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Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Not only can I not get a good photo of the thrush with a grape in it's beak, I can't get a photo of a Mourning Cloak butterfly that I've seen around for more than a week. For the first time today I actually saw it land, but it didn't open its wings, then it disappeared.

Meanwhile, check out the incredible shots Alton Patton got of the bird a couple of days ago, grape and all.

Had a couple Red-breasted Nuthatches visit for a short while today and did not get a satisfactory photo of that species either. Here's a documentary-only shot.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The table is set

Today I resolved to get a photo of the Varied Thrush plucking a grape from the branch I have them impaled on. I wasted all morning and barely saw the bird, but every time I left for a minute to get a drink, or go to the bathroom, etc, I'd come back and see a grape or two missing. I started out with 12 grapes and by the time the branch had only 6 left I was so frustrated. As I waited, I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk come and perch near the grapes.

But he seemed only interesting in bathing...

Speaking of bathing, I got distracted watching hummingbirds bathe and while I was thus engaged, 2 grapes disappeared from the branch.

Then a birder (Harry Forbes) who drove from San Antonio today to see the bird, a lifer for him, joined me mid-afternoon in my vigil. I tried everything I could think of. I turned on sprinklers, tried to flush it, tried to call it. Nothing worked. I figured it was stuffed full of grapes and resting, with no need to be out foraging. (In winter their diet consists mostly of berries.) But I still figured before it retired for the night it would crave one last grape.

Finally, around 6 PM it came in for a grape. Harry was so excited he snapped non-stop, which may have slowed the bird down and made it a bit nervous. It paced and circled.....

By the time Harry had snapped over 600 photos of the action, I feared he'd miss the bird grabbing a grape. His memory card would be full, or his camera battery dead. But he was well prepared, and did catch the bird nabbing the grape. Here's all I got, after the millisecond act.....

Ah well, tomorrow's another day, and for me, another opportunity.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Snipe hunt

The refrigerator stopped working again and I had to come to town. Couldn't take a chance on everything spoiling so I plugged in a small chest freezer I normally don't use, and a tiny refrigerator from the guesthouse. The stuff that wouldn't fit in it, I brought to town. I think it's time to abandon that 35 year old refrigerator. It's huge and not movable so I'll use it for a food pantry. It's a Sub Zero and sounds like a tractor. But I love the ice maker in it. Oh well... My happiness is not going to be impacted by a refrigerator. Especially, when I have a Varied Thrush hanging out at the oasis.

Anyway, a birder today located a Wilson's Snipe that I managed to get a distant photo of...

I promised my lepidopterist friend that I'd post butterfly photos today. Alas, it was cold and windy all morning and I didn't see a butterfly. Then I had to spend two hours messing with the refrigerators, etc. Then I had to get to Alpine. So here is a Vesta Crescent I photographed two days ago.

And a Question Mark I photographed in Alpine in August.

This last one, I think, is a Question Mark, maybe the same one, that I photographed in September, just in its winter form.

Sorry, Brian. I promise I'll do better next year. And wouldn't you know, the wind stopped raging and it was warming up nicely when I had to leave. Bummer!

Friday, October 26, 2012

One heck of a day

OMG, I searched all morning in the cold and wind for the Varied Thrush with no luck. So right before noon I posted to the world that the bird was gone. Then I went back down to the oasis after I warmed up, and there was Sam Taylor. He was by his vehicle when I approached and regretfully informed him that the bird seemed to be gone.

He happily told me he'd not only just seen it, he showed me a photo to prove it. So I rushed back to the house to email everyone that I had been mistaken. Whew! Later, other visitors saw it too. The temperature briefly made it up to 51° today, but with the wind raging, it sure didn't seem like it.

Sam photographing the thrush.
No sooner had I recovered from thrush stress than my refrigerator quit working, so now I'm stressed about that. Seems it's always something. But it could be worse. I'd rather the refrigerator not work than the thrush not show up. Now that's the mark of a true birder.

UPDATE: The refrigerator started working and when I went to check the thrush-kabob, two grapes were missing. Tomorrow I'll try to see which bird got them, but it's a good sign. It wasn't an animal or the twig would have been disturbed. YES!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I figure there's very little chance the Varied Thrush will partake of my offering, but what the heck! Worth a try.

