30 July 2009

Western Spindalis in Florida, 2009

The Western Spindalis, for our dear readers who are not birders: all two of you. Here's a post about why it's a cool bird, and some speculation that you might not think about when you curse at grackles for adorning your car with splatters of bird graffiti. And hopefully this will be easier to read than that RBA post ;-)

Our Western Spindalis (Spindalis zena) in the Everglades are not the first for the US, nor Florida, nor even Florida for 2009.

The male Western Spindalis (July 28, 2009)

So if these weren't even the first for 2009, what's the fuss about? Well, the first was from Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale, a whopping 77 miles, as the Google drives. There is some great discussion about the bird at Peeps Online, the American Birding Association (ABA) blog. I won't even begin to speculate as to whether or not one could be the same bird.

Here's the important part:

The female Western Spindalis (July 28, 2009)
Yes, she's very drab. We only figured her out because she sounded the same, behaved the same, and was structurally identical to the male.

So, two of these hard to find birds, together. That, my friends, is why birding during the honeymoon is a great idea ;-) It's all in the name of science. Or just fun for recently "underemployed" biologists taking a honeymoon ~4 months after the nontraditional pseudo-elopement-type wedding.

Here's a look at the habitat:

...it's pine rockland habitat [thanks, John!] with a very dense understory of Sabal Palm and some other tropical hardwoods that are kept under control by regular fires.

Here's the Florida RBA post, missing the York half of the team, but we know he did most of the work after I found the critters ;-)

I would also like to think that this is a bit of smiling from the birder we can no longer call. Apparently the "wet season" keeps FL birds dispersed in summer, but thankfully we're not chasing ones we've got at home. Our life creatures so far have been very satisfying, though not exactly easy. But I'd like to think that Laura put in a good word for our birding weather - it has only rained when we were not actually birding. It's just so hard to think that we won't be able to go through the trip list together while reviewing pictures.

Western Spindalis - the dirt

Edit: This was originally posted 7/29/09 at 8:45 pm, your RSS feed isn't messed up, we're just shuffling blog settings!

Common Name - Western Spindalis
Scientific Name - Spindalis zena
Age: adult
Sex: male and female
Date Observed: July 28, 2009

Time Of Day: Noon
Duration Of Observation: 45 minutes
Sky Conditions: Bright and clear
Exact Location: Everglades National Park

Habitat: Pine flatwoods with mixed palmetto understory.
Distance From Bird: 5 meters at closest, 20 on average
Optical Equipment: 8x42 and 10x42 binoculars

Relationship of Sun/Observer/Bird: Initial observations ranged from optimal (sun at our backs while watching the birds) to poorly silhouetted.

Others Who Saw Bird: MWY
Others Who Independently IDed Bird: MWY
Anyone Known To Disagree: -

Vocalizations: Male was silent at first observation, plaintively cheeped a high, thin note - was responded to by female in similar fashion. When the pair flew off together, both chirped the single notes. After ~20 mins of observation, the male perched in the pines and sang a high, thin series of "weeky weeky" squeaking into buzzy notes (the squeaking was reminiscent of Black & White Warbler). He preened and sang intermittently for about 5 minutes.

Male - Initial impression was bold dark/white contrast on wing, reminiscent of male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The head was a stark black & white pattern (white supercilium and malar) above a sunset "v" on the breast that extended to the nape, with white belly and pale vent contrasting with a dark tail. Overall impression was a somewhat stocky bird (grosbeak or towhee in size/posture - barely larger than nearby warblers though), with a slim beak.
Female - Overall a nondescript brown bird of similar size and shape of the male. Pale belly and vent contrasted with darker tail.

Species Eliminated And Why: Black-headed Grosbeak - beak was too slim, facial patterns wrong. Bananaquit - size, posture, beak and behavior didn't fit.

Previous Experience With This Species: None

Previous Experience With Similar Species: Black-headed Grosbeak - Matthew and I have lived in their range for several years, seeing all ages and plumages several times per year. Bananaquit - I spent a week with them in Grand Cayman.

