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Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween spirits

 I got an unexpected Halloween tricky-treat.... a lifer Tailed Orange. I was going through some pics I took today and one was of a bunch of Sleepy Oranges that I took just to show Brian how many oranges I had. (I should, since their caterpillars practically denuded my new senna wislizeni bushes.) But as I was looking at the photo, I noticed one of the oranges looked a little different (upper right in the photo). I asked Brian what it was, and he said a "Tailed Orange." Can't believe I photographed a new species for me, and the oasis, without even knowing it. Tomorrow I'll focus on getting a better photo of it.



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

El Paso by proxy

This morning I had an email from a blog follower in El Paso with photos of a Blue-throated Hummingbird that he wanted ID confirmation on.  I told him it looked like one to me (from his not so great photos), but just to be totally sure, and not knowing if that was a rarity for El Paso, I consulted with Kelly. Seems El Paso didn't have documentation of that species, so Kelly contacted the experts in El Paso, including Barry Zimmer. Zimmer went and photographed it late this afternoon. Good thing that species isn't a lifer for me because I could not justify driving to El Paso to see it. So I enjoyed the sighting vicariously, as well as with Barry's wonderful photos. Here's my favorite.

Photo by Barry Zimmer


A week ago I went to Marathon and took this picture with my cell phone at Gage Gardens and forgot it was on my phone since I hardly every use it. But I had wanted to post it, so better late than never.




Monday, October 27, 2014

Lajitas or bust

Had more energy yesterday, and still more today, so I determined to go check out the odonates at Lajitas. I figure for every ten I see, there are a hundred I don't see, but ten is a ten in my book.

It's the time of year for the annual Chili Cook-off. Most locals pointedly avoid leaving their homes during the cookoff (to be held this weekend west of Terlingua Ghost Town). I went once years ago, and never again. This is the 48th year for it. Already a trailer town is growing. And that doesn't count the tent village.


I had previously been told about Lajitas cutting down a bunch of pine trees that were blocking the "view," so it wasn't a surprise. I was surprised at the bat houses, though. Go figure!


I have told all the management and CEOs that a birding habitat would generate more income than the golf course, by replacing the turf with trees, and no more water usage. I've done all I can do. Lajitas could be a world birding center, but apparently this will happen only in my dreams. 

While servicing my feeders at the oasis before leaving this morning, I noticed the feeder that this Red Admiral was feeding from yesterday was very soured. I'm thinking that's what attracted him to it. This morning he didn't visit any of the feeders, maybe because they were filled with fresh solution. But I can't let them get sour. It attracts nasty black flies and makes them terribly difficult to clean. Probably not good for the hummers either.

I've been trying my best to get diagnostic photos of amberwings, both at the oasis and again at Lajitas. Hopefully, a couple I took there today will be good enough to identify at least one as Mexican Amberwing. I don't think that species has been documented at Lajitas before. Here's one of my better ones.


I need to use fill flash to reveal the shadowed part but I'm technologically challenged on things like external flash, etc. In this case, the color and pattern of the thorax is diagnostic. Too bad it's in shadow on my photos.

I took pics of one at the oasis a couple of days ago that couldn't be confirmed, but I have already documented that species there, you may recall, so no big deal, although it would have been nice.

Also at Lajitas I saw hundreds of checkerspots that I thought were Chinatis until I checked my book. They're Theona Checkerspots. Here's one on its host plant cenizo, which is abundant around Lajitas.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

The oasis-at-large

The phrase "community-at-large" drives me crazy. I can't really find a good definition of it. If it means community in general, why don't they just say that? The general community, or something. So I got to thinking, what if I said "the oasis at large?" (hyphenated or not, is also unclear) What would I mean by that? The oasis in general?

I'd rather move on to my Cyna story. Cyna Blue is a tiny Mexican species that wanders north into this area. I found them last year and this year in Alpine, even posted evidence that they breed in Alpine (post of Oct 24), but until today, try as I might, I couldn't find one at the oasis. So, after carrying my camera around while watering trees, and seeing nothing of interest, I put the camera down.... somewhere in the oasis-at-large. AND my sister,* who I frequently stop by and visit on my way to or from the oasis, seldom ventures up the bad road to my place unless I need her to check on something when I'm gone, or whatever.

