Sunday, June 30, 2013

Latest Publicly Released Statement on Polygonia haroldi Discovery

(This reply from Rich is in reference to a question about lack of publicity over the discovery of Polygonia haroldi in the Davis Mts, as seen in our earlier post.)

11:05PM  29 June 2013
via the TX-Butterfly list-serv:

Actually, I think there has been a fair bit of comment on it, just not on this listserv.  There are just so many forums to post stuff to nowadays.  I think the initial post, which was to get confirmation on the ID, was on a NABA forum.  Anyway, because the Spotless Comma was found on private land, the observers have been inclined towards vagueness about the locality of the sighting.  I can be a bit more specific.  Despite what the AP Press reported (they did a story of several rare Davis Mountains critter sightings and mistakenly stated that the comma was at Davis Mountains State Park), the comma was actually found in the high country (near 8000') on The Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve.  Apparently, the sighting did generate a fair bit of interest, but we (TNC) don't really have a good handle on that interest as most of the queries were directed at Dr. Hoyt, the researcher from the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute who actually found the comma and initially posted about it.  So, I am not sure how much interest there was/is in chasing the comma, possibly collecting it, or whatever.  Anyway, the comma or I should say commas, have now been seen for about a month now.  We have actually confirmed multiple individuals and a courtship flight has been observed.  Their host plant (Ribes) is available in the mountains.  According to "A Swift Guide Butterflies of Mexico and Central America", Polygonia haroldii is a bug of pine-oak forest and, until now, it was known to range as far north as the Sierra del Carmen just south of Big Bend.  This sort of begs several questions - are these just vagrants, recent colonists, an overlooked/undiscovered until now member of the local butterfly fauna? The site where the commas are being seen is not totally inaccessible (though not necessarily easily accessible), but it is also in an area with sensitive habitat and several rare plants and we do have some concern about potential impacts to that habitat and those plants.


Richard Kostecke, Ph.D.
The Nature Conservancy
318 Congress Ave., Austin, Texas 78701
Email: or

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Arachnis zuni - I'm lichen it.

Kudos to Rich Kostecke for digging up the ID while I stared at Halysidota in a sleep deprived stupor, wondering why none of them were gray...

Matt and I had the opportunity to blacklight on the Davis Mountains Preserve, a property that The Nature Conservancy manages; it is worthy of many, many posts on its own. After two years of drought and fire and exceptionally hot and cold weather, we were not quite sure what to expect in terms of bird or bug life, but, again, each topic could have many, many posts. Officially, we were along to help with a nocturnal pollination project that the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute is running.

The highlight of Thursday night (27 June) was a very, very worn Arachnis zuni moth. Powell and Opler (Moths of Western North America) list them as a one-flight moth; May - August being their expected flight months.

The not-quite-highlight of Friday morning (28 June) was another, less worn, female A. zuni. She, unfortunately, was squished. Very gravid, and squished.

A. zuni does show sexual dimorphism; males have white hind wings (with a hint of orange) while females have very bright orange hind wings with bold, black markings.

Earlier in the week, Rich Kostecke had found A. zuni in the same area where we found ours - his was also female.

The patterning on A. zuni certainly looked familiar, but in the absence of a photo of A. zuni on an appropriately patterned rock, y'all will have to settle for a photo of a rock. Should have thought to put the moth on it for kicks; looks like a good spot for a lichen-patterned moth to loiter.

This is a rock. It has lichen on it. No moths to see here.

For comparison, here are our two A. zuni; very lichen-y in pattern. Variable markings and differences in wear make individuals somewhat easy to tell apart. These gals have had quite an exciting life, if the tattered wings are any indication. Frayed wing tips, loss of wing scales... life's not easy for a moth.

Arachnis zuni, female, 27 June 2013
Arachnis zuni, female, 28 June 2013

The 27 June individual took a long time to settle down at the lights, but was then quite cooperative. Only one shot of the abdomen even remotely turned out, so it is included for comparison's sake.

