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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Going through the motions

Stuck in town and trying to find interesting butterflies but only finding the same old ones. At least they're starting to show up in appreciable numbers. I've pretty much decided the only way to see new butterfly and ode species is to look for them in new places.

Theona Checkerspot

Checkered White 

The ducklings are still so fun to watch. Mama duck has her hands full. They're almost as big as she is.

And they love to come gobble up the corn when we put it out for them.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Concrete and rock barrier

How about that, you rascally javelina!

Friday, May 29, 2015

CMO hot and humid

Not sure I'm ready for this heat. Or anything else life is throwing at me. More on that in a future post. For now here's a female Widow Skimmer.

The javelina totally dug around the big rock and dug out the rebar stakes. Going to plan C now, or maybe it's plan D. Gonna pour concrete under there.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Duckling update

There are still the 5 ducklings left.

Not much going on in town. Counting the hours until I get back south. Saw a Common Whitetail at the ponds here. That's about it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Up and at it

Got up at 5 AM when I heard what I believe was a Flammulated Owl. Since I had a lot to get done before meeting my husband in Alpine for lunch I stayed up.

See, I told you I was winning. This javelina didn't root around, it just politely scarfed up some of the corn remaining on the ground after the big feeder tip-over.

I have most of the mallow pulled up. Some remains here and there throughout the oasis, but it's out of the hummingbird garden anyway.

Next is a before photo I posted the other day of the mallow-ridden water feature.

And here it is now. In the above photo all you can see is the tip of the dead snag.

I was really surprised while pulling out mallow to discover some hidden plants that I had planted last fall and forgotten. I almost pulled up the Bubba Desert Willow before I realized what it was. Now I put rocks around the area so I won't lose it again. You can't really see the spindly Bubba in this photo. It's really small, not having been watered except for rain, but it's alive.

Behind the Bubba I discovered branches of the apricot tree, so laden with fruit that it's laying on the ground. When I get back down there I'll make some props to prop them up.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial day walk in the park

I was determined to go to Big Bend NP today so as soon as banding was over I headed out.

For 40 yrs the Chisos from a distance has always looked like a big condor with it's wings spread (Casa Grande Peak in the middle is the head), but today it looked more like a big Chisos Giant-Skipper sunning itself. Takes a little imagination from this angle, but from my place it's a little different.

Green Gulch was windy so I went to the sewage ponds where it was somewhat less windy. Not much activity but even with what there was, I was so in over my head. I am sure this one is an 'Arizona' Red-spotted Purple (limenitis arthemis arizonensis),* which was one of my target species. I think I've seen it before but thought it was a Pipevine Swallowtail.

And speaking of Pipevine, I guess this photo just caught it at an odd angle where only one of the red spots shows. I took many more that looked the same, but I don't know what else it could be. Maybe a big chunk of hind-wing was missing.

The highlight of the trip turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the trip. Brian had always told me to look in bear grass blooms for Sandia Hairstreak, so leaving the Chisos Basin I saw bear grass blooming along the road. I couldn't pull off the road there, and it being Memorial Day, there was lots of traffic, so I had to park a long ways away and walk back to the place. I found a dark hairstreak in the bear grass and thought sure it was a Sandia. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be another Poling's Hairstreak. Last week's treasure; this week's trash.

Poling's Hairstreak beside Gray Hairstreak

Before leaving the park I visited the spot where my daughter got married a year ago this month. A happy Memorial Day memory.

I'm planning to look for butterflies in the park once a week for the next month or so.

* Brian informs me that it's just called an Arizona Purple.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

No trip to park today either

It took a little longer to pump the water than anticipated and water has to take priority. I wasted time trying to set the pipes up so I wouldn't have to double pump it, but didn't have the fittings to make it happen without spending the entire day cobbling something together. So even though I was packed and ready to go to the park, at 3 PM when the water was finally all pumped, I decided to cancel. The weather was perfect for butterflying too, no clouds or wind. Tomorrow for sure.

It is nice to have the security of an extra foot or more of water in the stucco tank just in case the rains miss me for the next couple of months. Still have a lot of work that needs doing. Lots of mallow to pull yet, even though I pulled and dug a bunch while the water pumped. Also had to redo the seed feeder. Score one for the javelina. When I got to the oasis this morning they had managed to tip the feeder over. Maybe the stakes didn't hold good in the wet ground.

But have no fear. I'm winning. I wired the feeder to a post that's embedded into a long concrete footing. It will not tip over again. Once again, I buried that huge rock on one side and drove deep re-bar stakes on 3 sides, so it should be good to go. I'm going to stop feeding the birds during the summer anyway. Nothing is coming to the feeder right now except cowbirds. That's great that the birds that belong here have plenty of natural forage.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Scarier than a rattlesnake

Got to CMO early this morning to misty overcast skies. Figured I'd get some work done until the day brightened up. Looking off toward the Chisos, the sky was ominously dark all morning. By mid-afternoon a big wind came and cleared things up somewhat but I was too tired to go to the park, so decided to keep working and go tomorrow. Additionally, I figured it was too late in the day and might rain there anytime. People that have to schedule their trips to the park way in advance don't have a choice, but luckily I do.

