Friday, March 30, 2012


Scott's Oriole (Icterus parisorum)

The Giant Yuccas (Yucca guatemalensis) are in bloom attracting insects and here come the Scott's Orioles.

Scott's Orioles are a fairly iconic summer-breeding, neotropical migrant species here in the Big Bend Region.

A bold yellow and black beauty, Scott's Orioles (like other oriole species) are quite attracted to fruit and other sweet options. However they are advantageously insectivoreous at times, particularly during breeding season. Insects offer birds a very efficient source of protein. In that light, they do to us as well.

These photos were taken at the Gage Gardens. Stake out a Giant Yucca or two and you will be likely to see them as well.

Quick. Name the family this insect belongs to. The photos ended up showing that the yucca blooms were loaded with them.

family Coreidae
Leaf-footed Bugs/Squash Bugs

Anyways, it's a very cool scene around the Giant Yucca blooms right now. At least it is in the Gage Gardens here in Marathon.

Turn off the TV and look up!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hybrid Sapsucker photos. 25 March 2012

From Post Park, 5 miles S. of Marathon, Brewster Co.

???????? X Sphyrapicus ruber Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted Sapsuckers hybridize more often with Red-naped Sapsuckers S. nuchalis.

However, there has been some great thought and comment toward the possibility of this hybrid's parentage consisting of Red-breasted, but crossed with Yellow-bellied Sapsucker S. varius. This hybrid combination is less common in simple part because the the Yellow-bellied's eastern range compared to the former's far continental western range.

A beautiful bird, regardless. We had yet to see a Red-breasted ... hybrid, and certainly wonder where it fledged.

Experienced comment and thought continue to be welcome regarding parantage of this individual.

Post Park, AM of 25 March 2012

Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) X Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) hybrid.

2 Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
7 Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo
10 Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
3 American Coot Fulica americana
2 Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
1 Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
15 White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
10 Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
1 Black-chinned Hummingbird Archilochus alexandri
8 Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
1 Red-naped x Red-breasted Sapsucker Sphyrapicus nuchalis x S. ruber ***
2 Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
1 Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya
11 Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
3 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
5 Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
3 Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
1 Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus
3 Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
1 Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
1 Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum
4 European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
1 Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata
10 Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
1 Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus
2 Canyon Towhee Melozone fusca
8 Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
16 Brewer's Sparrow Spizella breweri
1 Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus
1 Black-throated Sparrow Amphispiza bilineata
10 Lark Bunting Calamospiza melanocorys
8 Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
2 Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
14 White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
1 Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
8 Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus
2 Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
X Lesser Goldfinch Spinus psaltria - heard

Pyrocephalus rubinus Vermilion Flycatcher

Friday, March 16, 2012

West Coast Lady on the 15th of March

15 March 2012. Early... for me.

Vanessa annabella, West Coast Lady

Here in far-West Texas we are fortunate enough to find ourselves at the eastern leading edge of some excellent continental west fauna. Species that the rest of the Lone Star State does not normally play regular host to.

One such species, as we creep towards the gentle beginnings of the butterfly and moth diversity upswing, is the West Coast Lady.

I encountered this individual toward the end of a work day at the Gage Gardens, here in Marathon.

Towards the western portions of its range it is a multiple brood butterfly. Meaning it has upwards of 4 flights of adults during a calender year. Almost making it year-round.

Over here in the eastern edge of its range it flies Spring to Fall, but only 1 to 2 flights.

The 15th of March was an early surprise to see this fresh adult stage West Coast Lady.
I only hope to see it again. Chances are we will, perhaps only once later in the yr.

I wasn't able to get an upperside photo of this individual. So here is a photo from last year... in early November :

Save those beautiful native mallows, folks. That is a primary hostplant of this species and others.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sign of the 'butcherbird'

You'll know it when you see it.

And once you have seen it, you can spot it a mile away.

Well, maybe not a *mile* away, but it tends to stand out.

...blatantly obvious, right? Especially at 25 mph on a gravel road?

What could be more apparent than a grasshopper impaled on a yucca blade?

This particular grasshopper was a few miles south of Alpine, a few feet off the ground.

Loggerhead Shrikes are famous for impaling small creatures, generally on thorns and spines and fence barbs and anywhere they can cache a dead vertebrate, invertebrate or competitor* (not sure if it was perceived as competition or prey, but a shrike can kill a mockingbird and they're roughly the same size).

From the link above, here's their biggest, meanest, most vicious evolutionary adaptation:

That, my friends, is the beak of a beast. All the better to sever your spine.

If you're a small rodent.

Shrikes are actually songbirds, their feet are not capable of the same death-grip that hawks, owls and eagles can inflict. Songbirds they may be, but their dinner comes at the expense of anything that is smaller than it is. Thankfully they're rather petite as far as predators go, so neither pets (hawks, owls and eagles have been known to take cats and dogs), nor people are at risk from this delightful bird of the open grasslands.

