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Thursday, April 30, 2015

A superb day

Started out at 35° but warmed up to 82° by mid-afternoon. As I was waiting for it to warm up enough to spread the coating in the tank I heard a quail call. And it wasn't a Scaled Quail, the only quail I've ever seen on my place. So I got excited knowing it was either a Montezuma or a Gambel's. When I located it, it was a Gambel's Quail. New yard bird. And let me tell you, new yard birds are hard to come by these days. I tried to photograph it but it was between me and the early morning sun. Here is my best shot.

 It was quite a ways off and when I tried to make a large circle around it to get the sun to my back it flew. I saw where it flew to. A short while later two quail flew from that area. So I presume it had been calling to a mate.

Here I am painting myself into a corner.

And finally done. A job I thought would take one day took 3 or 4. I have some coating left so I will probably put a second coat on the bad areas but that'll only take a few minutes.

After I finished, I sat down under the mulberry trees to see what was coming in (same as I did yesterday). Shortly, I heard a human voice calling out. I assumed there wasn't a human within a mile of me. Then appeared a most interesting birder. He had heard about being able to see Lucifer Hummingbirds here from someone in the park, after an unsuccessful attempt there hiking Blue Creek Trail. With no directions or contact info he had previously made a failed attempt to find CMO. But he tried again and after many wrong roads, he got here. He was in a small motor home and wisely decided to walk the last half mile of my road. 

Soon a female Lucifer showed up at a feeder, then a male displayed to her a bit and they were gone before he could get a photo. So I took him down to the male's territory where he got plenty of photos, although not as close as a feeder shot would have been. His lifer Lucifer.

When he was ready to leave I took him down to his vehicle parked along the road. Suddenly we heard Peregrines screaming, as only Peregrines can scream. Brandon was immediately able to spot them and the nest. 

So I finally have the nest location. When I get time I'm determined to get photos of a Peregrine at the nest. For now, here's the nest.

The nest, per Brandon, is above and to the right of the darkest oblong hole near the center of the photo.

With my guidance he easily got his vehicle turned around and headed to his next lifer quest somewhere in NM.

Next, my dear friends, Dennis Shepler and his significant other, Jenny, visited. While sitting under the mulberry tree we heard the Elf Owl call from the nearest mulberry tree. I couldn't spot it, but Dennis did. Couldn't resist more Elf Owl photos. He's just too cute! Besides I didn't have one taken in a mulberry tree ever.

Dennis and Jenny
I'm amazed that one Catclaw Acacia is in total bloom and none of the others have started. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Winter is over.....again.

Started out at 32° this morning. I was down sprinkling what trees I could, just it case, but everything is fine. There was a light frost at our place in Alpine. My husband thinks a few of the tomato plants may have been damaged even though he covered them. Oh well, I planted extra.

By this afternoon I was sweating in the tank, and didn't finish it. Will have to finish it tomorrow before summer gets any hotter. Here it is after I swept out all the silt I could yesterday, which was 30 gallons.

Today I scraped off as much of the flaking 20 year old coating on the floor (another 10 gallons to haul up the ladder and down the other ladder on the other side) as I could. I became too exhausted to coat the whole tank bottom but will surely finish it tomorrow. Pics then. That's an acacia branch hanging over the edge of the tank. I would have cut it off had I noticed it.

Around 4 PM I collapsed into a chair under the mulberry trees to see what birds were around. Just the same ones from yesterday. I heard an Elf Owl calling for a really long time so went to investigate. It was the female from the second oasis nest. I guess maybe she didn't get fed much last night because of the cold and is impatient for dusk so her food deliveries will resume.

I worked really hard years ago to put up that nest box without help. It was a killer; a very heavy log to hoist way up in the air. Actually, it's the log this nest box is wired to that was the killer. I figured a Ladder-backed Woodpecker might peck a hole in the big log. Otherwise it would shade this one from the hot afternoon sun.

