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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Slow day

It frustrates me that so many birders are visiting and birding is so slow for migration. The group yesterday saw the screech-owl, but not the Lucifer Hummingbird. The group today saw the Lucifer but not the owl.
Here's a crispy, fresh looking dragonfly I saw today. I'm in Alpine and my book is at the oasis but I think it's a Variegated Meadowhawk.


Wildflowers are everywhere, but this lone flower inspired me to take its photo. I don't remember what kind it is. Maybe a hibiscus?


Monday, April 29, 2013

CMO migration 2013

This year's migration is quite slow due to there being so much natural food resources. Everywhere is an oasis. That's good for the birds, though, and I'll be here for them when times get tough. Hummingbirds are practically nonexistent at the feeders. They're out there.... somewhere.

Today CMO hosted a lovely group of birders from Massachusetts Audubon Society. They come biennially (every other year). A lot of their time was spent watching the activity in the mulberry trees.


After the group left I got a couple of nice shots of a Scott's Oriole.



Sunday, April 28, 2013

Acacias are blooming!

You know migration has truly arrived at CMO when the acacias are blooming.


What's not to love about a Tarantula?


The birds are real messy about dropping mulberries on the ground. No problem. The Swainson's Thrush tidies up.


In reality, these everlasting winds are blowing most of the ripe berries off the trees before the birds get a chance to drop them.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wind is back

No respite from wind these days. Even so, every day of migration is exciting. Here's a Gray Flycatcher I identified with a little help from Kelly Bryan.



And a male Western Tanager that I couldn't get an unobstructed shot at.
























Townsend's Warblers may be masked but they're not bandits.




























A Catharus species showed up on the 24th, but I was unable to get a positive ID on it. With much going back and forth by experts, it is now officially an "Olive-backed" Swainson's Thrush. Whew! Sometimes it takes a village. CMO is either thrush heaven or thrush hell, not sure which. Kidding!




Friday, April 26, 2013

Finally, no wind

For the last several days a very gluttonous female Western Tanager has been camped out in the mulberry trees.
























No sooner does she consume one berry than she's looking for the next one.



























And the next and the next. So many to choose from....
































I usually just have the Audubon's race of Yellow-rumped Warbler, but occasionally I get the Myrtle's race. It has the white throat and the Audubon's has the yellow throat.













































Thursday, April 25, 2013

Busy day

Birders coming and going most the day and this morning was miserably cold and windy. (Luckily, it didn't freeze last night.) No big fallout of birds like they're having in E TX today, but it's still a little early for here. Enough birds here to keep it interesting, though. It was pretty hectic so I didn't really get any good photos. Here's some kind of beetle or larva that looks different from any I've seen before.


One tour group arrived too late in the morning to observe the Lucifer Hummingbird activity at the feeders, and then left shortly before two male Varied Buntings came in and bathed at a water feature. They really wanted to see that species too. Bummer! The screech-owl was seen by all, though. Tomorrow will be another busy day. Hopefully, the birds will cooperate.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cold and windy

I couldn't stand being away from the oasis during spring migration so came back a day early. It was every bit as cold and windy at the oasis as it was in Alpine. Some birders visited and we all froze. Contrary to the forecast for tonight, I expect it will freeze. I don't know if it froze last night; I didn't see any frost damage. But tonight is the second night--- the night they often forecast as warmer, but then it gets colder. So I'll be prepared at 5 AM with the sprinkler.

Very few birds today, but the wind is shifting to the south, so tomorrow might be great birding. I hope so because lots of birders are expected.

This handsome Spotted Sandpiper foraged all day in the big tank.



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Near record low temperatures tonight

Supposed to get down to 34° in Marfa tonight, so I don't think it'll freeze at CMO. I hope not because I can't be there tonight or tomorrow. Have to do my weekly Alpine stint. I really hate not being there during migration and with tons of birders visiting. Bummer!

Here is the only photo I took yesterday before heading to Alpine.


That Summer Tanager spent the whole previous day gorging on mulberries. The photo doesn't show it, but there are tons of them ripe. Should be a great week or two. This impending cold front will bring the birds in.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Birds, birds, birders

Today a total of 56 species have been identified, though I'm sure some got past us.

