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Friday, December 27, 2013

Lovin' Lajitas

Can't seem to stay away. It has such a nice unwintery feel to it. I saw the Blue-throated Hummingbird a couple of times briefly as it was insect-catching high in the cottonwood trees (to right of tower on photo above). And lots of other hummers keep me busy cleaning and filling feeders. A labor of love, for certain.

I can never get a photo of the male Anna's Hummingbird to do it justice, but I keep trying.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Longer days and shorter nights

I always feel better when the days start getting longer.... just knowing it, even though I can't actually notice yet.

I went out to Mile High Road this AM in a futile attempt to relocate the Lewis's Woodpecker. I think it has moved on. But there are tons of bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaires and such. Here are the juniper berries that they're gorging on.

All junipers are not equal. The above photo is the female One-seed Juniper, and below is the male, which produces tiny cones, but no berries.

This amazing plant can grow tap roots up to 200 feet long. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Return to Lajitas

I was able to observe the Blue-throated Hummingbird all morning until I left around 10 AM. He seems to have settled in, which is understandable since he has a continuous food supply and great climate... until Lajitas gets sweltering hot and he decides to go to a cooler place to breed. I'm pretty sure he's not a full adult.

  Here's where he's hanging out. This first photo was taken early this morning as I arrived.

In this next photo, there's a feeder under the bell tower (hidden by bushes) and you can barely see the one beneath that Hackberry tree. He also hangs out in pine trees down below the tower (off the photo to the right, or on the left side of the above photo). 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Early morning trip to Lajitas

I was determined to go look for the Blue-throated Hummingbird we had seen, but not photographed, Tuesday morning. It was raining at the oasis, but the weather map didn't show rain at Lajitas, so I set out on the hour-long drive, knowing that if the rain continued I may not make it back up my big hill.

Being this is about the shortest day of the year, the skies at Lajitas were darker than I had expected when I arrived at 7 AM. It was raining lightly. Even though the rain fizzled out, it was still dark as I took down the empty feeders, washed, and filled them. Right away, in the dark, I heard the Blue-throated, so I was pretty excited. When it got barely light enough to see its silhouette, I snapped some worthless photos of it. (If I didn't get any others, I could have photoshopped them enough for documentation purposes.) Then I used flash, and at the first flash, it flew off. I heard it cavorting around here and there, but it was still too dark for photos. I contemplated hanging around for a couple of hours, but sure as I would, it would disappear like it had Tuesday. So I decided instead to return Sunday morning before heading back to Alpine. Surely the sun will show up then. Meanwhile, here is the one salvageable shot I got (after a little tweaking on photoshop).

At CMO I had only gotten .2" of rain, but barely made it up the hill, even using my newly-found low gear. For anyone seeking this hummer, it visits the area around the tower.

This is an old photo I got off the internet so things don't look exactly like this right now. This photo was taken from the restaurant there at the Lajitas Resort and is open to the public. We have feeders hung under and near the tower.

I would advise looking as close to daybreak as possible.

Side note: I called the restaurant (now named the Candellia Cafe) and asked what they call the tower. The girl there said they call it the Bell Tower. I responded, "Oh, I didn't see a bell in it."

"No," she said, "it doesn't have one, but I think it used to."

The tower wasn't there 25 years ago, so I'm assuming that way back in the early history of Lajitas there was a tower there with a bell. Just guessing. Another option is that the man who built the tower, I think he was a previous owner named Smith, sold Lajitas to the present owner before he got a bell installed in the tower. Whether or not this tower ever had a bell in it, it has had a Blue-throated Hummingbird flying under it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Swamp Sparrow

Hubby went fishing due to lovely weather so I got to come back to the oasis sooner than planned. A great Christmas bonus, I'd say. I was surprised to see a couple of different birds here, including a Fox Sparrow and a Swamp Sparrow. I've had both species here before, but this is the first photos I've ever gotten of a Swamp Sparrow.

A very secretive and hard to photograph species (for me, anyway), and taken from farther away than I would have preferred..

I plan to splurge the second day of my 3 "bonus" days by going to Lajitas tomorrow. I'll take some sugar water with me just in case Kelly's feeders there are empty. Since I had my work caught up here I may bird Rio Grande Village in the park the following day. It's always been one of my very favorite birding places, but such a long drive to get there. And that'll be the last of my 3 "bonus" days. Time sure flies.