ID'd Before Consulting Guides: Yes

What Influenced Your Decision: Absolute conspicuous coloration of the male, unmistakable recognition from memorizing the field guide (for Matthew, anyway). The female was guilty by association - vocalization, size and behavior.

Materials Submitted: link to seetrail's Western Spindalis album

Observer Name: Trudell & York

29 July 2009

Amid all the Spindalis excitement, a few bugs...

Edit: 1 Aug 2009
Manatee Park, Lee County Parks and Recreation, has a wonderful and extensive butterfly garden. The dominate butterfly this morning was Battus polydamas. We were even afforded great looks at a grazing Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostrus). A fantastic morning to finish our peninsular-Florida excursion.

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae), Lee County Manatee Park, 1 Aug 2009
This tropical species is common in south Texas, and was fairly common during our FL stay. There were moments shared with this insect that proved difficult to avert my gaze. Had I forgotten how beautiful it truly is? Do the marginal and submarginal bands show more orange than I remember..?
Anyhow, certainly a familiar species to Heidi and myself but some of these FL individuals were attention-grabbing. As if conveying "Look at me. You can forget all the rest for the moment. Look. ..."

Edit: 31 July 2009
Okay, so the butterflies haven't necessarily picked up in density, it has gotten better and we have added a few more species to the list.

The following was one we were really hoping to get:

Mangrove Buckeye (Junonia genoveva), Gasparilla I., FL
This individual may have been on it's last day or two of life regarding this particular plane of existance; however, it did allow us to photograph it. Definitely a life-bug for Heidi and myself.

The next species is a skipper native to Cuba introduced into FL yrs ago:

Monk Skipper (Asbolis capucinus), Gasparilla I., FL
Not a whole lot to this guy. A fairly large, orange-brown skipper with faint, thin white margins on the hindwing.
The hostplant for this species are ornamental palms. God knows there are plenty of those around this area so its doing quite well in the southern two-thirds of the state. Also a new species for the team.

Edit: 30 July 2009

Mangrove Skipper/Beamer ( Phocides pigmalion), outside of condo, Boca Grande, Lee Co., FL
Listed as a Species of Special Concern by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). New species for both of us.

end Edit.

Zebra Heliconian, state butterfly of Florida

It would appear that Heidi and I arrived in sw Florida at less than "peak" butterfly season. Nevertheless, the leps that we have crossed paths with have been quite enjoyable.

Wings of one deceased dragonfly-snack, a Faithful Beauty. A spectacular diurnal moth, it belonging to the tiger moth family and reaches the US only in southern Florida. A new moth for us, we certainly would have been thrilled with a live subject; but hey, times are tough and odonates have to eat too.

Hammock Skipper, new species for H and me.

Red-banded Hairstreak. Widespread in the southeast, but always a striking photo subject

Fulvous Hairstreak, definitely a new sp. for us. This bug was apparantly introduced from the West Indies in the 1970's. *(Brock & Kaufman, 2003)
Pic taken at Everglades NP Visitors Center

In no taxonomical order:

Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus), seemingly the "Blue" out here thus far
Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes), the dominate swallowtail flying right now
Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus), a new "whitish"swallowtail for us
Dainty Sulpher (Nathalus iole)
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
Vanessa sp., only one thus far
Cloudless Sulpher (Phoebis sennae)
Zarucco Duskywing (Erynnis zarucco), the duskywing that has thus far cooperated to be id'ed
Queen (Danaus gilippus), recently have been seing a few
Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae), common
Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris)
White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae), appearances in the 'glades
Viceroy (Limenitis archippus floridensis)
Tropical Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus oileus), many in the glades
Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor), a neat flight of a group of ~10 near and under a boardwalk in the 'glades
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
Large Orange Sulpher (Phoebis agarithe), common flyer in the 'glades
HAMMOCK SKIPPER, (Polygonus leo) Key Largo Botanical Gardens
Julia Heliconian (Dryas iulia) KL Bot. Gardens
Southern Broken-Dash (Wallengrenia otho)
Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops)
FULVOUS HAIRSTREAK (Electrostrymon angelia)
Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia)
Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), no Trop or Mangrove yet.
MANGROVE SKIPPER (Phocides pigmalion), Boca Grande. 31 July
Monk Skipper (Asbolis capucinus), Boca Grande, 31 July
MANGROVE BUCKEYE (Junonia genoveva) Boca Grande, 31 July
Cassius Blue (Leptotes cassius), Boca Grande, 31 July
POLYDAMAS SWALLOWTAIL (Battus polydamas) , 1 Aug, many at Manatee Park, Lee Co.
Orange Sulpher (Colias eurytheme), 1 Aug
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio triolus), 1 Aug
Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa), 1 Aug

