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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lake Ament

Three miles to the south of CMO, as the crow flies, is a man-made lake of sorts. An Alpine judge for many years, Mae Ament, had purchased some land in the area and hired someone to build a dam across Dark Canyon in order to have a lake. A survey eventually showed that the lake wasn't on her land. A National Park Service website says "The Lake Ament Dam was built in 1957-58 and employed 100 Mexican laborers and skilled stone masons. Its massive size and vernacular architecture are a testament to masonry construction in the Big Bend."

Former Alpine City Judge, Mae M. Ament receiving her 50 year lawyer certificate
in 1968. Her memorial credits her as helping acquire land for Big Bend National Park.
The dam held water pretty good at first, but eventually leaked. During the 1970s it was part of a 9000 acre ranch subsequently purchased by a conservation fund, then transferred to the General Land Office. Terramar Corporation (who owned the land that is now Terlingua Ranch) had been leasing it for hunting. Terramar also stocked the tiny lake with fish and put paddle boats on it. All these "amenities" were intended to attract people to purchase 5, 10, and 20 acre tracts of land on Terlingua Ranch. Nothing down, and small monthly payments, use of the hunt parks, and much more.

I took this photo of the lake in the mid 1970s. (At the time I bought my property, not part of Terlingua Ranch,  the "Lake Ament Road" was my only access. Later, I bought land between my place and Snake Road in order to build a shorter route from Highway 118 to CMO.)

Looking toward down canyon
Once the majority of tracts were sold, like over 4,000, Terramar created a property owners association, took the money and left the area. When the lease expired on the 9,000 acre ranch, Texas Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, tried to facilitate the sale of it to his friend, John Poindexter, owner of Cibolo Creek Ranch. I don't recall all the details, but there was a big uproar over it. Fortunately, by that time the land had many conservation easements attached to it. Big Bend National Park wouldn't annex it because the GLO had a hunting mandate attached to the land.

So the state donated the land to the Texas State University System, which is still the situation today. They use it for research purposes. It's probably being preserved as much as is possible in this day and age.

The dam today looking down canyon. Photo by Don Baucham

Friday, June 29, 2018

My Lajitas morning

I only spent a little over an hour at Lajitas. Trying to conserve myself and still do fun things. For the first time ever I didn't lug my Canon. I feel confident enough with my Lumix finally. Unfortunately, I didn't lug my purse either. Yesterday when I came to CMO I forgot to bring meat. So I figured after Lajitas I'd stop at the store in Study Butte and pick up a pound of ground beef. That couldn't happen. I'll survive two days without protein, of course. Just this constant commuting between Alpine and CMO. I invariably forget something.

Lajitas is a golf resort so I shouldn't complain when there are no insects there. No gnats, mosquitoes, flies, etc. But it is disappointing when there are so few dragonflies. The weather was great, although a little humid for me. Looked like they had gotten rain last night.

One of the highlights of the morning was seeing a pair of Neotropic Cormorants. I don't recall ever seeing a cormorant at Lajitas before.

No new odes, but realistically, every time I get a lifer ode the chances of another go down. It's always nice to re-familiarize myself with the odes at Lajitas that I don't get at CMO, like pennants, ringtails, etc.

Here are a couple from today.

Four-spotted Pennant
Red-tailed Pennant

I presume this ringtail is the "Southwestern" form of Eastern Ringtail. It looks identical to White-belted Ringtail, but the latter is rare.

The best, and about the only, butterfly I found today was this Southern Skipperling.

Finding so few odes at Lajitas I decided to head down towards the river where they don't spray. When I saw this sign I got hopeful, but right past it the road was barricaded. Wasn't any water in the tributary there anyway.

I drove past Lajitas and around to where the old river crossing used to be before 9-11. But  only saw a few odes at the river and none landed for photos or IDs, just zoomed past over and down the river.

