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Friday, September 30, 2011

A small success

My sister called me early Wednesday morning (27th) to let me know that we had over half an inch of rain during the night. I would have rushed down from Alpine, but she said it came slow and none ran, plus I had to go help band hummers in the Davis Mountains the next day. So after banding I headed south, my pickup loaded with mulch.

Nothing had run into my tanks at the oasis except for what fell into them, BUT to the east of my place there must have been a heavier rain because my upper dirt tank had 2' of water in it. That might be anywhere from 4 to 10 thousand gallons. I'm not a good judge of that.

In terms of watering the oasis, that's at least a month's supply for this time of year. I had already lost a quarter of it before I got here because that dirt tank doesn't hold water for very long. so I was desperate to get it pumped out to the stucco tank. Easier said than done. After nearly 2 hours of trying to start the gas pump, I called my son in Alpine and prevailed on him to drop everything and come. He couldn't get it working either. He said my gas was too old, and because the tank wasn't full, a connection above the water was letting in air and it wouldn't pick up (download) the water. It was nearly dark by then. He took the pump to town with him.

It was torture to have all that lovely water, and not be able to save it. It was a blackish rain, probably because of the fires in the area, so the water was definitely tinted and sooty smelling, but lovely, nevertheless. So, I took my little electric pump (that I used to bail out the concrete tank previously), ran extension cords from the guesthouse about 150' or more away, stuck a hose in the 3" line, and waited for water to show up at the other end.

 When it hadn't by 10:30 PM, I took a flashlight and walked (more like bushwacked) the line. Found where a joint was letting it all leak out. A little leak is no problem when you're pumping a torrent through with a 3" pump, but with a little garden hose it's altogether different.

To make a long story short, I spent all morning killing myself before a trickle finally started going into the stucco tank. What a joyous occasion! I gave myself the rest of the afternoon off! My body wouldn't move anyway, so it wasn't a hard decision. And it's way too windy to unload the mulch, thank goodness. There are still several leaks on the line. I didn't have the fittings I needed to fix it, but I figure I'm still getting over half of the water.

The amount of water in the stucco tank is partly what I had put in there for the wildlife and gambusias, and partly what fell in there during the rain. Notice the little stream of water starting to come in now. It'll probably run for 2 or 3 days, but unfortunately I have to be in Alpine Sunday morning. I'll get all I can until then.

The soapberry trees I was so worried about in the arroyo are putting on some leaves, so hopefully they'll survive. And finally, it's obvious these plants in the courtyard didn't forget how to bloom during these horrible months of record heat and drought. I had been watering them, but it's not the same.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ready for more mulch

Hugh made me the mulching fork I wanted, and soon I hope to go fill my pickup with mulch. He welded 3 extra tines (taken from a broken fork) on a 4-tine fork. It'll work much better now with more tines, and having them closer together.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Some better, some worse

I'm feeling poorly again. I get over one thing and get socked with another. My pulled back muscle is almost better, but now I've got that vertigo again. I staggered around hauling water and watering yesterday, though I didn't do anything resembling thorough soaking. Hopefully it'll get by until I feel better.

The transmission on the truck shifts so bad that I'm afraid to drive it, so I'm hauling water in the trailer behind my pickup. Have to make more trips but they're more comfortable, and less stressful. It's just 7 miles to the lodge for water. I had thought it was farther but I set my odometer and measured it.

Looking at my oasis, I remind myself that it looks better than during winter, and since it's lovely in winter, it's lovely now. I'm like a mother seeing her ugly kid as beautiful, I guess.

So what's the "better?" The flies are gone from the feeders, so they don't sour as fast. Very few hummers are left, so I don't have to fill them as often. Or help band as often. And the weather is cooler, so I don't feel pressured to water as often, or as heavily.

As far as we can tell, only two Lucifer Hummingbirds fledged successfully this year. Here is one of them, a male. I could tell it was a male, before I even saw the two gorget feathers, by its aggressive behavior, which is very aggressive, even for an adult male Lucifer. Note the band on his right leg.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

At least it's cooler

I got down here yesterday after banding, but had pulled a muscle or something in my back and didn't get anything done. So today was catch up, and tomorrow already I have to go back to Alpine for Saturday banding at CDRI. Banding season is winding down though. Less hummers around. Most have taken advantage of the recent cool front and gone south with it. And with slightly cooler weather there's less pressure on me to haul water. After the first freeze twice monthly will suffice. October is forecast to be warmer and drier than normal.

This morning I spent squeezing the last drops out of the big tank that had fallen into it during that 3-day rainy spell we had that gave me, bit by bit, an inch or so of rain. (Sept 15-17) I bailed the water into the tub as it pumped out to the big cottonwood tree. I thought about leaving the water in the tank for wildlife, but it would evaporate in a week, and not before it made a big mosquito hatch. The birds still have 3 water places in the oasis, so they're not hurting. I could bail faster than the pump could pump, so I set up my tripod and took this self-portrait to help pass the time.