Two years ago a Western Screech-Owl used it for a month or so. See post of March 29, 2013 of the screech-owl in the same hole for size comparisons. So erecting the log has been well worth the effort. I personally think this nest is better insulated than the agave stalk the other pair are using, but what do I know? The female is the one that chooses the nest site. I try to make sure she has plenty of choices. I hope the hole isn't too big on this one that the nest could get predated. Ash-throated Flycatchers have nested in it a time or two. The "pole" is a pipe so nothing can climb it. I built it with a screech-owl in mind. I never thought anything else would use it. Of course, flickers roost in it in the winter time. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Could have been worse

But not a whole lot. It was so cold this morning (44°), and being breezy made it worse.  VENT* birders froze here once before a couple of years ago. They told me they're coming in May next year. May can often be our hottest month of year. Big Bend weather is unpredictable, especially a year in advance. I told someone today that the time between the cold of winter and the heat of summer is called spring. It lasts a couple of hours, so good luck!

This Bell's Vireo is nesting right at the edge of the walkway. It's the one I accidentally exposed (to the back side of this photo) when I cut that limb (see April 25 post).

I'm wondering if the reason viewers got more frequent views of both male and female Lucifer Hummingbirds at the feeders today is because of the cold. No insects flying. Even female Lucifers were visiting the feeders for the first time in weeks. Out of curiosity I walked to the male Lucifer's territory to see if he was there, and he wasn't. Surely he's sheltered somewhere. Seems like they use feeders to fatten up for and after migration, or when there aren't insects available, but otherwise prefer insects for the most part.

Today I saw my first Catclaw Acacia blooms, complete with insect, setting the table for the warblers to come.

The mulberries may be gone by the time the warblers arrive. Orioles, tanagers, and grosbeaks are certainly getting their share. It's very difficult to get a satisfactory photo of the rapid action though. 

Black-headed Grosbeak

Western Tanager

American Robin

* Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

Monday, April 27, 2015

Migration finally hit CMO

I guess it was all the wind yesterday that brought migrants in. Or maybe the mulberries. Or maybe it's just that time of year. Only 4 warbler species, but not surprising since the acacia aren't blooming yet. That's when they fill up with warblers. Probably for the insects. But any day now they'll burst into awesome bloom.

A lovely couple from Tokyo visited today. They got here before I did (I arrived shortly after 8 AM) and already had their lifer Lucifer Hummingbird with photos to prove it. They got several more lifers while they were here.

This is my first damselfly photo for this year. I guess it's a Powdered Dancer, but I might be wrong.

I felt kind of puny today but forced myself to get some work done at least. We all tried for Elf Owl shots without getting anything very satisfying. I thought I'd wait until late afternoon when the light would be better but by then he had awakened and moved to another spot a foot or two away.

Tomorrow is my busiest birding day of the year and it's supposed to get into the 30°s tonight. But I think it'll warm up quick and birding will be good. I hope.

The hummingbird garden is currently overrun with Globe-mallow.

And although the ocotillo have been blooming south of here for a couple of weeks, it's just now blooming here.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A plan coming together

Some birders showed up today wanting their lifer Lucifer Hummingbird. I promptly took them down the arroyo/canyon and located the hummer on his favorite perch. Then, as a bonus, I showed them the roosting Elf Owl. They had seen one before but only as a shadow in the dark. I tried again for a better photo, but no luck. Vegetation too dense and growing denser.

I try not to anthropomorphize wildlife, but I can't see these Black Swallowtails as anything but jumping for joy. That's because I created a mud puddle just to see what butterflies it would attract. Lots.

This spring is the lushest I've ever seen in the Big Bend. I've got Rainbow Cactus all over in places that I had never noticed them before they bloomed. This one is in a crevice on the edge of my big tank.

Note to self: Never do tree pruning during nesting season. 

Today, as I watered trees, I observed that I had planted the Velvet Ash trees too close together and the older of the two was crowding the younger, making it grow crooked. I decided to prune a big limb from the big ash, then tie the smaller ash to another tree so it would grow straighter. As soon as I cut the limb off I saw that I had exposed a hidden Bell's Vireo nest on an adjacent limb. I'll take a photo of it Monday. Forgot today because I needed to finish chores and come to town for some things. The vireo is just a foot from the path at eye level. It doesn't flush from the nest when people walk by. That's the good part. Lots of cowbirds around and it may be afraid the nest will become predated. It's impossible to move in the oasis without disturbing birds, and the Blue Grosbeaks haven't even arrived yet. Almost every tree will have one of their nests in it. I discovered two pair of nesting Elf Owls at the oasis besides one pair at the house in the courtyard. It's a good year so far.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Got 'em pegged

I am kicking myself, though, for not locating my specialty birds sooner. I finally have a pretty sure thing in locating the Lucifer Hummingbird in his territory, though he has several favorite perches. I located him 4 times today.

