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Friday, January 31, 2014

Lovely day

Got to the oasis mid-morning and didn't see much to photograph.

The cam caught the Gray Fox in the daylight today.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ducks need water

And I need warmth and sunshine.

The ducks waddled across the ice to find water. I'm still looking for warmth and sunshine.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Additional cam pictures

Someone asked how the fox got inside the wire. Here's a pic that I think shows him going through the mesh. I don't think there is any other way in, unless he crawled underneath somehow where the javelina was digging. Next time I'm down there, I'll look more closely. This pic shows him with his head inside, but not sure if his body followed or not.

It appears that he's half in and half out on this frame, with at least one paw inside.

I'm not sure if it's a Gray Fox or Kit Fox.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Critter cam results

Late yesterday afternoon lots of doves visited the feeder.

There were some photos (I deleted) of them feeding there even after it was dark. Then a fox (probably Gray Fox) appears. The cage bars sure weren't a deterrent to the fox. (The top of the cage is covered with the slanted wire panel.) At first I thought the fox is eating a dove, but I don't think it could have captured a dove inside the cage with the impediment of the wire. That's a stake in front of his head that holds the cage in place.

A few minutes later a javelina tries to uproot the cage.

Then the fox returns.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

One week later

I can't believe a week has gone by since I last blogged. Goes to show how uninteresting this winter really is. Today I thought I'd spice things up with a critter camera. It should show what happens in the night, as well as the day time. I got it all set and tested. It works.

Meanwhile, I looked for something to scratch my photography itch. Not much to take pictures of, BUT, in 3 weeks I can start watching for my Lucifers to return. That's always exciting. Tomorrow Kelly and I are going to check out Lajitas. Maybe something fun will show up there. Heck, I was even thrilled to have 3 hummers at CMO this afternoon. Shows how my standards of joy have lowered.

I picked my annual (if I'm lucky) orange. It was super juicy, but a bit tart. Either I should have left it another week or so, or the weather-shade over the skylight, preventing sunlight, keeps it from getting sweeter.

If I get one next year, I'll leave it on the tree longer.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Springlike day

Great day. Lovely weather. Birds starting to move. Some of the species I saw last week are not the same species as this week. Makes me think we're in for an early migration. I'm ready. Bring it on.

Today I saw a Hermit Thrush, Red-winged Blackbird (female), and a couple more Rufous Hummingbirds. The Swamp and Fox Sparrows seem to be gone, but the Song Sparrow is still here.

My winter doldrums have vanished, at least for now. Making plans to clean and patch the stucco tank. Boy, it seems like I just did that. A year sure goes by fast.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Rolling with the flow

I woke up in Alpine this morning with every intention of spending at least the morning doing research at Sul Ross library. But when I got there the sign said it didn't open until noon on Saturday. I knew by noon I'd be totally out of the mood, so decided to come to the oasis and get some work done instead. I did work until mid-afternoon (it was a lovely day), then decided to take a nap. I don't get naps in town because of all the noise and activity, so really look forward to naps at CMO.

But then I got to worrying about the feeders at Lajitas, consulted Kelly, and we decided I should go check on them. Good thing too, because they wouldn't have lasted until sunup tomorrow. I did see the Broad-billed Hummingbird before I left, so seeing it and knowing the feeders are clean and full made it well worth missing a nap.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Exhausting day

I had to go to the dentist in Odessa today. I hate that trip, but one more visit might be the final one. I say "might," because I'm under a dental curse and anything that can go wrong, does.

To make the trip less onerous, I took the scenic route, Hwy 385, through Marathon. I must have seen a thousand bluebirds. I didn't have time to stop and bird, but I did stop once or twice. One time I felt like photographing a bluebird and couldn't even get just one in the frame. When I downloaded my pictures they all had more than one bird in them. The one in the air is a Mountain Bluebird and the one perched is a Western Bluebird. I also saw several Sage Thrashers, Townsend's Solitaires, and many other things that I didn't take time to stop and ID. The juniper berries are the attractants.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lajitas cold with hummers

I froze at Lajitas this morning while trapping hummers for Kelly. It was the same temperature there as it was at CMO - 27°. I'll bet that doesn't happen often.We caught 28 hummers of 5 species. Not bad for the end of winter. (Please let it be the end, and not the middle.) I observed one little tail-less Rufous that never did go into the trap, if you're wondering why my numbers seem off.

