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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

View from above

I decided to finally climb the mountain above the oasis. I hadn't been up there for quite a few years and wanted to look for butterflies, old Lucifer Hummingbird nests, and take photos of how it's recovering since the drought. Right from the start, things didn't go so good. I usually don't like to eat breakfast, so today just took a peanut butter sandwich, trail mix, and some potato chips with me. I didn't take my heavy camera, just the little point and shoot. I accidentally left the trail mix in the pickup, then took a wrong ascent. The treacherous steep part. It's impossible to see the right way from the gullies below, but I should have known better. White line shows my general ascent.

Somehow, my sandwich detached itself from the pocket of my camera case. Left with just the small bag of chips, I didn't even eat them. My mouth and throat were dry and I couldn't swallow them. I could have washed them down with water, but that would have been a desperate measure. Soggy chips didn't appeal to me. I did have plenty of water, though. Climbing through the weeds and brush mostly on all fours, got me covered with some sticky seed pods that caused me to break out in an itchy rash. One of my knees got tricky. But eventually I made it through the saddle onto the mountaintop. This isn't a great photo of the oasis because of the distance, and poor camera quality.

I didn't find any old Lucifer nests, though a few cholla (that they nest in) had survived the drought. The top of the mountain had abundant native grasses, but little else of interest. This view is looking across the mesa top toward the north where Nine Point Mesa is in the background.

For the descent I broke a stout sotol stalk in half, and used it to help stabilize me as I made my way carefully down a safer route. I photographed a couple butterflies when I got to my pickup and got my big lens camera. Here is a lovely Reakirt's Blue.

It was a bit sad to know that I was taking my last ever look at my mountaintop, but what is, is. I will not go up there again.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Citrus blind and bluebirds

I was going to call my new citrus area my citruserie (rhymes with rotisserie) but decided that was too complicated. I'll just call it my citruseria (rhymes with citrus area). It's finished until spring unless I come up with some great idea. I thought about hanging windows above the fiberglass panels to allow both for good bird viewing and wind protection. But thinking about birds hitting the windows put the quietus on that.

Early this morning I was sitting watching my seed feeder below the dead cottonwood tree when a flock of eight W. Bluebirds landed in the tree above. I was dismayed that I couldn't get decent photos from my vantage point. A while later, I drove to the house for a tool I needed and while driving back, there were bluebirds perched right in front of me on the side of the road in a snag I had hung several years ago. The snag suddenly looked the best it's ever looked hanging there, as it is seldom used.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The look of fall

Here in W TX the look of fall is very different than it is in places like New Hampshire. Nevertheless, it's just as beautiful in its own way. To my eyes, it looks like "purple mountains' majesty amid amber waves of native grasses."

I worked some more on the citrus area, which I decided to call my citruseria.

Those panels are just being stored against the back for right now, until I figure out exactly how I want this "work in progress" to shape up. (The front panel is done.) A lot of variables to consider, like plant hardiness, cold and wind protection, moisture, alternate use as a bird viewing blind, etc.

Brian's Ornythion chrysalis is 2 weeks old today. He has some concern that it might be dehydrating. We're holding our breaths.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fox Sparrow

There are still quite a few birds around, but none interesting, except a Fox Sparrow that I first saw here  5 days ago. Today I finally managed to get a halfway decent photo of it. It's the Eastern "Red" race.

Here is an agave that was given to me many years ago. Does anyone know what species it is?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Citrus patch coming along

Today I dug a hole for the other tub that is intended to hold a large citrus tree. I plan to keep water in the bottom of it and set the potted tree inside during summers. Eventually, I might plant it in the ground. Hopefully, I'll get a feel for how hardy they are and get brave enough to do it. If the tub isn't set into the ground, the pots will get too hot and the plants will dry out and suffer from overheated roots. The tub is sitting to the left of the hole-in-progress.

Next the tub is set into the hole. Then I put a cover over it so I can use the space  as a bird viewing blind when it's not in use with citrus.

The shallower tub will hold 6 or so smaller pots while I'm getting the hang of growing citrus. I'll probably set it a couple inches deeper into the ground and make a plywood cover for it. The two rocks on the left of the below photo are temporarily holding stuff in place until my cement dries. I had to patch a couple of places in that curb beneath the fence so rabbits, gophers, and such can't get in and devour the citrus. I suppose a year or two from now I'll read this and think how naive I was. But I have to start somewhere, or give up without trying. That wouldn't be me... And I do plan to put some things directly into the ground and see how they survive winters. Stuff that I won't mind losing.

