Sunday, February 24, 2013

Just Phai - no

In celebration of our blog's title background changing from Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) to Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens) I thought I would share a couple of photos from this morning at Gage Gardens, here in Marathon, TX.

The blog's title photo has a male in a juniper from up in the Davis Mountains.  However it has been a comparatively good winter for these birds at slightly lower elevations.  This species, a year-round resident in our region, is generally an altitudinal migrant.  In the winter they descend to warmer elevations.  They can stick to some mid-elevations when Spring arrives, but come late-Spring they generally ascend back to higher ground.

It would be nice if they had at least one nesting attempt in the immediate vicinity.

Anyways, here is a female Phainopepla in all her glory and honor:

Rather than the silky black of the males, the females are a cool, smooth slate-gray.

Phainopepla diet consists of mistletoe berries and insects.  This morning's pair were moving about tree tops in the Gage Gardens.  While she was just hanging out, the male was actively fly-catching.

Not that she wasn't paying attention necessarily.  You don't want a dead-beat come nesting season.

Check out the prominent white wing patches in flight.  I have better photos of that particular characteristic elsewhere.  At this moment, he was fly-catching on the other side of this tree..

Phainopepla.  One of the many iconic species of the Big Bend region of far-West TX.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Davis Mountains in mid-February...

(19 February 2012)

... in a drought.
In total overcast cloud cover.
In no sun, and with sudden cool temps.

Target bird for a California birder staying in Ft. Davis:

Black-chinned Sparrow (Spizella atrogula)

Well, this is a non-optimal time of year.  They are quiet skulkers in small flocks in mid-Winter. Some having descended in elevation for the season, they hold to scrub-brush hillsides.  I prefer this task when they are singing in Spring.

Definitely, these were non-optimal weather conditions as well.

Nevertheless, this birder was passing through at this time of year and wanted this species to photograph.

Very well...

Black-chinned Sparrow
Success! These are photos I was able to glean.

Black-chinned Sparrow
Another couple of photos I took from the Davis Mountains, during yesterday's guiding:

White-breasted Nuthatch  (Sitta carolinensis)

Phainopepla (Phainopeple nitens)

I am fairly confident that this guest birder will also take memories of TWO up-close perching Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) with him.

These birds were both very much alive.
Some friends of mine and Heidi's will understand the meaning of that sentence.
Hey..., Year Bird!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Christmas Mountains Research Symposium

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) Christmas Mountains Oasis -- Matt York 22 October 2012
The most recent celebrity of the Christmas Mountains (and the Christmas Mountains Oasis) is the longest-staying record of Varied Thrush that the state of Texas has ever hosted. Tip o' the hat to Carolyn Ohl for pampering her guest so well that it surpassed the 4 month mark! This post is not about the Varied Thrush, though... it's about the Christmas Mountains Research Symposium. The information presents itself most effectively so, without further delay:

Christmas Mountains Research Symposium

May 13-15, 2013

Terlingua Ranch Headquarters, Brewster County, Texas

The objective of the Christmas Mountains Research Symposium is to increase the public and scientific understanding of the ecology, geology, culture, and history of the Chihuahuan Desert Ecosystem, spanning West Texas and Mexico on either side of the Rio Grande.

The two-day symposium will highlight research by students and faculty from universities in the Texas State University System, and welcomes contributions from researchers from other universities, federal, and state agencies, as well as residents of the region who have investigated various aspects of the region’s ecology, geology, culture and history.

The format will be 15-minute talks followed by 5 minutes of questions and discussion. Slides and powerpoint presentations will be supported, but are not required.

The symposium will begin with a Welcome Barbecue and Pool Party beginning at 7 pm. on Monday, May 13. Each of the two days will have a field trip in the morning, and presentations from 1 to 6 in the afternoon. The symposium will close with a steak dinner on the patio Wednesday Evening, May 15. Participants may wish to depart on Thursday, May 16, but are welcome to stay and spend more time exploring the area on their own. The $40 registration fee will cover the opening and closing dinners. All other meals are “on your own,” as well as any alcoholic beverages (wine and beer are served by the Bad Rabbit Cafe). Any local residents not planning to attend the opening and closing dinners may attend the symposium free of charge.

Those wishing to make a presentation should submit an abstract of the proposed talk by March 20, 2013. Abstracts will be evaluated by the symposium organizing committee and successful applicants will be notified by April 15. Abstracts must include the general topic (ecology, geology, culture, history), the title of the talk, the names of the authors, with the speaker listed first, and a description of the main points not to exceed 350 words (see attached example).

Accommodations at Terlingua Ranch include 32 motel-style cabin rooms (two double beds) at $68 per night for one person (check with for reservations and rates) , RV hookups at $20 or $24 per night, and camping at $5 per person per night. In addition, there are also Bed-and-Breakfast accommodations and cabin rentals in the area. A full-service restaurant is open on site 6:30am – 9:00pm daily (reduced hours on Sunday).

The Symposium is sponsored by the four universities of the Texas State University System: Texas State University, Sam Houston State University, Sul Ross State University, and Lamar State University.

Organizing Committee: Michael Huston, David Lemke, and Ivan Castro-Arellano, Texas State;
Kevin Urbanczyk, Sul Ross; Jerry Cook, Sam Houston; Jim Westgate, Lamar.

Abstracts should be sent by email (as Word Documents, or rtf) to Michael Huston,, no later than March 20, 2013.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hummingbirds along the Rio

Yesterday, 4 February 2013, I accompanied trans-Pecos Hummingbird guru, Kelly Bryan of West Texas Avian Research, Inc. and his often-assistant and mutual friend Carolyn Ohl-Johnson down to the river (Rio Grande/Bravo) to enjoy good company and hummingbirds in the hand.

The main objective for the morning was to explore a little further into how much turnover of Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) (ANHU) there is in south Brewster County.  Kelly has banded, captured, and re-captured an astonishing number of this species this winter and particularly into the new year.

The element far more intriguing is courtship displays of ANHU.  That is courtship displays of ANHU in the state of Texas.  An irregular wintering species in the trans-Pecos, this species is a year-round resident of California up the west coastal edge of the US, and also southern Arizona.  In California, as an example, they are already nesting.

In Texas, there are only three nesting records of ANHU; two in El Paso County and one in Jeff Davis County.

The highlight of the morning at this location was this guy. A new male on the scene:

Anna's Hummingbird, male, Second Year. 
not banded, so a new bird on the scene.

Second Year (SY) refers to the bird is now in its 2nd Calender Year of existence.

the same SY male bird.
Since the new calender year was only a month ago, this guy isn't exactly showing his full pinkish-red gorget (throat) feathers he will sport.

The genus Calypte is among other genera of "helmeted hummingbirds."

Those beautiful pink-red gorget feathers he will eventually completely molt into will also be seen covering the crown.
the crown simply means the top of the head.

Those adult crown feathers will be connected to the gorget by the same color pink-red feathers at the nape, "ears", and cheeks.

When he molts into his full adult-male plumage (at least regarding the feathers around the head), his entire head will be an iridescent pink-red.

The following two pics are of female ANHU:

Female Anna's Hummingbirds do attain iridescent pink-red gorget feathers.  However, they are restricted to a centralized spot at the center of the throat.

This is a picture of another female.  Her central gorget spot still has a ways to go.
In fact, this individual is a SY female bird.

Feathers are scales.  They are just modified scales.  Birds shed/drop old feather and those are replaced by new feathers.  That is a feather molt.

Primary or "flight" feathers are the outer feathers of the wing.  Though sometimes called "flight" feathers, they certainly are not the only ones responsible for the creation of lift.

Hummingbirds have 10 primaries.

Second Year ANHU molt all their primaries except for P9 and P10, the outer two.

Look at the outer two primary feathers.  In hummingbirds, these are P9 and P10.
They are a little more faded in color and worn than the others.  The color may not show in this photo due to light, but the wear is noticeable. The other eight primaries are new and pristine.

This is a wing of a SY (Second Year) Anna's Hummingbird.  All SY Anna's retain their outer two primary feathers, not molting them this go-around.

Anyways, the females at this particular site were recaptures.  The SY male was new and unbanded.

In fact, he chased a female off a feeder while at the same time we were urging him to work on his courtship display flight.  He did not.
He just returned to the feeder he won.  It happened to have a trap around it.

So, will there actually be another nesting record for Anna's Hummingbird in Texas?  Even an attempt?

I don't know.
But if you are down along the Rio Grande, it might be worth it to look up. (And brush up on any hummingbird identification first..)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Planning a 2013 trip? Important information!

Howdy, readers!

We have good news and better news and some general requests:
Good news - we're guiding, but you already knew that.
Better news - we're simultaneously trying to shuffle a new job, purchase a house and juggle about a dozen barrels of monkeys who are opening cans of worms. Please bear with us.

If you would like to contact us about guiding availability, PLEASE email us at or with the word "guiding" or "birding" somewhere in the subject line. Please reserve calling for last-minute and/or urgent requests. If we don't get back to your email within two days, the spam folder may be to blame (alternately, you may try h.trudell at or mwayork at as well).

Please also let us know if your schedule is firm or flexible; we may have more options mid-week than on weekends, but if we know far enough in advance, may be able to accommodate your schedule. If we're unavailable or booked at any given time, contact us anyway - if anyone cancels or we have last minute schedule changes, we'd be happy to accommodate you!

We're teaming up with Cameron Carver for the spring to help as many folks as possible; alternately, folks wishing to be guided in Big Bend National Park are encouraged to contact Mark Flippo of . We have similar pricing guidelines though we do not currently guide within the park - we do offer discounts for guiding within 15 miles of Marathon to avoid the fuel surcharges. Hotspots within 15 miles of Marathon include the Prairie Dog Town, Gage Gardens, Post Road/Post Park and other local gems, so it provides an economical option for folks wishing to brush up on regional birds before making the target runs to BBNP!

As of right now here's our Spring-Summer 2013 schedule, subject to change:

February -
Cameron - available, depending on schedule
Heidi - unavailable* (*drop a note in case plans change!)
Matt - unavailable*

March -
Cameron - available, depending on schedule
Steve Gross - available March 10-16
Heidi - available for local morning trips mid-week only, otherwise booked 10th-15th
Matt - unavailable*

April -  first half of the month is open; second half of the month is filling up quickly!
Cameron - available, depending on schedule
Heidi -  available for local morning trips mid-week only
Matt - unavailable*

May - first two weeks are booked for just about everyone, second half of the month is open!
Cameron - booked first week, otherwise available, depending on schedule
Heidi - available for local morning trips mid-week only, otherwise booked 5th-10th
Matt - booked 1st-15th

June - open

July - open

August - booked for the first two weeks

Thanks so much for trusting us with your wish lists, target birds, and general introductions to the region - it's been a great pleasure to help plan trips and assist with local information. We're looking forward to a birdy spring!

Happy trails,
-Heidi & Matt