Arachnis zuni, female, 27 June 2013

Arachnis zuni, female, 27 June 2013

Our early morning find on the 28th had more white on the wings, less white on the abdomen, and, unfortunately, a whole pile of eggs that never made it to host plants. It's not unusual for moths in the wee hours of the morning to be somewhat unresponsive, but after nudging this individual off of a leaf, I was not expecting to see eggs when I flipped her over.

Arachnis zuni, female, 28 June 2013

Arachnis zuni, female, 28 June 2013 - note the ruptured abdomen with visible eggs

There's much more to be blogged from the evening, and plenty of catching up to do from earlier in the month; exciting news is in the works! For more information, check out Arachnis zuni, Hodges #8150, on Moth Photographers Group and the A. zuni page on!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Exciting Discoveries Return to the Davis Mountains.

Photo © Mark Lockwood

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
As one of the enigmatic species of North America, one does not always go out to see a Long-eared Owl (LEOW).
The LEOW finds you.  It is up to the bird.

Recently, in the Davis Mountains (no more specific than that for a few valid reasons), TWO nests belonging to LEOW were discovered.  Two nests and nestlings.  Quite the discovery!
Have LEOW had prior, even annual, nesting in these mountains, only revealed post-fires?

It would seem the last nesting record of this species in Texas was in 1996 from Amarillo.

Excellence number two:

                                                           Photo © Cathryn Hoyt                                                                  
Spotless Comma/Anglewing (Polygonia haroldii)

This individual was recently discovered in the Davis Mountains by Dr. Cathy Hoyt.
This is THE FIRST U.S. RECORD for this species.

Is this butterfly a lone ranger, perhaps blown to this location by south winds?
Is there actually an isolated population of the species, uncovered only now post-fires?

Amazing, intriguing, stuff.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Flame-colored Tanager via Colima Death March

 A bit of background: 6 May, Flame-colored Tanager was reported near the junction of Boot and Juniper trails by Mark Flippo, retired BBNP staff who continues to remain designated Trail Ninja. It has been seen/sort-of-seen almost daily since then. Our first attempt was on 28 May. It's funny, claiming the Colima Death March (traditionally a combination of Pinnacles or Laguna Meadows trails to Colima Trail... and back) in the name of a non-Colima. While we did trot past ~5 singing Colima Warblers on our way up Pinnacles (the steeper and more grueling, but shorter of the approaches), our goal was the same as it was last time... Flame-colored Tanager. "Heard-only" is a heck of a foot note for such a gorgeous bird, but that's what it was. So we had to give it another try. In late June. Because we are masochists and that's what our schedule allowed.

Colima Warbler before sun reached our slope.

Boot Canyon itself is listed as 'strenuous' but fails to mention 'grueling' in the description! Our traditional approach ends up being something like 11-12 miles round trip. Boot Canyon, as a trail, is not bad at all. But you have to GET to it first! Darn the Pinnacles...

Flame-colored Tanager, 21 June 2013

This time we were able to make it out of Marathon before 5 am and hit the trail just before 6:30 am. We scooted past Hutton's Vireo (food carrying), singing and snacking Colima Warblers, Canyon Wrens falling/chasing each other down a cliff face, and begging/parent-chasing White-throated Swifts. Nearing the end of the trek, we were graced by the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Bird Counts Past: Ron Weeks. Also, the Ghost of Gulf Coast Birding Past: Brad Lirette. Having not seen either of them in roughly 10 years, it was a very hasty but pleasant reunion (and introduction to Matt) as they graciously backtracked up the trail to show us the spot where we'd waited for hours last time: instead of sticking to the ridge line, however, the female Western Tanager and male Flame-colored Tanagers were staying mid-canopy along the trail!

Golden Banded-Skipper (Autochton cellus)

Butterflies were definitely out as well: Arizona Sister, Two-tailed Swallowtail, Lyside Sulphur, American Snout, Varigated Fritillary, Gulf Fritillary, Golden-banded Skipper, Juniper Hairstreak, etc.

Painted Redstart adult, preening.