Hopefully, it won't leave with the impending cold front, because quite a few birders have their hearts set on seeing it this weekend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Varied Thrush still around

Yesterday Kelly observed the thrush eating blackish berries from vines. It took some detective work to identify the vine, but with the help of Bill Lindemann, via an email description by me, I finally discovered the vine is an Ivy Treebine (Cissus incisa), alternately called Sorrelvine, Grape Ivy, or Possum Grape.

Mine now have purplish-black berries that are not edible to humans. A mockingbird was very territorial and chased the thrush away from the berries, but the vines are growing so profusely up, down, and along the arroyo that I doubt the thrush is much deprived of them.

I also learned that the vine is considered invasive and undesirable in some areas of Texas, but I've always loved it, and never more so than now.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Varied Thrush had visitors today

I'm no longer the only person to have seen it. Kelly Bryan, Matt York, and Heidi Trudell have now seen and photographed it. I'm trying to fatten it up for its journey. Looks good and fat to me.

Also visiting is a Rock Dove (pigeon). Seems it was a racing pigeon from San Antonio that deserted. Heidi Trudell tracked down that info.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Thrush here, hummer not

Here are my best photos of the Varied Thrush so far.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Now, a Varied Thrush at CMO

It's crazy here. I have to think the horrendous south wind the other day played a hand in all this. I hate it that I was gone the five days after the wind. No telling what was here, and left. My thrush photos were way dark. The few-seconds-look caught me off guard. I was scouring the trees for the Buff-bellied Hummingbird and flushed the thrush. It landed briefly, then disappeared down the arroyo. I just had to snap and hope for the best. I photoshopped them as best I could.

It's a beautiful life bird for me. I didn't see it until 6 PM. 

Another new-to-the-oasis bird I had today was a Golden-crowned Kinglet. I didn't get photos of it but Mark Lockwood did. Whew, what a day. It's my husband's 70th birthday. Good thing he only turns 70 once.

Oasis Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Yesterday, as soon as Kelly left after banding, I saw a large hummingbird that looked like a Buff-bellied Hummingbird, but thought it couldn't be since that species had never been recorded in W Texas. And there were only 5 records of the similar Berylline, so I called Kelly Bryan. I'd let him deal with it. I've had rare birds here before but never one that had not previously been documented in the area. Too much for me to absorb.

He had to have been surprised at my call, since I almost never call him on the phone. When he answered he probably thought, "what's so important, so soon, that you can't just email me?" That's what I would have thought, anyway. I was also thinking "Buff-bellied," but couldn't let myself be foolish enough to blurt that out. So, I gushed, "I've got a rare hummer here." There's nothing like getting right to the point. (I only have an expensive long-distance calling card from here, so hardly ever make a long-distance call.) 

He, of course, politely and patiently inquired, "What is it?" I'm sure by now I had piqued his curiosity.

"I don't know," I replied, truthfully, wanting to say "Buff-bellied," but lacking the temerity to do it. "Maybe a Berylline," I added, knowing he would know I was knowledgeable enough to at least have some idea of what it was. "But it doesn't have a red bill." I figured that caveat would explain to him why I wasn't sure about the identification.

To my relief, he immediately said, "maybe it's a Buff-bellied." (It's always reassuring to know you're not crazy, or if you are, you're in good company.) I agreed, and informed him I was downloading pictures and would email them to him asap.

After he received a few of the photos, he responded that it looked like an immature male BUFH. I agreed. He said he'd be down first thing in the morning to attempt banding it. Again, I agreed, eager to let him handle the situation from there on.

So Kelly and Mark Lockwood arrived at first light and promptly caught and banded the bird.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Happy homecoming

I had been gone nearly 6 days and was really eager to get back to the oasis. I didn't get much time to watch birds, though, except as I watered the trees. During my absence chairs had been blown over from a southerly direction, which is very unusual. That might account for the abundance of migrants hanging around. They probably were glad to crash here if they were struggling south against the wind. There were ducks on the biggest tank that didn't even fly when I approached, also unusual.

