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Monday, December 31, 2012

Moving right along...

Finally got a photo of a bird eating a meal worm. It's a Curve-billed Thrasher. Which I prefer to mockingbirds.

I also saw a White-crowned Sparrow checking it out. Right after I snapped this shot it reached into the new meal worm feeder and was gone so fast I didn't even get to see if it got a worm.

A few hours later I put in another handful (not literally, of course) of meal larva in the feeder and before long the Curve-billed Thrasher cleaned it out.

After the last larva was eaten the bird made sure he hadn't missed one.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Meal worms reconsidered

I almost caught a mockingbird in the act of nabbing a meal worm and it made me rethink the feeding of meal worms. During spring migration when the mulberry trees are loaded with mulberries for hungry migrants, swarms of mockingbirds police the trees, attempting to keep everything else out. Am I giving the mockingbirds an unfair advantage by fattening them up in the winter? Some warblers and other songbirds of declining numbers might be negatively impacted by this. Man is forever tinkering with nature and it usually isn't in the birds' best interest. I'm thinking I should focus on growing millions of meal worms for spring migration instead.

Today I had 4 lovely ladies visit, two of whom share my name. That unique event called for a photo op.

Left to right: Carolyn Oldham, Carolyn Molsbee, Gail Morris, Jerri Kerr. 
The meal worms I ordered online arrived in Alpine (without prior notice or tracking number) where my husband is babysitting them until I get to town later in the week. Meanwhile, Sue Heath and Tad Fennell brought me a bunch to tide me over until I can bring the town ones down here. I made a meal worm feeder today. Will photograph it tomorrow, hopefully with something eating meal worms from it.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Meal worm saga

My son arrived last night from Austin with 50 meal worms. This is my first experience with them, actually first contact with them, to my recollection. And I'd think I would remember something like that. Not that I had, or will have, any literal "contact" with them.

I had the container ready for them. I topped a kitty litter bin with an old refrigerator tray that I had glued screen onto. Not taking any chances on escapees. I had ordered 1000 meal worms over a week ago, but the company I ordered them from hasn't shipped them yet as far as I can tell. Holidays, I guess.

My son ceremoniously sprinkled the larva (not worms, I keep reminding myself) on top of some meal and stuff, then I added a bit of potato, apple, banana peel, and stuff. So far so good. 

That was last night. This morning it was extremely cold outside. My intent was to put out a few of the larva (not worms) in a container and watch to see what ate them.

Putting the larva into the little plastic bowl was...   well, I can't think of a good word to describe it. I used a spoon to dip one out. It wriggled off the spoon, causing me to scream and drop the spoon. I repeated that performance one more time before I finally got 3 into the bowl. To make a long story short, after I installed the bowl in a little scooped out depression where the thrush eats sunflower seeds, I waited to see what would eat the worms (er, larva).

The thrush foraged on seeds all around the container, but I got so chilled to the bone that I had to leave. When I returned an hour later, the larva were gone. I repeated the whole procedure with the same results, except the second time the bowl had been moved a couple of feet away. I'm pretty sure it was the thrush that ate the meal worms. I know they didn't climb out. Probably were frozen by then anyway. I'll try again later, if I ever thaw out. It was 32° but the wind made it much worse sitting there watching in requisite motionlessness.To be continued....

Hey, I'm two days away from having the longest Varied Thrush visit in the state of Texas! Not that there's a Guinness Book of Texas Bird Records, or anything.

UPDATE: The third is not a charm. Rather, it was a repeat of the second. But tomorrow's another day, and more exciting, there's a good chance of rain.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

A Christmas Mountains Oasis Christmas.

Wish I could be there on Christmas Day. Maybe next year. Here is another look at that Green-tailed Towhee I photographed 3 days ago.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Thrush smorgastick

Can't wait for the meal-worms I ordered to arrive.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Unpredictable birds

Usually the Varied Thrush eats lots of grapes. Today he came for a couple early in the morning, then got distracted rooting around in the deer feed I spread a couple weeks before his arrival in October (see posts of Oct 6 and 11). Maybe there's a connection. I've occasionally seen him there, but not like he did today for almost the whole day.

I took lots of photos hoping to be able to determine whether he was finding bugs under the deer feed, or eating the feed itself. Originally, the feed was moldy and nothing went near it, but after being exposed to rain and sun for months, it seems pretty well sanitized.

