Thursday, August 30, 2012

the usual suspects

Good news!

Archives from July, August, and September of 2010 are fully operable (if you find any broken links or images or anything, please let us know!) and the content is pretty exciting, too - we now have  praying mantis breakfast documentation, 100% more vinegaroon video clips, an astronomical increase in Apolomado Falcon posts and videos... and that just scratches the surface. Speaking of scratchy, there's even video of a pronghorn antelope with an itch.

 Otherwise, Marathon still has Cassin's Sparrows singing to the north of town, staging swallows: good numbers of Barn Swallows (a dozen or so on our block) and better numbers of Cave Swallows (thirty? forty?) grouping up prior to migration. Upland Sandpipers haven't been heard much lately, so they've probably passed through. Cassin's and Western Kingbirds have been absent for at least a full week as well. A few nighthawks (Lesser as well as Common) are still around, and a few young/female Painted Buntings are, too. Biggest push of migrants has been in the hummingbird department - with over a dozen birds fighting between two feeders it has been hard to keep track of how many Black-chins and Broad-tails are there. Only a few Rufous/Allen's and no Ruby-throats (that have slowed down enough, anyway!) but there's still plenty of time for them to show up. It's just lack of observer time at this point!

Two-tailed Swallowtails and Common Mestras are also still flying, and we've had a bit of rain to keep the puddling Sleepy Oranges happy. New moth for the yard showed up about a week ago - Amorpha juglandis - the Walnut Sphinx Moth!  They are dainty little things compared to our giant Poplar Sphinxes, but quite eye-catching!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's ok to be a casual birder

Here's a great snippet of Kenn Kaufman's take on casual birding, via

It's quite true that a casual interest is a good companion to life - especially if the casual interest is in birds/birding/the natural world. It's when things get a bit more focused, intense, and unforgiving that it requires a shift of perspective and a support group. Unfortunately, the support group occasionally turns into carpooling options and actual support... but it could be worse. I digress.

Casual birders, rock on!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

August - it's not quiet here!

Much to my surprise, the blog has been pretty quiet for August. A closer look reveals that we've been up to our ears in interesting stuff in the meantime! *

August 11th surfaced with a really lovely blog post by the Kaufman team; Kenn and Kim have such an eloquent way of describing the region and their time here... ah, we may be biased but it's still a great honor!

So, a few of the birds definitely present around town this month, starting with heard-only, flyover Upland Sandpipers on a daily basis...

August 11th:
1 Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus
Cuckoo with dark bill, buffy chin, white breast/belly, buffy vent, slaty crown/nape, rusty brown back/wings, under tail was uniform buffy gray ALL OVER, save very, very fine white edging on the tips of the tailfeathers. (no photos, gah!)

August 12:
Black-throated Green Warbler (Gage Hotel)
Dickcissel (Gage Hotel)

August 13:
Painted Bunting (yard)
Yellow Warbler (yard)
Zone-tailed Hawk (yard)
Peregrine Falcon  (Post Park)

August 15:
Swainson's Hawk - dark morph (ok, just a few miles south of Imperial, but still in the Trans-Pecos and a slight chance that it's the bird that was on Post Road earlier in the year!)

August 16:
Canyon Wren - possibly the same bird that had been around in early August (starting 30 July - yard)

August 17:
Orange-crowned Warbler (yard)

*  ...and, unfortunately, things will likely be quiet for a while still, due to a last minute CA bird survey gig for Matt. But it's not for lack of good local birding!

Also, during the month, some 'new' blog posts have been added to the archives - crossposted from our informal blog, Seetrail, things relevant to the scope of this blog have been introduced. Things like videos! Aplomado Falcons! Things that deserve more than one exclamation mark! Right now only the July 2010 archives are fully up to date, but we'll be adding more over time; this blog didn't exist in its current form until October of 2010, so there's still a bit to add.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tails of Two

Papilio multicaudata, "Two-tailed Swallowtail"
Gage Hotel, Marathon, Brewster Co.
4 August 2012

One of our biggest North American species as an adult. I always love seeing one fly. Even better, these days, is seeing one with someone else.

This is pretty much THE "tiger swallowtail" species we live with in our general area..

It's one of the species I consider a "gateway bug". For this particular moment, two co-workers got my attention to "come look at this butterfly!" I talked about this one and hostplants, migratory vs. non-migratory, numbers of flights per year, other lepidopteran species..., etc.

It is one that can get an adult or kid hooked on bugs.

We've had multiple flights of this species this yr. Though we are never thick with them, generally. Of course, it decided not to fly by during the Bird and Butterflies of the Big Bend festival.

Oh well. I got to see it again. With some co-workers this time.

First witch of the year

Thoroughly dessicated, with legs falling off all over the place... the first Black Witch of the year surfaced today from a shed at the Gage, probably a week old. There should have been a quarter in here for scale; the witch isn't quite hand-sized this position because its wings are partially folded, but hopefully that's a good indication of just how impressive a Black Witch can be.

Perhaps we need a Lepidoptery guide (butterflies and moths); we can call it 50 shades of neutral. The pale cream and buff colors to the deep, rich browns are quite well represented.

