Monday, May 21, 2012

Copanarta aurea

A lovely creature with no common name... Copanarta aurea is one with a strange personal past. My first encounter with it was last summer - 2 Aug 2011 if my scribbles are legible and correct. It showed up at a blacklighting session at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute in Jeff Davis Co. during the summer Entomology course. For those so inclined, Sul Ross State University is conveniently located in very buggy country!

Our ill-fated little friend was one that never stopped for photos at the light, and at first glance, there was nothing spectacular about a small gray corpse.

Click here for bugguide's page on Copanarta aurea!

Bottom center - a very unassuming pose.

Spreading to dry. Below, in the collection. And in good company, if I say so myself.

Thankfully the Copanarta aurea who visited our lights (Brewster Co, this time) on 18 May 2012 did at least allow a few photos to be snapped in spite of never slowing. Check the range map...

Pygarctia appreciation

A little follow-up to Night of the Lepidoptera...

It was a pleasant surprise to have Pygarctia species at the lights for a second night in a row.

Look at that abdomen. Just look at it. Silver and white, lined in red.
The red-head and dorsal side of the abdomen generally diagnosis this individual as P. roseicapitis.

P. flavidorsalis has an orange abdomen and an orange head.
Our previous encounter was limited; only a white moth with orange face was documented.

This time, a bit of motion affirmed an identification. And check out their range map!

It seems that Matt photographed a fresh male during this session with the worn female.

She looks a bit worse for the wear. But what a lovely (if blurry) face!

Oh, and Pygarctia neomexicana? It finally sat still!
And here's a link to why this is such an interesting critter for North America....

Edit: all images in this post were taken 19 May 2012. Previous posts were from 18 May session.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Desert Ironclad Beetles

There was some form of serenade going on here - the fellow on top was making fantastic little squeaky noises by fidgeting... if you crank the volume WAY up, you can hear a sliiight grinding noise that is nearly continuous in the background. Folks who have been around birds that grind their beaks when they sleep, this is reminiscent of that noise. It was hard to not get neighborhood dogs barking in the background, but hopefully this snippet isn't too bad.

After a rather long discussion between the pair, they parted ways.

I'm fairly certain that these are two different species of Omorgus beetles... official ID pending.

Top shell is lumpy, bottom shell is smooth... that's where the differences start.

And what do I find most perplexing about this encounter?

Not the noises - though fantastic...

Not that the critter above was represented by ~6 individuals for the evening, nor that the individual below was represented by only one individual for the evening (and was a new critter for us)...

Yeah. That hind leg. It has a friend. Eeeeehehehehehewwww.
/Survived Parasitology. Barely.

Night of the Lepidoptera

We had a lovely evening of 8% moon visibility last night and were not at all disappointed. Of a few(?) hundred(?) moths in attendance, most were old friends. But for old friends, they were certainly in their freshest condition, with only one or two ragged or very worn individuals the entire night! While numbers were not overwhelming, diversity was excellent. This post is kind of a follow-up to the previous... We like big bugs [and we cannot lie]

Eye-candy first. The moth that takes the cake for the night: Pygarctica neomexicana.

No common name, unknown larval host plant.

Not much to look at, eh? Well, it barely sat still...

It never did sit still.

Last year we had one good flight, hard to recall numbers, but "good" is more than one.

This was our first individual of the year... welcome back!

Now, our lovely, familiar Chloraspilates bicoloraria. Close-winged, this time. Minty.

The teeny, occasional visitor - Whip-marked Snout Moth, Microtheoris vibicalis.

Pygarctica flavidorsalis has no common name, but it has a BRIGHT orange abdomen and makes sporadic appearances at our lights; never more than one or two at a time.

One of our enduring favorites, the Purslane Moth, Euscirrhopterus gloveri.

Crisp white wing stripe with two small dots... and a brilliant flash of orange in flight!

Lovely, lovely evening. And darker nights are still ahead!

We like big bugs [and we cannot lie]

Last night's blacklighting was not the busiest night for large moths, but it came close in terms of diversity. And in terms of docile, mellow bugs... wow. However, with large moths that are newly hatched, flight lessons take a little while and there were many, many collisions. For such graceful-when-sitting-still creatures, we were thwacked unceremoniously by directionally challenged beasts. It's a sensation that one doesn't quite get used to, especially when bopped in the head by what is expected to be a moth and is, instead, a huge grasshopper. Grasshopper diversity *is* picking up.

