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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Looking good!

I thought the shady water feature looked really good this morning. First shot is taken  from the new viewing spot.

The next shot is closer in. The Mexican Elder tree is on the right.

I know this loveliness is temporary. Wish it wasn't. Speaking of... if you look closer you can see this caterpillar species devouring all my hard-won vegetation as fast as it can. So frustrating!

There's been a Brown-crested Flycatcher hanging around for a couple of weeks. I finally got pictures of it this morning, though not satisfactory ones. It was preening.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

New viewing spot

The oasis sort of evolved without a lot of foresight in many areas, so I had a problem with the viewing area for the shade water feature. The seating was too close to the feature (which deters birds), and was usually way too sunny. So I worked hard all day making a seating area farther back in the shade. Here it is early this morning...

And here it is late this afternoon...

Still not done, but almost. I'm going to put a bunch of fill gravel in there for a "floor." Here is the before and after taken from the water feature...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rain in Alpine

It was raining so hard in Alpine that I figured if I went to the oasis I'd finally get to see it rain there. Rushed down there and not a drop fell. I guess I jinxed it. In town the domestic ducks were swimming around in the rainwater outside the pond. They're in this photo but you probably can't see them. One is in the center at the base of a tree and the other is sort of hidden to the left of it a ways.

Back at the oasis, here is a photo of a pretty Blue Dayflower...

I love things that bloom without me ever planting or watering them. Like this vine, whatever it is...

UPDATE: Vine later ID'd as Slimlobe Globeberry (ibervillea tenuisecta).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Oklahoma visitors

A university biology class visited today with Master Bander, Kelly Bryan. The oasis is looking great and I think the experience will have a lasting impression on the students. I'm happy to be a part of education and conservation.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

New oasis species

Some sharp birders (Cameron Carver and Steve Gross) at the oasis today recognized a bird they found here as being a Louisiana Waterthrush and not a Northern, like I would have mistakenly called it had they not been here.

It has the buffy sides...

 ...and plain white throat. (Compare to Northern posted May 5, 2010)

Besides being a new species at the oasis, it's a lifer for me. Thanks, guys!

Cameron's mother was delighted to see this millipede in a tree.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Set 'em up, my friend

I've had a few photographers do elaborate setups to get that perfect photo, but none brought in as many flowers as this photographer did. Potted flowers everywhere! Hope it worked and he got his perfect Lucifer Hummingbird shot.

The most over-the-top thing I ever did to attact a species was to dig up a whole hill and install an elaborate system of tunnels and 12 nest boxes in what turned out to be a futile attempt to attract Burrowing Owls.

I noticed that as soon as the burn ban was lifted in south Brewster County the O2 Ranch burned those brush piles along the highway.

I estimate there were only about 50 piles, each with an average of a mere two songbird nests inside, so only about 100 nests were destroyed. Good job!

UPDATE: I was curious about the photographer (who's been here all day), so I googled his name and discovered he's an award-winning professional photographer whose photos I've enjoyed on covers for many years... Rolf Nussbaumer. He's very modest and I had no idea.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are early migrants and I've had a few visiting recently.

Friday, July 20, 2012

More rain and more

Hummers aren't very plentiful anywhere in the Big Bend area these days. Migration should be in full swing by now. It may be there are fewer hummers because of last year's drought, or perhaps they're coming through later than usual. Luckily, at the Bird and Butterfly Festival being held in Marathon this weekend we were able to capture 2 for Kelly's banding demonstration. I think a festival in our area is a splendid event to have and I hope it becomes an annual event. This area has such a wonderfully unique diversity. It would be awesome if Matt and Heidi could manage the event every year, too. The participants that attend in the first few years won't have crowded field trips and will get to enjoy a much more personal rapport with the guides and speakers, etc. than might be the case further down the road.

Back at CMO we got a nice rain last night and a small shower this afternoon again. If it wasn't for the dead cottonwood looming over the oasis, there would be little here to remind one of  last year's drought.

I posted a photo of an Eastern Amberwing dragonfly a month ago (see post of June 23), and now I think either it's still here, or this is a different one. Or maybe this one is a Mexican Amberwing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Baby Blue Grosbeak left the nest

I thought it hatched 5 days ago (see post of July 10), so it appears to have fledged prematurely. I walked past the nest to turn on a water faucet, which always causes the adult to flush. At the time the adult wasn't present; the baby flushed instead. I tried to catch it to put it back inside but couldn't. Here's a picture of it taken yesterday.

