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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Better than Sam Nail

I used to love to bird at the old Sam Nail Ranch in Big Bend National Park, but hated the long drive down there. It's sort of an oasis in the desert with a windmill that pumps a trickle of water most of the time. Dugout Wells is another such place in the park. But Sam Nail Ranch was closer for me.

Then when I built my own oasis I dubbed  the bench near one of my water features "the Sam Nail bench." It even faces east like the one at Sam Nail. Not a good choice of direction for either place,* since early morning birding is the best, and facing east into the sunrise isn't. But I still love my Sam Nail viewing area, and the birding is generally better at it than at the real Sam Nail.

"Sam Nail" bench (closest to camera) taken today

Closeup of water feature today

The next photo gives you a good idea of the size of my Chinese Pistachio trees, which are planted 12' apart. The new little one is in the front with the stake still attached. That's because when you buy them at the store they're so tall and spindly. Wish they weren't, but I don't anticipate buying any more. I'll be lucky to live long enough for these two to make a canopy of shade.


I think that dark shadow on the right corner is the madrone tree that the pistachios will hopefully shade some day soon.
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* I didn't construct the oasis with birding and birders in mind. Originally, just a desert oasis for trees and wildlife for my enjoyment. It (and I) evolved from there.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Final family day

Well, whew, hard to keep up, but I did pretty good today. Since they're leaving early in the morning and it's a long time until next Thanksgiving, I took them out the Agua Fria road to a swimming hole in Terlingua Creek that my son used to enjoy as a child. He hadn't been there since, so we took lots of pics. I won't bore you with many but I've nothing else to post today. Could not find any interesting wildlife or plants of any kind.



We actually did see a half moon in the sky above this moonscape but I didn't think to photograph it.

I have pictures of my parents and various other family members at this spot in the creek. I was going to dig up some from decades ago but couldn't find them, and too tired to continue looking. Maybe some other time. Meanwhile, more of the granddaughters.



And that was my day. I think Kelly is coming to do our hummingbird banding circuit Monday and Tuesday so that should be interesting.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday help

Got down to CMO last night with son and granddaughters. Put him to work first thing this morning. Just little odds and ends that I couldn't do by myself. Feels so good to have those chores done. He and the girls gathered me some sotol so I could finish my windbreak in the courtyard. You probably forgot all about that project, but it was literally staring me in the face whenever I entered the courtyard.



































Here's the sickly Mexican Elder tree I'm trying to protect. Next year by this time I expect it to look a whole lot better.


Also got Lee to help me move a seed feeder to where it can be enjoyed better by birds and people. I was able to handle it alone except for the heavy concrete base. Can't wait to start enjoying good birds there. Should have had it there those five months the Varied Thrush hung out in that area.


And have some impressive fall color these days.

Apricot tree

Chinkapin Oak



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving time so soon again

The older one gets the shorter the years are, because everything is relative. A year is now just another short blip in my life. My son surprised us with a painting he did. I was really surprised too. I had thought he had quit painting years ago.


I think he has quit, but years ago he promised to paint my husband a windmill picture, and I guess it was weighing on his conscience that he hadn't done it. He's always so busy. So he surprised us with it. But the oils weren't dry enough for him to do all he wanted to do before he visited for the holiday, so he may work on it again someday. Or not.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shades of autumn

Not much color going on at CMO, but then I did not plant based on what would make good fall color. My preference is evergreen year around.


The red leaves in the next photo belong to the one surviving Bigtooth Maple. The yellow, of course, is the cottonwood tree, also the only surviving one.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Short post on short day

Came down to CMO midday today. Having trouble with my eye. Vision blurry and shouldn't be. Will probably have to have some lasik tweaking done if it doesn't clear up soon. So depressing and stressful.  No one else has any post cataract surgery problems. I didn't on my other eye. More trips to Odessa in my future I presume. A price for living in the country.

Had birders here today, which was lovely. Lots of young sharp EYES to inventory the birds here. I didn't see anything interesting to photograph but took this photo just to be sure it was a Brewer's Sparrow since it was a lifer for the young man observing it with me. I was pretty certain it was a Brewer's, but with my eye such as it was, wanted photo documentation.


I think another reason I needed a photo was because to me it looked a little bright, like breeding plumage, and seems too early for that.  I'm not familiar with the various subspecies of Brewer's, so that might explain what appears to me to be a not-as-drab-as-usual individual. Anyone else have thoughts about that?

(On Mar 19, 2010 I posted a much drabber Brewer's Sparrow if you want to see how I expect them to look here.)

Nov 23: Here are a couple more shots of the bird that hopefully will help resolve the ID. I don't think a Chippie ever has that big white eye ring and pale lores. I would certainly like to know for sure what it is.


Nov 24 update: Experts have confirmed it as a Brewer's. I'm really glad to know definitively.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Alpine habitat vs CMO

The past ten years of creating a habitat in Alpine have really been difficult and frustrating. Our soil here is the most impervious clay there can be. The ponds hold water so good that a couple feet away from them the soil is rock hard. And nothing grows fast. We planted a couple cottonwoods some years ago and they're barely surviving no matter how much water we flood them with.

On top of that, deer strip everything, fences and cages notwithstanding. When I chased this deer away and examined the poor mulberry tree that has been struggling for many years, unlike those in the sandy soil at CMO that are huge, I see the deer chewed the twigs right off, even as far as 6 inches inside the cage. Alpine is overrun with deer. If you want a million bucks, this is the place for you.


Don't even get me started on the fire ants. And goat-heads that are so big they go right through the soles of my shoes.

CMO certainly isn't without its challenges, but the deer don't bother it (except in the record drought of 2011), no fire ants or goat-heads. And when the tanks don't leak, an awesome habitat with interesting and rare birds, butterflies, and dragonflies, is an exciting reality.

I can only survive Alpine because I have the oasis to go to for recharging my batteries. The first thing that I notice when I get there is the quiet. The magical quiet liberates my soul to breathe. It energizes my creativity. No stifling barking of dogs, nor oppressive trains with whistles screaming, night and day...... even now as I write this.

But I'm not complaining. I get a four-day vacation every week. Few people are so lucky. Meanwhile, I try to make the best of my time in town.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Madrone Project

Got inspired to work some more on the madrone terrace and retainer wall, even though it was really cold this morning. I have to work to stay warm on mornings like today. This summer while the project idled, two Mexican Buckeyes sprouted on the fill dirt behind the wall.


I figure they're as good as anything else for fast-growing shade for the madrone... if I prune them up as they grow. And they're native. And best of all, they're already planted, although not where I would have planted them had I had a hand in it. 

So, that means the project is done except I am still going to plant something of my choosing on the top, even if it's a flower bush. Preferably something evergreen. I left a hole and pot where I want to plant something. I'll  just go ahead and let the buckeyes provide the needed shade. Normally when stuff sprouts underneath the madrone I remove or relocate it, but since this is on the side that needs shade, and since it's an acceptable species, I'm going with it. I don't know what kind of symbiotic relationship it'll have with the madrone, but I have a small Gray Oak to the west of the madrone that should cover that need. The madrone is in the very center of this photo. As you can see, things are still pretty lush and green so far. The cottonwood and other deciduous trees have yellowed.


This next shot shows the pot where I'm going to put a plant. That's the stream on the right side. I built that out of concrete when I made the grotto water feature, but it's another of those things that don't get used. It's sort of an overflow now for the water feature, which I've posted tons of photos of in the past.

Madrone in upper left corner

Which sort of reminds me, I've blogged for over five years now and the last several days I've spent going through the 800 plus posts, doing a little tweaking here and there. I was really amazed at how some trees have grown. I see them so much I don't notice that they're growing. One isn't of course. That's the dead cottonwood tree. I'm enjoying burning cut up logs from it in the stove, even as I write this. This next shot shows one of the two buckeye sprouts. It's straight below where the pot is on this photo, nestled in a cubby-hole I made around it inside the "wall."

Madrone on left side

This last shot was taken from the "stream" on the east side of the madrone showing the madrone in front of the terrace wall. Hopefully, it'll thrive now. It may take a couple years before the buckeyes shade it. Meanwhile, other trees are growing in the vicinity and will provide more shade than they have been. Thankfully, I have plenty of water to ensure good spring growth.

Madrone on right side


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Orange Giant-Skippers from Marathon

When Brian visited CMO this fall he was working on some of his butterflies while there.  He raised these and has to process them when they're ready, no matter where he is at the time. Here is how one batch looked during that process. He's meticulous in his work, I might add. I'm not sure why the pupa cases are with the specimens on this first photo and not the second.


































I haven't seen these specimens since he left CMO but he sent me a photo recently of how they look now. I'm impressed.



To see one of these alive in Brian's hand check out my blog post for 9-14-14.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Extreme nature of nature

From lovely weather to a Blue Norther in a blink. I don't remember that happening before when everything was still so lush and green.

It was unbearable to contemplate my precious flower bushes freezing, so I rushed around until dark last night covering as many of them as I could, with anything I could find. Why, you ask? Good question. I guess just so I can enjoy them a few weeks longer. I know it's not realistic to think that I can save them until spring unless I was down here 24-7, which can't happen. If we hadn't gotten all that rain a few weeks ago, things might not have been (past tense here) so lush, thus not as painful to watch.




Even the lone hummer that usually hides out high in the trees is staying close to the ground near the most protected feeder. I couldn't get a sharp photo of it. I think the camera was too cold. Or maybe I was.

Female Anna's Hummingbird down low in Mexican Buckeye bush
It got down to 23° here last night. Now I have to stay here until danger of frost passes so I can uncover things. Maybe sometime tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cataract surgery selfie

Glad I only have two eyes and they both are now cataract free.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Freeze may be headed our way

We banded hummingbirds at Lajitas today. The impending cold (arctic vortex) likely won't freeze things there, so maybe I'll get another time or two to look for dragonflies there. We didn't look today because there were lots of golfers on the course, and for other reasons we needed to get back to town.

The place is full of blooms. This bush has been planted (along with innumerable others) near the motel units there. It's gorgeous with red tubular flowers, red-edged leaves, and maroon-colored berries on it, but I didn't know what it was called. Research has informed me that it's a Firebush (Hamelia patens), and adores hot weather, the hotter the better.


A very interesting plant. The fruit on it is acidic, but edible. (No, thank you.) Sometimes called Scarlet-bush. Hummingbirds purportedly love it. The leaves turn red as the weather cools, and it is very susceptible to freezes. So definitely a tropical perennial that I'll have to enjoy at a distance south of CMO.

There were a lot of ducks at Lajitas this morning. Quite a few of these. I thought they were scaups, but Kelly told me they are female Ring-necked Ducks. I'm terrible on duck identification. They were way far out in the middle of the lake so not a great photo, but rather interesting how the pink and blue-ish reflections on the water comprise about the only real color on the photo.


Before Lajitas, we banded at another of our banding sites where a visitor excitedly watched his first hummer being banded. This is my cell pic of him cell-videoing.


I must add that visitors are always welcome to watch the process and Kelly is incredibly accommodating to all. Not only are observers highly entertained, but so much is learned, too. Soon Kelly will be publishing the mind-boggling data that has been learned from this ten year project, as we wind down our seventh year now.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Slim pickin's these days

Not much of interest flying around. Had to lower my standards a bit. Here's some kind of lacewing, I imagine. It was so delicate and beautiful in person, like a miniature white, sheer fan. This photo doesn't do it justice.

Update: ID'd as the moth  Palpita quadristigmalis

Kelly and I photographed this dragonfly that he thinks is a female Black Setwing.


Tomorrow is Lajitas day for us. Hope we find something exciting there. While he was banding at CMO today I went off to get some errands done. I missed two good birds which we would have liked photos of. Such is life. Can't lay my camera down a minute. We saw one hummingbird here, but it was probably already banded and shunned the trap. Kelly was excited, though, to band a juvenile Lucifer Hummingbird at a site 3 miles from CMO. So the day was salvaged somewhat. This is the first year we've gotten Lucifers in November. Must be the abundant late monsoons gave them a chance to nest for the second or third time this year. Some of them seem newly fledged and some seem to have been fledged earlier this year, maybe in May.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Miscellaneous photos

Since there are no birds, butterflies, or odonates around, what with the cool weather and freeze in the forecast, I've been indoors organizing photos, and other indoor stuff. Here are some photos I had meant to post but didn't get time. These first three are from the Chili Cookoff taken in the early 1970s by Glenn George, and posted here with his permission.

Hondo Crouch
Carroll Shelby



































Wick Fowler

Next is a photo of how my healthiest Texas Madrone (arbutus xalapensis) looks recently. The best I've ever had a madrone look.


We have this little love seat in the sitting room in Alpine, which I love because it gives us more space (than the big sofa did) to bring our plants indoors in cold weather. But the seat was a couple of inches too low, so today I got hubby to raise it up a few inches. 

November 2013

November 2014


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hurricane Vance at large

It seems that everything these days is super-sized and at-large. There are even positions at-large and members at-large. In regards to the latter, according to eHow, "Unlike the board president, treasurer and secretary, a member at large most often does not have specific, assigned duties. Instead, the needs of the organization determine common duties and job assignments."

And hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere rotate counterclockwise; the Southern Hemisphere, clockwise. So much to learn, and so few years to do it.

All the way from Alpine this morning I fretted that I wouldn't make it up my big hill. Watching the rain and water on the highway wasn't encouraging in that respect, although I always love to get all the rain I can.

Elephant Mountain

Nine Point Mesa

Seeing a tractor trailer stuck along Terlingua Ranch road was even more unsettling. Figured I'd end up walking from the bottom of my big hill, but not without giving it my best effort to ascend with my pickup first. 


Then when I came to a river of water rushing across the road, I wasn't sure I'd even make it to my big hill. If that water had been any deeper I surely wouldn't have.


After slowly, ever so slowly, making my way through that (I dared not stop in the middle to take a picture of how high the water was on my pickup), I started stopping to put rocks into the bed of my pickup. I would need the weight to have hope of making it up the mountain. Using my newly discovered low gear, I barely made it up. I believe if the hill had been even one foot longer or steeper, I wouldn't have. It was touch and go there for awhile. The rocks won't go to waste. I have them piled up by my madrone project for use on it....one of these days. The rocks in the center of the photo are the base of the retainer wall I'm making to shade and cool the madrone tree from the south side. The rocks in the front are the ballast from my pickup today.


All my rain barrels were full and running over from the slow soaking over 3 inches of rain that Hurricane Vance gifted me with. I wanted to salvage some of the excess in case it rains again tonight or tomorrow, but could only come up with one feasible place to move the water to. That is the 3 thousand gallon tank at the guesthouse that got depleted recently when the toilet malfunctioned....... again.

But to move the water down there I wanted to be absolutely certain it wasn't running some of it into the house well. To be certain meant capping off the well (which hasn't worked for many years). I had tried and failed before, but today I rigged up a "cheater bar" for the big pipe wrench and got it done.


I'm ready for a nap.