Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lintneria what? Lintneria who?

Originally posted over at Seetrail; backdated here.

Yesterday, Heidi and I traveled to the Brewster County DPS/DMV in Alpine to get some affairs in order.
In the middle of the afternoon we came across a huge sphinx moth snoozing on the outward side of a window on the DPS building.

I was about to quickly write it off as a "surely" fairly common certain Ceratomia species;I was getting tired.
Heidi wasn't so sure of the assumption within my rapid response. "I don't know about that.."

I happened to have my camera in the truck on this trip. This is what I took these pictures with.
The only camera Heidi had was the one in her cell phone. She took some pictures nonetheless. In fact, the moth actually spread its forewings momentarily to give us a brief glimpse of the upper-side of its generally covered hindwings.

The photo that cinched, unanimously, the ID with some fairly knowledgeable folks in the lepidoptera world:


Lintneria istar, "Istar Sphinx" moth.

New species for us!
New genus for us!

What a team we are. What a balance. :-)
Thank goodness for Heidi.
Thank goodness for so many reasons..

And a bare-basics cellphone w/ camera.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Aplomado Falcons vs. Northern Harrier

Originally posted over at Seetrail; backdated here.

Finally, the video you've all been waiting for (even if you didn't know it!) ...three Aplomado Falcons chasing a young Northern Harrier. This is from September 4th around 7 pm. The drama lasted for a few minutes and the harrier was escorted out of the Aplo territory. I suggest having your volume all the way up to hear the little fellows.

[someday, there will be a video here]

Shadowboxing mantis footage might take a while ;-)

A quick personal update:
Yes, we really are moving to Marathon officially. This update is from Waco, because the internet here is amazing. We'll be on the road this weekend (so be extra nice to folks with U-Haul trailers!) and then it's back to making the house livable. One more coat of paint in the living room and two on the trim should do the trick. The kitchen is another story entirely though!

Edit: See? The video DOES exist!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

falcon finale

Originally posted over at Seetrail; backdated here.

Things have been busy lately between cleaning two houses and packing! So for the silence, we offer our apologies. It is at least with good news that we wrap up our ~2 months with Aplomado Falcons.

10 September - 93 showed up for dinner carrying his own small, unidentified snack.

8 September - 16, 95, H7, 93... two birds from Group I, two from Group III. 95 had been gone since 1 September, so it was a surprise to see him again.

Here are the final numbers for our groups - since most birds were at or just under 40 days when released, you can base "Age Last Seen" on that. Good news: pretty much anything over 61 days, in this case, counts as successful.

Group I - Released 10 July
Name / Sex Date Last Seen Age Last Seen
Green K8 / F 17 August 77 days
Red OK / M 28 August 89 days
Green 16 / M 8 September 99 days
Red 59 / M 11 July 40 days
Green 95 / M 8 September 98 days
Red 78 / M 11 July 40 days
Green 58 / M 30 August 90 days

Group II - Released 11 July
Name / Sex Date Last Seen Age When Last Seen
Red OP / M 11 July 40 days
Green K6 / F 24 July 56 days
Red C2 / F 13 August 71 days
Green 66 / M 15 July 42 days
Red 43 / M 15 July 42 days
Green 83 / M 4 August 62 days
Red 13 / M 11 July 38 days

Group III - Released 31 July
Name / Sex Date Last Seen Age When Last Seen
Red 93 / M 10 September 81 days
Green H7 / F 8 September 78 days
Green 32 / M 1 August 40 days
Red 24 / M 1 August 40 days
Green 15 / M 1 August 38 days

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Birding Marathon, TX

This is a brief overview of birding locations within a 15 minute drive of Marathon- as a general rule, each location should be given as much time as possible, with consideration to weather conditions and local activities (Gage Gardens, Marathon Motel and Post Park occasionally host events).

Click here for the 'bird conversion chart' of local species.

Listed in distance from the center of town (Hwy 90/Ave. D intersection):

Hwy 385 Prairie Dog Town (15 mins, 10 miles)
Post Park (10 mins, 5 miles)
Marathon Cemetery (~1/2 mile)
Top Street (~1/2 mile)
Marathon Motel Grounds (~1/8 mile)
Gage Gardens (~3 blocks)


Hwy 385 Prairie Dog Town
Located 10 miles north of the 385/Hwy 90 intersection, unmarked gravel pullout on both sides of the road.

Drive or walk the area and be alert to prairie dog burrows - they come right up to the road!

Look for Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagles, longspurs and mixed sparrow flocks in winter, Burrowing Owls in summer and various raptors year round.

Hazards: sun, wind, cold, heat, prairie dog holes.


Post Park
Located 5 miles south of Hwy 90 on Ave. D/Post Road - it's the main intersection in Marathon - stay left at the fork/dead end.

Walk the perimeter, the cottonwood/pecan grove, and along the pond.

Look for thrashers, wrens, towhees, and arid habitat loving sparrows along the fence line (note: the park is surrounded by private property, do NOT trespass!). Scan the pecan/cottonwood groves for owls, warblers, vireos and tanagers (latter two in summer only). Check the pond for Marsh Wrens, Lincoln's Sparrows and rails.

Hazards: sun, wind, cold, heat, occasional off-leash dogs.
Perks: bathrooms!


Marathon Cemetery
Located on the south side of Marathon, take Ave. D/Post Road just past the edge of town - there should be signs indicating the entrance road on the left.

Drive or walk the grounds slowly, but avoid the NW corner if driving due to narrow plantings and fence lines.

