30 March 2009

not for lack of adventure

Apologies for the lack of posts recently! Matt and I have been swamped with commutes and work and crazy adventures and birds and bugs... that said, to lull you into a sense of complacency: a pretty picture!

(and a real post to follow eventually, I promise!)

Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) at Abilene State Park, March 21, 2009

I hope everyone is getting out and enjoying these signs of spring, at least before it gets too ridiculously hot.

20 March 2009


Black-capped Vireos (Vireo atricapilla) "BCVI" and I have both returned to the Lone Star State.

*The pictures in this posting were taken while I worked as Golden-cheeked Warbler Field Biologist for The Nature Conservancy at Ft. Hood. Disregard the red-headed stranger in the background warding off evil-spirits with the power of the vireo.*

The BCVI has returned from Mexico (atleast 2 have). I have returned from San Diego and San Clemente Island.

We finally met again, yesterday 19 March, in Kerr County, TX.

Great birds (aren't they all) that share some similarities in vocalization with Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Pelioptila caerulea), the White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus), and even the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula). (Pope, pers. communication)

The BCVI is often thought of residing primarily where Shin Oak (Quercus sinuata) exists. This belief may, in fact, bias our surveying for BCVI.

It is being discovered that the BCVI almost seem more interested in structure than species specific (Pope, pers. communication) regarding vegetation communities preferred, even for nest substrate.

I was shown several old BCVI nests in Kerr County that were, in fact, located in young-er mottes of Live Oak (Quecus viginiana).

Nests were also found last year, though infrequently, in Red Oak (Quercus texana) and Agarita (Berberis trifoliolata). Nest are almost always only 1-2 meters above the ground. (Pope, pers. communication)

The BCVI suffers greatly from brood-parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater). This species' female will lay her eggs in the nests of other species, in our case the endangered BCVI. All this to the detriment of the parasitized species as that species will then raise the cowbird young. The cowbird chick is usually far larger than the parasitized species' nestlings.

The other threats to the BCVI nests are predators such as Western Srub Jays (Aphelocoma californica) and other members of Family Corvidae.

One of the primary threats to the nest, though, is the Texas Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimerii).

All of these preceding threats are naturally occuring.

BCVIs are endangered due to the ol' faithful ... habitat destruction.

They no longer exist in Kansas. There is a small relict population in Oklahoma.

The next several months I will be working for Texas A&M University. More specifically working within a research project focusing on landowners creating, restoring, enhancing, and protecting native habitat for rare or at-risk species throughout the state. In particular for us the BCVI, a federally-listed endangered species. These land owners, with their respective private lands, are part of the Landowners' Incentive Program (LIP).

The picture on the right is not of my hand. I would never wear nail polish. Not pink anyways...


18 March 2009

adventures with owls

Some day, I will compose a freezer list. My freezer in college* (permitted for the school through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources & U.S. Fish & Wildlife) was chock-full of song birds, as I never did find a body for the one screech owl window print. Other than songsters, we did have hummingbirds and woodpeckers and the occasional hawk, but out of 45+ species of window-killed birds, not one owl.

Roadkill. Mmm, the word conjures up flattened skunks. Sad, really, but a treasure chest of birds for the scientific community. A few posts back there was mention of a Long-eared Owl, which linked to pictures of my find in Taylor Co. If it didn't here's the link to the pictures. Ah, yes, roadkill. First county record - what's better documentation than a photograph? Yep. The carcass. Especially when fresh. Ok, so you were eating, I do apologize!

Owls are a remarkably common roadkill find. Their hunting strategy often involves open areas that are grassy, and when swooping or cruising low on the hunt they are right at *thump* height on a vehicle. The common/expected owls (in no particular order) in Texas are Barn, Barred, Burrowing, Eastern Screech, Great-horned, and Short-eared. Long-eared isn't reported annually and I'm sure the more exotic critters in the Rio Grande Valley would count to some extent, but the above list works for our purposes.

On the Upper Texas Coast, Barred and Great-horned seem to be the most common of the owls DOR (dead on road). Abilene, oddly enough, has supplied a good many Great-horns and Barns (to be expected), but also Eastern Screech. This is about as far west as those little guys get. I've yet to pick up a Burrowing at all, or Short-eared for that matter (range, habitat, the odds are not in my favor).

