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Thursday, February 28, 2019

In all their splendor

Lucifers are back. It's wonderful. All gorgeous and hyper.

Pyrrhuloxias are in their bright breedng plumage too.

This  Kunth's Evening Primrose (Oenotherea kunthiana) bloomed at the oasis this morning.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Any day now

Lucifer Hummingbirds are due and I'm heading to CMO in the morning to watch for them. Meanwhile, I put my sign back up in the alley after the city did a severe pruning. They cut the top off a mesquite, ostensibly because it's under the utility line. It is, but there's never been a Western Honey Mesquite in all of Alpine tall enough to reach the line. They left the stump about 5' tall; I've no idea why. Before their savage pruning I had been hanging a sign for birders from a limb on the tree.

August 21, 2018
February 27, 2019
So today I bolted my sign to the stump. Doesn't quite qualify as making lemonade out of lemons.😐 Coincidentally, the inspectors for the pruning came by today while I was installing my sign. I let them know how I felt about the whole situation.

From now on, for the first time, the house at CMO won't have a well. The well service just wanted too much to make it happen. For starters, $5000 to case it, plus a couple thousand for the work they already did. I told them the poor seep well wasn't worth it, so they came and removed the wiring they put in (unauthorized) and that's it. On the bright side, I won't ever have well expenses again, and won't have to worry about the long line to the house freezing again. I'll just use rainwater in the house and get my drinking water from our well here in town.

Eventually, I'm hoping to get a good quality composting toilet. That'll help.

To put this year into perspective, last year by the end of February I had tallied only four species of butterflies at the oasis. This year I'm up to 18 already. Gonna get exciting!

As you probably know, I'm big into ancestry. A cousin in Iowa mailed me some photos from my late aunt's estate. I enjoyed adding a few of them to my tree. A couple that I had memories about, but hadn't seen in ages were among the trove. Not to bore you, but here are the two I had thought were gone forever. The first one is of my dad and us 3 oldest kids, taken when I was about five (circa 1945). I remember it because I was holding a little jar with my prized agate collection. Throughout my childhood I wandered the countryside looking for agates. I still have my collection. It won't fit into that little jar either.  A couple in it are probably quite valuable since agate is now considered a semi-precious gem. Mine are Lake Superior agate, but I didn't know that then.

This last one I remember because my grandfather used to go on annual fishing trips to Mexico and bring us back souvenirs. Even at my age of 4 or 5, I anticipated a Piñata or Mexican doll or something with Mexican flavor. Was so disappointed when he brought my sister and me matching American-style dresses. Never wore them except for this one photo for him.

me, mom, sister (Andrea)
I'll close today's post with couple of recent photos of Big Bend Bluebonnets (Lupinus havardii) taken along the scenic river road and in Big Bend National Park by my favorite local photographer, Tim McKenna.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Beauty abounds

Surrounded by stunning bouquets everywhere. Most are in the early blooming mustard family.

Lyreleaf Jewelflower - Streptanthus carinatus
First Common Streaky-Skipper for the year. 

Not a whole lot going on but at least the weather is lovely. Vertigo again today.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dry flowery day

Fendler's Bladderpod

Had hoped to get the estimate from the well service as promised. Didn't happen. Had hoped to see a hummer. Didn't happen. Even though I couldn't be indoors by the phone and out by the feeders at the same time, I'm confident I didn't miss anything.

Did see a first of the season Henry's Elfin butterfly. I really like them for some unknown reason.

This is the first time ever that I've had a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher sit still for me. Couldn't pass up the photo-op.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Late winter doldrums

It's hard to keep my spirits up when my body and the oasis are in such decline. On top of that the wind raged for days and I was feeling puny, still recovering from a bout of vertigo.