Look for Say's Phoebe, Black-throated Sparrows, meadowlarks and raptors year round, both nighthawks, and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in summer.

Hazards: sun, wind, cold, heat, burials.


"Top Street"
Located at the eastern end of North 8th Street (only a few blocks long), the road curves north and becomes an unpaved ranch road that dead ends after a few miles. The 'dead end' is a private ranch gate - DO NOT ENTER.

Drive or walk the road and listen for calling birds (as well as ranch trucks!) wear bright clothing in the evenings.

Look for Black-throated Sparrows, Cactus Wrens, Pyrrhuloxias, raptors year round. Note flocks of Lark Buntings and Brewer's Sparrows in winter, Cassin's Sparrows and both nighthawks in summer.

Hazards: sun, wind, cold, heat, ranch trucks, uneven terrain (4WD not required though).


Marathon Motel Grounds
Located on the very western edge of town, north of Hwy 90. (~1/8 mile west of Ave. D)
*Please tell office staff that you are birding!

Walk the courtyard and western fence line/pond area for best diversity.

Look for Canyon Towhees, Curve-billed Thrashers and Cactus Wrens year round, orioles, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Western Kingbirds in summer. Cave Swallows nest on the property along with Barn and Cliff Swallows in summer.

Hazards: sun, wind, cold, heat.
Perks: public bathrooms located near coin-operated washing machines.


Gage Gardens
Located one block south and ~three blocks east of Hwy 90/Ave D intersection.

Walk the paths or sit on benches that face feeders and/or water for good concentrations of birds. Be sure to check the back meadow as well (there's a bridge that connects it to the rest of the gardens).

Look for an abundance of diverse species year round. Waterfowl tend to lurk on the pond in the far east corner of the meadow and large flocks of wintering sparrows can be found on the back side of the gardens. Summer brings orioles and hummingbirds in addition to year-round residents.

Hazards: sun, wind, cold, heat, the paths are made of crushed glass - open shoes may result in cuts!
Perks: bathrooms are sometimes open!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bird 'Conversion' Chart

"I haven't seen a single Ladder-backed Woodpecker, I just keep hearing Downies!"

This 'conversion' chart stems from a comment overheard at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where there are no Downy Woodpeckers. In 2006, I led bird walks at Santa Ana and found myself reminding eastern birders that Texas is a whole new ballgame.

All of Texas is a funny place; it's where the bird life from the east meets west and north meets south. So this chart, geared mostly towards eastern US birders, will hopefully keep everyone on their toes. It's as simple as checking a white goose to see if it's Snow or Ross's, but on a regional level. Yes, Downy and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (and Red-bellies and Golden-fronts and the gnatcatchers) will potentially stump those who bird by ear.

This is by no means an official, 100% foolproof list; birds have wings and don't bother to check the range maps. But I hope it at least points you in the right direction!

If it looks/sounds like..... Make sure it's not..... Because.....

Mallard Mexican Mallard Mexican Mallard is expected
Turkey Vulture Zone-tailed Hawk Check every bird. Every time. Both absent in winter
Red-tailed Hawk Swainson's Hawk Swainson's in summer, Red-tail year round
Falcons Aplomado, Prairie, kestrel Report Aplomado sightings to The Peregrine Fund; they're reintroduced
Common Nighthawk Lesser Nighthawk Both present in summer; Lessers fly lower and seldom call
Chimney Swift White-throated Swift Chimneys should not be here
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Black-chinned Hummingbird ...or Rufous, or Anna's, or Broad-tailed, or...
Red-bellied Woodpecker Golden-fronted Woodpecker Red-bellied should not be here
Say's Phoebe Vermillion Flycatcher Don't laugh, female/young Vermillions have been mistaken before
Great-crested or Brown-crested Flycatcher Ash-throated Flycatcher Ash-throated are summer residents, others are accidental
Western Kingbird Cassin's Kingbird Both are summer residents
Cliff Swallow Cave Swallow Cliffs may be abundant, but Caves are mixed in with them
Common Raven Chihuahuan Raven Both are present; larger size and deeper voice separate Common
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Both present; Black-tails prefer dry scrub habitat in summer
Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler Myrtle shouldn't be here
Summer Tanager Hepatic Tanager Just in case - especially in the mountains
Scarlet Tanager Vermillion Flycatcher Any Scarlet Tanager requires photo documentation!
Northern Cardinal Pyrrhuloxia Both present; look for Northern Cardinal in riparian habitats
Buntings Indigo, Varied, Painted Females will be frustrating, but definitely check all males!
Sparrows Every Sparrow, Every Time Beware: Cassin's, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, Clay-colored, Brewer's, Field, Vesper, Lark, Black-throated, Lark Bunting, Savannah, Grasshopper, Song, Lincoln's, White-crowned... and more!
Eastern Meadowlark Western Meadowlark Both are present; listen to voice for ID
Common Grackle Brewer's Blackbird Check for Red-winged and Yellow-headed, but in winter, Brewer's is default - Common grackles are rare!
Brown-headed Cowbird Bronzed Cowbird Both occur, Bronzed only in summer
Orioles Orchard, Bullock's, Scott's Summer residents; Hooded is a possibility as well
American Goldfinch Lesser Goldfinch Both occur; American in winter, listen for a slurred call for Lesser

For bonus 'stump the birder' festivities, check out our "Large Brown Bird" post at SeeTrail. And keep in mind that exotic birds also occasionally fall into the description trap... emu, anyone?