Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fires, Pewees, local updates, oh my

Saturday, April 30 - from Marfa Public Radio
"A Red Flag Warning is in effect today. Winds gusting up to 35 mph will be from the SW. Increased fire behavior is a threat with the extremely dry conditions. Balmorhea State Park is open. McDonald Observatory is open to the public and can be accessed from Fort Davis. Hwy 118 is closed at the Hwy 166 intersection north of the McDonald Observatory."

Otherwise, John Vanderpoel reported a Greater Pewee from the Homer Wilson Ranch portion of BBNP the other day, and posted a lovely review of Carolyn Ohl's Christmas Mountains Oasis in case any of you missed it!

Activities associated with Wildlife Weekends have been postponed until further notice, do call or e-mail ahead if you're interested in the bird walks or blacklighting and we'll do our best to arrange something. Last night's [informal, unscheduled] blacklighting was hosted at the Double Bacon, a private residence in Marathon, and we anticipate that the next few [informal, unscheduled] blacklightings will continue to be held there - again, please contact us for details. Unfortunately, our primary blacklight is on its way back (hopefully under warranty), but the Double Bacon has prime wall space and a porch light that's quite impressive!

Earlier in the week, for at least 2-3 days there was an adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbird visiting feeders at the Double Bacon; he seems to have moved on. The Scott's Orioles who like to swing the feeders around until sugar water splashes out... they're still here, still swinging on the feeders!

Otherwise, we'd like to say 'hi' to folks on a boat near Titusville, FL ...and thanks for reading our blog!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mass Audubon Post [Park] sightings for 4-28-11

This post is backdated for reference, we really appreciate folks letting us know what they've seen in the area when we can't cover it!


We had a successful late morning visit to The Post on April 28. And thanks to your directions, we also found the prairie dog colony with a number of burrowing owls north of Marathon. FYI, I've included a list of the birds our Mass Audubon group found at The Post. Thanks again for your assistance.
Rene Laubach, Mass Aududbon

Birds seen at the Post 4-28-11, 10:45 a.m. - 1:10 p.m.:

Wild Turkey-1
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk- 1 ad.
Zone-tailed Hawk-1 along Hwy 385 near Marathon
American Coot-2
Killdeer- 2 in marshy spot along road near The Post
Spotted Sandpiper-3
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher- male
Golden-fronted Woodpecker- female
Empidonax sp.
Vermilion Flycatcher- male
Western Kingbird-1
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher--1
Bell's Vireo
Cliff Swallow
Cave Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cactus Wren-h
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow Warbler-1
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend's Warbler-1
Black-and-white Warbler- 1
Wilson's Warbler- male
Canyon Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Lark Bunting- 2 males
Lincoln's Sparrow-1
White-crowned Sparrow
Summer Tanager- male, female
Blue Grosbeak- 3 males
Indigo Bunting- male
Orchard Oriole- male
Pine Siskin- 6+

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Back in "fire" mode...

As of this morning, I heard from a Davis Mts Resort resident that the DMR was under mandatory evacuation orders, though I've not found it on any sites... but this news of evacuating the Balmorhea area from Marfa NPR's feed:
New fire behind Fort Davis Motor Inn. Seperately, Reeves County officials ask residents who live on the outskirts of Balmorhea, to come into town. Officials are evacuating area around Balmorhea Lake. Residents can get further information at a command center at City Hall.

Edit - 6:42 pm from Texas Mountain Trails:

Via McDonald Observatory Due to wildfire in the area and very high winds, McDonald Observatory is closed for tonight's Star Party, and closed tomorrow, April 27, through at least noon. Also, due to wildfires in the area, Highway 118 NW of the Observatory between the Observatory and Kent (I-10) might be closed or reduced to one lane over the next few days.

Edit - 9:00 pm from Marfa NPR, bad news since these fires have been spreading mostly north and east:
Fire on Shurley Ranch about 26 miles south of Marfa.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Migration at Post Park!

This morning we finally had some decent numbers of migrants, 'first of season' critters and new species for the park. It felt a lot like my last trip to Mexico - every warbler was a Wilson's Warbler. We probably undercounted them because almost every blur of movement turned out to be one of them. Birds of interest are in bold; one critter not on the list is Golden Eagle, it was over the main road in Marathon around noon. As always, you have to check every 'vulture' in this county!

