Sunday, May 17, 2015

Recent Sightings

In our absence, please see the recent eBird reports for area sightings.

NOTE: These may or may not have been reviewed by regional editors! Take these reports with a grain of salt, as typos and misidentification can occur.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trans-Pecos BBS Wrap-up 2015 / Trip Report

The following content was kindly approved for sharing by Stu Wilson, intrepid Breeding Bird Survey adventurer currently living in FL - he's done WTX BBS routes for many years and sent his end of route summary. This is shared with his permission, and with our gratitude for his efforts!

* Post Park was mistakenly listed as being south of Marfa, in Presidio County: it has been corrected to being south of Marathon, in Brewster County. Links were modified to be blog friendly.



I've put together a little wrap-up for my 4-11May2015 central Trans-Pecos BBS trip. Besides my three current BBS routes, I made a number of "general interest birding" stops, many of which I entered into eBird. The area continues to suffer from the effects of drought as well as the freeze and fire of 2011, but there were signs of recovery, e.g. good numbers of Scaled Quail and Greater Roadrunner. In general, neotropical migrants were in short supply anywhere I went.

El Paso Memorial Park (FWTX 9) 4May2015
One of the best opportunities to find migrants within the El Paso city limits is this urban park (El Paso County). However, I found very few- a Western Wood-Pewee, an Audubon's Yellow-rump, and several Wilson's Warbler- amongst 20 species total. eBird checklist here

McNary Reservoir 5May2015
Auduboners generally have permission to visit this water body located about 80 miles east of El Paso in Hudspeth County. I tallied 34 species in an hour including both Western and Clark's Grebes, as well as a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, possibly a new May record for the area. eBird checklist here

Marathon- Ft Pena Colorado Pk (The Post) (FWTX 28) 5May2015
This popular birding stop 5 miles south of Marathon in Brewster County was flush with water and yielded 26 species, but no rarities and just a couple of migrants. eBird checklist here

Alamito Creek Preserve 6May2015
This was my fourth visit to this cottonwood-lined riparian desert strip 35 miles south of Marfa in Presidio County. I started out the walk with Robert Potts, president of property owner Dixon Water Foundation, as well as Jay Pruett from Tulsa and Bob Ayres from Austin. Those three had to turn back mid-morning to tend to some business, but I walked the full 3.5-mile segment, and return, picking up 40 spp. Although there were some impressive numbers of individuals (52 House Finch, 60 Mourning Dove, 58 Northern Mockingbird, 42 Orchard Oriole, 45 Summer Tanager, and 46 Vermilion Flycatcher), and some good raptor activity (2 nesting pairs of Zone-tailed and 1 pair of Swainson's Hawk), migrants were few... only two species of warbler (Audubon's Yellow-rumped and Wilson's). eBird checklist here

Coyanda Draw BBS (Pecos Co 35 mi WSW of Ft Stockton) 7May2015 Habitat: dry and desolate Chihuahuan Desert scrub
I had to contend with only 2 vehicles the entire route! Veteran BBSers know what a luxury that is. The route produced 25 spp with Northern Mockingbird taking home the bacon at 61 and Scaled Quail trailing with 50.
* The Barn Owls at Stop 1 have apparently been evicted by a pair of Great Horned Owls
* 4 Lesser Nighthawks was very low
* Cassin's and Black-throated Sparrow made nice showings with 28 each
* Cactus Wren (avg 20+) has not rebounded on this route as I had only 2

Balmorhea- Sandia Wetlands (FWTX 20A) 7May2015
I had not previously visited this small facility east of Balmorhea in Reeves County, but was glad I did. I found 25 spp highlighted by Cinnamon Teal, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Baird's Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Bank Swallow, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. eBird checklist here

Balmorhea Lake - Sandia Wetlands (FWTX 20) 7May2015
I did a loop around the lake, but it was now late afternoon and there just wasn't much happening. I noted about 16 spp, including both Aechmophorus grebes and a couple late Eared Grebes. A lone Ruddy Duck also seemed late.

