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Saturday, May 31, 2014

In a word, HOT

And it's supposed to be hotter all the rest of the week. It's tough. I worked on the tank all morning until I was too exhausted to climb into my pickup. The bottoms of my feet were starting to blister from walking on the steep slope in my stocking feet. I turn the shovel over like that to set my bucket on while I'm working. Then I work with my right hand and try to keep from sliding down with my left hand. I have to keep the surface swept clean. Any crumbs and down I go. With my feet like they are, I'm thinking I'll have to wait a week to resume work.

.The Chisos Rosewood had been blooming profusely for over a week now and no butterflies. Someone told me it would attract butterflies. And someone told me to watch the soapberry blooms for butterflies too, and no butterflies anywhere. Must be too hot and dry.

On the facebook birding groups people get so sick of seeing Cardinal photos posted, BUT I have not seen one at the oasis since the drought of 2011 until today, so I just had to document the event, even though the bird was not very cooperative.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The time of hunger

That's what the prehistoric inhabitants* of the Big Bend called the time when it was hot, before summer rains started. Things are bleak right now. No interesting birds or butterflies.

Bit by bit, I worked on the tank, cleaning and patching, before it got too hot.

Around 1996 I planted both Afghan Pines (Elderica) and Mexican Pinyons under the same conditions. I water them about the same, but if anything, the Afghan Pines get more water. They grew faster and taller, but the pinyons are almost as tall now, and soon may be as tall. Meanwhile, the Pinyons look way better. My soil is sandy. I don't know if that makes a difference.

Today I saw four Aoudad, but they took off as soon as I aimed my camera so I didn't get satisfactory shots. You can only see the head of the fourth one in front of the rump of the front-most one. It looks like two are young ones.


* They were Uto-Aztecan, the same as the Tarahumara of Mexico today. We call them Jumanos, and the Spaniards called them Jumanos or Jumanes. Early records show they were extremely numerous and no one knew where they came from or where they went to. They actually had no name for themselves, as native peoples seldom did. They were just the People. However, Tarahumara legends claim that their ancestors came from this area, and they've always called their elite runners, Jumames. The Uto-Aztecan word for runner is juma. So I postulate that the Spaniards, demanding a name for the men they encountered (never mentioned encountering women and children) called them by the only name they  knew themselves as, before disease and warfare drove them into the impenetrable mountains of Mexico. It's too long a story to go into here, but that's who I'm referring to when I say "the prehistoric inhabitants of the Big Bend." And this time of year, I always feel for their pain and hunger. They were way tougher than we are, though.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The artist in me

Finally got back to CMO and things are slow here too. I guess with it hot and dry, not much is going to happen until it rains. Everything is just surviving and waiting, myself included.

female Lucifer Hummingbirds
I imagine if there were any rainbows, they'd be waiting for rain too. 

Meanwhile, I have to be doing something creative. My whole life I've painted and written. As a child I submitted a poem to a kid's Disney contest, expecting to win first prize. When I received "honorable mention," I assumed they sent that to every entrant that didn't place, and it meant nothing. I'd never even heard of "honorable mention," but I didn't like the sound of it. In a childish snit, I tore up the document, or letter, or whatever it was, and threw it away. Wish I had it now. (The name of my poem was "The Pitcher Plant.")  I've written a couple of novels that didn't get published, and now I'm happy to just use my writing urges blogging.

Since I started the oasis, I've considered the earth my canvas and the shovel, pick, etc. as my paintbrushes, so have quit painting portraits, and have no desire to ever start it up again. However, I still do craft-ish things when something tempting falls into my lap. Someone gave my husband a neat car magnet that he was going to throw away. I decided to re-purpose it into a refrigerator decoration. Since my kitchen colors are red and yellow, and since my refrigerator was already painted yellow, I painted the magnet red. Here's the before:

And here's the after:

At 11" x 16," it just about covers the freezer compartment of my old refrigerator.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Stuck in town, I thought I had found a new dragonfly, but it turned out I already had seen the species in Lajitas, just not in Alpine. It's a Commanche Skimmer. So I was excited for a little while.

