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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The eccentric in me

I was reading (in a book belonging to one of my eccentric sisters), the definition of eccentric. Yup, no doubt about it, I'm an eccentric. The book (ON DESIRE by William Irvine, 2006) defines an eccentric person as a nonconformist who is "curious, creative, intelligent, idealistic, and opinionated." The part that really convinced me was when he said, "eccentrics are passionately devoted to at least one idea, enterprise, or hobby..., the typical eccentric doesn't stop at one obsession but goes on to develop half a dozen." And these obsessions bring them delight, unlike the obsessions of, say, an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yup, my seven passions bring me joy (birds, butterflies, dragonflies, oasis, photography, ancestry, and blogging). I'm even happier knowing why I'm a happy person. And it's comforting to know that it's OK to be eccentric, and I don't have to try to conform to society's standards.*

There is a definite paucity of butterflies and odes around Alpine this year. Some people think it's due to the drought, but there were plenty last year. I think it was the long cold winter. At any rate, I've tired of looking in vain for them. What few I find are species I've posted here before.

I can't remember what these flowers are called, but they do well here in Alpine's clay soil.

The ducklings don't quack with their tiny baby voices anymore. They sound pretty grown up.

I'm sure they are not genetically 100% domestic duck. I think this wild Mexican Duck is their father, which means they won't get as big as their mother. They may be as big as they're going to get.


* My husband has passions, but they all center around food. Hunting for it, fishing for it, gardening for it, cooking it, eating it...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A dose of reflection

I took a closer look at the vireo nest I posted yesterday, and think it's possible the branch sagged, making the nest tilt. However, the vireos that build nests on fragile limbs that sag under the weight may be less likely to get predated, and more likely to have nesting success, so it could still be evolution at work. On this photo you can barely see her tail sticking out.

I was able to get a better side view shot of the Greater Pondhawk that I posted yesterday.

Here's the pond he frequents.

I swear the grasshoppers are as big as hummingbirds.

And the oasis looks lovely when you can't see or feel the mosquitoes.

This year is half over and I was thinking about all that happened in the first half of the year. Surely, the last half can't be as eventful.

I cleaned and coated the stucco tank.
Had a lifer Kentucky Warbler.
Numerous lifer butterflies.
Daughter's wedding in the park.
Lost 30,000 gallons of water when a faucet got left on.
Got a big mid-June rain that saved the day.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Everything's chomping

I'm chomping at the bit to get out and look for butterflies and odes, but the chomping mosquitoes keep driving me back inside. I had thought sure they'd be gone by now. So I looked at the calendar and they've only been here one week. Still one more week to go. Sure seems longer. Like a lot longer. But the rain came June 15th. It takes nearly a week for the mosquitoes to hatch out, and now this is the 27th.

I was delighted to locate the Great Pondhawk that Kelly had seen here Tuesday. Last year he photographed one here, but this is my first photo of the species.

Maybe an old Bell's Vireo mystery has been solved. (See post of July 5, 2012) I had found a sideways nest and couldn't see any indication that it had been predated. Now I'm thinking the vireo builds these nests (same tree as in 2012) deliberately with a side entrance to foil cowbirds. This nest has 4 vireo eggs in it, no cowbird eggs, although both Bronzed and Brown-headed Cowbirds are in the vicinity of the oasis.

The nest is hard to photograph because of the vegetation, and I had to lighten the photo quite a bit, but maybe you can tell how the entrance is nearly horizontal. She still doesn't seem to have mastered the technique totally, but this may be a glimpse of evolution in progress. I don't think it's tipped because the tree branch sagged under the weight. I think it was built this way. Otherwise, the eggs wouldn't be centered correctly in the nest. But I'll remain open-minded. I had to stand on a chair to peek inside and not wanting to disturb her, it was a very quick peek.

The oasis is immersed in the fragrance of blooming bee-brush. It's everywhere.

I was once told that it was invasive, and that I would regret not plucking the seedlings of it out as they sprouted under every tree I watered.  Still not sorry. Just sorry that it's covered with bees and not butterflies. Bummer! I have had years where it was covered with butterflies, so I think it'll happen this year. Butterfly numbers seem to have suffered from our recent long, cold winter.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gage Gardens in Marathon

I enjoyed hunting for butterflies and odes at Gage Gardens today in spite of the sadness that they were mowing the wonderful wildflowers, even as I was happily searching through them.

