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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Capturing the spirit

My favorite photos are those that capture the real essence of something or someone. In that spirit, here are a couple winners. The first one is Santiago Peak this morning looking smoking hot, although actually it's just a cloud on a cool morning.

I made a quick trip to the oasis to redo the hummingbird feeders. Otherwise, after a lot of rain the bees will overwhelm them. The road was perfect, no washing, but of course, that also means no runoff for the tanks. I ended up with a total of just over 7 tenths, but it didn't fall fast enough to flash flood. Some people near there got over 4 inches. Rain is still in the forecast though.

Here's my favorite Lucifer Hummingbird picture ever. It really captures the spirit and essence* of them. That look means business! This was taken last month by Mac Womack and posted here with his permission. Thanks, Mac!

*I used to think in order to capture the essence of the Lucifer one had to get the gorget color perfectly. But through the years I've discovered that the color is so variable and changeable that it can't ever capture the full spirit of the Lucifer. Better to bypass that distraction to get to the heart of its character. This photo is it!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Road work

I'd been wanting my son to bring down his tractor with box blade to cut down the high center in the road. He finally agreed to come yesterday because he had a day off for Memorial Day weekend. Coincidentally, all my scheduled birder visits are over for the spring migration. I would rather have had the road done in early April before they all starting pouring in. But I take what I can get. I just wanted the high center cut down in about five places, certainly no more than ten. But while I was busy raking the first place my son decided, unbeknownst to me, that as long as he was there he'd do the whole road. OMG!! That meant I had no choice but to rake the whole road. Later, as I lamented, he insisted I just needed to pick up a few of the larger rocks (football size) and it would be fine. Do I live in a different orbit than everyone else? Look at this mess. I can't expect people to crunch over a mile of that torture. Not to mention that I fully believe that sharp rocks in the road dig into the surface of the road (think can-opener) so that it turns it into dust that blows away. I had no choice. Hopefully a gentle rain will come along and pack the road before any blows away. Basically, there is no high-center left for low clearance vehicles to stress over.

So I raked 8 hrs yesterday and 4 hours today just to get it usable, not to manicure it like I think it should be. Teresa Keck helped for a couple hours yesterday morning and in the evening my two sisters worked on a patch for over an hour. My plan is to leave it until after a huge rain washes it bad and then manicure it better. Here is the best stretch of road after I raked it. 

At the moment, I can't even lift my Canon camera. I'm in pretty bad shape, but I didn't have a choice. In some places I filled the ruts with the rubble because I didn't have the strength to rake it off the road. But at least vehicles can straddle the ruts. I should have taken more photos. Maybe when I get back down there. Trail work will have to wait until I recover. 

UPDATE: Hadn't been in town long when my sister called that she got .55" of rain. My sweet niece went to CMO to check my rain gauge and I had the same amount in it. So I have to run down there tomorrow to refill feeders. That much rain will for sure overflow the internal baffles and they'll be swarming with bees if I don't.  Hopefully, the rain didn't damage the road. I'll find out tomorrow. No water ran into the tanks so it was a slow soaking rain.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Stressful day

Right up front, I didn't take pictures up on the mountain. After laboring to just get up there and then swinging the sledgehammer and pick, and pulling a muscle (or something) in my hip, I just went into survival mode. The trail is done to the oaks, and I really regret not photographing them from the trail. Maybe I'll go back up there again someday. Maybe. I think the muscle event happened because when I swung the sledgehammer I was standing on a steep slope, not on flat ground. Other than that, don't know.

Very hot, people coming and going all day long. Holiday weekend. All very lovely people. Just really tired....

I got excited for a while when a dragonfly showed up that I didn't recognize. Even though the photo I got was horrible because it never landed, it was IDable by the online ode group.... Giant Darner. Not a lifer or a new oasis species, but better than the steady diet of Flame Skimmers I've been having.

I did manage a couple of decent shots of butterflies. Very common species. They love the Skeleton-Leaf Goldeneye.

