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Thursday, June 28, 2012


The intense heat is slowing growth, but there is some progress to report. One of the hackberry trees that I watered a couple of times during the drought, and was sure was dead, is actually putting on some leaves.

I got suspicious that it might not be totally dead when I saw those oily wet spots on the trunk. That made me think there was something going on. The light green leaves below are the new growth. Beebrush is the darker green stuff.

But I'm still certain the hackberries that got no water during the drought are dead. 

Around June 19, I installed some agave stalks and already a Ladder-backed Woodpecker is nesting in one. Here is a photo of it taken on the 19th.

And here it is today....

That's progress! The volunteer Soapberry thicket that I'm so fond of is greening up slowly, too. It's down in the arroyo and gets flooded for a week after a rain due to the dam a short ways downstream. So it should be a happy camper. Just now drying out. I'm so eager to see what it'll look like in a couple of years.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Broad-billed Hummingbird in Alpine

I was surprised to find this post-breeding wanderer at my feeders this morning.

Kelly Bryan was able to come attempt to capture and band it midday today, but by then the hummer disappeared. Probably taking a siesta somewhere. Hope it shows up later.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dragonflies galore

Since there are no interesting birds to watch at the oasis these days, Kelly Bryan took to inventorying the dragonflies... a task too daunting for me. He found an Eastern Amberwing. Apparently there's only one record for that species in Brewster Co. My photos aren't too good. I think Kelly took some better ones. Here's the best one I got.

It's a small dragonfly and there's no way I would ever have spotted it among the hordes present. Gotta hand it to Kelly.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


It's only been a week since the big rain, and today the mosquitoes hatched out. I hadn't moved gambusias (mosquito fish) into all the tanks thinking my grandson (age 12) could do it when he arrived today.

He worked industriously for hours catching them from the tank that I had kept them alive in (via a small puddle at the bottom, bought and hauled in, of course). Since the tank is now full (12' of water at the deepest part), I figured the fish would have so much space to spread out in that they'd be hard to catch, but they obviously had multiplied fast in the last week and he had no trouble catching lots of them. He seeded all the other full tanks with them, but experience has taught me that I'll have mosquitoes for at least 2 more weeks before the fish multiply enough to keep them under control. Oodles of butterflies and dragonflies, but I didn't have time to photograph them to help me ID them. One of these days I will.

One big soapberry tree that I was sure had died is leafing out, but the hackberry trees that I was sure were dead are still dead.

More pictures soon. I'm pretty overwhelmed right now, what with company, helping Kelly band hummingbirds the next 2 days, trying to get the water all pumped into tanks that hold better than the dirt tanks, and drying the rest of the peaches. Whew!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It never fails

Whenever I get a big rain I think that I'm set up to pump water from the dirt tanks without having to go swimming, but it never happens. Yesterday we went to pump out one of the dirt tanks and because we had taken the pump to town to get fixed last year and hadn't hooked it back up, the intake line wasn't connected to the pump during the deluge and had disappeared below 7' of water. I went fishing for it and found the end of it. When we pulled it out of the water... turned out that half of it had come disconnected somehow (hadn't been used since Aug 2010) so without the bottom part with the intake filter we couldn't use it. I'm not good enough in the water to be willing to dive that deep because it would have to be extricated from a very heavy  protective sleeve, which would have been half-buried in mud by now, and of course, is in the deepest part of the tank in order to get the most water pumped out. The water was ice cold and if I'm under too long the coldness closes my bronchial tubes. Not worth the risk at my age. So we hooked up a smaller spare pump which takes forever to pump the tank.  We had to come to Alpine while the tank was still half full. I'll be back down there tomorrow for 3 day and can pump it then. Right now everything's pretty much full and no where to pump it to anyway. We have a 10,000 gallon above ground tank that we were trying to fill. The dirt tanks don't hold water as long, so I try to get the water moved as soon as possible. Right now I'm not too concerned because it's just the beginning of rainy season and there'll be more rains to top things off.

Finally got some agave stalks hauled down from Alpine to decorate my hummingbird garden.

Kidding! I use them for perches and natural nesting holes for Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and Elf Owls. Given the choice between agave and utility poles, they always choose the agave. That tallest one was there from a couple of years ago and has nests of both species in it (see posts for April 25 & May 2, or click on those species on the labels list).

Friday, June 15, 2012


My sister called me in Alpine and said we're getting a huge deluge in the Christmas Mountains so I'm heading down there in a little bit. From what I can ascertain, all my tanks will be full. I'm so excited. Photos to follow when I get there.

Later: The road was nearly washed out and the arroyo was still running a foot deep by the time I got to the oasis around 7:30 PM, nearly 2 hours after the deluge. I had 1½" in the rain gauge.

Devastating hail accompanied the rain and when I saw all the leaves on the ground I couldn't believe there could possibly be a leaf left on any tree. They were sparsely leafed to begin with after one year and ten months with no rain.

But surely they'll recover quickly now.

Bottom line: Tanks all overflowing; water everywhere!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gray-cheeked Thrush

Having now observed the Gray-cheeked Thrush in person, I don't think I would have mistaken it for a Hermit Thrush. It seemed much darker to me. If I'm lucky I might get the species right, however, there's no way I'll ever be able to sort out the subspecies. The color and lack of complete eye-ring are the diagnostic features for me.

