Monday, July 22, 2013

More from the Mountain Trails Lodge

The teaser bug from our last post? Rustic Sphinx (Manduca rustica). Simply wonderful. It was a new bug for both of us, an early arrival at the lights (a bit before 11 pm) and it stuck around long enough to play 'pass the bug' with pretty much all of the students in the morning!

These photos are from July 11th and 12th; an evening/morning blacklighting session at the Mountain Trails Lodge in Fort Davis, TX. The lodge is on the south side of Fort Davis, so not quite *in* the mountains, but at a high enough elevation to get most of the mountain goodies!

This Seraph Moth (Olceclostera seraphica) was not at our lights, but the kids found it on the window of one of their cabins; they're docile and cooperative and I think everyone was a good sport, especially the moth! One of the cabins even had a Northern Giant Flag Moth the day before, one of the kids took a photo of it and showed it to us; wish it stuck around!

Apotolype brevicrista, a bit darker above, a bit paler below...

Fuzzy, fuzzier... we do love our 'fuzzy yeti' or 'furry yeti' moths - it's a nickname that most folks can remember, and always a crowd pleaser!

The moth above is a Noctuid... further ID pending!

Check out how close the iPad was able to zoom in on the caterpillar... technology may be a love/hate relationship, but if it gets critters investigated, we're loving it! It was a bit hard to see the bugs with so many gadgets vying for front row photos, but it's long term, shareable experience.

...and a handoff...

Above is a plume moth (somewhere in the tribe Pterophorini) - great dry grass camo!

Five-spotted Hawkmoth handoff - Manduca quinquemaculata - is pretty much our most numerous hawkmoth, and frequently most cooperative. At least three were passed around with this group.

Students of the planet; a small section of the larger group. Wonderfully attentive, curious folks.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mountain Trails Lodge, round two!

July has been a remarkably busy month for us: schedule changes, additional side projects (in a small town, you work while the working is good!) and plenty of distractions away from birds and bugs, unfortunately. But, as with most birding - when we have been in the field, the birds certainly have not disappointed. And we may have snuck a quick ~60 hour trip to New Mexico into the schedule to see the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail. That is another post for another blog, but it was amazing!

So, back to the Mountain Trails Lodge - we've posted about them briefly before (here and here), but this time we didn't get rained on while set up, nor rained out! We modified the setup from before (there's a sideways sandwich board along with three sheets) and added another set of lights - instead of four UV bulbs, we had four UV bulbs and added two normal CFLs. The difference was pretty dramatic. Waist-high setups are definitely my new favorite!

Twenty-two middle school aged (ish) students from San Antonio asked a ton of really excellent questions (unfortunately I have no idea how scorpions communicate with each other) and most of them even made it up at 6 am to see what all was lured to the lights -- it's hard to get adults up at 6 to watch bugs, so we were thrilled with the human turnout!

The moth turnout was spectacular. Big, cooperative, showy moths were around in single digits, but small, intricate, well camouflaged moths were quite abundant. Far too many to even reasonably cover in a blog post of this nature (plenty of fodder for future posts!) so we'll have to limit our coverage here...

As is true with many things in life, Forrest Gump nailed it with the 'box of chocolates' quote - blacklighting is like a box of chocolates; you NEVER know what you're going to get! Last time we set up at MTL, the evening started with a flight of termites and by morning we had an abundance of purslane moths. This time we started with gnats and ended with cucumber beetles.

The gorgeous beast to the left is Davis' Tussock Moth, Halysidota davisii. We are quite fond of these, having only seen a few prior. The colors are not quite accurate here - the turquoise stripes are buffered by tangerine edging, and those colors repeat in the stencil patterns down the wings. With the cream colored background and near translucence of the wings, every sighting involves a lot of photos and murmurs of appreciation. We'll gladly overlook the wear on the wings!

Turnout at the lights included, but certainly was NOT limited to:
Hubbard's Small Silkmoth (Sphingicampa hubbardi)
Purslane Moth (Euscirrhopterus gloveri)
Five-spotted Hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculata)
Clouded Crimson (Schinia gaurae)
Seraph (Olceclostera seraphica)
Apotolype brevicrista
Palpita quadristigmalis
Tripudia luxuriosa
Catabenoides vitrina
Melipotis spp. (multiple) 
Ponometia spp. (multiple)

Abundance award of the evening would have to go to the always sharp-looking Genista Broom Moth (Uresiphita reversalis).

And a quick teaser..... no, not the gnat on the antenna, the moth!

Next up: more photos!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Davis Mountains Preserve. No matter what your objective...

