Saturday, December 28, 2013

Red-necked Grebe, Balmorhea Lake

Reeves County.  It continues.
Only now does it show itself to us, along with our friend Candy.

First discovered by San Antonio birder Sheridan Coffey, along with her partner Martin Reid, back on the 10th of December.

EXCELLENT bird for the trans-Pecos of Texas.  Listed as "Accidental" (Bryan, K.2002), this is a species that has been a nemesis for Heidi and myself.  This species is a first "lower 48" bird for her, and a North American first for me.

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)
Balmorhea Lake, Balmorhea, Reeves Co., TX.

The following is a range map of Red-necked Grebe, more or less:

Got it.

Balmorhea Lake is a valuable resource for birders. This time, the grebe showed itself to us.
Thanks to both.

Bryan, KB. 2002.  Birds of the Trans-Pecos a field checklist.  Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. Natural Resources Program.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

'tis the season for... roadkill?

Well, if this hasn't been an interesting month, I don't know what to call it.

7 December: Long-tailed Duck at the ponds... alive, alive is good. Rare winter visitor to WTX.

Same day, road-killed female Bufflehead west of town (no pics - yet, guest sighting by both Steve Collins and Sky Stevens). Regular winter visitor to WTX, if you can find suitable water. Very hard to find bird for Brewster Co.

14 December: Ring-billed Gull, roadkill west of town. Mad props to Andy Bankert who ID'd the creature based on this photo alone:

Guesses included harbor seal, domestic dog, pied deer, horse, thrush, sandpiper, owl, etc.
First 'gull' guess does need to be credited to a fellow from PA who tries to remain anonymous, though!

Lest anyone wonder:

Ring-billed Gull roadkill, 14 December 2013, Brewster Co, TX

Ring-billed Gulls are incredibly hard to find in Brewster Co. and we suspect that the heavy fog and strange weather events have been contributing to their presence - previous records (for us) for the county include the summer of 2012 at Maravillas Creek (one individual) and 7 Dec - a flock of 31 at the ponds. 

21 December: Vehicle-struck female Common Merganser; disposition to be determined.
* Update - check the link above!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Possible Nutting's Flycatcher, Rio Grande Village of Big Bend National Park

*UPDATE* 12 Dec 2013 This bird continues to be seen and photographed.  Antonio has retrieved additional photos and video.  Written description of vocalization differences between this bird and neighboring Ash-throated Flycatcher are promising.
HOWEVER, recorded audio of the possible Nutting's vocalization STILL NEEDS to be obtained.  

Remember that playback is prohibited in National Parks.  Not necessary here anyways..

*UPDATE* North American Rare Bird Alert (NARBA) "Dec 9: negative reports."

On Dec. 7th, an interesting Myiarchus flycatcher was photographed by Antonio Cantu near the Rio Grande Village campground at Big Bend National Park. It was seen along a paved service road.

Heavily cropped photos from Antonio Cantu (his original files are HUGE):

7 Dec 2013, possible Nutting's Flycatcher, © Antonio Cantu
7 Dec 2013, possible Nutting's Flycatcher, © Antonio Cantu

There have been two Ash-throated Flycatchers reported from the RGV campground since late November, so it's possible that 2-3 Myiarchus are in the area, just to keep folks on their toes.

Photos of a VERY bright-bellied Ash-throated Flycatcher were taken by Mark Flippo on Dec. 8th from the campground, so it's not a very cut-and-dry search.

8 Dec 2013, Ash-throated Flycatcher, © Mark Flippo
8 Dec 2013, Ash-throated Flycatcher, © Mark Flippo

And the search continues with Kelly Bryan and Carolyn Ohl-Johnson on the trail today... will keep everyone updated as we know. Will try to post additional photos as possible.

*** This would be a second state record if confirmed, for all NUFL posts on the blog, please check the tag in the side bar, or click here: Nutting's Flycatcher.

The ultimate goal is audio, due to tricky visual ID - for that, please see our coverage of Chris Benesh's commentary and spectrogram work on the first bird here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

West Texas Christmas Bird Counts

Better late than never!

Get out there and count: there's no such thing as a 'normal' year!

Please refer to the Houston Audubon 2013-2014 CBC website for additional details.

