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Monday, August 21, 2017

Festival week

A busy week for CMO. Today was Larry Ditto's hummingbird workshop. It went well in that the weather wasn't real hot (around 80°), the mosquitoes weren't too bad, and they didn't get rained out. On the other hand, it seems the male Lucifer Hummingbirds have mostly headed south already, leaving the females to finish the last nesting.  Or maybe the males forage far and wide and leave the feeder resources for the females that don't want to stray far from the nests. At any rate, the males have wrapped up their part in the process. So, while females were plentiful at the feeders, males not so much.

Glad I enlarged the parking area. And this isn't by any means a large group. Don't know how I managed before, but I can say, it was really difficult at times. Later this week vehicles will be crammed in everywhere, but at least now it won't be as bad.


Here's a female Lucifer checking out one of the photo setups.


I haven't posted any photos in the last couple of days because there's nothing interesting to me at the oasis lately. I've begun to realize that when I get the interesting OOPS (Out-Of-Place Species) they arrive after a big storm has blown them in. Then they hang around, rest and refuel, and are gone in an hour or so. Once in awhile they stay longer, especially birds. Like the Varied Thrush that came in with a storm and stayed all winter. So I need to be sure and be here after big storms if I want to find OOPS.

My allergies are getting bad and I only have Zyrtec here. It makes me sleepy. Going to town for a couple of days and restock my Claritin. Also going to get new toilet parts for the guest house. The toilet malfunctioned and I lost 3000 gallons of water. That's at least the third time that's happened in the last 20 years. It never happens at the house. Surely by now I've learned to either turn it off when it's not in use or check it every day if it is in use. I'm not hurting for water now, but it could have just as well happened at a time when I was short.

Today's eclipse was disappointing. I tried to photograph it with my iphone but the photos didn't show the moon. Just the sun as normal, even though when I looked at it through eclipse glasses, I could see it clearly. I used the same glasses in front of my iphone lens. The sky never darkened like I expected. Just looked as if a cloud had gotten in front of the sun, a normal everyday occurrence. Had I not know there was an eclipse in progress, it would never have occurred to me. Here in the Big Bend it never covered half the sun. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Tension building

Compare my photo yesterday of the Blue-eyed Darner to Michael Gray's and you'll see why I'm so dissatisfied with my shots. Here's Michael's.


And his flight shot to die for.


I think one of these days there'll be good affordable mirror-less cameras on the market and all anyone will have to do is aim the camera toward the subject. The camera will automatically do all the thinking. My kind of camera. And they'll be lighter than my heavy Canon (aptly named).

I submitted my potential Carmine Skimmer shot to Odonata Central and hoping it'll be accepted and a new record for Brewster Co.

Found out that interview I've been scheduled to do (next Friday) about creating a habitat in the desert is going to be shown on PBS on the Texas Parks & Wildlife program. That's enough to make me nervous. About as nervous as if a monsoon comes in the next week and washes out the road. On pins and needles here.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Yay, no rain today!

It rained hard all around the oasis and I feared another monsoon would come and wash out the road again. But it missed me. This time.

Kind of a bummer today because I talked a good photographer, Michael Gray, into coming all the way from Ft Davis to help me document the possible new ode species at CMO. But most of the day was overcast and little was flying. We never saw the potential Carmine Skipper and there were quite a few either Blue-eyed Darners or Arroyo, and we couldn't get good shots of the appendages to confirm that there was an Arroyo there. They could all be the Blue-eyed.


I enlarged the appendage on the above photo, hoping to see what it is, but I can't tell. Wrong angle. Needed a side shot. Tried but he flew away when I maneuvered to his side. He's the only one we saw perched alone today. The other (s) was/were joined in mating, or in flight. Maybe Michael got a more diagnostic shot.


Here's is a Roseate Skimmer I shot today to compare to the potential Carmine Skimmer from yesterday. You can see it's a hard call.


Today I remembered to photograph the new Snake Road sign as I exited the black top. There's hope for me yet!


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Possible new oasis species

Made a day trip to CMO with a couple of helpers to work on the road some. I feel more comfortable about the upcoming festival groups visiting now. And the ranch fixed Snake Road nicely. Someone even put up a street sign designating Snake Rd. Hope it lasts longer than the previous ones did. Forgot to take a photo of it (some blogger I am!). Next time.

