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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Fun Balmorhea day!

 Now that my birding sister-in-law (Dale Ohl) has moved back to Alpine, after many years absence, we'll be doing a lot of birding together, especially when rarities show up in the area. Yesterday we had a fun day in Balmorhea. I got a lifer Yellow-billed Loon.

I don't get to Balmorhea often enough to be familiar with gulls, terns, and ducks so it was a bit overwhelming. I'm still working on IDing all my photos. Here are a few of them. Since most everything was way out in the lake my photos aren't as sharp as I'd like.

Ring-billed Gull with Franklin's Gull in foreground

Common Loon
Dozens of White Pelicans were an impressive sight.

Ring-billed Gull
Very distant Hooded Merganser

And a Greater Yellowlegs from Sandia Wetland near Balmorhea. It's a man-made wetland that doesn't have many species. At Balmorhea we probably got at least 50 species, including yellowlegs. But at Sandia I can get closer photos.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A two skunk day

 One reason I like to water my trees is because, while watering, I see species I wouldn't otherwise see. Today that happened to be, besides some bird species, two skunk species.

This first one is a Hog-nosed Skunk, sometimes called "Rooter Skunk" because of how it plows the soil, and is one of the largest skunks in the world.

The other skunk species I saw today is one you're probably most familiar with, the Striped Skunk. Both are native species.

It's not surprising that they ignored me and went about their foraging. They know they have humans and animals trained to keep their distance. 

While I was watering, the Ruby-crowned Kinglets were inspired to bathe practically at my feet. Now I know how they keep their crowns so bright. They immerse them in water.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Indoor birding

Except for a quick dash out to the ponds to count the ducks, I did all my birding from beside the fire.

There are extra ducks out there but I can't tell them apart from our resident ducks, so I have no idea which this is.

I also have two Rufous Hummingbirds here that I can't tell apart. Don't know which this one is. I wouldn't have known there were two if I hadn't seen them on different feeders at the same time. One of them chased away a male Anna's that tried to drink from a feeder. 

Next is at the second feeder taken an hour later. I don't know if this is the second Rufous or not. The feeders are a ways apart and the first Rufous seems to mostly defend the other feeder. I kept thinking it was the same bird until I saw them at the same time. And these photos may be the same bird. Nevertheless there are two here.

So I'm wandering around indoors with my camera hanging around my neck. One more day of winter to go. And I hope we don't get another wintry spell before at least January.

View out my north window

UPDATE: Just had a Mountain Bluebird outside the window by the stove. First at our house here. Didn't get a very good photo, but better than none.

Then around 6 PM I was delighted to see the Anna's Hummingbird come back to the feeder and tank up for the night. No Rufous bothered it.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Summer yesterday - Winter today

 I just hate cold weather and it's even harder when one day I'm enjoying a hot day of birding in Lajitas and the next day I'm freezing in Alpine. Not even supposed to get above freezing tomorrow here in town. After tomorrow it'll start warming up and be decent again, thankfully. Even a three day winter seems too long. Had to bring the bougainvillea into the house for the winter though.

Here's a cold Rufous Hummingbird. 

My son took this photo this morning of a Cactus Wren insulating its nest ahead of the impending cold front. Unlike most birds, Cactus Wrens use their nests year-round. (Cotton courtesy of me)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Lajitas again

 During my big day I did Lajitas last, so was tired and hot. Today I went down early with my sister-in-law, Dale. We were fresh and spent over 3 hours there, in the cool birdiness of the morning. Saw the Common Loon right away, but later didn't see it, nor did visitors this afternoon, so we lucked out there.


It called loudly. Was exciting to me. I'd never heard a loon call except on a recording. Dale recorded the call with her camera. She located a Red-breasted Nuthatch that I was able to photograph. (Only had one other photo of that species, from back in 2009.)

Photographed a Swamp Sparrow too. A species I haven't seen for quite a few years.

After we left Lajitas we stopped by the sewage treatment facility in Study Butte. There we saw a Least Grebe. I immediately called my son at the oasis to see if that grebe was still there. It was. So that makes two in the Big Bend area.

Whatever has been tilting the feeder at the oasis every night is still doing it. My greasing the pole didn't help a bit.

The trespassing van that got stuck came and removed their van after I left the gate open for them. Maybe life will get back to somewhat new normal. Supposed to freeze in Alpine Tuesday.

Friday, October 23, 2020

A long Texas Birding Classic big day

 My husband called me at 5 AM so I got two hours less sleep than I needed, therefore it made the day even longer and harder. I started my big day at CMO at daylight. Highlight there was a Williamson's Sapsucker, but I didn't get good photos of it. I had a lot of places to bird, so didn't dawdle. Remember, only countable birds are those I see within a 50 mile radius of the oasis. Very disappointing that the Cassin's Finches and some other good species were gone.

Next I went to Rio Grande Village in the park. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone. Closed, so had to park a ways outside and walk in. I didn't arrive there until afternoon so it was blazing hot.

The campground was deserted. The trees there looked half dead, and no birds to speak of. 

I stayed less than an hour before heading to Lajitas. Lajitas was much birdier and greener. But by the time I got there I was worn out. Wish I had gone there instead of Rio Grande Village, but one never knows. Previously it had always been good birding.

The highlight for me at Lajitas was a Common Loon. I didn't have photos of one, and had never seen one in Brewster County before.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Still hot and birdy

In the 90°s every day and birds just keep coming. Today I had a female Cassin's Finch, which was nice.