Introducing the oft-maligned Five-spotted Hawkmoth, Manduca quinquemaculata, eater of tomato plants. Lovely blue thorax spots.
Eight or so in attendance.

Our thirsty friend, the hummingbird mimic White-lined Sphinx, Hyles lineata.
Four or so in attendance.

From above, above. And below, below.

I wonder what the weight comparison is between this moth and a "real" hummingbird.

Now for the Western Poplar Sphinx, Pachysphinx occidentalis. Quite the show-stopper.
One for the night.

Huge, beautifully marked - much bolder and brighter in markings than previous sightings out here.

Also, very docile. Look at that face.

Head, check.

Thorax, check.

Wings, check.

Legs, check.

Face, check.

Antennae, check.

Eyes, check.




This gorgeous hulk of a moth ate plenty as a kid...erpillar... and I wish we had a better shot of the front of this beauty, but, there's really not too much to see.

Yes. We like.

[Edit, part two of the blacklighting session has been posted!]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

No Bird Walk May 27th

Anyone wishing to brave ~25 boy scouts and their families is welcome to bird Post Park on May 27th, but the people-activity may keep the birds in hiding!

Saturday activities may or may not include:
* Making your own binoculars out of two toilet paper rolls and some string!
* The birds of the alphabet... albatross, bluebird, canary, dove, eagle... keep going!
* What's for lunch? A game in which we determine that birds eat just about everything.

Bicolored chloro-splat... wait, what?

Getting to know your local Chloraspilates bicoloraria? Us, too.

Just look closely. Very closely. It's quite the bug, no? Now who said they didn't like moths?

The fuzzy antennae are all the better for smelling pheromones with, generally a good indication that the critter is male. Apparently the common name - you'd never guess by the scientific name - is Bicolored Chloraspilates. Thanks, BugGuide. At least we can now pronounce KLOOR-is-pil-AYTS BYE-col-er-AIR-ee-ah.

Life cycle is apparently unknown for this gem who visits our lights on a regular basis. So much to learn in the world of moths!

These little neighbors of ours are a bit larger than a penny and tend to be regulars on the north wall when we blacklight, though we rarely exceed singles or pairs of them on any given night. We've never had double-digits of them, for sure. This individual was photographed in the presence of Jane and John Balaban on 25 April 2012, along with approximately half a gazillion other moths in attendance the following night. But more on those moths later.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rain equals....

We've had over 7 inches of rain this year.  That breaks last year's total already.
Last calender year's drought was the worst ever recorded in the state.

This year we have had RAIN!

These are things that often, and quite amazingly, did not happen last year.
Said another way; the following is what is finally happening again:

1. Birds pairing up.

Summer Tanagers (Piranga rubra) left: female, right: male

Many birds last year just flat out did not nest.  Success of the respective species last year was for the breeding age birds to work to live another year.  A tough task, as not all did.  Many emaciated birds wound up at TAMU's collection from out here.  Adult birds just wandered and foraged for themselves.  Not worth the risk of trying to nest.  Not enough forage.

But this year, at least the first round, seems to be different.

2. Birds are nesting.

Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) on nest.  Female.

The above photograph was taken today (well, all photos are from today) with respect and distance.  I only first noticed the nest when she flushed from it, due to me.

I backed up far away.  Well far enough that she came back.  It was from that distance I watched.  The blurriness of the subject perhaps a result of the distance.  Native wildlife is always the most important aspect of any encounter.  Photography and all else falls back a .... distant .... second.

By the way, water and insect life are nearby this Vermilion Flycatcher nest.  Watching her time on, I'm fairly certain she is incubating eggs.


3. Birds are nesting... with success.  Surely not all birds, and there are other reasons for nest failure.  But birds are nesting.  Nesting with success.  At least the first clutch.

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)  fledglings.


Keep it coming.

Last year was rough on every-being.

**QUICK CAVEAT**  :  The Marathon-basin, and this property S. of Marathon, has received rainfall this year.  This certainly does not apply to the entire tri-county Big Bend Region or the trans-Pecos as a whole.  Marathon still needs more, and most locations need it drastically.   Friends in s. Brewster Co., in the Davis Mountains, and beyond; we are certainly in this drought condition together!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The epic battle between bird and snake...

... that never happened.

