Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Flame-colored Tanager continues at Boot Spring and Juniper Trailhead, Chisos Mtns, Big Bend National Park

*copy-and-paste of post on TexBirds list-serv*


Heidi and I hiked up to Boot Spring and the Juniper Trail intersection.  We arrived in the previously described vicinity at 0955.  We gave in 2.5 hrs up there.

HEARD ONLY, for us.  I am curious what stage of nesting this bird may or may not be in..
Its song and accompanying call were heard only twice in that time span.  The bird was well up the trail-side (Pinnacles) slope ~15 meters or so beyond the Juniper Trailhead intersection sign.
We could not give it more time due to family arriving in town.

We were certainly disappointed we did not actually see it, and hope the few birders recently arrived and hiking up got to see it as we were leaving had better visual luck.

Other expected species were seen,  We arrived to see a male Blue-throated Hummingbird gnat-catching.  Cordilleran Flycatcher(s) were seen and heard.  Several Hutton's Vireo were busy foraging.  Got fine looks and listens to Hepatic Tanager.  A male Black-headed Grosbeak sang constantly.

Heading up we heard Colima Warblers.  Early in our descent we saw a COLW, food carry a spider's egg sack.

During our time, we also missed Painted Redstart and Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

We plan on returning, particularly if this bird nests with the previously described Western Tanager female.

Only tanager species we had was Hepatic, and plenty of it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

a lesser nighthawk?

I think not!
We hold it in the same high-esteem as we do the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor).

Lesser Nighthawk (C. acutipennis)

Those of us in parts of the southwestern United States enjoy both species every summer.  In the Big Bend Region of Texas, they are both here now.  In the Marathon-area of north Brewster County, they are no doubt as appreciative of that recent rain as we are.  They, of the Family: Caprimulgidae, are entirely insectivorous.  Quite highly adapted for that specialty diet.

People from other parts of Texas and the world can find separating the two difficult at first.  Well, one can find them difficult to separate at second, third, and beyond when not used to seeing both in their region.

Occasionally, we still have to do a double-take.
While in flight, Lessers can be noticed having a slightly shorter wingspan, though not by much.  More noticeable are the more rounded wing-tips of Lessers compared to pointed wing-tips of Commons.  In flight, the white bar looks to be closer to the wingtip in Lessers.

They are less vocal in flight, compared with the noisy Common Nighthawk.  Lessers also fly without the buoyancy in flap and glide.  They generally stay at a lower altitude than the high-flying bouncy, noisy Common Nighthawk.

Great. Now you come across one perched.  Not a position one happens upon every day.  Now how are you going to tell?

Lesser Nighthawk, same individual.
Photo cropped to show "flight" feathers and tail.
When able to view with binoculars, or from a photograph, the Lesser Nighthawk (LENI) holds a few subtle differences:
Look to the long, mostily blackish primary feathers.
Let's look first to the tips of those primaries:  They extend only to the end of the tail, no further.
                                                                    Common Nighthawks'(CONI) extend beyond the tail.
Looking down and left from the tip of those primaries:  Look at that white-bar -->and look up at those gray feathers above it (tertials).  In the LENI, that bar meets or extends past the tertials.
                                                 In the CONI, they do not reach that far.

Finally, look even further down the primaries:  LENI, when perched has small buffy spots visible on the primaries.  In the above photo they don't show too well, which can be the case.  However, if you look again, there are at least 3 buffy/tan dashes, so it is in fact showing a little to us.

A perching Common Nighthawk  lacks this feature.

Learning, re-learning, emphasizing, and re-emphasizing.
We get to do that in the Big Bend Region of far-West Texas.  We are fortunate.  As I was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to view this bird perched.

*Lesser Nighthawk:  photographed today, May 27, at Post Road on my way to Post Park.  South of Marathon only a couple of miles.  Brewster County, TX.

unexpected turn of events

Photos courtesy of Bad River Expeditions and Predator Control, taken by Andy Allen.
Northeast Terrell County, Pecos River Basin, 24 May 2013
The photos are presented as a collection to emphasize the unexpected ability
of prey to overcome a predator, and to present a very uncommon scenario
that is neither unnatural nor sad; it simply is.
We thank Andy and Bad River Expeditions for bringing these photos to our attention
and graciously allowing us to share the series on our blog. 
Text and views expressed are ours.

