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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Still in a heat wave

Due to the terrible heat wave I'm going back down to CMO later today so I can water things in the morning before it gets too hot.

I just have to stop buying these yummy dark chocolate snacks from Shopko here in Alpine because once I start eating them I can't stop until they're gone. Not good!

Next is an interesting insect I saw in Pine Canyon a couple of days ago. Don't have it ID'd yet.

I think this flower that I shot Monday in Pine Canyon, with a Golden Banded-Skipper on it is some kind of milkweed. I love the flower species there, as well as the trees, etc. It's a whole package deal. Hope to get back there again in my lifetime.

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Pine Canyon adventure

Got to the trailhead at 8:30 AM. Didn't want to get there before butterflies were active.

As it was, I saw many along the dirt road leading to Pine Canyon. A little earlier would have worked. The sign there says the trail is 4 miles round trip. When I had walked about a mile, I stopped to photograph a butterfly and couldn't get my Lumix zoom to work. 

Reluctantly, almost tearfully, I decided there was no point in continuing, so headed back toward my pickup. After about 5 minutes I found a spot of shade and sat down to study the camera some more. Turned it on and, presto, the zoom worked. So I turned and headed back up the trail. During a break about 2/3 of the way to where the trail ends at a box canyon, I put my camera on a rock and set the timer to document my adventure.

If I had it to do over again, I would have left half the water (the two quarts that I ended up lugging back to my vehicle) and carried my Canon. Oh well, I did get one lifer, a Golden Banded-Skipper. It would have been almost impossible not to get it. There were lots of them everywhere.

Pine Canyon is the most magical place in the Big Bend, in my opinion. A relict from the last ice age, still filled with Texas Madrones, Big Tooth Maples, and Ponderosa Pines. Plus a waterfall at the end (when there's water, which isn't often).

I'm none the worse for the wear, except my feet really hurt.

UPDATE: My sister called me awhile ago saying she had heard on the radio that a hiker had died in Big Bend National Park today. She knew I was going to Pine Canyon and said her heart just dropped. And then the announcer said it happened in Dog Canyon, so she breathed again. I hate that she had to suffer that moment of agony. I can only imagine how terrible it must have been. Actually, a 46 year old woman died yesterday, but it didn't make the news until today. The headlines my sister heard didn't say when, apparently. Pine Canyon today would not have been quite as hot as Dog Canyon was yesterday, I don't think.  I never saw another person all the while I was in the park today other than a couple of cars on the highway when I was leaving.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Feels like record heat at CMO

Don't ever remember my thermometer reading 109° before. This heat is totally unacceptable! I stayed mostly in my air-conditioned cave today. Didn't get much done. A good chance to work on some computer issues that I think I have resolved. Long boring story so won't go into it.

This may be the first photo I've ever posted of a Carpenter Bee. They're native pollinators that don't fare well with the European honeybee competition. The native bees are better pollinators, given a chance. But people want honey, so it goes.

I feel like if the oasis hadn't gotten that little over half an inch of rain over two weeks ago that caught some water in my dirt tank, the oasis would be dead by now. Shows how precarious its survival is, but I'm going to enjoy it for as long as I can.

Here are a couple of butterflies from today. I don't see any improvement in my photos yet, but since my camera is better, it should happen eventually.

Arizona Powdered-Skipper

Chinati Checkerspot
Pine Canyon tomorrow, hot or not!  Reluctantly, I decided to not carry my Canon.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Life comes at me fast

The days are brutally hot. In town today I practiced a little with my cameras, never staying outdoors long at a time. My poor apple tree is weighted down with apples. The deer eat all they can reach and prune the tree in the process. Way too many deer, dogs, cats, etc. running rampant in Alpine.

Came to CMO after supper to find the temperature had only dropped down to 105.° Watered some wilted stuff and filled empty feeders. By then one baby Elf Owl couldn't stand the heat in the nest hole anymore, so plopped itself outside for a cooler nap, to the consternation of the parents.

But junior dozed, oblivious.

And I was so frustrated. Trying to adjust the exposure compensation on my new camera, I accidentally turned on the timer. Didn't have glasses, was getting darker by the second, and no idea what I had done wrong. Later at the house with the manual I got it turned off. Meanwhile, I switched to my Lumix camera. But for some reason I had the focus set wrong or something. Still have to consult the manual. I need to get it right because that's the only camera I'm going to be able to carry with me to Pine Canyon Monday.

