Saturday, September 29, 2012

Elf Owl

28 September 2012
Burro Mesa Pouroff, Big Bend National Park, Brewster Co.

Low light conditions, as it was actually raining all day in most of Brewster County!

Elf Owl, (Micrathene whitneyi)


An amazing species we are fortunate to have in the summer.  This owl stands only about 5 inches tall.  Find a ruler, check that out.  Incredibly tiny and an owl.  Sometimes the most amazing organisms, fellow Earth-beings, come in the smallest packages.  Often times.
This individual I encountered late morning, yesterday ,walking Burro Mesa Pouroff down in the park.  Many times I say "It's up to the bird."  That was certainly the case here.  This owl allowed me to view it for a few minutes.  I am all the better for it.



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Leptember is upon us.

Lepidoptera -  order of insects that includes moths and butterflies.

Fall is an excellent time of year for lepidopterans, particularly moths.  We are fortunate to live in a unique area of the continent.  Animal life is a part of that uniqueness; which most certainly including insects.  Here are only a few excellent species of moths we've recorded thus far in September.  We've generally experienced them via the simple methodology of blacklighting.  In fact, most of these, from our own back porch.

This first two we actually came across on first street in Marathon back on the 19th.



 
Psectrotarsia suavis, Pink-spotted Flower Moth



Chalcopasta fulgens

 
The following are selections from the evening of September 19th of black-lighting on the north facing wall of our house.

 Lythrodes venatus





Opsigalea blanchardi



Plagiomimicus olvello

Friday, September 21, 2012

the little wasp that wasn't

On 19 Sept. 2012, in a recently acquired cooler of unknown origin, a wasp was noticed. It was on its back in this open cooler that was sitting next to our front door. Noticing that it was kicking, I picked it up for further investigation.


















But wait...



Indeed. That's no wasp.

Meet an absolutely mind-boggling group of diverse moths that make your head spin with their sheer variety of colors and patterns and... haul in the technical experts.
A sesiid, Zenodoxus rubens. They can be abundant around pheromones in late afternoon.

Charles Bordelon, VP/EIC
Texas Lepidoptera Survey

Here's a slightly better mug of the beast:























This tiny neighbor of ours is a southern creature, ranging about as far north as I ever would, given winter temperatures... and I certainly wouldn't want to brave a panhandle winter.



Map via Moth Photographers Group.

Those greenish flecks on the wings remind me a bit of Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus).























Certainly makes me wish I'd stopped to check every wasp I've seen all summer. Those copper wings, tipped in black - what a handsome combination of colors. The black thorax is not where scales have been knocked off, that's actually part of the pattern. Nature has such incredible little bundles of art... and some of them are just trying to look like they have a bite bigger than their visual bark.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Texas Rat Snake

 The post below has met an unusual, if not unpredictable solution. It was posted on August 5th over on SeeTrail because it's quite informal and, well, we had no idea what the outcome of the dilemma would be. Spoiler, of course, is at the end.

***

Friends on facebook who have been following this adventure know that it started with an update:

BEST HUBBY EVER!! Brought me a Texas Rat Snake =D Yes, Sky, it is has been taken into custody until further notice. My sewing tote will need to be laundered after this, though.

 ...Sky Stevens was tagged in the note because last time the snake - this snake? - was found and identified, there was a bit of hesitance on the actual identification. Texas Rat Snakes (Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri) aren't supposed to be here. And they're certainly not supposed to be startling guests around town; that's how they get killed. And we don't want that to happen. They are NOT venomous and they eat House Sparrows among other things, what's not to love?

So Friday morning, when a handsome fellow showed up while I was at work and presented me with a lovely Texas Rat Snake, I was thrilled. It was alive, well fed (check out the lump in its belly!), gorgeous and definitely 100% Texas Rat Snake.




















Snapping a few photos, the question soon became: how to keep it until 1) ID is confirmed by someone else, 2) it can be released where it won't return, since returning means eventual death, 3) ???

Not working at a pet store is kind of a down side - we end up with enough birds going to rehab that we probably should have some empty cages around. But while rehab birds can - and should - go into dark cardboard boxes lined with paper towels, well, that sounds like a recipe for escape with a snake. Canvas tote bag, it is! Sewing projects don't need a tote anyway.

