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Saturday, December 31, 2022

Remote vicarious birding


Being stuck indoors with Covid limited birding to looking out the window. When that was slow, I got added enjoyment from following my birder friends' birding ventures via ebird. I pretty much know almost all the birders birding the area, so following their excitement over their lifers and finding their target birds gave me vicarious pleasure. At one point, I dashed over to Kokernot Park, a few minutes from home, to enjoy, in person, a friend's seeing the Lewis's Woodpecker.



But it was way too cold for me, so after a few minutes I retreated back to the house to stay. Back to ebird, I enjoyed reading the lists as they came in. I also felt the disappointment when species sought were not found. 


In my daily grind, I get the meaning of "in sickness and in health." It means I take care of my husband, whether I'm sick or whether I'm healthy. I have him on Paxlovid and he's doing better, just not well enough to fix his own food or anything. When I got his prescription, I also got one for me, but chickened out on taking it. Don't feel that sick, and never know what side effects might happen. I haven't so much as taken an aspirin with this Covid. I'm not in pain or discomfort, just feel drained and blah!


It's New Year's Eve and I'm excited about the upcoming year. I know the new bird bath (pictured above) will host exciting new species and looking forward to a bear-proof feeder at CMO. It's a bit delayed by Covid, but will happen soon.


I look forward to seeing many of you at the oasis in 2023, or at other birding spots, and hope we all have a great birding year ahead! And from the bottom of my heart I thank you all for your generous donations and words of support that make all this possible!



Friday, December 30, 2022

2022 in review

January was a bleak forgettable month. I only made four posts in January and mostly so everyone would know I was alive.


In February my son made the raised viewing bench for the oasis, so that was exciting!



Then in March he made a better platform for the tank that supplies the drip water feature.


Spring migration in April was awesome! There were lots of birds and birders. The best two birds in my opinion were a Cerulean Warbler and a Worm-eating Warbler.



By May the new raised bench was well broken in.


I spent the greater portion of June in the Odessa hospital tending to my husband, who had internal injuries from a bad fall, and nearly died. The oasis went on without me. Rain filled the tanks and my son did the watering and servicing feeders. All I got to see of the oasis was an occasional photo posted by birders. 

In July we got some decent rains, which gave me better water security for another year. Bear sightings were becoming more frequent. Enjoyed having a few Mexican Amberwings (dragonflies) and lots of California Spreadwings (damselflies).



A bear pulled the feeder down again in August. My son fixed it back up yet again. Fall migration was very disappointing. We got more rain and I think the birds were able to disperse. Everywhere was an oasis. Which is good for the birds, so not complaining. Did get a couple of new dragonfly species for the oasis, a Tawny Pennant and a Metallic Pennant. They perch real high in trees so I'm not able to get good photos of them. Probably wouldn't have seen them if an expert hadn't pointed them out.



The exciting news for September was that, thanks to generous donations from birders, I was able to get the steepest part of the big hill concreted. It's awesome! Really takes the stress out of driving the road.


October was really boring at the oasis, so I spent time birding other places and enjoying some good birds in Alpine. Also built a recirculating birdbath in Alpine so the thought of winter won't be so depressing. I spend a lot more time in Alpine in the winter as I get older.


Birding everywhere was surprisingly decent in November.  Maybe the poor fall migration left more resources available for wintering birds. Here are a few of the good ones from Alpine.(Lewis's Woodpecker, Greater Pewee, Red Crossbill, and Evening Grosbeak)


I never would have thought November would be an exciting birding month. 

The weather and good birds held out into December. Was thrilled to witness a flock of Pinyon Jays in the Davis Mountains and even a Purple Finch (lifer) south of Alpine.



Then, shortly before Christmas a horrendous Blue Norther descended on much of the country, including the Big Bend. Cold is hard on me. Lee and his wife and Hugh and I all came down with Covid. At least none of us are seriously ill. We've all been vaccinated and boosted.

Also shortly before Christmas a huge bear raided the feeder again. My total focus at year's end is on having a bear proof feeder soon. 



And so another year has flown by!


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Getting serious now

When I got to the oasis yesterday morning the feeder was dangling and the cone was off to the side. The bear had pulled the feeder down on the night of the 22nd, so it stayed like I found it for four days. Note cone sitting in the background on left side of feeder. I assumed the bear had moved on.



So I took down the broken crossbar, bucket, and lid, putting them behind the viewing blind with the cone, intending to bring it all to town. But I was sick yesterday and standing on top of a ladder, barely reaching the top of the pole to pull up the bar, with vertigo, made a nap priority. 


This morning I went down to the oasis from my cabin and found the cone flattened and the bucket severely bent. Why? Anger?