I could never detect any insects in his beak, so I'm leaning toward thinking he's eating the feed.

This is the only photo that seems to show something in the beak. I couldn't get as close as I would have liked because that sent him scurrying for cover. I guess those deer pellets are a good source of protein. Just to cover all bases, though, I ordered a bunch of live meal-worms online.

Meanwhile, a Green-tailed Towhee is checking out the grapes. It never did eat one though.

Now the days start to get longer. That always cheers me up.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cold day

I rigged up a small red ribbon for the grape feeder in hopes of photographing the thrush by it, but it was too cold to sit down there so I didn't witness the thrush at the feeder. Did see this juvenile male Anna's Hummingbird checking out the red though.

I opted instead to paint a red ribbon on a photo of the thrush using photoshop. I'll post it on Christmas Day. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


This is a harmless Big Bend Patchnose snake that was in the road by my oasis yesterday.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

More thrush fun

Sometimes I enjoy photo-shopping a photo just for the fun of it. Here's what I did a while ago to the background of my latest thrush photo.

Weekends bring more birders to the oasis seeking the thrush. All visitors today left happy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Masked bandit

I suspect the Varied Thrush thinks he's stealing the grapes. He sure whisks them away fast. I guess he doesn't know they're a Christmas Mountains' present just for him.

Before he came along I don't think there were any photos of a Varied Thrush with a grape in it's beak, not online anyway, as far as I can tell.

I think on Christmas day I'll put a red bow on the grape feeder and photograph him on it. It's getting boring photographing him just plucking grapes.

Here's a Rufous Hummingbird present today.

And there are literally hundreds of Lark Buntings here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Red Crossbills in Alpine

I was over at my son's house to see what hummingbirds they had when, to my surprise, a flock of about 20 Red Crossbills came to their water feature. Annie, my son's wife, recorded them on her smartphone while I took photos. They were there only a few minutes.

I didn't take the time to try to count them. They were seemingly everywhere in and around the water feature. As some left, others came in, and it all happened fast, then they were gone.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A tale of torpor

Early this morning, like around 6 AM, the phone rang. That early it's never good news. I recognized my daughter-in-law's voice, and immediately said, "what happened," or something to that effect. Annie told me she had let her cats outside, as normal, and they came back in with a hummingbird, seemingly dead, that they were fighting over. She rescued the bird, assuming it was dead. But as it thawed out (the temperature outdoors was 26° at the time), it came to life. After putting it safely inside a bag, she, understandably, called me. (I had gotten up at 5 AM, so no problem there.)

I rushed over to her house a block away and brought the bird back to my house to start a feeding regimen until the weather warmed up a bit. As soon as I got home I called Kelly Bryan, possibly the world's foremost hummingbird expert (also not in bed when his phone rang). I welcomed his advice and moral support, but also wanted him to know about the bird in case he wanted to come over and examine it. He said he would if necessary.  Fortunately the bird wasn't injured and fed from a hummingbird feeder readily (sometimes they won't). Because of the frigid temperature it had obviously gone into torpor.

Hummingbirds enter a kind of hibernative state on cold nights where their body temperature drops and their metabolism slows to help them conserve energy when food resources are unavailable.

The temperature dropped down to 22° before it started warming up. Meanwhile, I fed the feisty hummer every half hour. In between feedings I kept him in a bag in a dark closet.

After I was able to read the bird's band number, it turns out it was a male Allen's that Kelly had banded here in October of 2011, as a juvenile. (Sorry for the blurry photo but Annie had to use my camera while I held the bird. She didn't know how to focus it.) We were both pretty stressed worrying about the safety of the bird. As you can probably see, he lost a few feathers in my hand. While I've handled hundreds of hummers, Annie had never handled a one, so it's no wonder she was terrified. 

When I saw other hummers coming to the feeders outdoors, I released him, even though it was still not above freezing. He flew like a rocket and seemed very healthy, but I haven't seen him back at the feeders here. Another very aggressive hummer keeps fending off the others so fast I can't tell what they are. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Feeding birds

So many ways to enjoy feeding birds. My friend, Bonnie Wunderlich, loves to coax a hungry Pyrrhuloxia to take tasty morsels from her hand...