No matter why, or for what, you are there or have been called out there.... things can happen.  Good things.

Most recently, Heidi and I were out at the Davis Mountains Preserve (DMP, The Nature Conservancy of Texas) aiding a very cool moth survey.  That can be fun enough.

Then this guy twitters a double-tap...triple, and perches...often... but not for long, all the while gnat-catching:

Look out.  Where did it go?

There it is, at the bottom left corner:

White-eared Hummingbird (Hylocharis leucotis)

An outstanding bird. These less-than-excellent-photos attest to the fact that we were not on a birding trip specifically. Nevertheless, field notes and these photos were sent to The Nature Conservancy and to the Texas Bird Record Committee (TBRC).
Regarding the TBRC, if I am reading the Texas Review Species List correctly this would be the 34th documented White-eared Hummingbird for the state of Texas.

Rich Kostecke of The Nature Conservancy just posted, on TXBirds List-serve, a comprehensive Spring Review of the DMP and also alluded to the up-coming Open Weekend in mid-July.

The following is a copy-and-paste of this evening's post.  It is LONG but worth the read. Study up :-)

Dated Thu, 4 Jul 2013....

With field work, holiday travel and the like, I have been incredibly tardy in 
posting much of anything this year and this is no exception.  However, I 
figured I should post a report on the birds we have been seeing at The Nature 
Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve (Jeff Davis Co.) ahead of the open 
weekend in mid-July (12th-14th if I recall correctly), especially since last I 
heard several birders were considering the trip out there.  I also figured I'd 
comment on the Long-eared Owls we found nesting on the preserve.
First some set-up.  We have been conducting bird surveys on the preserve during 
May and June during the last couple of years (2012 and 2013) to assess the 
impacts of both the 2011-2012 wildfires and the on-going drought on the bird 
community.  This is a rare instance when we actually have data prior to the 
 with which to make comparisons.  I did a preliminary write-up on the project 
in the last Texas Birds Annual.  Anyway, as some have noted, beetles, drought, 
and wildfire have had a
 significant impact on the forest/woodland habitat in the Davis Mountains.  The 
system has definitely been impacted and changed, perhaps for good.  If the 
system has not been nudged onto a different ecological trajectory, we are 
certainly near that tipping point if drought continues and additional wildfires 
occur.  Large parts of the range could transform from pine forest and 
pinyon-juniper woodland into a chaparral-type community dominated by oaks and 
other hardwoods and/or grassland.  In many areas, the forest is more open and 
more exposed.  That may be a mixed blessing.  Historically (prior to the 
1930s), the natural ecological condition of the forest was likely more open 
with fewer trees.  Perhaps the biggest factor limiting recovery right now is 
precipitation.  Luckily, the area seems to be experiencing monsoon conditions a 
bit earlier than usual.  Hopefully these monsoon rains will not only start 
early, but go late to help alleviate some of
 the precipitation deficit.  If we get some good precipitation, the surviving 
trees should do alright and with more resources available to them due to 
reduced competition may actually be able to withstand beetles and drought 
better.  Anyway, so while there have been some significant changes in the 
mountains, not all is lost.  While numbers may have shifted in relation to 
environmental conditions, pretty much all the expected species are still 
present.  And, while we may not be finding as many exciting vagrants as in the 
past, there is still the potential to turn up some surprises.  The Long-eared 
Owls are a good example of that.

In regards to the owls, a group of us found them in the course of conducting 
the aforementioned, formal bird surveys on the preserve.  We kept things quiet 
for several reasons.  First and foremost, we wanted to reduce disturbance and 
the potential for nest abandonment.  This is a pretty rare and special 
occurrence, after all. Both nests were located in high traffic areas.  The 
pass-through traffic did not seem to bother them, but after we discovered the 
nests they were definitely very aware of our presence we when we were looking 
at them (so, having lots of people stop to gawk at them may not have been a 
good thing for nest success over the longer term).  Second, the owls were not 
going to be chaseable.  The upcoming open weekend is the first public access 
since the owls were discovered.  At this point, as of 6/22, the nests are 
deserted.  We assume that all of the young have fledged.  However, keep your 
eyes peeled for them from just below the
 mouth of Wolf Den Canyon up to the pipe gates at the end of the Madera Canyon 
Road as, though they may scatter somewhat after fledging, they may still be in 
the general vicinity.  Please, absolutely no use of tapes or recordings to draw 
them in!!!  Long-eared Owls are not particularly responsive to play back, 

