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Saturday, March 30, 2013

CMO Screech-Owl history

Most of you probably aren't interested in this, but for anyone who is, here are the data on W. Screech-Owl sightings at the oasis (keep in mind the oasis didn't get planted until 1996):

Oct 1997, one time
Oct 2002, one week
Feb 2005, one time
Jun 2005, one time
Apr 2006, one time
Oct 2006, one time
Feb 2007, one time
Mar 2008, one time
Feb 2009, one time
Mar 2009, one time
Feb 2013, one time
Mar 2013, three weeks

I'm sure screech-owls have visited much more often, but these are the only sightings I have documented. You can see this one has been here the longest I've ever had one. I imagine it has been here ever since I first heard it on Feb 17. I heard it in the courtyard during that night. Mostly it stays at the oasis and can't be heard from the house a block away, and I hadn't visited the oasis at night during the interim. It may be nesting here for the first time ever. One has been observed and photographed in 3 different nest boxes on three different evenings at the oasis, whether the same individual or two different individuals. Here is the first screech-owl photo taken at the oasis. Chris Hortness snapped this on the evening of Mar 9. The two pictures I posted recently are both taken in different nest boxes, so now 3 boxes are depicted with a screech-owl in them.

I have two Mexican Buckeye trees blooming side by side and the coloring is quite different. These photos were taken at the same time in the same light.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A splendidly Good Friday

I got a slow start today. Slept in, then hung around the house watering the courtyard. The weather was perfect. Overcast and no wind. The temperature climbed to 80° this afternoon when I finally went down to the oasis to see what butterflies I could capture on camera. I'm just not fast enough for most of the ones I really wanted to capture. It's the only way I can ID them.

So I wandered all over the place, lugging my heavy camera, admiring all the wonderfully fragrant blooms.


Saw my first dragonfly and damselfly of the year. Couldn't get a photo of the dragonfly, but got a poor one of the damsel. I haven't gotten it ID'd yet.

For me the highlight of the day was discovering a Western Screech-Owl in a nest box that several years ago I had, single-handedly, wrestled into place, straining my back, shoulder, and body in general in the process. Now finally, it has all been worth it. What I really want to know is if this is a mate to the previous owl, or if it's the same one, just in a different place. I hope to answer that question before long. I think if you compare the two photos the markings on top of the head look slightly different. Click on "Screech-Owl" on the right list of labels and both this photo and the photo of March 13 will come up for comparison.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Birder of the day

Heidi Trudell wins the "birder of the day" award for finding a Black-chinned Sparrow at the oasis. I wonder how long it has been here. He was chasing other birds away from the water tank and acting rather territorial. First one seen here in quite some time. Hope he sticks around through migration so more people can enjoy him. Thanks Heidi! 

I was lucky to even get a photo of him. He was way across the tank and mostly moved around inside the brush.

This Claret Cup Cactus seems to promise wonderful things to come. I had originally planted it in shade because I saw some gorgeous ones growing in the Chisos in shade. But it soon became apparent that it wasn't going to thrive where I had it, so last year I moved it into the sun. It's obviously going to put on a beautiful show before long. My camera will be there.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Same old, same old

It seems every year we get a "norther" after things have leafed out and the new foliage gets zapped. My mulberry trees are loaded with mulberries so, in an attempt to try to save them, I turned on the sprinkler early this morning. Don't know if it'll help. Especially if it gets colder tonight, which I think is forecast.

I can only do what I can do, one challenge at a time.

UPDATE: By mid-afternoon it had warmed up somewhat. I was delighted to see so many blooms. This Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) blossom was the most surprising of all.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Up in the tree tops

I never know when a photo I take of the Varied Thrush will be the last, so I took a few late this afternoon as it was going way to the top of the cottonwood tree. That tree had leaves on it when the thrush arrived in October and now it's leafing out again. What I'm saying is, that bird has been here for 5 whole months now.