Toyahvale BBS (Jeff Davis Co between Balmorhea and Ft Davis) 8May2015 Habitat: Davis Mtn foothills
This route was especially fire-ravaged in 2011. I turned up 32 spp with usual champ Northern Mockingbird taking top honors with 55 just overcoming a strong showing by resurging Scaled Quail at 50.
* The Elf Owl pair, present the last two years, could not be found
* Seven (7) Greater Roadrunner may be record for me for any route
* Twenty (20) Black-throated Sparrow was a strong showing
* No evidence of Cactus Wren recovery on this route (avg 16) as I had only 4
* 3 Painted Bunting and 1 Vermilion Flycatcher added some color to things

Bear Mountain BBS (Jeff Davis Co on the NW flanks of Davis Mountains) 9May2015 Habitat: Davis Mtn foothills (desert transitioning to oak/juniper)
This route has become my favorite for reasons I can't quite pinpoint. Only encountering five (5) vehicles on a route with a nicely paved road certainly helps. I tallied 34 spp with Northern Mockingbird achieving top dog at 27 individuals withstanding a strong challenge from Cactus Wren with 24. The Cactus Wren total is right at the historic average and suggests, on this route at least, the species is recovering.
* Cassin's Sparrow (avg 16) curiously absent from this route
* Six (6) Greater Roadrunner might be a record except for Toyahvale above
* Eighteen (18) Canyon Towhees might be a record for me for any route
* A Yellow-breasted Chat lustily singing in the wide open was a nice surprise

Madera Canyon Trail (FWTX 25) 9May2015
This 2.5-mile loop trail starts (and ends) at the south end of the Lawrence E Wood Picnic Area on TX 118 in Jeff Davis County. Most of the juniper trees are dead or dying lending a desolate air, but I nonetheless managed 17 spp including a rampaging young Cooper's Hawk and a Hepatic Tanager pair where the female was doing the singing. eBird checklist here

Big Bend NP- Chisos Basin 10May2015
I had run into some birders from Maryland at Davis Mountains SP who had just been to BBNP (Brewster County) and told me of the rarities lurking there: Short-tailed Hawk, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Flame-colored Tanager, and Evening Grosbeak. Given my limited time, I decided the latter three were out of reach, but I was on point for the STHA, which I thought I understood them to say was being seen (a dark morph and a light morph??) in the Chisos Basin from the lodge area. It didn't fill me with confidence when each of the five (5) rangers I quizzed indicated they were unaware of any rare hawks, and in the end I failed to turn one up. In the course of things, I did a long mid-day hike through the campgrounds, down to the sewage treatment plant, and out and back on the Window Trail, tallying about 17 species, but nothing unexpected. That evening I hiked up the Pinnacles Trail about a half-mile above the cottages and did a 7-9pm sentry duty listening for Mexican Whip-poor-will, but heard not a one. The mountain lion signs say "don't hike alone" and "don't hike at night" and I must confess this weighed on me as the day's light grew dim. My overnight accommodation was a room in the Emory Peak Lodge area but, despite leaving my windows open all night and doing a couple of short local hikes, I heard no owl nor nightjar at all.

Big Bend NP- Cottonwood Campground (FWTX 40) 11May2015
I got up early for the 38-mi drive to Cottonwood CG, arriving just after sunrise, and was promptly greeted by an Elf Owl. Other nuggets amongst 27 spp found were a Cassin's Vireo, a MacGillivray's Warbler, and several singing Yellow-breasted Chats. The prize, however, and the Bird of the Trip for me was a singing male Lucy's Warbler which I found just across the entrance road from the Amphitheater... my first new Texas bird (#489) since a Canada Warbler at Hornsby Bend in Austin on 19Sep2011. eBird checklist here



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

West Texas Hummingbird Banding Report, 2014

While this blog is effectively dead (we're no longer in the region, sadly), snippets may still find their way to a post, like the 2014 Banding Report from Kelly Bryan's West Texas Hummingbird research project. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

tis the season: Agapema Anona

A belated post - Charlie Sansom photographed this Mexican Agapema, Agapema Anona, reportedly one of several, on October 15th. Perfect timing for these beauties, who grace west Texas with their presence squarely in the middle of October every year (based on Marathon observations). Timely find and strikingly fresh individual! Such pristine condition...