Anyway, the mountains are showing well after the recent rains.  Everything has 
greened up, the creek is flowing again, and the tanks have filled.  With that 
said, for those who will be visiting on the open weekend, the roads are a bit 
more interesting than they have been.  High clearance is usually adequate for 
Madera Canyon Road, but if the rains continue, there may be some spots where 
4WD could be needed.  High clearance will definitely be needed for the handful 
of low water crossings on Madera Canyon Road.  Upon arrival at the preserve, 
you will have to check in with preserve staff and/or volunteers.  They can 
provide updated info on road conditions.  Also, there may be some closures of 
certain trails (Tobe Canyon) to protect the resource.  Again, check in with 
preserve staff and/or volunteers for details.  Some good birds have been seen 
in Tobe Canyon (listed below) and a White-eared Hummingbird was recently seen 
in the canyon, but there are
 a few other places with equal birding potential.  If Tobe Canyon is closed 
off, perhaps the best and easiest alternative would be the Limpia Chute Trail.  
Pine Peak can also be good.  The bird communities for all of those sites are 
actually pretty similar.  Remember, hiking is involved in getting to all of 
these sites (4-6 miles round-trip). The recent rains have also resulted in a 
tremendous hatch of mosquitoes.  Finally, if you do bird the preserve, we would 
appreciate reports on what you observed.

Now the recent bird sightings and commentary of some species that are likely to 
targets for folks.

'Mexican' Mallard 2 (pair) on Madera Creek 6/24, but others were seeing them 
throughout 6/23-6/25; responding to the sudden availability of water in the 
creek and tanks.
Montezuma Quail 1 heard near Jones Tank on 6/24; other birds heard calling 
along Jones Tank Road/Trail
Wild Turkey 5-7/day
Turkey Vulture 4-8/day
Cooper's Hawk 1-5/day; several active nests (at least 1 with nestlings) 
throughout Madera Canyon, Right Hand Canyon, and Tobe Gap Road
Common Black-hawk 1 Madera Canyon Road on 6/25 (somewhat sparse this year? 
Nesting habitat may have really taken a hit from the fires and drought)
Zone-tailed Hawk 1 over Tobe Canyon on 6/25, but recent reports (fly-overs) 
from the lower parts of Madera Canyon on the Preserve and Jones Tank Road/Trail 
Red-tailed Hawk 0-2/day
White-winged Dove 1-8/day
Mourning Dove 9-26/day
Western Screech-owl 0-2/day (throughout Madera Canyon)
Elf Owl 1 heard on 6/23 from the McIvor Conservation Center or MCC 
(historically, they have been found in the LE Wood picnic area)
Common Nighthawk 1 on 6/23
Common Poorwill 1-5/night (several around the MCC and cabin)
Mexican Whip-poor-will 1 female with chick on 6/24 (usually fairly reliably 
found in the upper parts of Madera Canyon; also recently found in Pine Canyon 
and last year I had them in Tobe Canyon)
White-throated Swift 0-20/day (can be heard/seen overhead just about anywhere, 
but I have had best luck with them in the pinnacles above Tobe Spring and the 
rock outcroppings and walls around Mount Livermore)
Magnificent Hummingbird - none seen this trip, but I have recently had 1 at 
Tobe Spring, which might be the most accessible spot to try for the species
Black-chinned Hummingbird 0-6/day
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  2-17/day (most up Madera Canyon and in the higher 
Acorn Woodpecker 2-3/day
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1-5/day
Northern Flicker 1 on 6/24
American Kestrel 0-3/day (pair have nested around the buildings just west, 
up-canyon, of the MCC and have successfully fledged young this year)
Peregrine Falcon 0-3/day (pair have successfully fledged 3 young from a nest in 
the pinnacles in upper Tobe Canyon; they are all very vocal right now)
Western Wood-pewee 8-13/day
Gray Flycatcher 1-10/day (throughout Madera Canyon - the default empid during 
the breeding season)
Cordilleran Flycatcher 0-4/day (high country and mesic canyons)
Buff-breasted Flycatcher - none seen this trip, 1 was seen in late May in lower 
Wolf Den Canyon and may still be around, but is likely moving around 
extensively and is likely to be extremely difficult to locate)
Black Phoebe 1 on 6/24 at the tank by the cabin; responding to the recent 
availability of water in the creek and tanks
Say's Phoebe 1-3/day
Dusky-capped Flycatcher 0-1/day (Tobe Canyon, but can be found at other sites - 
Bridge Gap/Limpia Chute Trail, Pine Peak, etc.)

