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Monday, August 31, 2015

Come Dasher!

I was so hoping that Three-striped Dasher would still be here today when Kelly was, but it was not to be. He did find me a new oasis ode today, though not a lifer. I've seen it a lot at Lajitas but never here. A Four-spotted Pennant.

We started out the day banding at Lajitas in the early morning coolness. Here's a lovely flower bed from there. It was too early for butterflies to be out, unfortunately.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sometimes it's the little things

Little things can bring a lot of joy to life, but also little things can cause a person to get really down. Like today, I got to CMO to discover a rodent had eaten the roots off my best pomegranate bush. I have worked so hard to start them from cuttings last year. It dejected me out of proportion. Like, what's the use of fighting drought, cold, heat, critters, and everything else?

It was laying down but still not wilted. I piled dirt and mulch around the base and watered it good. Maybe it'll survive if the varmints will leave it alone. It's where they ate up my lantana last year. If the weather would cool off and get rainy, I'd feel better about it surviving. It did cool off 5° today. Only got up to 95° I've seen it 120° down along the river in September before, so will have to wait and see if the triple-digit days are done with.

I recovered quickly from my devastation. Didn't hurt that I got a surprise lifer dragonfly today. It's a Three-striped Dasher, which mostly occurs in the Rio Grande Valley, and isn't even common there.

I included the second shot of it because when I first saw it I knew it was something I'd never seen before, and thinking "setwing." Even though I hadn't been at the oasis for more than a few minutes and had planned to spend hours watering, I couldn't stand it, so rushed to the house to ID the ode. Quickly saw it wasn't a setwing, so started turning pages. Coming to dashers I studied the Thornbush to see if it could be that, which is a common dasher to me, but it didn't quite fit. The discussion on the Three-striped described it exactly. "...found perching low on vegetation tips... They regularly depress their wings below the thorax, giving the impression of a setwing." 

After my two lifers yesterday, I still lacked seeing 14 of the species that have been documented in Brewster Co. I figured once I get them the odes at the oasis will all be less exciting. But I still need 14 since the dasher I saw today hadn't been documented here before. At this rate, it may take a long time and a lot of lifers to get that 14. That's great, of course!

I can always branch out to interesting insects (besides odes). I wonder what this one is. It was fascinating to watch it scale that horsetail reed. He climbed it just like a monkey.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bad start to a great day!

I decided to check out that new wetland at Presidio that I'd been hearing so much about, the Bishop Wetlands. All went fine until just before I rolled into Presidio. Two vehicles passed me and gradually were getting farther ahead of me. I was listening to something interesting on NPR, not concerned about my speed, since they were obviously moving faster than I was. A patrol car coming towards us went right past them and stopped me. Boy, that was annoying! He gave me a warning for going a few miles over the 70 MPH speed limit, but I know the cars ahead of me were going faster.

Anyway, I've always hated Presidio and that just refreshed my mind on that. So I went looking for the wetlands. Passed Fort Leaton so knew I was near. Not one single sign anywhere. About half way to Redford I drove back to Ft Leaton and inquired there. The nice man said it's just down the road a ways beside the golf course. Took off again wondering how I could have missed it. Again, no sign, nothing that had the word "golf" on it, and certainly nothing that remotely resembled a golf course. Back again. This time he said it actually says La Paloma RV Park, or something like that. So I went back where I'd passed that park more times than I'd care to remember. I could see the wetlands from there but no road to it, other than one that had a sign saying, "No trespassing." I took it anyway. After all, I'd talked to the manager on the phone a couple of months ago and he'd said it was always open.

When I arrived at the wetland it was fenced and clearly marked to keep out. Even an ominous sign saying, "Warning Electric Fence." Nowhere was there a name Bishop Wetlands. Later, the ranger at Ft Leaton  confirmed I had gone to the right place.

My next, and last, stop was Shafter Ghost Town where there's a lovely running stream, Cibolo Creek. I figured what with how the day had gone so far, I'd probably get run off from there. It was nearly noon and I hadn't touched my Canon yet.

Upon arrival, I timidly stayed in the road where the water runs across, knowing that was safe territory, in view of "no trespassing" signs all along the east side of the creek. There were awesome odes there and I was soon having a ball. After about thirty minutes a biologist showed up with traps and stated she was going to look for rare turtles there in hopes of stopping the pipeline. She declared that Texas waterways are open to the public. (She's from New Mexico's university at Alamogordo.)  And donning high boots she headed upstream. Hmm.. I was wearing my water shoes so I trailed behind her with new confidence. By then I had forgotten all about my stressful morning.

I had no idea what all the odes I was photographing were, but I was certainly where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do. Pixels were not spared. I ended up with well over 300 shots. Here's a male Amethyst Dancer. Photographed a female too.

I felt certain I was seeing lifers, but couldn't be sure until identities were confirmed. I saw quite a few Pale-faced Clubskimmers and followed their flights as best I could, hoping one would land. Finally, one did, but when I went around to get a lateral shot it disappeared. Here's all I got of it.

