeat about it.)

I wasn't able to locate a dragonfly that wasn't in flight. Too fast to photograph. Saw an Orchard Oriole that seemed to be picking the flies off a feeder, but couldn't be sure. Maybe he was trying to get to the sugar water.

In the last 2 days I hauled about 3,000 gallons of water and watered everything. It's easier to be cheerful when things are watered and I'm not sick.  Soon it'll cool off and I won't have to water as much.

Tomorrow I'm going to Alpine, as we'll be banding in the Davis Mountains for the next 3 days.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

All things reconsidered

Having gone a whole year now without measurable rain, it gets me to thinking of what I should have done differently. I can't really think of anything. If you want an oasis in the desert you have to water it. Otherwise, you'll end up with what was there before you started, a desert in a desert. Even native trees weren't there before I planted. Granted a few might survive without water for a year or so. Like native hackberry, soapberry, and junipers. Maybe buckeye and persimmons. But the sotol even look dead, so I don't want to chance losing my trees, native or otherwise. And most of what I planted are natives, whatever "native" is.

Does it mean grew here a thousand years ago, or may still be around a thousand years in the future? How long does a plant that has naturalized have to be here before it's considered a native? I never was a purist. I planted what I thought I could keep alive when the inevitable drought came and what I thought would attact the most variety of birds. A few I just wanted the fun of growing. The Chinese Pistachio comes to mind in that category. I knew my cottonwoods and mulberries would be iffy. But so worth having in a desert oasis. No conclusions, just thoughts. Enduring things like this record cold winter, record hot summer, and record drought change who we are. And what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. We'll see.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Newspaper article about CMO

I always dread articles about my place because they're usually so inaccurate. This one from the Houston Chronicle is no exception.

I agreed to the article on condition I could proof it first. Of course, that never happened. One of the most glaring inaccuracies is that cottonwood trees grow naturally at my place. Maybe they did thousands of years ago.

Most migrants come in the spring months (Apr-May), though some do come in Aug-Sept.

This is also incorrect: "She had two concrete-lined ponds built to catch rainwater as it flows down an arroyo. A small dam diverts any excess to trees and understory plants." In actuality, the concrete-lined tanks are for storing water that is diverted by dams into them. The tanks (not ponds) do not catch flowing rainwater. And no dam diverts excess to trees and understory plants. All are watered by me by hand with a hose, or from rainfall. Oh, and I built the tanks along with my late husband, Sherwood Kolb. Just to set the record straight.

At least the last paragraph quotes me accurately.

There I got that off my chest.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Big Banding Blitz

I thought today went well. The group banded at 3 places in S Brewster Co, including CMO. They caught 81 hummers, 40 of which were Lucifers, plus 5 other species. All had a good time. The weather wasn't over 100° for a change, and with a brisk breeze, not too uncomfortable. The next couple of days are supposed to be brutally hot, so we got lucky there. Here's Kelly retrieving a bird from a trap.

And here's some of the group waiting as Kelly is grilling the meat for lunch.

Food at last...

Monday, August 22, 2011


I'm still feeling dizzy and weak. My husband isn't feeling well either, and he has never handled a hummingbird, so that can't be the cause. Probably what I suspected all along, working too hard in the heat for too long a time, combined with old age, makes me susceptible to viruses.

Nevertheless, I'm plugging away. For the second consecutive year now, a group of 15-20 bird banders will be visiting (Aug. 26), and I have lots I want to get done before then. Luckily, I arranged the seating in the house (for our luncheon) before I got sick.

Now, besides hauling water and trying to water my oasis, I'm ever so slowly trying to clean out my central water feature. I habitually put potted water plants in it, then they escape their pots and take over, leaving no room for water, or for viewing birds at the water. I've removed the water lilies and have to chop out the horsetails in the foreground. I'll leave those in the back part. Grueling work. In a normal year this is all pretty shaded and hidden by vegetation, so the growth in the water is too much.

I'm determined to end up with a better oasis after this drought is over than I had before, though it may take a year or two. Before, during rainy times, it was pretty much a mass of greenery, often snake infested. Now I hope to continue in the direction I originally envisioned, that of a lush green canopy with a sprinkling of understory and wildflowers. I had let native grasses overtake the ground beneath. I hope to prevent that from now on, and use more mulch instead. The most native stuff should survive so there will be more of that in the future.

I plan to prune up this cottonwood, if it survives, making room beneath it for the volunteer mulberry to thrive. That means cutting off the huge lower left limb. The tree looks bad right now and may well succumb to the drought. Currently, that lower left limb is the only one with leaves left on it.

Also going to cut out all the dead willows. And continue creating the hummingbird flower garden I started working on a year or so ago. With a few good rains, it should get lovely. More on that in future posts.

This  sprawling huisache tree is going to get severely pruned to make it more upright and allow the small live oak under it to thrive. Many projects like that are in the plans. As I and my trees wait for rain.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Never say things can't get worse

Overloaded to the max and then I got sick. I might have thought I had just overdone, working in the triple-digit heat from daylight to dark every day for 2 months, but then Kelly Bryan, the hummingbird bander I work with, got sick too. Of course, we'll never know for sure, but we have to consider that handling hundreds of hummers every week and being careless about washing our hands could be the culprit. I went to the Dr. this morning, got a steroid shot, antibiotics and anti-nausea medication, so am feeling quite well now. Haven't heard from Kelly today. We missed 2 scheduled banding sessions, but can hardly miss the one tomorrow as it's at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute (CDRI) where it's been advertised and will draw observers to witness it.

I figure if the work had gotten to me I would have gotten sick way before now. But we never can know for sure. I will get religious about washing my hands after banding and not snacking during the banding process, just in case. I think Kelly had flu-like symptoms, while I just had a bad case of vertigo. It's something I've had several times before I ever started handling hummers. The hummers do winter in tropical places and according to my Nurse Practitioner, birds carry a host of bad stuff. And viruses can cause vertigo. They also can affect different people differently. So.....

Here are a couple of  photos of Kelly doing a banding demonstration during the last session at CDRI.

(That's Kelly wearing the cap)

And a photo of me retrieving a hummer. I took it from the trap and am putting it in a bag to await banding, then release.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rain or shine?

Coming into Alpine this evening around 7 PM I saw this majestic sky. I couldn't tell what was rain and what was shine. Click to enlarge.

Either way, it wasn't raining in the Christmas Mountains where I came from.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Still truckin'

That storm cell I posted a photo of yesterday put 14 feet of water in John Wells new earthen tank.

Meanwhile, here I am today hauling water. The truck is broken down so I pulled the 300 gallon tank behind my pickup.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

No rain, but cooler

It rained all around me, as usual. But a sprinkle did spill over my way. A visitor to my oasis took this photo of it. Maybe if you click to enlarge you might see the rain drops falling on my head.

Below is my sweet fun visitor, Bob Hamill of Austin. He enjoyed my parched oasis so much yesterday that he came back today. Go figure!

We saw a pair of Dickcissels, my first for the year. One was minus its tail.

Below is the radar map showing where it rained today. My artfully drawn arrow points to the general vicinity of where my place is situated.

And so you can further share my pain, below is a photo taken looking southwest of my place around the time of this radar, which would be 4:34 PM, our CST. That yellow spot to the southwest of my place on the radar map is probably the storm cell shown in my photo.

What with Bob visiting and the promise of rain I didn't  go to the lodge for water, but I'll head out first thing in the morning. At least it wasn't much above 90° today for a welcome change.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One day at a time

I just try to make it through each day and not think about how long this drought might continue at my place.... as I watch it rain daily all around me.

So this morning we banded in the Davis Mountains. It rained there. Then I rushed to my oasis to fill feeders and haul water to my cottonwoods. It rained all around me there. Then, back to Alpine so I'll be closer to tomorrow's banding site. Whew! Yes, it rained a bit in Alpine today, too. (More the day before yesterday.)

Here's a photo of my feeder cluster in Alpine. I have more feeders than you can see on the photo, but this cluster is their favorite buffet. I counted nine hummers on the photo. How many do you see? Click to enlarge.

I didn't count that shadow right below the center that's probably a hummer moving really fast. We're going to band here Monday morning. I'll get a better idea of how many hummers are here then, but for now I'd estimate at least 50 of 4 or 5 species. (Lucifer, Black-chinned, Rufous, Calliope, and probably an Allen's. Need bird in hand or a photo of the tail spread to determine the latter.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Juvenile grosbeak

At the oasis I have quite a few juvenile hummers. It's good to know they nested successfully in spite of the drought. Below is a juvenile Blue Grosbeak.

Migrants are arriving in normal numbers. I really enjoyed seeing this male Lark Bunting in his summer plumage . Well, except for a little molting, that is. Usually they winter here and I only see them in their winter plumage, which is very drab.

I haven't identified this empidinax flycatcher yet. All help appreciated. It seems to have a longish bill and very short primary extensions, for what that's worth.

Update: Kelly Bryan thinks it looks like a Least Flycatcher based on what he can tell from the photo, so I'm going with that.