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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rain is in the forecast

An old-timer birder, Pansy Espy,* always told Kelly Bryan that if you saw a cloud cap on Blue Mountain (between Ft Davis and Davis Mountains Resort) then it was going to rain. Well, we saw it this morning so I'm waiting for it to rain. Of course, I'm sure she didn't mean in the Christmas Mountains, but even the less reliable weather service is forecasting rain. They can't both be wrong can they?


By the looks of all the blooms around Alpine, you'd think it must have gotten lots of rain already, but that hasn't been the case. I can't find any butterflies around town since a little cool front arrived.

The monsoons will arrive, I'm not worried.
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*I was sorry to never have met Pansy before she passed away several years ago, but I did spend several months entering the birding data she left behind (those that included dates and locations) into Ebird, so I feel a special bond with her. In her days very few people kept any kind of bird sightings records, so I was glad for what I could glean from hers.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fun, fun, fun

Grim reminder of the fires a couple of years ago                                                

Got two lifers at the Davis Mountains Preserve today. Both Cloudywings. Here is the Desert Cloudywing...

And here is the Drusuis Cloudywing. Thank you, Brian for the IDs. Hopefully, I have them right. I didn't find the guide book very helpful on these two similar species.


No one can turn treasure into trash as easily as I can. Less than a week ago a Red Satyr was my treasure. Today I saw so many at the preserve that I couldn't stand to take another photo of one.


I didn't see any noteworthy odonates, but now that I've seen mating Plateau Spreadwings, I can feel that my life is complete.

Here is a shot of the female. To me it doesn't look like the female in the above photo, but what do I know?


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Life's coming at me fast

I wore myself out doing the work in the arroyo, so went to bed at 8 PM.....  always a mistake. As happens, I woke up at 3 AM and couldn't get back to sleep. So now I'm really, really tired but trying to stay up until at least 9 PM so I have more chance of sleeping through the night. I'm excited to be going dragonflying with Kelly tomorrow. I'm sure to get lifers, both odes and butterflies.

Banding this morning was a little strange. We started at CMO at 8 AM, on schedule, and my sister and her sons showed up to watch.


























Then as they were leaving an hour later, a group of naturalists from the Lower Rio Grande Valley arrived to watch. It was rather like giving a banding presentation twice, back to back. But it was fun. No complaints. Of course, I didn't do anything different. It was Kelly who did the "presentation." He seems to thrive on stuff like that though.


We had the fun of photographing this Neon Skimmer today. 

And this Southern Spreadwing

I saw the skimmer yesterday, but didn't ID it (it didn't perch), and the spreadwing I probably would neither have seen nor ID'd without Kelly. Hopefully, I'll learn these before I develop old age dementia.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Fun arroyo work

Got an unexpected day off from banding so decided to do some much neglected pruning and trail maintenance. After pruning along the road and lower arroyo, I decided to rework the overgrown arroyo trail between the upper and middle dam where we found the swampdamsel a week ago today (see July 21st post).

As usual, I forgot to take a before picture, but vegetation was making it hard to walk down the arroyo. Now that I know it can hold treasures, I wanted it to be more accessible, without reducing the vegetation. Not an easy task. I managed to keep the side pruning to a tiny minimum, and only removed two soapberry saplings from the middle of the path. The soapberries on the edge should grow over and benefit from the thinning, and make better shade for the path.

There was a problematic area where a bush had completely grown over the trail and rather than prune it back drastically, I determined to make the path go around it, which meant modifying a rocky slope. Here's the "after," looking east.



With pick and shovel, I removed the higher portion of the rock protrusion. The old path went under the bushes and across the rocks that you see toward the center of the photo. Those are hard bedrock and very difficult to chip away at, but I got enough of it out in the new section of trail that I can live with it, at least until a flood exposes it and I can chip out more.  (That rock was once volcanic slag.)

Below is the view looking west. As I was taking my pick, shovel, water, camera, and binoculars, from the work site, I had to pass the clump of basketgrass you see on the right side of the photo. Just as I came beside it, where the trail is pretty narrow, I heard the dreaded rattle of a rattlesnake. I know when you don't see the snake you should freeze and not move, but I've never been able to achieve that amount of discipline. I hastily launched myself away from the clump of basketgrass.


