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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Serious trail progress today

I had just about finished stepping* this slope when my two sisters, Ann and Julia, joined me.

We worked another two hours and made terrific progress. It was great fun even though we all have some joint issues. Mine are my knees. Even when the trail is done I'm not sure how much use I'll be able to get from it. But who knows, maybe my knees will improve or maybe I'll get new knees someday.

Ann has had two back surgeries. She can't do the hoe or pick but she uses a rock hammer to peck the high side, rocks, and outline the trail, which is very helpful. I could never stoop like she does. It would kill my knees. Julie can do the hoe but when it comes to needing the pick, I'm the only one that can do that. Fortunately, on this stretch is wasn't needed but a couple of times.

Julia, left; Ann, right.
* I looked it up, it can mean "to make or arrange in a manner of a series of steps."

Friday, April 29, 2016

Migration in progress

Lot of migrants moving through, but with no north winds to slow them down there isn't any big fallout. I tallied 50 species today but I know there were more. Warbler species seen today are Townsend's, Wilson's, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Nashville.

Female Lazuli Bunting top; Male Varied Bunting bottom

I'm hoping to develop a pattern, when I'm here, to start work on the trail at daylight before I start other projects. Today I could only swing the pick for an hour before I had to quit, but I think I progressed about 20 feet. However, I've noticed that trail work wipes me out for any strenuous work for the rest of the day.

Here is the after photo of today. The section before the flat bedrock is what I finished yesterday. It'll progress faster when we get some help. I have some volunteers lined up. I enjoy the work, just wish my body did.

It looks like there's a berm on the left edge of the part I did yesterday. I don't think there is, but if there is, I'll have to knock it down. We don't want water forced to run down the trail.

I saw my first Juniper Hairstreak butterfly for the year.

The soapberry trees aren't blooming yet but the acacia sure are. I think it's nectaring on them.

And this last photo I took just because I could. The group of naturalists here this morning wanted to see a W Black-necked Garter Snake so bad, but it wasn't yet 80° and none appeared until after they were gone.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Work and play

Today's group of birders enjoying the oasis.

I'm just all gung-ho to make progress on the new trail, so I did the first stretch of it today. I figure if I do 20 feet per day that I'm here to work on it, I'll have it done in 100 work days. But I'll only work a few hours in the mornings. My sisters and niece came over to help decide what direction the path should go, whether it should stay an easy low trail until it goes up, or angle up all the time. I think we're going to do a low angle until we get past that little peak in the background and then cut into the side of the pouroff at a pretty steep incline. They'll pitch in and help from time to time.

I got to this bedrock in the arroyo. Tomorrow I'm going to go beyond that up the first incline. I'll try to remember to take photos when I'm done. This was the before photo. The most important thing is that the trail is flat so a person isn't walking on a pebbly slope. That's a killer, worse than the trail ascending or descending. Both feet need to be at the same level, whether you're going up or down a hill. And of course the steeper the slope, the more critical that is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In the beginning...

Most people don't know that my late husband and I started the oasis with the sole intention of harvesting rainwater for our vegetable garden. But after all the excavating and subsequent landscaping/manicuring I got the fever to plant native trees and bushes in all the bare ground around the tanks. Once I started, I couldn't stop, and ultimately we didn't have enough water for the vegetable garden, even after adding another catchment tank. I didn't care; I preferred trees, but we continued a garden until my husband passed away. Thereafter, I removed the deer fences and planted the hummingbird area where the garden had been. And when I remarried someone in Alpine who had a huge garden and endless water. I was able to have both the oasis and a garden. Of course, it's more work and commuting, but so far I'm hanging in there. Which gets me to my point. We already ate one tomato from this year's garden and late this afternoon I checked and the green beans I planted are up.

My husband planted the rest of the garden, which is also up and doing well. Okra, melons, cucumbers, zucchini, etc. I plant and tend the tomatoes because I'm real picky about how they're done.

Early in the morning I'm heading to the oasis to fill feeders and join the stream of birders pouring to there for at least the next ten days of prime migration time. Meanwhile, I know my garden is growing and my husband will be watering it in town. All I have to do is stay healthy; no easy task, but I'm determined. Chomping at the bit to work on the new Blue Oak Trail, but just have to pace myself right now or I'll overdo. 

One other project that I dread doing is mouse-proofing the house. I have everything else mouse-proofed, but every year I get a mouse or two in the house. Not acceptable. So I'm going to putty every possible seam between the roof and walls. My big problem is not having anyone to hold the extension ladder for me in the entry hall that's two stories tall... and wanting to work on the trail... or anything else.

