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Monday, December 31, 2018

Time goes too fast

I hate to see the year be over. I'll never get to live 2018 again. Just have to make sure 2019 is even better. In spite of the cold weather I came to the oasis today. Last New Year's Eve I swore not to endure a sleepless night of fireworks and agitated dogs howling in Alpine again. I look forward to a great night's sleep tonight.

My niece and her husband are in the area so I shamelessly asked them to drag a couple of sections of a utility pole to the oasis. It's one my sons cut down when they were here Thanksgiving. My niece has a "mule" that can go off-road. I'm pretty sure they enjoyed playing with it.

So that's another step done in expanding the parking area by a few feet.

Now I need to get some fill dirt in front of it so the parking lot will be more level. Either that or cut down the high area. Or both.

I think this bird is an Audubon's Warbler. Just couldn't get a decent shot of it in the brush and at a distance.

"Myrtle's" Yellow-rumped Warblers have the white throat but more of an eye-line. I think it's an "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Great oasis day!

Usually I go to the oasis with a list of chores to do. This trip was no exception. The weather wasn't inspiring me so I hung around the house until about 10 AM waiting for it to warm up. Then I headed down to the oasis to bite the bullet. A birding couple from Austin was there and I mentioned to them that I had work I wanted to get started on, although I was sure I wouldn't get it finished. The wonderful man, Dr. Williamson, a Urologist, offered to help and seemed so sincere that I took him up on his offer. I couldn't have had better help, for sure. He plumbed the lower dirt tank perfectly, just how I wanted it. I could never have done it myself. It was a two-person job. I'm still on a natural high to have that horrible task done.

So instead of arriving in town exhausted, as usual, I arrived exhilarated! Never mind that a horrible winter storm is descending upon us. In a few days I'll be able to say the groundhog will be seeking his shadow in a month.

Since I have face blindness (prosopagnosia), I wanted a picture of my new friends-for-life so I can remember them easier.

2018 has stunned and overwhelmed me with the goodness of birders. Dr. Williamson also helped me remove that big prickly pear cactus that had to go in order to expand the parking area. His wife, Judi, cheerfully entertained herself watching birds. Love you guys!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Refused to languish in town

I laid around the Alpine house most of the day, feeling drained and puny. Finally, decided that wasn't acceptable so late afternoon I headed to Terlingua Ranch to visit a birder friend there who said he had a Short-eared Owl at his place. That would be a lifer for me so I braved the elements. It was warmer than in Alpine and the wind had finally settled down. I think I saw the owl foraging about a third of a mile away. Could only locate with binoculars, but it was a large owl and the friend said the only one around was the Short-eared.

From there I went to CMO. In the morning I intend to tackle the plumbing problem in the lower dirt tank. And should I have any energy left over I hope to remove a large prickly pear that has to be sacrificed in order to expand the parking lot by 6 more feet. I know the parking area looks big on photos, but it's too small for a vehicle to turn around in.

As my avid followers know, I'm really intrigued by old historic area churches, and especially the one at Ruidosa. To see my previous posts regarding that, do a search of "Ruidosa" in the search window of this blog. Someone posted this remarkable photo on Facebook today. It appears to me to be the oldest photo of the Ruidosa church I've seen, and surely older than any other I've posted. I'm trying to get more info on this photo. The person that posted it said it was taken c.1906. That seems credible, except that records state the church was built in 1914.

Here's another I found online that was taken in the same time frame. They both have a ladder going up to the bell tower. First I had seen that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2018 in review

January went as most Januarys go for me. Cabin fever big time. I entertained myself as best I could. Worked crosswords and did some little projects like replacing the refrigerator in the guesthouse. The PBS segment on CMO aired that was taken last August when things were at their lushest, so that was a welcome distraction.

February seemed much closer to spring and I got obsessed with creating a little verbena patch. That helped with the cabin fever. Kept hoping a Lucifer would arrive early, but none did.

By March it was spring for real, but the crazy weather was so windy and one day hot, the next cold, over and over the same pattern that about all I could accomplish was to hang onto my hat.

In April I started getting inundated with visitors, partly because of the PBS program. And got a new oasis species in April.... Cassin's Finch. With no rain since last year, everything was so dry that birds didn't have much selection as to where to go. Got two female Cassin's Finches, then a week later, another female.

CMO Cassin's Finch by Mac Womack 
Also in April I learned that my last year's Mexican Amberwing submissions got accepted. That was fun. And more fun still was the 2018 BIG SIT which netted us 51 species, several more than we got last year.

May started out even busier, bustling with birds and birders. Got the first oasis male Cassin's Finch, besides a new oasis species, Palm Warbler.