And I had heard the Elf Owl squawk occasionally from a certain mesquite tree that I felt sure he is roosting in but could not locate him. Finally, today I looked into the tree from the right angle so that I was able to see part of him. What spurred me to succeed was when my friend, Bonnie Wunderlich, sent me a photo of her Elf Owl roosting in a mesquite. Here is my pitiful picture. If I moved the least bit I couldn't see him at all. I didn't want to get into the tree or prune branches to harass him in any way. Rather do without the photo.

As for the Varied Bunting, a target bird for many birders, with a little patience and effort he can be located, either singing on his territory, or at the thistle feeder, or mulberry tree. It's loaded with mulberries ripening at a remarkable rate.

I finished the trail to the Lucifer viewing area just prior to a group using it. So much better and safer now. Here is the part that's finished from where I started working today back to the dam where I started working yesterday. (I already had a trail as far as the dam for years.)

Looking south

The next photo was taken as a before photo from where I was working today to where the viewing area is. You can barely make out where I roughed it in yesterday. More like toeholds. The viewing area is that flat outcropping of gray rock. It was a treacherous slope. Some visitors had previously been climbing down from the dam and then back up to the viewing area, but that's difficult-to-impossible for a lot of seniors to do.

Looking north

Viewing platform

My first caterpillar of the year, a White-lined Sphinx Moth

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Potty talk

I got up at 5 AM, so anxious was I to get to CMO and get some projects done. And I started them as the sun was coming up. The beautiful sunrise to the east created a magical glow on the mountains to the west.

Since the forecast was for wind, I pushed myself to get as much done as possible before it got windy. It never got windy. Was a perfect day, overcast, calm, and between 70-78° all day. I got done all I had hoped to. If I can still move tomorrow, I plan to finish what I didn't get done today. Like finish the trail I roughed in to the male Lucifer Hummingbird's territory. Visitors are all surprisingly eager to go see it, so I want a safer way to get there. Roughed in is better than the previous "bushwacking" but hopefully I can do better. Locating the Lucifer is difficult and I'm not able to do it, but some of the really sharp birders can. Here's a picture of it to give you an idea of how hard it is to find in the vastness of the canyon landscape. 

I took the photo with my 400mm lens zoomed in all the way (after someone else spotted the bird). This is just one tiny segment of the area searched and you have the advantage of knowing it's in the photo. In real life, one has to search through the equivalent of a hundred of these photos for it. Give up? He's in front of the cluster of white flowers near the center of the photo.

Here is a heavily cropped shot of him flashing his gorget. Same location. You get the idea. He's way across the canyon. One viewer remarked that "isn't it strange that we have to actually see the bird? We can't content ourselves with a photo or video of it." Yup, it's strange.

About the potty. Years ago I bought an outhouse blind for photography as well as for privacy as a privy while camping. Usually when I'm expecting large groups I set it up so they don't have to walk nearly a block to the guesthouse, plus the toilet at the guesthouse is out of order more often than not. The other day I set up the outhouse tent (it's not simple and easy to do) and left it up overnight for the next group I was expecting since there was no wind and none forecast. Well, a horrible wind blew it down and ripped off the zipper door. 

It was either trash it or figure out a way to use it without the door. I always hated the door anyway. People had to step over the bottom of it, then struggle to zip themselves in, and back out again. I got really tired of taking it down every night. So I invented the "potty shed."

The little cabin my late husband and I built so we could enjoy sleeping in our oasis ended up becoming a storage shed for tools, pumps, bird feeders, bird feed and lots of other stuff after he died. It was a filthy eyesore. Now the outhouse tent is installed where wind can't affect it and it's shaded from the sun. No doorway to step over. No more oven-like conditions to deal with. You just go inside, hook the screen door if you desire, then clothespin the curtain to the line anchoring the tent. Pretty nifty. I only use it two weeks a year basically, but like the outhouses at Black Gap and other places, you just sprinkle lime in them occasionally and they stay odor-free and shouldn't need cleaning. I have a trash can for all the paper.