Canvas bag courtesy of Irene Trudell, Texas Rat Snake courtesy of Matthew York, hand modeling and identification confirmation courtesy of Craig Trumbower. We have awesome neighbors.

















Back to the snake - if it's the same individual that was found a few months ago and released a few blocks from the location... it's still healthy, bright eyed and well fed. Meal favorites are suspected to be House Sparrows, since it was caught among their nests last time.

A few less-than-flattering portraits of the lovely critter, held gently but firmly by Matt:
















The patterning is really quite something when the photo is enlarged - most of the scales are edged in a bright, bold orange-red color! This photo also highlights the less-mouthy and more-stinky end of the snake... you can see where the ventral (belly) scales go from being double to single; and the cloaca is right where that transition occurs.




































 To keep the discussion brief: these snakes don't belong here. They like to climb trees and eat baby birds... heat and humidity are part of their lifestyle. We're just not in their range. But shipments of plants, trailers of supplies, plenty of trucks and trailers and room for stowaways... most of the traffic out here comes from the direction of Dallas, Austin and/or San Antonio. Prime habitat, really.


 

The blue stripes are Baird's Rat Snake (Pantherophis bairdi) - most of Texas is shaded brown, where Texas Rat Snake is supposed to be found. We're also in the range of the Trans-Pecos Rat Snake (Bogertophis subocularis), but that's another story entirely.

Back to the quandry -
Texas Rat Snake of full-tummy has been upgraded from canvas tote bag to spacious tupperware digs; lovely cavern of overturned dog bowl and deer antler for ambiance. Spinach tub, trimmed down for a pool... filled with roof-caught rainwater. This whole featherless-bird housing issue is strange.


Well, now what? We have neighbors who occasionally head to San Antonio who could release it - but how good are the odds of survival? Better than a bird's would be, I have to assume. If released around here, eventually it will probably be killed by a person. Even if suitable enough habitat - like Post Park - could work, it stands a chance of interbreeding with locals and we have friends doing DNA work on snakes out here that would not be thrilled. A captive life would be cushy but... we like things to be living as naturally as possible. Does it have mites/ticks/other things that it could transmit to other populations? It is already here and probably still has whatever it came with - but is that a big issue with reptiles?

These are the things we are musing over. For now, a large plastic tub on our porch has a fat, healthy Texas Rat Snake as a guest. And it's a safe place until further notice.


***


Approximately two days later, the tupperware was empty. They are escape artists, after all. Our porch is full of holes from the June hail storm, so the assumption is that it's out. Right? At the end of August, however, a rather distinctively sized, shaped, marked, perfectly intact snake shed was found in the corner of our porch. So... it's out. Right? Maybe? Coming and going as it sees fit? We'll at least hope so. Because there's probably not much, if anything, on the porch for it to eat. And the only two mice in the house went to the peanut-butter covered popcorn in the sky via snap trap.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Neglected the one I shouldn't have.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Post Park, yesterday, as with the 'blog post below regarding that time and place.

Great Horned Owls are year-round residents in the area, and over the majority of the continent.  We certainly have at least one breeding pair around town (Marathon), and this individual could be one of that duet.

This species is King(& Queen)of the Jungle.  An absolute apex-predator, the feet and talons on this bird are amazing.  Great Horned Owls have excellent senses, most certainly that of hearing.  However, one that isn't so keen is olfactory or the sense of smell.  They are a key predator of skunk species so it kind of works out for them.  Someone has to do it, from time to time.

Seeing a Great Horned Owl in Post Park isn't terribly uncommon.  Yes, this bird is quite cryptic as it's camouflage is excellent.  Open your mind (and eyes) up to the possibility, though.  Then scan with your binoculars.  Any slight glitch in the Matrix?  Any subtle, vague, slightly-by-a-hair, less-than-congruent line in a tree branch...  Go back to it.  Maybe..?

Maybe not.  This bird in the photo was right above my head.  Sometimes we see less with binoculars than we do with our naked eyes.  Sometimes in life.

The Great Horned Owl always gets to me.  Always wins a staring contest, too.   Regardless, gazing at this huge bird with those magnificent features, most certainly its eyes, I can't help wonder what all it really sees.

