Click any photo to enlarge

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 grape,s 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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Another sunrise

I've photographed a lot of sunsets, but sunrises can be awesome too. Here's how the mountain to the west of the tank looked for a short while this morning. The Eared Grebe is in the shadow beneath the dark bushes on the right. You can barely make it out.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

I love birders

Since the Varied Thrush showed up I've been having lots of birders come to see it, many of them laden with grapes. Birders are the best!

I keep trying to get a decent photo of the thrush with a grape. This is the best I've done so far. My camera was focused on the grapes, so the bird isn't in focus. Not enough time as he grabbed the grape and spun out of sight, but I'm not giving up.

Bonnie Wunderlich is the person south of here who first discovered the Eared Grebe hiding in her outdoor shower. No body of water nearby, so we brought it to my tank. Today she visited the grebe and got a distant shot of it with a fish on her little point-and-shoot camera. So far, I haven't been fast enough with my big Canon to catch the action, but now I have renewed determination to make it happen. Here is Bonnie's shot. (Posted with her permission)

And I love this shot Bonnie captured. It looks like the grebe is thanking her for saving it.


I don't have much prior grebe watching experience, but I was perplexed when shortly after putting the grebe in the tank I observed it swimming with its head underwater. Something I don't remember ever seeing a grebe do before. Thinking about it later, and having it doing it only that one time, I realize it was looking to see if the tank had food, and/or if there were any diving obtacles. (It's nearly 9' deep.) Very interesting behavior. Wish I had photographed it. Something I'll probably never witness again. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Annual family day

The usual, ate too much, had birders here enjoying the thrush, nothing out of the ordinary.

Son photographing grebe

I was very concerned as to whether the grebe's nutritional needs are being met, so I did a little online research. I was surprised to read the following at, (written by James Clowater in 1993)

"Although most grebes are nocturnal foragers, in a large population it is possible to encounter a few birds foraging in daylight. In 1994/1995 I observed over 2,000 dives by grebes foraging during the day in Saanich Inlet, but fish were returned to the surface in only 5 of these dives. In all occasions the prey were slender silvery fish. It is likely that grebes are able to swallow most fish underwater."

The article also indicates that 80% of their dives are search dives where no prey is located. That conforms to what my son observed where the grebe brought prey to the surface in only one of every five dives. Additionally, if the grebe is foraging at night or swallowing the gambusias underwater it would indicate an even higher rate of success. I concluded that at a minimum it was having no trouble staying healthy. So I'll find something else to worry about.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The grapes of VATH

I just had to say that, ever since Lori Markoff came up with it. I sweat blood when birders are here and the VATH (Varied Thrush's alpha code) isn't showing itself, and then when the birders have finally seen it come in for grapes, and the birders have departed, I wish someone was here to share it with.

It's been 2 years, due to last year's drought, since I've seen deer come to the spillway and drink (see post of Oct 30, 2010).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

CMO to the rescue

Got a call about a grounded Eared Grebe at a friend's (Bonnie Wunderlich's) place about 40 minutes from here so I dropped everything and rushed to pick up the bird. Promptly released it in my biggest tank. I had an Eared Grebe here for a week in 1998. It was here from Nov 19 - 27. This one will probably stay a week also. 

When I put up this snag I never envisioned it this loaded with doves.

Just before dark I checked on the grebe and it was feeding on gambusias like crazy!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Early morning

My cold camera (45°) in overcast early morning light was no match for the speed of the thrush. I got this blurry shot and even on continuous shoot mode the bird was absent from the next frame.

Late afternoon: Well, had fun with today's birders but did not get a photo of a wren that Tripp Davenport discovered. It seems to be a Pacific Wren (recently split from Winter Wren). Tomorrow getting a photo of it will be priority.

All birders got plenty of Varied Thrush and Costa's Hummingbird views, as well as photos. Sometimes the photography was a bit challenging.

Michael Gray

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thrush in training

The Varied Thrush comes readily to the ground grape feeder, but isn't coming to the hanging feeder. So I thought I'd try hanging a log beneath it for stability, and more perching.

