Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marathon Mammals

This post, admittedly, is missing foxes, coyotes, badgers, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, desert cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbits and javelinas. But for one weekend around town, it's a novel sampling of the local mammals!

We'll start with "It's a bird! It's a plane! ..." except it's up in the tree and someone called it in as an escaped pet monkey. Personally, I think sloth would have been more descriptive. Our local deputy had a good laugh, though, because Prickles is the porcupine (erethizon dorsatum) who lives just west of the Marathon Motel and has a few favorite trees that s/he loiters in. What a lovely face!

We now turn to another arboreal inhabitant, but one that would generally be mistaken for a bird around dusk... our beloved bug-eater, the Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus). Matt spotted this one roosting in a cottonwood tree just south of the pond at the Marathon Motel.

Like a dark brown hamster with frosting on the fur tips, Hoary Bats are adorable. And remarkably strong, to cling to a leaf clump on a gusty day! Here's a closer look at the roosting critter:

Alas, not all Hoary Bats are so fortunate. This one was found dead under a suspected roosting spot (and ironically, fairly close to an 'old school' windmill). The lighting here gives you an idea of what to expect when you see a Hoary Bat in flight - dark flight webbing contrasts with the pale fuzz along the leading edge of the wing, so identification isn't too challenging if the light is decent.

Identification is still pending on this last bat, a very small critter (about thumb-length) found by our neighbors with an abdominal wound. Current guess is Evening Bat, but we'll have to see what the experts say!

Edit: As of April 18th, we have ID! Thanks to Dr. Chris Ritzi from Sul Ross for identifying our California Myotis (Myotis californicus); click here for TPWD link.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Birding Post Park/Fort Pena Colorado

This morning's bird walk was treated to a pleasant morning that started off cool and warmed up gently as the sun made it over the hills. The Vermillion Flycatchers are already paired up and they're quite... busy. Should be a bumper crop of little ones this summer! New arrivals for the season are in bold.


2 Mallard (Mexican)
8 Turkey Vulture
5 American Coot
2 Killdeer
1 Eurasian Collared-Dove
15 White-winged Dove
2 Mourning Dove
1 Belted Kingfisher
11 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
2 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
1 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
1 Black Phoebe
3 Say's Phoebe
8 Vermilion Flycatcher
2 Ash-throated Flycatcher
2 Barn Swallow
3 Cave Swallow
3 Cactus Wren
2 Marsh Wren
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Curve-billed Thrasher
10 European Starling
1 American Pipit
3 Canyon Towhee
4 Chipping Sparrow
1 Vesper Sparrow
1 Black-throated Sparrow
5 Lark Bunting
2 Savannah Sparrow
2 Lincoln's Sparrow
1 Swamp Sparrow
15 White-crowned Sparrow
2 Northern Cardinal
1 meadowlark sp.
1 Brewer's Blackbird
20 House Finch
11 Pine Siskin (migrating through)
3 Lesser Goldfinch

Total species reported: 38

Additionally, on Post Road, we found a late Eastern Phoebe, a Verdin, and one Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday night with Cowhead Arches

(Entry is backdated to reflect the date of observation!)

Not all creatures were named with elegant tact, sadly.
Cowhead Arches is one of them.
Drasteria pallescens is at least a bit more dignified, no?

Certainly, for a moth to be abundant enough to warrant a common name, you'd think that there would be a more 'normal' label for it. But in spite of its relative popularity (it has a common name!) there's still relatively little known about it. The bugguide link will tell you that its host plant is unknown. Not too surprising, as it *is* a moth... there's so much still to learn about the inhabitants of our continent.

Other visitors to the blacklight, at least those graced with common names, were White-lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata), featured on the blog previously and Southern Emerald (Synchlora frondaria), new to our blog. A little tattered around the edges, but a lovely guest regardless!

Oh, there were people as well... a talented young moth spotter, age 3, (just right of center, seated) and a few locals and a few out-of-towners and much fun was had by all. Quite a good turnout for humans and moths alike!

Snowberry Clearwing moth - first Brewster Co. record


"Confirmed that H. diffinis is NEW for Brewster. It probably occurs "commonly" in the Chisos, but nobody's ever reported it up there... Not unusual to find them at higher elevations in NM and AZ...." - Texas Lepidoptera Survey, 25 March 2011.

I happened across this guy, Hemaris diffinis, back on 18 March 2011. Simply perched near the center of a large rosemary shrub in the Courtyard Cafe at Marathon Motel. Add another first county documentation discovered on grounds at the motel.

Click for the original post.
You don't have to scroll down too far actually.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Christmas Mountains Oasis

This entry is backdated to match the date of observation - we spent midday Tuesday enjoying Carolyn's fantastic Christmas Mountains Oasis and it has taken a while for us to catch up with the list, the weekend and the bumper crop of newly emerged moths.