I was feeling hopeless for a while, likely exacerbated by my state of unwellness. Then I decided I had to feed birds and would get a bear-proof feeder, whatever it took. Couldn't find any online, so designed one that I know will work. Lee will build it. So I'm excited!


Basically, it'll be a steel tank that will slide down over the 4" diameter pole. I could put an extension on the current pipe, but it's already getting too hard for me to raise the bucket when it's full to 10 feet, so at 12 feet it wouldn't be long before I couldn't do it. Plus it's not good when birders have to look way up to the feeder. Not good for photography, and an eyesore. Lee will get some kind of steel tank, cut a 4½" diameter hole in the top and bottom, then weld a pipe in the middle, vertically. We'll cut a hole on top for filling and ports along the bottom, etc.


Back in 2015 I had what I thought was a bear-proof feeder near the ground. I had chained a 55 gallon drum to two T-posts. 



Child's play for the bear. He flattened the T-posts. So I went for a pole, always making it stronger after each bear raid. Time to get something a bear cannot get into, and near the ground where birds and birders like it. And convenient to fill. Necessity is the mother of invention.


I'm feeling a little better. Made it through watering today with a nap or two in the process. I think I'll be better in the morning.



Monday, December 26, 2022

Bear raids feeder yet again!

Cold weather is always hard on me, and I'm not well at the moment. Nevertheless, I came to the oasis to water trees. What with one thing and another I only got a couple of trees watered. Will finish tomorrow, hopefully. Today I summoned what little strength I had to clean up the bear's devastation.  After I left for town on Dec 22, he came out of his "nest" and pulled the feeder down. Gonna have to raise it another foot or so. Here is the bear before he pulled the feeder down. It's obvious he has an injured front left paw.



Somehow he reached the feeder without climbing the pole or stepping on the unwelcome mat, I'm pretty sure. Here are the clips of when he did the deed. Happened after dark, unfortunately.




The pipe that my son welded on prevented the bucket from crashing to the ground. No consolation though.

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He also tore up two oak trees that had some acorns on them, snapping a nearly 3" trunk off of one.




So by the time I got all the messes cleaned up, I was too tired to water. Doesn't help that my cabin is icy cold. My little space heater doesn't make a dent. Gonna get under my electric blanket and hope tomorrow is a better day.


Thursday, December 22, 2022

Bittersweet!

I went to the oasis this morning to make sure everything was winterized. All was green and lovely, 65°, no wind, with lots of birds. Hard to enjoy, knowing in a few hours it would all disappear, not to be so lovely again until spring.

 


I was aware there was a bear in the thicket near the back water drip this morning. I heard it in there, but couldn't see it. It's hidden in the upper left corner of the above photo. Not visible, way back in there. I looked hard from different angles. 


When I got back to town I read online that an injured bear had been seen outside the back gate from the oasis, less than a half mile away. I'm sure that's the one. I have a camera set up on the seed feeder. We'll see what happens.


Back in Alpine, I realized I hadn't ever posted a photo of the offending grape arbor, so here it is. I aspire to remove the other two horizontal side pipes, but holding off for now. My husband prunes the vines severely after they leaf out. I'm sure that's not the proper way to do it. I'm going to try to persuade him to at least not prune around the water feature. Birds like cover near water. And we don't use the grapes anyway. Just give them away.



I brought the hummingbird feeders inside tonight. Will rehang at daylight.

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UPDATE: Texas Parks and Wildlife said the bear is probably going to spend the upcoming storm semi-hibernating in the thicket, and may stay there for weeks. The neighbors that saw it said it seemed to have an injured paw. Never a dull moment at CMO. Who would ever dream it would be hosting a hibernating bear?


Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Bracing for a wintery blast!

Tomorrow night the temperature is going to plunge to about 9°. They're calling it a once-in-a-generation "bomb cyclone" or something. We have a gas heater and wood stove, plus a generator, so we should be ok, but I'm concerned about other family members. They all know they're welcome to shelter with us, but I'm sure none will. I have a very independent family.


Today I finally removed the pipe behind my new water feature that had been bothering me. For nearly 20 yrs I've made improvements to our place in town, always getting my husband's permission before even the least thing, including every tree or bush I've planted. More often than not, it means begging, bribing, threatening, arguing, etc. When he said "no" to removing the pipe, I just didn't have the energy to deal with the drama, so I waited until he was at the doctor's office in Odessa to remove it. He hasn't noticed, may not for ages. Here's the before and after. It was messing up my photos of birds in the bath, not to mention ugly and unnecessary. The grape vines are mature now and don't need side support.



I also darkened the concrete on the electrical cover and planter box. Got them darker than I wanted, but I'm sure they'll lighten with time.