Also a Song Sparrow. Both were flagged on ebird as rare, as was the Least Grebe that has been here at least since Sep. 1st.

Something tried to get into the seed feeder during the night. Managed to tilt it but no damage was done. It's stiff and hard to tilt. Wind won't do it, but there wasn't a bit of wind anyway. Even a raptor couldn't tip it. And it was full, so heavy. Nails in the welcome mat weren't bent. The hummingbird feeders weren't bothered, so doesn't seem like it was a bear. Maybe a raccoon or ringtail. I'm going to grease the pole good tonight. 

As for the trespassing van, I'll probably have to let them come and get it but if I cause them aggravation meantime, it might help make sure that never happens again. It's too onerous for me to have to keep my gate locked when birders visit almost daily. Fortunately, incidents like this don't happen often.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020


 I wonder why my Faxon Yucca is blooming this late in the year in the middle of record heat and drought.

And I wonder what species this pile of feathers represents. I suspect it's a Gray Catbird. Color and feather size looks like the best fit for that species. Hadn't seen or heard one at the oasis this year, but who knows? There's one in town and quite probably one stopped in at the oasis. Can't hear a dead bird. I know accipiters are hanging around, and who knows what other predators.

I wonder when and how this pandemic is going to end. I just learned a very dear friend barely survived covid after three weeks in the hospital, and is still sick. Is it going to pick us off one by one, I wonder, until we've all had it? Or died of it?

Kind of down in the dumps tonight anyway. Seems it's always something. Got to the oasis at daybreak, prepared to water and other work, even though I really would have preferred to photograph birds. But it went ok until I learned that yesterday a trespasser had gotten his vehicle stuck when he came upon my locked back gate and tried to turn around. He called me today wanting the gate combination so he could get it towed out. Caused me lots of stress and inconvenience. I said "no." 

I'm tired of just endlessly giving whatever they ask for, turning the other cheek. I've fought poachers, hunters, trespassers, you name it for over 40 years.  He drove through my open gate on the north, that was plainly posted private property, no trespassing. 

Gate was open but posted on both sides

Wanting to take a shortcut across my property. It costs a lot to maintain my road. My sister said he was speeding when he came up the big hill, tearing it up along the way.  Anyway, the van is still sitting inside my back gate, blocking the road, waiting for the next step. I'm wondering what that will be.

It was a young guy working for a Fedex delivery contractor. When I finally talked to the contractor, I asked for damages. He gave me a sob story, of course. Just an accident, innocent mistake, etc. He can't afford to pay me any money, etc. I did tell them they could get the packages out of the van. People who paid the delivery charges deserve to get their packages.

I shouldn't have to keep my gate locked and endure the inconvenience of always having to lock and unlock the gate and make all visiting birders do the same just in order to keep people from using and abusing my road. A "keep out" sign should suffice. 

It doesn't take a genius to know that GPS may show roads, but doesn't show locked gates and other obstacles. A delivery driver should have a paper map furnished by his company and follow their approved route.

Anyway, what bird watching I could fit in this morning was good. I enjoyed seeing this Rose-breasted Grosbeak. My favorite bird of the day. Looks like he's wondering too!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Punishment and reward

 After a punishing record hot and dry summer, where I struggled desperately to keep the oasis watered, the reward is most welcome. Good birds just keep on coming. Today I was excited to spot this Cassin's Finch.

There were 16 ducks on the pond all day, but no Least Grebe. I think it leaves when other ducks come in, but returns when they leave. I know some of these ducks are American Wigeons, and some Green-winged Teal. Not sure if there's anything else in the mix or not.

I really enjoy having Townsend's Solitaires around. Next best thing to bluebirds. I'm sure I'll get some bluebirds this year too. No telling what else either.

When I got back to town this afternoon I looked at my son's house for the Costa's Hummingbird but didn't see it. I'll try again in the morning. Sure did enjoy having it here for over three weeks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Bad photo day!

I checked on the Costa's Hummingbird this morning before I left Alpine for the oasis. Snapped one bad photo just for documentation. Got to the oasis around 10:30. There my first priority was putting a new pad on the seed feeder. The old one had worn out and was falling off. In hindsight, I should probably have waited until bear prowling season is over.


By the time I finished the pad and servicing feeders it was well into the afternoon. I snapped a few photos when I could, but nothing that pleased me. This Sage Thrasher shot would've been good if his bill hadn't been cut off on the profile views. Had I known it was a Sage Thrasher I would certainly have tried harder. As it was, I saw it perched a ways off, noticed white on the wing, couldn't see the bill length, and thought it was just a Lark Bunting. Didn't see what it was until I downloaded my photos. Too much multitasking.

I missed a chance for good photos of the Brown Thrasher because I tried to video his foraging behavior. He dug really deep. But I didn't catch it on video and missed the chance for good still shots in the process. 

I couldn't get a clear shot at the Townsend's Solitaire as hard as I tried. I'll spare you the results of that one. I guess all was not lost. I got a good shot of a Monarch. I didn't want one; I have hundreds, but couldn't resist the rare cooperativeness.

Tomorrow won't be any better. I'm already rundown and have to water and then go back to town.

There's a male Anna's Hummingbird in the courtyard but I doubt I'll have time to wait it out for a photo. Maybe my son can when he comes down this weekend.