Post Park / Fort Peña Colorado:

1 Mallard (Mexican)
2 Blue-winged Teal
2 Green-winged Teal
1 Wild Turkey
1 Green Heron
15 Turkey Vulture
1 Cooper's Hawk
1 American Coot
1 Killdeer
20 White-winged Dove
1 Mourning Dove
4 Black-chinned Hummingbird
1 Belted Kingfisher
10 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
2 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
8 Vermilion Flycatcher
4 Ash-throated Flycatcher
12 Cassin's Kingbird
3 Western Kingbird
1 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
4 Bell's Vireo
1 Plumbeous Vireo
2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
10 Barn Swallow
3 Cactus Wren
1 Bewick's Wren
1 Marsh Wren
7 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
3 Northern Mockingbird
8 European Starling
3 American Pipit (one was in full breeding plumage!)
5 Yellow Warbler
3 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)
15 Wilson's Warbler
1 Yellow-breasted Chat
3 Canyon Towhee
20 Chipping Sparrow
1 Vesper Sparrow
1 Lark Bunting
3 Lincoln's Sparrow
10 White-crowned Sparrow
16 Summer Tanager
1 Western Tanager
1 Northern Cardinal
2 Pyrrhuloxia
1 Lazuli Bunting
2 Indigo Bunting
2 Red-winged Blackbird
6 Brewer's Blackbird
1 Bronzed Cowbird
7 Orchard Oriole
6 Scott's Oriole
3 House Finch
2 Pine Siskin

Total species reported: 54

Post Road:

4 Scaled Quail
2 Wild Turkey
1 Swainson's Hawk
1 American Kestrel
1 Loggerhead Shrike
1 Swamp Sparrow
1 Blue Grosbeak

Total species reported: 7

Considering that many of our 'regular suspects' were absent or low in number, it was quite the productive morning! We suspect that incubation is the culprit for those species keeping a low profile, hopefully those numbers will pick back up soon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Davis Mts SP after the fire

Click here to go to the Texas Mountain Trail blog post about Davis Mountains State Park after the fire; photos are very telling. I hadn't realized how close the fire got to the lodge!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hoary Bat revisited

For the full blog post to describe this bizarre photo, click here. No, the cactus is not trying to eat the bat... but close!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Western Poplar Sphinx Moth

Pachysphinx occidentalis

We leave the CFL blacklight on overnight for reason that different species fly at different times.
However, after turning the light off this morning and rushing out the door, I only recently glanced over at the north wall at ~ 1800 hrs.

A few moths were still there.

This one always impresses:

photos by Heidi Trudell

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wildlife Weekends update, Post Park birding

Friday night was chilly, breezy, and a total of 4 moths showed up before 10 pm - only one of those even cooperated (if you count cooperation as landing on the back of someone's leg...) Now that total darkness isn't until nearly 8:30 there's less time for the moths to make it to the sheets before we head out around 10; but as long as things aren't too windy or cold, there should still be a better turnout than this Friday. We may try to set up a blacklight on grounds at the motel that can stay on overnight so we can check on Saturday mornings to see what moths showed up late.

Post Park bird walks on Sunday mornings have been rescheduled for 8:30 to make it more practical for folks coming in from Alpine.

This morning's walk only kicked up one 'first of season' bird, the Blue Grosbeak. Here's today's list in all of its ebirded glory:

1 Mallard (Mexican)
8 Turkey Vulture
1 Northern Harrier
1 Red-tailed Hawk
4 American Coot
1 Killdeer
1 Eurasian Collared-Dove
12 White-winged Dove
4 Mourning Dove
3 Black-chinned Hummingbird
8 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
1 Black Phoebe
1 Eastern Phoebe
6 Vermilion Flycatcher
3 Ash-throated Flycatcher
5 Western Kingbird
1 Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
1 Bell's Vireo
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
1 Violet-green Swallow
5 Barn Swallow
3 Cave Swallow
2 Cactus Wren
1 Canyon Wren
1 Bewick's Wren
1 House Wren
2 Marsh Wren
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 Northern Mockingbird
2 Curve-billed Thrasher
4 European Starling
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)
1 Wilson's Warbler
6 Canyon Towhee
10 Chipping Sparrow
1 Vesper Sparrow
1 Lark Sparrow
1 Savannah Sparrow
2 Lincoln's Sparrow
2 Swamp Sparrow
10 White-crowned Sparrow
6 Summer Tanager
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Blue Grosbeak
1 Red-winged Blackbird
2 Brewer's Blackbird
2 House Finch