In addition to the flame-colored proverbial icing on the cake, we shared the morning with a cluster of Painted Redstarts, Black-crested Titmice feeding young, singing Colima Warblers, singing Black-headed Grosbeaks, singing Hepatic Tanagers, fly-by Summer Tanagers, one Band-tailed Pigeon, groups of Mexican Jays, a pair of Dusky-capped Flycatchers, a Cordilleran Flycatcher, some Hutton's Vireos, a female Lucifer Hummingbird, and a smattering of other high-elevation goodies.
As we were leaving the park, we stopped at Panther Junction on social rounds and were given directions to a hybrid agave/lechuguilla... but that may be a plant for another post!

Click here for the eBird list from Boot Canyon, and here for the eBird list from Pinnacles Trail.

Here's another pile of Flame-colored goodness, all heavily cropped:

Flame-colored Tanager, 21 June 2013

Flame-colored Tanager, 21 June 2013

Flame-colored Tanager, 21 June 2013

Flame-colored Tanager, 21 June 2013

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tricolored Heron, Post Park

This morning, after kicking up some interesting waterfowl* at the ponds SW of town, Matt and I headed over to Post Park. I quickly lost myself in documenting some moths** that turned up at the light in the little shelter at the corner of the dance 'slab' and Matt promptly found a Tricolored Heron! I was able to get a few poorly lit shots of the 'trike' before we left it.

Tricolored Heron, Post Park, Brewster Co. 20 June 2013 -

* first = streaky, female-looking Gadwall... with black rump. So, male in not-quite-eclipse?
* second = male Redhead that had a very dark bill - nonbreeding, very distinctive

** likely our latest ever Apotolype brevicrista

Apotolype brevicrista - usually a visitor in March and early April!

Texas Bird Records Committee (TBRC) Reviewed Jan.- June 2013

via Eric Carpenter of TBRC

**trans-Pecos in BOLD 

TBRC Members, Observers & Record Submitters, and other interested parties,

Below is a summary of the records that the Texas Bird Records
Committee (TBRC) has reviewed and voted on thus far in 2013.

The highlight of this batch of records is the acceptance of the first
state record of Black-tailed Godwit, bringing the official state list
to 639!

Accepted Records (27):

2012-74 - Red-necked Grebe (1), 4 December 2012, White Rock Lake, Dallas County
2012-60 - Great Shearwater (1), 31 August 2012, Wright Patman Lake, Cass County
2012-54 - Great Shearwater (1), 10 August 2012, Padre Island NS - mile 1, Kleberg County
2012-55 - Brown Booby (1), 25 August - 3 September 2012, Canyon Lake Dam, Comal County
2012-56 - Brown Booby (1), 29-30 August 2012, Lynchberg Ferry, Harris County
2012-64 - Brown Booby (1), 29 September 2012, Lynchberg Ferry, Harris County
2012-68 - Northern Jacana (1), 3 November 2012, Pintail Lake, Santa Ana NWR, Hidalgo County
2012-45 - Black-tailed Godwit (1), 4 June - 13 August 2012, Brazoria NWR, Brazoria County
2013-03 - Purple Sandpiper (1), 24 November 2012, Baytown, Harris County
2012-67 - Red Phalarope (1), 27-30 October 2012, Hagerman NWR, Grayson County
2012-69 - Red Phalarope (1), 31 October 2012, Balmorhea Lake, Reeves County
2012-61 - Heermann's Gull (1), 24 September 2012, Tornillo Reservoir, El Paso County
2012-70 - Mew Gull (1), 27 October 2012, Delta Lake, Hidalgo County
2012-80 - Long-tailed Jaeger (1), 1 December 2012, Texas City Dike, Galveston County
2012-62 - Ruddy Ground-Dove (1), 5-18 October 2012, Crescent Bend Nature Park, Bexar County
2012-49 - White-collared Swift (1), 3 July 2012, along Galveston seawall, Galveston County
2012-77 - Costa's Hummingbird (1), 24 December 2012 - 3 February 2013, El Paso, El Paso County
2013-07 - Costa's Hummingbird (1), 14-20 January 2013, Study Butte, Brewster County
2013-09 - Costa's Hummingbird (1), 29 December 2012 - 26 January 2013, Kerrville, Kerr County
2012-73 - Costa's Hummingbird (1), 7-17 November 2012, Christmas Mountains, Brewster County
2012-46 - Buff-breasted Flycatcher (1), 26 April - 15 July 2012, Davis Mountains Preserve, Jeff Davis County
2012-76 - Fork-tailed Flycatcher (1), 15-26 December 2012, near McKinney Falls SP, Travis County
2012-66 - Varied Thrush (1), 20 October 2012 - 19 March 2013, Christmas Mountains, Brewster County (our posts are here and here)

