Sunday, October 26, 2014

tis the season: Agapema Anona

A belated post - Charlie Sansom photographed this Mexican Agapema, Agapema Anona, reportedly one of several, on October 15th. Perfect timing for these beauties, who grace west Texas with their presence squarely in the middle of October every year (based on Marathon observations). Timely find and strikingly fresh individual! Such pristine condition...

Mexican Agapema, Agapema Anona. 15 Oct. 2014 by Charlie Sansom. Marathon/Brewster Co., TX.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Neuroptera for all!

Neuroptera are nerve-winged insects: owl flies, antlions, lacewings, and mantis flies fall into that category and all of the above have been present at the lights this summer/fall:

As usual, apologies for the horrid quality of the images, but google should be able to give you a better idea of what these photogenic creatures look like in more ideal situations!

Owl fly - Note the suuuper long, butterfly-like antennae:

Antlion - a larger than average individual:

Lower left is the lacewing - somehow it was never cornered for a solo portrait session:

Mantis fly video link:

^^ the mantis fly was filmed in Tarrant Co, everything else was Alpine, Brewster Co. So many good bugs out there, so many amazingly excellent bugs... 

* video to be embedded at some point!

Edit: more [bad] photos! 

Mantis fly from 10 Aug 2014, Tarrant Co. 

And a super blurry green lacewing from the same sheet:

Friday, August 1, 2014

A bug in the hand is worth... unknown number of bugs in the bush?

This is just a handful (heh... heh...) of the moths that turned up at the lights last night. High humidity and outward facing walls in a canyon of mixed high desert scrub and oaks... well, the results far surpassed my highest expectations and I did a pretty sad job of documenting things (photo quality being the least of my feeble documentation problems, unfortunately).

Really, I just wanted to play with them.

Ye olde, familiar White-lined Sphinx, Hyles lineata. I stopped counting at eight.

A stripey comparison with a solitary Vine Sphinx, Eumorpha vitis:

Five-spotted Hawkmoth, is that you? Manduca quinquemaculatus! Easily five were still present this morning.

Falcon Sphinx! Xylophanes falco -- these gems are wrapped in the night sky as caterpillars and that's not much of a metaphor. Two were present.

Pint-sized would be an overstatement for the Walnut Sphinx, Amorpha jugulandis. Population for the night: one.

Now let's jump from our small sphinx to our big silkmoth, Walnut Sphinx, meet Oculea Silkmoth! While some sphinxes can be large, none are quite so bat-like as any of the silkmoths tend to be.

This one, lone, lovely lass was most definitely the highlight of the night - and morning:
Oculea Silkmoth, Antheraea oculea, also called the Western Polyphemus Moth.

iNaturalist has some interesting folks out there, this is most definitely NOT a buckeye!

Never turn your back on Hubbard's Small Silkmoth, they are fiesty! I just wanted to get that deep watermelon pink of the hindwing somewhere in the post...

A bit less showy here, Hubbard's Small Silkmoth, Sphingicampa hubbardi or Syssphinx hubbardi, depending on how technical you want to get. At least four made it to the lights.

Cobubatha spp, for kicks. ID suggestions welcomed! Two or three present overnight.

This has been uber-blogged here before, but one never resists the wiles of Halysidota davisii, Davis's Tussock Moth. There were easily six on the wall!* (and by that, I do include chairs, the ground, and things near the light)

If not terribly mistaken, this tiny Bigfoot is Euclea incisa - only one was around last night, but two weeks ago the numbers ranged nearly to double digits. It really needs a good common name. Saddleblanket Moth seems a bit unwieldy though. But it is wearing a green blanket...

...and darn it if I didn't have this identified a month ago and have magically lost my brain. Black wings, striped butt, nice pants - should be an easy one. Will update with an ID when I get a chance!

*** Nick Block wins the internet for reminding me that Texas Wasp Moth should not be so hard to remember! Horama panthalon even has pants in the name! Now I feel that I should have included pics of the Yellow-collared Scape Moths because at least I knew what they were when I saw them (they look like 'love bugs' in moth form).

* Many thanks to Sky Stevens for permission and encouragement with the blacklighting at her place just west of Alpine! Brewster County does snag a few Jeff Davis Co species here!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The "real" Davis Mts post hasn't happened yet; I apparently lied about that. In the meantime, have a lovely Tantilla spp from a house (yes, inside) west of Alpine!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Davis Mts Preserve Teaser

...this weekend was an open weekend at The Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve. Here's your teaser until a real post is assembled: 

(Black-necked garter snake)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


I was enthralled with Common Streaky Skipper the first time I saw it; a tiny, dark blur that finally landed... If rainbows were sepia, this insect would fit the bill. If fireworks were subtle shades of nuanced earthy browns, well, I think you get the idea. I REALLY like Common Streaky Skippers. This one is from early July, just west of Alpine. Mmmm, shoddy phone pics....

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Guest Sightings: Davis Mts

Slightly adapted from an email sent by Bill Sain of Alpine, TX:

(From Sunday, July 6, 2014)

No Montezuma Quail at Davis Mountains State Park this morning but I did see a pair on the road three miles from the picnic area [LE Woods picnic area, past the McDonald Observatory - h].  I did see a Hepatic Tanager at DMSP.  There appears to be nesting Cooper's Hawks at the picnic area.  There were five teachers from Weslaco camping there and they were asking me about a hawk they kept seeing.  Sounded like a Coopers to me (poor photos also showed a Coop) but one was adamant it was a Peregrine.  The other folks looked at their bird book and agreed that they had seen a Coopers.  I walked along the road and flushed an unknown hawk from a tree.  It did not go far so I searched the area and found a young Coopers in the tree the first hawk flushed from.  I don't know if the flushed bird was an adult or another juvenile.  The hawks were in the area where I saw Plumbeous Vireo last year...didn't see or hear any vireos there this year.  No Gray Flycatchers either.  Both the park and the picnic area were extremely busy was not easy to bird there dodging people, cars, and noise.  Three year birds for the day, the quail, tanager and the Western Wood-Pewee.


While we are in limbo, emailed reports of all kinds are appreciated!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

House Guests

The big puppy has not been feeling well, so the back door has been propped open - day and night - to ease his discomfort. Unfortunately, cone-nosed beetles, mosquitoes and a few other guests have invited themselves in... 

Like this female rhinoceros beetle. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

One week ago

This brave ornate box turtle went for a stroll last Friday. I can't judge the little one for wanting to sit in a puddle on the side of the road - it has been so long since there was standing water that I was tempted to join... Safe travels, friend! 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Generally we brace ourselves for one-day-wonders when something cool turns up... the Red Phalarope Dale Ohl found on Sunday stuck around through at least 5:45 pm on Monday, though. That evening we got 1.5 inches of rain in the span of a few hours and by this morning it was gone. No body was found, so we'll just wish her the best.

Blurry, they may be. But what a bird. Absolutely stunning creature. Very fortunate to have crossed paths.

Edit: Carolyn Ohl's post on the Red Phalarope is up on the Christmas Mountains Oasis blog.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Arctic View

SW Ponds and Red Phalarope in 102 degrees, with Mike Dupree. Photo by Matt York.

Red Phalarope, BREEDING PLUMAGE, Marathon Treatment Ponds - PRIVATE Property

YES, THEY ACTUALLY COME IN RED! And this is the first time I have seen it in breeding plumage. What a thrill!

Remember, this is Private Property. Contact, preferably via text, Heidi for arranging access.

Dale Ohl of Alpine and Canton, TX originally spotted the bird as the three of us ventured to the ponds this morning. More later, perhaps. Here are a few photos:

Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)

A general range map for this species:

**range map is from:

Yes, that orange up there is its summer breeding range.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guest Post - John Mariani (Davis Mts, Big Bend)

Post shared with permission:

This weekend I made a trip to the Davis Mountains. Originally I had planned on going from there to the Guadalupe Mountains,  but I got some of my target birds for the Guadalupes in the Davis Mountains, so I opted for Big Bend instead.
On Thursday, on my way to the Davis Mountains, I took a detour off I-10 onto 290, which makes a loop back to I-10 (I think this is all in Crockett Co.). Had Gray Vireo in the canyon below the picnic area about 9 miles from I-10. At Fort Lancaster Historic Site I had Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-throated and Lark Sparrows, and Orchard Oriole.