Scaled Quail  20
Turkey Vulture  4
Eurasian Collared-Dove  2
White-winged Dove  70
Mourning Dove  12
Western Screech-Owl  2
Elf Owl  2
Common Poorwill  1
Lucifer Hummingbird  1
Black-chinned Hummingbird  1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  1     male
Belted Kingfisher  1     male
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
American Kestrel  2
Dusky Flycatcher  1
Say's Phoebe  2
Ash-throated Flycatcher  2
Cassin's Kingbird  1
Bell's Vireo  2
Plumbeous Vireo  1
Common Raven  2
Verdin  2
Bewick's Wren  1
Cactus Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
MacGillivray's Warbler  1     female
Yellow-rumped Warbler  3
Wilson's Warbler  2
Green-tailed Towhee  1
Rufous-crowned Sparrow  1
Canyon Towhee  1
Chipping Sparrow  15
Clay-colored Sparrow  2
Brewer's Sparrow  3
Lark Sparrow  2
Black-throated Sparrow  6
Lark Bunting  3     2 males in summer plumage/ 1 female
Lincoln's Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  2
White-crowned Sparrow  20
Summer Tanager  1
Pyrrhuloxia  6
Lazuli Bunting  1     male
Indigo Bunting  1     male
Varied Bunting  2     male
Brewer's Blackbird  15
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Scott's Oriole  1
House Finch  5
Pine Siskin  10
Lesser Goldfinch  3
American Goldfinch  2

In all the excitement, I didn't notice my camera setting was wrong, so I didn't get any half-way decent photos. Here's the best I got. It's a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird that visited briefly. He fed from a feeder, bathed, preened, and left. Here he is preening. Hate it that all my other photos were blurs. This one blurred the neck action obviously. Some birds treat the oasis like it's a truck stop.  Quickly grab a bite to eat, drink, bathe, and they're back on the sky highway.



Saturday, April 20, 2013

Migration began today at CMO

Dagnabit! I knew, absolutely knew, that the second night of a cold norther is always colder than the first night. I looked at all the forecasts for last night. Supposed to be no colder than 42° in Marfa. But still, I knew. So at 5 AM I got up and drove to the oasis to check. Night before last had gotten down to 37° at 5 AM and held there, but this AM, at 5 AM, it was 38°. Looked like the old rule was wrong. Must be this crazy global warming. I went back to bed.

When I got up at 8 AM, I checked the temperature in Marfa, which had gotten down to 35° the night before last (when I was 2° warmer). Guess what? It was 30° in Marfa. I went racing down to the oasis and started spraying water on the mulberry trees. The thermometer read 31°. I will never be tricked by the forecast again. At least there seems to be no damage to anything. They can take a little cold for a short while. But it could have been bad.























There are already dozens of mulberries ripe, but the birds don't seem to know it yet. Migrants are starting to trickle in. Was surprised to have a female McGillivray's Warbler today. Usually I get the males first. Birders will be coming in large numbers starting tomorrow, so all is right with the world. Close call though.

I wasn't able to get a good photo of the McGillivray's. She wouldn't come out of hiding. This distant shot is all I got.


This is the W Screech-Owl that I believe is the male. Hadn't seen him for a few days. This is a different box than I saw him in last time.

Not to worry, I'm getting tired of taking screech-owl photos.

Friday, April 19, 2013

CMO currently


The oasis squeaked by, once again, without freezing. Everything is lovely and ready for birds and birders.

Had a few hummers visit the feeders today. The ocotillo are still in full bloom but maybe Carpenter Bees have gotten to them, making it harder for the hummers to satisfy their nectar needs. Even saw a female Lucifer.

There are tons of insects, which will probably abate as the warblers descend any day now. The mesquites are blooming, but the acacias (my migrant clock) aren't yet.


Had a Dusky Flycatcher this morning, and the screech-owl sat in plain view all day. I can't seem to resist photographing it. The new hasn't worn off yet.

This is the one I believe is the female.

Weather update

7:00 AM: 35° in Marfa, 37° here. So the oasis will be fine. Whew!
7:30 AM: 30° in Marfa. Oasis holding at 37°


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oh, dear!

Just checked the Marfa forecast and it's supposed to get down to 28° tonight and again tomorrow night. Guess I won't get much sleep. Every hour or so I'll be going to the oasis to check the temperature and water down the mulberry trees if needed. Other than that, today is good. Finally got a photo I've been wanting real bad..... a female Lucifer Hummingbird on a nest. This one is in a dead cholla. I could have gotten better photos, but I stayed way far away so as not to flush it from the nest. I was about 40' away and it didn't flush.

Note: These photos were taken  in Big Bend National Park, not at the oasis. Sorry that I gave some of you the wrong impression.





























I keep checking my nesting boxes for Western Screech-Owls and today I got lucky. One showed itself.


































