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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Indoors sort of day

Today didn't inspire me to go outdoors, even with my restored big lens. But I did take this photo from indoors of my lone hummer sighting today. It's a Rufous (female or juvenile male) I presume. I suppose it's possible that it's an Allen's, but without Kelly trapping it I won't know, and that isn't going to happen. I dashed out occasionally to replace the frozen feeder.

I hope we all have a great new year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Lajitas sort of day

This time I went before daylight hoping to hear or see the Yellow Rail that I heard there last week, but no luck. I did see several Black-throated Gray Warblers though. Always fun to see.

Also was surprised to see a Swamp Sparrow gathering nesting material (cattails). Does that mean spring is imminent?

Have been reunited with my big lens. When I checked the items that I sent off, I had forgotten to check filter, so it came back minus the filter. They're sending it, but meanwhile I have to be super careful if I use the lens.
Wish I would have had it for the above photos, but didn't.

Anna's Hummingbird numbers are increasing at Lajitas. Later than they arrived last winter, but better late than never. So far it's just the males, basically. Then the females should arrive in about a week when the males start leaving for California where they'll start breeding.

Someone photographed a Common Gallinule at Balmorhea State Park. That would be a lifer for me but the roads are supposed to be icy and what if I go and it's not there. Better not. (That is not a commitment so don't hold me to it.)

UPDATE: I posted the Swamp Sparrow photo on TEXBIRDS Facebook page and was informed that species doesn't nest in Texas. So apparently it's foraging on seed spores and taking them down to a more secure place to eat them.

Monday, December 29, 2014

False alarm

I still didn't have my lens back so called the repair company this morning. They tracked it and said it was delivered at the front door a week ago. I was in a panic. But the lady doing the checking saw that the place it was delivered wasn't the address they had on file so she did some more checking. Turns out she had tracked the wrong package and mine was on the truck to be delivered today. I went from despair to euphoria in 9 seconds, but it was an hour between the first misinformation, and the correct information, so for that hour I was miserable and whining to anyone that would listen.

Arriving at CMO this morning I found some fairly recent scat. I don't know what made them. Anyone have an idea? The fly on it can give you an idea of size. I was thinking maybe Elk.

The new feeder on the ground is the most popular place at the oasis. Late in the afternoon dozens of Scaled Quail help themselves to the buffet.

I always think madrone leaves look healthiest when the stems are real red. I haven't actually read that anywhere, just the way it looks to me.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

More wintery weather

We drove up to Seminole yesterday morning to visit Hugh's family who were gathered there. This morning we had to scrape off the windows before heading home.

I'm very happy to be nearer to home. Next stop, for me, CMO!

PS: I ride in the back seat where I generally sleep the whole way.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Possible Yellow Rail at Lajitas

I went to Lajitas today to check the hummingbird status and before leaving decided to see what ducks were on the pond there. Same old ones. As I was getting ready to leave I heard a clicking sound exactly like knocking two stones together. Exactly! I figured if it was a bird it would have to be a rail, so I retrieved my Sibley from the pickup. I couldn't believe my eyes when the first rail I turned to (the Yellow) said it sounds like two pebbles being tapped together.

I hung around nearly two hours playing the Yellow Rail call on my iphone off and on,  hoping for a photo opportunity to no avail. I did get one split second glimpse of what looked like a YERA, but couldn't be 100% sure. Reading that they're "extremely secretive and very seldom seen," makes sense that I couldn't get a photo. Here's the best I got.

There is no bird on that photo, trust me, I spent hours looking for one in those reeds, so thought I'd share the fruitless looking experience with you.

OK, we're all over that, I hope, except I plan to go back in a couple of days early in the morning and try again. It was the middle of the day when my non-sighting occurred. Afterwards, as I was ten miles down the road it occurred to me to try to click two stones together and see what happened. Knowing I'd regret it if I didn't, I U-turned and went back. But by that time of day, nothing was moving anywhere. It was worth it though just for the peace of mind knowing I had tried the stones. 

