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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Located the Burrowing Owl's burrow!

In the process of locating the burrow I flushed the two owls, but now that I know where it is, I should be able to get photos of them in or beside the burrow. One of these days.

In Alpine, in spite of frost last night, the mulberry trees are loaded. Here is a Pine Siskin gobbling his share.

Back at CMO I took more photos of the aberrant hybrid Lucifer Hummingbird.

The American Kestrels that are nesting at the oasis come unglued when a Common Raven shows itself. I'm not fast enough to capture the action, but in this instance the kestrels drove the raven to the ground and showed no mercy.

When I arrived at CMO this morning a herd of javelina took off. I counted between 25-30 individuals which included at least 3 babies. 

Last night on the phone my daughter told me she's the happiest she's ever been. Nothing a mother wants more for her kids than for them to be happy and healthy. 

Lots of nesting going on at CMO. Visitors pointed out nests to me that I probably wouldn't have otherwise noticed. I raked a bunch on the road today and feel more comfortable that people won't get flats. But I'm really dragging. No nap because I wanted to sit and photograph the Lucifer in this perfect weather. I need to transfer water from the big concrete tank to the stucco tank, as the latter is nearly empty. Maybe tomorrow.

Retama in all its glory

Saturday, April 29, 2017


There's a chance it might freeze tonight so we covered the tomato and pepper plants. Harder to do now that some of them are over two feet tall. Luckily we hadn't put them in their cages yet or it would have been way harder.

People who visit the oasis often ask me why I put the seed for the birds in a cage.

Photo by John Drummond
Next question?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Closing in on Burrowing Owl nest

Again today CMO hosted a host of birders. I've had a couple of reports of flat tires after leaving CMO. I usually rake the road but haven't been able to this year, what with trying to recover from my still ongoing sinus infection. Otherwise, there's no solution with 4-ply tires. So come with a plan in the event of a flat. And I'll work on the road some Monday if able.

Some migrants are showing up. There was a report of someone seeing a Townsend's Warbler today. I didn't see it to confirm it and don't know who reported it. Surprisingly, it seems we see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds where ever we look. No idea how many there are. I'm wondering if when they come through as juveniles in the fall they remember the feeders and make a point to come through in the spring. Normally, this isn't their spring migratory path.

Nice having the parking area not so cramped anymore. Love the logo on these cars.

Coming to town this afternoon I found two Burrowing Owls sitting on fence posts in the general vicinity that Michael Gray found that nest burrow the other day. I didn't have time to check it out today, but I will soon. I know where to look now. It's about a quarter mile south of the Larremore Ranch gate, which is a few miles south of the entrance to Elephant Mountain WMA.

Me with leaders from Naturalist Journeys tour

Thursday, April 27, 2017

An out-of-sync day

I just felt out-of-sync today. I was either a second too slow to get a photo I wanted, or shooting into the sun, or not having the camera set right, or cutting off the bird's tail...

Female Phainopepla eating mulberries
My sinus infection might be dragging me down because I don't have the energy I think I should be having.

I thought I saw my first fledged Lucifer Hummingbird for the year and was determined to get a decent photo if it took all day. Here was the best I could do. He was perched in shade and my camera doesn't do well in shade.

However, I sent the photos to expert Kelly Bryan and he say's it's not a juvenile but either an aberrant adult or a hybrid (maybe both). I really appreciate Kelly's expertise. It's invaluable!

And would you believe I got another Arizona Skipper today in my worn out verbena patch! Since it's been exactly two weeks since the last one, this must be a different individual. Looks too fresh to be two weeks old.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hot dry season

May and June can be the hottest, driest time of year. I hope this year won't be brutal. My lovely verbena patch is fading fast. I even watered it, but didn't help. It looks good in the cooler months but by now has pretty much gone to seed. Only saw an intrepid bee fly (?) on it this afternoon.

Although my dragonfly guide says Filigree Skimmers fly all year, I just today saw my first one for the year at the oasis. I think she was freshly hatched and drying her wings.

Birding is still slow at CMO even though migration should be well under way. Plenty of birders though.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Alpine Cattle Egrets

When three Cattle Egrets showed up at the ponds in Alpine I realized I didn't have any decent photos of that species, so I took a bunch.

Other than that, it's windy. If I have to be in town I'm glad to do it on a windy day. Can't wait to get back to CMO tomorrow though.

Monday, April 24, 2017

More Burrowing Owls

Migration hasn't produced any big fallout, but they're trickling in. Got the first migrating MacGillivray's Warbler today.