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) taken 3.16.09

The picture below is what sparked a gender debate. Barn Owls are Barn Owls to me. Usually I see them squashed or as a blur - not much to go on if I want to determine gender. And since the above circumstances rarely allow for close study, gender never crosses my mind. So Laura (my Big Country Audubon president, mentor, dear friend, surrogate mother, etc) asked if the creature was female due to the buffy belly. Laura, for the record, is showing the cancer who is boss - and taking advantage of a perk in immune system to catch up on the freezer contents! Anyway, with field guide in hand, we compared notes. Males have white bellies and legs. Females are buffy below with spotting leading into the legs. Yep.

Thanks for bearing with me - hopefully we'll get some pictures of live birds posted at some point. Until then, keep your eyes on the road... and let us know what you find!

11 March 2009

in the beginning, there were Water Scorpions

In July of 2007, around the time of the first Colorado Bend State Park adventure, Matt and I became avid fans of Water Scorpions. What on earth is a water scorpion? Great question. Apparently they're the Nepidae - basically the aquatic version of a preying mantis.

Now, my favorite page on Water Scorpions is by Dakota, a student in Third Grade (as of 2007, at least) at West Tisbury. His page also has an awesome illustration, though other photos might be helpful to get an idea of the mantis-arms. Back to Dakota, though - his school's site has a page that's all about water cycles, water animals and everything else water related that you can think of.

"Do you like to eat tiny fish and tadpoles that live in the pond? Well, if you do, you would want a water scorpion to be your lunch lady. "

Here's Matt's photo... alas, it is dead, having been skimmed from the surface.

The surprise was that the body of water was not a stagnant pool of festering pond scum - it was a somewhat neglected swimming pool. Of course, there were pink-bellied Giant Water Beetles (Hydrophilus ovatus) as well, but they weren't stabbing micro-snackies while I watched.

I'd end the post with "...so what's in your pool?" but sometimes I'm not sure we really want to know ;-)

09 March 2009

not fuzzy, not fluffy

Most of you have noticed by now that Matt and I tend to post about non-mammals. I'd break the habit, but my only exciting (live) mammal observation in the last week was a coyote that opted to fertilize the shoulder of the highway while I crossed my fingers that it wouldn't hop out in front of me. That said, I do have exciting non-mammal news, so exciting in fact, that I've posted oodles of photos to prove it!

August 29, 2008

"But Heidi, those pictures are from August of last year!" ...yes, yes they are. That was my first encounter with the Lined Snake (Tropidoclonion lineatum). Apparently Lined Snake is not particularly well known in many of its ranges and is considered a sensitive species over much of its eastern range - and Google searches turn up a lot of state-specific sites that don't cover the full North American picture. So here's the best species profile for the subspecies found in Texas. Of course, I also need to include the most amazingly detailed site in the universe (be sure to click the range map - Abilene is on the fringe). So the information out there varies from the user-friendly (but restricted in range) to the comprehensive and scientifically delicious.

March 9, 2009

Yep, that gem showed up in the yard - it's a fair bit larger than the one from last year, very cooperative, mellow (did not "musk" me), and quite photogenic. Note the pale buttery ventral scales with joined black spots on each segment. So pretty.

Anyway, somewhere in the middle of the photo session, distraction struck. Zack (my rent-a-brother) found another snake. This one was slightly larger and a bit less mellow. I do have small hands, and one small, calm snake in one small hand works out pretty nicely. Adding another snake to the mix gets exciting. So with camera in one hand...

Finally admitting defeat, I enlisted the help of Abbie, my landlord/rent-a-mom.

...now both critters with their delightfully patterned bellies are tucked away under a rusting piece of lawn art, safe from the roto-tilling of Kevin (rent-a-dad?), where they can peacefully loiter until such time as they are accidentally stumbled upon again. There will be much gleeful celebration and probably another round of fuzzy mugshots before I remember to set the camera to macro...

For all of the above pictures (and then some!), feel free to peruse my Picasa album - Herptiles. For those of you unfamiliar with the lumping of Herps & Reptiles, it must be a nerd thing. Herpetology includes amphibians, but amphibians aren't reptiles but if you're into both and need a fun label, well, there you go. I should note that Duke is milling about in a few of the photos, he was rather unimpressed by the little snakes.