The wild Mexican Duck spends all his time hiding in the weeds. I'm worried that he's so fearful he won't eat enough. He doesn't show up when I put out corn either. He only came out of the weeds when I flushed him out, and he didn't stay out long, nor did he forage.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Milestone banding day

Today Kelly banded his 500th Lucifer Hummingbird since he started his hummingbird banding project around six years ago (actually he made it to 501). We banded at CMO first but had mostly recaptures and ended up with a total of 499, one short of his goal. Two of the newly banded were recently fledged, so I'm glad to know that so far at least one Lucifer has nested successfully this year. They're nesting now too, so may fledge some as late as October.

Next we went to the Ervin's residence three miles from CMO and banded a couple more Lucifers there. Here is number 500 in Kelly's hand. (That's Suzy Ervin recording.)

Note birds hanging in bags in queue in the background.

And a drink of sugar water before being released.

Here's a shot of a male Lucifer taken in their backyard.

I never get tired of observing those precious marvels.

Back in Alpine the baby ducks enjoy their crumbles or crunchies (I forget what they're called) and like to sit in the shade of their nest box when it's really hot out. They're getting so big.

They are so cute! They learned how to forage (dabble) like the big ducks now.

The wild Mexican Duck had been attacking the babies endlessly, so my husband shot his pellet gun at him several days ago (against my vociferous protests, I might add). The villian departed from the pond or stays in hiding, and immediately peace descended. They've been a happy family ever since. Without cracked corn and the wild duck, the babies just might survive.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Talked myself out of working on the tank

I was going to coat the rough areas around the tank with that white Drylok, but the area I was going to do next (on that steep slope) is so bad I think it should be patched first. Since all the patching I've made never holds, I thought I'd try some professional patching stuff. So I have to buy it in Alpine, which means no work until my next time back here.

Area I plan to do next. Working on that steep slope is a killer.
I would also love to get this tank cleaned out, but that means pumping the little remaining water into the stucco tank. I'm too scared to do that for fear there'll be leakage. Once both tanks are full, leakage will be easier to bear.

I'm enthused that a hurricane (Amanda) is already forming in the Pacific. I get my best rains from Pacific hurricanes.

For anyone interested, I've planted acacias Berlander and Huisache (farnesiana) at the oasis. The acacias on my property that grow wild are Roemer, Gregg, Whitethorn (constricta), and Schott's.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Trying to sort everything out

Between ducklings in town and baby Cactus Wrens that fledged in town (perhaps too soon) to birders and no rain at CMO, and trying not to miss the bird and butterfly life, not to mention the odonates, I don't know which way to turn. So I wear myself out and don't even get any work done on the tank.

I talked to my husband on the phone and per him, the parents are feeding the wrens on the ground wherever they find them, and they do find them. The ducklings are both still accounted for.

Back at the oasis there's a lot of fledging activity and feeding activity going on too. Kestrels fledged two. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers feeding young. Lots of juveniles everywhere. And so much to sort out. I think this is an Ash-throated Flycatcher.....

And I think this is a Brown-crested Flycatcher. But I could be wrong. We hear the calls of both myiarchus species. Whatever they are, they're feeding young too.

And then I'm struggling with butterfly ID, what with Brian out of pocket. I won't even start on those. Tomorrow I hope to get some better photos of some that I can't ID.

Here's a terrible shot of what I'm pretty sure is a Desert Whitetail. I took the photo yesterday, but hoping for a better one today, didn't post it. But I haven't seen it today, so this is all I have. Maybe tomorrow.