Nearly home on Snake Road I saw this. Don't know what happened. Didn't look like it had been run over, or dead for very long.  A little snake with a big lizard...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Pretty good day at CMO

For some reason the stucco tank pump worked about 40% of the time today instead of the usual 10%. Go figure! But it made it possible for me to get the watering done faster, plus it only got up to 100° here, which helped. Now I'm thinking I may have enough energy to go oding at Lajitas tomorrow. Haven't been yet this year.

Pale-faced Clubskimmers aren't that rare here at CMO but getting a decent photo is really challenging. This one isn't that great, but will do since no other odes of interest showed up today.

Saw a nice Gulf Fritillary.

And some of the Big Bend Silverleaf (leucophyllum minus) is blooming.

Finally, I photographed a pair of what I think are some type of bee flies, maybe Villa??

The electrician had promised to come finish up this week but since tomorrow's the last working day of the week, I texted him and told him I'd hang around here if he's coming tomorrow, otherwise was going oding. He responded that he won't be here until next week. Yeah, right!

UPDATE on the Ocotillo harvesting: I talked to the sheriff and the game warden. Don't know if it'll help but can't hurt. The sheriff says that West Texas Plants (Linda Walker's company) is not responsibly harvesting as their website claims. He owns property near Black Gap WMA where there's a ranch where yucca, ocotillo, etc are being cleared completely off the land. I know the rancher he's referring to. Not of good character. Has been in trouble with the law more than once. He inherited the ranch and selling the plants is his livelihood. I'll bet when the plants are all gone he'll still manage to survive. Supposedly the game warden is going to investigate. We'll see. I was told by two sources that landowners get over $100 per foot for their yuccas. Big business.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Owlet moth

I'm not into moths but I photograph interesting ones if I see them at the oasis. The other day I photographed this owlet moth, and just now got it ID'd. It's a Staghorn Cholla (Euscirrhopterus cosyra) moth.

Here's a photo of our 'Bubba' hybrid Desert Willows in Alpine.

For years I've been labeling my Eastern and Western Pondhawk photos as Common Pondhawks because they've lumped them together into one species, with the Western being a subspecies of the Eastern. But to be on the safe side I decided to try to separate them in case the powers that be change it back to separate species. But I just read that they interbreed, so I doubt it's that simple. If I had to say this one is one or the other, I'd call it an Eastern. Best I can do.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Ocotillo outrage

Coming to town today I passed this semi load of ocotillo. Ocotillo is an important food resource for Lucifer Hummingbirds. I endured eight years of a banding project in hopes that what was learned would help protect Lucifer habitat. How naive I was!

UPDATE: I have since learned that these plants came from a ranch between Big Bend National Park and Alpine, at least according to Linda Walker. The rancher wanted them removed, supposedly. The Migratory Bird Act makes it illegal to destroy a bird's nest on your property. Many species of birds nest in ocotillo during this time of year. So technically, this removal was illegal. No telling how many bird nests were destroyed.

Check out Linda's wholesale plant website. It's shocking to me.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Better day than yesterday

The electrician showed up mid-morning and got the guesthouse electricity hooked up correctly. Took him 3 hrs to figure the mess out. Don't know if everything is right or not. He said he'd be back next week to finish the job. Of course the pump still isn't working right, which is the reason I called an electrician in the first place. But I do have 3 new breaker boxes. Two of them still need a panel or something over the exposed wires.

It got up to 106° today.

Photographed a few butterflies. Nothing special. Here's a Common Streaky-Skipper.

Saw a Central Texas Whipsnake today. I think I dislike them most after venomous snakes. They're alarmingly efficient at getting up into trees and raiding nests.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A roller coaster day

I hadn't heard from the electrician since my threat to take legal action if he didn't show up Friday (today), so I didn't even bother to show up at the oasis this morning. (I'm down) Shortly after 11 AM I got a call from my sister that the electrician was at CMO. (I'm up) I went tearing down there. Not really tearing since endless road work and following pilot cars for endless miles kind of put a damper on tearing. (That would be up and down repeatedly)

When I got here it was just the electrician's helper that was here. He had my electricity turned off, but hey, even that's progress. No AC and it was hot. (Down)

Nothing to do but watch odes at the oasis. Right quick I find what I think is the Five-striped Leaftail that I had seen here the other day. But fortunately I decided to photograph it anyway. Turns out to be a new oasis species, Gray Sanddragon. (I'm up)  I have seen them before at Shafter. 