Since putting up the log, I witnessed the thrush making two failed attempts at nabbing a grape from it. Back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, I thought I'd vacate the area and see if, left alone, the bird can come up with a workable grape-plucking system. The problem probably lies in removing them from the toothpicks. But if I just hang clusters it's so hard to keep track of usage. And a partially eaten cluster could fall into the water below.

It doesn't look to me like the Costa's Hummingbird is making much progress in growing a gorgeous gorget. By the looks of all those white pin feathers he's still got a ways to go.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

New revised grape feeder

Critters, as well as ants, have discovered the feeder, so it was time to do something else. I made a hanging branch feeder. Now the trick will be to get the thrush to find and use it.

The new feeder is suspended from ant guards and should be critter-proof.

When I got down to the oasis (from the house a block away) shortly after daylight today the ground feeder had been emptied (I suspect coons or ringtails) and I heard the distraught thrush scolding back in the arroyo. I hurriedly put a few grapes in the old feeder. It wasted no time gobbling them up. My hope is that when that feeder gets empty, he'll look around and find the hanging feeder. But I've learned not to make assumptions, so I'll probably put out grapes in the ground feeder until I'm sure he's discovered the other one. I almost got a decent photo of him grabbing a grape this morning. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Routine day? Not so much....

We were excited to do our scheduled banding in south Brewster Co because a recent cold front may have brought in some interesting hummers. The six species we ended up seeing, and/or capturing, far exceeded our expectations. We were determined not to recapture the Costa's Hummingbird we banded a week ago. But that little ball of energy was a force to be reckoned with.

After the day we banded him a week ago (see post of Nov 7), I didn't see him again, and was sure he was gone. But when we arrived today he was lord of the realm. Kelly placed the trap where we had it last week, but this dominant Costa's wouldn't let any other hummer near the trap.

Fat and sassy
In desperation we set up another trap at the other side of the oasis. He'd already been inside a trap twice the week before so we weren't worried that he'd go in again. And we hadn't arrived at the oasis until peak feeding time was pretty much over. Nevertheless, before long he headed for the feeder inside the newly placed trap. Kelly thought to let him feed, then leave, none the wiser. But the slow-to-learn demon soared straight up into the top of the trap, totally forgetting the huge door he had come in a moment before. So Kelly had no choice but to assist him out of the trap. The bird took off, and we don't know if he'll return or not. I sure hope so. His gorget is filling in nicely. I'd love to see him in a few weeks with a brilliant new gorget. We shall see.

Meanwhile, I'll have to content myself with his partial gorget. He is record #34 for Texas.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cold front

Well, our first freeze of this fall occurred last night. Now I won't have to water as much. It brought a few new hummingbirds to our feeders in Alpine. Here's a male Anna's Hummingbird that was at my son's place...

Tomorrow I'll be going to the oasis. I think the Varied Thrush is still there, but feeding along the arroyo on native berries. When they're gone it'll probably be easier to locate near the grapes I put out. I left the grape feeder uncaged Friday (for a photographer) when I came to town, and the javelina ravaged it. So with no grapes there, I couldn't tell if the thrush was still around, or not.  I refilled and caged the feeder so tomorrow I'll know.

The Williamson's Sapsucker didn't hang around at all. Lucky I even got photos of it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Williamson's Sapsucker visit

Williamson's Sapsucker is a new yard bird for the oasis. Normally, I don't like sapsuckers damaging my trees, but I'm going to make an exception for this one, and do my best to like this handsome devil.

I saw the Varied Thrush at 4 PM, but it's so secretive that it may as well not be here. I hope people coming to see it this weekend don't go away disappointed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Costa's Hummingbird visit

Kelly Bryan came this morning to do his regular banding session, and soon called to me that there was a Costa's Hummingbird here. What a fun surprise!

I assumed it was a juvenile male, but apparently it's a molting adult male. If you click on the next photo you may be able to make out his new band. Hope he sticks around a while....