I finally got a photo of a Western Scrub-Jay. There's been one around off and on for several weeks, but so hard to photograph. This afternoon I was sitting motionless by the pond while a tree nearby was being watered, and it just briefly lit down by the water, then flew off when it became aware of my presence, so I only got in a couple of shots. It's such a beautiful bird.

That pesky Yellow-bellied Sapsucker finally left, but now there's a Red-naped Sapsucker filling the void. He doesn't seem as fixated on one tree though. Hopefully, he won't stay around for long. This shot was taken looking toward the sun so is badly backlit, as this sapsucker was most uncooperative.

The oasis is especially replete with sparrows. I'm usually pretty good at IDing them but there were so many of this next species, I figured they must be Vespers since I normally get a bunch of them, and only one, or at most, two, Savannahs, but I'm not certain. My instinct tells me they're Vespers, but when I study the photos I took, I get my doubts. There are sure a bunch of them, whatever they are. Tomorrow I hope to have more time to sort out the sparrows...

...and the hummingbirds. I heard several but never got a decent enough look at one to ID it, other than to know they're not archilochus (Black-chinned or Ruby-throated), based on their call note.

Oct 19th update: Kelly Bryan informed me that my flock of sparrows were indeed Savannahs. We also checked out the hummingbird situation and only saw (and banded) one Anna's.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Alpine weeds

The bittern seems to have left.

The weeds have abated enough by our ponds that I can go out there without having to take allergy medicine, sort of. I think the two culprits are the Careless weed and the Cowpen Daisy (or Golden Crownbeard). The latter can be seen behind the Careless weed here.

The Careless weed below is one of many that gets mowed down by my husband's mower but still survives.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bittern in Alpine

For the last few days we've had an American Bittern at the ponds here in Alpine.

It's likely a young bird. All I saw it catch was small fish.

Hope it sticks around a while.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Indoors with windows closed

It seems I no sooner got to Alpine than my sister called that she got half an inch of rain. I couldn't rest wondering if I might have caught some water in the dirt tank, or settling pond, so I prevailed upon her to drive up and see. Turns out I didn't catch any runoff and only got a quarter of an inch at my place. I could relax.... as much as it's possible for me to relax.

I had been wanting to bird a pond I heard about along the railroad tracks near where we live in Alpine. So I packed my camera and set out.

There were quite a few birds, including at least 500 Clay-colored Sparrows in the weeds along the way. Problem was, I thought I'd see more birds by bush-whacking and soon became hopelessly ensnared in the two weeds I'm most allergic to---Careless Weed and Golden Crownbeard (or Cowpen Daisy). Even though I had taken a 24 hour antihistamine when I got to Alpine yesterday, all I could think of was to get out of there. The weeds covered countless acres and were shoulder high to me.  The pollen was so bad that every step I took released clouds of it. Sure won't ever do that again. Sorry forgot to take photos of the situation. Wish I had.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Black-throated Gray Warbler at CMO

I was excited to see this Black-throated Gray Warbler, even though I just saw it for a few minutes. I think it dropped in because it heard the water running from the hose as I was watering. It got pretty close before it realized I was present. Then it went and drank from the shade water feature where I snapped this photo before I didn't see it anymore. It stayed in motion all the time and was very difficult to photograph. I've only seen this species here once or twice before. It had bright yellow lores that don't show on this photo.


I finally got all the bad deer feed spread. Each bag weighed 50 lbs. I think there were close to 100 bags so it could have weighed a total of 5000 lbs, but I'm not sure how many I started out with. I didn't count them. At least 50 though. I have no idea whether spreading the feed will turn out to be a good idea, or a bad idea.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oasis windy today!

I was so anxious to get to the oasis this afternoon, and had a mental list of all I wanted to do. But the wind was raging and I hate wind, so got practically nothing accomplished. The stucco tank was down to 24½" from the 30½" when I left Saturday, so that's about 1½" per day. Pretty normal for that tank (when it hasn't sprung a big leak), but I hope to seal it better this winter. So I'm relieved that I should have enough water stored now to make it through to next rainy season.