What all it sees (and then knows) that we cannot.  Perhaps it sees more than we can handle.  Same, with knowledge.

This bird was asleep when I first happened to notice it.  Or was it?  Looked like it to my eyes.

The photo was taken far later in the day, from a respectful distance.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fall Migration is Here

We are definitely seeing birds moving out, moving through, and moving in to our area. With that I went to Post Park, south of Marathon by about 5 miles. On the road to this Brewster County park I happened upon this individual at one of the cottonwood creek crossings:
Mississippi Kite, juvenile, (Ictinia mississippiensis)

This young kite is making its way to South America during our winter.




But for the moment, well at least last night and this morning, it spent some time just south of Marathon.

There were several neo-tropical migrating songbirds once I arrived at Post Park.



American Redstart, female (Setophaga ruticilla)

This redstart was actively foraging as they almost always are. This bird is extremely quick, never stopping long enough to allow me to photograph her.  At this particular moment, she was well up in a tree..



The rest of her.  Ha, what a great warbler to observe even when less than cooperative for a camera.



Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeous)

This vireo, in the same group of trees as the American Redstart, doesn't have nearly as far to go as that Mississippi Kite up top does.

Generally, this species is heading to the Pacific Coast of Mexico having just spent the spring and summer in the Inter-Mountain West of the U.S, which includes certain areas of the trans-Pecos of Texas.



Cassin's Vireo (Vireo cassinii)

This Cassin's Vireo is also headed to Mexico for the winter.

Certain bird species are arriving that just may stay the winter, our winter.



Clay-colored Sparrows (Spizella pallida)

Clay-colored Sparrows spend the spring and summer in northern portions of our continent including the Great Lakes region, the Dakotas, Montana, and the Interior Provinces of Canada.

We'll begin seeing and hearing a lot more of them during the fall migration season.  These were the first of Fall for me.  A few will stay the winter in certain portions of the trans-Pecos, but most are headed to Mexico and Central America.

There were other winter-residing sparrow species that were seen for the first time this Fall during the morning at Post.

The following is a list, generated by ebird, of the birds I saw, heard, and identified at Post Park this morning.  Happy Fall Migration!

As at any point in this lifetime: Look around.  Listen around.

1
Mallard (Mexican) Anas platyrhynchos diazi
orange bill indicates female
Age & Sex
JuvenileImmatureAdultAge Unknown
Male
Female1
Sex Unknown
25
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
1
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
1
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
3
American Coot Fulica americana
10
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
15
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
1
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
2
Black-chinned Hummingbird Archilochus alexandri
Archilochus sp. female.
Age & Sex
JuvenileImmatureAdultAge Unknown
Male
Female2
Sex Unknown
5
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
4
Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus
5
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
2
Bell's Vireo Vireo bellii
1
Plumbeous Vireo Vireo plumbeus
FOF
1
Cassin's Vireo Vireo cassinii
10
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
1
Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus
2
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
2 heard, from opposite ends of the park (opposite ends of the creek) one showed itself. Fairly round, drab-ish brown wren that lacked a distinctive supercilium. Fairly short tail. FOF in TX
2
Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
two birds in separate locations respectively of the park, deep in reeds. Both vocalizing to make presence known. FOF.
2
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
1
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
Age & Sex
JuvenileImmatureAdultAge Unknown
Male
Female1
Sex Unknown
5
Wilson's Warbler Cardellina pusilla
2
Canyon Towhee Melozone fusca
3
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
FOF
4
Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida
FOF
2
Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
first heard vocalizing with the fairly distinctive, solid/firm "chip" . One popped out of creek to perch on fence as they both continued to "chip." FOF
3
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra
3
Lazuli Bunting Passerina amoena
Age & Sex
JuvenileImmatureAdultAge Unknown
Male1
Female2
Sex Unknown
2
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
2 females hanging around with a female PABU
Age & Sex
JuvenileImmatureAdultAge Unknown
Male
Female2
Sex Unknown
2
Painted Bunting Passerina ciris
Age & Sex
JuvenileImmatureAdultAge Unknown
Male
Female11
Sex Unknown
10
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
3
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus
2
House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus