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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Unbearable bears

Something is raising havoc at the oasis and I think it must be bears. Lots of ripe persimmons and when the acorns start ripening, I'm planning to tie up the branches so the bears won't break them.

When I arrived this morning a hummingbird feeder was on the ground and it wasn't the easiest one to reach. The ant guard came unscrewed, so maybe it fell on its own. But the seed feeder that was ravaged by bears once before is no longer repairable. I had hung it way higher after the last time, and thought it was safe.

The worst damage, though, was to the fiberglass barrier in the viewing blind. I'll have to put a new panel on there when I'm up to it. And bizarrely, a low hanging hummingbird feeder above the table next to the panel was untouched.

Now the mosquitoes are nearly gone, and after squandering a lot of daylight napping today, my knee is much better. I just don't sleep good in town, so have to catch up here. My madrone project is on hold for now, but doesn't have priority. As the weather cools off, and maybe more rains, with what I've already done, it should survive until I get to it.

Bear-proof now???                              
I came up to the house for an hour or two this afternoon and when I got back down to the oasis a bench had been tipped over and a nearby water hose had been chewed on. I had used the hose a couple hours earlier and sat on that bench. No wind today, so it's pretty obvious something beastly is hanging around. That about sums up my day.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Moving forward

If you're not moving forward, then you're moving backwards, since the rest of the world is moving forward, in theory. So after lying around a couple of days to see if my knee would get better, it felt a little better today. But as soon as I put it to work, it reverted back to how it was. At least it's no worse.

I didn't feel like I should do a long excursion since I have to go to the oasis and water tomorrow, so I went to Marathon to the Post and Gage Gardens. There were oodles of Pearl Crescents at the Post, which was a new butterfly species for me. There were so many, and they looked so much like Vestas, that I didn't spend enough effort, like I should have, to get a better photo.

And here is a spider getting ready to eat a damselfly, maybe a forktail.

It appears to be a bad day for forktails. Here's a Rambur's Forktail that seems to be eating another Rambur's Forktail. All bad photos. The damselflies are tiny and hidden back in the vegetation. It's very difficult to get a decent shot.

Here's my second ever C Streaky-Skipper. I got a better look and photo than I did on the first one (see post of Aug 23).

After leaving the Post, I limped along this trail at Gage Gardens to the pond.

This dragonlet near the pond was one I had trouble IDing, so have sent it off to the experts. It seems it's a Plateau Dragonlet.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I tried

Leg no better, but I took some ibuprofen and decided on a short foray to the outskirts of Alpine. Found a place with some bushes blooming, and immediately was overwhelmed with about every weed I'm known to be allergic to. Couldn't find allergy medicine in my vehicle, so had to leave. Only got a few quick photos before breathing took priority. I guess these are some kind of baccharis or something.

And here's a lovely fresh Common Buckeye.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Not a great day

I drove down to the oasis at daylight and started watering my trees. Usually, that's the best way to recharge my batteries and de-stress. Today was awful. My knee hurt really bad. Still no idea what caused it to be swollen when I woke up yesterday morning. I'm sure doing Modesto Canyon yesterday didn't help either.

Then the mosquitoes were unbearable. I persevered and got the trees all watered in about 5 hours. Thereafter, I figured if I was going to be miserable anyway, I might as well go back to town, so that's what I did.

Photo taken after I turned off the pump while the line was finishing draining.
While I was at the oasis watering and doing the feeders, I pumped the remainder of the water from the dirt tank to the stucco tank, bringing the level up to a few inches below the full point. I hate that it loses two inches a day, but I should still be fine until next summer's rainy season.

I guess water mites are an epidemic this year. Here's a Red Saddlebags dragonfly loaded with them.

That's about all the photos for today. Tomorrow I'll go somewhere without mosquitoes and see what I can find.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Parasitized damselflies

Modesta Canyon Trail (1.75 miles)

The hike into Modesta Canyon features permanent springs and pools, fascinating geology, and a rich display of flora and fauna. Here you’ll find huge madrone trees, majestic southwestern chokecherries, and some of the largest Tracey hawthorns in the state. Over 17 species of ferns are found tucked into crevices along the canyon walls. This 1.75 mile, moderate to difficult hike, is a favorite for those who love plants and birds.

