Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It made NARBA!

West Texas: Blackpoll Warbler -- first report: June 20

On the morning of June 20 Heidi Trudell found a male Blackpoll Warbler in Alpine. The bird was behind the cactus garden at the Sul Ross campus, Brewster County. She was not able to relocate it at lunch time.

(originally on the North American Rare Bird Alert page)

...there are papers that suggest college campuses are havens for insect diversity* so where are the papers that suggest college campuses are havens for bird diversity? Abilene's first Scarlet Tanager was a window kill on the ACU campus. Principia College racked up over 40 species (dead) in about 2 years. There's even a fantastic blog that tracks window kills (or the lack thereof) on the OU campus - surprising diversity there, too! Dead ones don't even scratch the surface, though they're harder to document (like that lovely blur of a shot I took).

Ultimately there's a wealth of information everywhere we look - the beauty of being in an under-studied area is that any information is more than what there was before. Most of this county is either inaccessible because it's privately owned, or inaccessible because it's illegal to collect in the national park. Either way, there's a lot of work to do! And a lot of it is just being in the right place at the right time!

* College Campuses: Patches of Insect Diversity, Opportunities for Entomological Discovery, and Means for Enhancing Ecological Literacy
Alfred G. Wheeler, Jr

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Among the Masses, there are the Unique...

..., the infrequently encountered . We discover this in photography, poetry, ecosystems, and most certainly in persons among people.

We also find it in moths.

One mustn't be necessarily alert:

Nor melancholy or morose:

Just observant:

If you are among the innately-so, well it's nice having peers. Even if not, observance is something we can all work on, improve upon, or even

Heidi and I came across a unique, and new to us, moth a couple of nights ago.
Brilliant in color?! No.
Brilliant in size?! No.
Shape?! Shhhh.. no.

In its existence.

Opsigalea blanchardi - Opsigalea Moth

The Opsigalea Moth is apparently a rare, or rarely encountered, member of the order.

Worldwide there are only 3 Opsigalea species.

North of Mexico there is only One.

Its range is only in the southwestern United States; from Arizona to West TX.


"This species has been collected only in western Texas"

The map and the quote above are from

This species was named in honor of Andre Blanchard (1896 - 1986). He, a moth researcher and enthusiast from Houston, TX.
Likely unique among the masses.

And still flying after all these years.

Immortality enough.

More of us should look around.
Or perhaps those of us whom are predisposed to, should remember to do so more often.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Blackpoll Warbler in Alpine

My bleary-eyed attempt to make it from the parking lot to class was thwarted by an adult male Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata). I did make it to class on time, even managed to get a blurry photo of the little fellow in the process. My attempt to relocate it during my lunch break was unsuccessful though. The list of stuff from lunch is below - I guess the Chipping Sparrows from a month ago have taken off, or been outnumbered by the buntings and grosbeaks...

For an idea of why Blackpoll is such a cool bird here, check ebird's map

...but here's another handy image:


Yeah; not so much in west Texas!

Sul Ross campus, Brewster County, Texas, US
Date and Effort
Mon Jun 20, 2011 12:30 PM

Duration: 45 minute(s)

2 Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
4 Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
2 White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
5 Black-chinned Hummingbird Archilochus alexandri
1 Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus
2 Cassin's Kingbird Tyrannus vociferans
1 raven sp. Corvus sp. (raven sp.)
2 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
8 Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
2 Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
2 Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus
25 Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea
20 Painted Bunting Passerina ciris
1 Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus
6 Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
30 House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
25 Lesser Goldfinch Spinus psaltria
20 House Sparrow Passer domesticus

....BPWA photo to be posted after class!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rhino in the yard

A real, authentic, genuine, not-so-alive Rhinocerous Beetle was lurking under a pile of scrap wood in the yard. Three not-so-dead scorpions were in the vicinity, but that's a story for another time. The beetle! So lovely! So huge! we put chapstick next to it for scale because that makes the world a better place.

But really, check out those legs! And that face! And the gnarly triceratops-in-training schnoz! (One horn down, two to go!)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Staghorn Cholla Moth

Staghorn-who-what? Euscirrhopterus cosyra; the Staghorn Cholla Moth.

These little spatters of "monsoon season" sprinkles that started a week ago have kicked a few bugs up; a lot of new stuff for us, a lot of diversity and pretty decent numbers considering the slllooooow spring. Now our yard has been graced with the presence of a cacti-muncher. Very exciting!

Click here to see the page for them.

Click here to see them on Noctuidae of North America - and their rather novel distribution map!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Freezer catch-up

Someday this blog will have bugs again, maybe even some live birds. Until then, here's a look at recent events in our freezer* (our freezer being something of a West Texas stopover for dead birds on their way to the collection of Texas A&M, according to our permits).

This is actually a rather exciting post in terms of critters in different collections; the Wilson's Warbler is now in the custody of Big Bend National Park! We're quite happy to have figured out the steps required to get dead birds within the park to the right person.