Billionaire, J P Bryan, owns the place, and I consider it generous of him to make it available to the public. Still, I feel if he knew what a treasured habitat it could be, he might reconsider all the mowing. I had never realized before what a manicured place it really is.

Moments before the flowers got mowed, I found this lifer butterfly, a Small Checkered-Skipper...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Brief Alpine update

The ducklings are thriving and the lotuses are blooming. Here are the ducks hurrying to the feed I just put out for them. So fast I couldn't operate the new camera in time to get all of them centered in the photo. Gotta work on that.

Been reading and rereading the manual, trying to figure out how best to photograph butterflies and odes with it. For now, it's just set on auto-pilot. Probably the bottom line will be that it won't take quite as good quality photos as my Canon. But it'll be handy for scenery, video, and a back up. One cool feature I like is that it'll take still shots and video simultaneously. Gotta try that. 

Hopefully, I'll find some interesting subjects to practice on tomorrow. And hopefully, when I get back to CMO the plague of mosquitoes will have subsided.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Back on track

Whenever Brian goes on a road trip I quickly get myself into trouble trying to ID butterflies. So he's back, and I can safely add a new species to the oasis list, the Saltbush Sootywing.  Here's the saltbush...

And here's the sootywing....

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Got to CMO early this AM and checked the level on the stucco tank. It was down 2 inches in two days. Allowing half of that for evaporation (about what the other tank lost to evaporation), it only leaked half an inch a day. I can certainly live with that until this winter when the tank is empty, and I can find the leak (hopefully). If the tank was full it would leak a little bit more, but no more than an inch a day. Remember, last summer it leaked nearly 6 inches a day when it was full. So, if I get good summer rains and don't go off and leave a hose running, I should have plenty of water to make it well into next year's rainy season. I don't anticipate the leak getting worse this year. Usually what you get with the first filling is what you end up with for the year. As good as I patched it, I don't see how it could possibly get worse unless some big area breaks away. But that's only ever happened when it was filled with the season's first rain. So I'm a happy camper. Can't really enjoy the oasis right now because this is the time I get MOSQUITOES!

They'll last another week before the gambusias multiply enough to keep them controlled. I put a lot of gambusias into everything except the puddles between the two dams. I knew the water there would only last a few days, so didn't put any there. Normally, a big rain goes over the first dam taking gambusias with it. But this rain didn't over-top the dam. The water that puddled came in from a small side arroyo. I can't even walk down into that area right now, the mosquitoes are so bad. Every year I have a two week period with mosquitoes, and this is it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

All things considered

Considering I was stuck in Alpine today, I had a good time. Found this interesting bug (shot with my Canon). No idea what it is. The flower is mallow.

When I first went trolling for odes and butterflies today I took my new camera (Panasonic Lumix). And I photographed a butterfly that, because I left my binoculars behind, didn't get ID'd until I downloaded it. Turned out it was a Cyna Blue, an uncommon species that I've been wanting a better photo of.  Well, I've decided the new camera isn't the one for that task. After I put a strap on my Canon, since my arms won't carry it anymore, I didn't see the Cyna again. Going to keep looking though. The strap hurts my neck, so after my husband gets over the Visa bill for the camera, I'm going to buy a camera harness. I'm still glad to have the new camera for several reasons: (1) it takes video. (2) if my Canon breaks it's a good backup. (3) I need a scenery camera. Since I got rid of my Kodak Easyshare, I was always having to change lenses on the Canon. A big pain. And I haven't given up on macro pics. Just have to learn how. As it stands now, I can get 3 feet from the subject, as promised, but can't zoom in and fill the screen. It won't focus. With my Canon I can get about 6 feet from the subject, but I can zoom in and fill the screen with a sharp photo. So here's the Cyna Blue shot with the Lumix and considerably cropped.

And here's an Acmon Blue I photographed with my Canon while trying to relocate the Cyna.

And here's a cell phone shot of me with my cameras.