Marine Blue

Reakirt's Blue

Friday, May 27, 2016

Good to be back to the oasis

I was only gone two days, but was starting to get withdrawal symptoms already (agitation, rise in blood pressure, etc.) Got some watering done and looked for butterflies in the soapberry trees, which are starting to bloom nicely. No interesting butterflies. I especially am hoping to score a Soapberry Hairstreak this spring. For now, it's mostly red bugs.

We're all going up the mountain tomorrow. My friend, Teresa, will be joining us. I'll take photos. Maybe she can help me locate Lucifer Hummingbird nests.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

First CMO banding for the year

Kelly Bryan and Charles Floyd came down from the Davis Mountains to band hummers at CMO early this morning. Anticipating a large number of birds I asked my sister, Ann, to come and help record. I'm glad she did because they banded 65 hummers, 49 of which were Lucifers. Seven of the 15 female Lucifers were gravid (pregnant), so there should be a good crop of juveniles this summer. It really helped having Charles assist, too. Things went smoothly and efficiently. If it had just been Kelly and me like was usually the case, it would have stressed me out with so many birds. Charles and his wife, Nancy, have moved to the Davis Mountains so I'm happy that we'll have their help from now on.

I feel like I'm the "Lucifer Lady." Who else in the entire world turns all the feeding ports on the Dr JB feeders so that the slots are aligned vertically to better accommodate a Lucifer's curved bill? And I make their sugar water solution in glass bottles, not taking a chance on any bad stuff entering it from plastic containers. Not to mention I've participated in a ten-year banding project just to be the one who did the trapping to ensure each hummer is handled gently and safely.* (Not one of the hundreds of Lucifers that were in my hands  has ever been injured, nor have any of the other thousands I've handled of other species either for that matter.) So it's gratifying to have a record number of gravid females. And banding is the only way I could enjoy that knowledge. Now if I can just locate a nest up on that mountain. There are lots of females in the Blue Oak vicinity, which I call the "nursery," but my knees just haven't let me clamber around on those steep slopes looking. But it's going to happen. If not this year, then next year.


* I should mention that banders are perfectly competent to handle hummers without injury, but when there are large numbers of hummers they need someone to trap so they can process the birds in a timely manner. And it's the potential trappers I would have concerns about, not the banders. Now that Charles and Nancy are here, both wonderful banders, I won't need to do the trapping much anymore.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Up and at it again

Ann and I went up the mountain for a couple of hours. I'm so exhausted by the time I get to where we last worked that I really have to push myself to get anything done. But this weekend I'm expecting some help. We will see if any actually arrives. I do feel like I made some progress today, but I have lowered my standards a bit.... for now anyway. Some places are narrower than I'd like them for sure. Sorry, no photos. I was too tired. Next time. You probably wouldn't notice much on them anyway, but I think I did at least 30 feet of really rough stuff.

Back at the oasis there are loads of recently fledged birds and lots of feeding activity. Here's my first photo of a Yellow-breasted Chat carrying food to the nest. Distant and heavily cropped.

I've been searching for the Peregrine eyrie and here's what I've come up with, but not confirmed. Arrow is pointing to a little ledge to the left of a white-washed area. I'm thinking that may be the eyrie, but I could sure be wrong. That area of the cliff face is the only area with white-wash, so I'm thinking it has to be somewhere in that area. This photo was taken with 400mm zoom at about a half-mile away.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Trail to trail

I try not to work on the hard Blue Oak Trail on two consecutive days. It's too strenuous, plus Ann and I have to coordinate our town schedules. She works part time at Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross, and I have my husband in town that I have to spend a few days a week with. So tomorrow it's back to the hard trail, but today I worked on the S Rim Trail. Peregrines seem to be feeding young high on the rock face. I need to set up my scope so I can find the eyrie. Meanwhile, dawn found me heading that way.

I know I progressed at least 60 feet on the trail, but you sure can't tell it. My pickup seems to stay the same distance from where I'm working. And still lots of flat land to go before the trail starts to climb. But it's fun.

It got up to 100° today.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Routine day

I spent most of the morning up on the mountain swinging the pickax. The girls are way far ahead of me. They're barely visible in this photo right in front of the oak patch.

