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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

CMO is Deadsville

Not a single hummingbird here. Weather is lovely, although still breezy. The oasis is about 70% deciduous. When I planted stuff I planted roughly half of it with evergreen trees. But the oasis does its own thing and lots of stuff grows by itself. That's wonderful, especially when it's evergreen stuff. And better yet when it plants itself in a good spot. Here's a future evergreen thicket that I don't know if I'll live long enough to enjoy, but it planted itself in a great spot near the feeder and water feature. It's composed of a native juniper, two persimmon trees, and an Agarita bush. In the background is a dormant Mexican Buckeye that I planted.

 I like Agarita if it isn't growing too close to a walkway. Here's one that I have to prune because visitors sitting on the bench get poked by it.

Evergreens grow slower, which is part of the reason I planted half of the oasis with deciduous. And also there needs to be variety, fruiting trees, etc.

Monday, January 30, 2017

First Alpine habitat group

Sul Ross's biology professor, Sean Graham, has taken groups to CMO before but this is the first time he brought one to our town ponds. I'm curious if they actually saw many birds.

Shortly before they arrived, my husband saw a raptor fly over but by the time I got outside it was far in the distance. Not sure what it was. At first he thought a Turkey Vulture. When I suggested it was awfully early for a vulture, that maybe it was a Golden Eagle, he decided it was an eagle. It flew in a dihedral manner. I never saw it close up like he did. When I showed Hugh photos of both species he was sure it was an eagle. He claims he saw white on the center of the wings. (He said that before I suggested an eagle.) I was way too far away to get anything but a tiny silhouette. What do you think? 

UPDATE: Kelly Bryan said the raptor is a Turkey Vulture. YAY! Spring has to be imminent!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A fresh orange

Today I picked one of the five oranges on my tree. It's pretty amazing to pick tree-ripened oranges and eat them fresh. Even if it is indoors. They're so juicy that I can't do it without making a mess.

Still cool and breezy, but could be worse.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January flower

My sister was thrilled to find a new flower blooming at her place (near mine) at this time of year. I thought it was a new one for both of us, but I found a photo of one at my place taken in early March 2015. So false alarm. It's a Whitlowwort (draba cuneifolia) of the mustard family. Also known as Wedgeleaf Draba or Wedgeleaf Whitlow-grass. I photographed a sample she snipped from it.

I think it's somewhat rare for our area, and especially to be blooming in January.

The last couple of days have been horrendously windy. When I got to CMO my feeders were all covered with bees. That's because the wind swung them so violently that the solution overflowed the internal baffles and ran to the outside of the feeders. Yuck!

Even after I took this one down the bees would not leave it alone. But I now have fresh clean ones hung and no bees. For now the bad winds should be over.

Also saw a new butterfly for my 2017 list. It's a common one, Variegated Fritillary, but I'm not picky in the middle of winter. Anything to help me make through.

Since my husband is on a fishing excursion I'm going to be at CMO for the next couple of days.😀

Friday, January 13, 2017

Moisture in the air

Rain is in the forecast. I woke up this morning to an overcast world, but still a lovely sunrise.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

More work-play

Every spring before birders start arriving I restore my dike/arroyo trail. But I got a head start on it today. Of course, if a big rain comes down the arroyo and fills my tanks I'll have to go back and pick the rocks out of it and rake it level again, but it'll be worth it to have the tanks topped off. The pruning won't need to be redone. And pruning needs to be done in January before the deciduous stuff starts leafing out.

The whole circuit is about half-mile long. When birding, especially morning time when the sun is to your back, it's best to walk the dike overlooking the arroyo, then walk back down the arroyo to the oasis. Lots of migrants seem to follow arroyo vegetation on their way north, so it's a popular little trail. Last spring I was so busy making trails up the mountain that I never reworked the arroyo trail, so it was impenetrable in places. It's also a good place to look for our native desert species. Last year Black-tailed Gnatcatchers nested way up the arroyo so I ended up sending a lot of birders that wanted to see that species up the dike trail to see them. Most of  CMO's Virginia's Warbler sightings have been along the dike trail also.

After lunch and a quick nap I pruned the lower dam trail. It didn't get used last year. Only use it when ocotillo are blooming and Lucifers aren't at the feeders. Then a male is defending his territory below the dam and if birders are desperate to see one, I send them, or take them, there.

The mountain trails (Blue Oak Trail on west side, and Saddle Trail on east side) shouldn't need any work. There's also a very short trail in the arroyo alongside the oasis (between the upper dam and middle dam) that I keep maintained and use a lot. It's where my stand of Soapberry trees are. I manicured and pruned it a bit today too. Can't stand to squander this wonderful weather. The last 3 days have been great, considering no lush vegetation or good odes, butterflies, or birds. But I felt good, everything is in working order, and I got a lot done. No leaks and plenty of water. Even got my oasis computer working.* I have my laptop here, but hate to process photos on it.

Several species of flowers are blooming. What used to be called Wright's Verbena is now called Glandularia Wrightii. It's hard enough learning the flowers without all the name changes, but what's not to love about a flower blooming in 12° weather. Of course, it's 80° today.