Finally, just before 3 PM the electrician shows up. (I'm up) By then, his helper is suffering from heat exhaustion. They turn on the power and nothing at the oasis. (down) They went back to the guesthouse and did something at the new breaker box and got power. (up) It should have worked the first time if it had been done correctly, in my opinion, but hey, give the kid a break. Heat exhaustion.

So the helper leaves. The pump still isn't working. (really down) The electrician decides it's either the new control box or the new pump since 240 volts is getting to the control box. Sometimes the pump comes on, sometimes not. He also decides the new pressure switch isn't working right. He switches out the new switch for the old one that had been doing the same thing. But he thinks the old one is working better.

He was ready to leave and said he'd be back in the morning. I pretended to believe him. On my way to the house I decided to clean up the mess of old wires, breakers etc he had left behind at the guesthouse, thrown into a nearby bush making it twice as hard for me to clean up. But hey, heat exhaustion and all.

Since I have company coming to stay in the guesthouse tomorrow, I thought I had better check it just in case. And sure enough, no electricity to it or its water pressure pump. Now I've just gone from desperate to dire. (numb) I texted the electrician and he reassured me he'll be here tomorrow. (numb)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Losing the battle

The electrician, who said he'd "for sure" be here to do the work today, texted me this morning to say his pickup needed brake work done and he'd come Friday. At my husband's insistence, I texted him back that if he doesn't show up Friday I'll take legal action. Haven't heard back from him. If he had been honorable he would have texted right back something to the effect that he understands my frustration, but not to worry, he'll be there Friday. As it is, I doubt I'll ever see him or my money again. And still no working pump. On the bright side, I do have water to pump and by using the little slow pump, even though it's more onerous, it gives me more time to enjoy odes and butterflies.

I saw one dragonfly today that I really wanted a photo of but it didn't land. Got a few decent butterfly shots, though nothing that interesting. Here's a Question Mark.

And a female Funereal Duskywing in Beebrush. It's in bloom all over the place. The air is heavy with its perfume.

I finally got my blog settings so that I get an email when someone comments. I used to, but then google changed something and I had to dig into forums to figure out how to get it back. Sorry for any of your comments I missed. I value them all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Dragonfly season

Once the summer rains start and I get lots of water, then it's dragonfly season. I couldn't stand to sit in town all day when I spend so many months impatiently waiting for dragonfly season. I was determined to  photograph dragonflies somewhere. There are lots of places* to choose from, but it makes more sense to go to the oasis where I have all the comforts of home, plus getting a special dragonfly there is more meaningful to me.

Atop spillway of big tank

Down in "dragonfly pond"
I didn't actually see any especially interesting odes today, but for sure won't if I don't look. Had plenty of time to take some time lapse shots of myself. Odes seen today were: Desert Firetail, Familiar Bluet, Eastern Amberwing, Great Pondhawk, Common Pondhawk, Blue Dasher, Thornbush Dasher, Red Saddlebag, Wandering Glider, Spot-winged Glider, Flame Skimmer, Roseate Skimmer and Common Whitetail.

Red Saddlebag
Thornbush Dasher

Elada Checkerspot
Still not many butterflies and those I did see I wasn't able to get photos of. Lots is blooming so won't be long. Today the beebrush really kept the oasis heavily perfumed. Very few mosquitos so far. I'm thinking the more mosquitos, the more dragonflies.