Rescued this lizard from a rain barrel by the house. He was none the worse for his experience. I think it's a Texas Banded Gecko. I've seen that species here before, but not one that looked exactly like this one.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Catch-up time again

I decided not to do the Pine Canyon hike for a couple of days since my feet still hurt from the climb up my mountain in the wrong shoes day before yesterday. And since the weather's so brutally hot, and since I want to spend maximum time at Pine Canyon because it's such a long ways there, I made myself postpone it. Hopefully, in two days I'll do it.

Meanwhile I'm in town organizing photos from recent days. My sister Ann was delighted to have her Century Plant (Agave havardiana) prepare to bloom. And it hasn't even been a century since she planted it. Here's a photo she proudly took of it.

The pride was followed by the fall a day or so later, unfortunately. Here we are yesterday trying to prop it up a little. She's hoping it'll go ahead and finish blooming in it's prone state.

And yesterday I took this photo of a lovely male Two-tailed Swallowtail at CMO.

And even though I changed my plans for today, Mac kept with his. When I got up this morning and headed down to the oasis, past the guesthouse, he had already left on his trip home. All I saw was this rainbow he left for me. No rain though. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

All hands on deck

Today my husband came down from town with his loader and cleaned out the big tank. It was a muddy mess. We had to keep sprinkling dry dirt on the ramp coming out so he didn't slide back down and not make it out. When my body gave out Mac took over.

I must confess that I have mixed feelings about cleaning the tank. I lost all the gambusias, pondweed, turtles, frogs, etc. I know they'll make a comeback, but I did love the tank ecosystem. Not to mention there's a huge pile of mud and a mess in general. While the tank will hold more water now, it may also evaporate faster without the pondweed. I think the pondweed keeps the water cooler. Well, it's done but I'm positive I'll never do it again. Another thought that occurred to me after the fact is that wind creates waves in the tank that damage the upper portion of the sides. Pondweed probably mitigated that a lot.

Here are some pictures Mac shot before I had given out. I spent most of my energy shoveling dirt from the edges to keep the loader bucket from damaging the tank walls.

The tank is cleaned out now, ready to be filled with rain runoff. The sooner the better. Normally after cleaning it I sweep it out, but it's 105° outside today. I have to save energy for priorities. Once it fills with muddy runoff it'll all look the same, whether swept out or not.. 

I'm hoping to go to Pine Canyon (in BBNP) tomorrow in search of butterflies, specifically Chisos Metalmark, Golden Banded-Skipper and Chisos Banded-Skipper. Mac is heading back to Houston. I'll miss having him around, but he'll be back in a few months if all goes as planned.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Feet, not heat

I had planned to spend all morning on the mountain today until it got too hot, but I wore the wrong shoes so came down sooner than expected. Saw only one butterfly but lots of interesting flowers. I'll probably never get IDs on them all. Here's a cool katydid. I've had the Short-winged Katydid at CMO before but think this may be a different species. I believe my Lumix is capable of better insect shots, so it's probably just me that makes them so bad. But carrying my Canon up the mountain isn't an option anymore.

Last night Mac took these lightning shots here at the oasis. We ended up getting a little sprinkle.

My sister saw this Mottled Rock Rattlesnake on the mountain when she went up a few days ago. At first I thought her photo was too pink, but after doing a little research, I learned that this species of snake can be quite pink. Also they tend to adapt coloration to match the rocks. These rhyolite rocks are pinkish, so I guess that explains that.

Here's a distant Lillian's Eastern Meadowlark I photographed along Highway 118 (about 35 miles south of Alpine) the other day.

Monday, June 12, 2017

BJ Bishop Wetlands

Two  years ago when the wetlands opened in Presidio County near Ft. Leaton, I visited there. At that time I was disappointed by the "Keep Out" signs and was told by someone that you could only view it from the highway with a scope. So I never went back. Couldn't enjoy dragonflies that way.

Photo from Aug. 29, 2015
However, I recently heard that you can access the wetlands and there are some good bird species there, so Mac and I went and  met up with friends there this morning. It was loaded with dragonflies and the vegetation was great.

For perspective, notice the same dead tree in both the above photo and the photo from 2015. No lifers for me, but did get my first photos of Least Grebes.

And Black-necked Stilt....

I'd love ID help with this white robber fly from the wetlands today.

