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Friday, August 16, 2019

Life in quicksand

Sotol crop
Trying to keep my head above the quicksand. So much going on. I rushed to the oasis this morning to do my feeders and water, then come back to town in time for my Austin son's visit. When I got to the oasis, with bags of seed for the seed feeder, it was ripped down. Not bears, but a squirrel had chewed through the rope.

 So I put up a temporary cable until I can get a chain. I'm sure that big squirrel can eat through these strands of cable wires one by one.

While I was watering the courtyard I saw this interesting damselfly. Got it ID'd as a female Lavender Dancer. I had that species at the oasis before but it was a male and I didn't get a good photo, so am glad to have a better photo of that species from the oasis.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Lucifer Hummingbird photography

A gifted photographer, Lee Hoy, posted this wonderful photo of a juvenile male Lucifer Hummingbird.

In 2013 I accidentally shot a photo in a similar style with my Canon. No idea how. Mine, of course, isn't nearly as aesthetically pleasing as Lee's for many reasons.

These days I only use my little Lumix on "auto," so not likely I'll ever learn the technique, but it's my idea of perfection. Reminds me somewhat of David Sibley's fantastically successful illustrations that he used in his bird guide, but better. Sure wish a bird guide would come out using Lee's type of photography.

Sibley illustration

Bambi ran

A week or so ago a birder visiting our Alpine habitat reported seeing a fawn near the ponds. I hadn't been able to relocate it until today when I accidentally flushed it. Trying to maneuver for an unobstructed photo of it caused it to flee. Last I saw it, it was running down the street. I don't know if it has a mother that comes back to it, or if it's on its own, but I never see an adult around. Hmmm....

I needed an ode fix so dropped by Alpine Creek (adjacent to Kokernot Park) today. Here's a Plateau Dragonlet. (I have them at our ponds in Alpine too.)

I saw a female Blue-eyed Darner dead in the creek and fished it out for a photo. Yuck!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

No country for man or beast

It was 108° today when I headed to town. Now I have plenty of water to keep things happy and not the energy to endure the heat in order to apply the water every day, which is what it would take in this heat. But most things are looking decent. Surely it'll rain any day!

Some odes are so lovely that even though they're common, I just can't resist photographing them. Perfect example is this Neon Skimmer. He looks all painted up to do the town, including red lipstick. 💋

And got a better photo of a Great Pondhawk. I don't know why I love that species so much.

Red and green. Christmas colors at the Christmas Mountains Oasis every day.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Unnotable day

After doing basically nothing yesterday I had to get some work done today, whether I wanted to or not. Not. But my knee is getting better. So I watered a bunch today. Will be easy to finish tomorrow morning. Then I took a long healing nap, then swept the courtyard, and did a little pruning in it. As usual, forgot to take photos. The festival will be bringing groups here in a little over a week and I don't want to wait until the last minute to do what cleaning I feel is necessary. And my standards are low, believe me.

Not really any interesting things to photograph today. Here are a few that I consider poor quality shots from today. That's it.

The first one is a juvenile male Lucifer. The feeders are swarming with hummers. I fill about 8 feeders a day, as they get empty, when I'm here. There are a couple dozen hanging at any given time. Before I head back to town I'm going to have to add more feeders.

Next is a damselfly that I guess is a Double-striped Bluet, although it looks a little different to me. I just don't know what else it can be. Bad light or something, because it's a terrible photo. Sometimes I think the "Intelligent Auto" on my camera doesn't engage. Other features are iffy too, but I can't complain. I really have abused the camera and sometimes it takes surprisingly good photos.

Great Pondhawk
This Painted Lady looked so fresh and perfect flitting around, but when I downloaded my photo I see wear and tear. That happens to me a lot.

Just another day. Of course, every day is a gift at my age.😃

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Another scorcher

I came to the oasis a day early so I could just enjoy the place without having to triage tasks. But I felt real guilty not working. Was hoping for some good dragonflies, but not to be. It got up to 104° this afternoon. Once it started cooling down I sat on a chair by the big tank for awhile looking at odes. A deer wanted to drink but wouldn't come in until I left.

My knee is much better but I can tell I dare not push my luck. Probably for as long as I shall live. 

I saw this spider. I guess it's a Black Widow, although the red spots don't really look like an hourglass. Maybe a West Texas variation.

Coming in on Terlingua Ranch Road this morning, I stopped and snapped a photo of our mountain in relations to the area to the NW of it where Eastwood Mesa is located on old maps, erroneously, I believe. The distance makes it look bigger in comparison than it is, but that little ramp-shaped peak on the right of this photo is in the area of the map of Eastwood Mesa, but our mountain dwarfs it in size. So why would that puny hill have a name and ours not? Gotta be a mistake. (See post of Aug 1st for map, etc.) Lots of mistakes were made when mapping Terlingua Ranch in the old days. It's a surveyor's nightmare.