It appears cross-eyed, but maybe that's because it usually doesn't look at objects as close to it as I was. The head pattern on the previous 3 screech-owl photos I posted look consistent with one another, but this one looks different. I'm thinking it might be the other of a pair. Notice the black hourglass pattern on the forehead that doesn't show on the other ones. And the streaking on the breast is even more noticeably different. So assuming the male came first and called repeatedly for a female, then this would be the female. (Hey, a cross-eyed one is better than none.) Another thing I just noticed, the females are larger than the males and if you compare this photo to the one I posted at the same spot on Mar 13th, you can see that this owl is larger, even more evidence that it's the female. How cool is that!

Got a late afternoon bonus species.... Arizona Sister butterfly, one of  my favorite oasis species.












































UPDATE: Forecast has been put back to where it was yesterday (30° tonight and not freezing tomorrow night), so looking much more hopeful. I can handle that OK.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Perils of nature

Just recovered from one crisis (the Mourning Cloak crisis) with a new one impending. Got to the oasis early AM to find the larvae had vacated the cottonwood tree and were running all over the place. Except for a bare limb, the cottonwood is fine, and will prosper until the next crisis, at least.























Next crisis: It's supposed to get down below freezing Friday night and maybe Thursday night too. And the mulberries are ripening. I'll do my best to save them, even if it means a couple of nights without much sleep. Freezing temperatures could be devastating to the oasis since everything, except the hackberries, is almost fully leafed out.


Some kind of beetle is infesting the verbena, but I don't mind since I don't water them anyway, and they do just fine.

UPDATE: Forecast has changed to below freezing Thursday night only. Maybe by tomorrow they'll come off that too. That's the forecast for Marfa and for some reason that I can't explain the oasis temperatures are most similar to Marfa's than anywhere else. But I keep hoping that since I'm farther south maybe I'll be a degree or two warmer. Once in a great while that's the case.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Here and there

Yesterday I photographed a couple of Earless Lizards in Big Bend National Park. The first is a Greater Earless, and the second is a Texas Earless.



Here in Alpine I photographed our bluebonnet patch this AM.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Migration getting closer

It's hard to believe that in just a week or ten days hordes of birds will be surging north, briefly visiting the oasis, on their way to their breeding grounds. Right now there are very few birds at the oasis. Plenty of Mourning Cloak larva though.






























Wisteria always adds a nice touch of color to the gray walls in the courtyard.



Saturday, April 13, 2013

It almost rained

Unfortunately, almost raining is like being almost pregnant. There was a funnel cloud photographed close to  Alpine, but I was down at the oasis and this is how it looked here looking north beyond the oasis..


After taking this photo, I heard the Elf Owls carrying on, then heard a W Screech-Owl a ways south of the house. I got in the car and drove immediately to the oasis a block to the north of the house and heard one calling there. So, there are two, or I was mistaken which direction the calling was coming from, or it beat me down there. I'm pretty good about locating birds by sound, so I think there are two.

Another whole limb of greenery disappeared off the cottonwood today. I think they eat for two weeks, so after 12 more days there shouldn't be much left on the tree. I try not to think about it.

Dragonflies are back. Nice seeing them again. First one ID'd is a Flame Skimmer.


These weird little flies showed up all over the place. They look almost like damselflies as they dash around, but I don't know what they are.


Staying optimistic here

Things never look as bleak in the morning. I assessed the situation more closely. It was nearly dark last night when I discovered the caterpillars. I'd say there are no more than 100 of them. As fast as cottonwoods grow, the tree might be able to grow enough new leaves soon enough to keep it reasonably healthy. Gotta hope. I'll give the tree a little extra water and hope we get rain before July. Mourning Cloaks only breed once a year, so I'll soon know.  Meanwhile, I chimp, they chomp....





























Friday, April 12, 2013

All is on track

I keep forgetting to mention that the W Screech-Owl is still here. And I found where the Elf Owls are nesting.  Had a couple of early warblers come by (Yellow-rumped and Wilson's). They didn't stay long though. The mulberries are growing as fast as they can so they'll be ready for migration in 2 weeks. Night before last it got down to 32° here for the third time this month, so the mulberries are just squeaking by. I watered them down all 3 times, but it probably hadn't been necessary. Wasn't taking any chances if it was within my power to prevent their freezing.


And the acacias are budding out in readiness.

UPDATE:  After posting, I went down to the oasis to discover Spiny Elm caterpillars devouring the leaves from the last remaining cottonwood tree (the others died in the drought). That tree is vitally important to the birds. I've seen caterpillars strip trees bare of every leaf. It'll be hard for this tree to recover because it'll soon be bombarded with heat, probably record heat, with no way to shade its trunk and root system. 

Above photo from web. They are larva of the Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Just gotta hope they don't impact the tree too much.