Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This week in Brewster Co.

This is something of a week report (generated by eBird) but numbers were scrambled with their less than blog-friendly format... you can see where this is going! So here it is: species only, with unusual birds in bold.

Most sightings are from Rio Grande Village, a few from Boquillas Canyon and the entry road to BBNP from Persimmon Gap (the north side). Dates primarily include Sunday, Nov. 28 and Tuesday, Nov. 30th. Had the northern side of the county been included, Allen's Hummingbird would be on the eBird list as well, it's visiting a feeder in Marathon.

Mallard (Mexican)
Scaled Quail
Horned Grebe
Black Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
American Kestrel
White-winged Dove
Inca Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Anna's Hummingbird
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Tufted Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Common Raven
Brown Creeper
Cactus Wren
Rock Wren
Bewick's Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
American Pipit
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Canyon Towhee
Black-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch


Common Mestra
Variegated Fritillary
Texan Crescent
Reakirt's Blue
Fatal Metalmark
Checkered White
Orange Sulphur
Tawny Emperor
Common Buckeye
Tropical Buckeye
Dainty Sulphur
Western Pygmy Blue
Vanessa sp

Desert Cottontail

Edit: Allen's Hummingbird photos upon request (HY male).

Hopefully better pics soon to come...

Tufted Flycatcher Nov. 30

EDIT: Video is up! Click here.

This morning (Tues, Nov. 30, 2010) we arrived at Daniels Ranch at 7:15 and split up to cover more ground; each with radio in hand, we covered from the adobe/mud brick house all the way to the eastern edge of the grove nearest to the RVs. A fellow from IN showed up a bit later and thankfully had a radio as well, so we were all in communication.

Matt located the Tufted Flycatcher at 8:05 and radioed to the rest of us as more birders converged in the vicinity (Peggy and RP, on their third TUFL watch). Another set of fellows from Austin/Bastrop joined us almost as soon as the bird was found and we were all able to watch and photograph it until our group dispersed an hour later. It was foraging in the cottonwood grove between the river and the road in the corner closest to the old adobe-style (mud brick?) ranch house. The grove is not to be confused with the picnic area just adjacent to the house, however.

Blogger keeps eating the video - three tries now - but to tide you over until the video gets sorted out:

Edit 2: other sightings from the park this week have now been posted here.

For continued NARBA updates, click here.

Edit 3: Shaky tufted awesome.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rarities in the sidebar

A thought that had been in the works has been scooted into motion: our blog sidebar now has a 'regional rarity' feature (if you're reading this via RSS feed, you'll have to click over to the blog).

This was prompted by the first second Texas record for Tufted Flycatcher since the initial documentation in 1991. For up-to-date reports on the critter, NARBA is detailing reports and many folks are posting their sightings on Texbirds as well.

Until next time:

NARBA's link to Matt VanWallene's photos - kudos to him for immediately reporting a bird not in his field guide! He spotted it on Nov. 21, and it was confirmed by the 23rd.

Carolyn Ohl's post and photo

...we missed the flycatcher on Sunday afternoon and will be trying again on Tuesday morning. Fantastic things show up in your own back yard, you just have to be out of state for it to happen, no? =)


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Two among the flighted

One, about to begin its initial ascent.
The other, stuck perhaps its final descent.

November butterflies are great. It can get darn cold in the evenings here in the high-desert grassland fall. It can be incredibly windy in the far of West Texas.
No matter for the fragile cold-blooded.

They remain.

I came across a Theona Checkerspot (Chlosyne theona) individual just entering its adult stage.

This butterfly's wings are wrinkled because it recently emerged. Its wings are still drying, warming, and blood reaching the veins.

The previous night was in the low 30s. Amazing. Newly reached adulthood in mid-November and found a small patch of sun under an Acanthus.

**By the way, I safely removed it only momentarily, then responsibly put it back**

In the end, I put it back where I found it; on that small patch of sun under a little shrub. It shook it wings vigorously from time to time. Eventually, it smoothed out the final wrinkled tip of a forewing.

Welcome to the world of flight; cold-blooded friend. Welcome to late November.

Now to an individual that has known this world. A world growing colder....

Tropical Leafwing (Anaea aidea)
An excellent butterfly species whose under sides resemble dead leaves; they are fond of crotons as young-ins.

This individual was very worn. The photos mask the fraying in the wings. Though, we can see through a section of missing wing, exposing a peek at the bright-orange upper-side of the opposite wing.

Leafwings rarely visit flowers, preferring tree sap, mud, and rotting fruit. There is sap on this juniper and we hang old fruit in a mesh bag from this location.

