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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New oasis nester

I was surprised to discover a Western Kingbird pair nesting in the big dead cottonwood tree today. Wish I would have had time to take photos of the female carrying nesting material but I was on a tight schedule.

That tree has always been popular with all species. The kingbirds put an end to that. They defend it vigorously and won't let another bird near it. They get upset when I get near too, which is one reason I didn't get better photos. One of these days I will though.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Davis Mountains owl quest

I went owling in the Davis Mountains with a couple of friends. Our goal was to find and photograph a Flammulated Owl. We dipped on that, so contented ourselves with photographing a pair of Western Screech-Owls.

Earlier  in the afternoon we saw a Pronghorn Antelope with what appeared to be a brand new baby. So cute!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ash-throated Flycatcher nestlings.

Bonnie Wunderlich emailed me these photos of an Ash-throated Flycatcher nest in an agave stalk. (Posted here with her permission.) The first one is of the adult arriving with food.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Alpine mule deer

I photographed a radio-collared deer at our ponds here in Alpine.

The only clues I found for the source of the radio collar was a study done in the area by a Sul Ross student in 2009. Here is something I copied from a website.

Demographics and spatial characteristics of an urban mule deer population in Alpine, Texas
by Ferris, Daniel A., M.S., SUL ROSS STATE UNIVERSITY, 2009, 47 pages; 1471473
As landscapes become increasingly fragmented by human populations, deer (Odocoileusspp.) have adapted by changing the manner in which they utilize these newly created habitats (Vogel, 1989). To better understand demographics and spatial characteristics of an urban mule deer herd in Alpine, Texas, I captured and radio-collared 21 desert mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) does during the winters of 2007-08 in or near the city. Deer were radio located ≥6 times per month. Recruitment and mortality were estimated. Loafing, feeding, and fawning areas were determined from the radioed sample as well. Fawn production was monitored through walk-in observations of collared deer during August and September. Recruitment was also monitored using January fawn counts. Finite annual survival for 21 mule deer does captured and tracked during the 21-month study was 0.80. Mortalities were from vehicle collision (n = 1) and from unknown causes (n = 5). Annual home range sizes of 10 mature does (>2.5 year old) ranged from 313.63 to 1,104.79 ha (= 615.74, SE = 283.6). Eight of 11 does gave birth to fawns during 2007 while 9 of 11 gave birth in 2008. Six does had twins and 11 does had singletons. Fawning areas were predominantly located on gravelly hill (n = 12) and draw sites (n = 4). Habitat selection was determined with point-study area and range-study area selection to determine important habitats. Habitats most utilized by urban mule deer were gravelly hillsides, parks, and urban draws. Management practices should take into consideration which habitats deer tend to prefer and future construction in these areas should be avoided, when possible, if wildlife/human conflicts are to be minimized.

Back in Alpine

The mama duck has a history of setting on her eggs long after they could possibly hatch, so we decided to remove them in hopes the baby duck would get more opportunites to forage.

When the mama duck left the nest I took nearly 2 dozen rotten eggs out. Meanwhile the baby was foraging like crazy, seen here with its head nearly submerged.

Friday, May 24, 2013


As a species American Kestrels are pretty easy to identify, but I'm not sure if this one is an adult or a juvenile.

That fuzz on its head makes me think juvenile, but I guess that could be weed pappi. I'm going with juvenile male, unless corrected.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Alpine duckling

OMG! Every year the female domestic duck lays lots of eggs, sits on them and nothing ever hatches. (Nest photos on post of Mar 28, 2011) This morning my husband discovered a duckling sticking to the female duck like glue. I'm terrified it won't survive. We'll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the female hasn't given up on the remaining eggs in her nest.

The other two ducks are keeping their distance. Wise of them, I'd say.

I believe the duck on the left is the adult male domestic duck, and the other one is a Mexican Duck that took up residence with them. I'm not positive of the sex of either of these ducks. I suppose it's possible both domestic ducks are females and the Mexican Duck is a male. One of them is a male or the eggs wouldn't be fertile.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lesson relearned

For some obscure reason a week or two ago I washed the top half of the storm door window to the kitchen. I think I  may have done it in case I wanted to photograph an interesting migrant through it. Then, a while ago I was sitting at the computer and heard a bird thwack the window. Yikes! I dreaded going to look. A stunned female Blue Grosbeak was sitting below the window. In about 5 minutes she seemed to be recovered and flew away. Close call. I will not do that again. Dirty windows are preferable to bird kills. In over 30 years I've had, at most, to the best of my recollection, 2 window kills. I do not want to expand that number further.

No migrants and no birders here. Just getting really hot (94° today). Waiting for rainy season to commence. The only hummingbirds here are the Black-chinned Hummingbirds (banded female pictured below) and Lucifers. I seldom get other species during spring migration, but more than make up for it in fall migration, which starts late July.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Alpine Avocet

This is the first American Avocet I remember seeing in Alpine.

And here's my best photo of a Funereal Duskywing, taken at the oasis a few days ago.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lucifer Hummingbird courtship display

For years I've been trying to get photos of the display that do it justice. There are 4 previous posts where my unsatisfactory efforts are shown (Apr 15, 2011, Apr 21, 2011, May 2, 2011, and Apr 24, 2012  Or you can just click on Lucifer HU on the right index of this page). Mostly I've been too busy helping birders get their photos or life birds during the time of year the Lucifers display to sit still long enough and focus my attention long enough to be very successful. Then there's always the myriad chores that need doing.

