Friday, January 21, 2011

Agapema anona, Stage 3

Pics taken back on 20 November 2010:

Mexican Agapema moth pupae photos

It's somewhat difficult to tell in these pictures but the agapema's pupae are actually in a cocoon within a cocoon. Perhaps more precisely, the cocoon is inside a lattice-work, net-like mesh outer wall. Very interesting and unique.

Agapema anona use plants in the Condalia genus as hostplants for their caterpillars. The condalia species prevalent in the Marathon Basin and other areas in the Chihuahuan Desert is Condalia ericoides or Javelina Bush.

The pictures of this particular Mexican agapema moth cocoon were on the east side of the Marathon Motel, between the two-story white building and the RV Exit road.

We all look forward to having another strong flight-season here on the property and the Marathon Basin. Flights of all lepidoptera.

The Mexican Agapema moth (Agapema anona) most certainly included.


Mexican Agapema, Marathon Motel, Marathon

Click here for a link back to those days, last calender year.

Bronzed Cowbird seen at Marathon Motel


As Heidi and I were leaving the property early afternoon yesterday we spotted a somewhat different blackbird. Most notably with a larger, flatter head and a somewhat larger bill.

No red eye; so without that characteristic along with a bit of a scaly feather appearance this bird was concluded as a juvenile.

When birds are early to a seasonal location or are found far away from their normal range, often they are young birds.

Didn't you think you knew everything when younger?

Many more of its species will arrive in the spring and reside for the summer in the trans-Pecos and Marathon Basin. They'll be here demonstrating that no youth knows everything. It's not spring yet, brother. It found that out quickly, last night. And will tonight as well.

This bird was foraging on the south side of the property (out of those crazy 30+mph North winds) foraging with at least one Brown-headed Cowbird and a few winter residing Brewer's Blackbirds.

photo, left: adult, male Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus)

photo by Lee Daniels

Author's note: Today, it was seen in the afternoon north of the pond on motel grounds. It was foraging with Brewer's Blackbirds, a couple of Brown-headed Cowbirds, a couple of meadowlarks, and a single Lark Bunting.

It was an Icteridae family party, plus the Lark Bunting party crasher.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Aplomado Falcons in west Texas

Our occasional updates have been a bit slow lately, so here's our personal update in a nutshell: Christmas Bird Counts, having family in town, playing with plants and generally working hard. Also fighting the battle to get out of bed on ten degree mornings. Thankfully, that cold snap has ended!

Otherwise I was hoping to indulge in a timely Q&A session. This is part of an e-mail that we received recently from a friend who was returning from a birding trip to the Rio Grande Valley and was curious about the status of Aplomado Falcons out here:

I know that you & Matt released some young falcons and after reading through your blog, I was wondering if any have been sighted recently in your area or have any of your banded falcons been spotted elsewhere? I am curious about the success rate of the releases - do you know how many times the falcons have been released in your area?

While my first Aplomado Falcon was seen on the illustrious "road to the Brownsville dump," some people have been lucky enough to see them in/around Brewster County. But luck does seem to be the most appropriate word for it. The Peregrine Fund has been working on Aplomado Falcon restoration/reintroduction in west Texas for about 15 years. In that time, the south Texas population has done remarkably well. Out here? Not so much.

Recent sightings:
18 May, 2010 - Terlingua Ranch (unknown individual; in flight)

...that's it for us, other than one late September sighting that was also of a bird in flight (while driving 75 mph) a few miles west of Marathon. A local birder reported one in late December near Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. Certainly, there were single-digit sightings from Highway 90 during the release (C2 being the individual when we were able to read the band), but for the most part it's a challenge to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Young Aplomado Falcon; either Green 93, Red H7, Red 16, or Green 95. September 10, 2010. Ten miles east of Marathon, TX. Photo by Heidi Trudell

For seekers of Aplomado Falcons, the challenge is this: few falcons, restricted land access. By contrast, Old Port Isabel Road (NE Brownsville) is the hub of Texas breeding activity for the birds; there were 8 nesting pairs at last count (per Brian Mutch, of The Peregrine Fund).

For Aplomado Falcons, the challenge out here is multifaceted and not entirely well understood. The Peregrine Fund intends to further research the west Texas populations in the coming years to investigate why that may be - Great Horned Owls are the primary threat to young falcons during the release process (Matagorda Island and other owl-less islands have remarkably high success rates), but they are not the determining factor in older birds. As with most species, mortality rates are quite high in the first year, quite a bit lower in the second, and nearly negligible beyond the third year of life.

To appreciate the nomadic tendency that Aplomados exhibit, consider this: when 'hack' sites were within 50 miles of each other, birds from both sites would show up to feed at each. Sierra Blanca, Valentine and Marathon have been areas with recent releases - they're far enough apart that the birds won't get mixed up at different sites. [To my understanding, this is simply to cut down on observer errors due to similar band numbers.]

So to address each question simply:
Q: Have any have Aplomado Falcons been sighted here recently?
A: Yes. But they are few and far between

Q: Have any of your banded falcons been spotted elsewhere?
A: Not yet that we know of; always hoping!

Q: What is the success rate of the releases?
A: Lower than hoped for the region - of 19 birds we released, 9 made it to the "61 day" mark, but 8 were pretty much predated upon release (this seems to be the general consensus). This is about average, it seems, but averages don't usually include immediate predation - 'our' site will likely not be used again due to the predation issue.

Q: Do you know how many times the falcons have been released in your area?
A: Not exactly. The site we worked had been used for releases at least 3 or 4 times in the preceding 10 years. There are generally at least two release sites in west Texas each year (for reference, our location was the eastern-most of the western sites and our late-season crew supervisors were based in Deming, NM) and each location ends up with 10-20 birds to be released.

Thanks for bearing with me for a super-long post! Feel free to post more questions in the post comments and we'll do our best to answer them - or elaborate more on topics already mentioned.

For further reading: SeeTrail tag, Aplomado Falcons

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tufted Flycatcher - Nov. 2010 thru Jan. 2011

"No news" means no positive or negative reports were received; it usually means nobody was looking or those who were looking didn't report (or weren't able to).

By now it's most likely that folks chasing the bird are alone or in pairs and unable to report the bird as fast as larger groups have been able to. The key is just getting a positive or negative answer. Eventually. Most people who would drop everything to see the bird, already have.

Jan. 8 - No, several people looking

Jan. 7 - No, several people looking

Jan. 6 - no news

Jan. 5 - no news

Jan. 4 - yes

Jan. 3 - no news

Jan. 2 - No; several people looking in the AM.

Jan. 1 - YES (belated NARBA report)

Dec. 31 - no news

Dec. 30 - no news

Dec. 29 - YES - viewed briefly in AM across road from adobe house, Daniel's Ranch, RG Village, BBNP

Dec. 28 - YES - viewed this AM across the road from the adobe house (Daniel's Ranch)

Dec. 26 - no news

Dec. 25 - no news

Dec. 24 - no news

Dec. 23 - YES - Carolyn Ohl-Johnson reported it in this morning near Daniel's Ranch, RG Village, Big Bend Nat'l Park.

Dec. 22 - Negative report

Dec. 21 - NO

Dec. 20 - YES per Tex-Birds listserv and Rich Kostecke, Ph.D,

"This morning (12/20/10), myself and 4 others were able to view the Tufted Flycatcher from approx. 1020-1110 at Daniels Ranch, Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park. It was actively feeding, sallying forth to catch insects, and occassionally perching and preening in the mid-story to canopy of the cottonwoods closest to and immediately northeast of the trailhead to Hot Springs (i.e., the cottonwoods along the road that leads north to the ponds). Rich Richard Kostecke, Ph.D.

Dec. 19 - no news

Dec. 18 - no news

Dec. 17 - YES - per 9:15am, the west end of the large clearing, on the south side of the road to Daniels Ranch, about 200 to 300 yards from the adobe building. The bird was seen low in one of the small trees and then perched or flycatching till at least 10am. (Bruce Sherman, David Crowe, others)

Dec. 16 - no news

Dec. 15 - no news

Dec. 14 - no

Dec. 13 - YES

Dec. 12 - YES Steve Gross reports seen 0.2 miles E. of Daniel's Ranch, RG Village, BBNP at 0915 hrs to 1045 hrs. From NARBA and Carolyn Ohl: sightings starting at 8:05 and lasting at least through 11am. (Carolyn Ohl-Johnson, others).

Dec. 11 - YES
Cottonwood grove east of Daniel's Ranch (numerous people, am)

Dec. 10 - YES
Cottonwood grove east of Daniel's Ranch (Erik Breden, am)

Dec. 9 - no news

Dec. 8 - YES
Cottonwood grove east of Daniel's Ranch (Ron Baltzegar, 9:07 am)

Dec. 7 - YES
Cottonwood grove east of Daniel's Ranch (Jim Hines, 10:30 am)

Dec. 6 - YES
Cottonwood grove east of Daniel's Ranch (numerous people, 8:30 am)

Dec. 5 - YES
Between campsites 56 & 57 (numerous people, 8:40 am)

Dec. 4 - YES
Daniel's Ranch area (numerous people, ? am - noon)
Behind campsite 87 (Cameron Carver, Steve Collins, 3:08 pm)

Dec. 3 - YES
Cottonwood grove east of Daniel's Ranch (bird walk of 8 people, 10:15 am)

Dec. 2 - YES
Cottonwood grove east of Daniel's Ranch (numerous people, 8:45 am)

Dec. 1 - YES
Cottonwood grove east of Daniel's Ranch (numerous people, 11:30 am)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resist Temptation

Gentle reminder, dear birders.

National Parks are no 'pishing' zones.
They are also no 'playback' zones.

This applies to State Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Wildlife Management Areas, areas that are birded, ANY area that has endangered species, and at any time of year that birds could be nesting. It's in the better interest of the bird to avoid undue stress, activity, etc.

While iThings and eGadgets and crazyphones might be required for surviving the urban jungle, avoid temptation. Leave the devices off, or in your car while out birding. Use headphones if you want to double check a call you've heard. Don't know what you saw? Wait, look harder, or walk away. Don't know what you heard? Look for the source; not all recordings will cover all vocalizations.


This topic came up due to recent discussions at a CBC, and it highlights the technology gap that many birders have never experienced. Birders who have never birded without the technological crutch would have a very different experience without it. I have never used playback; Matt and I never even carry equipment capable of it. We go through a mental checklist of whether or not it's worth it for the bird and situation before 'pishing' - birds may go unseen, but it's better for the bird. The welfare of the creature is of utmost importance, our sighting/documentation is not even on the radar. For CBCs, in some situations, it may be worth it 'for the count' to get a better look at a bird. Still, all of the above checks and balances apply.

Learn calls. Leave the gear at home.

Our backgrounds are in conservation; perhaps this makes us more aware, but perhaps it also shows that bird-ing does not give birds the respect that is due.

As of April 10, 2011 there is a fantastic post on David Sibley's blog,
the proper use of playback in birding with thoughtful comments and good discussion... and mention of Brown-headed Cowbirds being opportunistic re: playback.