Photo by T. Jay Adams
May was extremely hot and dry, which brought lots of migrants in until the middle of the month, when the numbers of visiting birds, and birders, dwindled.

June seemed like record heat for sure. But at least we got a couple of decent rains so water wasn't an issue. However, my pump stopped working properly, forcing me to put my little slow pump into the tank and drag hoses around with hardly any pressure. Watering took twice as long. In the triple-digit heat it was very hard on me. But better than no water. In desperation I even hired an electrician. Cost nearly $2000 besides all new pump, control box, pressure switch, etc., and still the pump never worked right.

The June rain brought a couple of new oasis dragonflies, which thrilled me.

Five-striped Leaftail

Gray Sanddragon
July felt like it was the hottest July on record here. And the only other July that I got less rainfall was in 2011 during that horrible drought. One nice butterfly showed up very briefly. Not a lifer, but a new oasis species.

Zebra Heliconian
Also had a female Mexican Amberwing show up briefly in mid-July. (I got just a poor photo, but good enough for it to be accepted by the experts.) And the first oasis Eastern Ringtail (Mexican form).

August was still hot and dry. I worried I might not get a monsoon this year. Quite stressful when around me places were getting inundated, but always missing the oasis. Thanks to the June rain I had enough water, but just not enough to make it through until next year's rainy season.

The hummingbird festival was the biggest, best ever. I had to stay at the oasis to help with the tours there, but had invited festival participants to check out our habitat in town (Johnson Ponds). Many did, and photographed hummingbirds in the process. After the last oasis tour left, I headed to Alpine to discover a Costa's Hummingbird at the feeders there. I announced it as quickly as possible, hoping some festival goers were still hanging around the area. A few were, and got to see the bird. And some who had visited earlier in festival week went through their photos and found they had photographed the Costa's not knowing what it was. And at least one person got home, then turned around and came back to see it.

Finally, a week into September, the oasis got a good monsoonal rain. But the stucco tank started leaking badly, so I pumped it out, patched it, and refilled it. Feeling desperate for a solution to evaporation and leakage, I started a gofundme campaign to get an above ground covered tank. That was scary and way beyond my comfort level, but I knew it had to happen. Failure wasn't an option. Scary mostly because of the logistics of getting the money, the pad done to specifications, and the  vegetation that would have to be destroyed. Getting anything done so far from civilization is always a nightmare, but the only way to ensure the oasis could continue on for us all to enjoy.

To my amazement, I did raise the money, with the help of many friends.  All through October I persevered, making progress slowly. Also in October another good rain filled a dirt tank. Again, I pumped all night to fill the worn out stucco tank. Again, it leaked real bad. So I spent another night pumping it out again, then patching and refilling it.  Even more pressure to get the new tank installed quickly, but all the October rains caused the installation company to get farther behind schedule. A very stressful time for me. I heard somewhere that October was our wettest October on record. Also in October I had a few Mexican Amberwings. One was accepted by the vetters. The others are still pending. Normally, a lovely wet October would have been a joy to me, but I wasn't able to enjoy it this year.

By November stress and frustration were a way of life. But everything was blooming and butterflies were everywhere. Got the first oasis Dorantes Longtail, shown here savoring American Threefold (Trixis californica).

Finally, mid-month, the tank installation happened. It was the coldest day we'd had so far and the pad was dusted with snow as I waited for the crew to arrive.

By the time they left in the afternoon, the tank was installed and I was pumping water into it.

That process took over twelve hours. The new 65,000 gallon tank held most of the five feet of water that was remaining in the stucco tank. 

I still couldn't relax and enjoy my new water wealth though, because it was imperative to channel rain water away from the tank, put the requisite gravel around the tank, and install a barrier between the tank and parking area.  Got that accomplished Thanksgiving when my sons came to help. Really felt awesome to have that project finally under control. In a month (Oct 24 to Nov 23) the new parking area went from a wet muddy mid-project mess...

Looking east a spacious finished parking area. (The new tank had appropriated the old parking area.) And the vegetation went from lush green to post-frost drab.

Looking east
But how bad and long could the upcoming winter be when I was still enjoying Lucifer Hummingbirds after Thanksgiving Day? 

Since I had money left from the gofundme, I contacted a concrete company to see if they would come out and assess the road so I can have a better idea of what can be done and what can't. And I intend to get done what can be. But the only company that was even willing to come out kept postponing. They're so busy with big contracts. I do believe they'll come eventually.

