Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Off-topic: Tropical Mockingbird fledges young!

Folks on the Upper Texas Coast have been following this saga for a while, but in a nutshell:

Tropical Mockingbird plus Northern Mockingbird nested at/near Sabine Woods...

Photo via Andy Bankert - and that, my friends, is a young hybrid!

Andy asked me to pass it along to Texbirds and the image wasn't working on facebook, so this will be linked... what a great shot.

Edit: A question of fledgie numbers was sent to Andy, his text response:
"Only found one but the adult moved around a lot so probably more."

Edit 2: I'm getting emails asking for directions. I've not been to Sabine Woods in a few years, so please check the archives of Texbirds for that... and if you do go out there, PLEASE give the birds plenty of room. Raising kids is tough. Call out people who get too close; it makes the rest of us look bad.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gray Catbird, Gage Gardens. Excellent summer record!

Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

Singing this morning at the Gage Gardens, here in Marathon, Brewster Co.

This is an excellent summer record.  We weren't immediately sure if this was or was not a first summer record.
Kelly Bryan's "Birds of the Trans-Pecos" 2002, lists this species as "Accidental" (= "generally one to three records, region-wide each decade) with the dot on the latest end of June.

I am curious about those records, when and where.  The bird is likely still there.  KBB and I have seen him all morning, thus far.

In fact it seems to be singing on territory.  Maybe it is the same individual that would show itself from time to time in our back 40.
If it actually had a mate nearby, I might start singing.

For my experience this winter to now, it seems quite solitary.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Marfa Public Radio, take two!

I'll add a note when the archived version of "Talk at Ten" is posted, but until then: Matt and I were on Marfa's NPR station today! It was almost a year ago when we were last on to discuss drought impacts on birds - this time the news was much better. Hopefully folks will check out the Gage Gardens (which is recovering from a good bit of hail damage) and otherwise investigate the festival, which is now less than a month away!

Trudell, York, and West on Talk at Ten

...and while we're promoting everyone and everything, check out Kenn Kaufman's post about his summer plans! Coming up: Birds and Butterflies in West Texas

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's daylight.

I'm so accustomed to armchair moth-ing (the equivalent of armchair birding, I suppose) that actually being outside in the light of day to look at pollinators was a strange change of pace. I'd met up with Andy Bankert midday to take him to the Christmas Mountains Oasis after he hiked Pinnacles Trail in Big Bend National Park for Colima Warbler. Even in the noonday heat, CMO was definitely worthwhile! We were officially looking for Lucifer Hummingbird (check), Varied Bunting (check) and Elf Owl (nope). Unofficially, I was really hoping to see the resident Mojave rattlesnake as well.

Vertebrates aside, we had a slew of flying insects. Probably 90% were mosquitoes (long overdue - as was the rain!) but the rest were dragonflies and damselflies and butterflies and...

Uresiphita reversalis - Genista Broom Moth
Unknown crambid-type moth

Clockwise from the blurry dark moth in the upper left:

Tarache quadriplaga - either that or one of the Ponometias
Kricogonia lyside - Lyside Sulphur
Ponometia semiflava - Half Yellow (look straight across to the right of the butterfly, it's yellow and dark blue-gray)
Palpita quadristigmalis - Four-spotted Palpita
Helicoverpa zea - Corn Earworm Moth

There were some other really impressive looking pollinators, but that's fodder for future posts! Definitely makes me wish I'd checked every beebrush plant on the property!

Back to birds for a moment - we had been emailed a note of caution from Carolyn before we headed to CMO... "Lucifers are here but not abundant. Kelly banded 10 yesterday." They may have been skittish, but they were certainly lovely!

Here's Andy's breakdown of the day, according to Facebook:
Long day! Left Marathon at 3 AM, made it to Boot Canyon by 6:15 for Flammulated Owl, found a Colima Warbler nest by 7:15, back down to the basin by 9:45 where I almost stepped on a rattlesnake! Thanks to Heidi Trudell for taking me to see Lucifer Hummingbirds and Varied Buntings afterwards! Looking for Black-tailed Godwit tomorrow.