Today, she came up for something while I was here, which was a treat for me. We love to walk around and discuss the wildflowers. She knows them better than I do. No sooner had she arrived (I had turned off the faucet anticipating a fun visit) than I spied a little butterfly that could be a potential Cyna. I asked her to keep her eye on it while I ran for my camera. Then I spent the rest of her visit totally focused on the butterfly. Gotta do what I gotta do. Good thing we're understanding sisters.

I never did get a good photo of it, but good enough that Brian could confirm it was a Cyna. I have plenty of good Cyna shots, just none from the oasis before today.


































Neither of us could remember the name of the common flower it was feeding on.

Most of the ripe acorns are gone from the trees. The Western Scrub-Jay is still feasting on them. I was happy to notice that one small Live Oak tree still has a lot of green acorns on it, so I can look forward to the jay's continued presence. Maybe if you click on this photo you can locate a bunch of the green acorns.


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* Andrea Ohl, a year younger than I, is an archaeologist for the Center for Big Bend Studies in Alpine. We were raised like twins. For the past 20 years, in her free time, she has been building her awesome unique home one mile north of the oasis. Like me, her body won't let her do all that she wants to do anymore, but her house is nearly completed. She hopes to focus on landscaping with wildflowers after that. On November 7th she'll be giving a presentation on stone tools at the annual CBBS conference.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Waiting for energy to return

Coming south from Alpine this morning the highway was littered with bicyclists and their accompanying vehicle entourages. It was like an obstacle course. All I could think of was if they used all that energy working on my road what a lovely road it would be. Oh, well. Maybe November will be warm and lovely making winter not so long. And hopefully my health won't fall apart anytime soon. I've just dragged around lately with no energy. Hope that ends soon.

I stopped to hang my newly repainted sign coming onto my property.


Then coming within sight of the oasis, I was pleased to see how green and lush it still is in late October.


I don't often see butterflies nectaring at the hummingbird feeders, but maybe this Red Admiral managed to get his head inside the port and reach the sugar water.


This Empress Leilia wasn't as successful. The type feeders I use (Dr JBs) have internal baffles to prevent bees from reaching the solution, which probably hinders most butterflies too.


Nothing sweet on my camera lens either. I hope.

Empress Leilia


The red lantana I planted this summer sure looks happy.

I planted a third Woolly Butterfly bush today. The first two didn't make it. I'm determined to keep the new one from freezing this winter. That species grows wild down by my sister's place. I don't see why I 'm having such a hard time with it. Sorry, forgot to take a photo.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Trying to make every minute count

I feel the weight of impending winter. The next four months are the months I dislike  hate the most.

My replacement camera body arrived, so I took it for a test drive today. I love it. It's the exact same as my other camera body. (Did not want a learning curve.) Even though I bought it used, it seems like new and looks new. My son is going to send me a 210mm lens that hopefully will let me get closer to odes and butterflies, then I will be all set. With backup.

Season for butterflies and odes seems to be winding down although I see lots of them mating. Guess they have a plan to make it through the winter. Or their progeny. Here are a pair of Cyna Blues, although I already assumed they were breeding in Alpine. Haven't had them at CMO yet. They were so intent on their activity that when I got up close to remove the pesky grass shadowing this photo, they didn't flush. So I got a much more satisfactory shot of the...  inaction.


Cloudless Sulphur female
Here are a couple of skippers. They never cease to confuse me and I always have to ask Brian what they are.

Fiery Skipper

Sachem Skipper
Orange Skipperling
All the above taken today with my "new" camera. It passed the test. Going to go to CMO tomorrow. Hopefully, I'll get some work done, and take some fun pictures while there.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not ready yet

I'll never be ready for winter. You can forget that. But I thought I was well enough to go on a little adventure to Marathon. I hadn't used my inhaler for days; had breathed fine all night long. But as soon as I got out at the Post Park, it felt like a vise grabbed my chest. Hadn't even occurred to me to take the inhaler with me. Having driven all that way, and having been cooped up in the house way too long (anything over 30 minutes is too long), I toughed it out. Didn't stay long. Thought the manicured Gage Gardens inside town would maybe be better. Fewer weeds. It was only slightly better. But all so worth it! Just as I was heading back to the car, I spotted a stupendously gorgeous butterfly.