Total species reported: 48

Post Road on the way out:
Swainson's Hawk
Golden Eagle (young bird, sadly backlit)
Black-throated Sparrow

A side note from Saturday - the Zone-tailed Hawk with a broken primary feather was seen over the Marathon again, this time coursing over the grounds at the Marathon Motel (it tried to chase something near the pond, but missed). Friday night there had been an adult Little Blue Heron roosting near the pond, but it was already gone by the time we checked on Saturday morning.

Edit: here's a link from that shows the fires causing the current haze in west TX; we can barely see the mountains that surround Marathon, but the sunsets are amazing!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

West TX fires - how to help

From Marfa Public Radio:

Right now, the best way to help those devastated by the wildfires is sending donations via the Permian Basin Area Foundation Emergency Relief Fund and to the bank account set up by the Jeff Davis County Relief Fund. We are told that both funds feed the same source.

Jeff Davis County Relief Fund
c/o Permian Basin Area Foundation
200 N. Loraine, Suite 500
Midland, TX 79701


Jeff Davis County Relief Fund
via Fort Davis State Bank
P.O. Box 1808
Fort Davis TX 79734

Account #321028 (needs to be included). If you’d like to donate specifically towards fencing labor and materials, indicate FENCING FUND on your donation.

You can also donate to local fire departments at the following addresses.

Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department, PO Box 811, Fort Davis, TX, 79734

Marfa Volunteer Fire Department, PO Box 846, Marfa, TX, 79843

Alpine Fire and Rescue, 100 N. 13th St, Alpine, TX 79830

West Texas is still kickin'

Most of the impacted areas were not publicly accessible; Fort Davis update from our Texas Mountain Trail contact is this -
Very little of the scenic loop west of town was affected, I drove from FD to Valentine on that route this morning. While the fire was widespread, there are still many, many wonderful areas remaining intact.

Most dire needs are for fencing and feed; call Johnson's Feed in Alpine at (432) 837-5792 to arrange a donation.

The Fort Davis shelter (Grand Companions, where our little one, Nauga is from) also lost $1,000 in vaccines due to the loss of power and their washing machine went out thankfully their washing machine has already been replaced - so monetary donations are greatly appreciated!

Landmarks survived Fort Davis fire!

Fire summary from Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute

Here's a link for the benefit concert for the Fort Davis area. Latest on that: ...the event will most likely be a two-day event with a Friday night show at Padre's and a headliner show at the Jeff Davis County Park the next day. Stay tuned!

Best up-to-date fire and road updates are on Marfa NPR:
(This also happens to be the week of their fund raiser! *cough*)

As of April 11, this is the extent of the damage from Carolyn Ohl's blog.


It should be stressed that none of the fires have impacted Big Bend National Park, Post Park, Marathon, Sanderson, or the majority of Alpine.

And from the Tx Mountain Trail group:
Here's another way you can help Fort Davis: Plan a little roadtrip there this year. We were in Fort Davis this morning and the things you love about the town are STILL there...Fort, Observatory, charming downtown, lovely places to stay. One rain and it will start to green up. The fire deposits a little gift to the land--extra nitrogen that will make the mountains so green, you'll feel like you're in Ireland...

They've got great updates on facebook, along with the occasional birding tidbit:
We saw a lovely thing at Fort Davis' Davis Mountains Lodge & Expeditions today, a place narrowly escaping fire. They recently put up a birding area near the Lodge's office with feeders and benches...and today the feeders were a busy place with birds singing and swooping in for food. The hummingbirds were particularly happy there!