Mexican Agapema, Agapema Anona. 15 Oct. 2014 by Charlie Sansom. Marathon/Brewster Co., TX.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Neuroptera for all!

Neuroptera are nerve-winged insects: owl flies, antlions, lacewings, and mantis flies fall into that category and all of the above have been present at the lights this summer/fall:

As usual, apologies for the horrid quality of the images, but google should be able to give you a better idea of what these photogenic creatures look like in more ideal situations!

Owl fly - Note the suuuper long, butterfly-like antennae:

Antlion - a larger than average individual:

Lower left is the lacewing - somehow it was never cornered for a solo portrait session:

Mantis fly video link:

^^ the mantis fly was filmed in Tarrant Co, everything else was Alpine, Brewster Co. So many good bugs out there, so many amazingly excellent bugs... 

* video to be embedded at some point!

Edit: more [bad] photos! 

Mantis fly from 10 Aug 2014, Tarrant Co. 

And a super blurry green lacewing from the same sheet:

Friday, August 1, 2014

A bug in the hand is worth... unknown number of bugs in the bush?

This is just a handful (heh... heh...) of the moths that turned up at the lights last night. High humidity and outward facing walls in a canyon of mixed high desert scrub and oaks... well, the results far surpassed my highest expectations and I did a pretty sad job of documenting things (photo quality being the least of my feeble documentation problems, unfortunately).

Really, I just wanted to play with them.

Ye olde, familiar White-lined Sphinx, Hyles lineata. I stopped counting at eight.

A stripey comparison with a solitary Vine Sphinx, Eumorpha vitis:

Five-spotted Hawkmoth, is that you? Manduca quinquemaculatus! Easily five were still present this morning.

Falcon Sphinx! Xylophanes falco -- these gems are wrapped in the night sky as caterpillars and that's not much of a metaphor. Two were present.

Pint-sized would be an overstatement for the Walnut Sphinx, Amorpha jugulandis. Population for the night: one.

Now let's jump from our small sphinx to our big silkmoth, Walnut Sphinx, meet Oculea Silkmoth! While some sphinxes can be large, none are quite so bat-like as any of the silkmoths tend to be.

This one, lone, lovely lass was most definitely the highlight of the night - and morning:
Oculea Silkmoth, Antheraea oculea, also called the Western Polyphemus Moth.

iNaturalist has some interesting folks out there, this is most definitely NOT a buckeye!

Never turn your back on Hubbard's Small Silkmoth, they are fiesty! I just wanted to get that deep watermelon pink of the hindwing somewhere in the post...

A bit less showy here, Hubbard's Small Silkmoth, Sphingicampa hubbardi or Syssphinx hubbardi, depending on how technical you want to get. At least four made it to the lights.

Cobubatha spp, for kicks. ID suggestions welcomed! Two or three present overnight.

This has been uber-blogged here before, but one never resists the wiles of Halysidota davisii, Davis's Tussock Moth. There were easily six on the wall!* (and by that, I do include chairs, the ground, and things near the light)

If not terribly mistaken, this tiny Bigfoot is Euclea incisa - only one was around last night, but two weeks ago the numbers ranged nearly to double digits. It really needs a good common name. Saddleblanket Moth seems a bit unwieldy though. But it is wearing a green blanket...

...and darn it if I didn't have this identified a month ago and have magically lost my brain. Black wings, striped butt, nice pants - should be an easy one. Will update with an ID when I get a chance!

*** Nick Block wins the internet for reminding me that Texas Wasp Moth should not be so hard to remember! Horama panthalon even has pants in the name! Now I feel that I should have included pics of the Yellow-collared Scape Moths because at least I knew what they were when I saw them (they look like 'love bugs' in moth form).

* Many thanks to Sky Stevens for permission and encouragement with the blacklighting at her place just west of Alpine! Brewster County does snag a few Jeff Davis Co species here!