And I did end up with two lifers among the amazing variety and quantity of odes. First is a Gray Sanddragon, a species that is so common in West Texas that I was surprised I hadn't ever seen it before.

The other lifer is a Serpent Ringtail, an uncommon W TX species that I had aspired to see. 

I photographed so many species that I lost track, but here are the best photos I've ever taken of  American Rubyspots.

My advice is, do not set out to visit Bishop Wetlands. In fact, I can't see why anyone would want to visit Presidio either, but Shafter is awesome. Can't wait to go back. 

UPDATE: I researched the wetland project online and realize I didn't pay enough attention to what the articles had said. Here's what one article said about it.

"Part of the wetlands project will involve working with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to create a pull-off along the River Road – much like the Marfa Lights viewing area – where people could park their cars and observe the wetlands habitat."

So you see, they don't intend for a person to drive down to the wetland, just observe it from the highway. Bring your scope if you visit there. Still no viewing pull-off.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

An intense summer

What with having to water endlessly and drying all that fruit for weeks and weeks, I feel about like I did during the drought of 2011. At least I'm not buying and hauling water.... yet. Can't ever go through that again.

The last group of banders got 5 species (Calliope, Black-chinned, Ruby-throated, Lucifer, and Rufous) at CMO this morning. Here's bander Fred Bassett admiring a male Lucifer's gorget.

I finally got a distant shot of that elusive Belted Kingfisher. Not bad considering how far away she was.

This snake scooted across the path while I was watering. Startled me. A herpetologist said it's a baby Western Coachwhip.  O..K.. That's a hole below its head. It briefly stuck its head in the hole. Maybe sniffing for food. Don't know.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Yet another hot, dry day

This weather pattern has to end sometime, at least that's what I keep telling myself. I did my usual thing, watered and took pictures. Late this afternoon a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher stopped by for a drink. I wish I could have gotten a better photo of it, but it was really far away and not about to come closer.

Other than that, not much activity today, but then, I didn't get here early like I normally do. I had only been in town less than one day so didn't have things caught up there. I came down because of the group of banders coming early in the morning. Of course, I love an excuse to come right back down and with the unrelenting triple-digit temperatures things need watering as much as I'm willing to water.

There were a couple of very cooperative saddlebags perched in the shade, so I took lots of photos of them. This Red Saddlebags has some red mites on it, five to be exact. You may need to enlarge to see them.

And after not being able to get photos of Black Saddlebags for years, suddenly they're everywhere this year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Today did not disappoint

Kelly arrived right on time with his enthusiastic group of banders. All went according to plan, as much as something like hummingbird cooperation can be planned. They caught and banded 30 hummers of four species (Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, Lucifer, and Rufous).

Of course, Kelly was heavily involved with managing and instructing the participants.

Here are the tools of the trade. All took turns banding.

Here is Sheri Williamson enjoying the oasis experience.

She took tons of photos that she's hoping will be useful in her second edition. She's the author of Hummingbirds of North America.

I would say today's session was part data gathering, part classroom, and part entertainment.

Thursday the remainder of banders will come to do it all over again, but whereas today's group consisted of 20 people, Thursday's group will only be around 12.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Oasis somewhat birdy

A good number of migrants for a fall migration day. Guess there isn't much water at other places in the area. I saw two Belted Kingfishers at the same time but could not get one photo of either of them all day long. So skittish. And I saw three Solitary Sandpipers arrive. When I tried to photograph them, two left immediately, and the third left after my first camera click. So this is all I got. Pretty pathetic!

An Olive-sided Flycatcher was a little more cooperative.

As was this Northern Waterthrush. It sure looks all fattened up for the winter.

Still very little odonate and butterfly activity. Waiting on rain like I am, I guess. Here's a nice specimen of a Saltbush Sootywing, the first I've seen of that species this year.

I did see a [Rhionaeschna] darner today but it didn't land and I couldn't get focused on it in flight. Probably a Blue-eyed, but could have been an Arroyo or Turquoise-tipped. 

Copulating damselflies are easy to zero in on, but when they're as small as these Desert Firetails, I almost never get a sharp photo. Today was no exception.

Kelly Bryan and his group of hummingbird banders managed to band around 200 hummers of 8 species today at his place in the Davis Mountains. They'll be lucky to get four species here tomorrow. And lucky to get 40 hummingbirds total. To be updated with photos tomorrow. Since my help won't be needed, I plan to take pictures. Kind of a vacation within a vacation.

HOLD THE PRESSES! After blogging, around 8 PM, I went out to check things and fill a few hummingbird feeders, getting ready for tomorrow, when I saw a dragonfly going to roost low in a tree. I hurried to the pickup for my cameras. I do not do good photography in near darkness. So with each camera (Canon & Lumix) I tried all the settings, flash, monopod, etc I could think of. My hunch was correct, it was a Spot-winged Glider. Not a new oasis species but one I don't see very often. Pleasant surprise. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fall hummingbird migration

In West Texas fall is the best time of year to see a large number of hummers and the largest diversity. So that's when the hummer festival and banders convene here. This evening I went to the festival (in Fort Davis) for a while. Got to visit some more with the participants who visited the oasis Friday and also see Sheri Williamson's excellent presentation on hummingbirds. There was a lot of knowledge crammed into it, which I hope I can retain somewhat.