Alphabetically arranged:
Balmorhea (TXBA) 12/15
Big Bend NP (East) (TXBG) 12/29
Chisos Mountains (TXCM) 12/28
Comstock (TXCO) 12/28
Davis Mountains (TXDM) 12/14
Del Rio (TXDR) 12/29
El Paso (TXEP) 12/29 probable
Guadalupe Mountains (TXGM) 1/4

Chronologically arranged:
Davis Mountains (TXDM) 12/14
Balmorhea (TXBA) 12/15
Chisos Mountains (TXCM) 12/28
Comstock (TXCO) 12/28
Big Bend NP (East) (TXBG) 12/29
Del Rio (TXDR) 12/29
El Paso (TXEP) 12/29 probable
Guadalupe Mountains (TXGM) 1/4

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Long-tailed Duck in Marathon!

... and other good species for the Brewster County lister..

7 Dec. 2013  Marathon Treatment Ponds (PRIVATE PROPERTY), Brewster County.

Visiting West TX birder, Steve Collins, initially found this gem and then put us on it:

on the right, Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), female

Low-light conditions and distance made photographing this individual less-than-optimal.  With the way these ponds are laid out, it just wasn't worth it to risk flushing this excellent bird.

A few other goodies for this location:

Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons)

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) is 2nd from the top.  Top is an Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) that has been here for a while.  Even better, Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

The following is a complete ebird list from this morning at the ponds:

2 Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
8 Gadwall Anas strepera
3 American Wigeon Anas americana
1 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
1 Mallard (Mexican) Anas platyrhynchos diazi
10 Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
1 Northern Pintail Anas acuta
20 Green-winged Teal Anas crecca
8 Canvasback Aythya valisineria
Side by side comparison with Redheads
4 Redhead Aythya americana
15 Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
4 Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
1 Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis
1 winter plumaged female, pics pending
4 Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
7 Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
1 Eared Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
5 American Coot Fulica americana
1 Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata
4 Bonaparte's Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia
31 Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
1 Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya
1 Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
5 American Pipit Anthus rubescens
1 Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta
3 House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Good to be Home: Lewis's Woodpecker

Heidi and I have been away for several weeks due to life. I returned home yesterday evening.
One thing that is certain to happen is good birds are found in our absence.
This held true back on December 1st for one species:

Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis), about 10 miles south of Alpine, Brewster County.

This morning, I paid a visit.

Lewis's Woodpecker

Originally discovered by visiting Texas birder, Dennis Shepler, this excellent species has been hanging around Mile High Road.  Actively picking and gleaning on telephone poles at times, it also has a fairly unique foraging behavior for a woodpecker.

It fly-catches.  Yep, a woodpecker species that actually fly-catches.  It was doing so this morning adding to an already wonderful time of observation.  Our Acorn Woodpeckers (M. formicivorus) occasionally do this, too.

Lewis's Woodpecker is generally a Rocky Mountains regional species.  The following is range map, more or less:

A fairly enigmatic species, and one nemesis species that has been hard for Heidi and myself to track down and catch-up to, the Lewis's Woodpecker is an Irruptive species in the trans-Pecos of Texas.
Irruptive species that may be abundant some years but absent, occasional, or rare all others. (Bryan, K.B. 2002)

Even with in an "Irruptive" year for the species, Lewis's Woodpecker is Rare.  Rare = seldom observed (Bryan K.B. 2002)

Lewis's Woodpecker is one of only a few woodpecker species in North America to have an ALL dark back.

Yeah, there is a bit of a gray collar.  Also, look up again at the first photo.

It would be nice if this individual digs in and stays the Winter.  As far as my personal life, it would be nice if this birds sticks around for a few more days so Heidi can enjoy it.  We all look forward to her return.

Now, what about that Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), first reported by Mark Lockwood, at Balmorhea Lake?  I'll wait a short while, if it is even still around..

Here's to a great Winter in Big Bend!

Bryan, K.B. Birds of the Trans-Pecos a field checklist, Natural Resources Program, Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., Austin, TX. 2002

Monday, December 2, 2013

fox-a-day #10

Last of the fox-a-day series, so we'll throw in some bonus shots!

Gray Fox, Marathon, TX - fall 2013

Gray Fox, Marathon, TX - fall 2013

Gray Fox, Marathon, TX - fall 2013

And now back to your semi-regular, unscheduled postings....