But I try to see my cup half full. I'm grateful to be alive. What I call the "infrastructure of the ranch" (CMO) goes downhill more and more. A couple of months ago the well stopped working. I asked the well service to come by when they're working in the area so I could save on a full trip fee. Well, they came twice and I didn't get the message they were coming. My plan was to find out how much it would cost to fix it and decide if it was worth it, or if I should just use rain water for the house. (I'm really frugal with water.) But by the time I found out they had been here, they had already fixed the pump and put new wiring in the well and said it wouldn't last long without being cased all the way down, like 380 feet. I would have said forget it, but they'd already done a couple thousand dollars of work. (They're very expensive.) My late husband spent $30,000 with them just to end up with this puny seep well. Probably makes 20 gallons a day, when it's working. Now that I have to pay that much money anyway, I'm waiting on an estimate of how much it'll cost to case it. We're looking at four grand here. My husband will pay part of it, but I was saving to get the big hill concreted and now that'll have to be put on hold.... not that I've been successful in getting anyone down here to see what they could do with the hill.

And other things keep deteriorating too. The stucco tank pump still doesn't work right. And my body!!! All my joints hurt and I get short of breath just moving the water hose. OK, enough whining.

Recently an Aoudad expert made two trips up our mountain to assess the Aoudad situation. He assured me there were none there. I was ever so hopeful that the Aoudad herd had moved to greener pastures (they say they're very nomadic) and my vegetation might recover. But today I scanned the top of the mountain and saw two Aoudad gorging themselves. Bummer! Very difficult shot with my little Lumix, but you get the idea.

I'm hoping it's just those two and not the whole herd, but not optimistic on that.

I saw a hummingbird when I got here this morning and got excited thinking it might be a Lucifer, but it was a selasphorus. I'd guess it was the selasphorus I had a week ago, the one with the white gorget, but it hawked insects above the water and hardly perched, so I didn't get a photo. Didn't see it again this afternoon. Maybe tomorrow.

It's really heartening to know that I have my new tank full of water. Without that tank I'd have 65,000 less gallons than I have now because that water would have been in the stucco tank and be gone by now. 

The wind blew off some of the wind shields from around the Tree Tobaccos while I was languishing in town. One of the newly planted ones didn't survive. I replaced it with one of the spares. The others I think will recover. Soon the protection won't be needed. Once it warms up and they get more established. One of those I planted earliest lost its shield and did fine.

I saw this raptor today. I thought it was a Harrier but Kelly says it's a Cooper's Hawk. I'm not good on raptors.

I don't have one big verbena patch this year, more like lots of little ones everywhere. Some are starting to bloom, but still too cold for good butterfly activity.

On Feb. 14th a birder visited and got a couple of photos of that not-quite-mature Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird. (Not the same one I saw today). He said I could share his photo here so it's my pleasure to do so. Thank you, Pat Dwyer!

UPDATE: I told my sister about seeing the Aoudad on the mountain and she said she sees them all the time on her game camera on the mountain. So much for the expert!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cactus thievery

Living Rock cactus is a delightful plant that exists at CMO. It's hard to locate when it's not in bloom.

October 2014 CMO
A friend brought an article to my attention that had this to say:

Those who study cactus theft say that changing consumer trends are putting new species at risk. One of the hottest commodities at the moment is Ariocarpus fissuratus, commonly called the living rock cactus. To the untrained observer this little lump of a plant looks completely unremarkable, like a dark green sea sponge. But in the fall, when conditions are right, the cactus is topped with bright pink flowers.

Not-for-profit nurseries across the south-west often serve as rescue facilities for confiscated wild plants. One of those is the Pima County Native Plant Nursery in Tucson, Arizona. In December last year, the nursery received 200 Ariocarpus fissuratus from a seizure by US Customs and Border Protection. According to Jessie Byrd, the nursery manager, a man was caught with some 2,000 plants, stolen in west Texas, that he was attempting to get across the border into Mexico.

Her greenhouse was filled with living rocks being rehabilitated after their stressful journey. “This was stolen because it is coveted by collectors,” said Byrd, holding one of the cacti in her hand. The living rock is extremely slow-growing even by cactus standards: the shriveled, black specimen she held was about the size of a tennis ball. She said it was 30 to 40 years old.