...basically, the upside of fire is that birds will concentrate in areas that were not impacted (thankfully that includes almost all of our regional birding spots) and this will hopefully clear out some of choked vegetation from last year's incredibly overzealous spring.

Edit: TNC's Madera Canyon reportedly is unharmed as well!

Loggerhead Shrike and Lark Bunting

What do the title creatures have in common? Unfortunately, they're in our freezer.

The detailed photos of each critter can be seen over at our other blog, SeeTrail, but here's a sneak preview of each:

Roadkill: Loggerhead Shrike

Window kill: Lark Bunting

Note: state and/or federal permits are required to pick up birds.
Our permits are through Texas A&M; the collection date for the shrike is 23 March, 2011, ~20 miles north of Study Butte, Brewster Co. Texas; the bunting is 1 April, 2011 from NW Marathon, Brewster Co. Texas.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Harris's Hawk in Marathon

Lately we've had a lot of raptors moving through the area - American Kestrel and Cooper's Hawk at Post Park, a Zone-tailed Hawk in the middle of town, and as of this evening, a young Harris's Hawk. Our affectionately dubbed 'front slab' has been our default spot for yard listing, but now that it's a porch it's a bit harder to bird from...

This afternoon we had a Scott's Oriole checking our hummigbird feeders for drippings; it's also a new yard bird for us. Enough rambling, here are our newest yard additions from the Double Bacon!

Harris's Hawk digi-binned from Top Street on a relocation adventure (white belly streaks are barely visible, but the lovely white rump and rusty shoulders are enough to keep us happy). Scott's Oriole photo taken by Matt, through a screen, sadly.

Post Park Bird Walk

In spite of gusty winds, 42 species were seen at Post Park/For Pena Colorado this morning! Post Road added Scaled Quail, Swainson's Hawk and Black-throated Sparrow; no roadrunner this week.

'First of Season' species are in bold.

3 Wild Turkey
5 Turkey Vulture
1 Cooper's Hawk
1 American Kestrel
4 American Coot
2 Killdeer
4 Eurasian Collared-Dove
8 White-winged Dove
5 Mourning Dove
2 Black-chinned Hummingbird
1 Belted Kingfisher
6 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
1 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)
1 Eastern Phoebe
1 Say's Phoebe
6 Vermilion Flycatcher
3 Ash-throated Flycatcher
1 Cassin's Kingbird
2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
1 Tree Swallow
5 Barn Swallow
3 Cliff Swallow
3 Cave Swallow
2 Cactus Wren
1 Marsh Wren
2 Northern Mockingbird
1 Curve-billed Thrasher
4 European Starling
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)
4 Canyon Towhee
5 Clay-colored Sparrow
1 Lark Bunting
1 Savannah Sparrow
2 Lincoln's Sparrow
10 White-crowned Sparrow
1 Summer Tanager
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Brewer's Blackbird
1 Scott's Oriole
6 House Finch
1 Lesser Goldfinch

Total species reported: 42

We're grateful for the opportunity to explore our local spot on a weekly basis and share it with folks from such far-flung locations as Maine and Washington DC. Perhaps we should have a guest book for the bird walks?

Thankfully the skies are clear in spite of fires that are plaguing Alpine and Fort Davis; however, we're downwind and our fingers are crossed in hopes that the fires will be contained before they do any more damage to residential areas.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Agrius Cingulata - Pink-Spotted Hawkmoth

Found by Heidi this morning after we left our UV porchlight on all night.

A new moth for us! Always nice.

Marathon, Brewster Co., TX

Friday, April 8, 2011

Apr. 8 - Blacklighting cancelled

Due to current high winds and the anticipation that they are to continue through the rest of the weekend, we regret to announce that tonight's Friday Night Blacklights has been cancelled. Gusts of 45+ are expected, so billowing sheets would be unavoidable.

On the bright side, Sunday morning's bird walk is still on!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chisos Banded-Skipper

This is a slightly belated post from our Wednesday "trial run" of the Colima trail (9 miles round trip of Laguna Meadows trail + Colima Trail + Pinnacles Trail for the return), backdated to reflect the day-of-hike as opposed to Saturday, when I'm finally getting the photos sorted!