Our mountain far left

Friday, August 9, 2019

A better day

Even though it couldn't get much worse than yesterday, today was a great improvement. The water leak I fixed yesterday no longer leaks. And the oasis was swarming with odes today. It got up to 106° so I didn't spend a lot of time checking them out. Anything that looked remotely different I photographed and when I got to town it turns out I had photographed a lifer Tawny Pennant. Now I wonder what all awesome stuff I missed.

Oding with friends last year, they photographed one at Lajitas, but I didn't get a shot of it. I think I saw it, though, but didn't count it. This one was perched really high on a dead twig so my photo is barely documentary quality. I can't ID them from below, but a couple of experts ID'd it for me. Now I wish I had spent more time sorting through the bonanza of odes. I guess with the drought and heat, the oasis was a real oasis for them. Most were the usual stuff, but this one with its tawny-colored thorax and wing color made me think I better photograph it. I'm so bad. At the time of sighting I figured it was just a juvenile Blue Dasher or something. What puzzled me was that dashers never perch so high up and away from water. Hmmm.. so much to learn.

Also today I soaked myself with the sprinkler to cool off while I finished watering. And broke down and took ibuprofen. My jeans were still damp when I arrived in town today.

The Western Soapberries have quite a few berries on them. I love soapberries and they're growing all over the place without any assistance from me.

And I saw a flycatcher that I haven't gotten ID'd yet. I think the consensus is that it's a Willow Flycatcher.

And today I captured two Painted Buntings at the bird bath.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

A brutal day

I didn't arrive at the oasis until noon when it was already 101.° The reason is that I tried to rest my knee for the last couple of days and didn't have my town duties performed. So I did laundry, put clean sheets on hubby's bed, made him the requisite cake and supply of salads, etc. before heading south.

My knee was hurting so when I got to the oasis I hung six full feeders to tide the hummers over another day and took a nap. After my nap the temperature was 104° but I had to fix a water leak (took a couple of hours) and then, between 6-8 PM, I started watering to make it easier tomorrow. So I'm more than exhausted. My hope is to finish watering before it gets so hot tomorrow. If it wasn't so hot, or if my knee didn't hurt, or if it rained. If, if, if. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty dejected today. Tomorrow should be an easier day.

Here are a couple of pictures I took while I was dragging the hose around from tree to tree. This is a volunteer cherry tree that grew under an Arizona Cypress. The cherry tree I originally planted is doing fine but didn't make cherries this year that I can tell.

Southwestern Chokecherry - Prunus serotina
Because I was able to pump my tanks full this spring, I'm able to water things enough to keep them from suffering so much from the drought and heat.... for now.

The birds are getting accustomed to the bird bath that Mac and I built last spring. A bunting and a goldfinch were fighting over it. I couldn't focus fast enough to get them both on the shot. While I'm watering the drip doesn't work due to I'm using all the pressure. I have to do that or the pressure pump builds up pressure and shuts off and it takes 15 minutes or so to come back on. By running both hoses the pump stays running, but the drip won't work until I stop watering. It looks like this Lesser Goldfinch is trying to figure out where his drip went.

And this is about my most common dragonfly, a Roseate Skimmer. This is a female.

It's a nuisance to carry a camera while watering, so I feel I need to photograph something. A few minutes before I was ready to call it a day at 8 PM, I saw a rattler slither inside a nearby bush. I really wanted a photo of it but didn't happen. I didn't get a real good look but the rattles looked skinny and I couldn't see any black, or black & white, on the tail. The body of the snake looked only mildly patterned, basically gray overall and very fat. Didn't see the head. Don't know what species it was.

My sister saw a tiny snake yesterday. We don't know what it is either. Our best guess is a baby Mexican Hooknose, but that species doesn't occur in our area.


UPDATE: Snake has been ID'd as a Chihuahuan Hooknose (Gyalopion canum). That species is also known as Western Hooknose.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A picture worth a thousand words

Yesterday I read this excellent book by David Keller. In it he talked about many years where the Big Bend got good rains in the spring but no summer monsoons. Sure hope this isn't one of those years, but at least it's better to have spring rains followed by summer drought than to have spring drought followed by summer drought. Anyone interested in Big Bend history must read this book.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Survival mode

The oasis and I are in survival mode. Every day is over 100° and no rain in over a month. None forecast either. All I can do is be grateful I have enough water to keep things alive until the monsoons kick in. Meanwhile, no interesting odes to be had. 

Saw this nice male Hackberry Emperor while watering.

I couldn't get this lovely male Chinati Checkerspot to come out of the vegetation for a better dorsal photo. If I had been more patient, perhaps, but I had been watering trees all day, the temperature was 103,° and my knee was throbbing.

Now I'm in town for two days before I have to go do it all over again. Surely my knee will be much improved by then. Today I got by with half as much ibuprofen as I needed 3 days ago.