2012-82 - Rufous-capped Warbler (1-2), 22 April - 27 May 2012, Chalk Bluff Park, Uvalde County
2012-59 - Slate-colored Fox Sparrow (1), 20-27 September 2012, El Paso, El Paso County
2013-01 - Pine Grosbeak (1), 30 December 2012, upper Dog Canyon, GMNP, Culberson County
2013-04 - Evening Grosbeak (4), 27-31 October 2012, Davis Mts Resort, Jeff Davis County

Not Accepted Records (6):

2013-08 - Masked Duck (2), 22 December 2012, Santa Ana NWR, Hidalgo County
2013-13 - American Flamingo (4), 13 January 2013, Santa Ana NWR, Hidalgo County
2012-71 - Northern Goshawk (1), 21 November 2012, se. of Lockett,
Wilbarger County
2012-52 - Long-toed Stint (1), 5 August 2012, Hagerman NWR, Grayson County
2012-53 - Brown Noddy (1), 4 August 2012, Lake Tanglewood, Randall County
2011-06 - Vaux’s Swift (1), 9 August 2009, Mitchell Lake, Bexar County

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Gearing up for National Moth Week!

We're one month away from National Moth Week! This year it is July 20-28, and, as was the case last year, we'll probably be out of town for the last few days of the event. Sadness. Then again, blacklights *do* travel well...

Folks who follow this blog know that we are no strangers to moths. Roughly a quarter of our blog posts tend to be about moths (click here for our moth tagged posts) - only birds outrank them because, well, sometimes we like to sleep.

In fact, this post would have been up a few days ago if we hadn't been chasing a bird back to back with returning a work vehicle, wrangling three jobs back to back and blacklighting in Fort Davis in the middle of it all! A post from the Mountain Trails Lodge (on the southern edge of Fort Davis, Jeff Davis Co -- here's their Facebook page) is in the works - in spite of rain, there was a good showing at the lights by 5 am. On some nights it's just better to go sleep and let the lights work their magic...

** Please note, we have been compensated for our blacklighting work with the Mountain Trails Lodge, but in the name of amazing food and clean, well organized, pet-friendly lodging on a bird and bug friendly property... yes. We should probably be paying them to let us blacklight there, but they're blacklighting friendly if you have your own rig!

Anyway, between July 20-25 we do anticipate doing some blacklighting - probably here in Marathon - in the name of National Moth Week; it may overlap with blacklighting options for this summer's Entomology class through Sul Ross State University and it may end up being partnered with either the Marathon Public Library, Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, or the Mountain Trails Lodge... but one way or another, there will be bugs!

To find an event in your area - or to create one - check out!
Also, they're on Facebook as National Moth Week, and on Twitter, @Moth_Week.

Hope to see y'all at the blacklights!

Monday, June 17, 2013

A funny thing happened...

15 June 2013

...on the afternoon I returned home from 3 months of fieldwork that took me away from our region.
This happened:

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes luteiventris)

That afternoon, Heidi texted me about a likely Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (SBFL) down at Carolyn Ohl-Johnson's Christmas Mountains Oasis in south Brewster County.

By the time Heidi returned home, we were both dead-tired for a variety of reasons.  However, there were several hours of daylight remaining.  We meant to get down there first thing tomorrow.  However, tomorrow is never promised, nor is the bird.

We hopped in the truck and, fatigue-enduring, drove the distance down to Carolyn's.

No more than 10 minutes on-site brought us this:

WOW. A beautiful SBFL, entirely active in foraging, fly-catching right in front of us on the trail.  Heidi spotted it first.  I have found it very beneficial to have a birder-spouse who is a foot shorter than I.