Here I've zoomed the camera lens a bit. They rough-in the trail and leave the finishing to me. I didn't make much progress today. Really rugged terrain. Julie's daughter, Gabrielle, joined the work crew today.

Here is an example of a spot they roughed-in. I, jokingly, told them they must have turned into mountain goats somewhere in this process to be calling that a trail. But, of course, in reality, I like the system just how it is. I like to do the final decisions on how steep, wide, smooth, etc. to leave it. It makes me feel like I'm doing the creative part with a whole lot less labor. Doing it all by myself on the S Rim Trail reminds me of just how much help they really are. 

Section of trail roughed-in

Same section after I sculpted it.
Here is the roughest section of the trail so far. At some point it's going to need some heavy pickaxing. That one outcrop is right in the middle of the trail. No other options. A person can walk over it but I'd really like it to be removed. I think I'll see what the sledgehammer can do.

Next is a perfect example of the cholla status up there. They all looked dead after 2011 but many are starting to look like this. It appears that the roots survived the record freezes and big new shoots are coming up. And apparently Lucifer Hummingbirds will nest in dead ones in the meantime, although I haven't found a nest yet this year. That's mostly due to lack of searching.

And back at the oasis I sat and birded with some birders. Good thing I did or I would have missed seeing this Yellow-billed Cuckoo one of them found. It's a distant heavily-cropped shot, but my first photo of that species so I'm not too picky.

Such an interesting bee or wasp. It sure looks like it says "8333" on its back in big yellow letters.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Birder's birthday bird

A lovely young couple visited today. It was the birthday present to the husband. For his birthday he wanted a lifer Lucifer Hummingbird. He certainly got his wish. Happy Birthday, Alban!

Alban and Evelyn Guillaumet from Austin
They also found a Baltimore Oriole gorging itself on my apricot tree.

And I got my first Band-winged Dragonlet for the year. 

Here is a picture I took a couple of weeks ago when Brian was here, but forgot to post it. It's an Ursine Giant-Skipper pupa. Brian loves raising them.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Two happy surprises

One of my favorite most beloved persons, Dennis Shepler, visited today with the most perfect surprise for me. He painted me a painting of  a Lucifer Hummingbird and if that wasn't awesome enough, he made me some "Christmas Mountains Oasis" T-shirts with that painting on it. I am way over the top honored!!! I forgot to photograph the painting before I headed to town, but will do it when I get back to CMO. Meanwhile, here's me with Dennis wearing one of the shirts. Unfortunately, the light was such that the lettering doesn't show up good on the photo.

...but here is a shot of it when not being worn. Is that perfect, or what?

Surprise number two was a lifer butterfly at CMO. Dennis and I and his companions were sitting in the viewing blind chatting when I jumped up and ran for my camera exclaiming that I saw a butterfly I wanted to photograph. It was on the fresh Vitex Chaste Tree (more like a bush) blooms. Brian ID'd it as a Meridian Duskywing. Awesome! So this is my second post for the day. Makes up for days when I have nothing to blog about, I guess.

Another day, another stretch of trail

No rain, but cool, moisture, and clouds are the next best thing this time of year. Seems like work on the relatively flat area of the S. Rim Trail is going really slow. Partially because my good hoe and pick are up on the other trail. Hope to get a better hoe in town tomorrow. If you enlarge the next photo you can see how close I still am to my pickup. I guess I expect since the ground is pretty flat that it should go faster, but distance is distance, flat or sloped.

I moved a dead Prickly Pear Cactus out of the way of the trail and uncovered this Texas Banded Gecko.

I found my first one last year, but I don't think it was an adult like this one is. (See post of Mar 22, 2015) So even the dead vegetation is valuable.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

CMO upcoming workshop and stuff

Here's a link to info about the upcoming Lucifer Hummingbird workshop to be held at CMO in August. Even if you're not interested in the workshop, check out the fantastic Lucifer photos on the site. On the first shot you can almost read the band number. My personal favorite is #7.

Today was such a nicely cool day (abt 60°) that I wanted to get some trail work done. But I didn't feel up to climbing that mountain so decided to start on the South Rim Trail. I spent 3 hours clearing bushes out of the road leading up to the trailhead. It's an old road that we haven't really maintained. Since I'll be driving it a lot now, I need to protect the underside of my pickup. Just a few weeks ago I had to replace the radiator guard that broke out. Working under my pickup really kills my shoulder, so I don't want to rip off the radiator guard again. This view is headed away from the trailhead after I pruned and dug out all the bushes in the way.

Then after a short nap and lunch I went back and started on the actual walking trail. Couldn't stand to waste such a cool May day. Soon it'll be boiling hot out. I flagged a short distance of the proposed trail and started scraping grass, rocks, and stuff away, plus leveling it more, although it's a pretty flat area so far.

That flagging is on a Lotebush that has fruit on it.

I had been clearing dead sotol from the trail until I found this snake inside one. Now I'm making the trail go around the dead sotols. (A lot died during the 2011 drought and record cold.) No ID on the snake yet. I posted it online so will update when I get it ID'd. It was pretty traumatic for me to get a photo of it. Actually, felt sick to my stomach while I was carrying it in my thick leather-gloved hand (by its tail, of course) to the pickup where my camera was. Then I released it and tried to photograph it as is slithered away. Couldn't get the whole snake on one shot so here is part of it. It had a white underbelly and was between one and two feet long. I'm guessing it's a Mexican Hognose Snake.

Next is a very general idea of where the trail is going. It starts out relatively flat, then winds around to the right of that jagged outcropping, then up to a sort of saddle, then along the backside of that ridge up to the main saddle of the mountain that isn't visible on this photo, but in that general area. That will be the south route to the mountain top. Not sure yet if we're going to extend the Blue Oak Trail to the top on the west side or not. It depends on if this trail is an easier way to go or not.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A look around on the mountain

We worked on the trail this morning for a couple of hours. Well past the saddle now, going into the home stretch. Not sure if we're going to go around to the big pouroff or not since it might be easier to get to the mountain's top around on the trail that I'm going to make on the south side of the mountain. Will wait and see. Meanwhile, the black arrow is the stand of oaks and the white arrow is the next big arroyo we have to negotiate. Because the ground was wet this morning our steps stood out more than usual.

Did I just say "steps?" Wasn't I the one who thought that once we passed the saddle we wouldn't have many more steps to do?

I was really surprised at all the live cholla up there. After the drought and record cold of 2011 they all appeared dead. Now there are lots of baby ones, but also lots of larger ones. They couldn't have grown that fast, which means many that appeared dead came back to life. Incredible! An example is that one in the above photo. If you enlarge it you can see dead stalks on it, but most of it is alive. There are a lot of completely dead ones too, but it's wonderful to see so many green ones.

In my great wisdom, I carried a folding chair up so I would have a comfortable resting spot. I wasn't able to use it because there wasn't a large or level enough spot to set it. In this photo you can't tell but the front closest leg is 2 inches off the ground. And steep incline below...

Next photo is that incline. Just visualize, if you can, what it would be like traversing that slope minus that trail. It was always a grueling climb to get to the oaks. And we're putting the trail in the easiest access route we can find. The arrow is above where the saddle is, but not visible on this photo. To the right of the arrow you can just see the tip of the knob that creates the saddle.

I saw several female Lucifer Hummingbirds today but didn't have the stamina to clamber up and down the slopes looking for nests. Strangely, downslope I saw a Lucifer appearing to forage on the ocotillos, which seem to be way past their nectar life. 

Maybe she was looking for insects. That doesn't seem likely, but then, neither does it seem possible that any nectar is on those dry old blooms. And finally, this is the view looking up from where we were working on the trail.

Back at the oasis, hummingbirds were swarming and birders said they saw females gathering nesting material, so I'm not giving up on finding a nest. 

You can see from this photo, taken way back by my house right before dark this evening, that after the saddle the trail needs to gain a lot of elevation.

Monday, May 16, 2016


My sister a mile away got .3" of rain yesterday like I reported. I assumed CMO did too, but it didn't. Got way less than one-tenth. Oh well, the season is young.

Out scouting for something to photograph to include in this post and all I saw was not what I was hoping for----- a fledgling Canyon Wren drowned in a rain barrel. So sad!

Good thing my tanks aren't empty or I'd be crying because all around me are getting rain and I'm not. But I hear thunder in the distance. And I'm good with water for now.

UPDATE: Got a little shower after posting this. A little over one-tenth inch this time.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Chomping at the bit here

Got .3" of rain at CMO. Not enough to fill my tanks but a wonderful soaking nevertheless. I'm dying to run down there but by the time I get there it'll be dark and the big hill will be muddy, maybe even to where I'd have to walk in. So I'll suffer through it here in town and arrive there around daylight.

Hopefully, this will be the start of good odonate activity. The first thing I'll have to do there is redo all my hummingbird feeders. Otherwise, the bees will descend on them. That's the only downside of Dr.JB feeders, but it rains so seldom that it isn't a real problem, and the rest of the time I'm bee-free.

This AM my sisters went up the mountain without me and worked on the trail, roughing it in since it needs me to pick-ax out boulders before it's ready for me to manicure. Chompin' at the bit to do that, too. I've decided we're going to continue the trail past the oaks, over another saddle and up to the top of the mountain, so there'll be easier access, not only to the oaks, but to the mountain top too. Since Brian found all those cool butterfly species up there two weeks ago, I don't know why it took me so long to decide to do that. And that will be our western access. I'm also going to do a southern access from my side of the mountain. We don't own the north or east sides, but do own the top and other two sides. I guess necessity is the mother of invention because it never occurred to us to make trails until we physically could no longer make the climbs. The thought of never seeing that wonderful part of our properties did the trick. But the kids and grandkids are anxious to enjoy the trails too, which gives us added impetus.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Out of sync today

We sisters went up the mountain early this morning. I had just gotten to the saddle (red arrow) where I was touching up where we left off last time when my sister told me a vehicle was coming down the road. Since I was expecting birders I thought I should go join them, so I hied down the mountain in record time. They stayed and flagged all the way to the oaks. Julie had never been there before. Tuesday morning we are going back up. I'll have birders then too but maybe we will have worked an hour or so before they arrive. At any rate, they're birders who have been here before so I won't feel a need to join them.

Now I'm in Alpine and it's raining. We got a teensy shower at CMO last night, but nothing to write about.

Oh, I want to mention that going up the mountain this morning I counted the stairsteps to the saddle. There were approximately 222, not counting the slopes and ramp-like inclines. Just stair-like steps.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Fun and more fun

As much sugar water as I provide the Lucifer Hummingbirds, if no one comes to see them it feels like watering a garden full of tomatoes and watching them go to waste. But not today! A couple of ace photographers visited and got some great shots of the Lucifers. And even more fun was when they let me put my memory card in their camera and shoot a few shots myself. And what a difference their cameras, setup and flash make! Here's a photo taken by my camera from behind them at what they were shooting. The first one is just cropped. Second one is brightened on photoshop.

Compare that to one I took a few minutes later with their camera, pre-focused, flash, and the proper settings. I did nothing on photoshop except crop.

This is not acceptable. I simply must do better photography even if it means learning flash and all that. (moan!) 

Words can't express my gratitude to Larry Ditto and Paul Denman. They are first class super persons. And guess what? Larry will be doing a Lucifer photo workshop here in August in conjunction with the Davis Mountain Hummingbird Festival. Anyone interested in signing up will have an experience of a lifetime. Here's a link for more info:

And here's Larry's website to check out his awesome work and also contact him regarding the workshop:

I have plenty of rabbits around the oasis but seldom photograph them. Yesterday I couldn't resist this one relaxing in the shade.

If you didn't see this Sleepy Orange butterfly land on this Evergreen Sumac leaf you would never, with the naked eye, know it wasn't a leaf. What awesome camouflage!

And I was easily entertained by a White-winged Dove doing it's courtship display. It would perform facing one direction, turn and repeat it facing another direction, around and around. So much wonderful stuff to see in nature.