© Andy Allen 
Masticophis taeniatus, the Striped Whipsnake. ID courtesy of Sky Stevens.
© Andy Allen
This Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was apparently the aggressor, at least initially.
© Andy Allen
It should be noted that whipsnakes are not venomous.
Please allow all snakes ample room to live and go about their business:
they are a very important and beneficial part of the ecosystems in which they live.
Aside from snakes eating other snakes, they also control
rodent populations far more effectively than non-native predators.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

neighborly beasts

It would seem that we've moved from the windscorpion side of town to the windscorpion and scorpion and spider and roach side of town. Mark recapture studies of HUGE wolf spiders in the bathroom gave way to smush and wait a few days until there's another and smush and repeat and WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM?!? studies. Only one baby windscorpion in the house so far, along with a Bordered Patch; more on that shortly. The house has external features such as exceptionally HUGE wolf spiders, scorpions under rocks, roaches in abundance, a pair of Texas Horned Lizards to keep the red ants in check, and now a Smith's/Southwestern Blackhead Snake, hopefully to snack additional insects. It was found in a neighbor's greenhouse, initially identified as a drowned, bloated earthworm... as that identification was incorrect, as was the second attempt, it came home in a coffee can for further ID and to be released in friendly territory. At last check, it was burrowing nicely under a potted plant at the site of release.

Smith's, or Southwestern Blachead Snake, Tantilla hobartsmithi

As for the Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia), I suspect that it hatched in our bathroom. Not sure how/why else a very fresh adult Bordered Patch would be found standing on the bathroom floor. A few items from our old porch at the Double Bacon are in that bathroom, and that porch was certainly full of Bordered Patch cocoons...

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

And a horribly blurry parting shot - just for the warm, buffy, rusty orange color that contrasts so elegantly with the white spots and black border...

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Disclaimer: this post contains anthropomorphic sentiments.

Hallie is on the right, unnamed male is on the left. Our neighbor named Hallie after Hallie Stillwell... not sure who Hallie's squeeze is, but they were canoodling* on 29 April in the new house's water cutoff box (*as Texas Horned Lizards don't quite seem capable of spooning or cuddling). 

He's a handsome fellow.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

year of the phalarope

Wilson's Phalaropes have been exceptionally abundant in the western portion of Texas this spring; generally we do well to find a pair or three during migration every year (this may be a personal bias and lack of water, but we're always looking!)

There were 74 Wilson's Phalaropes at Marathon's treatment ponds on 11 May, up from 55 on 25 April. Numbers had been fluctuating since 7 made their first appearance on 17 April; we'll take what we can get.

Female Wilson's Phalarope, 29 April 2013, Marathon treatment ponds
A bit of reminiscing on my part - growing up on the coast, I was quite familiar with Sanderlings and Willets and Killdeer and staring at the bird book (ignoring measurements, of course), I always thought of phalaropes as duck-sized swans or something of that sort. Surely anything with THAT long and slender of a neck - and swimming habit - had to be a fairly large bird.

My first encounter with Wilson's Phalarope was one of frustration: a tiny gray and white sandpiper with a long neck was SWIMMING. Spinning. Jabbing at the surface of the water mid-spin. It was chaos. This was no swan. It was not even Willet sized!

Female Wilson's Phalarope, 29 April 2013, Marathon treatment ponds
Unfortunately for us, 'phalarope' doesn't tend to conjure quite the mental image that it could - you can't mistake a goldfinch in breeding plumage, but 'phalarope' doesn't give you the luxury of knowing what you're looking at - or looking for. I'd vote for 'swimpiper' because it's definitely not a sandpiper and if a 4 year old can identify a sandpiper, I'd be willing to bet that the same 4 year old could ID a swimpiper.

Wilson's Swimpiper. My apologies to taxonomists, who are weeping just reading this. Tissue?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Please excuse our absence

We successfully purchased a house across town (still in Marathon!) and managed to get all of the boxes moved in, though not unpacked. We do still exist, we are still somewhat reachable during the next week or two, but we may not be able to respond in a timely manner due to some unfortunate family circumstances.

Thank you for your understanding and continued support of this adventure that we call life.


Edit: 5/18/13
Back to the grind - it's chaos, but it's ours! After a month of no blacklighting due to the move and everything else, Tripudia luxuriosa and a few Ponometia  have graced the new house. It may not be The Double Bacon Ranch, but we may have some decent blacklighting here yet. Thank you for your patience while I was AWOL on grievance - roadtrips are food for the soul.