Monday, November 11, 2013

101 Ways to Help Birds

How it took me a gazillion years to get my hands on a copy of 101 Ways to Help Birds is beyond me. I'm not sure how I wasn't aware of it's existence; or if I was, how I didn't have a copy (or three).

Laura Erickson has put into words the fleeting thoughts that have slipped in and out of my consciousness for as long as I can remember: I want to help birds. I want to do as much as I can. I want to live in such a way that I take only pictures and leave only footprints... but we have to brush our teeth, and make a living, so... baby steps.

The book is divided into cohesive sections that walk you through your own life. A topic is addressed; a suggestion made. Factoids, history, big picture context is presented to accompany the point: the information is neither so overwhelming nor depressing that it feels like the end of the world (no sense of impending doom), but it is not sugar coated, either. Of course, every section could be a book unto itself, so keeping the information thorough and concise must have been a tremendous challenge; folks wishing to delve deeper on these topics may also wish to check the book's site (there's a DDT update worth consideration).

It's like No Impact Man - but the connections all lead back to birds. I'd read No Impact Man a few years ago and was wondering why birders didn't see the connections. It was a bit more preachy and assumed that folks could afford the changes; 101 Ways doesn't make you feel guilty for only being able to make little changes here and there, it makes you ponder the options under your nose without the sense of "MY LIFE HAS BEEN ALL WRONG" that some conservation minded books seem to imply.

Indispensable. For everyone. And with an excellent reference collection in the back.

Five stars.

Disclaimer: Laura Erickson is someone I had heard of, sort-of-knew on Facebook, and then visited us during her Conservation Big Year; we clicked, we nerded out, she bestowed upon us a copy of her National Geographic Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America (an excellent 'hook' book - doesn't cover all species in the area, but is user friendly and certainly appropriate for non-birding audiences!) and next thing I know, there's a copy of 101 Ways in the mail for me.

fox-a-day #1

Welcome to the first post of many yet to come!

We've scheduled a series of fox-a-day* posts to cover for us while we're out of the region. Our absence guarantees that notable species will be found - we heard about Tufted Flycatcher when we were in the Kansas City, MO airport, and heard about Nutting's Flycatcher while in Leakey, TX - but until we catch wind of those and are back in the region, we hope that our foxes will suffice.

* on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so not really one per day, but we'd hate to swamp your inbox, feed, reader, or however you find our blog/our blog finds you!

Back in December!

Gray Fox, Marathon, TX - fall 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Chinati Checkerspot

28 October 2013
Marathon, Brewster Co.

Chinati Checkerspot (Chlosyne theona chinatiensis)


Chinati Checkerspot (Chlosyne chinatiensis)

Once considered its own separate species, C. chinatiensis, it is now considered by many, but not all, a subspecies of Theona Checkerspot C. theona.  Thus the subspecies name of Chlosyne theona chinatiensis.

See any difference from below?

Chinati Checkerspot (C. theona chinatiensis)


Theona Checkerspot (C. theona), Big Bend National Park, 2012

For this type comparison, it is unfortunate that today's Chinati Checkerspot was a well-worn adult.  The individual Theona Checkerspot photographed back in 2012 is a fresh adult.

Now, same individuals from above:

Chinati Checkerspot (C. theona chinatiensis)

Theona Checkerspot (C. theona)

Chinati Checkerspot was a new species...uh, subspecies for our backyard. Its larvae like to feed on Leucophyllum.  We call that, generally, Cenizo out here.

We have actually had decent rainfall this calender year and it has been a great year for checkerspots and crescents.

And for this late-October afternoon, this worn Chinati Checkerspot was still hanging on...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Agapema Are Among Us

Every Autumn.

October 9th, this year.