Interestingly, we first found this old bug proboscis-deep in our hummingbird feeder.

Two insects teetering on opposite ends of a flighted adult stage. I wonder what wisdom and sage advice this old leafwing might communicate to the young checkerspot. Or the young to the old?

Perhaps only that it is nice to have sun in November.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trans-Pecos Christmas Bird Counts

The 'Christmas Bird Count' or CBC is a long tradition (see wiki link here) among birders. Perks? It encourages birding during an under-birded time of year as well as covering areas that aren't always included in casual birding. It's essentially a citizen-based bird census that takes place all over the continent between December 14th and January 5th.

Why not celebrate the New Year in a gorgeous part of the state while contributing to science? CBCs are great for people with all levels of bird interest - there's ample opportunity to learn and just because you can't identify them doesn't mean you can't spot them! Also, note-takers are in high demand (without notes, what data have you got?)

For more CBCs check out Houston Audubon's list of Texas Christmas Bird Counts for 2010-2011

In the Big Bend region, we've got a few to CBCs consider:

Sat. Dec. 18 - Davis Mountains

Sun. Dec. 19 - Balmorhea

Contact for both: Marty Hansen, birdsinflight/at/mac.com

Tues. Dec. 28 - Chisos Basin (Big Bend National Park)
Meet at 7:30 am in the visitor center, reconvene in the evening at the Panther Junction auditorium (around 6:00 PM) to compile the day's counts , pay registration fees, and prepare for the next day count.

Weds. Dec. 29 - Rio Grande Village (Big Bend National Park)
Meet at 7:30 am at the Rio Grande Village store. Meet again at Panther Junction auditorium to compile the list in the evening.

Contact for both BBNP counts: Mark Flippo, Mark_R_Flippo/at/nps.gov

Sat. Jan. 1 - Guadalupe Mountains
It is worth noting the dire situation for the Guadalupe Mountains CBC:

We have tried to set our count as the last Saturday of the count period every year so that people can routinely make plans. We would welcome the help. Several of our routine participants have died, moved away, aged to the point of not being able to do the hiking, etc., so I have been crying for help over the past couple of years. In the winter some of the park apartments or RV pads are vacant and I can usually offer a place to stay for $8 a person a night so participants can be here at dawn. Stay in touch and let me know if you or others can join us so I can pre-assign coverage areas. Thanks.
Contact: Fred Armstrong, Fred_Armstrong@nps.gov

Note on dates:
Counts used to start on the "second Saturday in December" and then it was changed to Dec. 14 regardless of day, causing a lot of conflict in areas that have many counts but not enough birders to go around! So when living on the Upper Texas Coast, I could do nearly 20 counts in one season because of ample weekend counts - when the dates changed and counts started to overlap, I was only able to do maybe eight. With only five counts out here, I sure hope there's good attendance!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Metalmarks (family Riodinidae)
"Scintillant" Metalmarks (genus Calephelis)

Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis)
Hmmm, ... species name is nemesis. Makes me wonder if the original voucher hunter saw it, looked down to get his or her glasses, looked back and could not find it again; at least for awhile.

"Scintillant" metalmarks are quite small butterflies. Usually only one, perhaps a second, in large expanses of nectar sources. If in the shadow of a leaf, probably passed by. Spotted by the casual observer, likely thought to be a boring little brown bug.

However, if one has the opportunity to look closer. Closer, still...
They have a narrow but amazing blue-silver metallic postmedian and submarginal band.

"Common", though possibly often missed, from the southern half of Arizona to the southwestern half of Texas. They are some of the more difficult butterflies to identify. Thankfully, I guess.., (C. nemesis) is the only scintillant we get in the Big Bend Region. However, if you think you have found a different species, show me...

Fatal Metalmark with a "Cuckoo Wasp"(family Chrysididae)

Incidentally, Cuckoo wasps make up a family of small, metallic wasps. They are sting-less, by the way. They are mostly parasites in the nests of other wasps or bees.

A final flight of adults before the cold snap? ...

"For whom the bell tolls, time marches on" - Metallica, Ride the Lightening, some year back before they cut their hair and went soft. You know, the good years.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hummingbird banding in Marathon

...in November!

Today, Wednesday, we hosted bander Kelly Bryan (of West Texas Hummingbirds) who was assisted by Carolyn Ohl of the Christmas Mountains Oasis. At 9 AM the trap was set up and within 10 minutes, the female Anna's was in hand. Before the end of the hour, the latest documented Black-chinned Hummingbird (also female) was banded and on its way!