Anywhoo, look before you step. Investigate before you till/plow/uproot. Gently, carefully, cautiously flip rocks. And put things back where you found them, as best you can, with their well being in mind. And of course remember - snakes are people, too.

Jerusalem Crickets

I was perusing through some older pictures on my camera's card and came to realize there exists many pictures of "Matt and Heidi things" that we just haven't posted. Some of interest perhaps only to the two of us. Some of interest to a wider audience.

On 26 July 2008 Heidi was in-town (while I was working on SCI, living in San Diego while off work). Our primary mission on that day was to find target Life Birds for Heidi : Lawrence's Goldfinch, and Phainopepla.

We were at lower elevations of the Kitchen Creek watershed, an area that was very reliable for the goldfinch. This, the location and population that gave me my first looks at that goldfinch species when I moved to SD county. A spot where I found my "Life" Gray Vireo.

After enjoying the population of Lawrence's along the wooded, running creek we walked down slope for awhile. Heidi eventually stopped and suggested I should as well. Always looking up for birds and lower for leps, I am finding I would miss many things down in the leaf litter if it wasn't for her.

Including this new critter for me:

Jerusalem Cricket (family Stenopelmatidae). I'm going to read a little bit, in quotations, from Field Guide to North American Insects, Ken Kaufmann, 2006.

"... are perhaps our most maligned and misidentified insects. Steeped in superstition, from Native American mythology to urban legend, their aliases include "chaco", "potato bug", and Nina de la Tierra (Child of the Earth)."

Regarding some common myths and folk tales allied with this animal: They are not venemous. However, they can emit a foul smell and are capable of inflicting a wicked bite - but neither is lethal as some tales would suggest. They also do not cry like children, nor do they rub their legs together to make sounds.

"They are not crickets but are more closely related to the wetas of Australia and New Zealand.

"The life cycle may take four or five years to complete."
A very cool critter. This guy was attempting to dig and bury back down into the leaf litter. We only impeded its progress momentarily to capture a couple of pictures.
A very memorable moment for Heidi and myself, and thus included in part of the title of the blog.
The Jerusalem Cricket.

08 March 2009

about that bend...

Bend, TX is an isolated little spot with no post office. My first adventure at Colorado Bend State Park was, as previously posted, in July of '07. Matt and I sort of knew each other. This goes back to the arm-twisting to get his phone number for lame excuses of birding in the central-ish TX region. See? It was relevant!

In July of '07 I was house sitting in Killeen, where my cell phone* barely worked from the balcony upstairs (remote locations have their perks). So in spite of the remoteness I still managed to call Matt and plead "new to the area" enough to chase a Green Violet-ear... shortly thereafter he suggested a trip to Colorado Bend State Park and, well, you know how the rest goes. Or do you? A few kind folks with good intentions were shocked that I'd stay in the boonies by myself (with Puppy and Midge, the dogs of the house) and even consider leaving the property - not to mention with a fellow that I only slightly knew from a past life! Apparently loitering in the boonies with an acquaintance is safer than eating peanut butter these days, not that either is inherently dangerous.

* The phone for the record, got the name Jesus after that first "baptism" at CBSP. It was dead for three days and then resurrected. Later it had a drowning experience in Abilene and revived. What finally did it in was an Irish pub in Ann Arbor, MI.

Midge: the attacker of house centipedes & eater of dog barf.

So back to that fellow that I sort of knew from the border regions... We were both seeing other people at the time, but certainly relishing the importance and significance of platonic friendships. I wasn't thrilled about the timing, but I knew that this fellow was someone that I could coexist with (even at a distance of 2-10') for the rest of my life and be ridiculously happy. We both tuned out the birds that trip, he was focused on the lepidoptera (butterflies, moths) and I was stopping every other step to inspect the frogs and odonates (dragonflies, damselflies).

The 2007 frogs were admittedly cooler - more cooperative, abundant, fiesty. Don't recall their specific ID, but here's a thumbnail of this year's cooperative Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans). You see it, right? ...right? Yeah, we didn't either. Just click and squint. The shot next to it is where the excess water poured from the greenish pour-off down toward the river, where the frogs loitered in the grass.

As for non-amphibious creatures, there was a critter of the Pselliopus genus, and we had a very fun looking mystery bug - the only other similarly ornate critters I've seen were in the Huachuca Mountains in SE AZ.

