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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hectic holiday

I made breakfast for my company, then rushed to Alpine to share Thanksgiving dinner with my husband and his kids, then hurried back to join my family. Pretty exhausted now.

Here's a picture of my new kumquat tree. To the left of it is the new Prickly Ash. It wasn't as protected on its trip here from Fredrickburg, but I think it'll perk up fine. That orange accidentally captured in the photo is starting to ripen, and the kumquat has little fruits on it. Gonna be fun next year. Just have to get past winter first.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Every little bit helps

They say this ice storm was the worst we had in 25 years. Except for the branches that snapped off, the ones bent to the ground straightened back up after the ice melted. And not that many were broken. I pruned what I could reach. I'll take precipitation any way I can get it, and ended up with a third of an inch in the rain gauge. Every little bit helps! Acquiring that moisture was agonizing, though. Perhaps the hardest won so far.

When I'm not staying in town, I put out fresh feeders early in the mornings on nights that the feeders freeze solid.  This morning, at daylight it was 20° and hummers were chasing around as if it was normal weather and the feeders weren't frozen. I put up clean ones with warmed solution and brought the frozen ones indoors to thaw out before I cleaned them. Such is the life of a hummingbird "rancher."


































They would probably survive fine if I didn't, but the lives of hummers can be very marginal, so I figure every little bit helps!

I'm pretty excited. My son is on his way here from Austin with a kumquat tree, plus he stopped in Fredricksburg for the Prickly Ash generously given to me by Bill Lindemann and Jane Crone. Thanks guy! Your the absolute best! And I have the greatest son too!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Slush and such

When I was a kid in Iowa I was taken with a short poem titled "Spring," that said, "Along with the flowers and song of the thrush....... slush." Well, it's not spring, and we don't have flowers or thrush, but we'll soon have lots of slush. And though I've always said I'll take precipitation any way I can get it, it's depressing to sit and watch tree limbs bend to the ground and break. 


So I came to town. Had to drive over fallen branches as I was leaving the oasis.


The highway to Alpine was bad, but I didn't see any wrecks.


Thousands in the Big Bend area are without electricity today, so I consider myself lucky.

I also consider myself really, really technologically challenged. When I first got my pickup, I contorted myself to squeeze between the two front seats to get to the tiny seats in back because I could not figure out how to fold the front seats out of the way and there were no back doors. Couldn't squeeze over the headrests either. Several days later I told my son how impossible it would be to use the back fold-down seats if you were over 5 years old. What a stupid car design, etc. He walked over to the pickup and opened the back doors, whose handles were hidden inside the door jamb. Who would have figured that out!


Then fast forward a couple of years of not making it up my big hill after a rain as the road was muddy, and then just yesterday not making it up the big hill south of Alpine, while everyone else drove past me. Coming to town awhile ago I noticed another gear on my gear shift. Who would have ever thought! I'm eager to try it out and see how it works but will wait until the next emergency, which probably won't be too long coming, knowing me. Until today, I didn't notice that number one gear. Go figure!




Saturday, November 23, 2013

Agony followed by ecstasy

I don't know how else to describe today. It took me two hours to get 10 miles out of Alpine due to icy road conditions. Fortunately, a truck came and sanded the big mountain south of town or I may still be sitting there on a sheet of ice.


I was determined to go photograph that Costa's Hummingbird at Bonnie's today (see yesterday's post). And even without any sunshine, it was still a religious experience to see and photograph it.



























Afterwards I rushed to the oasis to see what hummers might be there, but it was just too miserable out to sit and watch. I'm definitely the hot weather type.



Friday, November 22, 2013

Costa's Hummingbird

My friend, Bonnie Wunderlich, discovered a gorgeous juvenile male Costa's Hummingbird at her place near Terlingua today. Probably a juvenile getting adult feathers, and probably brought in by this arctic front we're experiencing. Here's a photo of it by Bonnie, posted with her permission. I hope to get there tomorrow to photograph and enjoy it in person.



































Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Three hummer species today

Kelly set up his banding operation at daybreak and caught Anna's, Rufous, and an Allen's. Not bad for November. Seven or eight in all. While we were banding I spotted a Scott's Oriole atop the dead cottonwood tree. Thought I better photograph it just in case ebird (the online bird sightings database) flagged it as unusual. Sure enough, it did, so I submitted this photo documentation. Juvenile male.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunrise

Witnessing a sunrise can mean you've lived to greet another day, or it can mean you got up early, or both. Whatever the meaning, it was sure splendidly gorgeous coming up over the Christmas Mountains this morning.