The help could only work a couple of hours so I made sure to wear them out in that time. Got some bad rocks removed from the road. Every little bit helps. After they left I wandered around looking for butterflies and odonates. Thinking I got a species not documented at the oasis before and maybe in the whole Trans-Pecos. Checking with experts now. Here's what I feel certain is a Carmine Skimmer. A front face shot would confirm the ID, but it was way out across water whenever it perched. But in flight I saw the bright red face, so I'm sure that's what it is. Just may have to go back tomorrow and try for better shots of it and this next ode, same situation. Only perched way out in the little reed (all dead I fear) island. The water is deep going out there. Wasn't up to it today because if I slip in with my camera it's a bad deal. And it's a pretty steep slope going to the island.


Here's what I consider a possible Arroyo Darner. It was also way out on the island. The appendages are the determining factor on this one.


And here's a lovely little moth. I think it's a Lichen Moth (Eudesmia arida)


Coming out from the oasis this afternoon from my big hill I saw this in the distance. I guess it was the edge of a rain storm. (My two sisters' places in the foreground.)

My road in lower right corner
Nine Point Mesa barely visible in the background
This country has new delights to see every day.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Getting things back under control

Early this AM my sister and I went out to check the damage on Snake Rd., particularly the place where 2 vehicles from the Fort Davis Hummingbird Festival had to be towed out of last August  It was really bad. We worked on it for an hour or two, along with another sister and her daughter. Got it where we could get out. When I came back to the oasis the cliff side at the top of the big hill had sloughed off  during my absence. Had to hook a chain to some of them and drag them closer to the road edge to where we could roll them down the slope.


Tomorrow the Property Owners' Association, to which I pay annual maintenance fees, is going to fix the bad spot on Snake Rd. My own mile of road I have to maintain. It's rough but usable. I would not recommend coming in a low clearance vehicle at this time. Eventually my husband will bring his bobcat down and clean up the landslide area. I removed everything to the right of that big squarish white rock.

Here's the only wildlife photo I took today. Just a common skipper, probably a Northern Cloudywing


Lots of common odes and butterflies around. I was just too busy getting the oasis  back under control. When the ground is wet is the best time to pull weeds out of the paths, etc. 

The mulch at the oasis had been washed into random drifts here and there and I spent hours salvaging what I could of it. Then I came to town and did a final rinse to half of the rent house floors prior to waxing. Tomorrow I'll do the other half and then my husband is going to wax them. That's the final step and he's eager to get done with it. Normally I wouldn't do a final wipe up but the cleaning with oven cleaner had created so much muck that I wasn't sure I'd gotten it clean enough. But the first half was cleaner than I had expected it to be so it's no big deal. A total of two hours labor to be sure wax isn't applied over any residue of grime.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

What a day!!!

I knew several groups of birders were going to be at the oasis today and I really wanted to be there. I hurried and finished the rent house floors and rushed down. By the time I arrived only one birder was still there. Glad I got to meet him anyway. Then after he left I rushed around filling feeders, and other chores. I noticed it was really raining to the southeast of the oasis in the park. And thought it'd be nice to get another little shower. We had gotten a nice one yesterday when I wasn't here, so I wasn't planning on watering anything anyway.

It started sprinkling at 4 PM and I thought, oh I hope we get a few tenths. It'd be nice. I didn't get to see the tanks fill a week ago today and missed the shower yesterday. The loud AC was going in the house and I was playing on the computer. Lots of close lightning, lights flickered on and off.

I went to look out the window and the courtyard was flooded. Water was seeping in the kitchen door so I ran out in the rain and took the overflow drain off the pond. It's designed to drain the courtyard should it be necessary. But it's never been necessary before. My camera was in my pickup and I didn't dare go get it, so I snapped a couple of poor shots with my cell phone. This first one, taken looking out the window, shows water pouring off the roof into the courtyard.




































When I was finally able to go out water was everywhere. The oasis was under water, the road going to the oasis was underwater. I took some video clips to share the event. Hope they're viewable. The first one is the water running across the road after both dirt tanks are full.

2017 8-13 (1) road

This next one is me going to the Lower Dam. From there the water goes to the ocean as CMO can hold no more. A shame too.

2017 8-13 CMO to L.dam

Next is a short clip taken below the dam.

2017 8-13 CMO L.dam clip (2)

Here's the wildlife pond.

2017 8-13 CMO (4) wildlife pond

And the pine forest taken by the flooded cottonwood tree.

2017 8-13 (3) cottonwood

Those should give you an idea of what it was like. Water roaring in stereo from all directions.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

One tile at a time

My shirt is hanging down. I'm not fat! (I weigh 135 lbs.)