My "work" was ridding my hummingbird garden of the mallow that has overtaken it. I also watered trees here and there. Around 4:30 PM I went to move a water hose and encountered a Diamond-backed Rattlesnake. It didn't coil or rattle, just moseyed on its way.

Back to pulling mallow and piling it into the wheelbarrow when suddenly my bronchial tubes closed. I've never had that type of sudden attack before. I kept forcing myself to cough with every little gasp I could muster, all the while hoping I'd make it to my inhaler at the house in time. Coughing helped, but the problem was getting enough air to make it happen. Really scary. By the time I got to the house I was able to breathe slightly better. From now on I'm keeping my inhaler in my pickup. I think I'd have been OK without it, but next time, maybe not. All I can think of is I inhaled some spores from the soil that came off the roots as I tossed them into the wheelbarrow, or a bunch of pollen from the mallow.

No sooner was I over that crisis and back to work, really tired, when the wind intensified and blew in a sudden cold rain storm. In the process, it toppled my one remaining dead cottonwood tree.

After the storm, while checking things, I discovered the ground was finally wet enough with the over half an inch of rain that the mallow would pull out without digging. Saves time and effort, so I forced myself to keep at it even though a light rain kept falling. I was soaking wet when I finally called it quits for the day around 7 PM. Hated to waste the daylight but in the morning I can finish pulling the mallow. Also there's some water in the upper dirt tank that I should pump out tomorrow. I'm still hopeful I can go to the park and look for butterflies in the afternoon, but that's probably unrealistic. There's always Monday after Kelly finishes banding hummers here.

I'm just piling the mallow up in big piles here and there, thinking it might be good for mulch somewhere, sometime, but I don't really like the piles of it laying around.

So, while I'm thrilled to have the rain, it doesn't mean, like, "Oh goody, now I don't have to water so I can go to the park and look for butterflies."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Eye doctor day

I got up obscenely early to make my 8:30 AM appointment in Odessa. I left at 6 AM as planned. But I failed to take into account the mist, drizzle, and fog during the whole trip. So I drove as if those obstacles didn't exist. It was scary. I gripped the wheel, stayed on high alert and sat tensed up the whole way. To make matters worse, my driver's side wiper didn't seem to be touching the window as it swiped across. I arrived at my appointment 15 minutes to spare, then had to sit there for 30 minutes. That's OK. Just glad I wasn't late and got there safely. Won't ever do that again.

The doctor said my cornea just needs to stabilize and all will be fine. He gave me some special drops that may help with that. He cut my steroid drops down to once a day. We'll see.

When I arrived back in Alpine a nap was in order. I was more exhausted than if I'd hiked all day. Then I went out back to see if I could find some butterflies to photograph. Nothing interesting, just the common ones. (Acmon Blue and Marine Blue on red mallow)

There's a neat bush at that historic house in Alpine. I don't know what it is. Normally I like leaves that are green. Do not like yellow, blue, or red leaves, but this is really an interesting bush.

Tomorrow early I'm going to CMO to water my trees. Then if I still have time and energy I'm going to Big Bend NP to look for butterflies. Otherwise, the park trip will have to wait a day. But I'm impatient to go find butterflies there. Can hardly wait. I was hoping it would rain tonight so I wouldn't have to water tomorrow, but the storm missed the oasis.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hummers swarming in Alpine

I'm used to hummers swarming in late summer as they build up their fat reserves in preparation for migration, but it's surprising to see them buzzing frenetically in May. (All Black-chinned Hummingbirds.)

I panicked and put out more and bigger feeders.

I'm not sure why the influx, maybe some are recently fledged. 

I'm sure glad I hung extra feeders at the oasis yesterday just in case it's the same there. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tired but good day

I went to Big Bend National Park with a friend today, determined to find at least one lifer butterfly. We found two for her and one for me. The first one is a Poling's Hairstreak, new for both of us. We were very excited.

Poling’s Hairstreak is restricted to a very small area on three isolated, “sky islands” mountain ranges—the Davis and Chisos mountains of Texas and the Organ mountains of New Mexico—and south into the state of Coahuila, Mexico.

The second one is a Texas Roadside Skipper, new for my friend.

We saw other good butterflies too. Got a better photo of a Mallow Scrub Hairstreak than I had before.

We dropped by the oasis this morning and saw this awesome collared lizard. Have no idea what it is.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Duckling attrition

To recap, originally we obtained 2 domestic ducks (runners) which are part mallard, but they can't fly. And we can't catch them either. They're feral, I guess you could say. Last year one of them hatched babies fathered by a Mexican Mallard that took up residence here. Two of the progeny survived.