Choices include: Balmorhea State Park and lake, Madera Canyon at Lawrence Woods Picnic Area, Sandia Wetlands near Balmorhea, Cibolo Creek in Shafter, Bishop Wetlands near Presidio, Lajitas and Post Park south of Marathon.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Alpine day

Hanging out in town catching up work here. I texted the electrician to confirm he'd be to CMO tomorrow (Tuesday) like he said he would. He texted me back saying he'd be there Wednesday. I'm so ready to get this done. If the new breaker box doesn't solve the pump problem then I think I'll go to a ll5v pump. Not going to dig up all the underground lines between the guesthouse and oasis.

Probably overdid yesterday. Had a headache all day, but managed to get the work caught up here. Hugh woke up with a swollen painful foot so had to do more for him than I normally do.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Can't keep up

Last night I intended to pump out the upper dirt tank, but once again the water stopped pumping before it was empty. So I just turned the pump off and also the electric pump in the big tank and went to bed. I'm thinking weeds must be messing with the suction. Gonna clean them out when it dries.

Meanwhile, I went to bed around 11 PM, my normal bedtime. Got up at midnight to put drops in my eyes. They get dry and painful. Can't open them until I get drops in. I think I turned on the light, but not sure. Half asleep, I remember reaching for the drops on my desk and feeling horrible pain in my right hand and left foot. Not sure which first. Had to have been a scorpion or centipede. Only an ice pack for an hour made the pain to my foot bearable. I've never been bothered by scorpion bites before. Sharp pain for a minute and that's the end of it. But centipedes leave 2 punctures and I can't find any, so I don't know. Right on the heels of my shingles vaccine I feel pretty battered. Strangely, my hand still hurts and is swollen, but my foot is normal. Maybe when I got bit in the foot I swung my hand and whacked it against the chair or something. Don't see how that would be possible considering where my hand was at the time.

This morning I struggled with pumps and got the stucco tank half full. The other big tank is brimful of course. Just about the time I had to leave for town it warmed up and odes started flying. So wanted to stay and watch them. I've discovered that the good or rare ones are never around for more than a couple of hours, so I wish I could be there more. I'll go back down in a couple of days. Meanwhile, my body is going to rest.

It really bothers me that I can't keep up with the work at the oasis. Now while the ground is wet weeds are easy to pull. Not happening. The road needs work, at least raking the rocks off. I picked up some on the way to town, as many as my aching body could manage. No pictures today.

My schedule is so hectic for awhile yet. Wish it could slow down. Maybe next month. Gotta get the pump working. The electrician is supposed to come Tuesday, but I'll believe that when I see it.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Determined to water

I had that tank full of water so felt like if I don't use it, the next big rain will send everything down to the ocean. But using it is a chore with my little slow pump and doing all the hoses. Spent the whole day at it until it started to rain at 7 PM. Got another lovely rain; enough to top off the big tank and enough in the upper dirt tank and settling pond to add a lot to the stucco tank, but not so much to do damage.

I got the pumps going and plan to pump into the night until the upper dirt tank is done. Then I'll turn off the other pump and start pumping the settling pond in the morning. My wildlife tank got more water too. After my wonderful dragonfly find there yesterday I'm calling it my dragonfly pond from now on.

I took this Eastern Amberwing photo today. I'm looking at amberwings closely so I don't miss the Mexican Amberwing when it shows up.

Friday, June 15, 2018

New oasis ode

I came down to CMO today but still too puny from my shingles vaccine* yesterday to do much of anything. I would have watered had I felt better. But the pump still isn't working so that would mean dragging hoses. Maybe tomorrow. Rain is forecast all week too.

Instead of napping like I had planned I couldn't resist sitting and watching dragonflies. Was really excited to find a species I hadn't seen at the oasis before. Experts ID'd it as a Five-striped Leaftail.

In 2014 I photographed my one and only leaftail sighting at Lajitas but the photo was too bad to tell if it was a Four-striped or Five-striped so I couldn't really count it. Very cool to get my lifer Five-striped at CMO.

The electrician said he'd be back today to put in a new breaker box at the guesthouse to see if that would fix the pump problem, but he didn't show up. I texted him eventually and he now says he'll be here Tuesday. 