Got over half the house done. It's 600 square feet. Only 200 or so to go. 😓 My husband doesn't know how to take photos so this photo isn't what I would have taken. Upper left corner is his finger of course. Behind me is the dirty floor. Can is oven cleaner. Yup, it's saving my life. First I spray a section of six or so tiles with oven cleaner, then scour them with a steel pad. Then I take a wet rag and scrub up the mud, which is what I'm doing on the above photo. This photo doesn't give even a clue as to how filthy the floors are before I scrub them. A lot of what I'm removing is old wax buildup. My husband waxes the floors before he rents them out. I can't dissuade him from doing it. Did the shower with oven cleaner too. Try it. You'll like it.

I wish I had known about using oven cleaner while cleaning that last rent house less than a month ago. Before that it had been at least 2 yrs. since we had a vacancy. Hopefully, it'll be a real long time again. And sometimes people actually leave the house clean. We love it when we can give them their deposits back. Meanwhile, two trashed houses within a month is pretty traumatic. (Total of 4 rentals.)

No later than Monday morning I'm going to CMO and for the most part I plan to stay there for the next 4 weeks with short visits to town. Summers there with plenty of water are my favorite times and I don't want to miss out.  I'll have the floors done tomorrow, then the house will be done except for things I can't do. A new refrigerator is being delivered Monday, and a plumber is coming Wednesday, etc.

Dreaming of odes and butterflies that I'm going to be photographing soon!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Work and more work

Yesterday I worked all day on the rent house. It was as filthy as any we've had, maybe worse.

Today I came to the oasis to service feeders and pump the water out of the upper dirt tank before it's all lost. It had gone down 3' but still had a lot in it. Topped off all my tanks and the rest went into the lower dirt tank, which holds water twice as good as the upper dirt tank. Here's my big concrete tank after the water settled and all.


The stucco tank leaks about an inch per day. Not much I can do about it. The water that backed up behind the dams in the arroyo is now gone except for one puddle. Dragonflies are everywhere. I felt lucky to capture this pair of Wandering Gliders. They never land that I can tell.


A lot of stuff is blooming and butterfly numbers are increasing. Here's the Senna Wislizeni that I planted several years ago.

Back to town to work on the rent house the next few days. Husband is calling me, wanting to know when I'm coming and telling me all that needs doing there. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Common stuff

The sun barely shone today here in Alpine so I wasn't much inspired to photograph anything. Bob Zeller had suggested I shoot in Tv mode and set the ISO to automatic. Sounded good to me, so was eager to try it. I shot this Blue Dasher that way.


While it seems to me that my picture quality is equivalent to what I shot with my old Rebel, I don't want to go back to it, so something must be better. Not sure what though. Probably for my purposes, which is mostly documentation, this quality is fine. It's just that some species are hard to tell apart and require better.

I took this photo yesterday. Didn't post it because I've posted dozens of this species already, but Brian insists so I relented. It's a Two-tailed Swallowtail female. And likely the last photo of that species I'll ever post.


We're waiting on the tenant to get out of the rent house. They said they'd be out before today. Now they say in a day or so. Waiting is messing up both of our schedules. I want to go to CMO and pump some of the water out of the upper dirt tank and my husband needs to get the house painted and detailed and rented before he goes on a two week fishing trip the last week of Aug and first week of Sep. Also lots of odes are showing up at CMO and I worry that I'm missing them. So far they're mostly gliders, but I know good stuff is imminent.



Monday, August 7, 2017

Light bulb moment

I could not understand why my pictures in Manual mode turned out good, and then didn't in Av mode. But I discovered that in Manual mode the camera sets the exposure compensation automatically and doesn't in Av mode. So when I shoot in Av and set the compensation I get better photos. Somehow my brain works to think Av should be more automatic than Manual, but it's just automatic in different areas.* My warranty expires in 10 days but I'm going to assume I'm the problem and keep the camera. Hey, life is not without its risks.

This morning I could get close enough to the arroyo to photograph my soapberry thicket. Everything in the oasis was alive and somewhat healthy before this big rain, thanks to what I pumped from the upper dirt tank 3 times, but now everything will get lush and lovely. However, I don't water this soapberry thicket so it wasn't looking very good before. I'll photograph it again in a month for comparison.


I was servicing my feeders this morning when this female Lucifer headed for the nesting material. Grabbed my camera without adjusting the settings and hoped for the best. They were really overblown but I adjusted some of that on photoshop. For some forgotten reason the camera was in Manual mode with a high ISO (1600) and a fast shutter speed (1500). Next time I don't have time to make adjustments I should just switch to a more automatic mode, like P.