Still a lot of other projects need doing. Like still have to put gravel on the new parking area. Waiting for my husband's loader to get repaired to do that, which won't happen soon either. Only person in Alpine that can repair it is also overloaded with work. I have some plumbing repairs to do and various little projects but I feel I'm making progress. Winter will give me a chance to get caught up.

In mid-November the long anticipated encyclopedic tome on Trans-Pecos wild flowers was published so my sister and I were finally able to begin work on organizing and identifying our thousands of CMO (and her adjoining property) flower photos. I figured that would help a lot with cabin fever when December cold fronts arrived, but December stayed nice. Still, more fun to do than crossword puzzles when nothing interesting is blooming or flying.

What with verbena coming up all over the oasis and hopefully Tree Tobacco around the perimeter of the new tank, spring should be awesome! And with so much other stuff to occupy me, it should be here before I know it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A vicarious Christmas

I enjoyed getting photos of my Austin son with his children.

That pretty much sums up my Christmas. Had a fun day as usual working on my flower photos. Normally, I put flowers out of my mind during the winter. Then in the spring it seems like I have to start all over learning them. Next spring will be so different. Can't wait!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Pleasant oasis day

The Phainopepla is still gorging on Oak Mistletoe berries and I was still determined to get a photo of the action. Got photos, but alas, nothing decent. It's obscured way back up there in a Netleaf Hackberry tree. If Mac had been here, he'd have nailed it. He has more patience than I do, and way better photography skills.

Stationary plants on the ground are more my speed. The same fall rains that brought a bumper crop of mistletoe also bode well for great spring flowers. Here's a fledgling Kunth's Evening Primrose (Oenothera kunthii) that I'll keep an eye on, hoping to catch its quick evening bloom in early spring.

Still a decent number of butterflies around. Brian says this female Orange Sulphur (winter form) is leaning to maximize the sun's rays.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mistletoe time

Mistletoe brings Phainopeplas to the oasis. I love having them around. Didn't have time to get a decent photo of one feasting on the white berries, but got a couple of shots of them separately.

As usual, I wore myself out. But I got one of my plumbing projects done. That 3" T was cracked and has been leaking for a long time. Leaking bad, because the gas pump puts a lot of pressure on it. This new T is a wide-sweep one and shouldn't cause as much back-pressure.

Next time I'm at the oasis I'm going to do the plumbing at the lower dirt tank. It's a mess. I'll post photos when it's done.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Blog news

Remember that for the past month or so I've been working on making a Brewster County photo guide to help my sister and me identify plants at our places? Well, today I googled a species name to find a photo of it to add to the guide. The only photo that came up was one from this blog site. I had long forgotten I'd ever posted it, or even what the plant was, etc. But that gave me an inspiration. I decided to make a plant blog and post a photo of every species that we've photographed on our land. That way when other researchers are googling for a plant they can see a photo of ours and where it was taken (Christmas Mountains).

As I was setting up the blog I saw an option to put a search window on it. I don't remember why there wasn't one on this [CMO] blog, but I immediately remedied that. Now you can search any subject and if it's ever mentioned on my blog it'll come up. I had previously been using the search window on the blog's dashboard, but was wishing everyone could have that tool. So try it out. It's in the upper right-hand corner. And the link to the new plant blog is on the lower right-hand corner. But it's still a work in progress. You can see what I've done so far but it'll be several more days, or weeks, before I get all our species on there.

Another good thing about the new blog is that it'll inspire me to take better photos of each species to replace the current ones. And when we find a new species I'll add it to the blog on the page for it's plant family. Since we have photos from about 70 plant families, it'll take me awhile to finish. It'll appear as a blog with that number of posts, unlike this CMO blog that is more of a journal with an additional post for every time I blog.... now nearing the two thousand mark. In the plant blog I'll just update the 70 posts. Unless we get a photo from a plant family that we didn't have one from before. Then I'll add a new post.

Here is the photo that inspired me. Just an innocent photo of a Gregg's Poreleaf (Porophyllum greggii), perhaps not very common, since Powell says that it "has been rarely collected." Which I guess is why only my photo of one came up in my google search. A couple other porophyllum photos came up, but I couldn't use them as they didn't say which porophyllum species they were.

On my post that March day in 2017, I mentioned that I was excitedly waiting for it to bloom. I have no memory of that at all. My blog serves as my memory. It had been ID'd for me by Patrick Alexander, a plant expert. Apparently, I forgot to get another photo when it bloomed. I hope to have lots of time and energy next spring to take lots of plant photos.

BTW, I have a butterfly blog too but I just add a photo when I get a better one, or get a new species. It's organized a little differently than the plant blog since there are way more plants species than butterfly species. But, of course, all my blogs are works in progress.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

♫ Feral hogs ♫ are coming to town ♫♫

Whether your fence is good or bad, feral hogs are coming to town.  My husband saw six of them in our backyard habitat this morning. Couldn't find where they went through the fence, but they did. Here's where they rooted under an oak tree.