UPDATE: Late this afternoon I took one more stroll around the ponds looking for the Cyna, and found it just as I was getting ready to quit for the day. It dove into some pretty thick grasses, so I wasn't able to focus on it without doing it manually. Here's what I got with my Canon. Really no better, if as good, but my vision is not very good at manual focus, plus this is cropped a lot. This species is almost invisible, it's so small. About the size of a fingernail.

Friday, June 20, 2014

New camera practice today

I'm having a hard time learning the camera but will surely master it eventually. I can get real close to flowers and get sharp enough shots...

...but insects don't let a person get that close and I'm having trouble getting sharp photos.  This was the best I could manage today. (I've given up trying to ID damselflies. This is probably an immature bluet (or forktail?) of some kind.)

So I did a little online sleuthing, and it seems that in this situation photos with my camera type won't be satisfactory unless you use manual focusing. So I'm going to play with that tomorrow. Trouble is, my vision isn't that good. I may end up putting a strap on my heavy Canon and carrying it. It's too heavy for my arms to carry the weight. Causes immense shoulder pain ever since I cleaned, patched, and coated the whole stucco tank. I had taken the strap off because, while rushing around watering and working, the strap caught on stuff and got yanked off my shoulder. If I have to carry it around my neck, it makes it almost impossible to get anything done. But you have to do what you have to do. Both times the camera got yanked from my shoulder it got damaged and had to be sent in for repair. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

So far so good

I couldn't measure the tank properly last night. The wind was blowing and the wave action kept the level in a state of high fluctuation. Plus nearly a half inch of rain fell in the night, which would have raised the level at least half an inch, depending on how much ran in from the ramp. Also the tank was 3 feet from being full and doesn't reflect leakage when it's full. My best educated estimate is that it's leaking less than an inch, maybe even not at all. So full, it might leak up to two inches per day, decreasing as the level decreases. It's not likely that the leakage will increase. Normally, when the tank first fills is when the damage occurs, and then it stays constant after that. Unfortunately, I can't measure it tonight because I have to go to Alpine.

A little explanation here of how the system works, for those who are interested, and don't know. There are two arroyos that converge below the oasis before they run into a big steep canyon that isn't on my property. Sometimes one of the arroyos runs, sometimes, the other, and sometimes both (or neither). Since predicting which will run is not possible, it's kind of like Russian roulette. The smaller east arroyo runs most often, so I try to keep the water, that the two dirt tanks there collect, pumped into the stucco tank. It's plumbed for that. But I'm always risking the other (west) arroyo running, and with the stucco tank and other tanks full, the water will run away down the canyon, whereas, if the stucco tank wasn't full, the water would go into that tank and I'd still have the water in the dirt tanks.

But it's not as straight-forward as that. The dirt tanks wouldn't hold it for all that long anyway, and I would have to put gambusias in them to prevent mosquitoes, then watch the gambusias die when the tanks are empty. And they're empty long before I can use the water. If all tanks are full, I top them off from the dirt tanks until they're empty. Especially, when the stucco tank was leaking so bad. I couldn't catch enough water to keep it topped off. It leaked as much as the dirt tanks did. But if I leave the water in the dirt tanks, and that arroyo runs again before the west one does, then the water goes to the ocean, and hasn't helped my storage tanks one bit. So it's always a juggling act, requiring constant decisions.

The largest arroyo (on the west side) has two concrete diversion dams that divert the water into the storage tanks. Water doesn't go over the first dam until the big tank, and wildlife pond are full. This last rain ran enough that the big tank filled up, but didn't overflow the dam. The next rain will have no where else to go but over the first dam to the second dam, which it won't flow over until the stucco tank is full. It takes a quick hard half inch rain to cause the arroyo to flow. So by pumping the stucco tank full, the water will then run to the ocean if it rains and runs down the west arroyo only. The dirt tanks would  remain empty. It's early in the season and I'm not concerned either way. My big concern is having the tanks full and not leaking. Because I didn't start pumping water right after the rain, a lot soaked away in the dirt tanks and was lost, so I lack 21 inches of having the stucco tank full until the next rain, which is predicted for tonight. Not concerned. If I hadn't done any pumping, chances are a big rain tonight or tomorrow would have filled everything anyway. But it's not a chance I'm willing to take. A bird in the hand.......