While at Lajitas I was amused watching this Great-tailed Grackle pilfer pink sugar packets from the outdoor dining tables at the restaurant there. An employee said they don't care whether they're real sugar or the sweetener. They like them all EQUALly, it seems. This bird has one foot holding the packet while it pecks into it. The previously pilfered packet is wedged in the tree below the grackle, either by accident or deliberately. Deck the tree with sugar packets, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! 'Tis the season........

For over a week I've tried to get a photo of the Gray Catbird hanging out at CMO. Finally got this horrible one today. Hey, at least it's in the photo.

The weather is forecast to turn real cold tomorrow. I'm so not ready!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice day

The days will start getting longer now. Wish I was at the Winter Solstice of my life and my remaining days would start increasing now.*  Here are the Christmas Mountains as I was driving down from Alpine this morning. I never get tired of looking at them, or apparently, of photographing them.

But to me, they never look the same twice. Next is the big tank right almost exactly at the moment of the solstice, ie. 5 PM.

The good news is that the stucco tank only went down 2" in the last five days. Allowing an inch for evaporation, that's darn good. The bad news is that something has been eating on my cholla patch for the last month or so. I swear it's challenging to raise stuff here. I just have to hope that whatever rodent that's doing that won't eat the trunks, or eat high up on the stems, and maybe the cholla will survive. Pretty bad if you can't even raise native cacti here. Whole branches just get chewed off without leaving a trace.

I found a home for that hollow log. Looks better than I thought it would. Gonna plant a vine in it come spring. That pole is one that supports the hummingbird feeders.


*Yikes, that means I'd live to 148 years old. A bit too long unless I get younger too.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A little Christmas Mountains cheer

I called the camera shop in Michigan today and they're sending my lens today. Besides cleaning, it needed two other fixes. Can't wait to get it back.

Also I saw a lovely Painted Lady in Alpine. Amazing this close to winter. Like 2 days away.

And for more cheer, in two days the days will start getting longer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First December catbird at oasis

Really surprising to see a Gray Catbird this time of year. Did not get a photo.

I think the Mexican Elder tree in the courtyard is already looking better since I put up the windbreak.

When I saw a pile of wood where the city was cutting down trees, I asked for, and received, this really neat hollow log. No idea at the time what I would do with it. This is the bottom.

Here is the top. As you can tell, it's laying on its side in my pickup. I'm thinking maybe I should set it on the ground, fill it with dirt, and plant something wonderful in it. They even loaded it for me. I could have managed it, but it would have been difficult. Any suggestions appreciated.

20 lb bags of birdseed in background for size comparison.
Don't you just love how these butterflies camouflage themselves? Can you find the Sleepy Orange in this photo taken today?

Monday, December 15, 2014


I felt happilated to get back to the oasis after being gone more consecutive days than normal. The most noticeable thing is the quiet. I just revel in the stillness.

Three of the oranges on the indoor tree were splitting open so I had to pick and eat them. They weren't as tart as those from last year. Really very juicy and tasty.

I think the reason they split is because I lavished so much water on the roots while the fruit was subjected to very dry air most of the time.

Things are still dead here and I still don't have my big lens, but good things are ahead. For one thing, within a week the days will start getting longer. That always cheers me up.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Bird Count

My sister-in-law and I went to Balmorhea to help with the annual CBC. Saw tons of sparrows but nothing exciting in our count area. Mark Lockwood found a California Gull out on the lake there in his count area. I started to not photograph it since my lens is at the shop, but I took what I could since it's a lifer for me. Not a very exciting lifer at that.

California Gull is the large gull in the middle

Tomorrow we're banding at Lajitas, then the next day I'll water trees at CMO. So maybe I'll see some good birds in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Early CMO Christmas present

An awesome facebook friend, who I've never yet met, sent me some trifoliate orange seeds last year that I didn't have great luck with. They arrived dry, but need to be planted while fresh. I do have a couple 3-4 inch seedlings from them, but it looks iffy that they'll grow or survive. So this same woman sent me five fresh fruits from her tree this year. I'm very excited about growing them.

Theoretically, they should be cold hardy in my region, at least once they're established. I plan on eventually adding them to my citruseria, where now dwells the lone Kumquat tree. (I lost my precious "Prickly Ash," zanthoxylum hirsutum, to accidental drowning.) The citruseria has only been there a year so it'll take time to get it established the way I envision it. In other words, packed with citrus plants, leaves, and trees. Updates to follow, of course.