Took a couple hummer photos before I headed for the house, which is earth-sheltered. When you're inside, you can not tell it's windy outside. Works for me.

Here is one I think might be a juvenile Allen's. If not that, then it's a Rufous.

Hopefully, I'll see some good birds tomorrow and get some nice photos, in between watering the trees.

Monday, October 8, 2012

New electric pump en route

I had my sister check the tank level yesterday and it had gone down 2½" in approximately 24 hours. Not good, but better than before I drained and patched the tank. As the level goes down it should leak less. I'll try to make it last until spring and then I plan to buy some expensive coating material for the bad area and hopefully fix it for good. I was looking into a product called Sani-Tred. Does anyone know anything about it? It sounds like what I need.

Hummers are moving through Alpine. Here is a photo I took today a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

If you're wondering why the pinkish background on some of my Alpine hummer shots, it's because I take them out the window by the feeders, and way in the background is a barn-red shed. This is the effect it makes. Rather pretty, but so unnatural looking.

My new electric pump should arrive in a couple of days. My husband was going to order a stainless steel 1½" discharge pump,  but wisely,decided to let me order the one I thought I should have.  I already have a 1½" pump that belonged to my late husband. That's what I was using before my son came down and got the 3" gas pump set up. So I ordered a 3" electric trash pump. It was actually less expensive than the one Hugh planned to get me. Hope I ordered the right one for my situation. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Racing around

I think I'm getting paranoid about water since last year's devastating drought. At any rate, as I expected, I lacked two feet of having enough water to fill the tank. I'm in Alpine now and won't know how much it's leaking until I get back down there in a few days. Can't be helped. I had rescheduled my dental checkup to stay there and get the tank emergency taken care of. Still determined to brush or spray some good lining on it when it's dry early next year. Meanwhile, I feel secure water-wise. As secure as I can probably ever feel. And I'm confident any leakage will benefit that mesquite tree.... eventually.

My husband bought some deer feed that turned out to be damp and beginning to mold.  The out-of-state company wouldn't reimburse him for it. He was going to throw it away but I thought it might make mulch in my oasis. I spread a bunch of it beneath a bird feeder. It'll be an interesting experiment. I wore out before I could lift any more of those 50 lb bags, but I'll eventually get it all spread. It's in the form of pellets. Forgot to photograph it after I spread it. Next time....

As I was rushing to finish up at the oasis and get to town to start catching up there I was stopped by a sheriff's road block. Seems a road race (Shelby Mustang or something) was about to take place and they were closing a big section of Highway 118. I was the first vehicle not let through. Nothing to do but sit and wait..... and take photos.

The race was a timed race and started somewhere around Elephant Mountain. The cars reached speeds of around 160 mph and by the time they came past the stopped cars at the end, the helmeted drivers were pretty pumped on adrenalin. Hoods were raised and you could feel the natural highs in the air.

There were over twenty cars in the race and after completing the course (?) the drivers pulled over and waited on the others, apparently. I was just relieved when I was finally allowed to continue my trip to town.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stressing here

I won't know until in the morning how much the stucco tank is still leaking. Two of the pinholes were still seeping and I couldn't plug them but I just couldn't endure leaving the water in the dirt tank any longer. It was going down 5" a day and since it has a huge surface, that's a lot of water. There won't be enough left to fill the stucco tank now. I have it half full and will pump the rest of the water out of the dirt tank in the morning. I estimate I can get another 2 foot of water out of the dirt tank, so that'll leave the stucco tank down 2 feet. I can live with that. It should last until Feb or March, unless I didn't slow the leaks down. Surely I did though.

I thought about going to town for some underwater hydraulic patch but couldn't spend another day without getting the water out. When I started this project the stucco tank was down 2 feet and the dirt tank was half full. Now the dirt tank is half full and the stucco tank is down 4 feet, so I lost 2 feet of water plus what was left in the dirt tank, which I estimate was about 2 feet. I figured I'd never get every single seep plugged anyway, so it was time to get the water back in. Normally, I like the stucco tank to last until May. Then I know I'll have enough water to make it through to summer rains. It takes a lot to water things in the hot dry months of April, May, and June. Rains usually start in July. Winter doesn't take as much water so the stucco tank usually  is adequate. Who knows, maybe we'll get more rain.