We had some visiting birders who enjoyed watching the banding process and helping in any way they could. Well, that Broad-billed I trapped last week wouldn't go into the trap even though I heard it around. That didn't surprise me. Once hummers have been banded it's often hard to recapture them. When I needed to run to the bathroom for a minute, I handed the trap door control to one of the lovely ladies and instructed her how to push the button to close the trap door, but not to do it until the hummer perched on the feeder inside the trap. I was back from the bathroom in a minute or two, and she had caught the Broad-billed. You'll never convince me it didn't recognize me as the villain and think it was safe with me out of sight. Amazingly, the Blue-throated went into the trap, too. But Kelly netted him the first time, so this was his first trap visit. Likely his last, too.

Kelly shared a story with me the other day about a bander in east TX who couldn't recapture a Buff-bellied Hummingbird she'd previously captured. When someone borrowed her vehicle and drove off, that hummer dove right into the trap.  And many of you remember the TV special about crows who remember individual faces for years. I contend hummers are just as smart as crows.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lovely winter day

It got up to 60° today which inspired me to work. Really hard. I caulked the mud room and utility room in hopes of getting rid of the mice. So after I felt I had sealed the rooms, I wore myself out cleaning them from top to bottom. Hope that's the end of the mice. I can't stand mice.

Yesterday morning when I arrived at the oasis I thought I got a quick glimpse of a Fox Sparrow. Then I didn't see it again, but did see the Lincoln's, Song, and Swamp Sparrows, so talked myself out of the Fox Sparrow. But I saw it again this morning and even photographed it.

I don't think it's the same one I had in October, but it's the same Eastern Red subspecies.

And the Song Sparrow presented me with a photo op today also.

How bad can winter be when a beautiful Reakirt's Blue shows up?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

CMO stuff

I came down to the oasis for a few days to catch up on things here. The weather was pretty decent for a change, but I think I read somewhere that another "polar vortex" is bearing down on us, or whatever.

There were 3 Green-winged Teal that preferred foraging in the stucco tank since it's almost out of water and the gambusia ratio to water is high, making catching them easier. But every time the ducks saw me they fled to the big tank and hid among the dead, or dormant pondweed.

Other than the teal, the only other interesting birds that I observed were 3 sparrows, the Lincoln's, Swamp, and Song. Admittedly, I didn't look very hard, or I could probably have found more species, besides the overwintering or year round Black-throated, White-crowned, Rufous-crowned, etc. Gobs of Chipping Sparrows. I stayed away from the tanks, where sparrows like to drink and bathe, so I wouldn't flush the ducks. Maybe tomorrow I'll tally more sparrow species. Yawn......

And the Lekka-yukka* is just a plain yucky-yucca now. Wind toppled it. Henceforth, it'll be harder to photograph Lucifer Hummingbirds doing their courtship displays, with the yucca they prefer much closer to the ground. Oh, well, something exciting is bound to happen, sooner or later.

It's hard to tell much from these photos. The Lekka-yukka had two trunks. Now one trunk is leaning at a 45° angle and the other is almost prone. The top photo shows where they were sort of joined together at the bases. It looks like termites or something just rotted the trunks away. But they probably won't die. They'll grow more roots, and continue to survive, while hummers continue to use them.

At least my big dead cottonwood tree is still standing. I dread the day that topples. I should make a concerted effort to get a guy wire on it. But I'll be lucky if I can get the stucco tank sealed before next rainy season. That has priority.

*Lekka-Yukka is what I called the yucca that the Lucifers most often do their courtship displays at. I built upon the word Lek, which is normally used to denote a place where males gather to display to the females.
Male Lucifers don't gather there, it's more a case of females perching there between trips to the feeders and one male often displays to one female perched there.(see post of 3-26-11) I've never seen multiple males display to multiple females there at the same time. Having said that, it wouldn't surprise me to see more than one male displayed to more than one female simultaneously in a real good year, where there's an abundance of Lucifers.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lajitas again

This time of year it seems all the action is at Lajitas. Today Kelly Bryan and I went to fill feeders. While there I talked to the manager about creating bird habitat and a birding trail there. I'm the most optimistic about getting that to happen than I have been for the past 20 years. I'll keep you updated.

Meanwhile the Blue-throated and Broad-billed Hummingbirds we banded there the other day are still there.

Male Blue-throated photo courtesy Kelly Bryan

Female Broad-billed photo courtesy Kelly Bryan

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lajitas banding today

We arrived at dawn, and in no time at all Kelly had captured the Blue-throated that's been there since Dec 17, 2013. Trapping and banding continued at a brisk pace (in brisk air, too, I might add) until Kelly ran out of Anna's-sized bands. We also banded the Broad-billed that I had first seen there on Jan. 1, so it was a good session. (banded 26 hummers total)

The Blue-throated is big and strong. Kelly was very careful so it didn't escape.

