Saturday, March 29, 2014

11 hours later...

Oculea Silkmoth (Antheraea oculea), male. Marathon, TX 29 March, 2014 

The intrepid male departed: 

Our female remained until dusk. 

Oculea Silkmoth (Antheraea oculea), female. Marathon, TX 29 March, 2014

Oculea Silkmoth (Antheraea oculea), female. Marathon, TX 29 March, 2014

March Moth Madness

We generally have a very slow start to mothing season - and this year we haven't even technically blacklighted at all - but this morning shocked my socks off!

In January we'd helped a neighbor on the north side of town with some yard work, clearing dead vegetation and shuffling it over to the burn pile. A lump of cocoon had caught my eye (it was in a tangle of chile pequin and unidentifiable vegetation) and I'd tucked it aside for further study. It may or may not have been toted around in the bed of the truck for about a week before I remembered it!

With no suitable place to put it around the house, I propped it in the branches of our pine tree, out of puppy-reach in the yard.

This is what greeted me this morning: Antheraea oculea, the Oculea Silkmoth, apparently also called Western Polyphemus? Check out its range. They feed on oaks and walnuts, neither of which are terribly abundant in these parts.

The circle of life, or something.
To add some scale...
My what fuzzy antennae and large eye spots you have! Chestnut tones for the male...

The male, right, is showing a bit of wear.
Fresh wings, small antennae, this is the female.
Pardon the lack of privacy, but WOW those are nice antennae!
Female, rumply-fresh.
Such symmetry!
With the variability among individuals, I was surprised to see just how much markings differ (see Bugguide link way at the top) and even with these two, the richness of color from above was strikingly different between them... at least, for looking like clones from below. Amazing how one cocoon can completely derail a morning!

Friday, March 28, 2014

The quail that tried to cross the road

 Without knowing why the quail tried to cross the road, all we can say is that it DID reach the other side. Just not the other side of the road.

Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata) is our default quail in Brewster County, and much of the Trans Pecos. It is also called blue quail, cottontop, squail and... nature's nachos. Those last two aren't commonly used, but are still rather fitting!

This one was obviously not on a deer corn bag when found, but Highway 90 just east of the bridge near 67 isn't a spot with great visibility for a portrait session in situ.

The breast and belly are dusty-buffy in bright light.
Bleu-gray tones got washed out a bit here, sadly.
There's the blue!
This individual has a pronounced crest, so it may be male. But it has a dark auricular patch (ear patch) so it could be female. Further details pending, if we can find streaking on the throat.

Check out the sweet 'speed fin' them their 'cottontop' name: for a diagram of what and where a speed fin is, see Bird and Moon's diagram.

Increasingly blurred barring on the belly, vs. crisp scaled breast feathers.

Scaled Quail... get it?

I was surprised to see the non-homogenous wing and mantle: the olive tones are really too subtle to see in the field.

A bird in the hand is educational, for sure - you never know what you'll learn!

** We have state and federal permits to salvage roadkill.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The New Sibley Guide

I cleaned out the truck and found what was left (kidding, sort of) of Matt's old Western Sibley:

Formerly inside cover of Western Sibley... R.I.P. (no pun intended!)
Admittedly, the new mini-Sibleys aren't out yet, but at least Matt has the new 'big' Sibley. Good timing on the release, though I won't see it until probably June! That, and I'm waiting for the second printing, just for kicks.

* you know a field guide is handy, like the mini-Sibleys and everything in the Kaufman series, when you have to duct-tape the spine repeatedly and the covers get shredded... as a librarian, it pains me, but those books are imparting some serious knowledge!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sketchy winter sparrows

On Sunday, March 16, it was miserably cold, windy, overcast, and challenging to bird in. A lovely couple from Arizona braved the elements and Post Park did not disappoint, so it was after 11 am when we tried our last stop of the morning at the Gage Gardens. Meadowlarks were blown past us and what few birds were around certainly did not cooperate much... except for a buffy-faced, large sparrow. Harris's Sparrow is really not expected out here at all. It had dark black smudging around the beak and I wondered if it may have been the same bird as two winters prior (spoiler: nope). Having no camera on hand at the time, I knew I would have to return to try for photos.

My glorious sketch of Sunday's Harris's Sparrow:

With local birder, Bill Sain, Tuesday morning (the 18th), two hours were spent canvassing the Gardens. Only shortly before we left did Bill spot rustling behind a yucca that proved to be White-crowned Sparrows with a khaki counterpart. But it was not 'my' bird from Sunday - far more extensive black smudges covered the chin, throat, and crown! Naturally, we were unable to relocate the second individual. This individual is far more similar to the bird from two winters prior...

Here's a bad photo of a bad photo, but diagnostic:

Guess my next task is to go back and try to refind the bird from Sunday now!

Here's a lousy pic of the field sketch of the second bird, after the first round of really bad photos.

I would like to thank my art teacher in high school for drawing ON students' work to indicate what she wanted them to do. That dissuaded me from pursuing art classes further. Otherwise, this English/History/Biology/perpetual student prefers scribbles when snapshots aren't available.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mergs and ethics

Please start here for the Merg saga.

In all parts of life, one must take into account factors beyond one's control. In the case of a particular Common Merganser, the factors were involved were deceptively simplistic. While our rehabber was only 90 minutes away, her flu symptoms were only worsening as the merganser's recovery was speeding up. Our rehabber, unfortunately, had the same basic facilities available (read: bathtub), though more experience and likely a more streamlined routine - but she, herself, had no energy. So what were we actually up against?