While this individual seems to be the 21st record in Texas, it is ONLY the 2nd trans-Pecos Regional record. It is certainly still a Texas Bird Records Committee (TBRC) review species. Rest assured, field notes were taken along with these photos.

We enjoyed beautifully entertaining views, off and on, during a 45 minutes observation of this individual.
We were fortunate that we did tear our carcasses off the couch in Marathon and headed down to south county.
Divine inspiration, perhaps.

Because the following day, this bird was not relocated. It is HIGHLY likely that it has moved on.

You just never know when it comes to birding the Big Bend area of far-West Texas. Thanks so much for Carolyn Ohl-Johnson and her years of dedication to create and maintain an excellent habitat in south Brewster County. Check out her 'blog at It is worth it to follow and subscribe to her posts.

Find your way down there, and I guarantee it is worth the price of a non-obligatory donation.
She and her oasis are icons of Texas and Big Bend birding.
What rarity will be next? It doesn't entirely matter, as even her expected resident birds are excellent and sought after.

Whew. Welcome home me, I guess. And thanks to Carolyn.

**photos taken mostly by Heidi Trudell. My only interference with them is some of the cropping for framing in a blog.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

West Texas Trip via Sue Heath

Reposted with permission from Sue:

West Texas Trip

Jun 9


Tom Morris, Tad Finnell and myself just returned from a quick West Texas trip where we had a fantastic time and got most of our target species. We started on Friday afternoon at Carolyn Ohl-Johnson's fantastic Christmas Mountains Oasis where we were treated to several Lucifer Hummingbirds, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Blue Grosbeaks, House Finches, Painted Buntings and a male Varied Bunting coming to the feeders. It was a rainbow of western bird color! After a few hours there we moved onto Big Bend National Park. We stopped at the picnic area along TX 118 near Elephant Mountain and enjoyed a family of Vermilion Flycatchers, singing Bell's Vireos, and a Cassin's Kingbird (our target for the stop). In Study Butte we stopped at the gas station and had the biggest, cheapest ice cream cones any of us can remember. Excellent on a hot day! In the park we went straight to Panther Junction and then up to The Basin. We only had time to walk around a little bit but we found Scott's Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Mexican Jays, Cactus Wrens, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Say's Phoebe, and of course Canyon Towhees. A pair of Say's Phoebes have a nest on top of one of the light fixtures that you can see from the lodge restaurant with three chicks. It was very fun watching them while we were eating.

The next morning we started at 5:00 and headed up the Pinnacles Trail. Around 5:40 we heard our first Mexican Whip-poor-will and 10 minutes later, as predicted by Greg Lavaty who we ran into at Carolyn's, several were singing around us at the large pine tree laying along the side of the trail. We hiked on and soon the Black-headed Grosbeaks started singing and then the Mexican Jays moved in clearly looking for a hand out. We did not indulge them. I made that mistake once before and they followed us for miles. Once we got to the switchbacks we started seeing the mountain species. Canyon Wrens singing from the cliff faces, White-throated Swifts and Violet-green Swallows chittering and soaring overhead, Acorn Woodpeckers making their raucous calls. It was great! A Band-tailed Pigeon winged by and a Spotted Towhee zoomed by clearly not happy we were invading his territory. The Cordilleran Flycatchers got going and we found our first Colima Warbler. Somewhere in there we were passed by two hikers, I jokingly said they could find the tanager and have it staked out for us as they passed. We reached the Emory Peak trail about 8:20 and were glad for the level trail onward to Boot Springs. As the boot came into view a Zone-tailed Hawk soared by. More Violet-green Swallows and some Common Ravens. We arrived at The Spot about 9:10 and the hikers were there and indeed had the bird all staked out. Within 10 minutes we had seen the Flame-colored Tanager and a couple young Painted Redstarts. We hung around and saw an adult Painted Redstart and several Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Hutton's Vireo and White-breasted Nuthatches. We also saw the female Western Tanager with the Flame-colored Tanager in tow. Fantastic!

We headed back down about 10:30 and got Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Bushtits on our way down. It was a really great trip and I thank everyone who gave us advice and also the hikers for hanging around until us slow folks could get there to see the birds.