From Kelly's e-mail prior to the banding:

There are no records beyond Oct 29 for Black-chinned and Oct 31 for Ruby-throats; however I do have two winter records for Ruby-throat (Dec for one and Jan through April for the other). ... So far I have banded 58 Anna's this fall and the last BCHU was Oct 17 and the last RTHU was Oct 4.

For those unfamiliar with banding code:
BCHU = Black-chinned Hummingbird
RTHU = Ruby-throated Hummingbird

So it goes without saying that we're thrilled to be a part of Kelly's banding research. We're even more excited that we didn't lure him all the way out here and not have a decent record for him. November 10 and two species of hummers... not so bad, eh?

...captions and further explanations will be added after a supply run and a few loads of laundry and maybe another coat of paint. Our apologies!

Edit: this has also been posted over at ifoundabandedbird.blogspot.com

Edit 2: As of Nov. 13, both hummingbirds are still present!
Any folks care to guess at how long the Black-chinned will stick around, anyone?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Winter Blues?

Hang on. It's not the solstice yet. The first day of winter in 2010 is 21 December.

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile)

North America's smallest butterfly. Not a huge deal to seasoned lepidopterists, but we just haven't had a real strong flight of adult pygmy-blues this year, if I recall correctly, here in the Marathon Basin. That is until now.

They seem to be everywhere on the grounds of Marathon Motel, and also around our humble little casita.

About time.

No bigger than my pinky-finger nail, they lay their eggs on hostplants such as thistle, saltbushes (Atriplex sp) of which we have in and/or near the basin, frogfruit (Phyla sp) which does exist in and around Marathon, and others.

These little jewels are among the more numerous butterfly species flitting about at the time of this typing.

"Size matters not." - Yoda

We have the same ally, as well.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hummingbirds of winter

We now have at least two hummingbirds gracing* the feeder at our house. Last week we confirmed the female Anna's, and today we noticed that the Anna's was very defensive - there was another female hummingbird present. If confirmed, this Black-chinned Hummingbird may be the latest record for the region. Hopefully we'll be able to get photos of the Black-chinned soon!

* by "gracing" we mean territorially defending...

Here's the Anna's:

In the spirit of too much information full disclosure, I'd been trying to get a photo of this Question Mark (a new yard butterfly) when the hummingbird showed up. I scooted back into the house to let her feed, so the photo above is through binoculars.

Mmm, produce bag filled with aged bananas and soggy orange chunks...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Christmas Mountains Oasis

For a blustery midday observation, the Christmas Mountains Oasis was still remarkably productive! Either way you look at the map, Marathon to CMO is at least 2 hours. So instead of taking the northern or southern routes, we cut straight through the middle. It would not be advised for low-clearance vehicles. It would definitely not be advised for any vehicle after a rain.

Also, speeds should really be kept down on that back road shortcut; aside from abundant Mule Deer and birds and plenty of other wildlife tracks... we had our second Western Diamondback Rattlesnake for the county! (photos at end of post; thanks to Joe for the ID correction!)

Location name: Christmas Mountain Oasis
Observation date: 11/3/10 (11:30 am - 2 pm)

X Scaled Quail - heard only
1 Sharp-shinned Hawk - male
1 Cooper's Hawk - female
4 White-winged Dove
1 Mourning Dove
1 Greater Roadrunner
6 Anna's Hummingbird
1 Rufous Allen's Hummingbird
1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
2 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Common Raven
1 Cactus Wren
1 Rock Wren
1 House Wren
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 Swainson's Thrush
1 Hermit Thrush
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)
1 Spotted Towhee
1 Canyon Towhee
3 Chipping Sparrow
3 Vesper Sparrow
5 Black-throated Sparrow
1 Lark Bunting
1 Lincoln's Sparrow
15 White-crowned Sparrow
7 Pyrrhuloxia
14 Pine Siskin
4 Lesser Goldfinch
1 American Goldfinch

Total species reported: 32

Report generated by eBird.

Notes: Winds picked up considerably around one, knocking most birds into cover.

Butterflies noted: Arizona Sister, Monarch, Checkered White, Southern Dogface, Question Mark, empress ?

Mammals: fox or young coyote seen by Matt. Badger at low tank seen by Heidi.

Aforementioned Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (not at CM Oasis):

Head detail, from a safe distance:

Rattle detail:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

October insects

With the exception of Fatal Metalmark, the October butterfly update covers everything we've seen on grounds at the Marathon Motel. That said, this post features two of our summer lovelies.