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Me, the toothpick fairy

As usual, leaving paradise and coming to town is painful. I miss it before I'm even gone. I was contemplating how best to put out all the remaining grapes for the thrush when I got a marvelous inspiration. I had run out of [toothpick] pegs (for lack of a better word) to impale the grapes on and still had grapes leftover. So I got the brilliant idea of leaving the grapes on the cluster and let the bird pluck them from it like it does in nature. Duh! Was that genius, or what! Here's a photo of the man-made cluster before I added the natural cluster.

Then I took another photo of it after I put a cage around it, to hopefully protect it from javelina. I'm sure there are many other critters that will eventually see it as food. Hopefully, not. Bears, racoons, and badgers come to mind, not to mention mockingbirds, towhees and other birds.

I just laid the remaining natural cluster on top of the man-made clusters. (Sorry, forgot to take a photo of it.) In the future, I'll fasten the natural cluster to the branch. The hope is that nothing will get the grapes but the thrush, as is currently the case, and that they'll last a few days until I get down there to restock it. He consumes about 8-10 per day. I put out about 50, so should be good for a few days.

He has a hard time choosing which grape to eat, they all look so good!

Look at the damage that sapsucker left on the locust tree.

Coming to town this morning I got caught amid the pack of Chili Cookoff revelers leaving Terlingua. The border checkpoint was a hub of activity. Not visible in the photo is the line of motor-homes in queue heading north. You can see 2 more approaching in the background. I counted 3 drug-sniffing dogs at work as the agents struggled to keep up with the influx of vehicles. I actually made it through faster than I expected. They're doing a good job.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fourteen days and counting

I'm almost certain the thrush is still here. Kelly Bryan came over and banded hummingbirds so I didn't sit and observe, but the grapes disappeared at the usual rate, about an average of one per hour in the morning. And I guess now that the bird seems to have its reserves replenished, not in the afternoon. We'll see. It probably arrived here very hungry and got meager sustenance from the local berries. So I imagine it took a few days of grapes before it could afford to go to being its normal secretive self. Good for the bird, not so good for observation. It never would eat cranberries though. If it plucked one by mistake, it tossed it on the ground. Go figure!

Kelly banded 4 juvenile male Anna's Hummingbirds. I had hoped for more. He thought he heard the thrush, and I thought I saw its silhouette being chased by the silhouette of a mockingbird. At least the mockingbird hasn't recognized the grapes as food..... YET!

A short visit by a Common Grackle. I never could tell them from the Great-tailed or Brewer's Blackbirds, so I'm determined to learn the difference. Hopefully, posting a picture of the grackle will help. Yes, Kelly ID'd it for me, or I wouldn't have known. I think I could eventually figure out the adult males. It's the females and juveniles that confuse me.

Also got to enjoy a visiting Golden Eagle for a while. Just wish I could get better photos of raptors in flight. But what a wingspan!

UPDATE: At 6 PM I gave up my sporadic watch to see the thrush. Then out of curiosity at 7 PM I went down to the oasis to see if any grapes were missing. Yup, 2 were gone. Little rascal! It does not want to be seen, that's for sure. It's not called secretive, a skulker, shy, and retiring for no reason, but this is extreme. I've got a strategy planned for tomorrow morning though.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween treat? Or trick?

I spent the whole day inside my photo blind trying to get a shot of the thrush with a grape.

The one time I saw it come in for a grape it happened so fast all I got a photo of was the grapes. That was around 11 AM. Then it didn't return anymore, maybe because it figured out that I was inside the blind. Don't know. I saw it in a tree at 4 PM and never saw it again. I feel certain if it hadn't left, it would have come within view of the grapes anyway. So, I'm thinking my orange and black Halloween bird left on the 13th day of  his visit. At least it isn't Friday.

Or maybe it'll be here tomorrow. I know I'm not going to sit in the blind waiting for it to show up ever again. Had all that I want. Cramped and staring out a slit. 

A pair of Northern Flickers showed up today.