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Monday, September 30, 2013


Some kind of moth caterpillars ate a big chuck out of the top of my precious Chinese Pistachio tree. I'm sure it'll recover, but I don't have to like the damage.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunflower Goldeneye

I love Sunflower Goldeneyes (Viquiera dentata), as I assume most people do. I may have over-loved them, however. They're everywhere, clogging the paths and making birds impossible to locate. 

Since we'll be off banding hummingbirds the next couple of days, I worked hard yesterday and today to get my work caught up. I was able to spare some water for the above wildlife pond. It doesn't hold all that well, but it'll be nice to have water in it for migrants in October. (Last October is when the Varied Thrush showed up.)

I did find a little time, by skipping a nap and multi-tasking, to photograph damselflies today. May have added a couple of species to the oasis list. Here's what might be an Arroyo Bluet...

And here is a Rambur's Forktail, new to the oasis.

Last, but not least, I'm really excited about Brian's Ornythion Swallowtail larva. As I think I mentioned, the oasis had 3 of that rare species here a couple of weeks ago. Brian got here from California as quick as he could arrange it. Hurricane Manuel hit right after he arrived. By then only one Ornythion was still here. Either the other two had already died or moved on. The one he got was old and dying. He nursed it back to health, so to speak, and managed to get it to lay 2 eggs. They both hatched, but the smaller larva died, as did the adult female. The other larva that hatched is thriving. Here's hoping he gets a beautiful butterfly from it.

Photo courtesy of Brian Banker

Friday, September 27, 2013

Young Montezuma Quail

While banding in the Davis Mountains today we saw a covey of Montezuma Quail. I never pass up a chance to photograph them. Here's the most cooperative of the bunch. He's not a full adult yet, although he appears to think he is.

Later, back at the oasis, I came across a dragonfly that I had seen briefly a few days ago, but didn't get satisfactory photos of. It's a new species for the oasis, even though it's fairly common throughout Texas. Unless someone corrects the identification, Swift Setwing it is.

I'm especially tired tonight, so hope to go to bed now and be able to accomplish more tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Trying to catch my breath

Brian made it all the way to California with his Ornythion Swallowtail still alive, but it died before he could get it to lay more eggs, so I sure hope the two he got are viable.

Here's a Palmer's Metalmark he pointed out to me at the oasis, but so much going on I forgot to post it.

Today we banded hummingbirds in South Brewster Co and I got a shot at some Scaled Quail with baby chicks. I was looking toward the sun so it's not a good shot. One of these days I'll be in the right spot at the right time and have my camera in hand. Meanwhile, this is it.....

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Summer's come and gone

Quite a few migrants around today, though I probably wouldn't have noticed if Kelly hadn't been here most of the day. We banded hummingbirds here and then went to another location to band. Later, back at the oasis we watched birds and odonates. Here's a really distant shot of a Dickcissel.

And the best photos I've gotten so far of a Desert Firetail at the oasis.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hurricane Manuel finally gone

After 3 days of rain, and no internet last night, it finally moved through. Any other time I would consider it perfect weather, but what with hosting Brian, who desperately wanted to see butterfly activity, it got old quickly. We had a couple hours yesterday afternoon where it stopped drizzling and butterflies came out.

I'm so depressed that the stucco tank is leaking way worse than the last time I filled it, which was terrible enough. I have to get it sealed. No other options. But it has to wait until it's empty, so can't happen in time to help me make it until next summer's rainy season. Hopefully, we'll get some more rain this year to help me make it through.

I don't know how you readers feel about collecting butterflies, but I'm OK with him taking a few. They only live 2 weeks anyway, and the place is packed with all kinds of insects for the birds. The birds don't care which species of butterfly they feast on, I'm sure. This photo was taken by Theresa Bayoud and is posted here with her permission.