Previously, I hadn't realized that hummers existed in the Old World (millions of years ago), where they became extinct, but flourish in the Americas. And I had never realized that they thrive best in mountains, and not the rain forests as I had assumed.  I think that's interesting because Lucifer Hummingbirds favor mountain slopes for nesting, and Lucifers are the Christmas Mountains main hummingbird nesting species, although Black-chinneds nest there too.

Above is Sheri starting her presentation. 

Kelly, of course, is the backbone of the festival and next week he's hosting about 40 banders. They'll be banding at CMO twice next week. Hope they have a great time. I'll keep you updated.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Davis Mountains Hummingbird Festival weekend

CMO might have set a record today for the number of birders or vehicles there at one time. I was expecting, like, half the 13 vehicles, or I could have done a better job parking them. Some vehicles parked along the road. I didn't count heads, but I'm sure there were between 30-40 hummingbird festival participants at CMO this morning. And anyone who hadn't already seen a Lucifer Hummingbird got their lifer today.

I had to come back to town afterwards. So frustrating, when I went down to CMO Wednesday I forgot my spare camera battery. Then today I came to town, where the battery was, to discover I had left the charger at the oasis. Living in two places can be a pain when you're overwhelmed with so much to remember. 

Also frustrating that 30 miles north of CMO got an inch of rain last night and still none at CMO. Not too long ago 10 miles south got a lot of rain and none at CMO. I just have to believe I'll get at least one good monsoonal rain yet this season. And that will top my tanks off until next year's rainy season.

Sometimes, driving to town I see the herd of oryx at the O2 Ranch. Recently I learned that species is extinct in the wild. so I felt motivated to get a photo of them. Known as the Scimitar-horned or Sahara Oryx, the most interesting thing about them is that in drought they can raise their body temperature by several degrees, up to 116° F, which causes them to conserve water by avoiding sweating.

The herd was so scattered that I couldn't get them all in one photo.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Disappointed in the cool front. Last night the temperature was a few degrees cooler, but the high today was 100° again, a few degrees warmer than yesterday before the "cool front" arrived. And not a drop of rain. The wildlife pond has been dried up for several days now.

Mostly disappointed in myself. I photographed a dragonfly that looked interesting, though I couldn't say why exactly. My thought processes went something like, "It's either a Swift Setwing or a Black Setwing. It's hanging like a Great Spreadwing, or that other dragonfly, whose name I forget. Gotta ask Kelly if setwings hang like that." So I snapped a few photos and moved on. When I downloaded the photos I looked in the book at setwings to see which had that brownish color on the wing bases. None of the setwings looked like this dragonfly, so I started turning every page looking for something that did. Came across the Pale-faced Clubskimmer. Duh! So stupid that I didn't recognize it. And I had so bad wanted another chance to photograph one from the side. Blew it! And if that's not bad enough I knew and had been told to always photograph from as many angles as possible. In my mind the clubskimmer looked totally distinct from other odes and this one didn't. (See post of Aug 1 for my lifer of that species.) Both the Aug 1st one and this one are females, but I don't think they're the same individual. Since they're rarely seen perched, chances of me getting another chance at it are slim I think.

I had thought it was something like this species, Black Setwing (taken at Lajitas Aug 10th)

Later, when I went back out to look for the clubtail, I finally got a decent shot at a Black Saddlebags. That is a common species at CMO but I never could get a suitable photo of one. This one is a female.

And on the bright side, this morning a lovely group of birders visited the oasis. It's great people like them that make all the hard work I do here so worth while.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Waiting for rain

Thunder rumbled lazily for hours this afternoon but not until after dark did any activity look promising. Since a cool front is moving in, I'm optimistic about getting rain, but if nothing else, cooler weather will be most welcome. It almost made it to 100° again today.

Here at the oasis a couple of Blue-winged Teal are hanging around the above tank. I love ducks on my water even though it keeps me from getting close to the tanks to look for dragonflies.

Since there'll be a lot of birders here during the next week I did some last minute chores, like painting a fresh white edge on all the courtyard steps. Just in case...   The Ft Davis hummingbird festival this weekend is followed by a bander's convention so it's going to be busy and interesting.

Also, visitors use the bathroom in the guesthouse, so I put a bed on that planter box so it won't look so ugly. The bed is still not usable until we get the steps made. 

There are a few little glitches, but all in all, things are going smoothly. One of the glitches (probably not the right word) is that there will no longer be a phone at the oasis. My late husband buried a phone cable to there about 20 yrs ago and somewhere the line is messed up so the phone company had to disconnect it so my house phone would work. I'm going to try to get some kind of booster so my cell phone will work there, if possible.

Another glitch is that I sprayed Malathion-- liberally--- in that wall I renovated that was full of termites. The odor is not diminishing. It's bad. Hope it goes away. It doesn't seem to bother the insects though, at least not the spiders. I found one of those inside the guesthouse today. But no evidence of mice.