We wish Andy the best of luck with The Godwit. We'll be living vicariously through him - he'll be after the godwit and we'll be on Marfa NPR's Talk at Ten to discuss the Gage's July birding festivities.

"Judge me by my size, do you?"

No, no, we do not.

The biggest moth of this post is perhaps an inch wide.

All of these were on the north wall, lured in by our porch light and secondary blacklight. Good company, these moths. Also good company, a few herpers - reptile/amphibian enthusiasts. "Mothers" would be catchy, but some of us have no children. Moth-ers, perhaps.

Dates reflect when the light was turned on; most of these are dated 19 June, but some showed up after midnight. For this post's purposes, that's still 19 June. 

On to the eye candy!

Tripudia balteata - 2 June 2012 
A richly patterned tic-tac of a moth. All the better for pollination. (Link is to a bugguide page with a photo Matt submitted a few years ago!)

Tripudia luxuriosa - 19 June 2012
A velvety looking creature, this individual shows a bolder cream line across the mid-wing than we normally see. Generally we see two heart-shaped pale dots and that's about it.

According to luxur-i meaning extravagance, splendor and os-a meaning full of
...being full of extravagance and splendor is a lot for a tiny moth to live up to!

Pyrausta volupialis - 19 June 2012
Volupial = pleasant, in Latin. Pink and white and squiggly all over. Pleasantly so, perhaps. First, with wings closed.

Now, P. volupialis (also from 19 June 2012), but a different individual with wings spread just a little bit... note the difference in the lower line; the critter above has a very smoothly arched line, the one below is a bit jagged in spots.

Pyrausta inornatalis - Southern Pink Moth - 19 June 2012
Inornate, the name says. Yet, bubblegum pink. Most of the Pyrausta are listed as having mint as host plants, but caterpillars don't seem to be well documented.

Palpita quadristigmalis - 19 June 2012
Elegant structure for a moth, translucent wings with merely opaque edges and a hint of gold along the leading edge. It's hard to not look at these as works of art. Fluttery, glossy art.

Earlier in the season, two or three would be at the lights at any given time. Lately, the numbers have increased. The little green creatures are lacewings, also increasing in number as the season continues.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Birds of Maravillas Ranch

... well, some of them anyways.  This property will be part of the Birds and Butterflies of the Big Bend festival.

This area is ~ 15 or so miles south of Marathon, as the Black Phoebe flies.
*Photos taken at the ranch, unless otherwise noted*  All species are an incomplete, though true, representation of occurrence on property.

Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata)

Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus)

Varied Bunting (Passerina versicolor), thus far this individual is occurring on one corner of this large property, at least from my observations.

Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), everywhere, and many males continue their display flights.

Verdin (Auriparis flaviceps), in proper habitat there are several, many of which are still singing.  Where there is Verdin habitat, there is Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila nigriceps) habitat and the reciprocal.

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans), at "Lake House" area of Maravillas Ranch.  They already had one successful clutch..

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea), extremely common species.

Cassin's Kingbird  (Tyrannus vociferans)

Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya), *photo taken at Post Park.

Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre), *photo taken in Marathon.

Cassin's Sparrow (Peucaea cassinii), *photo taken in Jeff Davis county., CASP are still singing and skylarking in the Marathon Basin, a common sound of summer.

Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata), *photo taken in Marathon.  This is our most numerous yr-round resident sparrrow.

Bell's Vireo (Vireo bellii), another constant sound of summer here.  They never cease vocalizing, so it seems.

Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens), very common in the riparian areas of the property.  Their curious vocalizations blaring out, over and over.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A couple of iconic skippers at Maravillas Ranch

Maravillas Ranch:  Private property ~ 15 or so miles south of Marathon, Brewster Co., TX

Skippers:  family Hisperiidae.

In the early stages of my trek today, I came across this guy:

Texas Powdered- ........, wait.

Do you all see the that white median band?  The band on the forewings, up front, the fairly sharp white band?  See how that white band is jagged?  That means...

Arizona Powdered-Skipper (Systasea zampa).

Kind of cool for Texas, occurring in the trans-Pecos of the Lone Star.
I'll meet up with (S. pulverulenta), Texas Powdered-Skipper, soon enough.  This was a nice late in the survey discovery when I cycled through the day's images; as it happened almost butterfly number one.