UPDATE: Seconds after I took this photo, the bird disappeared and hasn't been seen or heard since. Bummer that I looked away and didn't see the actual lift off around 8 PM. When I last saw it it was acting antsy and way higher in the cottonwood than I had ever seen it before, looking this way and that, maybe trying to get its travel bearings, or whatever. Not like it was settling in to roost.

Monday, March 18, 2013


I've always been fascinated by oases in deserts. Here are a couple that appeal to me, though, of course, I wouldn't trade them for mine. This first one is the Huacachina Oasis in Peru.

And the last one is the Crescent Lake Oasis in China.

The Christmas Mountains Oasis is in semi-desert terrain, so probably has a lot more bird and other wildlife diversity than these do, not to mention, it's closer to home. Actually, it is home. And tomorrow I'll be there. Can't wait.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Scott's Orioles are back!

After I wore out and took a quick nap, I couldn't resist the lure of the oasis. The Torrey Yuccas are blooming, which fact isn't lost on the Scott's Orioles. Seems they timed their arrival perfectly. I saw this one in the late afternoon light.

Finally, he was satisfied and sang atop the dead cottonwood tree before disappearing into the sunset's afterglow.

New oasis butterfly species

An all around splendid day. I started out enjoying the singing of the Varied Thrush, then as I was trying to sort out sparrows coming to drink at the big tank, a flicker came to drink that the experts think might be an intergrade between a  [Northern] "Yellow-shafted" and "Red-shafted." What I know for sure is that it had strong yellow undersides when it flew. Doesn't show on the photos unfortunately. If I get another chance to photograph it I'll try for a flight shot, even if it's blurry.

Then I spotted 3 Aoudads crossing the road coming into the oasis. They were atop a hill about half a mile away but I got what photos I could. That's Nine Points Mesa in the background.

Before I had recovered from that, the oasis got nice and warm and full of butterflies. I'm not sure if I ever photographed a Texan Crescent before.

But here is the highlight of the day, a new butterfly species for the oasis. My lepidopterist friend says it's a Coyote Cloudywing.

A really fun day. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Shades of difficulty

I go through so much to keep plants alive. First, I buy those adapted to the area, then plant, mulch, and water, even if it means buying and hauling it. At best, I still have to clean and patch the storage tanks, and pump runoff rainwater into them. I have to protect plants from deer and other wildlife. But for every challenge I overcome, it seems two more are heaped upon me. Visitors couldn't possibly imagine what all goes into having and maintaining the place.

In the case of this native (whatever that means) Red Yucca, the first ones I planted were killed by gophers. So this next group I planted in galvanized wire baskets. That made their roots gopher-proof. This year an early bloom froze, and, in spite of all my best efforts, I see something has ravaged the hearts of the plants.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Two owl night @ CMO

When I arrived at the oasis around 8:30 PM an Elf Owl flushed from the courtyard. It happened too fast for me to get a photo, but later, I did get a photo of this adorable Western Screech-Owl. It's the first screech-owl photo I've gotten at the oasis. Took it with my little Kodak Easyshare. Hopefully, at some point, I'll get a better one with my Canon if the owl stays. I think it's the Mexican subspecies (Megascops kennicottii suttoni), for whatever that's worth.

Here are a few blooms. The first one is the apricot tree. I think the blossoms got frozen or partially frozen the other night. Not looking good.

Next is a Mountain Laurel. This one is in the courtyard where it doesn't get quite as cold.

Then, the orange tree that resides inside the house. The house is so wonderfully perfumed by it for a couple weeks every year, but I've only ever gotten a few oranges from it.

Last of the photos, not of the blooms, is this huisache. 

Friday, March 8, 2013


No two sunsets behind the oasis are ever alike.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Early butterfly gets bloom

Lots of stuff is blooming. A Pipevine Swallowtail seems to love the apricot tree. And all the birds love it, too.

That gopher I posted a picture of recently may or may not be a Yellow-nosed Pocket Gopher, but it sure is a yellow-toothed one.