I was going to go to Lake Balmorhea today to see the Red-necked Grebe that's there, but discovered my scope wasn't in my vehicle like I thought it was, so couldn't go. The first thing I did upon arriving at the oasis this morning was put the scope into my pickup, where I resolve to keep it. If the grebe continues at Balmorhea, I'll plan a trip there for next week. It's hard to juggle living in two places, one closer to Balmorhea, the other closer to Rio Grande Village. Keeps life from getting dull.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pleasant December day

The last couple of days have been decent, and I got some work caught up. There are only 6 butterfly species on my December list so far, and it's not likely to grow much. Lots of fresh Reakirt's Blues today.

Winter time is great for appreciating a warm fire.... one surviving palm tree...... 

..... and my nearly ripe indoor orange.....

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mile High Road

I spent the morning at Mile High Road 10 miles south of Alpine with a bird photographer friend and had a great time. We saw and photographed good birds. I especially enjoyed seeing flocks of Mountain Bluebirds gorging on juniper berries.

Western Bluebird

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ducks in Marathon

I finally got over to Marathon where Heidi Trudell kindly took me to the water treatment ponds there and I got my first photos of Northern Pintails.

While there, we snapped some Pronghorn Antelope photos.

From Marathon I went to the dentist in Odessa. Can't have all "where the antelopes play" and no misery now, can we?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Another busy day

Kelly and I spent a cold morning banding hummingbirds. Were very surprised to get our first ever Lucifer Hummingbird for the month of December. It was a male that we captured at Far Flung Outdoor Center in Study Butte. I figure by the time the Lucifer got to the lovely yard and feeders they have there, he thought he was close enough to his wintering territory in Mexico. His weight was healthy, and his gorget is worn, and not as bright and shiny as a fresh spring gorget would be.

After banding and lunch, we took a notion to go to Big Bend National Park hoping to locate a possible Nutting's Flycatcher that has been reported from Rio Grande Village there. We not only didn't find it, I didn't even glimpse a potential candidate. Saw this strange looking Eastern Phoebe though.

I'm too tired to post more photos from today. Tomorrow's another day...........

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bone cold

I still haven't thawed out after we went to Balmorhea Lake and birded in 20° weather. Our target was a Black-legged Kittiwake, which would have been a lifer for some of us, but it wasn't there. Nevertheless, the lake was gorgeous and had more birds on it than I had ever seen. Calm, cool, and collected, with the emphasis on the cool. (Photo taken with my iphone.)

Only a kittiwake, or such, could have inspired me to overcome the cold and take a bunch of photos, but I did half-heartedly snap a Bonaparte's Gull as it winged past.

Years ago I made a trip to the lake for the purpose of seeing my first Bonaparte's Gull. I didn't have a camera in those days, so it seemed fitting to photograph one today. And I really enjoyed the company (Kelly Bryan, Matt York, Heidi Trudell, and Julie Oesper). And the food (Bear's Den Restaurant).

Tomorrow we're going to band hummingbirds and then go to Big Bend National Park to try to observe and photograph a myiarchus flycatcher that might possibly be a Nutting's. It'll be warm there. I have a fire going but it takes a long time to warm up the house once it gets cold, so I'm heading for my electric blanket now.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Wintery window birding

I'm stuck in Alpine and the weather is nasty. I refuse to go outside in it. Here are a couple of pics taken through the windows. I put out a cracked pecan for the poor Yellow-rumped Warbler.....

A  Northern Mockingbird was pretty aggressive about claiming the nuts.

And then there's the poor Rufous Hummingbird coming to the feeders that I have to keep thawing out.

It's going to be warmer tomorrow and we're going  birding to Lake Balmorhea. Then banding Monday and Tuesday. Just have to get through today.

UPDATE: I ventured outdoors for a few minutes. Here's what it's like out there....

Notice the ice on the Pyrrhuloxia above.

A couple of Northern Shovelers joined the Mexican Ducks on the ponds.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kelly's early Christmas present

While technically it's Christmas every day in the Christmas mountains, some days are more Christmasy than others. Today we went to Bonnie Wunderlich's to band the juvenile male Costa's Hummingbird that has been there since Nov 22. Here is Kelly unwrapping his present, ever so carefully, of course.