See? No death grip here.

* photos of the Loggerhead Shrike are from our other blog, See Trail, where it is documented for curiosity's sake, and includes this disclaimer:
Note: state and/or federal permits are required to pick up birds.
Our permits are through Texas A&M; this shrike was collected with their permit ~20 miles north of Study Butte, Texas on 23 March, 2011.

* from Matt * For more shrike cache goodness:

This from a cache belonging to a "San Clemente Island" Loggerhead Shrike (L. l. mearnsi).

Sunday, March 4, 2012


A bit of light birding was done on 3 March, 2012 in Reeves County:

Balmorhea State Park:
1 Blue-winged Teal Anas discors - 1 Female
3 Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera - 1 male, 2 female
2 Greater Scaup Aythya marila - 1 male, 1 female. Photos taken.
4 Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus - 1 displaying male, 3 female
2 Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
1 Snowy Egret Egretta thula
4 American Coot Fulica americana
1 Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
X Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus - heard only

Lake Balmorhea:
2 Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
60 Snow Goose Chen caerulescens
60 Ross's Goose Chen rossii
400 American Wigeon Anas americana
2 Mallard (Mexican) Anas platyrhynchos diazi
10 Northern Pintail Anas acuta
11 Greater/Lesser Scaup Aythya marila/affinis
2 Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
1 Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis
4 Clark's Grebe Aechmophorus clarkii
6 American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
1 Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
1 Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus - mature adult
1 American Kestrel Falco sparverius
300 American Coot Fulica americana
9 Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
2 Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
6 Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
1 Herring Gull Larus argentatus
1 Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
1 Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya
1 Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
1 Chihuahuan Raven Corvus cryptoleucus
50 Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
1 Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
40 Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
1 Rock Wren Salpinctes obsoletus
1 American Pipit Anthus rubescens
6 Lark Bunting Calamospiza melanocorys
1 Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
1 Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
7 White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys

Of note, the Bank Swallow was a bit early, the grebe numbers were extremely low, the sparrow flocks were few and far between, and overall conditions away from the lake proper were extremely dry. But as it was, the trip was still quite productive for lingering waterfowl and insect life was finally picking up from the winter lull. Folks visiting the lake for birding should note that day use fees have gone from $4 to $5 for birder vehicles, though it's posted as a per-person day use fee (under the assumption of fishing). It is always a productive, interesting trek and it's as close to a "beach" as we have out here, bringing a bit of the coast inland to us. Now if we could just get some skimmers and oystercatchers....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

... 'cause I'm a creep...

The title is for the Radiohead fans out there.

It feels like Spring. Temperatures in the low 80's, flowers blooming, butterflies coming out, and elms budding all gave reason to me to drive around the Marathon area looking for Spring migrant bird species ... early as it may be.

After all, a few days ago the first Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulva) arrived in town.
So off to Post Park, I went.

At the park, there were no new species to report during my observation.
However, this bird is still around:

What bird?
This bird:

Right here:

What bird? Where? C'mon.
This bird. To the left of the knot in the tree trunk.

Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)

Brown Creepers are the only North American representative of Family Certhiidae. Tree-climbers with stiff tail feathers to prop them up, creepers pick around and under bark with their long decurved bill digging for insects.

There's been at least one Brown Creeper at "Post" Park, ~ five miles S. of Marathon, all winter long. They are considered winter residents, though not necessarily common to find. They have a high-pitch, thin call of "tseeee-eeeep" that generally alerts me to its presence.

Did you all find the bird in the first photo?

Another winter resident was also at the park:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Sapsuckers are specialized woodpeckers. They build rows of holes in trees as "wells" for sap. These sap wells attract insects in which these birds forage.

Seems this male chunked off a patch of bark on this cottonwood. Check out those feet.
Woodpeckers, Family Picidae, have short legs and strong claws. For the most part they have two toes in front and two toes in back on the foot. This is one of 3 sapsucker species we generally get in the region during the winter.

In our part of the state, we are graced year-round with the presence of Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana).

Western Bluebird, male.

I often encounter 1-3 Western Bluebirds when at Gage Gardens, as I did today.

Western Bluebird. The single male was with two females.

We also get Eastern (S. sialis) and Mountain Bluebirds (S. currucoides) in the winter. I have seen a single Eastern at Gage Gardens and on the Gage Hotel grounds proper within the last couple weeks.

One last photo to throw out there from today: This from Post Park, is a common year-round resident of our area that I just felt compelled to photograph.

Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

Say's are the largest of the three phoebes. We also have Black Phoebe (S. nigricans) year-round, though hard to find at times. Eastern Phoebe (S. phoebe) is a winter resident.

Phoebes are flycatchers in Family Tyranidae.

So no Spring migrants found today, but an enjoyable morning with so many Winter residents still around.