Below the thrush is enjoying the sprinkler I turned on especially for it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sorting thrushes

I don't aspire to learn the identity of every bird species in the world, but I would really like to be able to identify all the species that visit the oasis. Recently, that has become a problem regarding thrushes (haven't sorted out the empidonax flycatchers either), and Byran Tarbox's discovery of a Gray-cheeked Thrush a few days ago only compounded my confusion.

In trying to sort this out, my research indicates there are at least seven subspecies (or geographic races) of Hermit Thrushes. My problem is, how will I know if I'm seeing a subspecies of Hermit or a Gray-cheeked, or even a Swainson's? (Apparently I couldn't have a Bicknell's because they're only in the northeast US.)

A month ago I had a thrush I couldn't ID (pictured here).

Kelly Bryan told me it was the larger subspecies (auduboni) of Hermit Thrush that has paler rufous and larger spots, and migrates through in May. Well, now I can't differentiate it from Bryan Tarbox's Gray-cheeked, although I haven't actually seen the latter in person (photo on previous post). Maybe if I saw it in person that would help. If it sticks around I should be able to see it.

UPDATE: Well, I solved the thrush sorting problem. From now on I'll take photos and let the experts sort it out. When I couldn't restrain myself any longer I loaded up my partially dried apricots and headed to the oasis. In the 2 hours I sat watching for the thrush I saw its head pop into view and then it flew. No photos, no good looks. Maybe in the morning. Anyway, after dark I went to my birding library and found a 3-part, in-depth study on the spotted thrushes (Birding Magazine Apr, Jun, Aug 2000). There are even 2 subspecies of Gray-cheeked (minimus and aliciae), so I know I'm out of my element. All I can say is that in the brief look I got at the Gray-cheeked it did look very unlike a Hermit Thrush.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New species for oasis

Nothing like being sick a week to make one appreciate being well. I may never know what caused me to be sick, but I'm prone to get bad headaches from viruses, allergies, etc.

I'm pretty excited that a birder to the oasis yesterday discovered a new yard bird there.... a Gray-cheeked Thrush. I had come to Alpine yesterday morning, and Bill and Bryan Tarbox visited in the afternoon between 1-2 PM. Bryan is a special person, an ace birder. He first visited the oasis in May 2005 with his father, Bill. I was greatly impressed by his birding skills, as he was quite young at the time. I know he got at least a few lifers on that visit and I'm always happy for him to return. I'm sure sorry I wasn't there to enjoy his discovery. Here is one of the photos Bryan took.

Kelly Bryan said this is the first documented record for the region.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Feeling much improved

Came down to the oasis and hauled water in the 100° heat and didn't collapse (yet) so I must be getting better. Not taking anything stronger than Advil. So the trees got a bit of water to hopefully keep them clinging to life until it rains, or until next week when I water them again, whichever comes first. Here's the only photo I took today.

It's kind of embarrassing to post so many Lucifer Hummingbird photos, but they're such an awesome little bird and hard to see anywhere else in Texas, so I can't resist sharing them as much as possible, in person, and online. I think the colors on my photos are richer now that I'm using the Av camera setting (I was using P).

I'm so glad my illness wasn't caused by a spider bite. I feel so safe and in harmony with nature here, I'd hate for that to change.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Illness update

Not getting any better. Went to the ER yesterday early AM. They loaded me up with drugs and my headache went away but when I got back down to the oasis and started hauling water in the 100° weather I got quickly sick again. Dr says it's not a spider bite, most likely a bug that's going around. Headed to Dr now. Oasis is having to go unwatered. No way can I do it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Really sick

That day I felt depressed (June 3 post) was the start of a really miserable illness. I was ready to go to the ER today if I wasn't improved. Can't imagine what it is. Can't even imagine why I felt depressed. Since I got the worst headache ever, the depression must have been something going on in my brain, like swelling. Today I'm able to get out of bed for short periods but haven't a clue how I'm going to be able to go haul water to the oasis tomorrow. Maybe it'll rain tonight, or maybe I'll be better tomorrow.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not feeling well

Maybe it's depression. Two days ago a bunch of people got rain. My sister a mile away got an inch. I got .3" so same old story. But the season is young and that little shower keeps me from having to haul water for a few more days. Rain is forecast.

But I have a lot of pain, mostly in my back, and vertigo is ever-present. Also my son in Austin surprised me by telling me his divorce is final, when I hadn't even known they filed 6 months ago. Such a shock! Now he has no money, no place to stay and limited access to his kids. Heartbreaking. He's such a super person. Many years of child support and spousal support (the latter he did voluntarily) lie ahead. Had I but known I could have persuaded him to stand up for himself a little bit. He wanted to spare me the pain, but I think the pain is worse now that it's a done deal.

Here is a photo I took today of a thorn-less acacia. I'm pretty proud of it because it came up by itself. It bloomed better earlier but I kept forgetting to photograph it. I think it might be a Schott's Acacia, but any input is welcome.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bird activity

A pair of Bell's Vireos is hard at work making a nest in an Arizona Cypress tree at the oasis.

Back in Alpine I added a new bird to my Brewster County list, a Tricolored Heron. It was in the pond and flushed into the top of a pine tree.

I wish I could have gotten better photos of it but it was too distant and camera shy.