I was able to get a better photo of the Juniper Hairstreak today so I replaced the one I had posted yesterday with the better one.Yesterday they were way high in the soapberry tree and today I found one near eye level. Makes a big difference.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Good to be back home

Derek Muschalek had birded here before, but either I didn't know, or didn't remember, that he's extremely knowledgeable on butterflies (has even led butterfly tours in Mexico). But I took notice when, while birding the oasis, he casually mentioned seeing Juniper Hairstreaks. He had found them on my blooming Soapberry trees, which I didn't even know were attractive to butterflies. I know birds don't pay the Soapberries much attention. So I'm a happy camper adding that species to my life list, though Brian had already documented it for the oasis.

Derek also found me a Palmer's Metalmark. It's not a new species here; Brian has found it here for me before, but still a nice find, in my estimation.

Now, for the next couple weeks, I'm going to be searching the Soapberry blooms for other species. They've just now begun to bloom, so I haven't missed any yet. I'm hoping for other hairstreaks, such as Sandi, Soapberry, and maybe Xami.

There was one new species for the oasis today, although I have seen it before in Alpine. That's a Sachem Skipper.

Bird-wise, migration is over. A pair of Bewick's Wrens seem to be carrying nesting material to an agave stalk right beside the viewing area. I don't know how that will work out for them, but will surely make a nervous wreck out of me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Baby wrens and ducklings update

I bought some "Crunchies" for the ducklings so I don't have to worry about them choking anymore. For all I know, that could have been the cause of every duckling mortality here to date. They'll be 2 weeks old tomorrow and they're pretty much on their own. They follow the momma when they can, but more often than not, she's off playing with the adults and the ducklings are left to their own devices. The momma does sleep on them in the nest at night, so maybe that's all they need. The feed store said the crunchies are what you feed baby ducks so I'm happy to have something suitable for them.

I couldn't stand the suspense, so climbed to the wren nest box today. The babies (two) were so quiet and still, I thought they were dead, so started to clean out the box. Then they moved, so I stuffed all the nesting material back inside as best I could. Yikes! I guess they were just taking an afternoon siesta. This evening I sat and hoped to watch them getting fed but one adult kept coming in without food. After a few photos, I left so they could get on with their business.

While I was sitting near this nest box, I noticed activity in a nest box farther away. I think the male wren is working on a new nest, but it's possible there's another pair of Cactus Wrens feeding  young. Here's some information I found online regarding  Cactus Wrens that might be relevant.

"The male wren is kept very busy during breeding season. Not only is he busy building a second or third nest, but he also cares for the young in the first nest while the female is incubating the next clutch of eggs."

I'll try to solve the mystery tomorrow without opening the box. To be continued....

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dead babies

When it got too hot to work in the tank,* I came to town to get some stuff done here. Found this dead duckling in the pond. Based on my investigation, I think it choked on cracked corn. Around 1PM my husband fed them and all three ate, but one ate more and sat down a couple of times while eating. Then a couple of hours later I arrived and found it dead in the water. I think I'll stop feeding them.

Meanwhile, back at CMO, when it got hot I found a javelina in the shade of my water trailer. I hope that's the only use that will be made of it. Better rain soon, though.

I was taking a break near a water feature, camera in hand, when a hot Varied Bunting came up to get a drink. I don't usually get a chance to shoot them from that close so I couldn't resist.

After I posted this I found another dead baby bird. This one is one of the Cactus Wrens I posted about recently. It looks like the bird has a big insect stuck in its throat but I can't tell, and am too squeamish to check further.

OK, curiosity got the better of me. I donned plastic gloves and pulled out the object. Turns out to be a grasshopper.

I know the baby bird couldn't have caught the grasshopper, so that means it was fed it by the adult parents. That means normally the baby should have been able to ingest it. So, it must have been weak from not being fed all those hours during the fish fry. (See post of May 17)

* The reason I don't get photos of the tank work is because I have to change lenses to do it and keep forgetting. One of these days, I will, though. I used to use my iphone but since I let it install an upgrade it no longer works on my CMO computer. One of these days, I'll get that remedied too.