When I poked the shovel at the grass, the rattler departed, rattling as it went. On the left of the same photo is a soapberry sapling (somewhat larger than the ones I removed) that I was able to leave. You can see where the trail now curves to the right around the brush. It still goes up over that rocky outcrop, but I reduced its height a good 6 inches or more. And on the very left side of the photo, off the frame, is where we saw the swampdamsel. Here's a closeup of where I still need to whittle another 6 inches from the bedrock in the new section of trail.


And lest anyone is curious as to how one gets into the arroyo, here are the two "entrances."


I know the sunflowers are really wilted in the above photo but if it rains they'll perk up.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

You can see what I saw

I love Yellow-breasted Chats. Can't explain why, but they and Bell's Vireos are the two species that feel like indicator species for a healthy riparian Chihuahuan Desert oasis. Chats are so inventive in their calls, and always sound energetic and upbeat. The oasis is replete with them this year, to my great satisfaction.




























While traversing a barren area near the oasis I came upon this Globeberry happily clinging to a spindly Catclaw Acacia. Go figure!


Not often do I see a butterfly out in the middle of the water taking a drink.

Monarch
Or Red Saddlebags mating...






















Here's a Kiowa Dancer.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

My computerized world

This is what I saw when I turned on my computer first thing this morning.


Then when I logged onto Facebook, I was met with this.


I guess that's the payback I get for stating the other day that I can't live without modern technology, including my computer. So much for anonymity. On the bright side, I'm the youngest today that I'll ever be for the rest of my life. That's seeing my cup half full. Seeing it half empty, I'm the oldest I've ever been. Hmmm.... 

Enough of that. I managed to get away from the computer and phone long enough to snap a few photos. Here's a better shot of that Perezia Wrightii I posted yesterday. I love it when beautiful flowers bloom that have grown with no help from me.


 I finally got around to photographing where I fell Monday. The slope was wet as I went down with tread-less shoes. At the top of that skid mark you can see the cottonwood tree root that my tail bone landed on. Fast and hard, I might add. It still hurts, too.

I've taken and posted Palmer's Metalmark photos before but I especially like this one the way it has it's wings spread open like illustrations in the book sometimes do. And talk about emerald eyes, this jewel has them. Too bad the photo isn't sharper. Gotta work on that.

 There are so many dragonflies around that I'm totally overwhelmed with trying to ID them. Here's an example of one that I have no clue as to what it is. If I had to guess, I'd guess female Swift Setwing.

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UPDATE: Kelly thinks that last ode is a female Band-winged Dragonlet. Since I have no idea, I'll go with that.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hot and tired today

I arrived at CMO mid-afternoon when the temperature climbed briefly to 100,° needing a nap, but having to emergency water some plants that were looking a bit wilted. And once I start watering, I have a hard time not giving everything a little drink, so I'm dragging....

Late this afternoon, as I was driving the block from the oasis to the house, I saw an interesting plant alongside the road, so stopped (abruptly) and snapped a photo, hoping to ID it and see if it's good for butterflies. I posted these photos of it on the W TX Xeriscape Facebook group and they thought it was acourtia wrightii (commonly known as Brownfoot or Perezia). That's a new one for me. I'm always amazed by what grows here. I'm going to try for better photos tomorrow. The leaf edges are prickly, and it's not a milkweed.


I just wish I had the time and energy to see what else is growing on my place. I know there's bound to be some great stuff. Whenever I do get out and about, I find awesome plants.

One last photo. It's of some caterpillars that will turn into Bordered Patch butterflies.They're all over the oasis, not unexpectedly, since I had an infestation of them last year. Gorgeous butterflies, and there's no shortage of sunflower leaves for them to eat.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lifers are full of surprises!

Banding in the Davis Mountains today, I wore binoculars while manning the traps, as I always do. Trapping was slow, so when I noticed a butterfly land, I got my binos on it, and immediately recognized that it was a lifer. But lifer what? It had just perched for that one split second, and after retrieving my camera from the vehicle, I was unable to relocate it perching again. My instinct, based on seeing butterflies in the guide books daily, was that it was a satyr. For sure, I knew that it had four large spots only on top. Frustratingly, I couldn't get my iphone butterfly app to work.