To be fair, Matt prefers pictures where his eyes aren't showing. Also to be fair, I adore photos that include his eyes. C'est la vie.

Matt's post mentioned a particular Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiaca)that simply would not leave us alone, so here's a shot for scale - it's the tiny speck a few inches in front of my toes, just below the center of the picture. And of course, the slightly better shot.

Rather than elaborating about how my Sunday morning would have preferably been inside a building, I will close this note with a summary of my morning at the wind farm: cool, windy, bug-less, few birds, nothing dead. Plenty of bovine activity. Generally a peaceful trudging, soothing for hard times but disconcerting for the soul.

Back to the Bend

Colorado Bend State Park is a location that Heidi and I hold dear. We had only visited it, together, once before. But, that past visit holds fond memories. Memories of a very wet spring resulting in a mid-summer that held many wildflowers, butterflies, chorus frogs, and the thirst-quenched leaves of the woodland elders such a pecan and cottonwood trees. The on-coming breeze persuading them to sing their centuries old songs. Sounds we can't replicate. Sounds we don't hear unless we un-plug and step outside.

The picture above was taken during that first visit. Heidi had slipped on a slick rock and found herself sitting in the water momentarily. That was the day, the moment, she baptised her cell phone. It was in her pocket. With its faith renewed, the phone went to a better place. (I think. Heidi you weren't able to resuscitate that device were you?)

Anyhow, Heidi and I found a great rock outcropping for sun-basking as if we were vultures on this particular pour-off pool that is illustrated in the picture above.

I remember basking next to her with strengthened emotions and thoughts toward this wonderful friend of mine. I remember just wanting to hold her hand; but knowing that we were both in seperate lives in those regards. This wonderful friendship was of a respectful platonic nature. That was quite alright by me. This incredible friend of mine.

That picture and that time are of the date: 19 July 2007.

Now to 06 March 2009.

These pictures illustrate the return to the "basking rock" nearly 2 years later.
To be able to hold her hand, and ponder, enjoy, and share in our Knowing; indeed, to have come Full Circle at a place....
Places such as:
-Lower Rio Grande Valley, TX
-Dublin, TX
-now CO Bend St Park, Bend, TX
-and next?...

So many places over the past 3+ years where friendship was forged, strengthened, and reinforced.

The cottonwoods had yet to foliate on this return trip. That only makes their singing with the wind slightly higher in pitch, but no less meaningful.

They knew 2 years ago, as They know now.

Listen to the Wind.

Hi. ;-)

Anyways, we were afforded some interesting pictures of fellow earthlings during this trip. Heidi took great pictures of Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans) and our first of the year Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiaca). She always seems to have the eyes for herps that I walk by. I may have walked by that skipperling as well. I like our team. :-)

Butterfly list this outing, just from the top of my head, and in no taxanomical order:

-Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

-Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

-Giant Swallowtail (P. cresphontes)

-Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia)

-Cloudless Sulpher (Phoebis sennae)

-Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus gryneus)

-Henry's Elfin (C. henrici)

-Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)

-Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

-American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

-Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

-Little Yellow (Pyrisitia nise)

-Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiaca)

-Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

-Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis)

-Juvenal's Duskywing (E. juvenalis)

-Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

-Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana)

Heidi has our complete field notes, and lists, of birds and bugs and things for that day.

The following are some pics of a Giant Swallowtail basking near where Heidi and I were basking. While this insect was warming itself as the clouds finally broke, it was also "puddling." The latter term when applied to certain members of the Order: Lepidoptera refers to the insect taking in various minerals and salts found in mud, or in this case wet sedementary rock like this limestone.
A note about the last picture...
Whenever I am afforded the opportunity, I try to take a photograph of the creature at its "eye-level" or below. It seems to give the fellow earthling more importance; not nearly so inferior to the almight Human Being (Homo sapien sapien).

So, for example, when we see a butterfly from the aforementioned angle we are suddenly in its world. Out of "ours" and into its. When we are transported to its world, if only through a still photograph, we come to have a greater appreciation for it as a living being as we are living beings. We do share lives, liberties, and persuits.. on this planet we co-occupy.

Seeing an insect from above reinforces some of our ingrained superiority complexes. Our importance that is so far beyond the importance of other members of creation, of the natural world.