This Dalea frutescens is blooming too.

Also several species of yellow daisy-type flowers are blooming, but I haven't gotten the yellow ones sorted out yet. Back to town tomorrow. Vacation is over.

* I installed the old mouse and keyboard from my non-working town computer. When I bought a new one for town it came with a new keyboard and mouse. So nice to have the computer working down here. It's my first computer, 13 yrs old. Very slow but OK. My son is going to put a new hard-drive in the broken one (5 yrs old). Since it's fast, I'll bring it down here and retire this old one. But son is so busy, who knows when he'll get around to it. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The trouble with play

As I found nonstop projects to do today until I was exhausted, I realized the reason I don't play is because work is play. Being in town is work; being at CMO is play, regardless of how hard I work. So I'm playing. Put up the last satellite dish that I'm going to until Mac comes with more stands. I think he said in March.

The well really had me mystified but I think I have it figured out. When the coupling was broke the well seemed to shut off after a few minutes so I figured it wasn't making much water. Hardly worth the bother. Yesterday I fixed the coupling and it seemed the well didn't run very long before it automatically shut off (when it's out of water). So today I turned it on and it ran for at least 2 hours. I was stymied. I finally decided that when it pumps freely it removes the water from the well pipe fast and shuts off, but when it has to get the water all the way up to the house that slows the process down and water enters the pipe faster than it pumps out, which means water is accumulating on the outside of the well casing and coming through slower than the pump can pump it out without the added pressure of going up to the house. A well expert could probably tell me if that is what's happening. So yesterday it was probably just pumping the air out of the line to the house and I thought it was out of water, and turned it off. That's all I can figure out. Doesn't make much sense, but more than any other explanation I can come up with. I turned it off and gonna turn it back on in the morning and see how long it pumps. Then I should know how much water it makes per day.

The Wolf Moon was lovely tonight as usual. I feel like I need to photograph it to show my appreciation. Just wish my moon shots were better.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Play time

My husband went on a 3 day fishing trip so I came to CMO to play. After I got some things done that I wanted done I didn't have energy to play. I saw one dragonfly today, first for this year at CMO, but I could not get a photo of it. When it was perched I didn't have my camera on me and only got one more glimpse of it later and it didn't perch. So I can't record the species because without a photo I can't ID it. Maybe tomorrow.

Did add two more butterfly species to my January list. Female Southern Dogface and  Lyside Sulphur. Hope the year continues being good for butterflies.

It got up to 82° today. I finally got the coupling fixed coming from the well to the house so it can't come apart anymore. Should have just done it right in the first place. Gonna take it a little easier tomorrow. Just install another feeder cover, and play.

Clay-colored Sparrow

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Eventful day

I decided I couldn't sit indoors any longer so went to CMO to make sure no pipes were broken. Lots of people had frozen pipes. But mine were fine. By the time I got my feeders serviced and raked the rocks that had accumulated on the big hill, I could easily have called it a day. But I had been so anxious to visit Lajitas that I pushed onward. Enroute I decided to check out the sewage pond in Study Butte. It mostly just had a couple dozen Northern Shovelers.

From there I decided to swing through the "Nature Area." (The sewage pond is framed between the support posts of the sign in this photo.)

Distracted by a bird, I missed a narrow culvert crossing. After having to get towed out, I lost interest in exploring the area. I would have headed home, but would have been even more disgusted with myself, so more determined than ever, I continued toward Lajitas.

While driving there, with nothing to do but think, I was struck by a weird analogy. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out where Robert Fabian buried Zuzu, and what was the timeline and his frame of mind, etc. When I dropped into the hole I felt panic, like I imagined Fabian did when he realized he'd killed Zuzu. My first instinct was to back out. His first instinct was to get her body out of his apartment. So he put her in the trunk of his car (and likely cleaned his apartment). His second act was driving around town looking for a suitable place. 

When I realized I couldn't back out, my second thought was to call for help... son, husband, sisters, who? Then, upon more sensible reflection, I determined the best option would be to walk to the nearest person with a big pickup and ask for help. Fabian, upon more sensible reflection, decided to borrow a pickup and bury her far from town. That's what I theorize anyway. We know he drove around town (forensic evidence in the trunk of his car) and then borrowed a pickup in the middle of the night. 

And we both succeeded. I found someone to tow me out, and Zuzu's body has remained undiscovered for 3 months of extensive searching. Twice now they've gone through the city landfill with cadaver dogs, and numerous search parties keep looking. Now is that a weird analogy, or what?

At Lajitas I found a Common Merganser in the pond by the golf shop. Ebird flagged it, which surprised me. Didn't realize that was unusual. I took lots of photos of it but it was at a big distance from me, so not very satisfactory. Good enough for identification though.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Thinking about Lajitas

I haven't been to Lajitas for a long time. Next week it's supposed to be warm there, like maybe 80.°  Today in Alpine it's still cold. The ducks have been ice skating.