Doesn't everyone measure their presents as soon as they unwrap them?

The youngster was a nice healthy specimen with a nice healthy weight. Nevertheless, getting examined works up quite a thirst. He guzzled from the feeder for a long time.

Then, when it was time to release him, Bonnie wanted to do the honors. Kelly tried to transfer him to her hand so I could photograph the event, but the hummer was having none of it. He was gone in a blink.

Moments later he was back defending his territory. Bonnie does such a great job of caring for her birds. She has every right to be proud. We're proud of her, that's for sure.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Exciting day

I led some wonderful birder friends to see the Costa's Hummingbird down near Terlingua, and no sooner got to Alpine than one of them called, and another posted, that they had found a Lewis's Woodpecker about 10 miles south of Alpine. So I had barely unpacked my ice chest and was off again. Here is a photo of the Costa's I took this AM... Kelly Bryan thinks it's a juvenile male with adult tail, but not yet a full adult gorget.

And a special treat for the birders was getting their pictures taken with a Pyrrhuloxia feeding from their hand.

Here's the Lewis's Woodpecker south of Alpine...

and here are a couple of photos of the Mountain Bluebirds that are in abundance near where the woodpecker was. The first is a male, the last, a female.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hectic holiday

I made breakfast for my company, then rushed to Alpine to share Thanksgiving dinner with my husband and his kids, then hurried back to join my family. Pretty exhausted now.

Here's a picture of my new kumquat tree. To the left of it is the new Prickly Ash. It wasn't as protected on its trip here from Fredrickburg, but I think it'll perk up fine. That orange accidentally captured in the photo is starting to ripen, and the kumquat has little fruits on it. Gonna be fun next year. Just have to get past winter first.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Every little bit helps

They say this ice storm was the worst we had in 25 years. Except for the branches that snapped off, the ones bent to the ground straightened back up after the ice melted. And not that many were broken. I pruned what I could reach. I'll take precipitation any way I can get it, and ended up with a third of an inch in the rain gauge. Every little bit helps! Acquiring that moisture was agonizing, though. Perhaps the hardest won so far.

When I'm not staying in town, I put out fresh feeders early in the mornings on nights that the feeders freeze solid.  This morning, at daylight it was 20° and hummers were chasing around as if it was normal weather and the feeders weren't frozen. I put up clean ones with warmed solution and brought the frozen ones indoors to thaw out before I cleaned them. Such is the life of a hummingbird "rancher."

They would probably survive fine if I didn't, but the lives of hummers can be very marginal, so I figure every little bit helps!

I'm pretty excited. My son is on his way here from Austin with a kumquat tree, plus he stopped in Fredricksburg for the Prickly Ash generously given to me by Bill Lindemann and Jane Crone. Thanks guy! Your the absolute best! And I have the greatest son too!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Slush and such

When I was a kid in Iowa I was taken with a short poem titled "Spring," that said, "Along with the flowers and song of the thrush....... slush." Well, it's not spring, and we don't have flowers or thrush, but we'll soon have lots of slush. And though I've always said I'll take precipitation any way I can get it, it's depressing to sit and watch tree limbs bend to the ground and break. 

So I came to town. Had to drive over fallen branches as I was leaving the oasis.

The highway to Alpine was bad, but I didn't see any wrecks.

Thousands in the Big Bend area are without electricity today, so I consider myself lucky.

I also consider myself really, really technologically challenged. When I first got my pickup, I contorted myself to squeeze between the two front seats to get to the tiny seats in back because I could not figure out how to fold the front seats out of the way and there were no back doors. Couldn't squeeze over the headrests either. Several days later I told my son how impossible it would be to use the back fold-down seats if you were over 5 years old. What a stupid car design, etc. He walked over to the pickup and opened the back doors, whose handles were hidden inside the door jamb. Who would have figured that out!

Then fast forward a couple of years of not making it up my big hill after a rain as the road was muddy, and then just yesterday not making it up the big hill south of Alpine, while everyone else drove past me. Coming to town a while ago I noticed another gear on my gear shift. Who would have ever thought! I'm eager to try it out and see how it works but will wait until the next emergency, which probably won't be too long coming, knowing me. Until today, I didn't notice that number one gear. Go figure!