Lot of migrant activity today, but nothing unusual. Tomorrow is banding day and since Kelly will have another bander with him, I'll be free to take a few photos.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Times races on

Lately it seems when I come to the oasis after having spent 2 or 3 days in town, instead of my usual flurry of getting things caught up, I just need a recovery day, and don't get much accomplished the day I arrive. Late this afternoon I forced myself to do a little more on the future citrus patch. I ever so slowly installed fence on the west side. The south side was already fenced, so that leaves 2 more sides and I'm done. I plan to put up fiberglass panels on the remaining sides, like I did for the viewing blind, except I won't paint them. Some light will go through, plus they'll make a good wind break that citrus apparently needs. Putting in a gate will be the hardest part.

There are plenty of "possum grapes" (cissus trifoliata) around. Something will surely feast on them.

Was rather surprised to see this Big Bend Patchnose snake today, as the weather was on the cool side.

Tomorrow's another day.....

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sapsucker heaven or hell?

They're everywhere, like a plague to the trees. Red-naped, Yellow-bellied, males, females.... some with no red on throat, some with a little red on throat, some with more red on throat, some with full red throat.

Enough. You get the idea.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beautiful and birdy

I really wanted to at least get the sotol put on the roof of the future citrus patch area, but sacrificed a great birding day in the process. Migrants were streaming though faster than I could ID them.

The shade that the sotol is creating is a great place to view the feeders from in the afternoon. Will hate to lose that when I fence it in for the citrus. May have to rethink some things. The place is always a work in progress. I didn't quite get the sotol all attached before I couldn't go anymore.

I may finish the sotol tomorrow and then wait on the fence until spring when I'll first need it. Gives me plenty of time to brainstorm. I would have gotten done quicker and easier but I ran out of the older sotol that I had piled up, and when I went out to break off some of this years crop, most of it was too green and wouldn't break. So I did most of that walking bushwhacking for nothing, Those laying on the roof on the left side that aren't trimmed and wired down yet are new ones. Their seed heads are full of little caterpillars that rain down on me when I try to pull the sotol down and break it off. Yuck!

The place is so lush and lovely. I hate it that cold weather is just around the corner. It seems by the time the vegetation gets awesome, freezes come and ruin it all. You can't walk out in the surrounding hillsides without stepping on flowers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ornythion in chrysalis

Brian should be very proud of his baby.

Here's a Lucifer Hummingbird that I think is a juvenile male because of how dusky his sideburns are.

Here's another Lucifer juvenile that just may be getting his first gorget feather in.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Latest oasis devastation

I guess this is a lesson to not take myself, the oasis, or the trees, too seriously. Bears, probably the mother with her 3 cubs, went for the acorns on the two Chinkapin Oak trees and demolished the trees in the process of making sure they didn't miss an acorn. At first I was heart-broken, but as I cleaned up the mess, I realized the trees will survive. And they're not my most valued trees, though I really was looking forward to Scrub Jays enjoying the acorns all winter.

If my oasis wasn't here, the species that damage it, would go to other places that are larger and more able to absorb their onslaught. I finally wrapped the locust tree since the sapsuckers won't leave it alone.

This next photo shows the ground littered with acorn shells.

And bear scat....

I tried to save what limbs on the oak trees that I could. Time will tell if they survive.

I sure hope the bears leave my big acorn-laden Live Oak tree alone. I have no idea how it would withstand their reckless foraging. Its acorns are greener than the Chinkapin's were. But bears probably have a memory like an elephant, or a hummingbird. Additionally, they probably know exactly when the acorns will be ripe enough to gorge upon.

And no sign of the Costa's Hummingbird today....

Friday, October 11, 2013

CMO goings ons

Experience has taught me that I should grow my citrus in the shade. Not only that, but the neighbors who are growing citrus have learned to keep theirs shaded. The difference from what I'm trying to do and what they're doing is that they're growing theirs for the fruit, and I'm growing mine for the butterflies. So I can select based on cold hardiness, and am not going to heat a greenhouse. But I still have dilemmas, and I don't want to get it wrong. For now, they'll stay in pots in the courtyard in the shade. It seldom freezes in the courtyard (not counting Feb of 2011) and that's the only place pots are safe from damaging wildlife, although sometimes squirrels dig up potted plants in the courtyard. I think I have the Ptelea protected from squirrels, however.

Well, Brian's larva is pupating, so the next pics of it will be as a chrysalis. He doesn't know how long that will take, maybe quite a few days. This is his first Ornythion.

I turned on the well when I got here and it didn't get the water up to the house, so that means we'll have to have the old pump pulled out and have a new one put in. Very expensive. At least the well's not dry. Could be worse.

Not many interesting birds today. Here's a Townsend's Solitaire that's been hanging around.