And here it is today. I took the photo through screen on a door so as not to disrupt the bird.

Both parents are very attentive. For a long time they squawked nearby with food but didn't feed the "fledgling" until it made its way higher into a tree (out of my sight, of course). They really put the pressure on the little fellow. With both parents tantalizingly close with food, demanding he move away from the screen door, what choice did he have? He went for it. The above photo was taken seconds before he made the hop. He ended  up at the same height as the original nest, but later went twice as high.

There are no predators in the courtyard so he should make it OK. Two unhatched eggs are still in the nest. Probably human activity was responsible. I had lots of company around the time of incubation and it was impossible to keep people away from the nest right outside the kitchen door, though I tried.

Saw a gorgeous Giant Swallowtail but could only get a photo of it in a tall Beebrush above my head, so this is how the underside looks.

Still insects galore, not all of them desirable. Love my full tanks though.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My trip up the mountain

Partly to escape the mosquitoes, but mostly to look for Lucifer Hummingbird nests, I braved the mountain. I didn't see or hear a hummer. No nests, either. But the relict Mexican Blue Oaks are alive and well. Two-thirds of the way up I rested and took a photo of my pickup back down on the road (far back, center). You may have to enlarge this to find it.

For the first time in my life I needed, and relied heavily on, a walking stick. The next photo was taken from the same spot only looking up toward the oaks, my destination. Don't look for the trail. There are none.

Lucifers favorite nesting plant is cholla, which sadly, were all dead. I only saw 3 that had any life left in them. Here is the healthiest one I saw.

I made the hard decision to not lug my big heavy camera up with me. The only time that presented a problem was when I tried to photograph a butterfly and lizard. Here's a good overview of the oak motte.

Have to check with someone on the lizard ID. UPDATE: Confirmed to be an Ornate Tree Lizard.

And finally, a self-portrait with my little Kodak's time-lapse feature. The rock I set the camera on wasn't level so Nine Point Mesa looks askew in the background. I'm sure there's a way to make it look level, but I don't have that expertise.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Oh my gosh!!

Got down to the oasis this afternoon, after 3 days of banding, to find it swarming with mosquitoes. I know why it happened. When I was here Tuesday I ran out of gasoline for the pump so didn't get all the water out of a dirt tank that didn't have gambusias in it. I hate to put them in if I'm just going to pump out the water because the gambusias will die then. I don't know how long I'll have to suffer with the mosquitoes, but I determinedly watered the trees all afternoon and did my best to enjoy the place. I'm pumping the rest of the water out of the tank with a small electric pump during the night. It still had about a foot of water in it.  I brought plenty of gas with me this time. I try not to bring too much because if I don't use it, it gets stale and messes up the pumps.

While I was watering I took a few photos, but basically I couldn't hold still long enough to photograph, and butterflies don't hold still at all either. Here's a Varied Bunting that, in my opinion, was acting strange. It was like it was gasping for air for quite a while. Sometimes birds pant when it's really hot, but it wasn't that hot today. Under 90° at the hottest. When I got closer, it flew off. Kind of reminded me of how a dying bird that's been snake-bit gasps. Weird!

This ratty looking butterfly was a new one to me. It's been identified by expert Brian Banker as a White-patched Skipper.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Unusual banding day

We banded hummingbirds at one of our usual banding sites, the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. The only thing that was unusual was the audience..... a summer camp of 4-6 year-olds.

While at first glance it may look like no one is paying attention, actually Master Bander, Kelly Bryan, has placed a hummingbird on a child's flat palm for them to release outside the roofed area. The adults are photographing the event, as Kelly prepares his next band. The hummer has been placed on its back and often will lie on the hand until it is gently rolled over. Then it takes off faster than the eye can see.  Luckily, we caught enough hummers so each child got a turn. They can feel that little heart beat at 1000 times per minute. (At second glance maybe not everyone is paying attention.) 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Baby bird

There's a Blue Grosbeak nesting in the courtyard near the kitchen door and I worried that all the going in and out, which flushes her from her nest, might impact her nesting success. So far, so good. One of the eggs hatched already.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dragonflies and more

Still lots of dragonflies. Here are a couple of Common Green Darners.

And here's a beautiful flower I found blooming in the oasis. Had to send a photo to an expert for ID. Will update this post when I hear back.