*Got the new Shingrix vaccine. It's known to have these side effects, but it's way more effective than the old vaccine. I was hoping I'd escape the misery, but not to be. Have to get a second shot in 2 months. Dreading that. I'll definitely postpone it until after the hummingbird festival.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Something learned every day

I don't think I've ever seen our Alpine lotuses as tall as they are this year. Some of the taller ones in the middle appear to be at least three feet tall.

I learned something that's probably common knowledge but I didn't know. It's concerning parthenogenesis. I did not know that some stick insects reproduce only females if they reproduce asexually.

Some stick insect species have a very interesting way to produce offspring: the female can produce young without needing a male! The eggs she produces are unfertilized, but do develop properly and grow into an adult female stick insect. The production of a new individual out of an unfertilized egg is called parthenogenesis. The female that produces these eggs is called parthenogenic. Parthenogenesis is a form of asexual reproduction.
Stick insects (Phasmatodea) are not the only insects that can produce asexually. There are also aphids, water fleas (Daphnia sp.), nematodes, plants, snakes, the whiptail lizard Cnemidophorus neomexicanus and more species that reproduce through parthenogenesis. It is possible to produce males or females through parthenogenesis, depending on the species. In stick insects only females are produced through parthenogenesis. Not all stick insect species can reproduce without fertilization, many species do need a male to fertilize the eggs.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


The electrician finally came out this afternoon in the 105° heat. Rewired the pump and put in two new breaker boxes at the oasis. The pump still works intermittently like it had before. He said he'll be back Friday to put a new breaker box at the guesthouse. If that doesn't fix the problem, then it's probably in the buried underground cable somewhere. I think, in that case, I'll go to a 115 volt pump rather than dig up the place. And I'll check with the electric company too. Sometimes they have phases that don't work right.

At least I have water to pump. Could be worse. Came to town and heading for bed. Exhausted.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Yesterday's perfect storm

Perfect for CMO anyway. Three miles south didn't get anything. Usually a monsoon fills everything and washes bad, plus ten years' worth of water goes away down the arroyo. Debris washes into the tanks, etc. But yesterday's rain was a long soaking rain that ran just enough to almost fill the big tank, with no negative effects. (Reflection is clouds.)


Of course, that's why I got stuck. If it had been a monsoonal gully washer the upper dirt tank would have filled and I could have seen that from a ways back. No reason to go close. Sometimes it fills when I hardly get anything here and the ground nearby is still firm. The runoff comes from the east. So when it was only half full, like yesterday, it didn't occur to me that the ground would be saturated, but the long soaking rain did the deed.

Tank in background
After I finished repairing the 3" line, which took me most of the morning, I took the rest of the day off.  Rested and watched dragonflies. A rare luxury when I don't need to be watering.

I'm sure to get some Mexican Amberwings in a month or two. I'll definitely post it online because I know quite a few dragonfly chasers who want that species in Texas. I'm the only person who's documented it in Texas, so I'll be on top of that.

I thought having wet ground and water everywhere, it would be cooler today, but got up to 104° anyway. That's really unusual. And scary. We need relief from this heat.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Oh hail the rain gods!

The oasis got an inch of rain this afternoon so the pressure is off for awhile. I still need rain in Aug or September or later to make it through until next rainy season, but I can look forward to dragonflies and butterflies this summer. Last summer the rain didn't come until mid-August and by then it was too late for a good dragonfly showing.

I wasn't really expecting a good rain. Maybe a little shower if lucky. So my little pump was down in the big tank. It's a chore to take it in and out. But I knew once it started pouring there was a possibility the arroyo would run and the tank might fill up. But I couldn't go into the tank to retrieve the pump in the pouring rain and lightning. I sat there patiently waiting for the rain to end. When it did I hurried into the tank and grabbed the pump. There was a window of about 3 minutes to do it in, as water was already overflowing the spillway when I went in.

The Western Soapberry thicket has to be very happy.