(photo by Bonnie Wunderlich)
...while back at the oasis, visitors continue supplying the Varied Thrush with grapes. Lots of grapes. And when they aren't here doing it, I can be counted on to do it. I'm really going to miss that thrush when it leaves. Seriously. The oasis will seem bleak without his presence. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

More of the same

I know that after the Varied Thrush has departed I'll kick myself for not trying harder to get better photos of it, so I keep trying. Here's the latest effort. Just got this one shot before the mockingbird chased it.

I'm going to see if my son can photoshop it and make it better, though it's probably not worth the effort.

A Northern Harrier is a constant presence these days.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Soapberry thickets

Just an ordinary lovely day. Not much going on. The Varied Thrush ate his normal amount of grapes--- 9 today.

I love Soapberry thickets. Before I built the dams I had tiny Soapberry trees growing here and there in the arroyo but none ever got more than 4 feet or so tall. Now I have multiple thickets growing and would love it if some of them make it to maturity. Here are a few of them. I planted 2 soapberry trees above a dirt tank and the rest came up on their own. I've never watered them but when the tank is full water backs up to where they are.

This next thicket started itself, but I panicked and watered it twice last year during the horrendous drought. It's in the arroyo paralleling the oasis.

And this last thicket photo is of one near the upper diversion dam. I planted and water the large one, but the others came up themselves. This one that gets regular water is the only one that bore berries this year.

Here is a White-crowned Sparrow (gambelii) that I found interesting. It's a juvenile that looks like it's getting some adult white crown feathers. I don't recall ever seeing that before. Of course, my experience is pretty much limited to wintering birds.

And finally, here's a photo I took today of a Variegated Fritillary butterfly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thrush pile

I was gone the last 3 days (dentist, etc), so had my sister put out the grapes early every morning and report back to me. I couldn't understand why, when I had been present, he was eating as many as 15 grapes a day, yet during my absence he only ate half that amount. When I arrived I noticed the trees were getting really threadbare of leaves. So maybe it was getting harder to hide from the mockingbird?? I didn't think it would be good to relocate the grape feeder near a brush pile where visitors couldn't get good views of the thrush, so I built a temporary (??) thrush pile nearer the feeder.

It so happened I had come down from Alpine with my pickup loaded with freshly shredded mulch so I dumped some atop the new thrush pile. My thought was to provide a patch of cover between the dense thicket and the grapes. (Grapes are center right on above photo.)

Shortly thereafter my sister called about something and just happened to mention how she loved my pet owls that were hanging out all day every day above the grape feeder. She just assumed I knew all about them. Unfortunately, I never got a glimpse of any owls. And the thrush seems to be feeding back to normal now and ignoring the thrush pile, but, oh well, it's there. Gotta pamper him and all.

As for the owls, my sister is not a birder. From her description Kelly Bryan thinks they were Long-eared Owls. That would have been a new yard bird for me, but I don't feel comfortable counting it. One of these days I'll see some myself at the oasis.

The Eared Grebe is not here either. It probably left on its own and not in the clutches of an owl.

I'm always amazed how well creatures are camouflaged by nature. Here is the  Varied Thrush foraging in mulch, if you can spot him in the center of the photo.

And here is a Common Buckeye butterfly, also well hidden.

Red Admiral butterflies were everywhere, even on the grapes and hummingbird feeders.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Birds and birders

Weekends there are more people here seeking the Varied Thrush than there are on weekdays.

All were successful (except one person who didn't make it here until 5 PM after the thrush had finished stuffing itself with a near record 15 grapes).

Lark Buntings are everywhere.

And the raptors took notice.

Northern Harrier

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cool, but fun

It was a cool 32° early this morning but things were quite birdy, so I hung in there.... out there, whatever. Watched the Varied Thrush forage and pick grapes and for once it paused with the grape so I got a halfway decent photo, considering the cold camera and bad light.

Also got a photo of a White-throated Sparrow. I seldom get that species here, so this is my first photo of one.

And here is the big bad Northern Mockingbird that bedevils the thrush. 

Found a  Checkered-Skipper butterfly that my friend, Brian Banker, confirmed is a Desert Checkered-Skipper. In looking through records to see if I've recorded it here before, I can't find it listed, but I think it has been here before. At any rate, it's documented here now.

Below is a Christmasy looking bush, Fragrant Mimosa loaded with red seedpods.