I visited Modesto Canyon again today, but this time went mid-morning. The mosquitoes drove me away quicker than I had intended. Instead of eating my lunch by the big madrone tree as planned, I ate it while hiking out. So I didn't get the dreamed for photos, but did snap some of damselflies infested with [red] water mites.

Researching the situation I found this information, so it's a little reassuring. 

 "water mite parasitism does not reduce damselfly survivorship, but it could reduce male mating success in some circumstances."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Paid vacation, sort of...

Kelly had visiting banders from the east, Bruce Peterjohn (chief of the Bird Banding Laboratory at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD), and Fred Bassett of Hummingbird Research, Inc. So I went along with them doing Kelly's normal banding circuit, but instead of trapping and helping set up, record, etc., I just played. Works for me, sort of... 

When we got to Lajitas I went off looking for odonates and missed the chance to photograph a hybrid Black-chinned they trapped. 

It wasn't easy to get the three master banders to sort of pose for me.

Left to right: Fred , Bruce, and Kelly

A priceless moment to observe was when a little girl watched Bruce banding a hummingbird as if she was skeptical that he wasn't hurting the bird.

Afterwards, Kelly put the bird in her hand. A picture is worth a thousand words.

The last two photos courtesy of  Laura Gold. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Another busy day of mostly play

I love this expression that I read today. "Irrational optimism is waiting for rain in the desert."

A birder friend, Carl Milliken, came by the house in Alpine to photograph a male Rufous Hummingbird this morning.

After I got caught up on housework, I headed toward the hummingbird festival in Ft Davis. But since I was running an hour early, I impulsively decided to stop along the way at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. Maybe there would be flowers at the visitor's center with butterflies on them. At the center I remembered some festival participants raving about Modesto Canyon. I had never been to the canyon.

The personnel at the center assured me I could easily do it in an hour. So another impulsive decision. One impulsive detour I could have gotten away with, but two was pushing it. What I forgot to mention to the personnel is that I would for sure get distracted here and there photographing butterflies and/or dragonflies. So it seemed I just got to the canyon and had to make a mad dash (arduous climb) back to the car. 

big madrone tree
I arrived at the festival just as Kelly was starting his awesome Lucifer Hummingbird presentation. I don't think people realize what a treasure that presentation is. A lot of research and knowledge went into it, plus he's amassed some unique photos. He must tweak his presentation as he discovers more, because every time I watch it I learn more fascinating state-of-the-art stuff.

Back at home I downloaded the pitiful few photos I took during breaks to catch my breath climbing out of the canyon. One was a lifer Common Streaky-Skipper butterfly, a species that has been a nemesis for me. Brian isn't available this weekend, but I feel certain that's what it is.

The damselflies are more difficult to ID. I'll post a photo of one that I think is a Golden-winged Dancer, but that species would be rare for Jeff Davis County, so I'm probably wrong. Still....

I'd go back tomorrow but it's closed on Sundays.  Back in Alpine a lone freshly fledged Barn Swallow let me get real close to it, but my camera wouldn't focus that close, so I snapped this with my cell phone.

UPDATE: The damselfly has been identified as a female Springwater Dancer. At least I got the Dancer part right.

Friday, August 22, 2014

My day today

Enjoyed the visit of the 18 festival participants today. Just so hard to show them everything and answer all their questions in the short amount of time they're here.

After they left I decided to get a quick odonate fix at Lajitas. Got as far as Study Butte and was sure I had left a faucet running back at CMO, so I turned around and went all the way back. No faucet was left on. I hope I learned a good lesson from all that, but I never seem to.

Not to cheat myself out of my fix, which need was getting more urgent after all that, I persevered and went back to Lajitas.

I did enjoy my hour of photographing dragonflies even though the temperature felt like at least 100°  by then. No real interesting species, but I'm trying to get more familiar with the common ones so that I can better recognize a new one. Here are a couple of common ones from today. I hope I have them identified correctly. It sure took all my willpower to get to Alpine from Lajitas without falling asleep at the wheel.

Blue-eyed Darner

Marl Pennant

The stucco tank lost one inch in 12 hours, so it's leaking 2" per day, as I expected,  but at least topping it off didn't cause it to spring a big leak. That's the amount it had been leaking. Could be worse.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A fruitful day with multiplying water

Pumped water all day, getting it to places where it will last longer.

There's water left over in the lower dirt tank, which holds pretty good. I measured the stucco tank level at 7 PM and will measure again at 7 AM, the moment of truth. I will then know how much it loses per day when it's full. Scary! I think optimistically it will be down an inch by 7 AM, which means a loss of 2" per day. While I would prefer half that, I will have to live with whatever it is until I can locate and patch the leak(s) this winter. Last year it leaked about 6" a day when full, so I know this is a great improvement, but it's still hard to watch it leak. The lower dirt tank loses about 3" a day, so at some point water is better off left in there.

While I babysat the pumps today, I worked a little more on my madrone project. The hole is half filled and when I get it filled, then I'll start making the ground higher into a slope. On this photo the dead yucca blades are the part that still needs filling in, which will cover the dead yucca. It's not a difficult project, it's just that my body isn't young anymore and wears out too fast. But there's no hurry. Every bit helps.

I believe this is the third time this summer that water has stood in the arroyo where the little soapberry thicket volunteered to grow (after the dam started backing up the water there). The thicket still hasn't recovered from 2011, but it's getting there. 

The year is a little over half over and I've had half my average annual rainfall, so it's all good. Here's a photo I took of the house several days ago when no rain fell.

And here is a photo taken by John Wells, from his place ten miles to the west of me, yesterday when I got all that rain, and he didn't get any. The photo is looking toward the clouds obscuring the Christmas Mountains that I got rain from.

I think the reason I couldn't find any butterflies, birds, or dragonflies to photograph today is because with all the daily rain around the area, everywhere is a wet oasis, therefore wildlife disperses.

The Davis Mountains Hummingbird Festival is this weekend and tomorrow two big van loads of participants will be descending upon the oasis early in the morning. I hope they get to see a male Lucifer Hummingbird  while they're here. I've only seen one hanging around, off and on. The others have probably migrated already.

Since I won't have to water, or pump water, I'll be able to attend the festival on Saturday. Obviously, my life isn't geared toward a rigid schedule.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Great rain at CMO (updated)

It rained in the area of CMO, but I'm in Alpine, so don't know to what extent. I'll go down in the morning and hopefully have my tanks full, or at least some water to pump. A mile north of CMO got nearly half an inch and three miles south got nearly 1.5" so I'm optimistic. Been getting heavy rain in town.

UPDATE: Kelly was sure that per the radar I had to have gotten a bunch of rain, so I couldn't think of sleeping without knowing. Drove down in the middle of the night and was not disappointed. Got a perfect rain. Not enough to damage the road, which is good since a lot of birders are coming Friday with the festival tour here. And not so much that after it damaged the road it ran to the ocean and didn't give the ground the benefit of a good soaking. So I got .85," most of which soaked in, but just enough ran to fill the upper dirt tank and upper settling pond. The only tank that has room for me to pump the water into is the stucco tank. And I'll have enough to top it off and some left over. Will start the pumps at daylight, and if all goes according to plan, I should have the water relocated in 8 hours. Hope the stucco tank doesn't spring a leak getting that extra pressure put on it, but I have to test it sooner or later.

I have to mention that it's great to have my own personal weather man, who's also a bird and odonate expert. Yes, Brian, you're still my personal butterfly expert. No one can replace you on that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lajitas continuation

Yesterday Kelly and I roamed around the stream and lake at the golf course in Lajitas looking for certain dragonflies. Our fun was cut short by threat of lightning and rain. I took some photos with my iphone but for some reason can't download them to my computer at CMO. So now I'm in Alpine and wanted to share the photos.

Threat of lightning and rain isn't what drove us away. It was lack of odonates under those conditions.

Got a good rain in Alpine this afternoon. CMO will surely get some one of these days. Haven't had a good rain there in over two months.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Down the food chain

I dragged Kelly to Lajitas today to look for dragonflies. Well, he didn't exactly go kicking and screaming. But rain threatened so we only had a couple of hours to look. But I shall return soon. Here's an Eastern Pondhawk chowing down on a blue colored damselfly. It's not unusual to see a bird eating a dragonfly.... I posted a photo of that some time back, but never one of a dragonfly eating a damselfly. Looks like there's an extra wing there somewhere that obviously belongs to the damselfly. It's probably a Familiar Bluet. They're the most numerous.

A few other odonate photos from today, though did not locate my growing list of target species, namely, Halloween Pennant, Bronzed River Cruiser, and that Leaftail species.

Kelly tells me the next one is a Rambur's Forktail. I'm really confused on the damselflies. My photo archives are so mislabeled it's pitiful. Maybe someday I'll get better at this and be able to label them more accurately. I'm so lucky to have Kelly teaching me. Otherwise, I would have given up. He's incredibly patient.

Male Rambur's Forktail
Female Rambur's Forktail
And this next one is a Desert Forktail, I believe.

And last, but not least, I'll post a butterfly for Brian. I photographed several today, but all were common species. This is a Western Pygmy-Blue, a very tiny species.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Never on a Sunday

The weather map shows rain all around me, but none here. Surely I'll get my turn soon. I put a red circle in the vicinity of where CMO is.

Sunday is not a good day to go to Lajitas, I discovered. Lots of golfers. And while I was so far away from them that I didn't concern myself with getting hit by a ball, some of them were concerned that they'd hit me and asked me to move. So I didn't look for odonates near the golf course like I had intended, but off in the underbrush by a stream alongside it. I changed strategy and looked in the morning when it wasn't over 100° instead of in the heat of the afternoon. Whatever the reason, I didn't locate my two target species.

But I did get a lifer, sort of. It's a leaftail species, just not a good enough photo to tell which, so I can't count it. All the more reason to go back and get a better photo. Not that I need any more reasons to go back. Any leaftail species would be a lifer for me. Here's my poor photo of either a Five-striped Leaftail, or a Four-striped Leaftail, neither of which are rare. When I get home I always kick myself for not trying harder to get better photos.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Madrones and ramblings

I figured out a way to get the dirt behind the madrone tree without crawling under the bushes. I carry the bucket of dirt around to the other side of the tree, stepping on the edge of the water feature,  plus I propped a bush out of the way. Still slow going, but every bucket helps the tree a little more. I'm not sure if it's because of madrone's symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi, or just to keep the roots cooler. Anyway, I guess the fungi does better that way.

Here's the other madrone that has had the man-made (woman-made) south slope for over 15 years. This photo was taken from the opposite side from the one I posted yesterday. So you can see why I'm making a slope for the other madrone. Just hope it does the trick.

Even though I've had twice as much rain already this year as I had in 2011, it's still only a third of normal rainfall. But we're forecast for rain, so I'm ever hopeful.

It's hard to force myself to water the trees when rain is forecast, but if I don't, then I won't have time to water them before I have to go back to town if it doesn't rain. And it's also hard to water trees when I keep wanting to go to Lajitas and look for the Halloween Pennant. Plus someone photographed a Cruiser species of dragonfly that I've never seen. Well, sort of, never. I think I may have seen it yesterday, but it flew before I could get a photo. I am going back in the morning, but really had the urge to go today.

I think it's so awesome to be able to visit Lajitas and Gage Gardens (Marathon) that take way more resources to create than I could ever do. Millions of dollars. Even though the justification for creating them is probably to give their hotel guests something to do while they're visiting, or so more people come to their hotels, or golf course, it's still a treasure. 

While taking a short rest, I watched this ant carry a feather for a long ways. Over the pink rock (upper right in first photo) was just part of its journey, wherever, for whatever. I ran for my video camera but when I got back it was gone. Probably a gust of wind helped it along its way.

During another rest break I watched a Verdin building a nest. It was working at lightning speed, all over the nest. Since I finished my nest building in 1979, I can more readily identify with the ant these days than the Verdin.