It seems to me that the Lucifer Hummingbirds are more orangish this summer than normal. I was wondering if it could be drought related. Maybe forced to a different diet, or something. Here's an example.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

More photos from yesterday

I ran out of time yesterday, but here are a few more photos.

A year ago I took some Cholla Cactus cuttings and potted them, planning to plant them in the ground after they grew roots. Then I waited for rain so the ground would be easier to dig. Rain never came until that little bit I got the last few days. The Cholla really needed to be planted, so I did that yesterday, all 14 of them. I originally intended to plant them on a slope just outside my oasis, but ended up putting them just inside in the area I dub my pine forest so it'll be easier to water them.

If you're wondering why I want Cholla in my oasis, it's because Lucifer Hummingbirds prefer to nest in Cholla. I'd like to get that species to nest closer to me so I can monitor and photograph the process. A long shot, but you never know unless you try. They really prefer to nest on higher slopes, but since my Cholla will be near feeders and trees, I might get lucky.

Basically, the oasis has 3 areas. The pine area, the hummingbird arena (where most of the feeders and viewing area are), and the main area where most of the bigger trees are.

Here is a view of the pine forest. My whole oasis is smaller than a city block, so none of these areas are really large.

If you look closely on the above photo (enlarged) you can see the Cholla patch in the background (center of left side). Below are a few miscellaneous photos taken yesterday.

Here the bees are shoveling the bird seed onto the ground where the opportunistic javelina are scarfing it up.

It didn't take the snakes and frogs long to move into the puddle in the tank.

I saw the Baltimore Oriole again yesterday and it flew just as I was snapping its photo. Did get a blurry image of it in the frame though.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Photo tour of oasis

I figure with the ground wet the place is looking as good as it's going to get this year, so I took some photos of it. When I made my previous post today it was still dark outside. Here's the expanding puddle in the big tank. Keep in mind that I had pumped out a lot of what was there yesterday. I debated whether to pump it out now, or chance evaporation and pump it to the trees later this week when they'll need it worse. It's at least 1,000 gallons. I opted to wait.

And if we get more rain things might green up more than I expect. Below is a photo of where I removed the gravel and rock-edged walkway and put mulch. That big center bush is a Mountain Laurel. To the right of it is a small mesquite that came up on its own. In a few years it'll be big and fill that area with wonderful habitat that I won't have to worry about watering. That's the plan anyway.

Next, the arroyo that delivers the water to my tanks with a quick half inch of rain or more. This stand of young soapberry trees grew here because of the diversion dam downstream backing water into this area. They look pretty dead but remain supple, so I'm optimistic. Oasis is on the left of this arroyo.

One big surprise is the apricot tree. It has weathered the cold, drought, heat, and deer much better than expected. I watered it less than I did the mulberry trees. Note the new mulch around its periphery.

And here are the pitiful mulberry trees for comparison. But at least they're still alive.

And last, the two cottonwood trees. This first is the Eastern cottonwood, sparse, but what leaves there are on it, are green.

This last one is the worst looking tree in the oasis, but parts of it have tiny greenish leaves. I think it's alive. This is just how it adapts to drought conditions. The Chinese Pistachio (right foreground) is doing good, all things considered.

A little rain

Remember the portable pump I left in the tank yesterday?

Well, that's the first time all year I left anything in the tank overnight, and wouldn't you know it started to rain at 2:30 this morning, so I went out in it, and removed the pump. Then it stopped raining before anything ran.

Nevertheless, any rain is good. In the last 3 days that makes a total of one inch. Not only won't I have to haul water for a week in that crippled old truck, but, hopefully, the native trees along the arroyo (that don't get watered by me) might survive with this. I'm thinking the soapberries, Vasey Oaks (downstream from my oasis), hackberries, persimmons, as well as the sumac bushes, etc.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Enjoyable day

I woke up this morning to wet ground. No typo.... WET GROUND! One inch below the ground.... bone dry. Checking the rain gauge it showed .4 inch. I don't see how the ground didn't get wetter, but I shelved my plan to go haul water. The puddles in the tanks had grown in the night. No water ran anywhere. The water in the tanks was from what actually fell into them.

In the big tank there wasn't enough water to pump out with the permanent well pump that's in there, but I put in a little portable pump and pumped some of it out. I worried about burning up the pump since it's supposed to be submerged, so I quit. However, I have a plan for tomorrow. I'm going to put the pump inside a bucket or tub and bail the water into the tub by hand as it pumps it to a cottonwood tree.

In the other smaller tank I keep a puddle of water to keep my gambusias alive, so I watered a few things with the excess water it had accumulated.

With the temperature cooler, I worked nonstop from 8 AM until 1:30 PM. By then my right arm wouldn't move anymore, but I got a lot done. Unloaded the pickup full of mulch, removed a walkway I don't use anymore, covered it with mulch, plus relocated the gravel that had been on that walkway, and pruned the "droopers" from an AZ Cypress tree. Droopers are the limbs that grow straight down and rub on the nice horizontal limbs. After a short lunch and nap, I went to enjoy watching the Wilson's Warblers picking the black flies off the hummingbird feeders. You may remember how they were covered with the flies. (If not, see the photos posted Aug 29.)