Remember, this is all about attracting swallowtails to CMO, although I find it fun and satisfying to grow citrus. Have already eaten one of the  6 oranges on my indoor tree. I was going to let them hang there for longer but a few have burst open, so have to eat them. I'm in Alpine so can't take photos there, but will when I get back down there.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Wintering oasis birds

We're far enough into winter that I can pretty much tell which species I have overwintering at the oasis this winter. There seems to be a Winter Wren staying around, but I can't get enough of a look for a photo. Sometimes I hear it calling. The next best overwintering bird is a Brown Thrasher that's been around for quite some time too. Some years I have more Lark Buntings. This year there seems to be only one small flock. Kelly says Lark Buntings are irruptive species, meaning they come some years in large numbers, and some years are nearly absent for no discernible reason.

Since my lens is off for repair I don't have any bird photos to post, but here is a shot of my Cholla patch that I hope will entice Lucifer Hummingbirds to nest, maybe by the spring of 2016. I'm pleased with the growth this year.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oh, well...

When my son was here over Thanksgiving he labored mightily to get that dead cottonwood stump into my pickup so I could haul it away. Then we had to unload it onto the loading dock because my husband insisted I take some deer feed to town in my pickup and there wasn't room for both.

So today when I got to CMO I tipped the stump off the dock into my pickup. Downhill, no problem. It landed upside down in my pickup bed, with the flat cut off stump down and the roots sticking up. Oh, my, oh, my. I saw it in a whole new light. Like, did you know the Hopi Indians only used cottonwood roots to make their traditional Katsina (sometimes spelled Kachina) dolls? How could I just discard such a theoretically valuable piece of wood. So I hauled it back down to the oasis, slid it into the wheelbarrow, also downhill, and rolled it over by the seed feeder for birds to perch on, then, tipped the wheelbarrow over and let it thud to the ground. As in final resting place.

Hmmm, maybe it looked better in the back of the pickup. I can't reload it, that's for sure, so what is, is. I might sprinkle dirt and seeds on it and see what grows.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Mountains updated

The Christmas Mountains is a mountain range that includes a mountain called Christmas Mountain. It's located way to the south of CMO and not visible from CMO.*  Today we banded hummingbirds at a location near Study Butte where Christmas Mountain can be seen to the north (in the direction of CMO).

If you're not confused yet, there are two mountains called Christmas Mountain. One is referred to as Christmas Mountain and the other as Little Christmas Mountain. I was told the photo that I took from near Study Butte today is of Christmas Mountain. I thought it was lovely how the clouds clung to the mountain.

UPDATE: When I posted this last night I was confused because I couldn't find Christmas Mountain on my maps or online maps. However, the locals all know, and are adamant, that Little Christmas Mountain (LCM) is just inside the BBNP boundary (this is on the maps). And, directly north of LCM is big Christmas Mountain, not on maps that I can find. The closest I can find on maps is a designation Christmas Mountains HP, which peak, I believe, is on the big Christmas Mountain.

Also, per comment request, CMO is located in the vicinity of the "Mts" on the above map's "Christmas Mts." label.


*The peaks that are visible from CMO are: to the north, Nine Point Mesa, to the east, West Corazon, to the south, Williams Mountain, and to the west Adobe Walls.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Better than Sam Nail

I used to love to bird at the old Sam Nail Ranch in Big Bend National Park, but hated the long drive down there. It's sort of an oasis in the desert with a windmill that pumps a trickle of water most of the time. Dugout Wells is another such place in the park. But Sam Nail Ranch was closer for me.

Then when I built my own oasis I dubbed  the bench near one of my water features "the Sam Nail bench." It even faces east like the one at Sam Nail. Not a good choice of direction for either place,* since early morning birding is the best, and facing east into the sunrise isn't. But I still love my Sam Nail viewing area, and the birding is generally better at it than at the real Sam Nail.