A couple of lovely birders from E Texas visited this afternoon. Unfortunately, it was pretty hot and not birdy that time of day, plus we had to endure the loud gas pump the whole while. I hated that. But I enjoyed birding with them, and they got a few lifers. (Cassin's Kingbird, Green-tailed Towhee, and Lucifer Hummingbird, I think)

The oasis was delightful and we did get a few interesting birds, besides the aforementioned. The Lucifer was interesting in that it's a juvenile male with new gorget feathers on the right side of the throat only.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Revised definition of a perfect day

Well, my best laid plans didn't work out as planned. The tank's water spouts were still spouting this morning so I had to wait them out. As I sat in the shade at the oasis, no wind, not too hot or cold, I thought the place had never looked more beautiful (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course). It dawned on me that by my definition of a perfect day the sky would have to have been overcast. But there were birds everywhere and taking photos is better with sun. So I redefined my definition of a perfect day. (My original definition was made when the oasis didn't have shade.)

As some of the water spouts quit oozing, I mixed some patching stuff and sloshed around in the muddy, snakey water doing my thing. (Snake in water near center of photo.)  It's just a harmless garter snake, of course.

It would sure be great if I could afford to have that wall sprayed with gunite or some plastic coating. I'm sure it'll always leak, just hopefully not as much. My plan (using that term loosely) is to finish patching in the morning tomorrow and pump the water back in during the afternoon. The dirt tank went down nearly 3" during the night so this is an urgent situation. Both tanks leak less when there's less water pressure in the tank, naturally.

Here is an example of the difficulty identifying birds. What species do you think the next three photos are?   (Answer at end of post.)

Here's a much easier bird to identify, a lovely Brown Thrasher. Hope it hangs around for a while.

OK, I don't think any of the flycatcher photos are empidonaxes. I think they're all of the same Eastern Phoebe taken with the same camera settings, same lighting conditions, and all taken a few minutes apart from the same spot. However, after looking at the photos, I'm not positive that last one isn't a different bird, though I don't know how that could have happened. If it is a different bird, I've no clue what it is. There was a Western Wood-pewee around but I don't think that's what it is.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Son to the rescue

My son arrived before daylight, anxious to get the pump going for me and get back to town in time to open his store (Alpine Furniture Store) at 10 AM. He didn't get away from here until around that time, unfortunately.

By the time he left, the pump was working fine and not a drop of water was leaking from the temporary plumbing he hooked up.

Seven hours later I had the water pumped out as much as necessary to see the leaks. There were several dozen water spouts coming out the wall.... the same area that has always been the problem area. About the only way to locate those pinhole leaks is to fill the tank and then drain it rapidly. It's been about six years since we've done that so I guess I can't complain too much.

So much water got trapped behind the tank wall that it eroded a patch of the wall (about 2 sq ft area). I didn't see water coming from it into the tank, so am pretty certain that was an effect of the leakage, not the cause.

Tomorrow will be another grueling day. I need to mix cement and bonder and fill every single leak (I marked them with chalk), then coat them with tar and/or water sealer until I run out of it. Then Friday I'll refill the tank. That's the plan anyway. You know what they say about plans. 'Life is what happens while you're making plans.' At any rate, once I get done and refill the tank, however much or little it leaks is going to be how it is. I'll live with it. Hopefully, I'll still have enough water to fill it.

Didn't get time to look for birds today. I had to keep the pump serviced and wade in the tank to locate and mark the leaks. Any birds I saw were by accident. That darn sapsucker is now ravaging an ash tree since I've barred it from the locust tree. I'll sure be glad when he leaves. 

I can't understand why the mesquite tree near the tank's leaks isn't growing huge. It would sure mitigate the loss of the water if it was. (On the first photo it's peeking out at the right side.) Maybe mesquites are just slow growers and last year the tank had zero water in it, therefore, no leakage. And, of course, I've never watered the tree. But I'd think it would be showing lots of new growth this summer. It's not.