Spring highlight for us, Scott's Oriole (photo below). Other jaw-dropping beauties included Lucifer Hummingbird and, well, Sage Thrasher is a bit more delicate in its presentation, but is lovely nonetheless!


15 Scaled Quail
4 Turkey Vulture
7 White-winged Dove
5 Mourning Dove
2 Lucifer Hummingbird
2 Black-chinned Hummingbird
1 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
2 Say's Phoebe
1 Common Raven
4 Barn Swallow
4 Cactus Wren
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 Sage Thrasher
3 Rufous-crowned Sparrow
5 Canyon Towhee
1 Cassin's Sparrow
1 Brewer's Sparrow
1 Field Sparrow
1 Lark Sparrow
25 Black-throated Sparrow
1 Lark Bunting
1 Grasshopper Sparrow
1 White-crowned Sparrow
2 Northern Cardinal
6 Pyrrhuloxia
3 Scott's Oriole
5 House Finch
1 Lesser Goldfinch

Total species reported: 28

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Post Park bird walk

This morning's bird walk was quite well attended; Matt and I were joined by a repeat guest as well as two more locals and one fellow from PA. Age range was 3 to 70, so an informal time was had by all!

Location name: Marathon- Ft. Peña Colorado Pk (The Post), Brewster, US-TX

Species for informal bird walk:

2 Wild Turkey
20 Turkey Vulture
6 American Coot
2 Killdeer
15 White-winged Dove
12 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
1 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
2 Say's Phoebe
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
2 Violet-green Swallow
3 Barn Swallow
3 Cactus Wren
1 Marsh Wren
3 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 Northern Mockingbird
2 Curve-billed Thrasher
12 European Starling
2 American Pipit
2 Orange-crowned Warbler
10 Canyon Towhee
10 Chipping Sparrow
2 Savannah Sparrow
2 Lincoln's Sparrow
20 White-crowned Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
1 meadowlark sp.
25 House Finch
5 Lesser Goldfinch

Total species reported: 28

And some incidental observations - and a few unusual finds among them! No duplicates are listed, just species not seen during the bird walk.

Post Road species list:

1 Wilson's Snipe (passing through)
1 Greater Roadrunner
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
1 Black-and-white Warbler (first of season)

Total species reported: 4

Otherwise, of note locally we've had Black-chinned Hummingbirds investigating our feeders and a female Anna's Hummingbird as well. One Willow Flycatcher was seen near the pond at the Marathon Motel yesterday and Cave Swallows are definitely back in the area!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Elfins, the butterflies

"Nickel-sized hairstreaks, mostly tailess, with wings patterned in brown, gray, and black. Most are on the wing early in the season, and some are among the first spring butterflies in some localities. Generally not as fast flying as other hairstreaks. Adults perch with wings closed." - Brock, Jim P. & Kaufman, K. Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. 2003.

The Elfin (Callophrys sp.) we get out here in the Big Bend Region and a swooping third of Texas:

Henry's Elfin (Callophrys henrici)

She is actually laying eggs ("ovipositing") on this redbud tree, a larval foodplant for the species.

Henry's Elfin is actually a "tailed" elfin. The "tails" are those little extensions on the hindwings.

Often, hairstreaks (tribes Theclini and Eumaeini), rub their two hindwings together mimicking antennae with these tails. So you, me, or the Northern Mockingbird over there will take a bite out of their wing should the mood strike us....; not out of their actual head and thorax segment.

Here's a most significant characteristic(s) of elfins: Often quite localized, ALL elfin species have "1 Brood."

What does that mean?

Populations that are localized are just that. Inhabiting sporadic, not always connected, pockets of habitat and geography. It may be another hypothetical 100 miles or more until the next patch occurs.
Spots on a map. Not a broad paintbrush stroke on a map.

1 Brood butterflies:

The quick and easy explanation of a butterfly's life cycle is this: Egg laid on or near the plants that will serve as the food for the caterpillars.
Caterpillars or larva(e) is a little eating machine. It passes through around 5 growth stages. With each stage, they are larger than the last. The final time it reveals not a larger larva, but the next life phase:
Pupa or chrysalis, the stage in which the larva is transformed into the adult.

In many cases a butterfly passes through all 4 life stages in a matter of weeks, the whole cycle repeated several times during the year, multiple generations, multiple "broods".

**HOWEVER, Some species have only one brood per year. These usually have a short "flight season."

A) Quite Localized


B) One Brood


Henry's Elfin. Larval Foodplant = Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis var. texensis [?] )

They are only around once a year. If you have them, if you find them; enjoy them.

