Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring - cleaning and safety

February 24th brought our first Turkey Vulture and Cliff/Cave Swallow. Sleepy Oranges and the occasional Funereal Duskywing are also lending their presence to a greening region. Out east, I assume a few folks are keeping tabs on Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration maps.

For those of you who wish to skip the slightly graphic nature of the post, here's the summary in advance:

Only put out dryer lint as nesting material IF you do not use dryer sheets. EDIT: please see comments for discussion!
Cut materials (string, yarn, hair) into pieces smaller than 2 inches long.
Clean feeders thoroughly and frequently.

...and back to the post:

If you want to supply nesting materials for birds, please take note!

Dryer sheets are toxic. (That's four different links, beware!) So while 'plain' dryer lint is a great idea [edit: for cavity nesters only - exposed nests would then absorb water), if you use dryer sheets, do not put out lint. The chemical residue in the lint will be touching the skin of naked baby birds; if it's toxic to adult cats and dogs to ingest, rule of thumb is that it is more toxic to a naked baby bird.

So you cut your hair? Have some scraps of yarn? Found some string? Great!
Cut it up.
Cut it into pieces shorter than two inches.

Many young birds never leave the nest. The above Barn Swallow would have fallen from the nest (perhaps lived, even), but its wing was trapped by a hair. Mule tail hair, but hair nonetheless. And as you know, fishing line kills adult birds as well as baby birds - but yarn, string, and hair can wrap around a baby bird's leg/wing/neck. We've untangled a yarn-heavy nest in the past to free a House Finch who lost a leg due to lack of circulation... it's more common than you'd think.

And for the cleaning portion of the post:

I'd like to devote a bit of blog space to cleaning bird feeders; it seems in line with our 'do no harm' mantra. Dry feeders should be cleaned monthly at the very least (more often as needed), but it's incredibly important to know that the task is not simply for aesthetics. It's for health. Conjunctivitis (pink eye - in birds appears as a redness with crusty goop accumulating around the eye) is quite common in House Finches and having large flocks at feeders in winter translates to a lot of children eating at a buffet; you want to clean EVERY utensil thoroughly after they're done! Left uncleaned between the winter rush and spring, you end up with young birds who are being fed from contaminated sources. Every winter in college, I was brought at least one or two young House Finches who should have fledged normally but ended up with conjunctivitis. It's treatable once the bird is in rehab, but I suspect that most never make it to rehab. Hummingbirds and their liquid diet are a bit more prone to buildup of contaminants, so cleaning them every few days is absolutely crucial. Especially in the summer heat, it's far better to put out a partly-filled feeder than wait for the level to go down!

A few links to get started with feeders:
Keeping feeders clean - from Wild Birds Unlimited
Feeder cleaning tips from
Cleaning feeders on's even in the ABA Code of Ethics:
3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.

3(a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.

3(b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.

3(c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.

...and as a thank-you for reading, here's a healthy, happy nest of Barn Swallows!

That's Gladys the female leaving and Gladys the male showing up with a bug for the three little Gladyslings. (From See Trail's "Busy Parents" post - July 2010 in Marathon)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Big Bend area CBCs

Now that the official Christmas Bird Count results have been posted, I've backdated some entries to account for Big Bend area counts; I may add other regional counts as time allows (Balmorhea and the Guadalupe Mountains come to mind). Hopefully next year we'll be able to make a few more of the counts.

...if these lists don't tempt you to spend at least one CBC season in west Texas, I'm not sure what will!

Dec. 18 - Davis Mountains CBC (HT)
Dec. 28 - Big Bend - Chisos Mountains CBC (HT, MY)
Dec. 29 - Big Bend NP - east CBC (HT, MY)

Ribbon of green along the Rio Grande, taken in early January.

Great Backyard Bird Count - Marathon style

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great opportunity to get involved in citizen science - or just have an excuse to sit around and watch your feeders all day! With as little as 15 minutes of effort, you can enter your data at the GBBC web site. Here's our list from a slow afternoon at the Marathon Motel:

Locality: 79842, Marathon, Brewster County, TX
Observation Date: FEB 19, 2011
Start Time: 1:00 PM
Total Birding Time: 3 hours

Location Type: Commercial Property
Party Size: 2
Skill: excellent
Weather: excellent


Number of species: 23

All Reported: yes

Species Count

Red-tailed Hawk 1
Eurasian Collared-Dove 6
White-winged Dove 15
Mourning Dove 2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) 1
Say's Phoebe 3
Verdin 1
Cactus Wren 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Northern Mockingbird 1
Curve-billed Thrasher 2
European Starling 2
Green-tailed Towhee 1
Canyon Towhee 8
Chipping Sparrow 1
Lark Bunting 1
White-crowned Sparrow 20
Pyrrhuloxia 3
Eastern Meadowlark 6
Brewer's Blackbird 20
Brown-headed Cowbird 23
House Finch 25
House Sparrow 30


The morning, for a rare change of pace, was quite foggy and cool with a trace of actual precipitation! So the morning was best left to hot chocolate and getting work done. Even in the mist, however, House Finches were warbling their enthusiasm and Cactus Wrens were whirring their calls through the bleak gray. The afternoon was clear and pushing 80 degrees, so in between painting door frames, I snuck out to see what was around.