Yesterday when Michael Gray and Cecilia Riley left CMO for their home in Ft, Davis he discovered a Burrowing Owl nesting site around halfway to Alpine, not the same area as I had seen one. So now I'm gung-ho to locate it and photograph it myself. Meanwhile, Michael generously gave me permission to post his photos. His are better than mine will ever be, of course.

I'll try to go down Wednesday about the same time of day as he came by there and hopefully will locate them. Here's a photo of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher he took at CMO yesterday.

And finally, a fascinating panorama Michael shot by stitching four photos together.

Left is my mountain, then W Corazone Peak toward the center, then on the far right is Williams Mountain. I think the photo is a bit deceptive in that it makes the mountains look like islands standing out in a desolate area when it isn't like that at all. It's actually cozy with no expanse of desert. The oasis is tucked inside a high basin surrounded by mountains on all sides. That's how it seems to me anyway.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Left to right: Bill Sain, Madge Lindsay, me, Cecilia Riley & Michael Gray
I think the Big Sit went well. It was the first one for the oasis.  Forty-eight species were tallied from inside the 17 foot circle during the 24 hr period. The day started out at a cold windy 48° but became decent in the afternoon. Highlight of the day was a Wilson's Snipe. Here it is in the bottom of the stucco tank. Photos by Michael Gray posted with his permission.

It was a fun day and I think everyone had a good time.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

CMO filled to capacity

This morning approximately 25 birders were here at one time. More are due later this afternoon. It's cool and windy and no good warbler migrants. I always feel apologetic when there aren't good migrants since people come during peak migration. But they seem happy with my nesting species. Especially Varied Buntings and Lucifer Hummingbirds.

The juvenile Black-throated Sparrows that were being fed by the adults a couple of days ago are now on their own. Persevering. They feed from the seed feeder just fine.

I took a little time to go inspect the Burrowing Owl tunnels for any signs of activity. As I suspected, none. Some of the twelve tunnels have been eroded so badly that big sections of tubing are exposed. Oh, well, guess it doesn't matter. 

My sister has an interesting plant at her house. We haven't ID'd it yet. Maybe it's some species of Broomrape Weed. That plant is considered an unwanted pest, as it's a parasitic orobanche species that feeds on other plants' roots.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Another Burrowing Owl sighting

I had heard a report from a visitor to CMO that he had seen a Burrowing Owl along Highway 118 coming south of Alpine. I hadn't seen any there since the horrible record drought, heat, and cold of 2011, but I looked on my way down from Alpine early this evening in the place they used to be and actually saw one. That tells me they're back nesting there. That's great!

I was past the owl before I could get stopped. Didn't want to back up and chance flushing it, so just took this long distance documentary shot, looking into the setting sun of course.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exciting new oasis species

Visiting the oasis is like opening a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. Today I impulsively decided to go down the main arroyo to where a male Lucifer Hummingbird has defended a feeding territory in previous years to see if he was there this year. (He wasn't.) As I turned to go back my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of an owl diving into a bush in the arroyo below the trail I was on. I figured the odds of me getting a photo were zero, but I was carrying my Canon, so scrambled down the steep bank to flush it from the bush. I knew it was larger than an Elf Owl and smaller than a Great Horned. That was it. I'm not able to ID owls without a photo. Burrowing Owl crossed my mind as a possibility. And after having built a complex array of underground nests and tunnels ten years ago, you would think I had been expecting that species to show up. But I built it just in case, not expecting it. Here's a photo taken ten year ago of the "owl hill" with its dozen tunnels.

After so many years I was convinced by what I had learned that my place isn't a place they would nest. And I still believe that. However, today I added the species to the oasis list. Probably a migrant passing through, but at least it's more likely they know the nesting tunnels are there... just in case. Today the hill is overgrown and somewhat damaged by animals and nature, but still usable.

When I flushed the unknown owl from the bush it flew a short ways down the arroyo. Certain it was hopeless, I, nevertheless, made my way to the spot where I had last seen it and this is what I spied.

A Burrowing Owl perched on a rock in the middle of the dry stream bed. What a lucky fluke! Even that I went down the arroyo in the first place. And carried my heavy Canon besides. And that the owl and I were there at the same time. And the biggest fluke of all was that the owl paused briefly on that rock before continuing down the arroyo. No photo, no ID. I wasted no time in zooming the telephoto lens and capturing this shot before he disappeared again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Migration finally ramping up

Getting ready for the Texas Birding Classic's Big Sit to be participated in by a small team of birders Sunday. They make a 17 foot circle and sit in it one whole day and tally how many species they see or hear from that circle. Never did it here before so should be interesting.