"Sam Nail" bench (closest to camera) taken today

Closeup of water feature today

The next photo gives you a good idea of the size of my Chinese Pistachio trees, which are planted 12' apart. The new little one is in the front with the stake still attached. That's because when you buy them at the store they're so tall and spindly. Wish they weren't, but I don't anticipate buying any more. I'll be lucky to live long enough for these two to make a canopy of shade.

I think that dark shadow on the right corner is the madrone tree that the pistachios will hopefully shade some day soon.

* I didn't construct the oasis with birding and birders in mind. Originally, just a desert oasis for trees and wildlife for my enjoyment. It (and I) evolved from there.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Final family day

Well, whew, hard to keep up, but I did pretty good today. Since they're leaving early in the morning and it's a long time until next Thanksgiving, I took them out the Agua Fria road to a swimming hole in Terlingua Creek that my son used to enjoy as a child. He hadn't been there since, so we took lots of pics. I won't bore you with many but I've nothing else to post today. Could not find any interesting wildlife or plants of any kind.

We actually did see a half moon in the sky above this moonscape but I didn't think to photograph it.

I have pictures of my parents and various other family members at this spot in the creek. I was going to dig up some from decades ago but couldn't find them, and too tired to continue looking. Maybe some other time. Meanwhile, more of the granddaughters.

And that was my day. I think Kelly is coming to do our hummingbird banding circuit Monday and Tuesday so that should be interesting.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday help

Got down to CMO last night with son and granddaughters. Put him to work first thing this morning. Just little odds and ends that I couldn't do by myself. Feels so good to have those chores done. He and the girls gathered me some sotol so I could finish my windbreak in the courtyard. You probably forgot all about that project, but it was literally staring me in the face whenever I entered the courtyard.

Here's the sickly Mexican Elder tree I'm trying to protect. Next year by this time I expect it to look a whole lot better.

Also got Lee to help me move a seed feeder to where it can be enjoyed better by birds and people. I was able to handle it alone except for the heavy concrete base. Can't wait to start enjoying good birds there. Should have had it there those five months the Varied Thrush hung out in that area.

And have some impressive fall color these days.

Apricot tree

Chinkapin Oak

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving time so soon again

The older one gets the shorter the years are, because everything is relative. A year is now just another short blip in my life. My son surprised us with a painting he did. I was really surprised too. I had thought he had quit painting years ago.

I think he has quit, but years ago he promised to paint my husband a windmill picture, and I guess it was weighing on his conscience that he hadn't done it. He's always so busy. So he surprised us with it. But the oils weren't dry enough for him to do all he wanted to do before he visited for the holiday, so he may work on it again someday. Or not.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shades of autumn

Not much color going on at CMO, but then I did not plant based on what would make good fall color. My preference is evergreen year around.

The red leaves in the next photo belong to the one surviving Bigtooth Maple. The yellow, of course, is the cottonwood tree, also the only surviving one.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Short post on short day

Came down to CMO midday today. Having trouble with my eye. Vision blurry and shouldn't be. Will probably have to have some lasik tweaking done if it doesn't clear up soon. So depressing and stressful.  No one else has any post cataract surgery problems. I didn't on my other eye. More trips to Odessa in my future I presume. A price for living in the country.

Had birders here today, which was lovely. Lots of young sharp EYES to inventory the birds here. I didn't see anything interesting to photograph but took this photo just to be sure it was a Brewer's Sparrow since it was a lifer for the young man observing it with me. I was pretty certain it was a Brewer's, but with my eye such as it was, wanted photo documentation.

I think another reason I needed a photo was because to me it looked a little bright, like breeding plumage, and seems too early for that.  I'm not familiar with the various subspecies of Brewer's, so that might explain what appears to me to be a not-as-drab-as-usual individual. Anyone else have thoughts about that?

(On Mar 19, 2010 I posted a much drabber Brewer's Sparrow if you want to see how I expect them to look here.)

Nov 23: Here are a couple more shots of the bird that hopefully will help resolve the ID. I don't think a Chippie ever has that big white eye ring and pale lores. I would certainly like to know for sure what it is.

Nov 24 update: Experts have confirmed it as a Brewer's. I'm really glad to know definitively.