Since Matt and I were more focused on getting our ears back in tune with the higher elevations, and getting off the trail before we ran out of snacks and water, we didn't exactly stop to check every butterfly - they all looked like sootywings or duskywings or the little blackish skippers that never land. Indeed, the only one that landed was one that I backtracked for, snapped a few horrid photos of through binoculars, and then managed a decent shot...

This afternoon, flipping through Kaufman's butterfly book, I couldn't place it. It didn't fit any of the duskywings or sooty wings or anything that was pictured with closed wings. So an e-mail to dear friend and lep-enthusiast Nick Block resulted in the official ID:
Chisos Banded-Skipper (Autochton cincta)

The kicker? Check the range map in the link above!

So that little fellow, while unassuming, is arguably one of the 'best' bugs that we've seen to date! Until the ID was made, our most notable sighting of the day had been on our way out of the Chisos Basin, just before the Lost Mine Trail - a black bear with THREE cubs happened to be traipsing along the side of the mountain as we passed. Wonderful to have them back in the region!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Scarlet Tanagers and Post Park

Q & A time:

E-bird flagged my 2 Scarlet Tanagers at Post Park, but I saw two large, bright red birds with black wings.

For some reason there seems to be a lot of confusion about red birds at Post Park.

There are many male Vermilion Flycatchers on a normal day at the Post (though they tend to leave north Brewster Co. in the winter). Scarlet Tanagers - at any time of year - are VERY unlikely. Back color and presence/absence of an eye line should be noted, as well as behavior. Vermilions tend to like exposed perches, low branches, and are generally very active. Scarlet Tanagers tend to be secretive in their preference of upper/inner canopy levels and do not tend to be acrobatic in behavior.

Adult male Vermilion Flycatcher, Post Park / Fort Pena Colorado, April 2011.
Heidi Trudell

Apparently a lot of folks who are not familiar with the male Vermilion Flycatcher see the red/black and write it off as an unmistakable Scarlet Tanager. A quick view in flight leaves many questions unanswered, but every bird is worth double checking in a field guide just to be sure; all Scarlet Tanager reports from Post Park should be backed with photo documentation. Their normal range is well east of Brewster Co.

Here's the range for Scarlet Tanager, via

Here's Vermilion Flycatcher, via

For more information about both species - ranges, plumages, vocalizations, etc:
Vermilion Flycatcher ID page from
Scarlet Tanager ID page from

A few other troublesome reddish birds at Post Park:
Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias at the Post. Always double check beak color.
Say's Phoebe and female Vermilion Flycatchers; head color and size are important!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Birding Marathon; Post Park

This post is backdated to reflect date of observation; Sunday, April 3, 2011. We had five individuals present for the bird walk and a few FOS species (noted in bold). Many wintering species were starting to sing before heading north, but are still around in good numbers.


X Wild Turkey (heard only)
10 Turkey Vulture
1 Red-tailed Hawk
5 American Coot
2 Killdeer
1 Eurasian Collared-Dove
12 White-winged Dove
1 Mourning Dove
2 Black-chinned Hummingbird
1 Belted Kingfisher
18 Golden-fronted Woodpecker
1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
1 Say's Phoebe
14 Vermilion Flycatcher
3 Ash-throated Flycatcher
1 Bell's Vireo
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
6 Barn Swallow
4 Cactus Wren
2 Marsh Wren
2 Northern Mockingbird
1 Curve-billed Thrasher
8 European Starling
1 American Pipit
1 Black-and-white Warbler
1 Wilson's Warbler
7 Canyon Towhee
8 Chipping Sparrow
3 Vesper Sparrow
4 Lark Bunting
7 Savannah Sparrow
1 Lincoln's Sparrow
10 White-crowned Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
3 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Scott's Oriole
3 House Finch
X Lesser Goldfinch (heard only)
3 House Sparrow

Total species reported: 39

Pearl Crescent fresh, bright individual:


A few interesting bird sightings around Marathon earlier in the week:
Belted Kingfisher - 1 - NE side of town
Osprey - 2 - Marathon Motel, NE side of town
Scott's Oriole - 2 - NE side of town, along tracks near Marathon Coffee Shop