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Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 in Review


The oasis started the year under the weight of a record 18" of snowfall. Many branches and limbs snapped off.

We started work on the new viewing blind and water feature. I moved from the house into the guesthouse, while my son and his wife took over the house. Transitioning. We got vaccinated against covid.


Record cold February did a lot of freeze damage. Blind work slow.


Lots of wind. Blind work went slow and extended into disruption of spring migration birding, to my dismay. Because of the drought, the oasis was really popular with birds. Birders were all getting vaccinated, and life was getting back to normal. Bird tours resumed and I would consider it to be a normal spring migration.


Good spring migration using the new blind.

Work on the new water feature was delayed while repairing liner damaged by bear.


Great migration fun! Birders happy to be vaccinated and back to enjoying birds.


Water feature operational.

Vegetation struggling what with winter snow damage, then record freeze damage, followed by bear damage. Thanks to the new water tank the oasis lurched along.


Work completed on blind, although I still had plans to cover the space between them with shade.


I was able to collect water from several small monsoonal rains to where I felt I could make it through until next rainy season. Probably have to ration water.


I covered the space between the blinds. Very slow fall migration, especially noticeable on hummingbirds. Usually, in August and September it's hard to keep the feeders filled. I even bought some extra big feeders, but the influx never came and the feeders sat unused.


Before and after pics of the blind and water feature.

The old water feature didn't have an underground reservoir so I couldn't use a pump in it. Algae kept ruining pumps. This solar powered system is the cat's meow! And gets birds up higher for optimal photography.

What few birds there were, seemed to stop by because of all the berries on the Chinese Pistachio tree.

Here's my favorite photo of a visitor to the tree, taken by Mike Gray on the day he, Cecilia, and Deirdre came to help put concrete patches on the steepest part of the big hill. I really believe that'll make the hill  50% easier to ascend. Very exciting for me!

Red-naped Sapsucker


Surprised to get a new oasis species, a Lewis's Woodpecker. Alas, it only hung around for a few hours, and no one but me got to see it.

Fall was the worst birding at the oasis ever! Not one single hummer around. That's a first. I sure hope things pick up in March. 


Still no birds at the oasis so I roamed farther afield searching for birds. Looking forward to a hopefully good spring. Just have to get through winter first. At least December was lovely weather. In fact, the year began with record cold, and ended with record heat! Just so grateful we're all alive and healthy.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Family time

Since my grandson's visit is nearing its end, I took him to the oasis yesterday morning. He immediately went to climb my mountain (his first time), indicating he'd probably be gone a couple of hours. He refused to take water. Didn't want to carry the weight and sure he wouldn't get thirsty in that amount of time.

When he hadn't returned in four hours I began to worry and fear the worst. I shared my concerns with birders that were there at the time. After I went to my cabin to see if he had tried to call me (there is cell service on top of the mountain) a birder came rushing up to tell me she saw him wandering around on a slope. It took binoculars to spot him.

I immediately drove to the trailhead, which was the nearest I could get to where he was. When we got within talking distance of one another he told me he had lost his Go-Pro camera somewhere around there. Seems he had walked all over the top of the mountain, and after starting back down, had inadvertently lost my trail. (A person doesn't realize how important it is to stay on the trail until they lose it.) Soon he found himself descending a steep slope, so he swung his camera strap around to his back to keep it safer. Apparently in the process, it unknowingly came out of its pouch. By the time he had gotten down and realized it, he not only didn't know where it had happened, he didn't know where he had been, so he spent two hours scouring the steep slope about where he thought he had shifted the pouch.

Well, of course, I whisked him off to the cabin and loaded him with food and water (he hadn't eaten all day). Then he got the idea to go back with my binoculars and try again. He told me he'd be back before dark, but otherwise wouldn't stop looking.

After leaving him, once again, at the trailhead, I hadn't been back at the cabin long when he comes in triumphantly carrying his camera. Seems he had just barely started up the trail, decided to look through the binoculars, make sure they were adjusted to his vision, and start scouring the slope. Without his glasses or contact lenses, which he hadn't brought along, his distance vision isn't good. The camera, the size of a cell phone, was in a bright orange case just to make it easy to locate. As soon as he scoped the slope he glimpsed a speck of orange, and made haste straightaway (no trail or switchbacks) to it. He ended up with blisters and scratches, but happy.

This morning while I was watering trees I had him do a little project that I'd been wanted done for quite some time. An old concrete feeder base, not being used since bears destroyed the feeder, was an eyesore and I wanted more concrete flooring in the new blind. So I had him install it there.

On the way back to Alpine we stopped by my sister's house, where we snapped a few photos.

Then, in Alpine, a few more.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Ongoing mystery

I do a lot of birding along Highway 118 north of Alpine. It never fails that a caravan of mobile homes comes down the highway toward Alpine while I'm birding. So, since my birding lasts an average of an hour each visit, that means every hour mobile homes come through Alpine and head east from there. Where they go is a big mystery to me. This has been going on for years. That's thousands of mobile homes. During today's hour of birding the caravan consisted of 8.