When I installed the feeder poles I added perches. The hummers love them. Here's a migrating male Ruby-throated juvenile. This photo gives a size perspective.


This next Lucifer female I photographed because she's so dark in coloration. They range from almost white to this dark. She looked duskier in person than she does on these photos, however.


Here's a juvenile male displaying to a female. This photo would be funny if it wasn't so frustrating. As sparsely as that tree is leafed, it's still almost impossible to see the action. So typical.


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*I think Manual mode should be called EC mode (exposure compensation mode because it does it automatically). And Av mode should be called SS mode (that mode sets shutter speed automatically).


Sunday, August 6, 2017

CMO monsoon season

Well, while I was in town blogging my heart out, my sister called to say it was monsooning here. I had looked at the radar an hour earlier. Didn't look all that promising. None forecast. So I rushed down. Although I missed seeing  the torrential rains, I got to enjoy the immediate aftermath. Water was still flooding and running across Terlingua Ranch Road. Seems I got my whole monsoon season in less than an hour. Typical. Got 1.46," which is a lot for me to get in one storm.


While I was speeding south, my sister went to work on a bad spot on Snake Rd so I could get through. I really appreciated that. On my big hill I stopped to pick up boulders that had tumbled down the cliff-side but one was too heavy. Fortunately I was able to go around it.


I think this is the latest in the year that I've had to wait for my tanks to fill, other than in 2011 when I didn't get rain all year. My soapberries are standing in water, which makes them happy. I couldn't get close enough to them to take a photo because of water. Everything is full of water. 

Hoping to get the Terlingua Ranch maintenance crew to grade Snake Rd before the hummer festival and photo workshop in less than 2 weeks. But there's nothing I can do about the hordes of mosquitoes that are going to magically appear. People will just have to use repellent. 



Stucco tank

Big concrete tank

Wildlife pond

In a week I should be loaded with mosquito-eating dragonflies. The trees along the edge of the wildlife pond are currently standing in water. They love that, too. By tomorrow it will have subsided and they'll have had a good much needed soaking. What with migrant hummers starting to show up, the doldrums of summer are past, at last.

I won't have to water or pump water this week while we're working on the rent house. Then I should be able to come down here and enjoy.

A little progress

Worked really hard with my camera today. I've come to the conclusion that my new camera is just more light sensitive than my old Rebel. With help from friends and testing Av settings over and over, I am finally able to take decent shots in Av. That's progress. I removed the extender just to eliminate one possible variable.

Practiced a long time on flowers. They're stationary and pretty easy, but I deleted all those. Then went to odes to try my luck. They're not plentiful, but I managed to locate a few. By lowering the ISO way down to 250 (on all these ode shots) I was able to get this one without blowing it out, and still have a decent shutter speed (1/750), without doing anything to the exposure compensation. (Fstop/8 on all these photos) That makes it easier for me to switch between birds and insects if I don't have to change multiple settings. Have lost many a shot that way.

Common Whitetail
On this next shot, I messed up some. I may have shot it in manual mode, don't remember, but definitely not blown out. It was a more difficult shot anyway, what with the shadows etc. But by lowering the exposure compensation to -1, I was able to get a fast shutter speed (1/1500). However, I shouldn't have to do that compensation, or at least not as much. It's too dark. I wish I could shoot this one over. I think I could do better, but it's probably a one time shot.

Mating Eastern Amberwings
On this last one, the shutter speed was 1/500 with no compensation, which seems to work but I should have used a higher Fstop and maybe I could have gotten the female in focus better. But to do that I would probably had a blown out picture without going for the compensation adjustment. Whew! Not sure I'll ever get this.

Double-striped Bluets

Change of subject, please!

 I save emails and notes from visitors who tell me how they enjoyed the oasis during their visit. I have hundreds. Those messages and the generous donations really inspire me to hang in there. Wanted to share excerpts from some of them with you.
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Thanks so much for allowing us up to your quiet, off the beaten path oasis. Your directions were spot on and easy to follow.

Your house was the only place we saw Lucifers on our trip.  You work very hard and your yard and road show it.  It was an adventure to come out to the mountains, away from parks and people.  Your house is unique and very appropriate to the setting.

This afternoon was such an absolutely wonderful time!!! I could have spent hours talking and hanging out!  

Just wanted to tell you how much [xxxx] and I enjoyed our visit to CMO, and how glad we are that you were there when we visited, as your presence really made the place come alive for us!  We very much enjoyed visiting with you, and seeing the house, and talking about how CMO came to be, and listening to bird calls, and … well … everything!   Thank you!  I am looking forward to coming back out there and visiting again sometime next year!

