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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Back to normal...

Whatever normal is.

I have a wonderful large extended family, and we all had a great holiday. My genius sons did lots of stuff to my computers, so I feel state-of-the-art now.

After everyone was gone I slipped over to a private residence (in Alpine) where a Harris's Sparrow has been hanging out for several days. Another tick to my Brewster County list. Bad lighting, through a window, but at least you can tell it's a Harris's Sparrow.


It got down to 16° at the oasis last night. I hope that's not a harbinger of things to come.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Visit to Rio Grande Village

I decided to get a load of water and then check out Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park. I hadn't been there all year and was curious how it looked after February's freeze and the summer's unbearable heat / drought. Remember, RGV is my second favorite place on earth. Last November the rare Tufted Flycatcher showed up there.

At the lodge I, the "queen of water," photographed my "water wand" (all this terminology per the office personnel), and loaded up my water wagon.


In my eagerness to get unloaded and packed for RGV, then Alpine, I forgot to empty the 35 gallon tank. So it made the long circuit with me, full of water. Duh! Now I can't fill it with free water in Alpine because it's already full!

RGV looked great!


And I loved the new state-of-the-art boardwalk..



But the day's highlight for me was watching an American Bittern trying to swallow a fish.... a very serenzipitous sighting. (My newly coined word means zippity-serendipity, ie. not a long enough look at an awesome unexpected sighting.)


It seemed that the bittern would get tired and droop its head, then try again, then droop, then repeat the process over and over. Since it's the first time I've witnessed this event, I'm not sure if that was the case, or if the bittern was somehow using the ground for leverage. Or maybe trying to dislodge the stuck fish. Any comments?



It was a long way off, and when I tried to get closer, the bird waddled into the underbrush and disappeared, fish and all. Since the bird was about ten feet away from any water, this process may have been ongoing for quite some time. Any idea how long that lasts? I've watched snakes take as long as 30 minutes to dispatch a large frog, but that's my only experience in that area.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trees, tank, and Phainopepla

A few of the deciduous trees are finally starting to change color. Here is the peach tree.


And the Chinese Pistachio tree...


 I seldom see Phainopeplas, except when the mulberries are ripe. (Click Phainopepla label for photos.) So when I saw one today I right away wondered why. Upon closer examination I realized it was feeding on mistletoe, its trademark food. Having never seen a mistletoe berry, I was somewhat perplexed, but I scrutinized the patch of mistletoe, and sure enough, there were a few berries. I was amazed. They also nest in mistletoe, so when I saw an old nest, I wondered. I'm going to pay more attention to mistletoe in the future, that's for sure. It astounds me that the Phainopepla even located that one small cluster of berries.



This old nest is full of old leaves.


The mistletoe is on a scraggly catclaw acacia bush above an old gray water cistern near the guesthouse. (Because the guesthouse is underground I couldn't run the water out onto the ground.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Alpine ducks

Every year my Alpine habitat gets better. Today it hosted its first Wood Duck... a gorgeous male.


There have also been various other visitors recently, including these Mexican Ducks.


Tomorrow I'm going back to my oasis for several days. Can't wait!



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Alpine habitat

I got out and did some much overdue work here. Still much more to do, but I can just do what I can.



Above is the Mexican Elder tree before I worked on it. Below is after.


Here is a Desert Pine (elderica) after I cleaned out around it and put it in a bigger deer cage. They come up by themselves around our yard and I put some of them into pots while they're still just tiny sprouts, then plant them in the habitat once they develop a substantial root system.


Last, is a White Mulberry I bought online, cheap, this spring. I wanted a white one because I think they grow larger than the black or red ones. Birds like tall trees.


The soil here is pure clay. It takes forever for water to soak into the ground, and it's a killer digging in it. I did four trees today and still have about 20 to go. Here's the after shot.


The extreme cold and heat of this year was hardest on young trees, but I think this one will thrive next year.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mexican Elder trees

Since observing the Bay-breasted Warbler feasting on berries from was a Mexican Elder (see yesterday's post), I've developed a new appreciation for that species. It seems to have thrived in spite of the record cold, as well as the record heat this year. (It gets plenty of watering so I don't count the record drought.) And the elder tree by the fountain was blooming. The one the warbler was feeding in had both green and ripe berries. I'm impressed.

I planted one in Alpine and one at the oasis, and neither of them looks good. Nevertheless, I think I'll plant a couple more in the spring. They're almost evergreen and can bear fruit twice a year. Awesome! Meanwhile, I watered and pruned the one here at the oasis.


Admittedly, after I cut off the dead stuff there wasn't much left. But it's alive and putting on new growth, so there's hope.

Here is the Mexican Elder tree in Alpine. Hardly any green on it. I'm wondering if it's unhealthy being so close to the pond. I'm going to plant one somewhere else and see what happens.


The yellowish-green is from a tree in the background. There are only a few sprigs of vivid green leaves on the elder. But they're pretty tough trees. If I have the energy tomorrow I'll try to take a better photo and dig out some of the grass around it. I just got to town and I'm pooped. So much to do.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Bay-breasted Warbler revisited

I wanted a better photo of the Bay-breasted Warbler in Marathon and I feel like I got it. Still higher in the canopy than I would have liked but I'm not going to try again.


I was hoping it would go into this Mexican Elder tree where it wouldn't be so high in a tree, but no luck.


Here's the tree it was in... a large elm.


There's a shorter Mexican Elder tree to the right and in front of the elm that the warbler divested of many berries.


And a nice fountain by the other elder tree.


The gardens at the Gage Hotel are wonderful, but street noise and people activity spoil the ambience, in my opinion.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Another day, another setback

This will give you an idea of the latest setback.


It seems the new springs have more bounce to them than the old ones did. The tank bounced going to the lodge empty. Got there and saw what happened so came back without water and put a spare fitting on, then removed a support board that was under the fitting that I thought had caused the break. Got to the lodge again to find the spare fitting broken. Guess the board wasn't the culprit. So this time I had a small faucet with me, just in case, and put that in the tank.


It took 2 hours to empty the tank when I got back to the oasis. Normally, it takes 5 minutes. So after 2 loads of that, I decided to go to town tonight and get new fittings first thing in the morning. Meanwhile, I strapped the tank down so it can't bounce. Whew! That comes to one hour of time spent per hundred gallons of water. But while it was draining I photographed birds and watered a few trees.
 
This "Oregon" race of Dark-eyed Junco showed up today, but the Fox Sparrow of yesterday was gone. Juncos have been scarce so far this fall.
 

Pine Siskin numbers seem normal for this time of year.


Also a normal number of White-crowned Sparrows.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fox Sparrow here

I was thrilled to see a Red Fox Sparrow at the oasis when I arrived today. It's not the first one I've had here, but maybe the third.


Also had a couple of Sage Thrashers...


Texas Antelope Squirrels are always fun to watch...