Realistically, my house might sit empty for years after I die and I need to make sure no mice infest it... in the end.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Can't complain about CMO weather

I feel glad that we just have a little (well sometimes a lot) of wind to deal with compared to my granddaughter in Yukon Oklahoma. Today she went through two earthquakes while cleaning the spiders from her tornado shelter, which she had to use this evening.

That shelter is so tiny. She was complaining because her husband is out of town working. My thought was, at least they (she and their two sons) will have more room inside the shelter. This is just the beginning of tornado season too. They only had to be inside for 15 minutes.

Scared, but well-protected great-grandsons.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Our swan song

My sister and I decided to make one last trip up the mountain. It was really grueling. Coming down was worse. What with my vertigo and failing knees, even two walking sticks weren't enough, but we made it. I had hoped to look for Lucifer nests once up there but we only heard one whiz by one time and I wasn't physically able to clamber around up there looking. I pretty much sat on a perch and photographed what I could see from there while Ann went up a bit farther. Here is a photo she snapped of me on the way up before we got around the cliff wall to the oak tree area. I wear the UV goggles to keep my over-lasiked eyes from drying out so fast. (I didn't have to resort to two sticks until the descent.)

After arriving at the oak tree location Ann went a short ways farther to the Fragrant Ash location. This is my view of it sticking out above the cliff top.

And here is Ann's view of it.

The Mexican Blue Oaks don't look so pretty right now as they're in the process of putting on new leaves.

We flushed an owl. I'm pretty sure it was too small to be a Great Horned, and I thought larger than an Elf Owl, but the oak tree it went to had some woodpecker holes in it like Elf Owls use, so maybe that's what it was. There's a second hole hidden behind the branch above this one.

Neither of us was able to get to a spot where we could locate the owl in the tree canopy. I could barely get a distant shot of one of the holes. I did see a Western Wood-Pewee up there, which surprised me. Or at least that's what I assume it was. The posture sure didn't seem pewee-like. In all the photos I took the tail was never in a downward position and I took about 50 of it from my perch. It never once vocalized, nor did it even once flick its tail. 

Amazing to me was a Flame Skimmer, so very far from water. I guess it's a young female, but not sure.

The view was spectacular as usual. That's Nine Point Mesa center right.

UPDATE:  We talked it over and decided to start building a trail to the oak site. It's too wonderful a place to be so inaccessible to us. It's probably a half mile total distance. Even a trail half that distance might make it doable for us. We'll see.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pleasant day at CMO

The lovely lady, Laura Gold, from Lajitas, who services Kelly's hummingbird feeders there, visited today for the first time, accompanied by Roy Morey, author of "Little Big Bend," a book about rare and uncommon plants of our area. My copy of his book had already been signed, but I found a sister who had an unsigned copy for him to sign. We snapped a couple of quick pics to commemorate the visit.

While Laura and I were sitting watching a water feature we spotted my first darner for the year. Funny how it seems life just zips by but it takes forever for the dragonfly numbers to pick up. Probably won't be good for another month or so. I'm not happy with the photos I got of the Turquoise-tipped Darner, but at least they leave no doubt as to what species it is. This is the third time I've had one here. The book shows that they fly year-round but this is the earliest I've had one, to my knowledge.

I've long ago wearied of photographing Flame Skimmers, but with so few other odonate options and this one posing so cooperatively, I went for it, dead tasajillo (Christmas Cholla) and all.

And here's a frog. Not sure what species. I know I have Leopard Frogs so maybe that's what it is.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pot of "gold"

If I didn't already know it, this will prove that I have the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

My picture doesn't do it justice as I gazed in awe from above the courtyard.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Alpine mallow

I seem to be running to and fro a lot lately but spring migration doesn't last long so in a couple of weeks things will get back to normal, whatever normal is. Meanwhile in town the mallow is looking good. Husband promised not to mow it this year like he did last year. Got my fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A few anecdotes

Remember the ducks' close Peregrine encounter the other day (April 16)? Well, I think the male Blue-winged Teal is still suffering PTSD from it. He skulks in the brush at the edge of the tank, not even entering the water unless flushed. I saw that behavior once before in a Mexican Duck in Alpine that had gotten attacked. For two weeks it skulked in the tall grass by the pond, unless flushed. I assumed it was dying, but it eventually came back out and was fine.

I was alarmed to see how much the big tank had gone down since the rain of April 8. If it leaks it would be disastrous. But I did the math....down 7-8" after I measured. The sloping sides makes it look like more. Evaporation is approximately half an inch per day. Tomorrow will be the 14th day, so I'm good. Whew!

Fortunately the mulberries are holding out OK on the tree. Cool weather has helped, although today it got up to 90.°  It's supposed to cool down tomorrow for a couple of days and maybe even rain before the temperature makes a serious climb. I always hope the berries will last through the time all the warblers come through. Hoping for a fallout sometime in the next two weeks or so. I had a scare today when early this AM a flock of Cedar Waxwings descended on the tree but they left after eating a few berries. A visitor said a Peregrine scared them. I didn't get to see that.

Every year at this time I think the House Finches are the reddest they've ever been. We have the redder subspecies, San Luis House Finch (carpodacus mexicanusus potosinus).

And at long last I discovered that creosote is good for something. Marine Blues like it. Now I need to see what Marine Blues are good for. I love their color coordinated abdomens though.

Warblers arrive when the acacias are blooming and they're almost there.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


A lovely moon tonight.

On the above photo notice the hole in the agave stalk on the left. That's where the Elf Owls are nesting this year. 

A couple of days ago I was going to post some photos but had forgotten to take them with me to Alpine when I went, so here they are a couple of days late. Just when I think the ocotillo can't be prettier they put on leaves and are even more stunning. These were taken during that misty morning on April 18th.

Also wanted to mention something I've observed watching the male Lucifer Hummingbird's courtship display to a female versus display of aggression to another male. When he displays to a female he does the side to side shuttle followed by a vertical lift off like a rocket launch. But when he aggresses to a male he does the shuttle, first on one side of the male, then to the other side. This can go on for quite some time, sometimes switching sides repeatedly. (Vegetation happens to be a mesquite tree in bloom.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Such a pretty world!

Yesterday morning it was cool and misting. I guess that was the reason the Lucifer Hummingbirds fought over the feeder that was under roof. Sometimes there were four there at a time but when I snapped this photo there was only one up by the ant guard. Such wimps (The hummers, not the Tennessee birders. They were real troopers)!

In Alpine today the bluebonnets are still spectacular and now the rose bush is too. I forgot the species, something like Fiesta, but don't quote me. Center background.

One thing I did see today that is not so pretty. Makes me sad.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Moving right along

The baby House Finches have left the nest. The season's first Varied Bunting has arrived right on schedule. One thing not moving along is the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. She seems content right where she's at, and you know what tree that is.

This Blue-winged Teal may be more afraid of moving along than staying put. I hear the Peregrine on the mountain a lot. He probably does too. I wonder where the female that was here yesterday is. You don't think...? This male has stayed hidden in the brush all day until I accidentally flushed it into the water for a few minutes, then it went back into hiding again under those bushes hanging out over the water (see post of April 14th).

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Baby birds already

I feel like this spring migration will be a "once in a lifetime" for me... having plenty of water when all around me doesn't, so I want to savor it all I can. That means spending very little time in town for the next 4 to 5 weeks.

When I first got to the oasis shortly after daylight this morning I accidentally flushed four ducks from the big tank as I got out of my vehicle, immediately followed by the loud whistle of a Peregrine swooping past me. The two Blue-winged Teal dropped back into the water, and the other two larger ducks headed north with the Peregrine in hot pursuit. I don't think he caught them as far as I could tell. I suspect his advantage had already been lost. The teal refused to flush for hours after that.

I was surprised to see 3 nestling House Finches ready to fledge in the carport.

Those dead mulberry tree twigs are not only popular with female Lucifer Hummingbirds for nesting material (see April 13 post), but this Bell's Vireo loves them too.

The only warblers I've seen so far are [Audubon's] Yellow-rumped* and Wilson's. That will soon change. I usually don't get a large variety of warbler species until the acacia bloom. So it'll be a couple more weeks. 

Meanwhile, this Wilson's Warbler is enjoying mesquite blooms.

A lone meadowlark showed up today. I think it's an Eastern Meadowlark, maybe Lillian's subspecies, but not positive.

Almost forgot, the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak is still camped out in the mulberry tree. Talk about a gross beak!

UPDATE: The Yellow-rumped Warbler has later been identified as a hybrid between Myrtle and Audubon's. Here's it at another angle.