* Strengthening merganser.
Average energy level had increased from death's door to... standing, flapping, diving, bathing, preening, and attempting to exit the tub.

* NEED for different facilities.
Our tub, our rehabber's tub, both were inadequate for a bird that needed to dive. Merg's energy levels were becoming an injury risk: our bathroom was not designed to keep a flapping, hopping, heavy duck safe from accidental injury (faucets, toilets, floors... birds are as bad as toddlers when it comes to potential injury).

* Beak out of alignment.
While the beak was being wrapped every night in hopes that it'd heal with proper alignment, it only improved slightly from day one. STRONG bite, however, was reassuring, as was normal beak functioning during preening, feeding and drinking. But still not perfect.

The factors above are understatements, mere highlights, the things we knew all too well. What we were now facing was this - Merg's fish benefactor had already headed back to Houston by the time we realized what was going on - and that's where the best wildlife rehab facilities in the state are located. San Antonio does have wildlife rehab facilities, but not for diving ducks. Lubbock? Same deal. Albuquerque was our next call: they had an Osprey using their diving pool enclosure. No go.

If only this (The Virginia Living Museum) could be in our bathroom, our problems would be solved....

Unfortunately, mergansers are high-stress creatures. They, along with other diving ducks, are not exactly the best patients. The longer they are in captivity, the less likely they are to continue improvement. It's kind of an odd bell curve. Add a minimum of 6-10 hour drive to get them to facilities that would allow for more room and high quality care... you take a possible 2 steps forward and 1-3 steps back, depending. No matter how cushy the box, it's not the natural habitat for a diving duck: not to mention, neither Albuquerque nor Houston would be able to release Merg where she was found. Obviously in water, not on the side of Hwy 90.

Local release options would involve minimal stress to Merg, have a shorter rehab time (due to lack of facilities, mostly), and the only down side would be a strong, if unaligned, beak. Post Park never has diving ducks, recently has very few fish, and really isn't ideal for a merganser... so that option was out. The SW ponds have tons of ducks, all the time, but never mergansers (yet), nor much else in the way of long-term fish-eater inhabitants. Then, of course, Balmorhea. Two hours of a drive, but with cormorants, mergansers of three species, and plenty of fish. Fluctuating Common Merganser numbers, but for December 2013, not fewer than one, though no more than 30 or so. Plenty of habitat as well...

Several late night phone calls with multiple rehabbers in NM and TX led us to the conclusion that we had done what we could, and without adequate local rehab facilities, it'd be better to wish her luck and do a local release than to risk further stress with excessive transportation.


So on the morning of December 31st, we aimed for as soft of a release as possible. Using the 'food coma' method to ensure a mellow Merganser, Merg was fed and then placed into the glassy waters of Lake Balmorhea.

...we were only able to stay for an hour before we had to leave, but there's plenty of footage where that came from.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Bird walks & blacklighting schedule update:
Due to the spring rush, 2014 is booked for the latter half of March, all of April, and all of May: please email to get updates on last minute availability for Post Park bird walks and/or blacklighting sessions.
For folks not aware that our main blog page has a tab for birding and blacklighting (RSS feeds don't do us justice, I'm afraid), please click here for the most recent updates.

Additionally, our Marathon Survival Guide page has also been updated. We still need to update the shopping/gallery information (there isn't any yet), but rest assured that we do have two art galleries, one antique store, a liquor store and a post office, along with the bank, restaurants, library, etc. Ideally there's enough info there to help anyone navigate the town - please let us know if any other information needs to be added!

And, yes, more Common Merganser updates are pending - meanwhile, there's a lot of life happening over here!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

nothing to see here...

It is not often in this life when we find a kindred spirit. Oh, but when kindred spirits meet... we've swapped photos of moths, plants, roadkill, birds of course, and general oddities in life. For example, this little pebble with legs. It is caliche colored. It is caliche sized. And wouldn't you know, it's perfect. As are Klem and Tom, our dear neighbors, kindred spirits, finders of these living gems.

Check it out: a toad lubber. A grasshopper with all the charisma of a charismatic pebble.

© Tom Lehr, 10 March 2014
Excellent camouflage, rolly-jumpy movement (reminiscent of a toad, as the name implies), these lumplets of grasshoppers actually do have wings - check out this photo from bugguide (also from Brewster Co!) where you can see a bit of wing peeking out. Pretty variable, if not outright pretty.

© Tom Lehr, 10 March 2014
Nope, nothing to see here at all. Just a sunset.

Until further notice, tentative ID is Robust Toad Lubber, Phrynotettix robustus.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bathtime with Tub Dragon

Apologies for the gap in updates: when life kicks into high gear, it GOES. (Bonus: this time it resulted in two 'life' airports, one 'life' state, one 'life' birder and two 'life' Snowy Owls! Matt got Red-throated Loon for TX and a repaired vehicle.)

Last we checked on the Merg, it was December and she had her first batch of whole fish. Scales and bones and improved alertness and energy... and her first major bath. I missed the first ~30 seconds of it, but it was intense!

It was quite the bath. And there was more of it.

...and for the first time, we could truly see the beginning of the proverbial end. The end of her time in our tub. Her time in rehab. She wasn't a decoy, a lethargic lump of feathers and flesh waiting to return to the earth.

She became a dragon.

This was a day or two later:

That is a bird probing boundaries. We raised the water level to encourage more diving.

We subsequently lowered the water level to discourage escape attempts from the tub.

Oh... and did we mention preening? Feather maintenance is important!