It's not often you see the underside of these two critters. Bordered Patches tend to nectar with wings spread and Common Mestras never land* (tis the truth!)

The upper side of the Bordered Patch is a bold, deep black with tiny little pale specks below a wide splash of sunset orange. For the lower side to be so ornately and intricately patterned I'm caught off guard every time.

Bordered Patch, Oct. 12, Marathon Motel

Now, about that Mestra that never lands...

Common Mestra, Oct. 25, photo taken at Dugout Wells (BBNP)

As with the aforementioned patch, the Common Mestra has a very different upper wing pattern; it is nearly entirely white with just a smudge of orange at the tips. So most views are of a low, weak-flying blur of powdery white and perhaps a faint hint of orange. How very different below!

Finally, a favorite non-butterfly insect of ours:

Water Scorpion, photo by Matt York (Oct. 12 just north of Marathon Motel)

The poorly named Water Scorpion should really be Water Mantis; we love it anyway. The individual in hand was seen flying from north to south near the motel, a mind-boggling aerial identification. It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... not a mayfly, not a dragonfly, not a damselfly, not an antlion, not a crane fly... so when it plunked down on the roof of Matt's truck, I grabbed it. Gloves were due to playing with firewood, it's unlikely that this critter-on-a-mission would have taken the time to pinch me. Still, to handle one that was alive, flying and nowhere near water? Too cool!

Are you looking at the shadow of the front legs? And the double 'stinger' that really isn't so much a stinger as breathing tube? ...thought so!

October summary, Big Bend region

This list reflects observations made in/around Brewster, Jeff Davis, and Reeves Counties during October 2010 to the best of our recollection. Species are considered common unless otherwise noted. Locations indicate place(s) of observation. Species in bold are either "First of Season" (FOS) or of regional interest.

