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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Costa's Hummingbird still around

Earlier this month we captured Bonnie Wunderlich's Costa's for the third time. (see previous Costa's posts) I worried that she might have left, so I went to Bonnie's place today to check. The hummer was still there but understandably really skittish. She would not feed with me around, so I just snapped a couple of photos and left. Mission accomplished. Hopefully, she'll hang around another month. And no, we have no intention of recapturing her again before October. But I seriously doubt if she'll ever be lured into a trap again. She appears to be fat and healthy. Bonnie takes good care of her feeders.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oasis mowed

We mow the oasis every winter. In the future we may mow it in the summer too. Rattlesnakes can be a real problem and I get paranoid that one of my visitors could get bitten.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cold Christmas camp

My husband prevailed upon me to spend Christmas at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. We went Christmas eve and came back the day after Christmas. Water in our wash basin froze both nights we were there. I hate cold. He went fishing, but didn't catch many. I do not like camping. It's a lot of work and deprivation, without the comforts of home.

My private portable privy in the foreground

Monday, December 20, 2010

Northern Harrier

A beautiful day and I had a little time while waiting on the well repairman to get here. I didn't have enough energy to start a new project (cleaning the stucco tank or gathering sotol comes to mind) so I sat, actually sat down, at my oasis to watch birds. So far I've seen 28 species including a few Anna's Hummingbirds, 2 House Wrens, a Hermit Thrush and this Northern Harrier. I didn't know what it was while I was photographing it, but when it flew I saw the give-away white rump. I guess it's a 1st year bird.

The well man isn't here yet, but I'm not the least bored waiting. Before you ask what I do with the sotol, I use it for overhead shade on my canopy, photo blind, camouflage rain tanks, and the left over scraps and crooked stalks I cut up for kindling. No steak tastes better than one cooked over sotol.  I'll post photos soon...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter doldrums

The days are about as short as they can get. In a few days they'll start getting longer. That always cheers me up. Here's a photo of my pitiful oasis taken this morning as the sun rose over the mountain.

Next are a couple of shots I took at Rio Grande Village the day I was there last (Dec 12) of the area where the Tufted Flycatcher was hanging out most of the time. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tufted Flycatcher revisited

It might be the last opportunity I'll ever have to see a TUFL, so I went with my sister-in-law, Dale Ohl, to see it one more time at Rio Grande Village (BBNP).  One birder was already there when we arrived at 9:00 AM, and within minutes more arrived. The bird was promptly located in a Cottonwood tree where Matt VanWallene had originally found it. It stayed just below the high canopy all morning. We were all saturated with photos by the time we left.

Erik Breden looking north, road in background, TUFL in tree above

Black Vultures at a carcass in the Rio Grande River

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tufted Flycatcher---- YES!

I coerced my husband into taking me to the park to see the bird. It's a 5 hour round trip from Alpine and we stayed there 30 minutes, but it was well worth it. Here is a photo of some of the birders spreading out looking just minutes before the Tufted Flycatcher was spotted by one of them. We all rushed to the tree it was foraging in and got great looks and photos. The location is to the right of the far back person (four people in all) in the photo. I'm taking it looking east from Daniel's Ranch and the river is to the far right if you could see it. You have to click to enlarge the photo to see the person in the background.

And of the 108 photos I took of the bird, this is one of the better ones.

Nov 30: I decided to add this one because it shows the wingbars. Originally I discarded it because the background was so busy, but now have retrieved it from my trash bin. It was taken at the same approximate time as the above photo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rio Grande Village - BBNP

My second favorite birding spot in the world, after the oasis, is RGV in Big Bend National Park. It's such a long drive that I don't go there very often. But after hearing reports and seeing photos of a Tufted Flycatcher seen there several days ago, I dove  (actually drove) right in at daybreak today, then spent four fruitless hours searching for it. I suppose tomorrow someone will relocate it and get my juices going again. The last, and only other, time one was documented there it stayed from early November 1991 until sometime in January, so this one is probably still around. I've never seen one. I was the only looker today, and there are lots of birds and trees to sort through. I spent way too much time photographing a Gray Flycatcher (for practice).

Rio Grande River at dawn 

Gray Flycatcher

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Costa's final documentation photos

I think I've done about as good as I'm able to do at photographing the leg band (see previous Costa's posts). At least I documented that it is banded, and without a doubt, the one we banded at Bonnie's place October 2009. The band is covered by feathers, so further attempts at photographing the numbers on it seem futile. Look closely. The band appears to be in good shape, not too tight, not too loose, no debris under it, and the seam lined up perfectly. But then it was banded by the best (Kelly Bryan), so I wouldn't expect less.

Monday, November 22, 2010

White-crowned Sparrow subspecies

Activity has slowed down here. I haven't posted anything in over a week. When birders visit this time of year and things are slow at the oasis, I usually start pointing out the differences in the White-crowned Sparrow (WCSP) subspecies to my guests. That often keeps things from being too boring until a more interesting bird shows up.

The subject is subjective, to say the least. It depends on who you research on the subject. John Dunn wrote an article on WCSP subspecies for Birding magazine in June 1995. He goes into mind-boggling and confusing detail. According to him, as best I can ascertain, I have the oriantha subspecies (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha) at my oasis, as well as the gambelii (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii).

However, if you consult Sibley, he mentions neither, opting instead to refer to them as West Taiga, Interior West, and East Taiga. So whatever you call mine, here they are, as photographed today. They'll overwinter here, often staying until early May. The oriantha (Interior West or East Taiga?) are the least common here. Sometimes the bill looks pinkish but it always has this dark lore.