There was Cogia hippalis, Acacia Skipper, in the same vicinity.  I already photo'd that guy up at the Gage Garden's back grassland. How great is Brewster Co.?  Even north Brewster Co.?  Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths, are starting to get fun out here.  Diversity is picking up nicely.

Then there was this old friend near the end of my work day surveying at Maravillas Ranch:

Common Streaky-Skipper (Celotes nessus)

I have a varied audience here.
To some of you:  No, I did not bring a jar, nor net, nor laboratory in the field today.  I'll stick with C. nessus today rather than .... limpia.

Back to the bug in the photo, hypnotic right?  It is always a joy to come across.

Here is the total species list, that I could come up with, for this morning's Maravillas Ranch butterfly activity:

FOY = First of the Year

Battus philenor, Pipevine Swallowtail
Papilio polyxenes, Black Swallowtail
Pontia protodice, Checkered White
Colias eurytheme, Orange Sulphur
Zerene cesonia, Southern Dogface
Abaeis nicippe, Sleepy Orange
Nathalis iole, Dainty Sulphur
Eurema mexicana, Mexican Yellow, still good numbers
Phoebis sennae, Cloudless Sulphur
Kricogonia lyside, Lyside Sulphur
Strymon melinus, Gray Hairstreak
Atlides halesus, Great Purple Hairstreak, one semi-worn male, FOY
Leptotes marina, Marine Blue
Echinargus isola, Reakirt's Blue
Calephelis nemesis, Fatal Metalmark, many fresh adults in one area of property
Agraulis vanillae, Gulf Fritillary
Euptoieta claudia, Variegated Fritillary
Phyciodes tharos, Pearl Crescent
Phycoides phaon, Phaon Crescent
Anthanassa texana, Texan Crescent
Polygonia interrogationes, Question Mark
Junonia coenia, Common Buckeye
Asterocampa celtis, Hackberry Emporer
Libytheana carinenta, American Snout
Danaus gilippus, Queen
Cogia hippaus, Acacia Skipper
Systasea zampa, Arizona Powdered-Skipper, FOY
Common/White Checkered-Skipper, Pyrgus communis/albescens
Celotes nessus, Common Streaky-Skipper, FOY
Copaeodes aurantiaca, Orange Skipperling
Amblyscirtes eos, Dotted Roadside-Skipper

Friday, June 15, 2012

Desert Whitetail

Desert Whitetail (Plathemis subornata)

This beautiful new species (for the year anyways) of dragonfly was 'coptering around a portion of Post Park this afternoon.  Several of them, really.

"Flight Season.  Jul. 25 (TX)--Aug. 5 (OK)."  Abbott, John C. (2005)

Seems we are over a month early for published flights.  We've run into that with some moths this season.  Flora and fauna out here is very much timed to the monsoonal rain seasons.  Typically that begins in, yes, late  Summer.

It did not happen AT ALL last year.

This year we've had a "May Monsoonal" event.  Not common, on average, but it happens from time to time.

Add the nearly 2 year drought (record drought at that), then the good rains in May and even the last couple of days and well.... there are some early flights across taxa.  Also, in some instances, southerly distributions of some species start out earlier anyhow.

"Habitat.  Desert pools, ponds, and slow streams with thick emergent vegetation and mud bottoms."  Abbott, John C.  (2005)
Yep.  I was on the southern side of the dam at Post Park.  Spot on match for habitat.

Abbott, John C.  2005  Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas and the South-Central United States  Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.  pp 234-235.

Tiny Checkerspot, yes, it is...

... a tiny checkerspot.  Checkerspots are within family Nymphalidae, the "Brushfoots."

Tiny Checkerspot (Dymasia dymas)

This adult is atop a composite flower of a Sawtooth Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) bloom.  Frogfruit is excellent for nectaring butterflies, plays hostplant for numerous butterfly species, tolerates foot traffic even in locales where most plants do not, and is native to boot.

The frogfruit is doing great on Post Road and at Post Park, the latter where this individual was photographed today.

Tiny blooms.  Tiny butterfly.