I also will mention that I'd rather pump the stucco tank full than have it fill in minutes from the second diversion dam. More damage is done the faster it fills, plus where it runs in, it also soaks into the ground around and behind the tank wall.* And we all know that's not good. Additionally, when I pump the water in, it has already settled the dirt out of it, so puts less sediment in the tank that I end up having to haul out. And we all know how I hate that job.

A couple of days ago a critter used my hanging feeder for a piƱata. I glued (ShoeGoo) and taped it back together and hung it a foot higher. I think it was a bear. Found a black wiry hair (about 2" long) wedged in one of the feeder's fractures. I don't think a javelina could have reached the feeder. If this solution doesn't work, I'll go back to the metal bucket feeder and construct some kind of perches on the bucket rather than the platform it had that attracted doves and cowbirds, etc.


* Obviously, any huge rain will cause that to happen, whether the tank is full or not. Just saying my preference is to pump it full. I like enough rain to do that but don't like so much that it inundates everything, then after it's done its damage, it goes to the ocean. I do have a 3rd dam at the edge of my property that slows it down so some of it soaks into the ground on my place. I'm not set up to pump from that dam. It only fills when everything is already full, so no need.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Let the pumping begin

The water level didn't seem to have gone down enough during the night to warrant draining the tank and looking for leaks so, with much trepidation, I cranked up the pumps. Roaring engines in stereo. First, started pumping from the upper dirt tank to the lower dirt tank. Then simultaneously from the lower to the stucco tank. You can see my two patches in this photo.

Here it is six hours later. I hope to get done by dark, but probably won't.

I'll have to gas up the pump every two hours in the dark. I hate doing that. Not only watching out for snakes, but I can't see what I'm doing. Hard to pour gas and hold a flashlight at the same time. But I always manage. Here's a close-up of the action. Those frogs are clinging to a near-vertical wall.

Tomorrow at daylight will be the moment of truth. When I check to see how much the water level went down in the night. Scary!

The wildlife pond is happy. I treated it to the water backed up behind the upper dam in the arroyo. It doesn't hold there long, but gives the vegetation along the arroyo a good soaking. It had it for two days, so now the vegetation along the wildlife pond can enjoy it.

I feel so fortunate to have all this water. It could so easily be that Sunday's rain fell somewhere else, and I'd be in a dire drought here.

UPDATE: I turned the pump off at 9 PM. I think there's still enough water in the dirt tank that I can get the pump primed in the morning. The stucco tank is still down about 3 feet, meaning I'd be up until 2 or 3 AM. Getting too old. Can't do it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Finally home at CMO

I arrived around noon and rushed around trying to do the most critical things first. Servicing my hummingbird feeders took priority. The feeders I use (Dr JBs) are the best, but after a big rain, water gets in and overruns the internal baffles. Bees invade then. So I put out clean fresh feeders but didn't fill them since it's supposed to rain the next few days. (It's sprinkling now.)

Next, as I was checking the stucco tank, which fortunately only caught a few inches of water on the high end, but 4 feet on the deep end, I noticed a couple of bad places opening up on the wall. I think there's an area there where the cement is bad, maybe mixed with dirty sand, or too much moisture gets behind the wall. Anyway, it was crumbling. Not good. So I waded out and patched those. But I think the tank is leaking under the water level too. So I'm measuring it overnight (if rainfall doesn't mess up my measurements) and may drain the tank tomorrow, looking for leaks. I do not want to fill it and have it lose 3-6 inches a day like last year. And normally it doesn't leak when there's this little amount of water in it, so it's concerning. Early in the rainy season like this, I'm not worried about losing water. More worried about fixing the leaks. I'm sure with the tank full with all that tonnage, I'll lose some, but at least I'd like to keep it down to half an inch a day or less. Here's the tank. I put an arrow where the corrosion is. The photo might be confusing with the wall reflection under the water.

Next is a closer-up of the bad areas.

And last is a really close shot of the upper leak. I pulled off a chunk of stucco to see how bad it was underneath. Really bad. I stuffed it full of concrete patch.

