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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Just a quick note

Lucifers are coming back to the feeders more often now. At least one pair is. The last several visitors have had no trouble adding it to their life list, so that crisis is over.

It's supposed to be real windy tomorrow, so it's just as well that I'm stuck in town.

I took this photo of mating Queen butterflies yesterday.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Crazy day at CMO

I went down to the oasis at my usual time, about 7:30 AM. A couple of birders were already there who had gotten directions from some other birder. With 3 other large groups scheduled for the day, one morning, one early afternoon, and another late afternoon, I knew it was going to be hectic. I just didn't know it was going to have a few harrowing moments on the road.

Parking lot full all day

The Lucifer Hummingbirds were real, real scarce at the feeders and it would be a lifer for most of the 34 birders who visited today. So when the first group was getting ready to leave without seeing it, I suggested we drive a ways down the road and walk to the lower dam where the male has set up his territory. It took longer than I thought it would because the Lucifer stayed at a distance and when it could be spotted at all, was impossible for all but a couple in the group of 16 to locate. So we kept trying, while the Lucifer disappeared, then reappeared somewhere else, etc. They finally gave up, and were getting into their two long large vans, when over the hill came 3 small cars right up to them. Well, the little cars couldn't conceivable back up the big hill, and the two long vans couldn't conceivably back around a narrow sharp corner in the road. So the vans had to get to the side as far as possible, and the 3 cars had to pass them. I thought sure they would end up stuck in the ditch. Don't know how they squeezed by. Whew, I don't want that to happen ever again!

I took that last group down to see the Lucifer on territory with much the same results. Only one in the group was able to spot it and get some distant photos of it. Some of the second group saw it at the feeders while the 3rd group was down the arroyo looking for it. Whatever works! Not that it was a plan or anything, but I figured if we left the feeders it would come in. A female Lucifer even made a quick visit to the feeders. Hopefully, the ocotillo will quit blooming and life can get back to normal.
An interesting robin showed up at the oasis today. I usually get the western variety of American Robin, but this one seems to be an eastern variety, though you can't really tell from this photo.

You can tell better how pale it is on this photo.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More birders than birds at CMO

Coming down from Alpine this morning, Santiago Mountain appeared as a mirage out in the desert.

Not much going on bird-wise. Ocotillo are in full bloom so Lucifer Hummingbirds aren't showing up at the feeders these days. The group of birders today seemed content with a Central Texas Whipsnake as a consolation for not seeing Lucifers. One in the group caught it so they could all photograph it before releasing it. I was greatly impressed that they were able to catch it.

Here's a Yellow-headed Blackbird that I photographed today. He seems to be traveling with a Brown-headed Cowbird.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Marathon migration day

My sister-in-law and I had fun birding in the Marathon area today. We identified 65 species, and a lot we didn't get good enough looks to ID. We're going back again tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are a few of my favorite pics from today.

Snowy Egret

First spring Indigo Bunting

Black and White Warbler

The above were all taken at Gage Gardens in Marathon. It's the best kept secret in Brewster Co, in my opinion. I guess it hasn't become well-known because it hasn't hosted real rarities, but it's just a matter of time. I saw my lifer Swainson's Warbler there a year or two ago.

It looks lush in spite of the fact that it got zapped by a freeze earlier in the week.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good bunting day

Had 4 species of bunting but unfortunately by the time the birding group arrived around 10 AM, I could no longer locate the Lark Bunting and it would have been a lifer for some of the group. Too bad. This male has most of its breeding plumage but still a little smattering of winter plumage.

The other 3 bunting species are Indigo, Lazuli, and Varied. I have so many photos of Varied that I couldn't get motivated to take any more, but here are a couple of the Indigo and Lazuli eating mulberries. Not good photos because I just couldn't focus on them deep in the tree, as they were.

One of two Lazulis present today

This Indigo seems not to have full adult plumage with considerable brown on top of the head.
Birders were much easier to photograph.

Here is a kind of optical illusion. It's of flowers (I keep forgetting what kind) beside some rocks on the edge of my white-coated tank. So the tank looks like sky and the rocks look like mountains. Works for me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Banner day at CMO

Wow, what a difference a day makes! Suddenly ripe mulberries appear on the tree and birds descend. It was just two days ago I was sprinkling the trees trying to save them from freezing. And even the night before last it got down to 32°. So migration officially began today at CMO.

Male Summer Tanager
There were only 3 warbler species, that I saw, and no grosbeaks or empidinax flycatchers, but a lot of great birds, nonetheless. A beautiful male Lazuli Bunting and Varied Bunting pilfered mulberries when the mockingbird police didn't catch them. They were too sly for me to get photos of. Maybe tomorrow. I hate mockingbirds.

Tomorrow is my first spring birding group. I hope it's rocking with birds again tomorrow. Sometimes migration will be great one day, then dead the next.

Civilization is always nearby, even at the oasis.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

CMO survived the freeze

At 6 AM it was 34° here, so I started the sprinkler under the big mulberry tree. Went back at 7 AM and the temperature was 29° so I started sprinkling everything I could. One hose was frozen so I had to do the best I could with the other. By 8 AM it was 28°, even as the sun was coming over the horizon.

I've seen hardly any freeze damage so far. A small patch of leaves on the smaller mulberry tree is wilted. I had sprayed it, but I think I sprayed it too late. There are still lots of mulberries in one section of the big tree. This wasn't a great year anyway. Last year everything produced a bumper crop, so this year is kind of the off year. It got colder in Alpine, so I feel lucky. New growth on the oak trees that sometimes gets zapped by late freezes seems to be OK so far.

About the only new migrants I saw today at CMO was this pair of Blue-winged Teal.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A pretty icky day

I guess it can't be pretty and icky both, but everything is blooming splendidly, even as a cold wind howls, and it's supposed to freeze tonight. I took a nap today so it won't be as hard to get up at 4 AM and sprinkle the mulberries. Although the way the wind is blowing them off the tree, there probably won't be many left to save.

So I'll focus on the pretty, and hope for the best.

Wisteria in courtyard
Lantana in courtyard

Havard Penstemmon in oasis

It would be easier to list what isn't blooming than what is. Even the creosotes and mesquites are covered with yellow flowers.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

First warblers of this year at CMO

Just a Wilson's and a Yellow-rumped, so I didn't take photos of them. Since I got the curbs done, I thought today was an easy day, but it sure wore me out for some reason. Maybe things caught up with me. Nights are cold but days heat up fast. This is the best I've ever had a madrone look. I should have tried for better lighting so all the blooms would show up better. This tree is about 8' tall.

I've concluded the Chinese Pistache tree is losing most or all of it's blooms because it didn't get pollinated. The new little one has to bloom before it can pollinate it, and of course, it has to be a male. Oh, well.... All the green splotches on the ground under the tree are flower clusters, that won't become berries.

Here's the new little potential pollinator in front of the big pistache. The little one is still caged and staked. They come about 6' tall and pencil thin from the nursery, so one has no choice but to support it and shade the trunk from sunscald. It's been in the ground 2 years. The big one has been there about 12 years. 

My ptelea is finally showing signs of life.

And back in Alpine, our Black Locusts are putting on quite a display.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Taking a break

Things are looking good. It's the time of year I need to be frugal with my remaining water, even though things are putting on their new spring growth and really need it at this time. I finished what I'm going to do on the road, for now, anyway. This is the slope I started first, but finished last. I hope the curb keeps the water from washing out the road.

Someone told me what these teensy red flowers are but I forgot.

This is the best looking tree at the oasis right now. It's a Velvet Ash, or AZ Ash, or Modesto Ash. (Fraxinus velutina)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Another BBB night

Blog. Benadryl. Bed. When I'm too exhausted to stay up until my usual bedtime (11 PM), I go to bed early and then wake up at 2 or 3 AM and can't get back to sleep. It ruins me for the next day. But if I take a swallow of children's Benadryl, I make it through the night just fine. I don't do that more than a few times a year. Last night I didn't, and then woke up at 1 AM. Finally took the Benadryl, but was groggy for a bit early this morning, so I'm going to take it earlier tonight. I don't drink coffee or tea or anything. I just rev myself up mentally. Normally, I wake up at daylight, all revved.

Anyway, finished the one curb and will finish the other in the morning. I hope this one will withstand my husband's bringing his wide trailer in behind his pickup. That'll be the acid test. He visits less frequently these days, like twice a year, so one can only hope.

When I get the other curb done I plan to quit on special projects for a while, and just do regular maintenance. Time to enjoy spring. Birders are already starting to visit. Today I had two parties, one from Canada; the other from Kansas. I do get birders year-round, just more in spring. It's funny, I used to think that spring migration (mid-April to mid-May) was the only fun birding time at CMO. Now I think it's awesome from April through December. Especially since I'm into butterflies now, too.  Just realized, in Feb-Mar this year I had 4 lifer butterfly species (Henry's Elfin, Great Purple Hairstreak, TX Powdered-Skipper, and Eastern Tailed-Blue). I may have to extend the awesome time frame.

Speaking of butterflies, I photographed this Northern Cloudywing today. Brian says it's early in the year for this species. Maybe global warming.

Here is a really adorable tiny flower. I don't know what it is yet, though.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Curb appeal?

My sister came by and took some photos for my blog. It's that, or nothing, today. Since the weather was cool and windy, I wanted to get road work done, hoping I could look for butterflies tomorrow. However, what I thought would be a four hour job took 6 hours today, and I'm not done yet. Hopefully, I'll finish here in the morning, but at least I have the hole filled in. The rest of the curb will be to divert water away from the road.

I still haven't finished the curb I was working on earlier in the week. Maybe Sunday I can finish it. In this last photo above, I'm standing on the fill dirt that I had just finished putting in the hole. I filled it as I went along. The hole is now totally filled in, but I was so exhausted, I forgot to take a picture of it. Tomorrow I will.

This is another area of the mile-long road that is built on a slope of rhyolite. Underneath the rake in the center photo above you can get an idea of how the water runs over the bedrock and across the road. The curb is to keep the water running on top of the bedrock, especially in areas where the road has worn down, leaving it lower than the bedrock. The alternative is putting more dirt on the road, and that's only a band-aid until it washes out the road again. Meanwhile, it's a dust bowl. Hopefully, this will work out better.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Blooms here and there

Here are some blooms from the Canyon Cherry  (Prunus serotina serotina) tree at the oasis.

And a wonderful native acacia that I've never watered. I think it the Acacia roemeriana.

And in Alpine there are these lovely Blue Bonnets.

Tomorrow it's back to working on the road even though my knee is still swollen.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Impending migration

I see lots of birds but I think they're mostly Chipping Sparrows. Been real busy so haven't sorted through them. However, all my nesting species are here except for the buntings (Varied & Painted) and Blue Grosbeaks.

I can't know whether this Lucifer Hummingbird is gravid (pregnant with egg), but she sure seems to be proud of her belly. When Kelly banded last week, he caught 3 females, all gravid, so it's possible.

I've always enjoyed working on my road, even long before I built the oasis. In fact, the oasis has kept me so busy, I seldom work on the road anymore. But with spring birding tours due to start in 2 weeks, I'm determined to have the road a little better for low clearance vehicles. I can work about 4 hours a day. Since I have all my energy in the mornings, it doesn't affect me if the afternoons are hot, or not. After today's 4 hours of morning work I came to Alpine to bring my husband's truck back. I'm never driving that truck again. Too much for me to handle. It's bad enough to lift all my rocks, sand, and cement into my low pickup, but it's a killer to get it in, and out, of his high truck bed. Anyway, one more 4 hour day will finish this curb, then I'll do a smaller one at a different bad place that should be another 4 hour job.

Looking downhill (southwest) toward the main arroyo. There's a culvert under the road right at the edge of the photo where the water that runs down the small arroyo (to the left of the road) goes under the road and into the big arroyo.

Looking uphill (northeast). Still a ways to go. I have a hard time driving the pickup up the steep hill and didn't want to drive over the concreted hole (center right). Not able to see where my tires were and not daring to stop, I got too close to my curb. Yikes! When I could stop and look though, I couldn't see where the tires had touched the curb. Another inch and I hate to think what might have happened. Never driving that truck again. If you look real close, you can see my track alongside the wet rock work.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A working April Fool!

And that's no joke. My current project is to fix the two worst spots on the road. The rest I can live with for now. My plan was to put a curb along the left side of the road, so when water rushes down,  it won't wash into the road and wash the road out. The road keeps getting narrower and narrower, and there's a pretty deep arroyo on the right side, so that isn't sustainable.

The curb I'm constructing is on rhyolite (fine-grained granite) bedrock. After I get more done on it you'll be able to get a better idea of what it'll be like. As I build the curb I'm intending to fill in on the road side of the curb so it won't feel as precarious to birders in low clearance vehicles. I impulsively dumped a load of cement in a hole under where the wheelbarrow is. The pickup was above it on the road. So April Fool on me! I had to come down the hill straddling the wet cement with two wheels on the arroyo slope. Good thing I happened to be driving my husbands 4X4 today. It was still scary. But I couldn't drive atop the wet cement, and couldn't fit between the two places I had cemented. Had I given it a little thought, I would have waited to fill that hole after the curb had dried. Oh well, not everyone gets to play an April Fool trick on themselves. I plan to go to the area around the center of the photo where the road isn't as washed out. My distant telephoto lens makes it look a short distance, but it's really quite far.

The fill dirt is some of the silt I cleaned out of the tank. It looks darker than the road because I wet it. There's wet concrete under that section to make sure water doesn't get around the upper end of the curb. Farther downhill, I won't need to do that.

Before I built this road, this was just a slope going down to an arroyo, all solid rhyolite. So the road is made up of fill dirt that my late husband kept replenishing. After padding it with fresh dirt, it becomes a dust bowl, then rain comes and washes it out. I'm hoping this will be a better solution, not to mention I have no one to pad it now, anyway.

I've always favored Texas Madrones, either because they're difficult to grow, or in spite of it. So when they're in bloom, like they are now, I love it. Everything is in bloom.

A really puzzling tree, this TX Persimmon. It planted itself above the lower dam. Seldom does water get up to its trunk, and if it does, it doesn't last long. The dam leaks plus the water soaks into the ground. Well, the tree (on the right) survived the big drought of 2011 to my amazement, then last year it looked dead. I figured water must have stood on it too long. Though I hadn't paid much attention, I think we had two big back-to-back rains, but that's not unusual. I didn't think anything of it. Now I see the darned thing is leafing out. Go figure! I forget what the other tree (left) is. I might walk down there and see tomorrow. Seems like it was a condalia, or something.

The big mulberry tree is loaded with berries so I put the sprinkler under it for a couple of hours today.

Chipping Sparrows bathing under the sprinkler

The apricot tree has tiny apricots on it, but they could still freeze, though they're unlikely to.

UPDATE: Those are both Persimmon trees above the dam.