How fortunate we are to have them here. Here? Here. Here in portions of the tri-county area. Here in the state of Texas. Here. North America. Here. Alongside for the ride.. Here. Earth. Fellow.

Look up. Look out. Look around.
Say it, don't spray it.

Where do we go from Here.

Beware the 'cides of March.

Friday, March 18, 2011

bumblebee mimic and a powdered-skipper

Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis)

A moth; this day-flying member of family Sphingidae is always nice to find. What I don't often observe is one perching, such as this individual.

Interesting what one can find when trying, without success, to photograph a species of butterfly with its wings spread:

Texas Powdered-Skipper (Systasea pulverulenta)

With wings open, this species reveal an intricate patterning. The larval host-plant for this species include various mallows.

Mallows do not necessarily equate to weeds.
Both of these species were found on Marathon Motel grounds in the Courtyard Cafe area.

Friday Night Blacklights

At Marathon Motel Courtyard, or at its Courtyard Cafe.
Beginning at sundown.

Apotolype brevicrista

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday walk at Post Park

This morning started out very cold and breezy - being half asleep from the time change didn't help! Four of us eventually braved the elements and found a few 'first of season' (FOS) birds as well as some of the regulars. Noticeably absent: Black Phoebe (again) and Pyrrhuloxia. Critters of interest are in bold.

Species list:

4 Ring-necked Duck
2 Turkey Vulture
3 American Coot
2 Killdeer
1 Eurasian Collared-Dove
16 White-winged Dove
40 Mourning Dove
14 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
1 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
1 Say's Phoebe
5 Vermilion Flycatcher
1 Tree Swallow
2 Violet-green Swallow (FOS)
12 Barn Swallow
2 Cactus Wren
1 Marsh Wren
2 Northern Mockingbird
2 Curve-billed Thrasher
18 European Starling
1 American Pipit
2 Phainopepla
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
1 Rufous-crowned Sparrow
10 Canyon Towhee
1 Chipping Sparrow
3 Savannah Sparrow
9 White-crowned Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
2 meadowlark sp.
20 Great-tailed Grackle
6 House Finch
3 Lesser Goldfinch (FOS - should be year round but was absent this winter)

Total species reported: 32

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday on grounds

Two new birds on grounds at the Marthon Motel; Black Phoebe (stuck around all day), and Gray Vireo (observed for ~20 minutes but not refound in the pm). Here's the Texbirds post about the critters, and here's the list:

Location name: Marathon Motel
Date: 12 March 2011

6 Turkey Vulture
1 Northern Harrier
2 Killdeer
2 White-winged Dove
1 Mourning Dove
1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
1 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
1 Black Phoebe
1 Say's Phoebe
1 Gray Vireo
1 Barn Swallow
8 Cave Swallow
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Curve-billed Thrasher
9 Chipping Sparrow
4 Lark Sparrow
17 Lark Bunting
1 Lincoln's Sparrow
3 Pyrrhuloxia
1 Red-winged Blackbird
14 Brewer's Blackbird
4 House Finch
X House Sparrow

Total species reported: 24

Sleepy Duskywing

Erynnis brizo

Butterfly numbers have slowly increased with the warmer days.
I came across this bug this afternoon. I believe it new to me. Certainly new to me in the region. This particular skipper occurs in the "early Spring." I'm perfectly happy to call this now early Spring; I hope the weather cooperates with that.

This species also only has one flight of adults per yr. A "one-brood" butterfly. I particularly enjoy coming across species that hold such a tight and brief schedule.
They discipline me to stay focused in my surveying insects of this Order, even as the warm sunny afternoon wears on....
They keep me on my toes to identify a brown butterfly I almost walked past.
This is good.
I may not have a chance to see it for an entire year.

Friday Night Blacklights - Week 2

Yesterday evening: 11 March 2011

This time we made it out to the Marathon Motel Courtyard Cafe.
The moth numbers and diversity were 2 to 3 times that of only a week ago.

A few evening highlights:

Melipotis jucunda "Merry Melipotis"
This species has been around for most of our early-yr blacklighting sessions

Hyles lineata "White-lined Sphinx"
This individual corkscrewed its way onto a participants foot then to the sheet. At first we thought it missing the right side hindwing.

However, we learned that it had recently eclosed to its adult stage. Recent enough that the right hindwing had yet to fully erect. Near the end of the two-hr session it flew without issue off into the night.

This beautiful, furry moth belongs to the "Prominent Moth" family Notodontidae and a species within the Tolype genus. There were 3-4 of these this session.