Susan A. Heath, PhD
Gulf Coast Bird Observatory
103 Hwy 332 West
Lake Jackson, TX 77566

Thursday, June 6, 2013

New place; familiar faces

And, just as it is when you see your elementary school teachers outside of the classroom, you simply can't figure out how they got to where you are. They live in their habitat - the school. Awkward.

Well, I do recognize these faces. I even remember a few of their names, or parts of their names, or their nicknames. Some of them. This morning I did try to jog the brain on their IDs. But mostly, I spent the early morning taking their photos, gawking, taking more photos, gawking, and taking more photos. Then I locked myself (and the dogs) out of the house, with no phone. At 6 am. Guess I didn't actually need to eat breakfast anyway.

My neighbors are saints. Truly. The old house was easy enough to break into; the new one is a veritable fortress. So by 7 am I was back inside, thanks to neighbors across town with a spare key.

First and second nights of 'hit the switch and go to bed' blacklighting were last night and the night before. First 'stay up and wait' blacklighting attempt with guests and whatnot was early last month. I got a Kissing Bug / Triatoma bite as a souvenir from that one. Remember, kids: DO. NOT. SCRATCH. Do not rub, do not pat, do not wipe... embrace the burn and rinse thoroughly with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. The throbbing stops after about an hour. You'll survive. Unless you get a lump at the site of the bite about 24 hrs later... in that case you Google "early treatment" and "Chagas disease" and cross your fingers.

Anyway, back to those familiar faces:

 Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis) 5 June 2013

Walnut Sphinx was a newcomer late in our time at the DBR; I recall only two individuals that showed up on one occasion. Striking creatures, quite memorable in spite of diminutive size (compared to our 'regular' White-lined and Western Poplar Sphinxes!)

 Policocnemis ungulatus 5 June 2013

Fun fact: all five images of Policocnemis ungulatus on are from either the Double Bacon Ranch (our former yard) or our new yard.

Datana spp.
Datana 'spuh' - these are lovely dead leaves. Or maybe broken bits of branches. Whatever it is they look like, they're not ideal for the dyslexic: Datana, Nadata, and Natada are all anagrams for each other and they're all moth genera named by one particular Francis Walker. (bugguide, wiki)
...thankfully we've only had Datana to contend with thus far, and they're tricky enough!

And now for a smattering of Tripudia luxuriosa:

Tripudia luxuriosa... what's in a name? A luxurious tri-pointed moth?

Poorly cropped and badly lit or not, they are wonderful little tic-tac sized moths whose depth of coloration and intricacy of pattern are really quite marvelous when examined closely. Rarely does one ever show up appearing worn, tattered, or otherwise less than pristine.

Their patterning seems to vary a good bit, and Tripudias in general can get confusing, but as a group they are quite fun to pick through. There are not so many as to be entirely overwhelming but just enough to be engaging.

....and we still haven't even made it to the brightly colored bugs! Perhaps Pygarctia will need their own post, once again, due to such an amazing showing on the morning of the 6th. At least one P. neomexicana was among several P. flavidorsalis with at least one P. rosicapitis.

Oh, and a new face at the lights:

Southern Purple Mint Moth  (Pyrausta laticlavia) 5 June 2013

Small photo to attempt to mask the horrible focus - the first Southern Purple Mint Moth (One-eyed, one-antennad Flying Purple Mint-plant-eater?) that I've been consciously aware of...

Good morning, Marathon.

Pre-dawn in Marathon, 5 June 2013

Sunday, June 2, 2013

BBNP and Flame-colored post

Flame-colored Tanager update and Big Bend National Park trip summary on Cameron Carver's blog post over at The Painted Bunny. We owe him a Hooded Oriole for such a great post!

(all tags here reflect the content of his post)

Matt's write-up from a few days later is here.

Relocated Pronghorn Antelope

A few photos of Pronghorn Antelope from Charmaine Ganson, taken east of Marathon along Hwy 90 on 24 April 2013. At least two of the group are radio collared as part of a Borderlands Research Institute / Sul Ross State University project. Details pending!