[xxxx] said that you and your place made her trip.

You have been so hospitable over the years to all the experts and all the novices that love Big Bend.  We have not crossed paths in a few years and hope that can happen in the next year as well.  We are so thankful for what you do and hope you can stay in good health as you provide whatever is needed for your flock

Thank you so much for creating such a wonderful oasis and for making it available to us and to other birders.  You are brightening the world in a very unique and special way. 

Visited your Oasis yesterday late afternoon, had superb views of a male Lucifer Hummingbird both at feeders & sat on bushes - stunning! So many thanks. Found last mile drive a bit hairy - not use to such roads in UK.
Wow! Thanks so much for allowing us this experience and for providing such wonderful habitat for the birds. We spent more than 2 hours there. Our top priority was to see a Lucifer's Hummer, a bird we've never seen, and we hadn't been there more than a minute before there it was! We spent most of our time under the tin roof, and there were Lucifers there most of the time. One time I was standing up, and a Lucifers settled onto the feeder hanging from the roof. I could have touched it! We saw both males and females.


We loved your place. [xxxx] says it was her favorite stop on the trip.

I wanted to thank you for letting us visit your oasis this past week. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed being there and was very impressed with all of the birds. It was definitely a high point of the trip.

We had a spectacular visit to CMO this morning.

I wanted to write to thank you so much for allowing my fiance and I to visit your beautiful oasis ..... This was such an amazing experience and the definite highlight of our trip out west. 

Great place!  About as off the beaten
path as anyplace I've visited in the past decade.
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My sister called and said we got a big rain. Gonna head down tonight and see if tanks are full or water to pump. To be continued.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Keepin' on keepin' on

Another hard day. Went to CMO to water and service feeders. Sweating and not carrying my big Canon. But from time to time I'd get it from my pickup and play with the settings. I'm still not sure the problem with it isn't me. Don't want to send it back unless I'm sure. Today I discovered that by stepping down the exposure compensation I can get a decent photo in Av setting. So maybe I'm the problem. I didn't think I should have to step it way down, especially with my extender on, but what do I know? Here's a photo I took today with Av. I still haven't got the trick to getting the camera to do a fast shutter speed in Av. My thought is that instead of  the camera making an overblown image, it should make the shutter speed faster. But it's not working that way.

This one was taken with the camera setting the speed to 1/500. Too slow for a sharp handheld shot. I had the ISO at 1600 and F/8 with the exposure down -1 step. But distant bird shots don't present the overblown problem I have with closeups.

Elf Owl

When I set the camera so that it won't be overblown on Av doing a butterfly at about 6 feet away, the camera sets the speed at 1/180. This Vesta Crescent shot couldn't possibly be sharp at that slow a speed. I had set the ISO at 400, F/8 and -2 exposure compensation during my experimentation on this shot. I just don't think I should have to set the EC that low. That's a pain to have to do so many adjustments when you switch from birds to butterflies. And while I got it so it's not overblown, that's meaningless if the shot is blurry. I just can't get it right. The irony is that with an extender you lose light, yet I'm trying to get the picture darker all the time. I don't know if it's me or the camera, but my shots aren't as sharp as they were with my Rebel in Av mode. I get very discouraged trying to sort all this out. Tomorrow I'll try again.


Walking around moving hoses today my foot kicked up a stick somehow and a big splinter went through my sock and deep into my ankle. Still don't have it out.

Then I got to town and my husband informed me a tenant is moving out with two days notice. My body still hasn't recovered from scouring the floors from the last vacant house (which now has new tenants in it). Don't see how I'm going to manage all this with the hummingbird festival and the photography workshop coming up in two weeks. And if I ever get a big rain I may have to pump water. That's always priority. Guess I'm just exhausted tonight and things seem overwhelming. Bedtime.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Silent summer

Nothing, nada, zilch. No rain. No odes. No butterflies. No birds. Hardly any hummers. Maybe it's just there's so much blooming that things have dispersed. Doesn't make sense though. Our ponds are about the only open water in Alpine. I'd think they'd be teeming with odes. Could only find two common species on them today. And here's about the only butterfly I could find, the most common Vesta Crescent.


Summer has always been my favorite time of year. So far spring was the best time this year. Maybe fall will be good. Or maybe I'll travel this fall to where it is good.

Here are some of the vines blooming in our lovely yard. For all the good it does.




Tomorrow I'm going to CMO to water and to change cameras. Gonna send the new Canon back for repair or whatever, and use my old Rebel meanwhile. Maybe something wonderful will be there.