My sister and I were half way up the mountain before I realized I had left my Canon in the car. Probably just as well since I didn't see any butterflies. Would have liked to have my little Lumix though for some flower pictures.

I saw a most fascinating bug today. Yesterday there were none of these anywhere and today a Four-wing Saltbush is loaded with them.

The bush looked like a British humbug candy bush, if there is such a thing.

For a couple of years there's been a Bell's Vireo that has white on the head. I never can get a decent photo of it, but I keep trying. Today's photos are a bit better than those I got last April (see post of April 5, 2016) I guess it's a leucistic bird.

I was surprised to see Black-throated Sparrow fledglings today. Seems a bit early. They were begging and being fed, but I wasn't quick enough to capture the action.

UPDATE: Humbug ID'd as a Blister Beetle.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Action-packed day

More birder action than bird action, however. Maybe tomorrow will be a fall-out day. When I arrived yesterday evening my internet didn't work. Turned out neither did anyone else's in the range from the tower we get our feed from (Pardon me if I'm not using the right terminology for all this) After multiple calls to the provider, and not knowing if they were even working on it, my frustration mounted. I basically got the run-around. Finally, around noon, I drove to Terlingua Ranch Lodge with my laptop to use their wifi. I readily admit I can't survive without the internet. Wouldn't want to either. After doing without for 21 hours, at 3 PM they got it fixed. Lightning was the culprit. Seems like they would have lightning rods or something. I don't know, maybe lightning messed it up without actually striking it. Just relieved I don't have to go back to the lodge again tonight.

The last birders left at 7 PM. Lucifer Hummingbirds aren't plentiful, but with a little patience everyone gets to see one. Tons of agaves are blooming in the park and I think that lures the hummers there. Perhaps they don't know how replenishing my feeders are. To them a dozen feeders might represent a dozen sips of nectar, whereas, a thousand agaves might represent a thousand sips of nectar. Or maybe it just tastes better. Or maybe they've just evolved to crave agave nectar. I was more interested in butterflies since Lucifers aren't a novelty to me anymore.

I've photographed Western Giant Swallowtails countless times, but they're so beautiful that my trigger finger goes into an adrenalin-fueled shooting spree whenever I encounter one.

I swear I saw a strange green bug fly into a cypress tree. I snapped a couple of shots before the green bug flew away and disappeared. After downloading my photos, I'm thinking it was a regular bug carrying a leaf. Any opinions? It landed pretty high up in the tree so good photos weren't an option. All that seemed to be propelling the bug was the movement of the leaf. I didn't see any other wings.

And here's another bug I don't recall ever seeing before but it could be that I just haven't paid close attention to insects that look like black wasps. Brian tells me it's a Soldier Fly.

Tomorrow morning I'm going up the mountain with my sister. My goal is to see a lifer Sandia Hairstreak. There's lots of Beargrass up there that attracts them, but I don't know if it's blooming yet. Only one way to find out. Even though I still have the sinus infection, I'm going to lug my Canon with me. Can't stand the thought of not getting the best shots I'm able to. I'm sure I'll be in survival mode by the time I get back down.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Our Alpine habitat

Build it and they will come! Thirteen years ago, shortly after we got married, we started planting trees and creating a habitat here in Alpine. It's coming along nicely and, as with CMO, attracting lots of attention. Here's a list of uses for it. Never, when we were working on it did we expect it to become so popular.

Uses for the habitat

People going by enjoy looking at it.
Photographers enjoy photographing it.
Birders enjoy birding it.
Wildlife enjoys the fruit, ponds, and trees.
I enjoy the dragonflies, butterflies, and birds it attracts.
My husband enjoys feeding the ducks.
My husband sometimes raises fish bait in the ponds.
It provides privacy for the neighbors living across from it.
And now, it's a backdrop for prom photos!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Not very often do Ruby-throated Hummingbirds stop in at the oasis during spring migration, although they're quite common in the fall. This one took up temporary residence at the Lucifer Hummingbirds' favorite feeder today. And the Ruby-throated Hummingbird refuses to share. He just bathes and preens and feeds and catches insects and defends his temporary territory. Hmmm...

Had to come to town midday unfortunately, so didn't get to enjoy the butterflies. They aren't as active until afternoon.