While driving along Limpia Creek between Balmorhea and Fort Davis I spotted a Common Black Hawk perched in a tall cottonwood. I stopped to check it out, and watched it fly to a nest in another cottonwood. There was at least one downy chick in the nest.

The bird blinds at Davis Mountains State Park were attracting a lot of birds. Montezuma Quail have been coming to the bird blind on the right, just before the campgrounds. According to the log there, they have been seen almost daily, usually in the morning or late in the evening. On Thursday evening they were a no-show. I stopped there again at 8:30 the next morning, and a pair of Montezuma Quail were already there. Some people approaching the blind scared them off, but they returned briefly at 9:14. Other birds coming to the feeders/running water at the blinds included Acorn and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Cassin’s Kingbirds, a pair of Hepatic Tanagers, Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Canyon Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, and Black-throated Sparrows, and Scott’s Oriole. Only hummingbird species I saw at the feeders was Black-chinned.

Walking from the park entrance back through the campgrounds I saw Greater Roadrunner, LOTS more Cassin’s Kingbirds, Western Wood-Pewees, Say’s Phoebe, Western Scrub Jay, Cactus and Bewick’s Wrens, Summer Tanager, and more Blue Grosbeaks. At night it was really quiet in the park – didn’t hear Common Poorwill or any owls.

On the afternoon of 6/5 and early morning of 6/6 I birded the Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area. Birds seen there and at the beginning of the Madera Canyon Trail included Cooper’s Hawk on a nest, Gray Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cassin’s Kingbird, Plumbeous Vireo,  White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Grace’s Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Chipping Sparrow.

Driving 118 from Davis Mountains State Park toward Mt. Locke, where the road starts a winding ascend through patches of brush with flowering agaves, I had Scott’s Oriole and Rufous-crowned and Black-chinned Sparrows. Farther upslope, in a more wooded area, I saw a Hepatic Tanager singing alongside the road.

On the afternoon of 6/6 I hiked the Pinnacles Trail up to Boot Canyon in the Chisos. The ascent to the trail summit was a three-hour ordeal (not fun, felt like I was gonna have heat stroke). Did see Bushtit on the way up, and had a brief look at a Zone-tailed Hawk from the trail’s summit. Spent the night in Boot Canyon. Right at dusk the Mexican Whip-poor-wills started times there were 3 or 4 going simultaneously. Joined a group of birders from Kingsville for owling, and in about an hour and a half we managed to see Whip-poor-will, Western Screech-Owl, and Flammulated Owl. Later I heard a pair of Western Screech-Owls dueting near my campsite, and the Whips were still calling – sometimes sounding like they were only a stone’s throw from my tent - when I finally fell asleep.

On the morning of 6/7, after the Whips finally shut up, I hiked the Juniper Canyon Trail from Boot Springs to the South Rim. The very orange probable Hepatic x Western Tanager was singing right above Boot Springs, with a pair of Hepatic Tanagers nearby. Along the Juniper Canyon Trail I had 4 Band-tailed Pigeons, Blue-throated and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Cordilleran Flycatcher, about a half dozen Colima Warblers, and an adult Painted Redstart with 3-4 recently fledged young (saw another redstart at Boot Springs, and one was heard singing down by the campgrounds). Had a Crissal Thrasher where the Juniper Canyon Trail meets the South Rim Trail.

Returned to Chisos Basin via Laguna Meadows – another grueling ordeal, but at least this time it was mostly downhill. Had another Hepatic Tanager down the trail, which made a total of 8 or 8.5 Hepatics for the trip, depending on how you count that weird hybrid at Boot Springs.

The group from Kingsville told me that they had Lucifer and Blue-throated Hummingbirds the day before near the water treatment plant below the Chisos Basin Campground. After recovering from the the long hike down to the Chisos Basin I went to check it out. There is a little drainage lined with reeds below the water treatment plant, and I saw a male Black-chinned and female Lucifer coming to the yellow flowers of the tree tobacco growing along this drainage. Other birds I saw there included a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and male Indigo Bunting.