My husband traps them at a ranch outside of town, then last year he saw some here and moved his trap here but didn't catch any. I think he needs to move his trap back here again. He has one in his trap right now outside town. They're great eating. Have some in the crock pot as I type this.

I feel that it's just a matter of time before they find the oasis and destroy it. No way would all the buried lines and pipes etc. survive them. Not to mention my house and guesthouse that are earth-sheltered. Hopefully, before that happens the powers-that-be will find a way to eradicate them.

Spent yesterday at CMO. Didn't get a lot done. I did pot the rest of the Tree Tobacco though. Should end up with at least 24 to space around the new tank in a couple of months. Here are the newly potted ones.

And those previously potted. 

I found two that I had potted that aren't Tree Tobacco. I started to throw them out but decided to keep them to see what weed or wildflower they turn out to be.

Two unknown weeds/wildflowers

I took out some of the plumbing at the lower dirt tank. Going to do what I should have done decades ago, put in valves so I don't have to wade out and undo and hook up the 3" pipes to put the water where I want it. Sometimes I want the upper dirt tank water to go to the stucco tank, but when the stucco tank is full, I want it to go to the lower dirt tank. The rubber fittings were constantly blowing out from the water pressure and having to be screwed on tighter, then unscrewed to move them. It was a nightmare. Getting too old to do that anymore. Here's how it was. I'll post photos of how it's going to be when I get it done. This photo is old from when I first put in these rubber fittings. Have had lots of problems with them since, which caused this area to be seriously eroded.

Back in Alpine the violets are blooming.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Wonderful news!

Dentist today and two screws were loose on my lower implants. The implants themselves are fine. New lease on life here! So I immediately abandoned my soft diet after the dentist tightened the screws. I figure it's healthy to eat crunchy foods. Like muscles, if you don't use them you lose them. But I am going to exercise good sense too. No more abuse. Don't know why they got loose. In the last 25 years I had a screw come loose on my upper implants but don't remember the details anymore. The dentist said that's just sometimes the nature of screws.

He really tightened them tight. I thought for sure he'd twist the implants right out of my jaw. So glad that's over!

Working on my plant guide still..... and for months to come. Dr Powell looked at the Winterfat specimen my sister took him today and declared it's Texas Shrub (Iresine leptoclada), not winterfat. (See Dec. 4th post for photos.) Quite a surprise!

Coming back from Odessa today I noticed the landscape in the oil fields was dotted with blazing flares of natural gas. Such a waste of the earth's resources, not to mention it just adds toxins to the air. I hate to see that. Hugh says it's cheaper for them to pay the fines for burning it than to ship it to market. Never mind the environment. Here's a photo I snapped with my phone as we were whizzing by.

When I got my Rio Grande Electric Co-op 2019 calendar I saw a photo of an awesome ruin I had never seen before. I thought I had seen every interesting structure in the Big Bend. So I contacted the co-op and they directed me to this website -- 

Seems it was built as a movie set for "Dead Man's Walk" and has had various videos shot there since then. It's on a private ranch whose owner is a millionaire, probably billionaire. If he doesn't want to share it with the public, I wish he'd at least maintain it.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Checking on CMO

I couldn't resist heading south this morning to see how CMO looks after the rain two days ago. It was wet, warm, and lots blooming. Got stuck in the parking area. I thought it would have dried out more after two days. Here's where I drove on it with no gravel today.

And below is where I drove on it where there was gravel today. The above area is actually higher than the area on the photo below. What a nightmare it will be in rainy season next summer if I don't get gravel on it. But I will, not to worry. Didn't expect over an inch of rain in December. Caught me off guard. Gonna try harder to get my son there with his tractor. If that fails, then I'll hire somebody to haul it in a wheelbarrow. And in fairness, that muddy area had been low, therefore it has more fill dirt in it than the area below where we didn't put fill dirt.

Saw this accipiter hanging out at the oasis. I think it's a Cooper's Hawk, but not positive.

Feeling puny today. Couldn't do work and didn't need to water so just came back to town.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Rain and radon

I had to be stuck in town today when the oasis got over an inch of rain. But it was an all-day soaking rain so I know there was no runoff. It would have been fun to watch rain run off the new tank roof though, and see how well the parking area drainage engineering works. I'll be able to tell the latter when I do get down there. If not tomorrow, then the next day. Wish I has scattered some flower seeds around the tank. Flowers are going to be awesome in the spring.