There is one hummingbird that caught my attention. In the courtyard I heard what I thought was the distinctive squeak of a Costa's. There was no feeder in the courtyard, and very few flowers, so I rushed to hang a feeder. Since I just got to the oasis today after four days in town I was rushing around working, but took time out to watch for it. Didn't actually see it until late afternoon when I heard the squeak and got a look at it. The light was low and I couldn't make out the gorget color (no camera, no binoculars). I had just run outside to move the water hose. By the time I got my camera, it was gone and I didn't see it again, although I heard its wingbeat (not squeak) briefly one more time. Tomorrow I'm going to concentrate on getting a photo of it. If females don't "sing," then it's a young male. I saw some gorget feathers in the center of its throat. I won't count it without a diagnostic photo.

I snapped a few photos as I sat in the courtyard waiting until dark for the potential Costa's to show up.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The CMO citrus project is underway

The Ptelea trifoliata arrived right on schedule today via Fed X. Seems to be in good condition after its journey from Georgia.

I plan to put it in the ground in the spring along with any other citrus I accumulate in the meantime. I just ordered a Ruta graveolens.

Just in case you're not all burned out on Baby Orny pics, here's one from today. He's pretty much done growing now and should pupate soon. You'll notice he's longer today than he was yesterday.

I'm headed to the oasis early in the morning. Was kind of hanging around town waiting on the tree.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Growing, growing, grown

Baby Orny. does not look like bird poop anymore. He's beautiful.

Photo courtesy of Brian Banker
I've been trying to find a place to order some little citrus trees that are cold hardy. I have a whole list of names of some, but no place that ships to TX. I might have to get creative, but I'm determined. I found some that are hardy down to 8° (Changshi Tangarine). That ought to do fine at the oasis. If we get really cold weather I can cover it during a blue norther. Just have to find a place in TX that sells them.

I'm growing some dark purple Desert Willows from seeds that I hope will thrive in my hummingbird garden, along with the Woolly Butterfly bush I bought. On the left side of this tray of desert willow seedlings is a cutting from a Butterfly bush. I heard they're easy to grow from cuttings. and this one seems to be fine.

 My hoptree (citrus family) is scheduled to be delivered tomorrow. To be continued...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I'm not alone

It's comforting to know I'm not the only one fighting water scarcity to help habitat and birders. I've only visited Rio Bosque in El Paso (TX) a couple of times, but it's worth fighting for.

Here is the latest photo of the Ornythion baby. He'll be a chrysalis soon now, and at some point, not sure when, a beautiful butterfly. Right now, it's a little over an inch long and growing fast. It's just as cute as....... bird poop?

Thanks, Brian, for the updated photos.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Well work

I was headed for Alpine when I passed the well service truck also heading for Alpine. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I waved them down and asked about fixing my house well that's not working. They agreed to turn around right then and go back and take a look. Soon they were pulling the pipe out of the well. They found a hole in the pipe, put some new pipe in, and it pumped water, but very weakly. Seems the ole pump is worn out. Hopefully it'll keep truckin' for another year.

But what I'm really excited about is the well man just discovered a place that sells a chemical that you pour into tanks and it finds the leak and stops it. Normally, it's used with fracking. He's going to order some and if it works, sell me some of it. It's very expensive, but will be well worth the cost if it works. Hope he hurries while I still have water in the tank. The tank needs to be full when you treat it. But, if nothing else, I'll have it for next year and won't have to go through this leakage again. I can endure hauling water, if need be, if I know it'll be for the last time.

Here's a better photo of the juvenile Curve-billed Thrasher. He's perched closer to the feeder now, so less travel time for the parent, and shorter wait time for him. He's so cute with his yellow gape and short bill.

Most of my winter species are here now. I always love having Flickers around.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sapsucker time again

My poor oasis has to endure one woe after another. Right now there's a pair of sapsuckers doing their damage to the trees. Hopefully, they won't stick around as long as the sapsuckers did last fall. Here's one of them, maybe a Yellow-bellied. The other one is for sure a Red-naped.

My dear lepidopterist friend, Brian, wanted me to post this photo that I took yesterday, and had asked him to identify the species. It's a Chinati Checkerspot. I don't remember ever seeing that species before, but he's seen it here before. This is quite a worn individual, which is probably why I couldn't figure out what species it was.(That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) Big Bend Silverleaf (Leucophyllum minus) is their host plant.

I get such a kick out of these Curve-billed Thrashers. The fledgling sits and begs for food. The parent goes to the nearby cracked corn feeder, grabs a mouthful, and hops over and stuffs it in the juvenile's mouth. I wonder when the youngster will decide to skip the middleman and go straight to the feeder. As you can see, he's bigger than his parent (Junior is on the left.) My moving closer for a better shot made the adult wary and the feeding stopped. I didn't have time to wait it out until next trip. Always so much work to accomplish.

I pumped the last of the water from the dirt tank into the stucco tank. A year ago today I had a foot less water in the tank and barely made it through until the June rain. I plan on being very frugal with water this winter and spring since the tank is leaking worse. I'm determined to make it. The house well is not working again and that's going to be an expensive fix.