It seems when the first big rain of the year comes everything that can go wrong does. For starters I got stuck in the mud and had to walk to the house to call my sisters to help get me out. Then a connection that I needed to hook up in the lower dirt tank was suddenly too long and no way could I curve the line into place.* With the help of a strong man it could've been done. I cut the pipe that had been the right length last year but wasn't strong enough to get it in place. Finally got it angled in enough that I could put screws in it to hopefully hold it. By then I was so sore and exhausted, going on sheer will-power. The connection held and about 30 minutes before I was through pumping no water was coming through the line. Too fatigued and sick feeling to deal with it. Just turned off the pump. I've never had that happen before. Couldn't find a break in the line or debris blocking the inlet. But since there's just a foot of water left in the dirt tank, it's probably not enough to get the pump primed again. Will have to wait until the next rain to deal with it. I'm not too concerned with losing the water since it'll surely rain again this summer and I have plenty of water in the meantime.

If you're wondering why I didn't already have the connection hooked up, it's because I don't know ahead of time which hook up I'll need. One I need if both dirt tanks fill up and the other I need if only the upper tank fills. Had we known we were going to build two dirt tanks in the beginning it could have been plumbed better. Too late now. Most of the line is buried deep under the dike. Just gotta persevere and work with what I have.

* That 3" fast line is great stuff but it's notorious for getting longer or shorter, and when you bury it, it invariably works itself out of the ground. Other than that I love it and have lots of it. It was given to my late husband.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Back at the oasis

Spent most of the day dragging hoses around trying to get things watered, but got distracted by dragonflies and stuff so didn't finish. A slow process without the pressure pump.

Here's a Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata) that I flushed while watering. It was so big I thought it might be a bat.

And the first Great Pondhawk for the year.

This American Kestrel was so brown in the back that I wasn't sure what it was, but there's nothing else it could be.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Doing some Alpine time

It's not bad, I'm always happy wherever I'm at, but I do miss being at the oasis. Feeling like I might be missing out on good butterflies or dragonflies. In town I try to get more rest so I can do more when I get to the oasis.

The last couple of days I've been playing on my ancestry tree. It's like looking for butterflies or dragonflies..... a treasure hunt. New photos of ancestors or relatives are the treasure here. There's a blank on the tree when there's no photo, so like a bingo card, I'm always trying to fill in the blanks. Kind of like Jim Peterson does on his Texas Bird Images (

Here's an example from my tree (happens to be my great-grandparents). The descendants from my grandparents are pretty much filled in, but not so much from one of their other sons, my great-uncle, Adolph. Takes a lot of research to find photos of distant cousins etc. Facebook is helpful, but really time-consuming. So whenever I locate one it's like winning an online game, only better. Not very often do Facebook users post old photos of their ancestors, but once in a while it happens. Much more rewarding than crossword puzzles.

The tomatoes are doing fine. Taking long to ripen due to all the heat, but enough for us.

Here's a gorgeous Two-spotted Forester Moth photographed by Kelly Bryan yesterday in the Davis Mountains.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Electrician visited oasis today

The bottom line is I'm going to pay him $2000 to put in new breaker boxes all the way. Gotta have decent electricity if I'm going to have an oasis. He said 240 power is going through the control box, so the problem has to be in the wiring to the pump. So that's getting new wiring too. He said he'll do the work Monday.

On a more pleasant subject, saw my first Eastern Amberwing for the year at the oasis. Hoping Mexican Amberwings will show up soon.

And saw this Saltbush Sootywing...

Heading back to town I stopped at the thistle patch across from Elephant Mountain (less than a mile south of the picnic area there). Couldn't relocate the Desert Cloudywing, just this common Checkered-Skipper, but it was hot and I wasn't feeling too good. I think I got overheated yesterday without realizing it. I don't know how it happened either, but I wasn't very well last night. Still have a headache.

I thought I was taking it extremely easy yesterday. Only spent an hour outdoors in the morning and didn't go back out again until evening. Don't see how it happened, but it did.