The gambelii (West Taiga), on the other hand, have pale lores and usually lighter, yellower bills, and are the most numerous here.

I can't leave out this photo of a juvenile. (The one in the background of the first photo doesn't count.)

Here is a photo of the Chinese Pistachio tree. It's unusually red this fall. It looks small on this photo, but any year now it's going to make some serious shade. I hope.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Costa's continuing saga

Again today, for about the fifth time (see posts of Oct 21 and Nov 9), I went to Bonnie Wunderlich's to try to get photos of the Costa's right leg in order to see the band that we assume is there. (We originally banded her Oct 29, 2009)

I started my vigil at 8:30 AM and didn't see her until 11:30. In spite of the raging wind that caused me to abandon my portable blind and sit out in the open, I got a decent shots, except they were of the wrong leg. Next time.

And here's Bonnie's very cooperative juvenile male Anna's. After we band it tomorrow it probably won't be so amenable.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Costa's Hummingbird revisited

This morning I went to see my friend, Bonnie Wunderlich, to again (see Oct 21 post) photograph her Costa's Hummingbird. After I got set up in my blind a Cactus Wren came right up to me, so I retracted my 400mm zoom lens all the way in to 100mm in order to get the whole bird in the frame. So far, so good.

But then I forgot to put it back out when the hummer came in, so all the shots I took were worthless. Bummer. It never came back to the feeder again, but did go to an ocotillo bloom where I got a couple of decent shots, but I had been hoping to photograph the leg while it was perched to see the band. Next time.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Today, November 8th, marks the wedding anniversary of my late husband, Sherwood Kolb, and me. We got married on my late mother's birthday to make the day double special. Sherwood worked very hard alongside me to create this oasis. After a hard day's work we enjoyed sitting beside our tiny caged trees and watching the sun disappear behind the mountains to the west, as it created an afterglow on the mountain to the east. It looked then much as it looked this evening, except now the trees are huge and the oasis is truly an oasis, ever thirsting for water.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Birds and deer

Yesterday and today have been perfect at the oasis so I've spent more time there than I normally do. In these two days I've identified 47 species of birds, and counting. And that's with my worn out binoculars and poor vision. I'm sure there are more species present.

And in case you think all there is at the oasis are birds, here are some Mule Deer drinking early this morning. The deer seem totally oblivious to the fact that the concrete spillway they're standing on goes straight down into nine feet of water. They probably couldn't care less since they know they won't fall in.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Alpine Chihuahuan Ravens

Today was quite windy so I mostly stayed indoors. I was surprised to see three ravens* perched on the utility wires behind the house. I don't remember ever seeing three together like that before, so even though I had sent my 400mm lens in for repair, I took photos of them with my 300mm lens. If there was any doubt as to their identity, the last photo dispels that, with the white neck skin clearly showing through during a gust of wind.

* I knew a group of crows was called a murder of crows, but I was surprise to learn that a group of ravens is called an unkindness of ravens.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Costa's Hummingbird

Rarely do I get a Costa's at the oasis, and I don't have one now, but a friend about ten miles south of me has one that appears to be the same adult female that was banded there last October. We're going to try to recapture it this year. (It stayed until mid-February of this year.)

Costa's are a Texas review species and all sightings need to be documented and submitted to the Texas Birds Records Committee. There are only 20-30 documented reports of Costa's in Texas, three of which are from the oasis.

On these photos there appear to be pin feathers around the face area denoting molt in progress. She also seems to have a couple of purple gorget feathers, which is typical, but I didn't have enough time to try to capture their color with my camera. Hopefully, she'll stay around into February again and I can remedy that.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Anna's Hummingbirds are back

This individual was probably here last year too, as he's banded. We're going to try to recapture him next week and see who he is. I'll keep you updated.

Update: We did recapture him and he was banded last year here at the oasis.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peregrine Falcon sighting today

I heard what sounded like a Peregrine dive. Shortly thereafter, I located the bird and grabbed my camera. It appears to be an Anatum variation. I don't remember seeing that type here before. It's been many years since Peregrines nested here, due, I guess, to their declining numbers. It would be great if they nest here next year. This individual seems to have been successful in its dive because I see some type of rodent in its clutches. Sorry about the bad photos but at the long distance I felt lucky to have gotten anything. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Quail and hummers

I had decided to put a cage over my tray seed feeder to deter doves because I have so many of them, but then I discovered the Scaled Quail are now flying up to the feeder's 5 foot height and feeding on it, so I'm not going to do that after all. It would keep quail out too. This photo was taken in the soft late afternoon light. Normally this species would not look so rosy.

It seems all the Lucifers have migrated except for this young male. I'm so going to miss hummingbirds if none over-winter this year. A few Anna's have finally trickled in so maybe a couple of them will stay around until spring.

Lucifer Hummingbird

Sunday, October 3, 2010

October birds

September flew past with me having very little time to photograph anything. Today I managed to shoot a couple of photos. Here is the only hummingbird I saw. I believe it's a juvenile male Black-chinned, and he seems to be preening. Click on the second photo to see the purple gorget feather better.

And I got this distant shot of a Nashville Warbler.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hammond's Flycatcher

This may not be the first Hammond's Flycatcher at my oasis, but it's the first one I photographed and ID'd positively.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A few migrants

Fall migration is always slow, but there seems to be less activity than usual for this time of year. The summer nesting species have gone and the wintering species haven't arrived yet. Here are a few migrants I captured with my camera.

Wilson's Warbler

Juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Vermilion Flycatcher