Recently a group of birders was visiting, and one of the group, Ron Cook of Tyler, TX, sat in the viewing area while the rest of us wandered around looking for birds (He was recovering from hip replacement surgery.) He is also a skilled photographer and just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The Lucifers did their thing right in front of him and the light was right. He caught all the action. It was very generous of him to share his photos with me and allow me permission to share them. To me, these photos are treasures and have re-inspired me to try harder to take my own. Without further ado, these are a few that he took.

Male strutting his stuff  (Photo courtesy of Ron Cook)

Female accepting male (Photo courtesy of Ron Cook)

Copulation (Photo courtesy of Ron Cook)

I should mention that this particular female is one we banded, probably in 2009 or 2010. You can tell by her gorget feathers, which is unusual to see on a female Lucifer Hummingbird.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Breeding time

This time of year courting, nesting, and feeding activities are rampant. My friend Bonnie Wunderlich got a new camera and is generously allowing me to post the wonderfully improved photos she takes. Here are her Pyrrhuloxia nestlings, soon to fledge. Hungry baby...

parent with food...

grasshopper leg crammed down throat.

On that last photo the nestling that got the grasshopper leg still has it in its throat as the adult is feeding a second nestling regurgitated food. There are 3 nestlings in all. Now Bonnie knows why she found a spider on her patio that was missing some legs.

Friday, May 10, 2013

This year's migration

Usually I have 60-70 species of birds a day during spring migration. This year so far I've been lucky if I surpass 50 species a day. Migrant warblers love acacia blooms, and the oasis and adjacent vegetation are bursting with them, but pretty much devoid of warblers.

I figure with the winter rain we got, everywhere is an oasis so migrants aren't dependent on the oasis. Which is good. But they would still come in to water, so probably the south winds have encouraged them to keep moving. And possibly we're getting a late migration and more migrant waves will appear. Hummingbirds are coming in more often since the ocotillo finished blooming.

I've only got 2½' of water left in the tank so hopefully it'll rain before July, or at least enough showers so I won't have to haul water to keep things alive. I think I'm good to go, but do get nervous this time of year when the tank gets low. Water is my security.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I did it!

I finally got suitable photos of the Lucifer Hummingbird feeding the nestlings. My 5th trip. I can die happy now.... I got my pictures. None too soon either by the look of the nestlings.

I took dozens more awesome photos, but I'm too tired to post anymore. My computer here at the oasis is really slow.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Out and about

I figure tomorrow will be my last chance to try for a suitable photo of the Lucifer Hummingbird feeding nestlings. They look close to fledging.

I tried to get a bit closer to the nest, but the mother wouldn't come in to feed them with me that close, so I backed way off. I was about 40' away, so they're zoomed to the max, and cropped.

Here's mama Lucifer waiting patiently, or impatiently, for me to back away so she could come in, which I promptly did. She sat there closer to me than I was to the nest, so obviously she wasn't afraid of me, she just didn't want me to know where her babies were.

I'm thinking maybe tomorrow late afternoon the sun will be better on them. However, I doubt if any light will make them look more colorful than dead cholla.

Coming home I saw a herd of Aoudad crossing the road above the oasis.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Decent birding today

Now that the ocotillo are pretty much done blooming some things are returning to the oasis, especially the hummingbirds. So good to have them around.

Here is a migrant Yellow-headed Blackbird female that is so orange that it took me a while to ID her. It didn't help that she was travelling with cowbirds.

I presume this Mourning Cloak butterfly is a result of all the Spiny Elm caterpillars that worried me so when they were consuming my cottonwood tree leaves. Much more attractive as a butterfly.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lucifer Hummingbird nesting

Today I abandoned my hostessing duties and headed for Big Bend National Park to photograph Lucifer Hummingbird nestlings being fed. I did get them, but not the quality I had hoped for. I stay so far away that I can't get really good photos, but I have never seen a photo of a Lucifer with nestlings before, so that was thrilling.

CMO dodged the bullet

Got down to 31° and stayed there. Marfa got down to 21°. I sprinkled things but doubt it would have been necessary. I'm thinking tonight won't be as cold, but will be ready just in case.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What next!

It's for sure going to freeze here tonight. In May! I don't imagine it'll kill anything but the deciduous stuff will lose their leaves, and what will migrants find to eat? I would expect insects to be real scarce. I'll get up around 5 AM and sprinkle what I can and hope it helps, but with the raging wind, any warmth the water provides will probably be displaced immediately by frigid air. Oh, well, what is, is. Maybe the rest of May won't be over 100° every day, or maybe I'll get a May rain. Gotta be a break in there somewhere.

That screech owl is driving me crazy. On Apr 29 it sat all day looking out the nest box for the whole group to see and enjoy. The following day, Apr 30, no sign of it anywhere. A large group left disappointed.

This morning a group came really wanting to see the owl and no sign of it. So, after they left, a party of 3 arrived and said they were hoping to see the owl. I went into a long explanation of why I didn't think the owl was still here. Then, just to be sure, I checked all the nest boxes that it's known to use, and there it was, staring out at me. So they were happy to see it, but I was so frustrated that the earlier group missed it, not to mention the group on the 30th. I'm glad it's still around though.

It's so windy and miserable outdoors that I probably won't take any photos today.

UPDATE: Way too miserable outside for me. I couldn't even get my car door closed against the raging wind. But some birders, tougher than me, at the oasis came up to the house and told me the birds that were down there, which included a Northern Waterthrush, so I went down long enough to photograph it.