I went with Kelly to Lajitas to band this morning. We're going to band at CMO tomorrow morning. We saw about 9 hummers of 3 species here this afternoon, so we should have some success tomorrow.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rio Grande Village today

RGV has always been one of my favorite places to bird, and I had never "butterflied" there. So when I read today about a myiarchus flycatcher with a very yellow belly seen there yesterday, it was a perfect excuse. Only problem was, by the time I got there it was noon and birds were slowing down for their nap. For a short while I saw a few birds, but then nothing. No good butterflies either. It was lovely seeing springs coming out of the foothills as I passed the Chisos Mountains headed for RGV, though.


























I always check the boardwalk first when I get to RGV. There I was surprised to come upon a Red-breasted Merganser. Not too surprised to remember to snap his picture as he hurried away.
























I did see a flycatcher with a very yellow belly, but such a brief glimpse that I couldn't even guess at what it was. And a myiarchus flycatcher (Ash-throated) that I saw really well, seemed to be totally devoid of any yellow on the belly or rufous on the tail. I should have photographed it, I guess. Just doesn't occur to me to photograph such a common bird. I suppose they're more pale this time of year. I normally only see them in breeding season.

There were quite a few warblers. For a short while they were so active in the underbrush that I was lucky to even get this photo of one of them (a Black-throated Gray Warbler) before they disappeared. I'm sure there were two of them there, plus many Yellow-rumpeds.


















I hope I get to go back again soon. I'll be sure to get there early in the morning. My schedule is usually really busy. It was just lucky that I got my work caught up this morning and we're not banding hummers again until tomorrow morning.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Weather forecasting for W TX

As soon as I got up this morning I looked at the weather forecast. Zero chance of rain. Of course, if they said that every day of the year, they'd be right over 90% of the time. Their forecasts actually aren't right that often, but they're getting better. They were right today, but looking at the sky this afternoon, it was iffy.


Last winter a W Screech Owl was enjoying this box. For now I have to content myself with this Northern Flicker. Maybe soon a Screech Owl will come along and evict the flicker.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Warmer and more birds

The day started out calm, and even though it was only 38°, it warmed up fast. Had a nice variety of birds today and managed to get some small projects done. I hesitate to say small because each little project turned into a long one. But I persevered and got them done. One lone Cedar Waxwing hung around all day, but wouldn't let me get close enough for a decent photo.


This Great-tailed Grackle was minding his own business when he almost got nailed by an accipiter. The hawk was so close on his tail, like a foot away, that I was already trying to figure out how I could photograph the action, but the grackle somehow escaped. He left the premise directly, without a pause. I felt bad for him because he had only been here about an hour and was acting rather weary when he arrived.


Tomorrow I hope to focus more on butterflies.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cool and birdless

I've never seen the oasis with so few birds. If you're planning a visit,  you may want to rethink it. There are more birds out foraging in the wilds than at the oasis. Walking up a drainage area I saw lots of quail, sparrows, etc. At the oasis was just a kinglet and a hummingbird. Unbelievable. It's usually rife with birds.

Driving down from Alpine today I could see heavy moisture in the Christmas Mountains and it did sprinkle a few brief times today. With a cool breeze, it barely made it up to 57° for a short time this afternoon. All in all, not a pleasant day.


Here's a photo of the Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum hirsutum) that Jane has for me. I'm so thrilled and excited about it.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Citrus project progress

Some of the seeds I've planted have sprouted (not the kumquats), probably grapefruit.























Meanwhile, a dear friend, Jane Crone, has obtained a Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum fagara) for me that I need to figure out how to get to Alpine from where she lives 6 hours away. I'm so excited about it.

Today I had to drive to Odessa to the dentist. Here's how the conversation started after I got into the dentist chair.

Dr: What can I do for you today?
Me: My [implant] bar broke.
Dr: No they can't break. It's not possible. In my 20 years of putting them in, I've never seen one break.
Me: But remember, I told you once that I'm under a dental curse.
Dr (after looking into my mouth): You're not under a dental curse, you are a dental curse.

I swear, I'm not making that up. He called the lab and they're footing the bill for a new bar. But it means starting all over with endless trips to Odessa, fittings and adjustments. I try to accept what I can't change, but it's not easy. I've had the implants less than a year.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Too tired to blog

I've been up since 4 AM and need to get up early again tomorrow (banding), so really dragging here. But I did want to post a couple of photos. Here are a couple of interesting bugs. They are enjoying the sap from the sap wells that the sapsuckers had made in the apricot tree. Anyone know what they're called? (Somehow I don't think they're called lovebugs.)


























And here's a closeup of the hawk with rattlesnake that I posted yesterday. It looks like the rattles are rattling on this photo.


(Photo by Bonnie Wunderlich posted here with her permission.)