Snow Goose - 1 at Lake Balmorhea
Ross's Goose - 1 at Lake Balmorhea
Gadwall - small flock at Lake Balmorhea
American Wigeon - small flock at Lake Balmorhea
Mallard (Mexican) - pair at Post Park, pair at Lake Balmorhea
Blue-winged Teal - small flock at Post Park
Ruddy Duck - flock at Lake Balmorhea
duck sp. - small flock of unidentified ducks at Rio Grande Village (BBNP)
Scaled Quail - covey at Marathon Motel, Lake Balmorhea, Dugout Wells (BBNP)
Montezuma Quail - one adult male crossing Hwy 90 ~10 miles west of Marathon
Wild Turkey - Jeff Davis County
Pied-billed Grebe - numerous at Lake Balmorhea
Eared Grebe - small flock at Lake Balmorhea
Western Grebe - at least one distinct individual at Lake Balmorhea
Clark's Grebe - dozens at Lake Balmorhea
Western/Clark's Grebe - a few distant birds unidentified at Lake Balmorhea
Double-crested Cormorant - one at Lake Balmorhea
Great Blue Heron - several at Lake Balmorhea
Great Egret - several at Lake Balmorhea
Snowy Egret - one at Lake Balmorhea
Cattle Egret - one at Lake Balmorhea
Black Vulture - reported by camp host at Rio Grande Village, BBNP
Turkey Vulture - Marathon roost is dwindling
Northern Harrier - two at Lake Balmorhea
Swainson's Hawk - along Hwy 90, dwindling for winter
Red-tailed Hawk - along Hwy 90
American Kestrel - along Hwy 90
Merlin - one at Lake Balmorhea
Aplomado Falcon - one along Hwy 90 west of Marathon by ~5 miles
Prairie Falcon - one at Lake Balmorhea
American Coot - one at Post Park, dozens at Lake Balmorhea
Sandhill Crane - one at Lake Balmorhea
Semipalmated Plover - small group at Lake Balmorhea
Killdeer - Marathon Motel, at least one at Lake Balmorhea
Spotted Sandpiper - several at Lake Balmorhea
Greater Yellowlegs - a pair at Lake Balmorhea
Lesser Yellowlegs - one at Lake Balmorhea
Long-billed Curlew - one at Lake Balmorhea
Pectoral Sandpiper - one at Lake Balmorhea
Long-billed Dowitcher - small flock at Lake Balmorhea
Ring-billed Gull - flock at Lake Balmorhea
Rock Pigeon - Marathon, Alpine, Lake Balmorhea
Eurasian Collared-Dove - Marathon, Alpine, Lake Balmorhea
White-winged Dove - Marathon, Alpine, Lake Balmorhea
Mourning Dove - several at Lake Balmorhea
Inca Dove - Marathon
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - declining at Post Park
Greater Roadrunner - Dugout Wells (BBNP), Lake Balmorhea
Groove-billed Ani - one bird, recorded Oct. 10, 23, and 24 at the Marathon Motel
Common Nighthawk - the last of the lingerers moved on in mid-month
Anna's Hummingbird - FOS yard bird in NE Marathon, also reported from Fort Davis by Matt Brady and Oscar Johnson
hummingbird sp. - early Ocober flyby in Marathon
Belted Kingfisher - Post Park, Rio Grande Village (BBNP), Lake Balmorhea
Green Kingfisher - Rio Grande Village (BBNP)
Golden-fronted Woodpecker - common
Ladder-backed Woodpecker - common
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) - common
Black Phoebe - Post Park, Rio Grande Village (BBNP), Lake Balmorhea
Eastern Phoebe - at least three at Rio Grande Village (BBNP)
Say's Phoebe - Post Park, Rio Grande Village (BBNP), Lake Balmorhea
Vermilion Flycatcher - Post Park, Rio Grande Village (BBNP), Lake Balmorhea
Ash-throated Flycatcher - one heard early in the month on the NE side of Marathon
Cassin's Kingbird - most moved out of Marathon early, no other kingbirds noted
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Hwy 90, numbers dwindling
Loggerhead Shrike - Big Bend National Park
Chihuahuan Raven - Marathon flyovers
Common Raven - Marathon flyovers, Big Bend National Park
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - moved out of Marathon by mid-month
Verdin - Rio Grande Village (BBNP), Lake Balmorhea
Red-breasted Nuthatch - Marathon Motel
Brown Creeper - Rio Grande Village (BBNP), FOS
Cactus Wren - Brewster, Reeves Counties
Rock Wren - Lake Balmorhea, Rio Grande Village (BBNP)
Bewick's Wren - a pair at Lake Balmorhea
House Wren - Rio Grande Village (BBNP) and Lake Balmorhea
Marsh Wren - Rio Grande Village (BBNP)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Lake Balmorhea, Dugout Wells (BBNP)
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - Lake Balmorhea, Rio Grande Village (BBNP)
Golden-crowned Kinglet - Rio Grande Village (BBNP), FOS
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Rio Grande Village (BBNP), Marathon
Mountain Bluebird - Marathon Motel, FOS
Gray Catbird - Rio Grande Village (BBNP)
Northern Mockingbird - common
Sage Thrasher - Marathon Motel, FOS
Curve-billed Thrasher - common
European Starling - common
Cedar Waxwing - Marathon, FOS
Orange-crowned Warbler - Post Park, Rio Grande Village (BBNP)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) - common
Common Yellowthroat - Lake Balmorhea
Wilson's Warbler - Lake Balmorhea
Canyon Towhee - common
Cassin's Sparrow - numbers dwindling, roadkill found in Jeff Davis County
Brewer's Sparrow - Lake Balmorhea, Dugout Wells (BBNP)
Vesper Sparrow - Lake Balmorhea
Lark Sparrow - Lake Balmorhea, numbers dwindling
Black-throated Sparrow - Lake Balmorhea
Lark Bunting - Lake Balmorhea, Big Bend National Park
Savannah Sparrow - one 'rolled' at Big Bend National Park; presumably survived
Lincoln's Sparrow - Lake Balmorhea
White-crowned Sparrow - Marathon Motel, Lake Balmorhea
Dark-eyed Junco - Dugout Wells (BBNP), FOS
Northern Cardinal - Marathon Motel, Rio Grande Village
Pyrrhuloxia - common
Red-winged Blackbird - Lake Balmorhea
Western Meadowlark - Lake Balmorhea
meadowlark sp. - common
Rusty Blackbird - reported from Fort Davis by Matt Brady and Oscar Johnson
Brewer's Blackbird - common
Great-tailed Grackle - numbers dwindling by late in the month
Brown-headed Cowbird - Lake Balmorhea
Scott's Oriole, Oriole jaune-verd√Ętre - photographed in Post Park late in the month by Marathon Motel guests from Quebec (late sighting)
Lesser Goldfinch - numbers decreasing
American Goldfinch - Post Park
House Sparrow - common

Total species reported: 113

Sightings this month were drastically boosted with trips to Balmorhea and Big Bend National Park, but the seasonal changes are quite apparent in Marathon as well. Flycatchers have been replaced by Audubon's Yellow-rumps and most summer raptors have moved out. I may have omitted Yellow-billed Cuckoo in error, but I can't find the notes that would confirm or deny a late Post Park sighting. Same goes for Summer Tanager.