Yesterday at CMO Mac got a better photo of the leucistic Bell's Vireo than I had before. Basically, the top of his head is white.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Toe woe!

For about a month or more I've had a strange blister on my toe. When it gets big and painful, I drain it, get temporary relief, then it gradually builds up again in a non-ending cycle. I finally went to the Nurse Practitioner with it. She injected my toe with three painful shots of Novocaine and proceeded to dig around in it. Nothing solved, but nothing harmed. Since then, it came back again, same as always.

Certain that I can't be the only person in the world with such a malady I dug online until I finally hit the right combination of search words and nailed it. It's a myxoid cyst. Usually occurring in older women, near fingernails and sometimes toenails. They're harmless. The best treatment is to keep them sterile, drain them, and eventually they should go away by themselves. Good to know.

I had been concerned it might be a parasite from me walking in my dirty tank water, or somehow related to my chronic sinus infection. The only relationship is old age. But it beats the alternative. I'm basically in good health and good spirits. And those two conditions are certainly related.

Note: My toenails would be better manicured if I could see and reach them better. Getting old is not for the faint-hearted.

Practiced a bit with my new camera. It's stressful right now, but I'm sure it'll become second nature eventually. Here's the first Eastern Amberwing I've seen this year.

Maybe it's wishful thinking but I believe it's a tad sharper than had I used my Rebel.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Annual fish fry

My husband loves to hold an annual fish fry for all our friends and family. It used to be a way to use up all the fish he loved catching. But last year he didn't catch hardly any, so no fish fry. This year he bought fish so he could have the fish fry. I'm very glad that most of my birding friends were able to make it. A few couldn't. Left to right clockwise: Michael Gray, Cecelia Riley, Barbara House and Sam House, Mac Womack, Kelly and Donna Bryan.

I didn't have much chance to try my new camera. The few shots I did do were no better than with my old Rebel. Problem likely me and not the camera. I'm sure I have a lot of hard learning ahead of me.

Some interesting birds at the wetlands near Presidio. Several of us are planning to go Monday.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tank work

Like everything else down here, cleaning the tank is a huge challenge. I worked all day pumping since only my little pump will fit in the water when the water level is this low. Had it pretty much all out and shortly thereafter came a nice rain of nearly half an inch. Put the water level back up to higher than before I started pumping this morning. Very discouraging.

And I'm so exhausted from setting up the pump and all the paraphernalia it takes, moving the hose from tree to tree, patching bad places in the tank, removing the pump and all the paraphernalia it takes to pump (hose, elect cord, boots, planks, basin to keep the pump out of mud, all my patching stuff, including a ladder), in and out of the tank endlessly. Then gathering all the paraphernalia up again and starting all over again.

Here's a photo of the guy I hired to help clean the tank. He's a great worker, but the task is overwhelming. The chances of getting the tank cleaned out this year are slim.  I can't start emptying it until I get a good rain so I have plenty of water in the stucco tank. That usually means rainy season is starting and it takes weeks for the tank to dry out. So it's probably an exercise in futility but I have to try.

During today's pumping.

The mud averages 4 to 6 inches deep, and none of it dry. That means it's heavy. To make matters worse, it's all a tangle of pondweed roots and stems. Terrible. Gonna have to get Hugh down here with his loader if it ever dries out enough.

After the first pumping, and after the rain when I started second pumping. 

Tomorrow I hope to be revived since I have to do more pumping, patching etc., then service feeders, then go to town to help my husband get ready for his annual fish fry. (He didn't have one last year because he didn't catch enough fish.) My new camera is awaiting me in town. When the tank gets either cleaned out or filled up, I should have time to enjoy the camera.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Aging gracelessly

I really really hate that I can't do the things I want to do, like go up the mountain, or work cleaning out the tank. I hired someone to start cleaning out the mud in that tank, just in case it rains before it dries out enough to where my husband can get his bobcat loader in there. Any that can be gotten out is better than none, but it's slow going, carrying it out in buckets. A very nice young man. I'll take a picture of him at work tomorrow. Today I was occupied watering the trees. CMO is always about water.

And I love looking at my tank half full.

Since the majority of water is now in the stucco tank, it seems the frogs (Leopard Frogs) have pretty much relocated. I don't understand why they clump together though. 


Here's a Neon Skimmer that's been hanging out at the back water feature.