Friday, April 18, 2014

S/He's back!

Hallie, or Herald/Henry/Hank/Harold... is back for the summer! We oversee management of the front 'yard' so that it remains up to the standards of our benign overlord.

Texas Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma cornutum, 18 April 2014, Marathon / Brewster Co. TX.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Solar Camp Lighting

Spring means that camping hacks are circulating around the internet again - and the ones that perplex me the most are the ones that involve lighting.

I am not going to link them here - the Mountain Dew mixed with random stuff that supposedly glows, the headlamp strapped to a jug of water (pointing into the water), the tiki torches... Props to the headlamp guy, but my batteries died and the new batteries were from a tiny store in the boonies that apparently sells dead batteries. 

Marathon has a lot of power outages. And blacklighting requires power for black lights, but also for ambient light if not everyone has headlamps. Combine the need for unplugged ambient light and Marathon often being dark....

Yard solar stake, minus the stake, flipped upside down.
Alternate, still stable position that can charge during the day.
Solar yard lights. Oh yes. I removed the stakes from most of mine, because they sit nicely on their panels, but leaving the stake on can give you plenty of angling options, too. Sit it on your dash/picnic table/cooler/whatever and let it get sun during the day - flip it over and use at night. I have gotten 6 hrs of light from one, but prefer to have two in case backup is needed (and you can be sneaky and stagger them so that they are both turned on but one is in the glow of the other, so will automatically turn itself on when the first goes out).

....and very handy when the power goes out, regardless of whether or not you're camping!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Big Bend National Park in a nutshell

The Texbirds post:

Where to begin! Eleven days of mostly river and lowlands...

I was not in the high elevations, so can only say that Elf Owls and Common Poorwills are calling at night at the Chisos Basin campground, with Black-chinned Sparrows during the day. Common Black Hawk is back at Rio Grande Village, Gray Hawk is working between Gaging Station (do NOT suggest River Road) and Santa Elena. A Couch's Kingbird is present among Westerns at Cottonwood, Lucy's Warblers are thin along the river but should hopefully thicken in a week before thinning out again. RGV and Cottonwood both have Western Screech and Great Horned and Elf Owls and there were HUNDREDS of White-throated Swifts visible from the bridge on the RGV nature trail with a token Violet-green Swallow mid afternoon day before yesterday. Or the day before that. Brain is fried and I am hearing doves in my sleep!

There's a pair of Golden Eagles half way between Persimmon Gap and Marathon that seem quite interested in each other, if anyone has a hard time at the prairie dog town.

Inaccessible but photo'd in the last few months: Montezuma Quail in Big Bend Ranch State Park (via Laird, at the Barton Warnock VC), and Gambel's Quail on the westernmost edge of BBNP - I managed a shoddy audio recording, though i suppose a video of a calling mesquite counts as pic. My sketch of the sonograph is shameful ;)

Drink water.

Heidi Trudell
Marathon, TX


Of course, the replies I got were asking about Lucifer Hummingbird (just go to the Christmas Mountains Oasis, it's easier than trying to find one in the park) and Colima Warbler (still a few days too early, and I wasn't up there, so... no. The answer is no.) But otherwise, that's the condensed version. The longer version is below.

Far western edge of Big Bend National Park, facing east.
Santa Elena transect, facing SW.
Gaging Station camp site, looking north.
Dominguez Trailhead camp site, looking north.
Del Nitos, if I am not mistaken, south of the Chisos, from the south.
The Beagle, a Ford Expedition. Schooner of the precambrian seas.
Ideal transect terrain, if lucky. That really distant mountain range is Mexico's border wall.
Post-transect: Rio Grande to the left, Mexico to the right.
Fun topography, best pic I could get of the easiest slope up from the wash.
Next up: Amistad. I am juggling bird surveys when not at the library and at the library when not juggling bird surveys and trying to get a truck repaired. No rest for the weary, but at least it is good exercise in beautiful country with excellent birds and a sense of adventure. And I'm not dead yet, so that's a perk. BBNP tends to be less than forgiving, so drink your water and don't push your luck!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

11 hours later...

Oculea Silkmoth (Antheraea oculea), male. Marathon, TX 29 March, 2014 

The intrepid male departed: 

Our female remained until dusk. 

Oculea Silkmoth (Antheraea oculea), female. Marathon, TX 29 March, 2014

Oculea Silkmoth (Antheraea oculea), female. Marathon, TX 29 March, 2014

March Moth Madness

We generally have a very slow start to mothing season - and this year we haven't even technically blacklighted at all - but this morning shocked my socks off!

In January we'd helped a neighbor on the north side of town with some yard work, clearing dead vegetation and shuffling it over to the burn pile. A lump of cocoon had caught my eye (it was in a tangle of chile pequin and unidentifiable vegetation) and I'd tucked it aside for further study. It may or may not have been toted around in the bed of the truck for about a week before I remembered it!

With no suitable place to put it around the house, I propped it in the branches of our pine tree, out of puppy-reach in the yard.

This is what greeted me this morning: Antheraea oculea, the Oculea Silkmoth, apparently also called Western Polyphemus? Check out its range. They feed on oaks and walnuts, neither of which are terribly abundant in these parts.

The circle of life, or something.
To add some scale...
My what fuzzy antennae and large eye spots you have! Chestnut tones for the male...

The male, right, is showing a bit of wear.
Fresh wings, small antennae, this is the female.
Pardon the lack of privacy, but WOW those are nice antennae!
Female, rumply-fresh.
Such symmetry!
With the variability among individuals, I was surprised to see just how much markings differ (see Bugguide link way at the top) and even with these two, the richness of color from above was strikingly different between them... at least, for looking like clones from below. Amazing how one cocoon can completely derail a morning!

Friday, March 28, 2014

The quail that tried to cross the road

 Without knowing why the quail tried to cross the road, all we can say is that it DID reach the other side. Just not the other side of the road.

Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata) is our default quail in Brewster County, and much of the Trans Pecos. It is also called blue quail, cottontop, squail and... nature's nachos. Those last two aren't commonly used, but are still rather fitting!

This one was obviously not on a deer corn bag when found, but Highway 90 just east of the bridge near 67 isn't a spot with great visibility for a portrait session in situ.

The breast and belly are dusty-buffy in bright light.
Bleu-gray tones got washed out a bit here, sadly.
There's the blue!
This individual has a pronounced crest, so it may be male. But it has a dark auricular patch (ear patch) so it could be female. Further details pending, if we can find streaking on the throat.

Check out the sweet 'speed fin' them their 'cottontop' name: for a diagram of what and where a speed fin is, see Bird and Moon's diagram.

Increasingly blurred barring on the belly, vs. crisp scaled breast feathers.

Scaled Quail... get it?

I was surprised to see the non-homogenous wing and mantle: the olive tones are really too subtle to see in the field.

A bird in the hand is educational, for sure - you never know what you'll learn!

** We have state and federal permits to salvage roadkill.