Toward mid-morning, when hummers were not visiting the trap feeders much, Kelly sent me off to go look for butterflies, and I didn't argue. While looking, I chased a few butterflies, but all were foraging and none would land. I couldn't watch out for Rock Rattlers and butterflies at the same time, so chose to follow butterflies, and hope for the best. One butterfly I was pursuing, hoping it would land, finally lit long enough for me to snap one frame of it. I couldn't tell what species it was without binoculars, but neither could I photograph it without using the camera exclusively. Through the camera lens I thought it looked like a large skipper, probably an Orange Giant-Skipper. Afterwards, looking at the tiny camera monitor without my reading glasses, I still thought it was an orangish large skipper, not really having any idea what an Orange Giant-Skipper actually looked like. To my mind the color and size looked right for that species though. Throughout the time I prowled with my camera, I photographed several species of butterflies that I considered were probably common, but just in case they weren't, I wanted to document them. I reported to Kelly that I didn't get anything new, except possibly a skipper.

As soon as I got home to my computer, I snatched up my Kaufman's butterfly guide and went to the satyr section, intent to see if I could identify the probable satyr that I had sighted earlier in the day, before the memory of how it looked faded in my mind. Even though the illustration's color looked a bit off from what I remembered, the Red Satyr was the only one with just four large spots on top. I pretty much concluded, that was what the earlier unphotographed one was, plus the range for that species was right.

Kaufman guide illustration of Red Satyr

When I got my photos downloaded, I started culling the blurry ones out as I scrolled through them in preview mode, which I normally do. Sometimes, I've taken up to 200 photos, and like to get them more manageable before I try to ID them and cull them further. The final reduction takes place when they're enlarged in photoshop.  It's normal for me to end up with just 3 or 4 photos from a day's shooting.

Suddenly, on my screen appeared the butterfly I had seen, but thought I hadn't photographed. Yup, no doubt about it, a Red Satyr. I was just as surprised (#1) that I had ID'd it correctly without a photo, as I was surprised (#2) that I had a photo of it.





















Never before had I photographed the species I wanted, while thinking I was photographing another species, in this case, what I thought to be a giant-skipper. A giant-skipper would have been lovely too, but I would have forever wondered about the satyr that got away. This species should eventually show up at the oasis. Hopefully, I'll get a better photo of it then. But I can't complain. What with the short window of opportunity, and the blade of grass in front that usually messes up the autofocus, it's surprising (#3) that the photo is as sharp as it is.

This is my first lifer butterfly from the Davis Mountains, but it's not going to be my last, which will come as no surprise to anyone.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pictures of pictures

Stuck in town today and trying to get rested up. I'm run down and hurting from a fall I took a couple of days ago. Nothing serious, just wearing no-tread shoes going down a wet slope. Landed hard on my tail bone because I was trying to protect my camera instead of myself. Ended up getting the camera muddy anyway, but after I cleaned the mud off it, it was no worse for the wear. Now me, that's another story. So trying to take it easy because tomorrow is a heavy banding day. Growing old isn't for the faint-hearted.

Some nice person who once visited the oasis sent me this cool butterfly book. I think I'll really enjoy it.






































































I had fun today entering some old dragonfly sightings into the Odonata Central online database. I had half-heartedly set out to do it a couple of years ago, but now that I have a couple of good records, and that rare Cream-tipped Swampdamsel, I had to get serious about doing it. The site had seemed rather user-unfriendly, but now I dove in and mastered it, and even like it.


















Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gotta love the damsels

Kelly said I could post some of the odonate photos he took at CMO yesterday, so here are a few. The first is the Cream-tipped Swampdamsel.


Next is a Spot-winged Glider.


And a Double-striped Bluet.


And finally, a female Powdered Dancer.



Monday, July 21, 2014

Exciting new oasis species today

After banding at a couple of places south of the oasis today, Kelly and I came to the oasis to see what was here. At first it didn't seem very promising, but looking is still fun, like a treasure hunt. I decided to go back into the arroyo between the two dams (where the soapberry thicket is) and see if I could find any interesting butterflies. Kelly was photographing some odonates at the big tank.

Soon thereafter, I saw a different looking damselfly with a white looking tip on its tail. I wondered if it was an egg sac or some deformity. Seriously, I can be pretty dumb. Hey, just this morning I was photographing white sacs on this acacia branch (Cottony Cushion Scale, see yesterday's post).


