**UPDATE EDIT** PM 11 October 2013:  Well, do read the whole post before reading this updated blurb.  Done?  All right. Thank you.  I may just keep everything the same down there...
Anyways, the complex of genus Agopema is a mess.  You just read it down there.
I am privileged to be acquainted with a few learned and experienced minds when it comes down to the subject of Lepidoptera in the state of Texas and the Southwest.  They are above and beyond me, and I am better for them.
I often seek their input.  Time and again, after some genuine effort on our part, I/we seek their help on identification and education.  They are more than one. They are more than two.  An odd number helps my sample size.  Well, it can help a stalemate at least.
Our particular area is within a somewhat disjointed area-range of what is being determined Agapema dyari.  OR  Agapema anona dyari; depending perhaps if you read the Old Testament or read the New Testament as well.
One short discussion/treatment is within the comment section of this post.
See what I mean? As always, thanks for reading. ***

"Mexican Agapema" (Agapema anona)
This beautiful bug belongs to family Saturniidae, the New World "Silkmoths."

Male moths generally have antennae that are fanned-out in shape.  Some species, like this, are fairly pronounced and evident.  This gives this male the ability to detect pheromones given by a female from sizable distances; for some, up to miles away.

A. anona larval hosts in southeastern Arizona are Ziziphus ziziphus and Ceanothus spathulata. (Powell & Opler, 2009)
While I have recently learned of a house in town that has a Zizphus sp., I suspect it Zizphus jujuba and the fruits are quite nice to eat, the plant this moth uses as a larval host in the Marathon Basin is Condalia ericoides.

"Javelina Bush."

Check out a Mexican Agapema cocoon by clicking on this LINK.
This pupa, in this Javelina Bush, is somewhat unique and peculiar.  If you read further in that 3-yr-old post you would come to understand.

The cocoon is pretty much a cocoon within a cocoon.  Surrounding and separate from the interior cocoon is a mesh, net-like structure.  It is quite unique and one must see it in-person to fully smile about it.

In south Brewster County and Presidio County there is also a shrub named Condalia warnockii.  The Mexican Agapema caterpillars are quite cool with that plant as well.

Last night, we did not have just this individual.

Another male.  Lost an antenna.  You remember that old bumper sticker, "$--- happens."

He's lost an antenna and also shows a little wear on his left fore-wing.  Our earlier bug is pretty much pristine.

We always tell the kids in our children's programs NOT to grab the moths by the wings.  That they can easily lose scales.  Additionally, by grabbing at their wings we may inadvertently handicap their flight.

So, instead, we let them crawl up our fingers.  Heidi is particularly good at this.

If you want to surf around the blog for pics during certain kids' program outings, click the label "Moths" at the bottom of this post.
Or, you can find the labels in the right-hand sidebar.  Click on "moths."  They are in there somewhere.

A nice look at the patterning and eye-spots on the underside of the Mexican Agapema's hind-wings.

Since I brought up picking up moths, while briefly alluding to kids' programs, I will go a bit further.  At least outside the parameters of getting schoolchildren interested in Lepidoptera.

We aren't avid collectors.  Let me say, we do collect.  We will collect generally when asked.  Asked by research institutions, depending on the project's aim, for example.

Collecting vs. non-collecting has become a touchy subject in the world of butterflies and moths.  There is an enthusiastic, and growing, interest in the order Lepidoptera.

In truth, we would not know what we do now, in this particular matter of subject, without the collecting of specimen of butterflies and moths by field biologists and researchers down the years, decades, and centuries.

These days, there are also a whole heck of a lot of quality digital cameras.

As I said, we do collect under specific reasons. Generally when recruited by researchers.

However, this was not one of those times.

Flash popped in the above pic.  The agapema in her right hand was in flight, well working on it anyways. The Chalcopasta howardi was seriously in flight.  C. howardi is a spectacular little gold and brown moth we are privileged to have out here.  It has been a good year for them.

I have got to get off this blog tonight.  It's getting late.  Ha!.  "It's getting late," says the moth-er.

But before I put a metaphorical bow on this picture-heavy post, I should only lightly address something. Barely dip my toe in the pool, at my current energy level.

genus Agapema is a mess.  Subspecies may be full and separate species, and species maybe be subspecies. Which was the nominate of what?

It wouldn't have been out of the question to utilize an opportunity with two Agapema anona in hand to whisk them away for mtDNA work-ups and analysis.

It's a discussion for another time, and perhaps another forum.

At our geographic location, and our general elevation and element, it is fairly agreed upon (currently) repeatedly that Heidi and I should be and are in habitat and range of Agapema anona.
Not A. a. dyari, nor A. homogena, nor A. galbina, nor A. solita...

Good night.
Thanks for reading.