Whenever I see a species I haven't seen before, some name pops into my head, right or wrong. The name that popped into my head on this one was Palamedes. Never seen one. That's just what my brain's computer spit out. Based, I guess, on my subconscious absorption of photos in my guides. On the way back to Alpine I opened my butterfly app. It's not very good, especially at 70 miles an hour, but from what I could tell, it looked like a "Desert" form of Black Swallowtail. No idea of what its range is, but figured it was not that unusual. When I got to Alpine and downloaded my photos, I still wasn't sure. Didn't look like the Desert, either. And way out of range.

Determined to figure it out without Brian's help, I searched online and in my book. Nothing matched exactly, but Anise Swallowtail looked like the best fit. Way out of range for that species, too. Hmm...  Seemed I would have to consult Brian, after all. 

He says it's a rare form of Black Swallowtail called "pseudoamericus." I would never have figured that out. It's not in my butterfly book either. So that was pretty exciting!


Everything else from today certainly pales in comparison. This lovely little flower was out in a grassy area all by itself. I'm told it's called "Devil's Bouquet." (Nyctaginia capitata)


I saw more Black Swallowtails today than I've ever seen at one time before. Here's a lovely specimen from the same place today that shows how I expect a Black Swallowtail to look.


While I was disappointed I couldn't ID the "pseudoamericus" by myself, it was perfectly understandable to me why I couldn't. But I really was irritated at myself for not identifying these Autumn Meadowhawks without help. I should have gotten it, but didn't.


And I love the pink blush on this Southern Dogface. Not that a name like that isn't worthy of a blush.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New oasis bird

Was surprised to discover a Band-tailed Pigeon hanging out at the oasis this morning. They're noticeably larger than even domestic pigeons. I figure it's enjoying one of its favorite foods, acorns.


While I enjoyed watching an American Redstart foraging among the vegetation, they're familiar migrants here, so I didn't try for a photo. But I took over a hundred photos of the pigeon. So wouldn't you know it, ebird flagged the redstart, and not the pigeon. Apparently, I would have been better off with documentation of the redstart. 

There are even a few acorns on one of my young Gray Oak trees. (The weather has been misty off and on today so there's moisture on the acorn.)



Monday, October 20, 2014

Ode to odonates

I'm just really getting passionate about dragonflies and damselflies. I had recorded the National Geographic Wild documentary this summer called "Sky Hunters... Dragonflies," (or something similar). Lost track of how many times I've watched it. It'll air again Nov. 4th. It's amazing that odonates were on earth 100 million years before dinosaurs, and even at that time were so perfectly evolved that, except for getting smaller, are virtually the same as they were back 300 million years ago. Such fascinating creatures. Back then their wingspan could be as big as two feet. Today it's barely two inches. Reduced oxygen levels in the atmosphere caused most everything to evolve smaller.

Finally was able to get back to CMO this afternoon. I started watering because you can't depend on rain, even though there's a good chance of it in the forecast, and it has sprinkled a little bit off and on today. Sure seems to be taking my allergies a long time to clear up, but I haven't resorted to the inhaler yet since I arrived.

This dragonfly was seemingly struggling in some brush near the ground where I sat and I just happened to notice it. Unable to figure out what exactly it was, or what was going on with it, I posted this photo to the awesome Facebook group "Western Odonata." Within minutes they told me that it appeared to be a Wandering Glider adult that had either had some injury or a bad emergence.


Dragonflies go through up to a dozen metamorphoses in their lives. And another astounding fact is about their eyes. Each compound eye has up to 30,000 individual simple eyes. No wonder they have better vision than any other insect on earth.

For 3 weeks I've had a critter cam in a pine tree aimed at one of the Chinkapin Oak trees that got ravaged by bears last fall. The acorns are gone off that tree now. I suspect Western Scrub-Jays. When I took down the camera of about 500 photos, not a single critter or bird was pictured. This is basically what every frame looked like. I guess the wind tripped the shutter. Bummer!

I see I didn't set the date in the camera when I set it up. Oh, well...



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Allergy season

It had been quite a few years since I've had bad allergies, so I had pretty much figured it was something I had outgrown. But this fall it went from mild to bad to worse. So after a midnight trip to the ER* a couple of nights ago, I've been confined to the house, trying to get it under control with an inhaler and steroids. It's the first time in my life I've used an inhaler and my lungs resist inhaling anything akin to smoke, toxins, or albuterol. It's getting a little better to where I can inhale without choking on the fumes instantly.

But I got such cabin fever I decided to run outside to the ponds, photograph the first butterfly and dragonfly I saw, then come back inside. I gave myself ten minutes. Here are the results, less than even mildly interesting. I just had to photograph something, anything.