My sister, a year younger, is going through a similar situation. In February she fell up on the mountain and didn't think that much about it. But the knee pain wouldn't go away. She got concerned that using her knee might be making it worse, so had an MRI. She found out today that she had fractured her tibia, but it's healing nicely. Mine will too.

Both of us have resolved to abstain from our climbing behaviors. And even be extra careful on flat ground. I get tangled in sticks and tall grasses all the time. About a year ago that caused me a hard fall. As far as I know I've never broken anything, but I don't want there to be a first time. I can't prevent becoming 80 soon, but I can choose how safely I do it.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Scheduled maintenance

I had to come to the oasis today to service feeders and water trees, so I took a long midday nap in town in preparation. It worked and I arrived at the oasis feeling 90% healed. But 3 hours of work in the 102° heat zapped me to where I could barely walk. I'll start again tomorrow but I may need to take ibuprofen to do the job, like I did last time on Aug 1st.

The heat seemed to zap this empidonax flycatcher too. He perched and spread himself out like he was desperate to stay cool. Obviously a migrant from a cooler climate. Maybe a Willow Flycatcher.

And I finally managed to snap a few pics of a female Lucifer Hummingbird enjoying the Tree Tobacco. She wouldn't be still a second so I had to just take what I could get.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Asking for trouble

Well, I did go to Alpine Creek, but it wasn't worth the pain and I nearly took a bad fall. My walking cane got tangled in tall grass and I barely escaped tumbling down an embankment into the water. Guess I'm destined to be a couch potato for a couple of days. (Photos via my camera timer)

Fork-tailed Bush Katydid

Friday, August 2, 2019

New Alpine mural

Stylle Read has been painting murals in Texas for many years. I actually met him about 40 years ago, although I'm sure he wouldn't remember me. (That was in a former chapter of my life when I was an artist and hobnobbed with other artists.)

Here is a photo of him applying finishing touches on his latest mural. I am really impressed with it. I think it'll become a favorite of his fans. If you've been to Alpine you've surely seen at least one of his murals.

Located south of McDonald's at The Prescription Shop, it draws one in to study it closer. The stars around the perimeter feature names and dates of former Texas Rangers.

If you're interested, here's a link to a good article about him.

Other than that, I'm just taking it easy in town, resting my knee. Today was the first day I went without ibuprofen for the pain and swelling. It was tough, and tempting to take some for relief, but I persevered. I wanted to be able to compare healing progress from day to day without masking it. Also if I'm not in pain, I'm tempted to do more than I should, which might slow healing.

I limped out to our ponds here briefly looking for odes. Only saw this Dotted Roadside-Skipper to photograph, so settled for that.

Tomorrow I'm hoping I might be able to take a quick look at the pools in Alpine Creek by Kokernot Park, but if I do I'll have to use a walking stick. Can't risk going along the uneven trail yet without one.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Trivia about our mountain

Photo by Mac Womack
On old maps there's an Eastwood Mesa designation to the NW of our mountain, but no real mesa there. Ours is much more of a mesa but has no name on it. I've always wondered if it was Eastwood Mesa and mislabeled on the maps. (The Mount Williams on this map is the mountain directly south of my house.)

During an earthquake around 1995, I just happened to be in my underground guesthouse. It sounded like a freight train rolling over but as soon as I raced outside, it was quiet except for some huge boulders rolling down the mountain.

I hadn't really intended to purchase the mountain, but got pressured into it when a land schemer was going to buy it and sell 100 undivided interests online. That sounded like a nightmare to me. At one time in its history it had been donated to the Nature Conservancy. They sold it sight unseen. My sister and I pooled our money to buy the land. After we owned it, we built crude trails up it.

Peregrine Falcons and Lucifer Hummingbirds nest there every year. A few relict Mexican Blue Oaks still grow on it in spots.

. There are acres of these scrubby Gray Oaks on top

The mountain itself is mostly rhyolite, which is like a fine grained granite. It's growing by about an inch per year.* Where the rocks slide up it leaves a shiny surface called "slickensides." Here is one from our mountain.

In geology, a slickenside is a smoothly polished surface caused by frictional movement between rocks along the two sides of a fault. This surface is normally striated in the direction of movement.

At one time there was volcanic activity associated with the mountain. As a result there are patches of gray slag-type rock mixed in. There are also a few veins of ochre-colored jasper. I'm sure at one time in distant prehistory it was forested. And maybe at the bottom of an ocean millions of years ago.

My sisters have named the mountain Turtle Mountain because from a certain angle, to them, it looks like a turtle.

Today, it makes a lovely backdrop for the oasis.

I'm getting around without a cane this afternoon. Serviced feeders and had to put out almost 3 gallons of sugar water to be sure it would last for 3 days. And watered the trees in triple-digit heat. I sprinkled myself liberally a time or two to keep cool. Feels good to be caught up for a few days. Now maybe I can rest.

* I read this in a geology book many years ago and now am questioning the accuracy so trying to locate the source. Take this with a grain of salt until I can find confirmation.