In 2015, US officials made another large seizure of Ariocarpus fissuratus and those plants – all 3,500 of them – ended up at a greenhouse in Alpine, Texas, belonging to Sul Ross State University. “You could tell the people who stole the plants were money lovers, not cactus lovers,” said Karen Little, Sul Ross’s greenhouse manager. “The plants were just yanked out of the ground and stuffed into garbage bags.”

Authorities suspect the plants were stolen from nearby public lands, including Big Bend national park and Big Bend Ranch state park. “Cactus theft is a huge issue in the Trans Pecos,” said Little, referring to the sprawling desert in west Texas where Sul Ross is located. “We have whole genetic lines of cacti that have been wiped out by poachers.”

Those of you who follow my blog know how passionate I am about the subject. While certainly not  the worse tragedy in the world, it's still a tragedy.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Another and more to come

I found and identified a new plant species for the oasis. Texas Toad-flax (Nuttallanthus texanus). It's also exciting to me that I identified it myself. Wasn't easy, but the word "beardtongue" came to my mind. So I googled that and although I quickly discovered it wasn't that species, I figured it was from the same family. So I saw that beardtongue was in the Plantain family. Then I went to the digital Brewster Co. guide that I made this winter and found it in the Plantain family. When I get to town I'll look it up in Powell's book and see what common name he has for it. I use his nomenclature. So I may end up adjusting the name from what I found online. It's not rare or anything, but I love it. And more is coming up near it. I think it's a host plant for the Common Buckeye butterfly.

Couldn't find any hummers to photograph today. It's quite chilly outside and my vertigo resurfaced this morning, so I'm wimpy today.

The wilted Tree Tobacco isn't getting better or worse, so I think it'll survive. Gonna plant a healthy one near it as soon as I get more wind protectors.

Here's how the healthy ones all look.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Oasis goings-on

There's another hummingbird hanging around that I think is a juvenile male Allen's or Rufous. Its gorget feathers aren't as far along as the other one, but in a few weeks it should have a full adult gorget.

Just think, in a week or two the Lucifers will start arriving. Elf Owls have started showing up along the river, which is way early for them, so I'm thinking Lucifers might arrive early too.

While I was in town for a few days one of the wind shields blew off one of the newly planted Tree Tobaccos. It looks really wilted, but I'm hopeful that it can revive. Otherwise, I have spares that I can replant it with. I would plant some of the spares now but I ran out of wind shields.

Lots of weeds are blooming. Things are getting dry. A rain would be awesome, but unlikely. A few of the verbena (Glandularia wrightii) that I've been mothering are starting to bloom. Also found a different verbena species that should bloom very soon, maybe tomorrow.

Hillside Vervain (Verbena hirtella)
Another curious occurrence today was a big jet that, to my eyes looked like a commercial one, flew over the oasis headed south. In a minute it would have been in Mexico, but it did an abrupt turn and headed back north. Is this a commercial jet with perhaps a problem with a passenger? I don't recall a commercial jet ever heading south over the oasis unless the weather is bad. It seemed really big to be a military jet.

Zooming southward

Headed north

Friday, February 15, 2019

So far, so good

Last week when freezes were forecast we sprinkled the apricot tree all night both times it was supposed to freeze. Then a couple of nights later, with no freeze forecast we didn't leave the sprinkler on. When we heard the next day it had gotten down to 25° I was pretty bummed. But it looks like the fruit will be OK this time. Tuesday another freeze is forecast so I'll stay on top of it. The whole family loves dried apricots, and you can't buy good ones at the store. The sulfured ones are yucky.

I photographed this plant at the oasis yesterday. I'm pretty sure it's Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). We have lots of Henbit in town, but this is the first I've seen at the oasis. However, I've taken so much mulch from town to the oasis through the years, that I can't know if it's truly native there. I'm counting it anyway.