It was a lot of work. I had to totally remove everything from the cabin, saw apart the bed shelf, dig the [deep] hole for the potty, and all kinds of stuff. 

Pitaya cactus

Rainbow cactus

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Really intense, strange day

Here is part of a group of naturalists from Delaware observing the Lucifer Hummingbird on territory. They found it every time without my help. They're good. Took the pressure to locate it off me.

It's a rough, but short, hike down the canyon from the oasis to the site. I have an old trail I made years ago that goes half the way, but I desperately need to extend it to where the Lucifer hangs out. Moving up on my to-do list.

One visiting couple left early because of a dental issue, then almost immediately afterward I had a message on my answering machine that my sister cut her toe real bad and couldn't stop the bleeding. She was taken to the emergency center in Study Butte about 20 miles away.

Then after I invited the naturalist group to see my house while they were visiting, one of the participants missed a step inside the courtyard and fell on her elbow hard and may have broken something. Whew! We put ice on it and called 911. Then the group departed for the emergency center in Study Butte. Prior to today I had never known anyone who was treated there. I have no idea what facilities they have.

In the past 36 years many hundreds of people have visited my house and no one has ever fallen. I keep a red strip painted on the edge of the two 3" steps just to be extra cautious.

As I just typed this paragraph I got an email from the group leader that the medics don't think anything is broken and it may just be sore for a while but shouldn't spoil their trip. At least no one got bitten by a rattlesnake... yet.

I came to Alpine to do some things I needed to do and reunited the black pouch with its owner. The rubber cups are tips for a walking stick. Maybe she takes them off on rough terrain like CMO and puts them on to protect floor finish indoors.

UPDATE: The lady who fell left the group and went home to see her doctor. Apparently, she did have some kind of fracture. I don't know the details.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A cool breezy day at CMO

The sun never shone today and what with my impaired vision I didn't photograph much that moves. Mostly flowers, although the wind kept them moving pretty much too. Here is the only butterfly shot I got. They were preoccupied and let me get close. Just common old Vesta Crescents.

There are so many new flower species blooming every day that I cannot keep up. I hate that because this might be the only year I ever see some of them, though hopefully not. These yellow and purple ones seem to have similar form, but I don't know what either of them are.

A lovely couple from Washington State visited today who were hoping for decent Lucifer Hummingbird shots. So had other birders been who left disappointed within the past week or two. Today it occurred to me that a male Lucifer usually defends a territory down the canyon below the oasis. I mentioned that I needed to go check. The couple decided to go along with me. They ended up getting good looks at the Lucifer male there, and good photos I hope. It's not close up like at the feeders but with a suitable lens it shouldn't be too bad.

I asked Tanya how the bees are doing at their new home in Austin. Here's her response.

Here are 3 photos of the bees in their new box in the Bee Friendly Austin Apiary.  They are now living in the bottom box, the top box is just there to cover their external feeder temporarily, so they don’t get robbed.  We are feeding them for a couple of weeks with sugar water to help them build out some extra comb for the queen to lay her eggs in.  Then they will be on their own!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sisters and stuff

There appears to be some kind of rubber cups (like go on the bottom of a tripod?) and a red rubber-band inside. I'll be happy to send it to whoever lost it if I can figure out who. Help appreciated. I've tallied at least 55 visitors from yesterday.

Watered some today but mostly spent the afternoon with my 3 sisters. The one lives in Iowa and will be returning  to Iowa next week so we had a party with only us 4 allowed. It was fun. (I took this photo with time lapse.)

Did manage to photograph a nice American Lady today. Wish the rock hadn't been in the way.

My Claret Cup cactus got smothered by mallow. I had to snip some mallow away to see it, but you can still make out red blooms back under the mallow. 

I normally do not take photos of House Finches, especially on a feeder, but this one is just the reddest one I think I've ever seen. It is a House Finch though, and not a Cassin's, though it's hard to tell from this poor quality photo. The oasis House Finches are the redder subspecies, San Luis House Finch (carpodacus mexicanus potosinus).