The Broad-billed fed good before getting released.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Song Sparrow

In late December some birders reported seeing a Song Sparrow at the oasis, but I hadn't seen it until today. Couldn't get good pictures of it, but at least you can tell what it is.

This prolonged cold seeps into my bones all the way to my soul. I gotta think the worst is over.

Monday, January 6, 2014


I'm stuck in Alpine today but plan on going to CMO tomorrow. Then, Wednesday Kelly and I are planning on banding in Lajitas. This morning it got down to 16° in Alpine. I think it was much the same at CMO, and around 34° at Lajitas.

I'm kind of hanging around town hoping to schedule a dentist appointment in Odessa this week and trying to arrange it so I'm not driving so far. Odessa is a 3 hour drive from Alpine, and a 5 hour drive from Lajitas. You get the idea.

So I've been reduced to enjoying Lajitas vicariously. Here are a couple of shots I found on the internet. The first one is how it looked about 30 years ago, and the next one is much as it looks today.

That area used to be called the boardwalk and was really dusty from vehicle traffic. 

I've always had dreams of the owners putting in a wonderful birding habitat. About 15 years ago (I lose track of time) they started an ambitious birding habitat, but to my dismay, were going about it wrong. It all washed out in a big flood and hasn't been attempted again. I'm contemplating trying to get it done in the right way. They can now see how their guests love to watch and photograph the hummingbirds. That's a start.

Here's a photo of part of the golf course. I don't know when it was taken, but probably 10-20 years ago.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lajitas Mesa

Lajitas Mesa is a mile north of Lajitas and just north of the Presidio County line in SW Brewster Co. At an elevation at 3672' above sea level, it rises about 1330' above the town. The mesa is 1½ miles long and ½ mile across at its widest point. Dark lava flows and white ash deposits are exposed on its flanks. The mesa's shallow and rocky soil supports Desert Willow, Texas Persimmon, Little Texas Walnut, Mexican Buckeye, and various brushes and grasses.

Here's how the feeder area looked at daybreak this morning, with the mesa in the background and bell tower on the right.

This American Robin posed nicely with the mesa in the background. Too bad the hummers weren't that cooperative.

Adorable couple

I did the 4 hour round trip from Alpine to Lajitas again this morning in hopes of getting better photos of the Broad-billed Hummingbird. Even though I got lots of photos of it, none were better than my previous attempts. Unless it gets out in the sun, that probably won't happen. It feeds at shaded feeders, and in between, hunkers down in bushes.

 At least it, as well as the Blue-throated, are still there. In fact, there was another big surge of Anna's ahead of this impending front. This week they were mainly females. Last week they were mainly males. But it's normal for the males to migrate a week or two ahead of the females.

On the above photo, I think that's the Broad-billed on the right side of the feeder. (You can see another bird approaching in the upper left.) It's such chaos that this photo was just one of many random feeder shots I took to see how many I could get on a picture at one time. Today the most was 5.

Here is a photo I snapped of a couple as they watched hummers at the feeders. I didn't realize until I downloaded it that the couple were holding hands as they shared the thrill of seeing hummers up close, maybe for the very first time.

I should have taken more shots of this. I might have captured when a hummer was feeding, or them smiling at one another or something. Always so many missed opportunities.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Now a Broad-billed Hummingbird at Lajitas

I went to Lajitas yesterday to hang a bigger hook for the bigger feeder I had put up, and while there, I briefly saw a female hummer with red at the base of its lower mandible. I figured it must be a Broad-billed Hummingbird, but for some reason I had it in my mind that they were larger than an Anna's. Come to find out, if anything, they're smaller. So the only thing to do was force myself to go back early this morning and try for a photo. It was still not light enough for good photos, so I ramped up the white balance on my camera, which resulted in poor photos, but good enough for documentation. It's not a review species or anything, but still one I very seldom get to observe.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's tradition

I thought a good way to start out the year would be to do something technologically progressive, like take a "selfie." Well, don't expect one very often. There's an art to it. I'm used to keeping my fingers away from the back side of the iphone (most of the time) when using the camera. Can't get the hang of having the lens focused between me and the iphone. (Yes, that's my finger on the upper far right.) Then there's the knack of getting the light to shine on your face at the same time you're composing the background to your satisfaction. I finally gave up. Here's my best shot. I wanted the pond in the background because every year on Jan 1st, I take a photo to show how much water I have in the tank to last until rainy season. It's my tradition.

This year's supply is almost exactly the same as last year's. It would be nice if it was better, but good that it's not worse. 

The Blue-throated Hummingbird continues at Lajitas. It's now patronizing a different feeder, one at the south end of a row of pines below the tower. (This photo was taken 12-21-13 at Lajitas by me.)