Oasis 2019

Alpine 2015

Thursday, February 14, 2019

My valentine to you

A local birder visited today and discovered two selasphorus hummingbirds visiting the feeders. I hadn't seen any for a couple of weeks so I think these are early migrants headed toward Alaska. According to hummingbird expert, Sheri Williamson:

The pale feathers are just juvenile gorget feathers that haven't been replaced yet. Gorget replacement starts at the bottom and works its way to the chin (more or less), so this is a normal stage young males go through as they finish acquiring their first adult plumage. The reason it takes many birders by surprise is that the process is usually complete by the time they arrive in the U.S.

The experts, including Kelly Bryan, aren't positive if this is a Rufous or Allen's. Sheri leans toward Allen's, Kelly toward Rufous.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Remember the horses I saw near the oasis on Feb 9? Well, turns out there were 10 in all that escaped from the Lajitas Stables on Feb 8th. Two caballeros have been tracking them ever since. They found the tracks across the fence from the oasis and hollered over at me. I made my way toward them through my arroyo and brush and they told me about it. Seems they recovered 6 of the horses but not the 4 that I saw. No telling where they are now. I did think it strange since everyone knows the fence won't keep anything in or out. Sorry, now that I didn't alert someone. It would have saved many days of tracking. Even as the crow flies Lajitas is a good 20 miles from the oasis.

After they left following the horses' track, I planted the Tree Tobacco around the tank. I have a few plants left over that I might add in later. I'll see how these do first. I tried removing the wind shields from them but put them back on. It's forecast to be real windy the next several days.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Countdown to spring

In approximately two weeks the Lucifer Hummingbirds will be back. And for me, that's officially spring. Meanwhile flowers are blooming in spite of quite cold weather. Here's a photo taken in the Terlingua Ranch area by a resident, Tim McKenna, that illustrates the way it looks in some places.

And about 20 miles farther south at Study Butte, Big Bend Bluebonnets are putting on a show.

Photo by Eddie Sanchez
In the morning I'm going to CMO and take my own flower photos, though mine will probably be closeups of some I want to ID. 

I guess as winters go this one hasn't been so bad. I didn't get sick and had plenty to keep me busy, but it feels like every winter I'm punier than the winter before and that bothers me. Like will I ever be able to go up my mountain again?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Wintery weather

Arrived at the oasis yesterday evening after dark, worried that my potted Tree Tobacco plants would freeze where I had left them outdoors. Luckily, they were OK but last night got way colder, so good thing I put them inside last night. The one I had planted by the new tank was the best looking one, so I planted five more today.

Got up this morning to a bad bout of vertigo. Had to take medication to function, but got done what I needed to. Tree Tobacco not making much of a showing by the tank but I hope it'll look awesome in a couple of months.

I saw some horses grazing on the ranch across the fence from the oasis. Since the rickety fence is pretty useless, I can easily imagine my next battle to preserve my habitat will be with that rich rancher. And it won't be the first time.

Friday, February 8, 2019

That time of year

It seems every February and/or March we fight to save our apricots. Yesterday, knowing the forecast was for a freeze last night, we set up a sprinkler under the apricot tree.

Here's what  it looks like this morning. Hope we saved the fruit.

Gonna have to do it again tonight. And probably more times.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Tree Tobacco

Ever since I got the tank project done I've yearned to have the tank ringed with Tree Tobacco. Today I planted my first of nearly two dozen sprouts I've been nurturing. I'm afraid to plant too many in case we get some really frigid weather yet this winter.

I'm hoping that by planting it up against the tank the warmth from the tank water will keep it from freezing. I put a little windbreaker around it that I'll remove once it gets well established. Yes, that's a caterpillar on the above photo. They're everywhere. Going to be a good butterfly spring I think.

Lyreleaf Jewelflower (Streptanthus carinatus)

Bristly Nama (Nama hispada)