There were about a dozen warblers foraging on the feeders all day long, and those tiny flies were getting harder to find.

The flies must not be very filling because they sure ate a lot of them.

Wilson's Warblers migrate through here in the spring and fall. Today I saw only the males, so I look forward to continued insect control when the females come through in a week or so. I hope I don't run out of flies for them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Never gonna rain at CMO

At Alpine we got well over an inch of rain today, but at CMO, only one-tenth inch. By the time I finished helping band hummers in the Davis Mountains and got down here the ground was already dry. Bummer! Here's how much ran down the sides of the big tank. It'll evaporate tomorrow.

A big surprise! There's a Cenizo bush that I planted years ago but haven't watered this summer since I ran out of water. With just that tenth inch of rain this morning, it bloomed this afternoon. Pretty amazing even though that's the scraggliest, most pathetic blooming it's ever done!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

More mulch

I headed south with a huge load of mulch, feeling pretty good. I resisted the urge to yell out at the border patrol checkpoint as I went breezing by. I wanted to say, "I'm winning!" But I figured they wouldn't understand and might chase me down.

By the time I got the mulch unloaded and spread, I wasn't so chirpy anymore. At 100° it didn't feel like I was winning either. More like delusional.

I should explain that when I first planted my trees starting in 1996 I mulched as much as I could. I didn't have the great mulch I have now, and with the oasis pretty barren, most of it blew away or was rooted up by wildlife. Then, through the years, the trees made a pretty nice canopy of shade so I got remiss in mulching. But this year, what with the drought, then record cold, then record heat, very few trees are lush enough to shade the ground. That wouldn't be so bad if it never got over 100° as is the case most years. But months of triple-digit heat and sparse canopy cover means the situation is compounded as the ground beneath the trees sizzle. So the mulch helps insulate the tree roots from the heat. Of course I should have done this months ago, but I didn't know about this great mulch, and kept thinking it would rain any day.

So now I have a headache (probably dehydrated) to go with my chronic blisters. No time today to water or watch birds. Tomorrow I'm going to just recover, then help band hummers in the Davis Mountains the next day. Then back to the oasis to water everything. When I can fit it in I want to get more mulch, though everything now has some under it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Update from yesterday

My oriole has been confirmed as a Baltimore. Here's a female Bullock's Oriole that was also feeding on black flies (or whatever they are) yesterday for comparison.

This morning my son and I went down to my oasis to bring the crippled truck to town, but he discovered it was 4 quarts low on transmission fluid, and with fluid added, it seems to work fine. I feel like I got a reprieve from death row.

I know this drought is hurting everyone and I hope I'm not giving you the impression that I expect to be exempted from its effects. I'm just sharing my experience of it with you. Somehow, I'll still have a wonderful oasis when it's all over, and I want to share that with you too.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Baltimore Oriole

I was enjoying a brief respite from slavery, photographing orioles eating those nasty black flies off hummingbird feeders. One I thought was more colorful and probably a young male Bullock's. I took lots of photos. When I downloaded them a while ago, it struck me that it looks more like a young Baltimore Oriole.

Those insects must be yummy. Just goes to show I need to pay closer attention. All input appreciated.

I'm really bummed out. I think the transmission is out on my water hauling truck and that may prove to be the last straw in my attempts to save my oasis.

Here's a Black-throated Sparrow demolishing a moth, or some other kind of insect.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Empidonax ID challenge

Earlier this week Kelly Bryan photographed several empidonax flycatchers at my oasis. Yesterday he emailed the photos to me in the form of a quiz. It was so much fun trying to figure out which were which that I thought some of you Texbirders would like to try your hand at it. So, with Kelly's permission, here are 8 photos (taken by Kelly) of 4 individuals of 3 species.  Even knowing which 3 species were involved in the quiz, I only guessed one correctly. Click any photo to enlarge.

Empid 1A
Empid 1B
Empid 2A
Empid 2B
Empid 3A
Empid 3B
Empid 4A
Empid 4B

This is just for fun and maybe a learning experience. I know it's about as tough a challenge as birding can offer, and very few of you will even attempt it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Mulch is so important when trying to keep the ground from drying out, and even more so in this drought. (Think frosting on a cake.) The Alpine recycling center has it for free, so I couldn't resist. I would take all they have if I could physically haul it away. But I intend to take some to CMO with me every time I go there for as long as the mulch supply lasts. My husband loaded my pickup with what I hope is the first of many loads. It's wonderful stuff. Unlike grass clippings that blow away, this should stay better and last longer.

The mulch is shredded tree limbs and has a lot of pine needles in it.

I baked hubby a yummy cake.

A triple win! (Oasis, Hugh, and me)

Here is the documentary-only photo Kelly Bryan was able to snap of an Eastern Kingbird taking off to continue south after a brief stop at CMO on 9-5-11 (see post for that day).

I feel such gratitude to Kelly for so much, including this photo. Thanks, Kelly.