I used a series of still images so I wouldn't have to deal with trying YouTube. My grandson is a computer technician. He says my computer is worn out and I need a new one. Going to do it.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Family tales

Once upon a time I had four kids. The oldest got murdered when she was 19, leaving her 2 yr old son (now 47) behind. He's here visiting me this week. He loves to run and has run from our house to Sul Ross 

college and back daily while staying here. Three miles each way. He was born in Alpine at the old hospital near that college.


Of my surviving three children, my two sons live in Alpine and my daughter lives near Austin. Then I have a granddaughter and  grandson by my Austin daughter. (And 3 granddaughters by one of my Alpine sons.) Here is my only other grandson. He's 21.

I also have three great-grandsons, all teenagers. That makes me pretty old. Of course, I'd be just as old if I had no children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

CHRazy CHRristmas

My grandson, whom I haven't seen in over 20 years, is visiting this week. I took him on his first birding trip (to Lake Balmorhea). As we were crossing the dam, I stopped to photograph two Neotropical Cormorants that were close by. Which is unusual. 

So I parked well to the side, like I've done at least 100 times before, got out, birded a short ways from the car, then got back in and continued around the lake. As we were passing a cabin, a man came out motioning for us to stop. I pulled over to see what he wanted, figuring he'd say to slow down. (The speed limit there was 5 MPH.) But he wanted to rant about my stopping on the dam. Seems there's a new sign there prohibiting that. Such insanity. There's plenty of room for two vehicles to pass. At the time I was the only vehicle at the lake at all. I had paid the entrance fee. They make money from birders, who don't trash the place, or play loud music, etc. Really aggravating!

Then, as soon as we got back to Alpine, we headed south to the Terlingua Ranch area to visit with my grandson's relatives who also hadn't seen him for 20 years. I decided to leave him there to visit while I went to the Study Butte Wastewater Treatment Plant to see what birds were there. When I approached there were two men working inside the chain link fence at the pond there. Had never seen that before. They hollered at me, so I went over to see what they wanted. By then they were outside the fence. (I hadn't gone inside, nor would I have been able to.) They said no one is allowed where I was. I mentioned there was no sign, to which they replied that they were soon going to put one up. So naturally I had to know why. They said because the water (always odorless) wasn't fully treated and puts harmful fumes into the air, for which they're responsible for. I told them they could post a sign saying they weren't responsible (like this one), but it fell on deaf ears.  My son made me one and the code does say it includes birding. He'll get it hung at the oasis soon.

I'm going to see if I can talk sense into whoever is responsible for such ridiculousness. Our country is turning into a, suing, socialistic society. I could expound more, but you get the idea. I guess I'm too old.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Finally got recent video uploaded

The video of my walk below the dam at Balmorhea Lake finally got uploaded. It's less than 2 minutes of an hour long hike.

My son's sign business in Alpine is thriving. He had to buy a vehicle with a bucket lift to do bigger signs, and be safer.

Latest installation

Nevertheless, he was determined to spend Christmas at the Christmas Mountains Oasis, and headed down there from Alpine this afternoon. I'll be in Alpine for a few more days with company, etc.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Back to Balmorhea

Today I went back to Balmorhea with Dale (sister-in-law) who is an excellent spotter, plus has a spotting scope. So we saw twice as many birds.  Not the ones we were seeking though. Here are a couple pics from today.

Common Merganser

Common Goldeneye

Dale had walked ahead of me, while I was using her scope. She saw and heard a Yellow Rail, but as hard as we tried we couldn't get it to reappear. When I looked in this blog to see when I had a previous experience hearing a Yellow Rail (at Lajitas), I was surprised to see it was also on a December 22. (In 2014.) Hmm.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Chasing a lifer

During the Christmas Bird Count at Lake Balmorhea an ace birder discovered a Nelson's Sparrow below the dam. So today I went seeking it. Here's a sample of what I had to walk through for an hour. Did not find the bird, but going again tomorrow with my sister-in-law, Dale.

A couple of my pics from today at the lake.

Hooded Merganser (male)



Update: I notice the YouTube video hasn't finished processing yet. Seems it's taking an awful long time. Sorry. Don't know if it'll ever upload. I don't have much experience with the process.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Quick oasis visit

Couldn't put off watering another day so arrived at daylight in time to see the sunrise reflection on the mountains to the west. Opposite of afterglow, I guess.

Strangely, it seems so quiet and bird-less at the oasis, yet I tally more species there than I do at the birdy picnic area south of Ft. Davis. Maybe just because I'm so used to my birds, or maybe there are less total birds, even though more diversity. Don't know.

Canyon Towhee

Mule deer

I'm wondering if the summer rains created a lot of natural seed and forage so that birds don't need the feeders. I didn't see one quail at the seed feeder but I know they're around and I saw one cross the road. Even though my tanks didn't totally fill, we might have gotten frequent enough rain to produce a good crop. If wildflowers are any indication, it was a great year for them. That doesn't explain why there weren't migrant hummers at the feeders this fall since there were plenty of Lucifers at the feeders. Maybe one day soon we'll know.