This year the two survivors each hatched a brood. The first one hatched 8 two weeks ago, but within a day or so, there remained only 5. Still 5 today. Yesterday, the second from last year hatched 3, which were relentlessly attacked. Yesterday I saw only the mother of the 5 attack them, but this morning I saw one of the domestic ducks attack the one surviving one. Now none of the 3 have survived. Perhaps the first 3 of the first brood of 8 met the same fate. Maybe the adults don't want too many ducks sharing their resources. Beats me.

Here is a rare photo of the five ducklings with their mother. Usually they're too spread out to get them together.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Big little duckling surprise

I went outside to the ponds in Alpine today to see if there were still 5 ducklings left. Yup, all 5 still there although I can't get them all upright at the same time, much less all in the same frame.

While trying to photograph the babies I suddenly noticed that a couple of them were following a different adult. Whoa! No, those were 3 newly hatched from the other survivor of last year's brood. While I was busy counting, one of the newly-hatched got snatched up and shaken by the mother of the 5 slightly older babies. I wish I had photographed it, but my instincts took over and I ran towards her shouting. She let the baby go, and I hoped thereafter the new mother would keep her babies away from the other brood. 

Later I went back out and witnessed the horrifying scene repeatedly. I snapped a few photos before intervening but I think if I stay away until things settle down it'll be better. The ducklings tend to know their mother, but not their siblings, and mingle with the older ducklings. When I go out there everything swims toward the opposite side of the pond and I think that creates part of the problem.

Here's the new mother (note orange-ier bill) getting between one of her chicks and the mean momma.

Too fast for my eyes to follow, the mean momma snatches the baby...

And seems to be trying to drown it.

There's nothing I can do so I'm going to stay away and check again in the morning.

BTW, I had the mechanic check out my pickup and everything is fine with it. The only problem I have with it is no cruise control. My knee starts hurting after an hour of holding the accelerator down. If it gets too bad I may have a cruise control installed.

And my granddaughter is recovering, slowly but surely. Because I know her well, I can see the pain and tiredness in her eyes, but other people probably can't notice. She's showing off her 20 lb weight loss.

UPDATE: When I saw the mean momma in the one pond and the new momma in the other I walked way around so neither of them could see me. I saw the new momma through my binoculars with 2 ducklings right up next to her. I was watching for quite a while to see if the third duckling was there too, when suddenly the mean momma appeared and started harrassing the babies. This time I knew it had nothing to do with my presence. Nothing even knew I was there or had moved in a direction away from me. Just gotta let it go and let nature take its course. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Back to normal

Whatever normal is. I feel a little less pressure today since I decided I didn't need to clean out the big tank. It'll take a long time for it to build up feet of silt and when it does I can probably get my husband to take most of it out with his bobcat loader. One reason I had wanted to clean it was all the pondweed. But I like pondweed, it was just that my submersible pump won't work with it in there. Gets plugged up all the time. So while I was pumping the water into the stucco tank today with my big sump pump, I thought, hey, I can do that every year one time and use the submersible in the stucco tank for watering with the garden hoses.

From this tank
To this tank

I solved the Bell's Vireo nest mystery. And I apologize that I gave misinformation. That vireo was nesting along the trail and it never left the nest. Seemingly ever. So I couldn't understand how a cowbird got to it, not once, but 3 times.  When I did get a chance to peek inside, it was a brief glimpse, dark in the nest, and my eyesight is blurry. I thought I saw 3 identical eggs inside. Didn't remember what cowbird eggs look like at the time. I was reassured that all 3 eggs were identical, so no parasitism. A week later I peeked in and saw one unhatched egg and 2 new hatch-lings. The unhatched egg appeared speckled with a hole in it. Consulting my egg book, I learned (relearned) that cowbird eggs are speckled; vireo eggs are plain.

Yesterday I saw two nestlings but couldn't see the egg. Today I was determined to learn if the unhatched egg was in fact a cowbird, which would convince me the nestlings were cowbirds. So I shooed the adult off the nest and removed the egg.*

It was just a stained vireo egg. What a relief! The big stains looked like a hole when it was in the darkness of the nest. I got to wondering when Kelly told me a vireo "does not have the capability to poke a hole in an egg." Thanks, Kelly, and sorry for leading you astray.

I saw a few interesting birds today, including this Olive-sided Flycatcher. At first I thought it was a juvenile with such a thick beak but I guess it's not.

And this flycatcher did not flick its tail, so I guess it's a Western Wood-Pewee. Not sure.

*UPDATE: Forgot to mention until a reader brought it to my attention. When I removed the dud egg one of the nestlings opened its gape and it was all yellow, not red like a cowbird's.