Very active, it rarely rests its wings; even when perched.

Tiny Checkerspots inhabit the southwest, from south and far-west TX to deep-southern CA.  They range over much of Mexico.

I suppose I've seen an adult or two of this species fly by me no longer than within a week's time.  They just never stopped, or I was sadly doing something else.

Good to see D. dymas flying again this year.  They have more than one brood, and we've had recent rains.

It would be great to see this species in July at the Birds and Butterflies of the Big Bend festival in the latter half of July.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gage Gardens butterflies, AM of 12 June 2012

Butterfly diversity has greatly improved over the last few weeks.  The "back 18" grassland, behind the more manicured area, was particularly productive.  Wildflowers, grasses and forbs are in good shape back there.  Species that depend on mallows were more numerous this morning with many fresh adults present.

West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella)
Taking the entire 27 or so acres of the Gage Gardens into account, this species had several fresh adults present.  
A promising strong flight, in addition to the mallows in the area, give hope for additional flights as the summer wears on.  In fact, the only Vanessa spp the entire morning were V. annabella and V. atalanta.

Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana)
This species has had a decent showing within the last week and a half.  Always a nice insect to come across, for me, as I enjoy its fairly distinctive shape and dark color.
Mexican Yellow (Eurema mexicana), a species that is having a very strong flight during the early portion of the season.  Good numbers for several weeks if not a month now.

Common/White Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis/albescens)

Reakirt's Blue (Echinargus isola)

Common Sootywing  (Pholisora catullus)

The above three species were commonly seen puddling on several wet caliche locations along the pathway that runs the perimeter of the back grassland.

Alongside the seemingly infinite number of these guys, Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe).

Only two swallow tail species were observed.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)


Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Acacia Skipper (Cogia hippalus)
This large skipper is the first of the year for me.

Full species list from this morning:
Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
Checkered White (Pontia protodice)
Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)
Orange Sulphur (C. eurytheme)
Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)
Mexican Yellow (Eureme mexicana)
Lyside Sulphur (Kricogonia lyside)
Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)
Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)
Reakirt's Blue (Echinargus isola)
Variegated Fritillary  (Euptoieta claudia)
Texan Crescent (Athanassa texana)
Question Mark (Polygona interrogationis)
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
West Coast Lady (Vanessa annabella)
Queen (Danaus gilippus)
Acacia Skipper (Cogia hippalus)
Common/White Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis/albescens)
Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus)
Sachem (Atalopedes campestris)
Dotted Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes eos)

As always, there were many notable no-shows.  That's what next time is for.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Flame Skimmer

Libellula saturata

We need to start putting more Odonata (dragonflies & damselflies) up on this site.
Dragonfly diversity has been picking up.
However, this species has been flying for awhile in the Marathon Basin and southward.

Beautiful bug.

Darth Buckeye

The Junonia ("buckeye") genus has become a complex all of its own.  There seem to be intermediates everywhere.  Sure some clear-cut examples, at least superficially, exist everywhere too.

Let us briefly go to Junonia evarete "Tropical Buckeye".  We do get this species out here.  However it is the "dark" form.  Here are some pics from Maravillas Ranch, 5 June 2012:

Junonia evarete nigrosuffusa "dark Tropical Buckeye"

This is typical of the "dark" Tropical Buckeye way out here.  However, the immediate difference between "our" dark tropical and the darks in portions of South Texas is on the upperside of the forewings.

The largest "eyespot" has basically zero color outlining around it.  The thin orange/pink fades then terminates below it.

The Junonia-complex is one that needs much further study, though recent research shows that Junonia species have likely been inter-breeding for a long time.

Personal communication with certain authorities have pretty much been "we don't know where to put that dark buckeye that occurs in the trans-Pecos.."

So, dark Tropical Buckeye, (Junonia evarete nigrosuffusa) ?  Really?

Alright then.
If we must hold onto an ancient common name at the moment, then "'dark' Tropical Buckeye."

Beautiful bug with an unknown taxonomical  future.

Come out and see for yourself. This property will be accessible through guided tours and hikes during the "Birds and Butterflies of Big Bend" event.  Click there or scroll up the main page.