Hugh's hernia surgery is scheduled for late February. He could have gotten it in January, but was afraid he'd miss a chance to go fishing with a good friend then. Fishing is his passion in life, and he hasn't had the opportunity to go in a very long time.


I wonder if this arctic event will bring in interesting birds ahead of it. 


Here is something amazing! Way back over 100 years ago the Langford family owned the hot springs before they became part of Big Bend National Park. In the 50 plus years I've gone there, there has been a sandy trail leading to the springs, along a bluff with cane between the trail and river, blocking the view of the river. 



The park service cut out the invasive cane, which, in turn, caused this July's flooding to wash out the trail. And lo and behold, it exposed an old wall the Langford's had built to create the trail. Now, for the first time in over 100 years, visitors can walk the trail as it had been in those days. Really cool!





Monday, December 19, 2022

Cold weather forecast

The weather is quite cold, but Thursday night is forecast to be down to 8°.  So winter is upon us. I went to the oasis yesterday to water and service feeders. I had planned to hang only one hummingbird feeder, but when I noticed a Ladder-backed Woodpecker slurping from it, I hung another. I want it to last a week.




It seems to be a good December for birds. I'm hoping to get Cassin's Finches and other uncommon species, but haven't so far. Other places are though, so there's hope.


Most of you will remember the nightmare we went through in June after my husband fell and ended up in ICU for three weeks. You can go back to my June blog posts, but basically, the fall tore his colon loose from his abdominal wall, which caused it to shut off blood supply, requiring removal of half the colon. (Luckily, he doesn't require a colostomy bag). His other health issues (high blood pressure and A-fib) plus the fact that he waited 12 days after the fall to go to the ER were what made it so life-threatening. Now he has developed an incisional hernia that will have to be fixed. Hoping this won't turn into another ordeal, but for now, it's not an emergency or anything. We're just starting the process, so that it doesn't become an emergency. Will keep you updated.


Still lots of mistletoe berries. I love having them for birds during a time of year when berries are so scarce.




Wednesday, December 14, 2022

A story of persistence

Persistence didn't pay off the first time I went to the Davis Mountains State Park to find the Juniper Titmouse that was being seen there. Dale and I spent an hour that November 13th seeking it. (It wouldn't be a lifer for me, but a new state and county bird, plus I had never photographed one.)


It didn't pay off the second time either, when I went the following day. I figured I'd go by myself and wait until it showed up. After nearly three hours I gave up. Decided not to try again. Not exactly a lifer (or death matter), I reasoned.  Then, nearly two weeks later (Nov 29), I decided it's usually seen in the afternoon and I had only gone in the morning, so I tried for "one last time." I couldn't stand hearing the reports of successful seekers, and not seeing it myself.


It didn't pay off that third time either. I got there around noon and waited for two hours. I have all my energy in the morning, which also means my birding compulsion. By afternoon, my get-up-and-go is pretty much spent. And hardly any birds showed up.


Yesterday, over  two weeks later, a birder went and saw it in five minutes in the early afternoon. I couldn't stand it! It was do, or die trying! Never mind that the weather was frigid. So I raced through my work this morning, planning to arrive around noon for my fourth, and final "last" attempt. Not only was it cold, but quite windy too. To compound the degree of difficulty, I had decided I needed to wait outside instead of in the heated interpretive center because it seemed to me that the huge viewing window caused the birds to flush at the least movement inside, but outside behind the blind, just looking through the peepholes, the birds seemed more comfortable. I wanted to increase my chances, even if it meant getting chilled to the bone.


I had been there about five minutes when I heard what I figured might be the bird. (Later, when I listened to a recording it confirmed that was what I had heard.) Not long thereafter, I spotted a titmouse coming in that didn't seem to have any black on the front of the tuft. But in the chaos of birds everywhere, I think I did see one with black on the forehead. Were there two, or was I mistaken about the one? Seconds to sort it out, but I needed those seconds to get a photo. No photo, didn't happen!

   

Maybe it was my excitement, but my viewfinder steamed over, and I couldn't see through it. Frantically, I tried to focus, not realizing the reason. Just thought something was blocking my view. And those peepholes really inhibit camera flexibility. The tiny bird moved nonstop too, so I just couldn't focus in time. Autofocus was on, but wouldn't focus on the bird without me overriding the focus manually. Somehow, in the less than one minute I had to take photos, I fired off at least two dozen shots, not sure if I had anything diagnostic on any of them. When I looked at some of them, I was dismayed. About half didn't even have the bird in them. Here's an example of some that did....sorta.



