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!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

500 Lucifer Hummingbirds

If the title didn't catch your eye, there's no telling what would! Happy belated 500th Lucifer Hummingbird (banded) to Kelly Bryan and WTARI - - Carolyn Ohl does an excellent job of covering the May 26th event on her Christmas Mountains Oasis: Milestone Banding Day post.