First I saw an Orange Skipperling alight on a dead leaf...


Then this Variegated Meadowhawk.....


and finally this Flame Skimmer before I made myself go back inside. Felt great to get out though.


I also saw a Variegated Fritillary, Dainty Sulphur, Bordered Patch, and a couple other butterflies I couldn't get photos of, but good to see, nevertheless.

The good news is that while I was at the hospital, and later, the doctor, I got completely tested, and checked over. Everything is great and normal. The doctor even checked my right shoulder that hasn't worked good since I coated the tank last winter, and said the rotator cuff is injured but will eventually get better. And in fact, it has improved slightly in the last six months, so that's wonderful to know...  that I can expect continued improvement.
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* My bronchial tubes were inflamed and almost totally swelled shut. I googled and found out over 3,000 people die every year in the US from asthma. Something to take seriously, so I did, and I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Overwintering birds arriving

Came to the oasis this morning hoping my allergies would be better here, but if they are, it's not noticeable. The mosquitoes are nearly gone though, but so are the chances for new butterflies and odonates, I think.

It was pleasant to see my overwintering species again. The Northern Flicker (Red-shafted), Green-tailed Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and other species. I suppose winter isn't far behind.

Here is a photo of the raggedest butterfly I think I've ever seen.that could still fly. It acts like any other normal Common Mestra.


And here's a frog that has probably eaten his share of them. It's waiting patiently for something to mistake it for pondweed, and light on it. I've witnessed that happening, but never been quick enough to capture the action with my camera.


There are lots of Chinati Checkerspots around. It wasn't that long ago that I was thrilled to see my first one. Brian tells me this one is a female.


And here's a butterfly species that had me going for a while. I couldn't figure out what it was. Brian solved the mystery though. It's a Bordered Patch, but one that looks more like the ones in Arizona than those in Texas. It does look like it's had a long hard journey.


I only saw one amberwing today and it was an Eastern Amberwing. You can compare it to the Mexican  from my previous post to see how hard they are to tell apart.


Friday, October 10, 2014

CMO's new Texas dragonfly record

I think I botched getting the record for Texas's first Mexican Amberwing dragonfly two years ago. I had this photo but thought it was of an Eastern Amberwing.

Taken October 4, 2012
Then, yesterday I photographed another amberwing, and in trying to decide if it was an Eastern or Mexican, I went through old photos to compare. The only reason I considered Mexican is because I saw a map in one of my ode guides beside the photo of a Mexican showing it as being in Brewster Co. Only after I learned that it hasn't been recorded in Texas, did I go back to the book and see that the map was actually for the Slough Amberwing, a species I haven't yet seen.... to my knowledge. 

Meanwhile, being a novice, I sent yesterday's photo to Kelly. He suggested I send it to Greg Lasley and John Abbott, the experts. John replied that both my 2012 amberwing and my 2014 were indeed Mexican Amberwings. (It's a dragonfly primarily from southern Arizona and southern California.)

Next I decided a first state record needed a better photo. So I located it in the same area of the big tank as before. But in order to get the light right I would have to perch on top of some bushes on the edge of the nine feet deep tank. Nothing a devout citizen scientist wouldn't do. I didn't see the Christmas Cactus hiding inside the bushes. But like the stoic I am, I sat on the cactus until I got this photo.


I'd like to think I would have gotten a sharper shot without the cactus. I still don't have out all the spines I acquired. I tell you there was more pain than gain to that little venture. Do you see the cactus inside these bushes? Trust me, it's there.

Deep water just behind these bushes

UPDATE:  The experts convinced me it was important to have a specimen of the species in the university's collection. That seemed reasonable to me. I had seen at least 3 of them foraging. After all, they only live a few days anyway. I gather endless insects on my windshield and radiator. The psychological aspect seemed surmountable. And I do have a butterfly net, though I've never used it to collect a specimen of anything. And the amberwings were foraging way out over 9 feet deep water. No way could I catch one out there. So I gathered my net and an envelope to put one in, figuring it was late in the afternoon and I wouldn't see one. Or if I did see one within reach, I'd sure miss it. At least I could tell everyone I tried.