American Goldfinch

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

New butterfly species for me

I was enjoying a great day today with friends Bill Lindeman and Jane Crone that got even better when Bill spotted an Arizona Powdered-Skipper butterfly. I had never seen that species before although my records indicate that in May of 2010 Brian Banker reported seeing that species here.

Bill took lots of photos, but one of my favorites is of this female Pyrrhuloxia. We all got a laugh out of this one. I don't know how she expects to attract a mate sporting a hair-do like that.

(Posted here with Bill's permission)
The Varied Thrush is still present. I finally got a photo of  him on his roost high in a cottonwood tree.

It was almost dark, so I lightened the photo in order that his color would show. I think his orange is getting more vivid as he enters breeding season. His singing is louder and longer every day, too. It won't be long now.......

Monday, March 4, 2013


In-ground tanks should be lined with plastic, then concreted (with steel re-inforcement) as fast as possible so the cement doesn't set up in between pours. Then the surface should be coated with some good stuff that bonds with the cement, like swimming pools are lined with. However, in my real world, where my tanks hold between 300,000-500,000 gallons (or 500,001..... not sure), practicality and finances have to enter the picture, so I did the best I could. In hindsight, with the same amount of time, labor, and money I could have done much better. As things are, the tanks will always get water into their structure, deteriorate, and leak some. And evaporate a lot. I merely hope to slow those processes down. Except the evaporation. Can't fix that, but by rationing water, I have plenty to cover that loss-age....assuming it rains hard at least once a year.

Here is half of the stucco tank this morning. I shovel the dry stuff into 5 gallon buckets and carry it out that way. Even doing a mere 50 gallons a day I'll finish long before it rains. And if not, no big deal. Will enjoy the water and continue cleaning when it's empty again. (That big heavy rock is sitting on the pump to keep it from vibrating so much. Remember, my last pump vibrated bolts loose and ruined. This is a pump that's meant to be wedged tight into a well hole, not laying loose in a tank.)

The other tank (shown below) still has 7' of water in it, so I'm good. I could have pumped the last drop from the above (stucco) tank but then I'd either have to net the millions of gambusias out, or watch them die. Hopefully, they'll survive until migrants show up and have them for a snack.

The above tank is loaded with gambusias too, so if I add more, then pump water out for the trees during the next couple of months, it'll just get real crowded, so no need adding more. The only solution is hungry birds or critters. I don't really know what birds eat them. Shrikes do, but I haven't seen any around. Egrets and other shorebirds will when they migrate through. Of course, frogs and snakes adore them.

The dark patches in the water are gambusias
I finished all the patching I'm going to do this year, so all I lack is the cleaning on the empty tank. Both tanks were clean when it rained last June, so the other one probably won't get cleaned out this year unless it doesn't rain. Don't even want to think about that. Only if I knew the stucco tank wouldn't leak, would I be willing to pump the other tank's water into this one in order to clean the other one out. And that means moving gambusias back and forth. Not gonna happen unless I magically get years younger than I am now.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

No longer mourning nemesis

Yesterday when I got to the oasis after being gone for 3 days, I was feeling sorry for myself because it seems all the time I spend here is spent working and little or no time to enjoy. But as I worked my way down my "to do" list and realize I can stay down here maybe as long as a whole week, the pressure eased. So after I finished watering the trees today, I took a break from labor, canceled my nap, and with camera in hand actually played. I'd been seeing my nemesis Mourning Cloak butterfly all afternoon, so began to focus on photographing it, and not getting sidetracked by something else. It paid off. Finally got it. Nemesis no more.

 I carried my big heavy camera as I watered and nabbed a shot of a tRuby-crowned Kinglet. I realized I've never posted a photo of that species, so here it is.

Also today I got good looks at a gopher that Kelly Bryan identified as a Pocket Gopher.

Back to work tomorrow. I plan on finishing the tank patching tomorrow and waiting on finishing cleaning it out for when guests and family arrive later in the week. Won't they be surprised to learn what I have planned for them!