13 March 2011 **EDIT**:
I now believe this to be Apotolype brevicrista. Same family, very similar genus. A slightly noticeable difference being that the "metallic thoracic patch is smaller in Apotolype species." - Powell and Opler, Moths of Western North America. 2009

"Apotolype brevista ranges from western TX to central Arizona, and thence south to central Mexico. Adults are found from March to September, and there are several broods annually.." - Powell and Opler, Moths of Western North America. 2009

Finally, here's a photo of a big peculiar member of the Geometridae family.

Synaxis cervinaria
Heidi first noticed this individual's arrival.

I also found it the next day on the chair we left it to previously.....
Come on by and join us.
Just watch where you sit.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New-for-year Butterflies seen today in Marathon

Photos from my personal files stock, not of individuals seen today:

Great Purple Hairstreak, male (Atlides halesus)
This one is always a stunner and a favorite. Larval foodplant: mistletoes growing on oak, ash, cottonwood, mesquite.

Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
This common hairstreak is still nice to happen upon, particularly after such a hard winter. It has me believe that Spring may actually get here.
Larval foodplant: Flowering parts of legumes, mallows and others.

Also had a duskywing of some type. I did not get a photo, but 'twas not Funereal/Mournful. Could it have been Meridian (E. meridianus)?

Regardless of my musings, it was nice to see variety show itself in single individuals of new species.

These were observed while planting Desert Willows.

When the redbud trees fully bloom, then we may have a bit of a butterfly show.

Wildlife Weekends - Marathon

Our inaugural 'Friday Night Blacklights' was visited by a few motel guests and a nice variety of small (and micro) early-season moths.

Our setup was trial #1 and will definitely change in the future; for a cool night, however, and only about two hours of darkness, we did pretty well. The Marathon Motel & RV Park has a great courtyard for setting up blacklights, so we anticipate good diversity once things warm up and we perfect the sheet angling!

The Sunday morning breakfast & bird walk (3 participants) ended up being in the reverse order; a very chilly and breezy morning kept things fairly quiet but the walk's highlight was Grasshopper Sparrow. It's a new park bird for us, and a somewhat uncommon winter visitor. Of the 21 species recorded in our hour and a half, noticeably absent was Black Phoebe, though the adult male Vermillion Flycatcher's return was a reasonably consolation. Thankfully breakfast is served until 11 at the Marathon Coffee Shop so we had plenty of warm food and coffee while reviewing the list.

We hope you'll join us next week for our second adventure with Friday Night Blacklights (meet at dusk at the Marathon Motel courtyard) and our Sunday bird walk at Post Park (meet at the park at 8:15).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lapland Longspur - Brewster Co.

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)
Found on Friday, March 4th, 2011 on grounds at the Marathon Motel.
Time of death ~3 days earlier based on dessication.
Cause of death, felis domesticus.

Far west Texas isn't exactly on the range map for Lapland Longspur. Local references suggest that they may occur in the "Region" up to three times per decade.

Identification is nailed with the bicolored outermost tailfeather. The super-long rear toenail gives the 'long-spur' its name, though a fairly useless trait for field identification at hundreds of yards away.

Further discussion to follow at a later date.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Signs of Spring? ...

Lark Buntings (Calamospiza melanocorys) are beginning to flock again. This morning there were 15 to 20 of them at the NW corner of Marathon Motel.
Some of the males are even beginning to show a bit more black. Like the leading edge of this guy's wing.

He even began to sing, before they all flew off. Listen closely:

Butterflies are beginning to show up:
Pipevine Swallowtail
Variegated Fritillary (worn adult)

These photos taken from my personal photo stock.

I wonder what species I'll see this afternoon?

Speaking of tomorrow, join us in the courtyard around 7:00 PM for Friday Night Black-lights.
That is.... black-lighting for moths.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Birding Post Park, March 1

Location: Marathon - Ft. Peña Colorado Pk (The Post)

Observation date: 3/1/11 (9-10:30 am)

Mallard (Mexican) 2
Ring-necked Duck 4
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Coot 5
Killdeer 2
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
White-winged Dove 30
Mourning Dove 210
Great Horned Owl 2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker 8
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) 3
Say's Phoebe 4
Vermilion Flycatcher 1
Loggerhead Shrike 1
Barn Swallow 1
Cliff Swallow 2
Verdin 2
Cactus Wren 5
Marsh Wren 1
Northern Mockingbird 2
Curve-billed Thrasher 1
American Pipit 2
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 1
Canyon Towhee 12
Brewer's Sparrow 1
Black-throated Sparrow 13
Lark Bunting 2
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 35
Pyrrhuloxia 1
Red-winged Blackbird 2
meadowlark sp. 12
House Finch 4

Number of species: 33

Notes: Black Phoebe was conspicuously absent. Two unidentified Cliff/Cave type swallows, no insects other than bees, flies.

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2 (http://ebird.org)