At the pond I immediately spotted one perched near me in vegetation on the edge of the water. "Oh, dear," I thought, "I'm really going to have to do this." I observed it coming and going for a while before moving close enough to its perch that my net would be within reach if it landed. I waited quite a while, satisfied that by my moving in close, it chose a different perch. I waited as still as I could be, mentally coaching myself what to do, how to swing the net, etc. Suddenly, it landed at the perch, I swung the net, and didn't see a thing in or outside of the net. Hmmm, must have escaped too fast for me to see. Then I heard a fluttering from inside the net. My heart skipped a beat. I hurried to my pickup, scrunched the net inside and shut the doors and windows. Taking no chances on it escaping when I took it out of the net. I remembered the directions, "pick it up by the wings together." Did that. Slipped it into the envelope, the envelope that moments before I thought was folly to carry with me. Then I pretty much panicked and emailed the guys. Help, what now? With a little guidance, I put it in the freezer and that's where it is now. I hope I caught a Mexican Amberwing, and not an Eastern, because I don't ever want to do that again. I'm not against collecting specimens, I just don't want to be the one to do it.


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Did I just yesterday use the word "serenity"?

Yes, I marveled at the "serenity and beauty" of my place. But upon further reflection, I probably have a greater chance of dying from a snake bite here than I do of contracting Ebola somewhere else. Just today I had another encounter with one. It was rattling at me as I took this photo. Not my definition of serenity.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake




























As death lurks under the rocks, there is surprising life lurking amid the rocks, waiting for a good soaking rain to resurrect it. These Living Rock cacti are invisible except when they're blooming, and they're blooming by the millions right now.


I had never noticed the head of a Filigree Skimmer dragonfly before. It looks like a banded agate. Pretty cool!


































So much to keep discovering in nature!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My natural high

I don't know where to start so I'll start at the beginning of today. I had to take benadryl to breathe throughout the night (too many things blooming). As a result I didn't get up until 9 AM. Pushed myself to put the concrete on the road, anyway.

Note the 3 yellow flowers blooming center left
Closeup of 3 Hibiscus flowers keeping me company as I worked


































After a quick lunch, I decided to look for butterflies at the oasis. Suddenly, my Canon 400mm lens wouldn't focus at 400. I was beside myself. Called my son, no answer. Called the camera dealer, on vacation for two weeks. Despair. How could I possibly survive without it for probably weeks? Next I decided to see how far out it would focus. Maybe, if 350mm, I could live with that until I could get a replacement. Tried it again, and it worked fine. Wow, I started out the day on a rather even keel, and now I was euphoric! Way to go!

In my state of a natural high, I decided to go to Lajitas. A good day to go since there are too many golfers there on the weekend, and having risen late, I could forego a nap. Since I thought it was Thursday, I felt pressured to go while I could. Only when I got home and saw on my computer that it was Wednesday did I realize my error. A working camera and now an extra day to enjoy before going back to town!

Eventually, I wore myself out, and didn't see any exciting odes or butterflies at Lajitas. It was fun looking and soaking up the ambiance though. Here's a Fiery Skipper that Brian assures me is not a Sandhill Skipper like I thought it was. I probably won't ever learn the butterflies, so it's good I have Brian available.

































Driving home from Lajitas, I marveled at the serenity and beauty of my dot in the world at a distance.


And just on the off chance that you might someday wonder, I stop to pick up rocks in the road way more often then I stop for photos.

I've already taken so many photos of Flame Skimmers, about my most common dragonfly, but something about this one I couldn't resist. He looks like such a jolly fellow.


I couldn't wait to get out of Alpine with all the Careless weeds, then thought I'd be fine at CMO, but apparently the overabundance of those yellow flowers (daisies/asters, or whatever they are) overwhelmed my system yesterday. So I thought Lajitas might provide a respite. But before I knew it, I was wading through Salt Cedar blooms there, which I'm allergic to, also. It's been a difficult time for allergies. Almost everyone I talk to is suffering, and they aren't outdoors all the time like I am.

And, yes, first available chance I'm going to shop for a used backup camera. I speculate that the problem may have been a speck of dust on the sensor. Every time I turn it off it automatically cleans the sensor but my son says it really doesn't get rid of the dust, just moves it around. My pictures all have dust spots on them and I think a spot of dust got right in front of the camera's eye. I did turn it on and off, but it didn't seem to help at that time. And I don't know if the dust was in the lens or in the camera body. My son says he'll clean the camera when he comes visit next time. The son I'm referring to lives in Austin.