I heard on the radio today that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths in our country and radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths. I've always been somewhat concerned about radon since my earth-sheltered house is built into a rhyolite mountain that has decaying uranium underground. So I decided to do a little research.

What really got me when I delved into the subject was this statement. "About 10% of radon-related cancer deaths involve people who don't smoke!" So 90% of radon-related cancer deaths involve people who do smoke? Nowhere can I discover how they determine that the smoking didn't cause the death. 

To clarify, about 154,000 Americans will die of lung cancer in 2018. The EPA claims that about 21,000 people a year die of radon-related lung cancer, and about 2,900 of those radon-related cases are of people who never smoked.  So at most, less than 3,000 people per year who die of lung cancer never smoked. What about all the other risk factors such as family history of lung cancer, asbestos, work related carcinogens, pollution, etc.? Surely, many of those 3,000 deaths a year were related to those causes. How can they blame them all on radon?

The American Lung Association estimates that 90% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to current smokers. Ten percent to radon (per the EPA). That's 15,400 people versus the 21,000 the EPA claims. But that's a minor discrepancy. We can let that slide.

The CDC says over 7,000 deaths to lung cancer each year are caused by second-hand smoke. And somewhere I read that about 60-65% of new lung cancer diagnoses are to people that have never smoked or are former smokers who quit a long time ago. What the heck? You can obviously see, without me boring and confusing your further, that, like everything else health and medical related, it's all a bunch of gobblety-gook! Every different organization has its own statistics.

I've never heard of anyone in the Big Bend dying of radon-related lung cancer, but radon detectors are cheap so just to satisfy my curiosity I'm going to get one.

UPDATE: I wrote the above blog late last night, at a time I usually find something to worry about to keep me from sleeping. Today I got an email from a dear friend who set me straight and told me to find some other carcinogen to worry about. He also said, 

" I spent 15 years of my life exploring for uranium. During that time I was exposed to radon gas, many times, more than you have been or ever will be exposed to, around uranium mines, uranium-rich outcrops, mine waste piles and granite rocks that have a very low amount of decaying uranium – I do not worry about dying of lung cancer. None of my fellow uranium hunters have died of radon exposed gas and we are all getting old."

So I'm not going to bother to buy a detector.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Dental disaster!

I knew I was abusing my body and probably too hard on my implants. They're not like natural teeth, but I treated them as if they were. So now my lower implants, that I endured so much pain and expense to get, are loose. They won't tighten themselves, and left loose it's a matter of time before they get infected. One was infected the other day. In desperation I put antibiotic ointment on it. I know you're not supposed to put that stuff inside your mouth, but I'm not sure why. It helped the infection but not a sustainable solution. Infected implants can lead to sepsis and death.

I have a dentist appointment in Odessa for Tuesday. I'm really bummed out about all the pain and expense that awaits me. And strong possibility that I'll end up with dentures. Lower dentures are miserable. A person can't stay very active and healthy on a diet of soft food in my opinion. I love hard crunchy stuff, like salads, nuts, popcorn, apples and such. So I have no choice but to try to go through the whole painful six month process again, if that's even an option.

The other day a friend put out some bread for the doves. Either the doves weren't hungry or didn't recognize the bread as food.

So far none of the Tree Tobacco seedlings I potted have wilted so I think they're going to make it. We're sure to get rain in a few days. That will be nice. The yuccas are blooming. I just have to stay strong and not let this dental stuff get me down. I've been through it so often before. Just had hoped all that was behind me. In order to get my upper implants they had to do bone grafts. That was over 30 years ago. I was able to take things like that more in stride in those days. Just took one day at a time. Hard for me to have that mindset these days. I'll try. Other than that, I'm doing quite well for my age.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Another perfect day!

It's hard to rest when the weather is so lovely. After overdoing yesterday, and having a bad night because of it, I decided to just put up the roof extension today. The gravel can wait. It wasn't a particularly difficult job, but work, nonetheless. Where the bench shadow is in this first photo is where the bench had previously been sitting. Because the sun is so low this time of year the bench isn't shaded, but it will be in the spring.

Hard to tell but the roof and extension are flat. The mountain in the
background and weather-shaded canopy in front make it confusing.
Here's a look at that cluster of Winterfat. Quite the novelty, and not documented for Brewster County before. My sister will take a specimen to Dr. Powell, but it's likely Krascheninnkovia lanata.

Very few butterflies around. Here's a female Elada Checkerspot. CMO had a lot of them this summer and fall.

Back to Alpine to try to recover. If I stayed at the oasis I wouldn't rest. Good chance of rain Friday.