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Butterflies galore

Stuck in Alpine today, I went butterfly hunting. Found lots of them at my two favorite spots------the historic house and the lantana patch.

Cabbage White
Fiery Skipper
Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak (new species for me)
Theona Checkerspot
Tropical Least Skipper

Just got this photo that Boninie Wunderlich took near Study Butte today of a 
Red-tailed Hawk trying to lift off with a rattlesnake. She said the snake was rattling as it was being carried off.  I know those snakes are very heavy. Heavier than the raptor.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A little this and that

Got to the oasis to a cold windy day, followed by a cold rainy day (a slow 10 hr soaking that ended up measuring over ½"), so I decided to clean house. I'm glad to have it done, without giving up prime outdoor time.


If you enlarge the above photo you might see the orchid bloom in a pot on the floor, and an orange on the orange tree (the latter is hanging down directly above the right coffee table corner). It's normal size and should be ripe in about a month. I have always had a weather shade over the skylight to keep that room a little cooler in summer. Since the house is earth-sheltered, this room is 2 stories underground on the back (right) side. The walls are solid rock, 14" thick, and the house was completed in 1979.

Anyway, in the process of cleaning I put an extension ladder inside the planter box and pruned out some dead vines from off the wall, and tied the orange tree into a more upright position. Looks so much better, but it was a killer job for me.

Here's the view as I left my beloved oasis this morning. You can see a little cloud cover above Nine Point Mesa in the background.

A long-time friend, Harry Forbes, took this great photo of Cassius Blue butterflies, male and female, today. I've never even seen that species so I'm pretty impressed that he got them both, and with wings open too.


Back in Alpine I was stressing from being indoors for the last few days, so I went butterflying, and found one species that was new for me, a Sachem Skipper.


That will fix me until tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Last Alpine day for this week

I spent some time looking for butterflies today. I didn't find any very interesting ones, but enjoyed looking. Here's a Lantana patch that kept me entertained for a long time. (Autumn Sage mixed in with the Lantana)


































Back at our house, I searched at our ponds and trees, but I don't like to get close to the one pond because it causes the Mexican Mallard ducks to flush.





















Still obsessed with growing citrus for swallowtails, I called my son, who lives a block from us in Alpine, to see if he could shop for a kumquat tree for me next time he goes to El Paso. Was I ever surprised when he told me he has a big one in his yard. When he bought the abandoned run down place nearly ten years ago he practically dismantled the house in the process of modernizing and remodeling it. The huge yard had been left to die, but had obviously been someone's passion at one time. Most of the trees and bushes had died, but with watering and pruning, he ended up with a surprisingly decent yard. I knew there was a pomegranate tree among the survivors, but had never been told of a kumquat tree. I couldn't believe it had survived years of neglect, not to mention the big freeze of 2011. Now I'm even more determined to get one. As soon as I can figure out how to make it happen. Here's Eric's tree.



































He said it usually produces fruit but didn't this year because of the terrible May freeze the town suffered. CMO barely escaped, though, you might remember, I did spend a couple of nights watering my fruit trees to save the crops, just in case. (May 2nd post)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Making the best of things

Being stuck in Alpine for several days each week, I try to make the best of it. Yesterday I promised myself that today I would scour the town for a butterfly species that would be new to me. Today turned out to be cool, overcast, and breezy, with hardly any flowers to be found anywhere. I searched for hours, and not finding any new big, or average size, butterflies, I started paying attention to the teensiest ones. I could only hope to photograph them and check with my Kaufman butterfly guide later. So when I downloaded my photos I was happy to discover that my captures included two new-to-me species. One was a W Pygmy-Blue, and the other a less common Cyna Blue. The former is the smallest butterfly in America, I believe. Here's the Cyna Blue. (It's hard to get a sharp photo of something so tiny.)























And here is the W Pygmy-Blue


Tomorrow I'm going to go look again. Of course, like birding, the more lifers you get, the harder lifers are to come by.

Friday, November 1, 2013

November and counting...

It seems strange to see lots of birds and butterflies in November, but I guess with the occasional rains we've had, and no freeze yet, it's not surprising. I recorded 40 species of birds today, which I'm sure wasn't nearly all that were present. My favorite bird of the day was this Wilson's Snipe.


























Documenting butterflies is much harder. I tallied at least 20 species, but I'm such a newbie at butterflies that I have to photograph most of them for later study before I can identify them. And butterflies do not sit still for photos, for the most part. My favorite lepidoptera capture of the day was this Painted Lady.




















Honorable mention is this Eufala Skipper.



The sapsuckers have really sapped my patience with them. This poor limb on my apricot tree is bleeding profusely, and may not survive.