They're certainly more fun when alive, but never so cooperative - these are ventral views - top left is Tawny Emperor, on its back, top right is Question Mark, wings only (it would be on its back if it still had one). Bottom is male Black Witch.

Some bright colors when seen from the top; a female Black Witch would have bold white scalloping on the wings. The Question Mark had not yet fallen apart, so it is actually doubled over in the shot.

And as tradition requires:

Article butterfly Q & A

Kindli Carothers, Matt's sister-in-law (Heidi's sister), posted this query on her blog:

Guided through the gardens by local naturalist Matt York, we easily observed butterflies such as question marks, west coast ladies and common sootywings.
I now have a few questions for you: what is a “question mark” butterfly, and why are “west cost ladies” in Marathon?

Great questions; it's far too uncommon for things to get obvious common names (we have a great story about ornate tree lizards, though), so here's an attempt to clarify!
For a decent photo of the question mark shaped marking on the wing of... a Question Mark... click here and tilt your head to the right, just a little. It's latin name is Polygonia interrogationis. Bugguide offers us this:
Explanation of Names
Common name refers to diagnostic mark on underside of hindwing.
Latin name interrogationis likely refers to interrogation or questioning, for the same character.

It boils down to a sense of imagination. If satyrs and woodnymphs are getting such fancy names, I guess the Question Mark crew just didn't have a more eloquent way to name the punctuation... Oh, also? It is closely related to the Commas. You're welcome.  ;-)

Commas: they come in Eastern, Gray, Green, Hoary, Oreas and Satyr. Our non-regional blog, See Trail, has a post about Green Commas from the mountains of Santa Fe, NM.

Now, about that lady. Here's what a West Coast Lady looks like, via Matt's 12 June post:

But why is it in Marathon if it's a West Coast Lady? We certainly are not on the West Coast and have no coast to speak of at all... so...

West Coast Lady range map via

A too-simple explanation is that its kin, American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) and Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), cover most of the US and it is the only one that sticks to the western side of things; if Vanessa annabella - the West Coast Lady - spanned the continent's width, it probably would have a less geographically defined name. Just speculation. Also, since they eat mallows, nettles and legumes, we have quite a nice buffet for them.

Thanks for the questions, Sib! Hope this helped - feel free to throw more questions at us!
Also, this entry may be edited for quality and content at some point in the future.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Houston Chronicle coverage

A lovely little blurb from Gary Clark - I think it's also in the San Antonio Express-News
Fest visitors get a peek at West Texas birds and butterflies
Accompanying photos are by Kathy Adams Clark, who hosted the photography workshop during the festival.

Edit: There's been a little confusion about the "more information" blurb.
More than 200 bird and 70 butterfly species can be found in Marathon.
The 7.5-acre Gage Gardens on First Street includes native plants and trees with interpretive signs, beautiful ponds, a small putting green, a gazebo and a mile-long trail through native grassland with wildflowers. Open to the public during the day.
Post Park, a cottonwood-forested county park on the Pena Colorado River, is full of birds, butterflies and dragonflies.
* 200 species of birds would be for the actual town of Marathon, not Brewster county; you can get about 200 bird species for the county in a year. Our yard list (in Marathon) is 97 species with relatively little effort over the course of 2 years.

* The Gage Gardens is closer to 30 acres - perhaps only 7.5 of it is manicured? The full 30 would include the grassland portion of the property behind the landscaped section.

* Post Park is also known as Fort Pena Colorado, formerly Camp Pena Colorado, also called The Post - it does have water year round due to a spring, but is not on a river.

Also, while there is mention of Cliff Swallows in the first paragraph, this would be a stray sighting for the year. Generally we have about a 50/50 split between Cliff and Cave Swallows, but this year has been 99% Cave and Barn with only a few scouts and stray Cliffs - single digits. Young Barn and Cave Swallows are out in full force, however, and can be a challenge to narrow down.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Buprestidae - metallic wood boring beetles

Here's a little splash of beetle color to compliment the previous butterfly post:

Lampetis drummondi - one of 308 species of Buprestids found in Texas.

This particular individual was downstream from Green Gulch, well up the road to the Chisos Basin. Several of its kin were present on junipers and just about every other tree/shrub along the stretch we walked. Perhaps Wednesday was Buprestid day at the park.

Bright blue legs don't seem like the best camouflage, but with a back like that...

I wonder how they perceive the view - even if hiding from the camera in the shade.

Skittish, yes. But what a lovely underside of pale flecking.

None of these photos do the eyes justice. The iridescence is similar to that of opal; if opal were a dark blue/black and on the face of a wood boring beetle.

This was our first encounter of the gorgeous wood-boring kind; we regularly see opuntia borers while walking the dogs. We pause and let them cross the street, and move on until there's more traffic - usually dung beetles. This year has been pretty crowded on the streets of Marathon... thank goodness for the rain!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A few butterflies in the park.

Big Bend National Park.

We encountered many more, though only photographed a few:

Adelpha eulalia,  Arizona Sister
Green Gulch, Chisos Mtns.

Strymon istapa, Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak
near Panther Junction

Apodemia duryi, Mexican Metalmark
near Panther Junction

Chloysine theona theona, Theona Checkerspot
near Panther Junction