Monday, May 19, 2014

First 100° day this year at CMO

And today was the first chance I had to work in the big tank. I cleaned the dirt out down to the water line (which is really low) on the east side. Tomorrow morning before it gets hot I'm going to put a  gallon of that Drylok coating on some areas that are real crumbly. It won't last, but nothing else I put on there lasts either, so maybe it'll help it hold together another year. I think the tank overflows there and gets under the concrete when a flash flood runs down the arroyo . I'll try to remember to take a couple of photos tomorrow.

When the temperatures reached their high the trees were loaded with panting birds.

Female Lucifer Hummingbird

There's a chance of rain later in the week. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Back in the saddle again!

Feels good to be home, even if it did get up to 98° today. With a south breeze there was little hope of migrant birds hanging around, but I enjoyed watching the activity anyway. Here's a Painted Lady butterfly that has a slightly aberrant pattern of markings on its wings.

And here's probably the best photo I've taken of a Mexican Yellow so far. At least it's the only Mex Yellow pic I took that I was able to ID myself. That's worth something.

Warblers can be a bit confusing, but the ones that frequent the oasis during migration are getting easier for me. Sometimes a fleeting look is all you get too, which doesn't help. I got lots of good looks at this one, and in spite of the funky looking eye-ring, it's a Nashville Warbler.

Here's a more diagnostic angle of the same bird, where you can better see the full eye-ring.

Then, here's a similar warbler that doesn't always clearly show its broken eye-ring. It's a MacGillivray's Warbler. Ah, the joys of birding! I'm sure without the aid of digital photography I would have given up by now.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Back to square one

Today I observed both domestic ducks appear to be mating. Maybe the one was just mad at the other and climbed on top and held her/his head under water. I don't know. All I know for sure is that reproduction took place and the momma duck gets really upset when the adult ducks, domestic or otherwise, get near the ducklings. So I researched it online, and apparently adult ducks kill baby ducks. So now I'm wondering if that was the fate of last year's baby, and the first casualty of this year's brood. The momma duck was napping while her babies were foraging all over the place when there were no adult ducks in the pond.

But when an adult approached the pond, she became immediately alert and the ducklings swam to her.

Also today is the day of my husband's annual fish fry. I'm concerned for nesting Cactus Wrens because their nest box is right in the middle of the activity. It seems to be keeping the wrens from coming in and feeding their babies, despite the babies loud chirping. 

Kelly Bryan was at the fish fry and told me that Cactus Wrens aren't known to nest in nest boxes, so here is some documentation of that occurring, for what it's worth.

Eventually, the wren did come in and feed a couple of times with all the activity around, so hopefully the nesting attempt won't fail.

Friday, May 16, 2014


I'm still in Alpine, and there are still three ducklings, and I have yet another duck story. I figure the longer they survive, the better are the odds that we'll end up with one. While I was watching the mother with the ducklings today, I saw a Mexican Duck copulating with the other domestic duck. That convinces me that the domestic ducks are both females. So my husband had to have been mistaken when he said he saw one domestic duck mate with the other. He doesn't look at them through binoculars and I doubt that he can tell them apart from the wild ducks. So that means all the ducklings are half Mexican Duck by my reckoning.

They were feeding peacefully on the cracked corn I put out for them when one satiated duckling decided to head for water, maybe to help wash the corn down. About that time a male duck came to partake of the windfall, causing momma duck to go ballistic. Baby duck immediately sensed his faux pas and did an about face.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Still three ducklings

I'm hoping that they learned something from losing their sibling and will be more cautious, maybe cautious enough to survive to adulthood.

Kind of a wasted day today. Hummingbird banding was cancelled. Can't go to CMO until after my husband's annual fish fry Saturday night. No butterflies in town. So I just hung out (something I'm not good at), imagining all the great birds I'm missing out on at CMO.