Still not thoroughly chilled, and wanting decent photos, I decided it probably comes in frequently so I'd wait for another chance. I waited another hour, until I knew I had to leave or risk getting sick, still not sure my photos would convince a reviewer that it was a Juniper Titmouse. My camera monitor is broken and I can't tell much by looking through the tiny viewfinder. I can't really know until I get the photos processed. Now, that I've processed the photos and consulted Sibley, there's no doubt it's a Juniper. Had I been more familiar with Black-crested, even though the juveniles don't have a black crest, I would have known. All's well that ends well.



Not to bore you with any more pitiful shots of it, here's what I consider to be the best of the lot.  I'll try not to think about all the great photos other birders have of it, and just be glad I saw it and got a diagnostic photo. That was definitely one of my most challenging chases!



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Monday, December 12, 2022

All over the place


First, I forgot to post the mistletoe photos I took at the oasis the other day. Cedar Waxwings are enjoying the berries. Usually I get to enjoy watching Phainopeplas enjoying them. Thinking maybe there was such an abundance this year that the Phainopeplas are overloaded.



I had photos of the Lewis's Woodpecker with a pecan in its beak, but today, while observing it eating a pecan, I was lucky to accidentally get a shot of a partially eaten piece of pecan in its beak.




It's for sure fun to get to see a new species, but it's equally fun to observe and learn the behavior and habits of them. While at the park where the bird is hanging out, I helped another birder find it and get his lifer Lewis's. All fun!


Dale and I are excited because her Purple Finch sighting got accepted. It wasn't good enough for us to be sure it was a Purple Finch; the experts had to agree. Here are her photos of the bird. She got better shots than I because it was in her yard for three days (Dec 4-6), and I was only there for long enough to see it briefly one time. It was a lifer for me.





After the park today, I dropped by the cemetery for a short look, and pretty sure I saw a Golden-crowned Sparrow, which would be a lifer for me. I couldn't get a photo from my vantage point inside the car and when I stepped out, the flock it was in dispersed. I couldn't relocate them. Tomorrow I'm going to try again.


Friday, December 9, 2022

Continuing fun!

I'm trying to take advantage of the great weather and birds. I go birding every morning, but tomorrow I need to go to the oasis. Maybe there'll be good birds there too. 


This morning I went to the Davis Mountains area where a big flock of Pinyon Jays has been quite reliable. Got them sooner than I had expected. It was a thrilling experience. I was waiting at the home with the feeders for about 40 minutes, when a mile away I heard their unmistakable ruckus. Of course, I didn't know if they were headed to this home, or one of the others that feed birds. Didn't have to wonder long. They swooped in loudly, landing in trees and on feeders, bringing a huge rush of energy, where seconds earlier all had been calm. We estimate there were at least 75.





Those were my photos today, with overcast skies. Here's what an expert photographer can do with a latest state-of-the-art mirrorless camera.


Photo by Michael Gray

I just can't devote the time and money to professional photography, but I do appreciate it. I content myself with documentation.


Yesterday was a fun birding day too. I got my first photos of a Brown Creeper.  Then my sister-in-law (Dale) and I helped some birders find the Lewis's Woodpecker. 



Eyesight diminishes with age, no matter how I try. Focusing time is slower, so when you're looking for birds, constantly focusing close, far, close, far, and in between, you lose valuable time. These young ace birders can bird circles around me. Not to mention my hands aren't as steady. But I probably have as much fun as the next person, regardless.


Hopefully, this December fun will shrink winter.


Sunday, December 4, 2022

Oodles of fun!

I don't think the word "oodles" has entered my brain since the days I droodled (the 1950s). But today, as I was heading home from a little birding adventure, "that was oodles of fun!" popped into my head.

It was a lovely day, not to be wasted. Headed out early, got chilled, but didn't mind. The cemetery had too much human activity (any is too much. LOL) but enough bird activity to keep me happy. Got my best Grasshopper Sparrow photos ever, I think.


Managed to locate a few Red Crossbills off in the distance. Didn't relocate the Lewis's Woodpecker  by the golf course today. It was full of people too, as was the adjacent church that it hangs out at. But yesterday I got some photos of it near the church, so can't complain.


Also yesterday I got some nice shots of a Merlin dining on a bird.



This afternoon I went to my sister-in-law's place to see a finch that we thought might be a Purple Finch, which would be a lifer for me. It's probably just a Cassin's Finch, which is still a nice bird. Afternoons are slow birding and I was tired, so didn't get as good a photo as I would have liked.


Females of both species apparently look very similar and since no Purple Finch has ever been documented in Brewster County, experts call it a Cassin's. That raises the bar high on ever getting an unbiased ID. I always find that frustrating. 

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UPDATE: December 12 - The finch has finally been accepted as a Purple Finch! YAY!