An example; this photo of a Hermes Copper (Lycaena hermes) taken in San Diego when I lived there:
This organism is the size of a dime. The size of its required habitat that remains is ridiculously small as well. But from this perspective, slightly below (not towering above) we get an eyeful of its world. Our world. Its life.

Who cares, right? Maybe the question for some of us is What cares? Perhaps the What or Who that you prayed to, sang to, or worshipped this very Sunday morning. Ah, stewerds ... indeed, Who/What cares?
So I recommend turning off 24-hour "news" channels with screaming-heads posing as journalism yet appearing as talk show hosts. Life is too short too wonderous too beautiful to SCREAM at each other.

After doing so, take advantage of an opportunity to look at a fellow being at its level. Yeah, we may have to get on our bellies and get slightly dirty. It just might be a moment to take in fascination, wonder, and even a learning experience.

This place we live in teaches.

Books, classrooms, pulpits..., these are such infinitesimal portions of the Whole that teaches.

So don't always listen to that talking, glowing screen.


Listen to the Wind.

We might just find that spiritual texts and "creation" are not necessarily mutually exclusive opposites of hard science and this natural world of ours. Absolutes just may fade if we let them; if we listen, if we look.

Hmm. That butterfly list had an interesting ending.

peace, shalom, salaam,


02 March 2009

about that LEOW...

Now, -h, since you have written about the LEOW for Currie, mayhaps you should post YOUR letter on our blog. ;-) With a preface from you briefly descibing the ping-pong match going back in forth.... , "It came to our attention that the Regional Editor for NA Birds was more interested in details about the Long-eared Owl than the...." .

...well, alright. Since I was the sneaky punk that posted to Texbirds in the beginning, madly flailing LEOW information everywhere because, quite frankly, they're SUPERAWESOME with laser eyes(!!!) ...ahem, I didn't think it would be less than a "stop the press" critter. I mean, of course, the earliest record EVER for Golden-cheeked Warbler is quite something. So I did expect details required for that. Eventually. LEOW, on the other hand is not an annually reported critter for the state of Texas (though they're likely present, just quite good at avoiding birders), and they have amazing superpowers of Elusive, Camouflage, Stealth, Evergreen, Ninja, Winter and, as previously mentioned, Laser Eyes. Who knew birding was so cool?!

An artist's rendition of (Long-eared) Owl:

Right, I did e-mail D.D. about the critter...


I was curious about what feedback the LEOW would get!

Matt and I were walking the paved section of the Shinnery Ridge Trail between the first and second benches when something small-hawk-sized flushed from the left side of the trail. I'd anticipate Accipiters in there, but the tail was a bit wider than I'd have assumed, but nothing particularly caught my interest about a disappearing tail. Hence, not sure if it was a second bird.

A few yards before the second bench (and maybe a few paces from where we startled the first bird), a round-faced, ear-tufted, medium owl flushed from ~9' off the ground in a dense juniper. It flew across the path in front of us with quiet flaps that were distinctly buffy in color. I scurried up the path a bit more and caught it looking square at me, perched in a more open spot - my only experience with LEOW is one roadkill from Taylor Co in March of last year, so the buffy/peach split facial disk immediately startled that memory - I've got plenty of Eastern/Western and limited Whiskered Screech experience, the bird was far too large and slender, warmly/darkly mottled for any of the Screech types. Short-eared is a giant stump of buffy mass and would have been very confused to pick dense juniper habitat, not to mention the conflict in ear tuft size and facial pattern. I grew up around Barred Owls, so that was immediately eliminated due to wrong face and body color/type. The bird fit into the "small GHOW" category, with the startling yellow eyes and slender, long ear tufts. The buffy flight fits nicely into the LEOW category and the dark back when perched also fits - I only had a ~2 second staring contest before the critter took off as Matt caught up with me. As said, the peachy split facial disk, size and elongated ear tufts cinched the ID for me (as it didn't call).

Matt didn't get a look at the face but did track it a bit as it flushed further along (I didn't feel the urge to spook it more than necessary, let it hinder his views) and says he definitely got good looks at the underside of the wings in flight with the dark spot near the wrist, contrasting with the buffy tones. The tail did have barring and was relatively long.

Hope this was helpful, let me know if there are any other factoids you'd like information on!


in closing, i should note that prepositions are things that i enjoy ending sentences with ;-)