The resident Pine Siskin was playing hard to get, as were the Scaled Quail who sneak to the pond for drinks. The Greater Roadrunner, Loggerhead Shrike, and American Pipit who frequent the property were also unaccounted for in our brief census, so hopefully they'll show up in the next few days to be counted. Yesterday would have addeded the siskin, but work was a bit busier. Perhaps tomorrow?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wildlife Weekends - Marathon & Post Park

Please note that dates/times may change but we will do our best to post accurate and updated information as soon as we know! All activities are free, though donations are accepted.

Sunday Morning Bird Walks at Post Park:

Join us on Sunday mornings at Post Park (Ft. Pena Colorado) at 8:30 am (summer) or 9 am (winter) for a free, guided bird/butterfly/nature walk.

Unfortunately, due to work conflicts, we will be suspending the Sunday morning bird walks indefinitely, as of 9 July, 2012. Please contact us regarding availability during the week.

Click here to download the birds of the Trans-Pecos checklist pdf

Friday Night [Black]Lights:

On Friday nights from March/April through October, we invite all interested to join in blacklighting for moths around town. This is a fantastic region with diverse bugs - amateurs to experts are very much encouraged to join and share your knowledge and enthusiasm! We may, on occasion, blacklight at Post Park as well as "The Double Bacon" - times and locations TBA, please call or e-mail for information! ( h.trudell at or 617.823.4862 )

* With advance notice, groups can be accommodated if our schedules allow!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oh, they're coming...

... we'll be here, when they ECLOSE ...

The emergence of an adult insect from a pupal case or an insect larva from an egg.

[French ├ęclosion, from ├ęclore, to open, from Old French, from Vulgar Latin *exclaudere, to shut out : Latin ex-, ex- + Latin claudere, to shut.]

Do you remember? ...

Mexican Agapema (Agapema anona dyari)

Do you remember? ... the moths of Marathon...
... the moths within Marathon Motel and its courtyard...

Vine Sphinx (Eumorpha vitis)

Do you remember? ... the moths of Marathon Basin's "Post" Park...

Western Poplar Sphinx (Pachysphinx occidentalis)

You don't remember the moths of the greater Big Bend Region?...
You don't recall? ...

Istar Sphinx, (Lintneria ista)

That doesn't bother you? That which is in your own state? Your own county?
Your own town? Your own ... backyard?
OUR backyard?

Fine. See you next winter.

For the rest of you, we'll be here when they are here.

Black-lighting for moths. Yes.., at night.
Marathon Motel.
The State, of mind, of Far-West Texas.

*For now, check the sidebar, and the Blacklighters Welcome! page for further details. Black-lighters abroad, come on down!*

Spring is coming, finally, maybe...

The "blackbirds" seem to know it.

Winter resident birds in Family: Icteridae, that is "blackbirds" and allies, often "stage" in progressively larger numbers as their time to migrate looms. Other family members, like the orioles will arrive in their stead.

Here in the Marathon Basin we begin to see flock numbers increase of Brewer's Blackbirds (Euphagus cyanocephalus) as well as the mix of Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater), seen below.

Some of the cowbirds are year-round residents of the trans-Pecos. Many of them, however, will fly north to the central and northern lalatitudes of the continent for Summer. Bronzed Cowbirds (Molothrus aeneus) will arrive soon enough. We already saw one juvenile bird in late January.

Another species noticeably conglomerating in larger and larger flocks are Lark Buntings (Calomospiza melanocorys). Several of the Lark Buntings are beginning to show the starts of breeding plumage.

We've even had a couple of butterfly species as well. Soon enough, black-lighting for moths (*more on that later*), traipsing for butterflies, other insects and arthropods will begin.

Texas has put in one memorable and miserably cold and windy winter. At first, 40 degrees and sunshine never felt and looked so good.

Today it reached 80 F.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Post Park in winter

An American Pipit on the frozen pond at Post Park (or Fort Pena Colorado if you prefer), no big deal, you say. Indeed.

The pond was quite thoroughly frozen (photo from Feb. 5th), since Marathon had sustained temperatures below freezing for three days straight and tends to be a few degrees warmer than the park. The cold temperatures took their toll on the local wildlife; that may be another post unto itself.

I hope this works, if not I'll give it another try.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Windy, cold, and short.

Well the "windy" and "cold" has been for days. Tomorrow is the first afternoon we hope the temps to peak above freezing in over 3 full days.

Windy, cold, and short was our drive to Post Park, about 5 miles s. of Marathon.

We received word around noon of a "gull" appearing at the Marathon Motel on the western edge of town. However, by the time we arrived it had flown westward. We went several miles west on Hwy 90, to no avail.

The strange weather systems have a tendency to bring some odd avians with them. We've had 15-mph winds from the NNE for three days now. I wonder what species that "gull" may have been?

Anyhow, this prompted us to swing down to Post Park after eating lunch at Guzzi Pizza in town.

Single digits shorten time spent and lists described. Here's ours for about 15 minutes at "Post" :

21 Ring-necked Duck
4 American Coot
1 Killdeer
1 Greater Yellowlegs
2 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
2 Say's Phoebe
2 Cactus Wren
8 Canyon Towhee
16 White-crowned Sparrow
1 Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)
1 House Finch

And on the road down:

4 Mallard (Mexican)
1 Red-tailed Hawk
8 Mourning Dove
1 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
4 Northern Mockingbird
4 Canyon Towhee
12 Black-throated Sparrow
4 Pyrrhuloxia
X meadowlark sp.

Almost all birds where down on the ground, with these biting winds and frigid temps. Any hope of forage was likely on the ground as well.

Well, the Sun has just come out, and the Weather Channel says its 14 degrees F.
Small steps.