UPDATE:  Expert, Bill Lindemann, said it's an Orange Flameflower (Talinum aurantiacum), or possibly Yellow Flameflower (T. angustissimum). Cool. That's a new flower for me. I would never have ID'd it without help. The two books I have that show it have bad photos/illustrations.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hummingbird migration

Hummingbird migration starts in July and continues well into the fall. Next week we're starting our rigorous 5-day-a-week banding schedule. Hope I can keep up.

At the oasis this morning I saw lots of juvenile hummers, but no migrants yet. Here's a juvenile Black-chinned male.

And a juvenile male Lucifer...

Today is another perfect day and no pesky insects.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Vireo mystery

I heard the Bell's Vireos making their most intense alarm calls, so investigated. I didn't find any predators, only this...

Although there are some cowbirds around, I don't think they broke the nest. I didn't see any snakes. I'm thinking perhaps all the rain and wind over the last few days weakened the nest and it fell apart, making the vireos think they were being attacked. (That's an intact vireo egg, not a cowbird's.) The white stuff inside the nest is just cocoon stuff they normally decorate their nests with, I believe.

Below is a Huisache tree beside the wildlife pond.

And my treasured Soapberry thicket along the arroyo. It should be happy.

Next is about five feet of water backed up by the diversion dam and no place to pump it so it's soaking into the ground. Center left is the big concrete pond full to the brim (9' of water).

And finally, here's a dragonfly I couldn't ID. It has since been confirmed to be a Pin-tailed Pondhawk, which is a new species to the oasis.

Wonderful weather

It's cooled off nicely and the oasis is doing the best it can to get up to speed. In some ways with all the dead stuff mixed in, it gives it a more natural look, not that it ever looked like a city park, or anything. The small shower my sister got yesterday, and called me about in Alpine turned out to be nearly an inch at my oasis, but it didn't run enough to hurt anything. Wish I'd ever get to witness these rains, but it seems when I stay down here waiting, it never happens, and I think of all the work awaiting me in Alpine, and other obligations. Plus I have faster internet there, as well as free long distance. Sounds like I'm getting soft in my old age.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Yesterday's rain update

We made a quick trip to the oasis this morning to check things out. I was glad to see I just got 1.5" rain and things didn't wash out too bad. The road is only passable with high clearance though. Hopefully, we'll get it fixed soon. The worst part is before our property and has to be fixed by the property owners' association. I used to maintain it, but the hostile neighbors forced the POATRI (Property Owners Association of Terlingua Ranch) to rescind my authority to do it, so now the POA has to maintain it. We'll see how that works out.

Anyway, other than that, it's nice to have everything brim full. Now that the weather is a bit cooler I'm hoping for some good growth. I'll keep you updated, of course.

UPDATE: This afternoon we got another shower, nothing heavy, thank goodness.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Another deluge

Oh, dear. I'm in Alpine and my sister called that we got a humongous rain. I hope to get down there tomorrow, but I'm afraid the road is going to be washed bad. My tanks were already full, so there was more to lose than to gain.  I always love rain, maybe just not all at once. She got 1.75," hopefully I didn't get nearly that much. Three miles south of the oasis they only got .35," but based on how high the arroyo ran, I'm sure I got more towards the higher amount. Yikes! To be updated tomorrow....

Monday, July 2, 2012

Soapberry tree

I'm so impressed with one particular Soapberry tree. It grew naturally along the arroyo close to where the diversion dam holds water when it rains. I've never watered it. Also at the edge of the arroyo where the dam holds back water is one I planted and water occasionally. Here is the one I've never watered and thought was dead two weeks ago...

And here is the one I planted. I do believe, though, if I hadn't watered it, it wouldn't have survived.

The oasis is starting to look good, but in a different way than before the drought. Not as lush, but perhaps more natural looking. Part of it is because I got rid of the grass and replaced it with mulch. I'm still fighting the emerging grasses though. And part of it is because there are lots of dead branches still on the trees, which is common to see in nature. But I'm a happy camper. And the mosquitoes are totally gone. It's like a miracle.  They're gone faster than in previous years. I know the gambusias and hordes of bats are mostly responsible, but I think it also has to do with the mulch versus grass. I'm wondering though if the grasses kept the ground cooler than mulch does. Hopefully the trees will make a canopy and it won't matter. Here is how the oasis looks today. Not bad! (If you don't compare it to the 2010 photo in the upper right corner of this page.)