In the desert scrub around the ranger station at Panther Junction I had Verdins, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, and Pyrrhuloxias.

On Highway 385, about 6.8 miles north of Marathon,  I found Susan Foster and her birding posse scoping a prairie dog town for Burrowing Owl. Lucky for me they were there when I drove by, because the approximate mileage I had to this site was incorrect - if I hadn’t seen them on the side of the road I would have driven right past the spot. Got to see the owl through their scope, and a little farther north, in the same prairie dog town, I had a pair of Scaled Quail. Farther north there were Cassin’s Sparrows singing in the grassland, and at about 22 miles from Marathon I saw a male Bronzed Cowbird on the roadside.

Special thanks to Sheridan Coffey for directions to some of my target birds, and to the birders from Kingsville (wish I could remember the names!) -

John Mariani
Lumberton, TX

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Kingdom of Guad

There will never be enough said about the Guadalupe Mountains. I have certainly never been so moved (other than in the depths of Carlsbad Caverns) by geology, topography, flora, fauna, and life. 

I only found one serpent while among the Guads; it attempted to rattle as 'spoke' quite forcefully. I was more forceful than it was, however, as I refused to back down when it insisted that basking on the road was a good idea. It's rarely a good idea to bask on a road...

Bull Snake / Gopher Snake / Pituophis catenifer, McKittrick Road, April 2014
In between my surveys among the Guads, my office was a little corner of heaven. Sort of. There was an outlet for the freezer and I could charge my phone and get cell reception while out of the sun and the wind. Ah, the life. Sitting on a chest freezer, Coke machine as a back rest... good times.

Office of the Guads.
Ah, but the southern end of the park, Williams Ranch Road, wow. Not as cushy as my office.

The road is probably smoother on horseback.
This was a Guad forsaken hill on earth. In fact, it was the site that gave me the inspiration... of 16 points, roughly half were inaccessible due to being on steep ridges or on slopes that were better explored by scorpions than shoes.

Somewhere down in that rippling green creosote is a little pixel of white, my vehicle, the Beagle.

Looking north, along the Guad forsaken hill on Earth.
Looking east, admiring the Guads.

Perfect terrain for ankle twisting. Gorgeous ocotillo, yucca, lechuguilla, cacti variety that makes your head spin. I adore ocotillo for its upside-down-octopus-squid-silhouette.

Best terrain of the survey.

It was simply glorious to behold the Guads in all their splendor. Weather makes it so: shy of dust and gale force winds, gentle breaths of life tracking the pulse of spring... interrupted, naturally, by days of dust and gale force winds. Ah, but 'tis the will of the Guads.

Ocotillo, Guadalupe Mountains.

* Not backdated, at least not enough to reflect April 26 - May 5 or so.
** Pardon the preaching, but Guad so loved the world that... oh, who am I kidding.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lapland the 5th

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus

In our brief four years in Marathon, we have become quite the Longspur enthusiasts. Something about the frozen gusts of wind blasting through your very soul... Who are we kidding? In the last year, access to private ponds has opened up a whole new world of longspur observation: less windy, less cold, lower numbers than the prairie dog town, but better looks.

I digress. This was about Lapland Longspurs. First record for Brewster County was a cat kill at the Marathon Motel. Second was road kill on Hwy 90. Third and fourth were very much alive just north of the prairie dog town on 385, as Matt was able to come and confirm that I was not hallucinating. 

Fifth record... this is June 8th, all self respecting longspurs should have left in late March or late April (McCown's and Chestnut-collared, respectively). But the dark peep foraging on the bank next to a Western Sandpiper and a Baird's Sandpiper... It turned around and looked an awful lot like a Horned Lark. But it just wasn't quite Horned Lark. Silly Lapland Longspur, why are you so geographically confused?

I hereby hand the post over to Matt and a few more of his photos:

Edit: check out the range map for Lapland Longspur in summer!