From the top:
Bell's Vireo - COD unknown (suspiciously thin but suspiciously near a road)
Say's Phoebe - COD suspected to be emaciation
Say's Phoebe - huge bill for tiny head!
Lark Sparrow - COD suspected to be emaciation, found dead in a pond
Wilson's Warbler - COD either window ricochet or emaciation (the former would have been impressive)
Common Nighthawk - sorry it's blurry, COD = vehicle (compare this grayscale bird to Matt's earlier post for Lesser's buffy-scale plumage)

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Weight of this individual: 2.8 g
(average weight for a male = 3.09 g)

* I'm not sure if the average listed is a spring/summer weight or not.

This is one of the hardest things to deal with in rehab: knowing that you CAN help, but only so much. The lovely fellow above, adult male Black-chinned Hummingbird, died of emaciation/starvation/drought. Matt found him in the yard, unable to hover more than an inch off the ground. By the time I got outside, he was on his back. Once in hand, his beak was placed in a hummingbird feeder and he managed to get a few good strong slurps. Placed in a sheltered spot with a perch and nectar source, I thought he was dead in the morning - his head rolled back when I picked him up and he was limp. There was a buzz in the chest and he responded with beak movements when his bill was nudged into the nectar. A few sips and some gaping and the buzz in his chest accelerated before stopping. Eyes closed.

Ethically, the decision to interfere with nature would be an interesting discussion. However, in the grand scheme of impacts on birds, nature barely has any say - many young birds still die of natural causes (too many mouths in the nest) but for adult birds, the death toll by unnatural causes is ridiculous. Windows do not single out and kill the sick or the injured. Wind turbines do not single out and kill the sick or the injured. Cars often enough do not single out and kill the sick or the injured. Power lines do not single out and kill the sick or the injured.

So in my book, any bird that CAN be helped SHOULD be helped. And any bird that can't? That's what salvage permits are for.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nighthawk, none-the-Lesser

Chordeiles acutipennis
Lesser Nighthawk
Forever sleep.

*Recall that we are permitted through Texas A&M University.

Amongst birders, there is oft the exchange of "is it lesser or common, is it lesser or common, is it .... ?"


I generally hear that when outside the Lesser Nighthawk's range in much of TX. Where they may get a few here or there. Or do they?

In the trans-Pecos, we get both. Perhaps even more Lessers to an extent. It's not too difficult to tell them apart when you live amongst them.

"Nighthawks" are in Family: Caprimulgidae, along with "Nightjars." Generally having long pointed wings. Mostly active at night, they are sometimes seen in daylight, often come dusk.

Lesser Nighthawk

If you were to successfully pull this bird, perched on a branch of an old oak, out of the matrix (it happens) and were with a throng of birders you would again hear that many-voiced mumble-roar "Is it lesser or common, is it lesser or common, is it ..."

Look at those long primary wing feathers. Do they have small, buffy-tan spots on them?

You are then looking at a Lesser Nighthawk.

Fanned out:

This particular bird is a male. The best way I can tell is that WHITE "primary wing-bar." The females' stay buffy-tan like those aforementoned Lesser Nighthawk wing-spots.

Underneath as well for the male:

Nighthawks are entirely insectivorous. Like many avian insectivores, they sport bristles at the base of their culmen:

Their tiny beaks do no justice in illustrating just how wide their mouths open. Those hinges are pretty far apart:

Heidi taught me in the past that wildlife rehabbers have real issues with feeding injured nighthawks and nightjars. Insects, yes. However, they only feed on the wing and these guys fly fairly rapidly. At their rate of speed to the prey-item, that flying insect is thus moving the nighthawk's way very quickly as well. They can't successfully feed by dropping a cricket down the hatch. Perhaps she can speak more on that.
This individual needed no rehabber.

Though nearly always observed on-the-wing by mere humans. They ofcourse have feet. They perch; also, they scratch and preen like Aves do. Check that "toe" :

Long-legged, they are not.

Lesser Nighthawk also fly far more consistanly close to the ground. (Which makes them a seemingly big roadkill hazard out here. They are extremely aerodynamic which is an asset. I can't believe I've yet to hit one. So many close-calls. I'm quite glad I haven't.)

Common Nighthawks give a classic well-known vocalization in flight. Lessers DO NOT vocalize in flight.

Common Nighthawks fly high and have a bouyant quality about them in flight, with fewer wingbeats. Longer-winged than the Lesser, that white primary bar also does not go as near to the wingtip with Common Nighthawk. Though the latter, hard to tell if that is the only of these qualities one looks for.

Finally, yet once again, whether perched as in the initial photo or in flight in good light with good looks... :

... those buffy-tan spots on the primary wing-feathers.

The Texas Cooperative Wildlife Collection (check link in sidebar) at Texas A&M University does not have a Lesser Nighthawk for Brewster Co.

Here you are, Dr. A.