Weather is supposed to be cold tomorrow. Glad I don't have to go out unless I want to.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Big woodpecker day!

My sister-in-law wanted to go birding today so we went looking for the Downy Woodpecker that I was lucky enough to see briefly yesterday. She's a better spotter than I am and got me onto the woodpecker today to where I could take better photos, so I'm thrilled.

Also photographed a Red-naped Sapsucker (and saw Acorn Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers).  A five woodpecker species day!

Tomorrow I have to go water the trees at the oasis. Soon the days will start getting longer.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Picnic area saga

I'm mostly writing this so I'll have a record of the events of the last few day. (Spoiler alert: I got the Downy Woodpecker this morning!)

First spotted on Dec 12 by Stephen Falick. I went looking for it on the morning of the 13th. That's when I fell and twisted my knee. The next day (yesterday) I went again in the morning, knee hurting. Did not see it but saw a Brown Thrasher, which is a nice find for this time of year. Steven Cardiff showed up before I left. I told him about the thrasher. After I left, he saw the thrasher and the woodpecker. So I returned in the afternoon. Chris Pipes was there when I arrived. I told him about the thrasher. Neither of us saw the woodpecker, so we resolved to go back again today.

This morning I learned from Cardiff that Chris had found the thrasher deceased (hit by a vehicle) and collected it before I got there yesterday, but for whatever reason, Chris didn't tell me. I had continued looking for it since I didn't get a picture of it at the time I saw it.

So today (knee all better) Chris and I arrived there (he from Ft Davis; me from Alpine) at 10 AM. We searched and he played a recording of the woodpecker's call. He had done it yesterday too, to no avail. This time the bird seemed to respond and he got a quick glimpse of it. As we both searched for it again, we soon spotted it. He looked through binoculars to confirm ID, but I'd made that mistake before. I was able to snap a couple of quick shots before it flew away. I shoot first and ID later. That can be a mistake too if it disappears before I get to take a pic. And without binoculars on it, I can't confirm ID. But I got lucky today. Of course my autofocus didn't do well with all the branches in the way, but at least it's documentation!

So lots of fun! Today I also found a Blue Grosbeak, which is a very late date for one. 

Going back and forth from Alpine, I keep seeing this car along the highway. Can't imagine how it got wrecked.*

And here's my car parked today at the stakeout area.


*Someone suggested to me that perhaps the car was being towed by a motorhome and when the motorhome braked it came loose and hit the motorhome before going into the ditch. Sounds logical to me.


Chasing again

With the warm weather continuing and birding so bad at the oasis, I can't resist chasing anything interesting elsewhere. Fortunately, this chase is only 20 minutes from home. There's been a Downy Woodpecker seen at a picnic area south of Fort Davis. I tried for it twice yesterday and going back again today. I've yet to see anyone's actual photo of it. It was observed shortly after I gave up and left yesterday morning so I went back in the afternoon, to no avail. Not giving up. I've seen the species growing up in Iowa and seen it in Colorado, but never in Texas.

Day before yesterday I took a nasty fall while looking for the bird. My knee was swollen and painful yesterday but I'm fine today. I had been walking on this slope, looking up for my target bird, when rubble caused me to slip and crash to the ground. I landed atop my camera, but luckily didn't break it. I chose not to walk along the highway close to the speeding traffic. Now I'm walking farther down the slope where the view isn't as good, but good enough, and safer.

There are lots of berries at this location, although I have yet to see a bird eating them.

When traveling to the picnic area, I have to pass Musquiz Creek/Lake so naturally I stop there. Usually the ducks are too far away for me to get decent photos, but occasionally I catch one closer, like this American Wigeon.

If I don't get the Downy Woodpecker today, I'll have fun trying.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Reading the landscape

So lovely to open my eyes at CMO this morning to the first rays of sunrise outside my window!

My sister found a Thompson's Yucca up the mountain that had a woodpecker hole in it. She brought it to me, thinking I might be able to use it as a nesting box. The hole in it is too shallow for hole nesters, but I mounted it anyway, for decoration or whatever.

The top came off as she was transporting it, which I wired on as good as I was able while standing precariously atop an eight foot ladder. We'll see how long it holds up and if anything uses it.

So, I can pretty well discern how the hole got into the stalk. An infestation of some kind of larvae, like June bugs, ate the pith out of the stalk. A Ladder-backed Woodpecker heard them inside and probably drilled a hole near the base where the larvae had accumulated. And probably made the hole in a matter of minutes.

I worked on the tank awhile yesterday and again today. As much as my body could tolerate. Not doing any more until I get all the water and mud out of it. I worked in the far end cleaning and coating cracks. I don't think that end leaks but I want to be sure it doesn't start to. I coated the whole thing eight years ago. Two coats are supposed to last 10 years, but I did just one coat, a thinned down one at that. I'm just going to keep patching holes and cracks and hope it doesn't leak. I think it's doable. Just have to get serious about it.

To recap, it didn't leak in the summer of 2020, but leaked about 2" or more a day in the summer of 2021. Not acceptable.