If I was 100% positive the tank was leaking, I would have pumped it out today, but I want to get an overnight reading to be sure, because it's a pain to pump it out. The Drylok seems to be making a tough surface, but it can only do so much.

Luckily, the big tank is holding perfectly. I'd like to keep it topped off with water from the stucco tank until at least next March. This tank is the heart of the oasis.

The wildlife pond leaks bad; just holds water for wildlife. I don't ever pump from it. Whatever leaks from it, waters the nearby vegetation. If I pump out the stucco tank, I'll probably put the water in this pond. The cottonwood tree loves when this pond is full. It has roots right through the concrete and laps up the water. This pond also gets some really neat birds and dragonflies at it.

As I was hanging the hummingbird feeders, I noticed the tubs I had embedded in the citruserie had flooded and all my citrus had been totally submerged for nearly 2 days. So that was the next emergency operation. I just plucked them out of the water until I could do something more permanent. I'm thinking tomorrow I'll plant them in the ground and what survives, survives. The kumquat is the one I'm most concerned about, and my son has a big kumquat tree in his yard in Alpine, so surely, it'll survive here. I can maybe cover it somewhat during northers.

For today, I raised the containers a few inches in the ground so water won't run into them. I expected a little might. just never dreamed that two plus feet of water would fill the containers. I've always said this place is a work-in-progress. All trial and error, mostly the latter.

The recent rains have increased insect populations. I saw this large bee on the beebrush. It's twice the size of a honey bee. I don't know what species it is.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have time to find some butterflies that I don't recognize. That would be fun.

Monday, June 16, 2014

BIG rain at CMO

I'm not there so can't post photos, but my sister went and checked after last night's big rain and the tanks are all full. 1.5" of fast hard rain fell. I'm home free. Don't have to haul water, hopefully, ever again. I would rush down there except I have to go to the Davis Mountains tomorrow in the opposite direction to fill Kelly's hummingbird feeders. As soon as I do that, I'll head straight to the oasis and post photos of the water. Water. Water......

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Life bird today

The more lifers one gets, the harder it is to get more, since the number of species is finite. My sister-in-law, Dale Ohl, called me this morning from Marathon about a Red Phalarope there. I used to drop everything and run, but getting older, I had to think about it for all of 30 seconds. My husband didn't get a fresh salad for dinner, and the sheets I left in the dryer are a bit wrinkled, but I got the bird.

Dale Ohl, Heidi Trudell, and her husband, Matt York

As long as I was in Marathon, I dropped by Gage Gardens to look for butterflies and odonates. I saw quite a few of the latter, but haven't got many of them ID'd yet. I love Gage Gardens. It's a really special place.

Back in Alpine, I had to take a few pictures of the baby ducks. Because they're not babies anymore. They're more like teenagers, getting their adult plumage.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Snag Day

Bird photographers all over the world will want to kick me after reading this post. Why didn't I put out more snags a long time ago? I just got so tired of all my hummingbird photos having the bird on a feeder stand and not something natural, that a light bulb finally went off in my head. My snags are waving now.

Afterwards, I went to sit down and practice photographing birds on the snags, only to discover a Diamond-backed Rattlesnake had gotten there before me. I was momentarily startled, until I saw that he had eaten too large a meal, and was snagged in the chicken wire fence. He would either die there, or I would have to kill him and cut him out of the fence.* Glad it happened when I was here. I shudder to think of visiting birders happening upon him, dead or alive. Either way, they would lose interest in birding.

As I first discovered him
Close up because I could
After I cut the wire and freed him
Now I'm left with a hole in the fence, but that's fine. It's not needed anymore since I no longer use the area as a vegetable garden. It's now a hummingbird garden.

Back to my snags. Maybe I got carried away.

Test shot.

male Blue Grosbeak
I thought this spider had snagged himself a dragonfly, but looking at the photo, I think it's the other way around. I guess it's a female Flame Skimmer.

* In case you think that left alone the snake would digest the meal and slither free, I tried that once before and the snake died. I have removed all the chicken wire where the old garden fence was, except for a couple of short sections that I can't get to. I got all scratched and bloody in the acacia bushes just cutting this snake free.