However, they occupied near-proximity the same enjoyable afternoon in the Chisos Basin yesterday.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)


Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus molossus)

Hepatic Tanager, Chisos Basin, Big Bend NP

13 May 2012

Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava)

This singing male was observed behind the Chisos Basin Visitor Center.

It was first spotted by the drinking water station, then on to this large pine behind the building, and finally flew off toward the Window View Trail.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

No Post Park Bird Walk 13 May 2012

Due to Mother's Day - with a mother and father (in-law) in town - and Sul Ross State University graduation, there will be no bird walk at Post Park on Sunday, May 13, 2012.

We regret the lack of birding for tomorrow morning, but we are thrilled about the family in town as well as the graduation!

Happy trails,
-Heidi & Matt

(PS - if y'all bird Post Park tomorrow, let us know what you saw!)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

5 May 2012 sightings

I managed to make it out of the house with neither point-and-shoot nor 'real' camera with me, couldn't find a notebook so an envelope had to do... cell battery was half gone and the park was full of people and an off-leash dog. All things considered, six birders from Houston took it in stride and still managed to find some goodies. Butterflies for the day included most of the usual suspects (Monarch, Queen, Red Admiral, Checkered White, Variegated Fritillary) and First of Season American Lady as well as West Coast Lady. The latter two were puddling upstream of the fence in what was left of some vegetation after some feral hogs left their mark.

Post Park:

20 Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
2 American Coot Fulica americana - heard only
2 Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
6 White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
2 Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
2 Black-chinned Hummingbird Archilochus alexandri
4 Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
6 Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
1 Ash-throated Flycatcher Myiarchus cinerascens
8 Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis
4 Bell's Vireo Vireo bellii
4 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
2 Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus - heard only
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
2 Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
1 Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre
1 Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
2 Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia - heard only
1 Canyon Towhee Melozone fusca
5 Summer Tanager Piranga rubra
1 Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana
1 Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
6 Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
1 Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
2 Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus - male displaying
5 Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
10 Orchard Oriole Icterus spurius
4 House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus

First of season Desert Ironclad Beetle also made an appearance - they are wrinkly looking creatures that tend to startle into a faux death pose fairly easily.

To make up for lack of photos from today, here are some relevant bits from a our other blog, SeeTrail, about desert ironclad beetles. (2010)

Desert Ironclad Beetle, Genus:  Zopherus Omorgus.

After Post, I headed a few miles west to the Hwy 90 tank:

2 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
2 Mallard (Mexican) Anas platyrhynchos diazi
1 Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera
2 Wilson's Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor
1 Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
1 Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea
1 Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
1 Painted Bunting Passerina ciris
2 meadowlark sp. Sturnella sp.
1 Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brewster Co. Golden-winged Warbler

1 Golden-winged Warbler Vermivora chrysoptera

I found a dead male in my backyard today (May 15, 2011). I'm fairly certain that it hit a window and died. I did not see that, however. This seems to be a rather unusual siting. I have the bird in my freezer. I am going to donate it to Sul Ross State University (here in Alpine) to be incorporated into their vertebrate collection....unless, there is a more important suggestion.


The above notes are from an eBird entry by a resident of Alpine, TX. May 15, 2011 is not a typo.

On Monday, April 30 (2012), I was visiting with a professor from Sul Ross and the topic of dead birds came up. Not unusual, perhaps, but the excitement with which the topic was introduced certainly was. A few lovely specimens, mostly roadkill, were discussed - American Kestrel, Say's Phoebe, female Painted Bunting. And one Golden-winged Warbler. By nature, it is required that Eastern warbler ID be treated with skepticism. But, pass the zip-loc, please:

Adult male Golden-winged Warbler. Indeed.

Wow. That is a very Golden-winged Warbler.  And it's really not supposed to be here:


So with great curiosity, and recalling last year's MASSIVE wave of emaciated creatures, I flipped the bird over for further inspection. Window-kill, as it was introduced to me, quickly proved otherwise. Emaciated, the bird was not. In fact, it had so much breast muscle and fat that it qualified as the healthiest dead bird of the last calendar year for this region (from our freezer's perspective). Unfortunately, a broken wing and a mangled leg indicated that if the bird struck a window, it was then finished off by a cat. One indoor/outdoor pet cat was confirmed.

For last year's drought related bird posts, see also:
The drying, the drought
In the meantime, pictures 

One healthy bird that should have made it. Did not. I'm hoping it will go to TAMU, but it will ultimately be up to Sul Ross State University faculty and friends...