So don't be surprised if I post pictures from Lajitas in a few days. Now that my husband is finally starting to recover from his cold.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bitterly cold in Alpine

Vermilion Flycatcher
Too cold to go outdoors today.  Just snapped this photo out the kitchen window. Husband's been sick with a bad cold for the past week, so I've mostly just been his nursemaid. This too shall pass. Unless it's a sneak peak into what my life will be like a few years down the road. Not everyone leaves quietly in their sleep like my dear late husband did.

It seems getting old involves either being sick or caring for someone that is. At least it's winter and I'm not missing out on good butterflies etc. See there's a bright side. I think.

I just made a wonderful discovery. When I want to find a butterfly or dragonfly species on my blog I don't have to use the "labels" feature to search. From the dashboard I can do a search by name. Boy, will that make my life easier! I've spent countless hours trying to locate a butterfly or dragonfly species that I've posted, or to determine if I have posted. Like just yesterday on the Mexican Silverspot for example. I spent an hour yesterday looking through all my posts labeled "butterflies" to see, when all I would have had to do was a search under the name. (So, I hadn't posted it last year like I wondered.) What I could all do if I knew how to maximize my technology! I had been contemplating going through all my butterfly and dragonfly posts to add species labels like I have for my bird posts. (I started blogging before I got into butterflies and odes. It sneaked up on me and I didn't label them by species, just butterflies or odonates.) Now I don't have to do that onerous task.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Lovely day at CMO

It got up to 70° today. I watered everything. Feeders were still fine. Stucco tank still same level as it was when I went to town 4 days ago. All is well. Speaking of well, we trouble-shooted it some more. The well pump is fine and the line is good as far as the coupling. I think the problem is that the well isn't making much water anymore and it just will take a while to get the line full all the way to the house after it had been drained. I'm not really worried about it. Highly unlikely the coupling would come apart at the same time the line broke. I'm sure it'll be fine.  No problems. I've been taking it easy on my back and the pain is much less and more tolerable

Saw over 28 species of birds today, including a Hermit Thrush and a Robin. But most surprised to tally 7 butterfly species. 

 My indoor orange tree has five oranges on it. Couldn't get them all on one photo. This first one is way up high on the tree.

In the above photo you can barely see the fifth orange behind the trunk's prop stick.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Different year, same activity

Alpine this morning. The ducks are swimming toward me expecting to be fed

We went out sleuthing again today along the Mitre Peak Girl Scout Ranch road (FM 1837). I paid more attention this time. Right off I saw what I'm sure was an Aplomado Falcon, but I wasn't driving so there was no screeching halt. By the time my daughter-in-law asked if I wanted to go back, we couldn't relocate the bird. She's a newbie birder but saw the underneath orange-ish color and I saw that plus a dark breast band. It was positively a falcon, and positively not a kestrel. Just not a satisfactory look as it flew in front of us across the road. Based on what we both saw, it couldn't be anything except an Aplomado. I would go so far as to say it was a juvenile.

We checked out the cemetery again. There are three other graves there, Tippet ancestors of Marilyn Caldwell.

The cemetery sported 3 water faucets. Two had hoses connected but not a thing green there other than the artificial flowers. I'm assuming when it was made into a little park/cemetery the plan was to keep it watered. But my oasis is sufficient testimonial that life is what happens while you're making plans. There were a couple of large green oak trees around, both inside and outside the enclosure. They all looked to be in the same state of health, so it's safe to assume no water was applied to any of them. (See photo from yesterday's post.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A macabre pasttime

I read Dear Abby every day and today she summed up my sentiments perfectly. I quote:

DEAR READERS: Finally, 2016 is over! 

I couldn't have said it better myself!

As many of you probably know, a college student named Zuzu Verck disappeared on October 11, likely murdered by her long time boyfriend, Robert Fabian. There is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence but no body. Well, my daughter-in-law is obsessed with finding the body. Not for the $200,000 reward (although I do tease her about us being bounty hunters), but over the outrage that it happened here in our safe little community, and he may get away with it. So, naturally, she isn't comfortable searching remote areas alone, therefore, I go with her. When we're not looking, we're brain-storming on where to look next. And, yes, I'm totally aware of the futility of looking, but she shouldn't go alone.

Robert and Zuzu in happier times
Well, today we went down the Mitre Peak Road all the way to a cemetery, and eventually ending at a dump. I didn't even know the road continued past Mitre Peak Girl Scout Camp. There's a water pond there too. I plan to go back in the summer and look for dragonflies there. The cemetery was interesting. Words above the gate read: OUR LADY OF THE MOUNTAINS

I couldn't find any history on it but did find an obituary for Marilyn Ann Caldwell. She's buried in the middle of the cemetery. Not sure there are any other burials there or not, and not sure the fireplace is from the cabin she built there, but I presume it is. Her great-grandparents established Mitre Peak Ranch. (Five years ago Marilyn died of a massive stroke at the age of 43.) More info if you're interested at

We did see some Wild Turkeys and a Phainopepla, so it wasn't a day totally devoid of substance.