So you see things are not always as they appear to be, and I had abnormal white stuff on my brain. Anyway, I took several photos of the strange damselfly just in case, then got to thinking I should alert Kelly, just in case. I'd feel bad if I left, then later showed him the photos, and it turned out to be something rare that he really wanted to see and photograph. Besides, his photos are perfect and put mine to shame.

So I hollered for him. No answer. I hollered as loud as I could, hoping he didn't leave something awesome and come running for nothing. Or think I was snakebit or something. I don't recall ever hollering for him before. When I was about to give up and leave, I heard him near the arroyo, asking if I was in the arroyo. I told him I was, and shortly he carefully approached, at which time I pointed to the damselflies (I was eyeing a couple others that I couldn't ID either.)

He immediately recognized that the one with the white-looking tail was something unusual, and after he took a few perfect shots of it, he went to get his book and see what it was. I heard an exultant shout a few minutes later, by which time, I was dying to know what it was myself. Here's my pitiful photo of it.


 Only after Kelly told me it was a rare Cream-tipped Swampdamsel, a species only found in the US in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of  TX, did I allow myself to get really excited about it, too. Next, he wanted me to keep my eye on it while he went for his closeup lens, which I did. But when he returned and tried to get closer to the ode, it disappeared, not to reappear.

One reason my damselfly shots are so poor is because I have to shoot on manual focus. My autofocus feature won't focus on such small critters. Kelly's won't either, but apparently his eyesight is better than mine. Not to mention Kelly's superior camera and photographic expertise. Looking through the viewfinder, I can't tell if I have it in sharp focus or not. I'm just glad this first W TX swampdamsel species got good documentation, regardless of who got the best photo of it.

One of the other damsels was a Plateau Spreadwing. Another of my poor shots that I got to compare to his perfect one.


All and all, a fun afternoon.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back to normal

Whatever normal is. At least the electricity is back on. Every rain-less day that goes by makes me think how lucky I am to have gotten that one rain mid-June. I would be so miserable hauling water right now if not for that one random shower. I'm not under pressure to get my tanks topped off (yet), and still enjoying watering things better than if I felt the need to ration water.

This afternoon I really enjoyed spending a little time sitting beside my wildlife pond watching dragonflies, and absorbing the ambiance. Dragonflies are such awesome creatures. Even other insects are interesting to watch. This is some kind of wasp, I suppose.





















There's some weird white stuff hanging from a Catclaw Acacia bush. It was too high up for me to get a better shot at it, plus I was hot and tired so didn't feel like hauling a ladder. Tomorrow I'll try for a better photo, and maybe someone will know what it is. What they're not, are blooms. Maybe moth cocoons, or gall, or something.
























There's only one Bell's Vireo nestling left in the nest. I imagine the others fell out. If the nest had been predated, all four would be absent. (See post of July 14)

Weeks fly by and tomorrow starts another round of banding.
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UPDATE: That white stuff has been identified as Cottony Cushion Scale.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

POWER OUTAGE

I rushed down to CMO yesterday after helping band hummers in the Davis Mountains and finishing up some things I needed to do in Alpine. Got to CMO minutes before the power went out sometime around 4 PM. I was tired, hungry, couldn't water, couldn't cook, couldn't download pictures, couldn't use the phone, couldn't blog or check email. I tell you I was miserable.


It felt akin to what I imagine a claustrophobic panic attack would feel like. Too hot to sleep good. After 12 hours I beat a hasty retreat to Alpine. I'm not prepared for a life minus technology. Not sure I'd even want a life without technology.

Anyway, my sisters collected, and saved, a scorpion that had her back literally covered with babies, that they thought I might enjoy photographing before releasing. (Those are grains of gravel in the container with her. I didn't want them out of the photo bad enough to reach in and remove them.)

And here's an interesting looking bug I saw.

Two to three weeks ago Kelly got word from an Alaskan bander that there were no more Rufous Hummingbirds left in Alaska. They had all departed south. Now they're showing up here in Texas. We banded numerous ones yesterday, and I saw one guarding a feeder at CMO. I think they're about the toughest hummers in the US. Not only do they make the longest migration, but they defend feeders and won't let other hummers feed from them. But I put out plenty of extra feeders for the other species, not to worry.
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UPDATE: I found that bug near, or on, this milkweed plant, and I'm thinking it's a Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus).