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Monday, March 30, 2015

The color purple

Today a delightful couple from Houston visited, Kevin and Emily McGowan.

All this month, ever since the Lucifer Hummingbirds have arrived, I've been bedeviled by the gorget color of either one individual, or something in the air causing all the males to look more purple at times.

Kevin is a photographer, though not a bird photographer, and while he was here he captured a bunch of images of the particular shade of purple that I've been obsessed with this month. He most generously allowed me to post one of his photos here. This bird is obviously banded, so I would think if it had a different color gorget, Kelly would have noticed. I do realize that gorget feathers aren't colored, but their color is a result of the light. As one author on the subject stated:

Hummingbirds aren't the color that they appear to be. That is, their feathers contain a pigment that is one dull color. The pigment is melanin. The colors that you see, such as blues, greens and reds are a result of several things including: 1) diffraction of light due to the regular spacing of the particles of melanin, interrupting certain colors; and 2) absorption of the remaining colors by the pigment

OK, I get it. But what is it about this month, or this particular bird, that makes it look so blue-purple regardless of the lighting, or angle?

Photo courtesy Kevin McGowan

Here is what they look like in previous years.

The only thing I can figure out is this March has been more humid than normal and maybe that's the difference. Perhaps by the time the summer rains arrive the gorgets are more worn, thus not as sensitive to humidity. A lame hypothesis, but all I can come up with unless there's just something different about one particular male's gorget feathers that refract light different.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Broad-billed Hummingbird briefly at CMO

Luckily I had my camera in hand, otherwise, too bad, so sad! I saw it on the honeysuckle late AM. Since we banded yesterday and only had Black-chinneds and Lucifers, I assumed it was either of those species. The first thing I noticed was the eye line, so figured it was a Lucifer. An eye line eliminated Black-chinned. Hidden by the honeysuckle and dodging among it quickly, I never could get a good look, but did think, if it was a Lucifer, it was a very dusky one. It made no sound at all except quiet wing-beats. I looked through my binoculars and saw green on the flanks. Couldn't be a Lucifer. Must be an Anna's. About the time I decided to photograph it, it flew to a nearby perch and started wiping its bill. As soon as I spied the tail, I knew it was a Broad-billed, even though I had not seen a speck of red on the lower mandible. The hummer soon disappeared, not to return. Only after enlarging this photo did even a trace of red show up.

Here's what Kelly says about the species here in W TX:

Broad-billed Hummingbird – {Below 7,000 feet} Through 2003, when this species was removed from the Texas Review List, over half of the accepted records for the state occurred in the West Texas region. Spring: Rare but regular visitor to the region beginning as early as March; Summer: reported nesting along the Rio Grande in the mid-1930s; however, the presence and documentation of multiple males, females and newly fledged juveniles in the Davis Mountains in 2008 and 2010 has finally confirmed the species nesting in Texas; Fall: much rarer than in spring; Winter: accidental, primarily in the El Paso area; first winter record for the Big Bend area obtained in 2014 with a female observed and photographed on 1 January, captured and banded on 8 January, and last observed on 18 January. Very scarce during the drought of 2011/2012.  

Honeysuckle at CMO
The only other Broad-billed I've had at CMO was a young male intermittently during the month of May 2006. I imagine they aren't that rare here if you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. And in January 2014 there was a female at Lajitas (click on Broad-billed HU in index at right).

While I watched for the BBLH to return, I photographed a Black-chinned feeding in the honeysuckle.

The redbud tree is in full bloom. Shot one Henry's Elfin butterfly in it but mostly focused my attention on the honeysuckle today. I'll try for the BBLH again in the morning and if I don't see it by about 9 AM, I'll give up on it.

Henry's Elfin in Mexican Redbud tree
I did see a couple of odes today. Familiar Bluets, I think. But they were foraging out over the water and there was no hope of me catching one to scan. Soon though.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

First spring banding day

We headed south to band hummingbirds without really knowing what to expect. It turned out good. At CMO, since the ocotillo weren't blooming there yet, the hummers seemed to be dependent on the feeders. By shortly after daylight we had captured 14 hummers. All but three were recaptures (previously banded) and one banded Lucifer female was gravid (with egg). I expect a great crop of "hummerlets" this year.

In the above photos Kelly is taking advantage of natural light to take measurements on one impatient subject. A very delicate operation, for sure. Note blue covers over all feeders except those inside the two traps. That greenery is mallow that I'm allowing to remain for the butterflies. At some point it might become a snake hazard that I'll have to mow or pull out. Always a work in progress. The acanthus bushes haven't greened up yet, nor have the mallows bloomed.

We stopped by Far Flung Outdoor Center to check there for hummers but didn't see any. The flowers there were impressive though. The owners have created a beautiful place there. Flowering vines were everywhere....

I don't know what the vines are. Below are some succulents covering large areas of the ground. I don't know what they are either. (Pictures today via my iphone.)

Far Flung is at a lower elevation and things bloom there before CMO. Also they have lots of employees working on the grounds all the time and plenty of water. I love to see what beauty man can create. Like Gage Gardens in Marathon, or the resort at Lajitas. Or, in its small way, CMO.

UPDATE: Marlin Andrus ID'd the flowers. The top one is Lady Banks Rose and the bottom one is Ice Plant. Thanks Marlin. Hope you come back for a visit soon.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A long day

Got up at 5 AM and arrived at CMO before daylight. Did what I could in the dark, then when it got light out I finished filling feeders, then watered a few things before heading back to town to take my husband to the doctor. About a month ago he pulled a muscle in his neck and goes for steroids and whatever. Glad I'm never going to get old. My son is out of town so I had to go get his wife a prescription last night. They know me well at the prescription shop.

I need to go back to CMO and water things thoroughly. This time of year I start watering twice weekly, but I haven't even watered once in the last week. Tomorrow I'll ride down with Kelly to help him band. I've been having birders visit nearly daily, but haven't been able to enjoy sharing the place with them either. At least they're still getting to see the Lucifer Hummingbirds. Soon that'll end when the ocotillo start blooming.

I didn't have time to look for flowers and butterflies. I saw where the javelina (I presume) tried to dig up the seed feeder, but I think I have them thwarted. I hope.

Notice the 3 stakes where they were digging (The center one is like a long bolt and the outer ones are rebar. I scrounge around for whatever I can find).

I hurriedly took photos of two white flowers because I had thought they were both Bicolor Mustard but after looking at similar white flowers posted on West Texas Xeriscape Gardener's facebook page, I question my ID. I'm getting confused now (for the first time ever in my life) and wondering if this first one is Spectacle Pod. 

And this other one I now see is different so I have no idea what it is.

When I get the white flowers sorted out and labeled, I'm going to tackle the yellow ones. There are well over a dozen different species of them. 

Not sure how many purple species, but at least half a dozen. It'll keep my busy, OK overwhelmed, until dragonflies start showing up. Still none yet.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Around Alpine today

Getting restless stuck here in town. Gonna have to head south soon. Prowling around town I enjoyed seeing this cool car at the Sul Ross campus.

In front of the university there's a cactus garden. Not much going on there. I photographed a few of the cacti, but none were blooming. I've forgotten the names of them now. I think this was some type of pincushion cactus.

On our patio the pansies are looking good.

And there are lots of these wildflowers where bluebonnets will soon bloom. They look somewhat like phacelia but I don't know what they are.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Along the highway

Lots of flowers everywhere including between CMO and Alpine. Here are a few I shot along the way. I had the urge to stop more often, but I've learned that I never get where I'm going if I do that. For one thing, I drive slower, really slower, if I'm anticipating stopping. There were lovely Wild Rhubarb / Canaigre Dock (Rumex hymenosepalus) growing near Elephant Mountain.

Endless patches of verbena and mustard. Here's some I think are mustard.

And a few days ago I mentioned the cottonwoods being half-leafed out along Calamity Creek. Stopped and grabbed a photo today. I'm pretty sure these are the AZ cottonwoods (Populus fremontii var. mesetae), which are the most common cottonwood in the county (Brewster). They're nearly fully leafed out now.

 My cottonwood (Eastern) still looks like the last shot of it I posted. But many of my trees are greening up in the last couple of days. I'm getting really exciting about the upcoming spring, summer, and fall.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Trash to treasure

Years ago I sold a piece of land to my brother. He, with the help of my late husband, built a concrete foundation for a cabin there. Then my brother moved away and it sat there until I finally bought the land back from him. I owned the pad whether I wanted it or not. NOT!

I never went up there for various reasons but today I decided to look for wildflowers up high and it was an easier walk up that washed out driveway than bushwhacking. When I got to the pad I thought it would be nice to take a photo of it for posterity. (The emotional memories from there have mellowed through the years.) While looking for the best angle I noticed lots of trash and rotting wood around it. So I walked down the driveway and somehow got my pickup up the steep, gullied drive. As I was loading it full of the trash I turned over an old piece of wood, unearthing this Texas Banded Gecko. I don't recall ever seeing one of those before. It was just as cute as it could be.

Another reason I went up there was to look for a potential Peregrine nest. My sisters and I have been hearing them screaming along the bluff (right side of photo) but so far I've been unable to locate a nest.

When I got back to the house I went online trying to ID the gecko. The only photo that looked like it was from a 1997 article, "Trash Heap Treasures," referenced on someone's blog. It said they frequent trash dumps.But it just called them Banded Geckos and nothing specific. Kelly promptly ID'd it for me. Here's a photo of the mountain I'm monitoring. My sisters call it Turtle Mountain.

I was going to crop off the bottom of the photo but decided to leave it on so you can see my scope set up in the bed of the pickup. I did see a couple of Aoudad on top, and I saw Peregrines aplenty, just not at a nest. They may be courting, or nesting on the other side, or not nesting yet. On April 4th a biology class is going to look for Lucifer Hummingbird nests up that mountain, so hopefully they can find the Peregrine nest.

There are flowers everywhere, of course, what with a record wet year so far, and I can't even begin to ID them.  This one got ID'd by helpful people on a Facebook group. It's Phacelia coerulia. One of the common names I've found for it is Skyblue Scorpionweed or Blue Phacelia.

Oh, almost forgot. My friend, Bonnie Wunderlich took this photo of  Bluebonnets at Big Bend Ranch State Park yesterday. Thank you, Bonnie, for allowing me to share your photo.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Another rainy day

This morning I was real eager to get to CMO, but once I got here it misted, sprinkled, or rained most of the day. That's good,of course, but disappointing when you're wanting to go look for flowers and butterflies and such. There was about an hour break where the sun almost came out. I hurried outdoors into the well-washed air.

W Corazone Peak

Found a few interesting flowers and one Mexican Metalmark before I had to give it up and come indoors.

The above photo was taken with my little Lumix camera because it's hard to climb around on the wet rocky terrain with my big canon. I went and got the canon after taking this photo, but never could find the butterfly again. My goal was to find Rigida Paintbrush. Didn't find any, but found some awesome flowers, including this gorgeous Lyre-leaf Twist Flower. Maybe tomorrow I'll go back with my big camera and try for better shots. It's supposed to be warm and sunny tomorrow. I'm ready.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Wet spring forecast

All over Alpine these "weeds" are blooming. I don't remember ever seeing them before. Brian thinks they're some kind of cordyalis.  He knows way more about plants than I ever will. I googled, and the closest thing I could find that looks like these is Cordyalis aurea (Golden Coryalis). I wonder what other wonders will sprout this spring.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Exhausting day

I got up at 5 AM and headed out for Odessa to my early morning eye doctor appointment. Skipped breakfast (normal for me) and too tired to do much about lunch. My pickup was in the shop for an oil change. I had expected to get it and head to CMO when I got back to Alpine. Since we got half an inch of rain, I knew my feeders would be covered with bees.*

Well, the shop called before I got to Alpine and told my husband some drive shaft carriage was missing and I couldn't drive it. They ordered one, and it might be ready in a couple of day. I decided to drive the car to where the blacktop ends and have my sister pick me up from there. That worked great except I didn't have transportation at CMO and I was exhausted. Additionally there was a little water that had run into the settling pond that I wanted to transfer to a storage tank. I'll skip all the tedious details, but I ended up making four trips up to the house for one thing an another, besides getting wet... and more exhausted. Couldn't get the small pump that I worked so hard to set up to work, so had to lug by foot a big heavy pump and hoses. I'd use the expression, "it ate my lunch, " except I hadn't had any lunch. Finally got the big pump going. It sucked all of the water out in a mere hour, but water is water. Waste not, want not.

The cottonwood is starting to bloom. Those at Lajitas are fully leafed out and lush. Even half way between Alpine and CMO at Calamity Creek the cottonwoods are half leafed out. But, that's just the way it is every year. My cottonwood is later than everywhere else in S Brewster Co, it seems. Not a trace of green on it. It is an E Cottonwood and the others in the area are either Rio Grande or AZ Cottonwoods, so I'm sure that has something to do with it.

The feeders were covered with bees. Sometimes I try to recycle the sugar solution in them, but today, I just dumped it out and started over. Too much hassle without my pickup. As it may rain again this weekend, I just filled them half full. The Lucifers are still coming to the feeders since the ocotillo nearby haven't started blooming yet. Some birders came to see them today but the birders had left before I got here. I hope they saw them. Surely they should have. I had no trouble seeing several. Here's one rather pale female. The male displayed (courtship) to her down in the bushes for a long time but I couldn't get a shot at her until she came and perched by the feeder.

The honeysuckle are about the only thing blooming in my hummingbird garden, but it won't be long now.

* All hummingbird feeders get covered with bees here except the Dr.JB, which only get covered after a rain when the rain water overruns their internal baffles.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The winds of March

Even windier today but I persevered and got my priority tasks done. Like it took me two hours to prop up a yucca, that was falling across a path, with no one here to hold the yucca up while I positioned the prop.

Then I had to do some work where javelina are determined to get into the big seed feeder. I don't want to pour concrete if I don't have to, so I drove nine rebar stakes around the edges where they dig under. First I had to level it. They had dug under the front side causing the feeder to tip precariously. Instead of raising it back out of the pit they dug, I dug down the back side to level it. Then I had to haul more dirt in. Now the feeding port is sitting on the ground, but that's fine. I don't have to lift the seed quite as high to fill it, and the base is down into the ground farther than originally. I don't think they can undermine it now. We shall see.

I was determined to see the other Golf Ball Cactus (mammillaria lasiacantha) bloom today so walked over to where it was. It was finally blooming. I had wanted to photograph it by a penny so you could see how tiny it is, but I forgot the penny. So I tried to hold my hand beside it but the result looked like I had my hand on the camera lens (I've done that too, especially with my iphone) even though it was actually lying on the ground beside the cactus.

So, not to be thwarted, I went back and got a penny. And you guessed it, while I was gone the darn skies clouded up and the cactus stopped blooming.

If the trees are slow to green up this year, it's not by much. The apricot is just starting.

For a short time this afternoon the sun came out and it warmed up to 70°. Butterflies were surprisingly active. Got a few pics, but they're just of the common ones. I was desperate though, so took what I could get.

At least they have fresh plumage. Top is Vesta Crescent; below it is Texan Crescent. Saw many others too, but these two were the prettiest of those I got photos of.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A little satisfaction

I finally had the satisfaction of getting a fairly decent photo of a Henry's Elfin on its host Mexican Redbud tree. I got one last year but it was such an ugly worn individual that I wasn't satisfied with it. This one isn't as fresh as the one was in Feb (see post of Feb 20), but that one wasn't on the redbud tree. The spots on the forewings look different to me so I think it's a different individual. I'll have to see what Brian says. Unlikely the Feb one would still be alive anyway, I suppose. We had that horrible ice storm between then and now.

That redbud tree is starting to get some serious blooms on it. Finding the only elfin in that tree isn't easy. I just have to stand (or sit) there until it moves. Then I can lock my eyes onto it.

Not much else of interest. It was pretty breezy, but since it's March, I figure tomorrow could be worse so I did what I could today in the way of watering, etc. On the left of this next photo is the apricot tree. In the center is the peach tree. I'll do my best to protect the fruit if we get another freeze this spring.

UPDATE: Brian said it's almost certainly a different individual from last month's elfin.

Here's that Mexican Elder in the courtyard that I posted a picture of on Feb 27th when it was freezing and icy. Compare this photo with the one on that day's post. It's recovering nicely. The sotol windbreak should come in handy this month.