With all the good rain this year there aren't many birds at the oasis. They disperse when food is abundant everywhere. Not many hummers either. Unfortunately, every time I drive to Alpine my vehicle kills butterflies. Here's something interesting I came across while researching collecting, if any of you are concerned.

Why are insect populations resilient to collecting?
Insects are very different from birds and other vertebrates in that they have short generation spans, they have a phenomenal capacity for reproduction, and their populations regularly number in the billions. Insects are so abundant that their numbers simply cannot be considered in the same terms as those of vertebrates. Think of the thousands of insects that a single songbird eats during its lifetime; while each species is important in the ecosystem, a given individual of each species do not have the same ecological importance. The vast majority of insect species are so abundant and prolific that an unexpected loss of hundreds, or even thousands of individuals from a relatively small area in a year results in no detectable decrease in numbers the following year. A mark-recapture study in Europe estimated that it would take several collectors three weeks of intensive collecting to extirpate a tiny, isolated population.

Brian is like a walking butterfly encyclopedia and I learn so much that is valuable to butterfly conservation. He's more interested in collecting caterpillars and growing his own butterflies. He collected an old lethargic female Ornythion Swallowtail that he nursed back to health in hopes that it'll lay a couple of eggs for him to raise into a butterfly. He says she was near death but is now lively and hopefully has a fertile egg or two.  Here is Brian looking for caterpillars in the rain.

He visited once before over three years ago. No other lepidopterists have visited, so everything I know about butterflies I learned from him.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chaos and frustration

You all know how desperate I always am for rain. Well, got some today. Just happened to be a day my lepidopterist friend needed sunshine to see butterflies. So I drove him on a tour around Terlingua Ranch for something to do, and like a dummy I returned via the road that has a big hill on it, a hill that isn't passable when it's raining. It was, by then, raining. I could have not gone out, or returned the back way in, or maybe even put some rocks in back of my pickup. But to make a long story not quite so long, I almost made it up, but skidded cross-ways in the road near the top of the hill. Could not go forward as my rear wheel was in a ditch and in front of me was an embankment. We had  to walk half a mile to the house through pouring rain and mud. In my frustration, I totally forgot to take a photo of the mess I got myself into. Doesn't get much worse than that.

So, late in the afternoon, after it hadn't rained for a couple of hours, my two sisters agreed to meet Brian and me at the big hill to try to get my pickup out. We piled rocks in the back and when they all got ready to push, I couldn't find the keys. Seems I had thoughtlessly stuck them in my pants pocket, then thoughtlessly changed out of my wet pants at the house. I never take the keys out when I'm here, only in the city, so I was obviously stressed to have done that. After another round trip to the house, we finally were ready to crank it up. They  pushed, and I spun the wheels big time, dousing them all with plenty of mud. Made it out just barely. Whew! I was exhausted from walking all over the place carrying a gas can between gas pumps and up to the house and everywhere. Good to have my wheels back. Not to mention the road was blocked to where Brian couldn't get out. You can always make it down the hill, just not up when it's raining. Steep and slick.

In all so far, still raining off and on, I've gotten over an inch and had some run into my dirt tanks that I'm pumping into my concrete tanks. Should, with rationing, make it through until next rainy season, plus don't have to water for at least a week. Good on that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rainy weather

I was in my usual rush to get to the oasis this afternoon after helping with Kelly's banding in Ft Davis, but just couldn't resist stopping along the highway and snapping a few photos. That rain is between Highway 118 and the Christmas Mountains, but there's been a light rain here off and on ever since I arrived about 4 PM. And more is in the forecast. This moisture is coming from the Baja, which is where I usually get my best rains. Here's hoping the tanks fill up.

My valued lepidopterist friend, Brian Banker drove all night, 1150 miles, from California to get here. He's already seen 3 life butterflies here, and added 4 species to my oasis list. This is really exciting for me. The new species for the oasis are Large Orange Sulphur, Dingy Purplewing, Tropical Leafwing, and Zilpa Longtail. His main objective was to see an Ornythion Swallowtail and he succeeded this afternoon shortly before I arrived here. Incredibly, it was a different individual from the two I had previously photographed, and are shown in previous posts.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The value of butterflies and moths

The new issue of "Audubon" magazine (Jul-Aug) had an interesting article about backyard habitats. Here's a quote from it, "new research is showing that small habitats can add up to a big difference, starting with your bird-friendly yard." For example, I had never realized before how vitally important moths and butterflies are to bird reproduction success. Many species depend on larva (caterpillars) to feed their nestlings. And it requires a lot of caterpillars to meet the demand.  "It takes 390 to 570 caterpillars a day to feed a growing clutch of  4 to 6 Carolina Chickadees..." That makes me appreciate my caterpillars all the more. (In truth, they're hard for me to appreciate. I'm trying.)

I'm so pleased to see other people working hard at habitats. Today we banded at a place in Study Butte/Terlinga called Far Flung Outdoor Center. (They have cabins for rent too. Go to this site and click on lodging .)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Better Ornythion Swallowtail photos

Luckily, I refound the Ornythion this morning. Maybe because it was cool and overcast, it wasn't very active. It mostly perched, and since I now knew it was a rarer butterfly than a Giant Swallowtail that I originally thought it was (9/11 post), I succeeded in getting better photos of it. It has lost one of its tails though, so not quite as pretty.

UPDATE: OMG, my lepidopterist friend (Brian) just brought to my attention that this individual lacks the black spot on the yellow rectangle that the one I photographed on Sep 11 had. I can't believe I have two of them. That is too cool! Brian informed me that this one is a female. They only lay eggs in citrus, so not likely to be breeding here. The 9/11 photos weren't good enough to determine the sex of that individual.

Friday, September 13, 2013


I sat and watched for the Ornythion for a while this morning. Thought I might have glimpsed it, but while I was watching I got photos of a Black Swallowtail and a Two-tailed Swallowtail. The latter I had only seen here once before, years ago, before I had a digital camera. So I was thrilled to get a decent photo of it.

As you can see, I struggled with the manual camera setting on these.
The Two-tailed didn't hang around long. It got mobbed and harrassed by Pipevine Swallowtails.

And here is the Black Swallowtail.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pipevine Swallowtail

This is the prettiest Pipevine I've ever seen I think.

After I finally finished pumping water I sat and watched butterflies. I saw either a Giant Swallowtail or the Ornythion (see yesterday's post), but it would not land and without a photo I can't ID it. I'll try for a while in the morning. Otherwise, not much activity. Here's a close look at a tarantula.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The oasis downside

Besides the obvious anxiety over rain and water, tanks leaking, being tied down and can't ever go visit loved ones, there's the unwanted wildlife the oasis attracts. I'm referring to javelina that root around under everything, digging out the mulch and moisture I'm struggling to retain. And the jackrabbit that consumes all the Red Yucca. I've totally given up on growing any of that. The deer were originally a problem, but not so much anymore. Right now, as I write this, some caterpillars are consuming a huge swath of my precious Chinese Pistachio tree.

Even birds can be a problem. Remember the devastation the sapsuckers wreaked on some of my trees? But no one appreciates a good rain like I do. Some people even get depressed on rainy days. And after I started this post I was treated to a good rain that filled my one dirt tank with water. So I'm busy transferring that to another dirt tank and from there to the stucco tank. I'll be up all night pumping, but I never complain about that. This will give me a couple months more water in the spring when I'll need it the worst (if the stucco tank doesn't leak too bad).

On top of that, I photographed a rare butterfly at the oasis today. It's a funny story. There's this sweet lepidopterist that I send my butterfly photos to ID when I can't. So I sent him some today. I included a photo, of what I believed was a Giant Swallowtail, not to ID, but because I thought it was such an impressive looking butterfly. In my email I said I need help with the others, but I know the swallowtail (meaning "Giant" of course). Immediately I got an email back saying, "Whoa!" And he explained that it was an Ornythion Swallowtail, and why. He wanted me to take more photos to see if he could tell if it's a male or female, but it started raining about then, I lost my internet signal, and had to run to Study Butte for gas for the pumps. Maybe I can relocate it tomorrow.

And when yet another visitor tells me visiting here was the highlight of their trip to the Big Bend, you can bet I've long forgotten the downside.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Photography practice

Even though the sun never made an appearance today (AND NO RAIN EITHER) I did my best to practice using manual mode. Whenever something appeared that I really wanted a photo of, and didn't want to chance missing out, I switched to Av. But I'm getting more comfortable with manual and don't expect to continue reverting back to my Av comfort zone much longer. Here are a few I took today with manual. I look forward to seeing what it'll do with sunny conditions, and better birds. It seemed like Black-chinneds were all I could get to cooperate today.

I like the size perspective the butterfly in the background gives the above photo. Below is an Eastern Phoebe that showed up today.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cooler weather

It seems to have cooled off a few degrees, but no rain here yet. Maybe tomorrow.

I'm practicing shooting photos in MANUAL mode, using autofocus, and I think I'm going to like that better than AV mode. May need to take practice shots with each photographic subject for a while, but it'll be worth it if my photography improve.

Here's one I took while practicing. It's a juvenile male Calliope, maybe the same one I shot the other day. Can't wait for morning so I can practice some more. Gotta learn how to stop that wing action.

I bet these Scaled Quail found some Pigeonberries (rivina humilis) that made them so red in the face. In early days the plant was used for red dye and is commonly called  Rouge-plant. 


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rain in the forecast

Rain is forecast for all week basically. Today I got a mere sprinkle while my sister a mile away got nearly a quarter of an inch. But even that wouldn't have topped off my tanks that so desperately need it. So here's hoping any day now. These clouds late this afternoon looked promising.

Not much of interest bird-wise. Some migrants moving through and some flycatchers hanging around. I've given up trying to ID empidinax flycatchers.

Bordered Patch

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Mornings are the best time for birding, but early morning light sure doesn't do good for bird photos. It can give scenery a special beauty, I suppose, but I don't like it for what I like to photograph.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Good hummer banding day

We caught and banded 6 hummingbird species (Allen's, Lucifer, Rufous, Calliope, Ruby-throated, & Black-chinned) today at  the oasis. At another banding site 3 miles south of the oasis Kelly banded this juvenile male Lucifer. It surely fledged early in the season, like April or May. Even though Kelly has banded more Lucifers than any other bander, we had never seen a hatch year Lucifer with more than about six gorget feathers, so this one was a real treat. (Photos courtesy of Kelly Bryan)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Splendid September morning

Now, if it would just rain and fill my tanks, it would be a perfect day.

Lot of early morning activity at what's left of the water in this wildlife pond. Another waterthrush; this time I think, a Northern. But I'm usually wrong.

Speaking of wrong, I'm totally giving up on odonate identification. Here's one I photographed this morning that doesn't look like any in the book. Yesterday I consulted an expert on a different damselfly ID, and he said they're so variable and complicated that sometimes you have to have them in your hand. So, I'll stick to birds, which I'll never master either, of course. But they sing.

As the water recedes there's quite a bit of mud left. And some patches of mud are better than other patches of mud. Luckily, I don't feel a need to understand why.

UPDATE: Waterthrush later confirmed as a Northern Waterthrush.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

One bath deserves another

I was sitting along the edge of the wildlife pond with my camera, watching for odonates to photograph during the heat of the day (95°), when unexpectedly I heard a loud buzz right beside me. Following the sound, I saw a Rufous Hummingbird alight in the mud near my feet, almost too close to photograph.

The hummer seemed to be poking around in the mud a bit, then flitted the couple of feet to the water and plopped down in it, where he then appeared to continue the bathing ritual.