Ash-throated Flycatcher 7-24/day
Cassin's Kingbird 5-10/day
Plumbeous Vireo 5-8/day
Hutton's Vireo 1-4/day
Stellar's Jay 1+ on 6/25 (the higher you are, the better shot you have at them; 
spots like Tobe Canyon the canyon heads below Mt. Livermore, the Limpia Chute 
Trail, Pine Peak)
Western Scrub-jay 1-4/day
Common Raven 1-4/day
Violet-green Swallow 0-2/day
Barn Swallow 0-2/day
Mountain Chickadee 1-7/day (can be found along Madera Canyon up-canyon from the 
facilities, Right Hand Canyon Road, and the higher country)
Black-crested Titmouse 2-11/day
Bushtit 2-6/day
White-breasted Nuthatch 7-10/day
Canyon Wren 2-6/day
House Wren 0-2/day (best shot is the higher country)
Bewick's Wren 2-12/day
Western Bluebird 0-2/day (best shot is in lower Madera Canyon)
Hermit Thrush 1 on 6/25 upper Tobe Canyon

Northern Mockingbird 0-1/day
Orange-crowned Warbler 1 on 6/25 upper Tobe Canyon

Colima Warbler 1 on 6/24 upper Tobe Canyon (looked good for a pure Colima, 
though note that a hybrid swarm of Colima x Virginia's warblers are suspected 
in the mountains; rare but can stumble across any of the Colimoid-type warblers 
in any of the high country areas)

Virginia's Warbler 0-2/day upper Tobe Canyon and other highland areas
Grace's Warbler 2-4 day (mostly upper Madera Canyon, Tobe Gap Road, Tobe 
Canyon, Limpia Chute Trail, and other highland areas)
Painted Redstart - Maybe once a breeder, but seemingly more of a fall migrant 
in recent years with birds beginning to show up in August

Spotted Towhee 10-25/day
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 1-4/day
Canyon Towhee 0-2/day
Chipping Sparrow 7-13/day
Black-chinned Sparrow 2-6/day
Lark Sparrow 0-3/day
Hepatic Tanager 1-15/day
Western Tanager 0-4/day
Black-headed Grosbeak 4-6/day
Blue Grosbeak 1-4/day
Indigo Bunting 1-2 males on territory in Tobe Canyon on 6/24 and 6/25
'Lilian's' Eastern Meadowlark 1-2/day (in the meadow by the MCC)
Brown-headed Cowbird 1-3/day
Scott's Oriole 0-1/day
Lesser Goldfinch 2-13/day
Richard Kostecke, Ph.D.
The Nature Conservancy
318 Congress Ave., Austin, Texas 78701

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

One of our favorite silkmoths of the southwest

and a first of the year for us.

Outside the front door to the Marathon Public Library:

Sphingicampa hubbardi, Hubbard's Small Silkmoth
Had to check out those watermelon-colored uppersides to its hindwings.  There's one.

All the cool beings hang out at the library.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Blacklighting at Mountain Trails Lodge

For future reference, this setup faced west and did fairly well in spite of rain! Two sheets were draped over a wall, four black CFLs were used on two clamp lights with doublers (shades removed), one light was clamped to a folding chair for better glow. One solar stake light was used for ambient light; next time 1-2 more would not be a bad idea. Might use the shade on the wall clamp next time for better directional broadcast, but results were good regardless. One sheet that faced south had mediocre results, but wind was problematic at that location.

Go to the lights. There are five to choose from!

There's a lot of catching up to do around here; the blacklighting session at Mountain Trails Lodge referenced in our earlier post was June 17/18 (this post will be backdated to reflect that in the future!) but here are some of the crowd pleasers that showed up after a rain delay... many of these are southern or southwestern critters that are among our 'usual suspects' in the region.

Please note, these are NOT to scale!

Purslane Moth (Euscirrhopterus gloveri)
Purslane Moth (Euscirrhopterus gloveri)

Melipotis spp.
Ponometia altera

Clouded Crimson (Schinia gaurae)
Cobubatha spp.

Rindgea spp. / Mesquite Looper
Yellow-veined Moth (Microtheoris ophionalis)

Cobubatha spp.
Tripudia luxuriosa, Ponometia spp.

Pygarctia flavidorsalis

Biggest, most cooperative moth of the night? Seraph (Olceclostera seraphica). It was in typical downward-dog yoga pose, with floofy pantaloons propping it up to the point where its petticoat was quite nearly vertical. Most folks never get such a view!

Seraph (Olceclostera seraphica) photo © Jennifer Turner of Mountain Trails Lodge