White-tipped Black Moth(Melanochroia chephise), Myakka River SP & Boca Grande
Black Witch (Ascalapha odorata), one flushed on densly vegetated trail at KLargo Bot. Garden, and one male deceased at Boca Grande
Faithful Beauty Moth (Composia fidelissima), well its wings, Everglades Visitor Center

*Brock J.M. and Kaufman K., 2003, Butterflies of North America.

Black-whiskered Vireo, Shiny Cowbird

...and from Key Largo back to Boca Grande only took a few detours, a few lbs of peculiar fruits, a few pints of blood and a few hours on the road.

An informal perusal of our little drive on Boca Grande yielded 20 Gopher Tortoise burrows and 4 hefty torts. Very cool.

Now, back to the Rare Bird Alert (RBA) submission page for the Western Spindalis. They're creating quite a stir!

28 July 2009

Multi-Spindalis day

I started the morning with a Common Mynah (not a life bird for Matt), followed it up with a lovely adult male Western Spindalis* who, in turn, was following a lovely female-ish Western Spindalis, and after running away from mosquitoes for a while, Matt found his life White-crowned Pigeon on the drive out. In spite of ourselves, we managed to milk Everglades National Park for all it was worth - Zebra Heliconian (butterflies) and one very much deceased Faithful Beauty (diurnal moth). The odonates were very snacky.

Oh, and I saw a millipede. And stuff.

##With a GINORMOUS Eastern Lubber Grasshopper. On my face. Well, hat. But you get the idea.

And a radio-tagged Bald Eagle with a transmitter backpack was loitering in a fallow field with a buddy, a few Cattle Egrets, a pair of Black-necked Stilts, a bunch of Laughing Gulls and Great-tailed Grackles, and we were just down the road from "Robert Is Here" - a local fruit stand of awesome (we hope to investigate it tomorrow).

EDIT: the radio-tagged Bald Eagle now has a post

* Western Spindalis, formerly and casually or otherwise sometimes called Stripe-headed Tanager... it's pretty much not supposed to be in North America, but one or two get reported every year in FL, it seems. It's a Caribbean/West Indies sort of critter and we were really not expecting it (not even on the list of hopeful vagrants).

## Edit from Matt:
Pics of the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea guttatus or R. microptera) and the lovely -h:

27 July 2009

Snail Kites, more Limpkins

We rocked the Snail Kites at an obscure place near Ft. Meyers called "Harnes Marsh" - it may be the middle of a subdivision some day, but for now it's jaw-droppingly Snail Kitey. Also had quite a few more Limpkins at the same spot, with Neon Skimmers, Roseate Skimmers, Shadow Dragons and some other funky odonates still to be identified.

Somewhere in the vicinity of "the middle of nowhere" we heard Black-whiskered Vireo, saw Red-eyed Vireo and were descended upon by a rolling mass of "mo-skee-toes" (as opposed to our lunch with "poe-tay-toe" sides).

We're in Florida City for the night, aiming for more of the Everglades tomorrow, and hoping to get another glimpse of the sneaky Common Mynah that avoided our Denny's run this evening.

26 July 2009

Scrub-Jays, Limpkin, bugs

and now, bedtime.

tomorrow: to the 'glades!

25 July 2009

kazoos, the cheap, plastic, crapy kind

* title donated by Matt, or at least his description of the vocalization of his new life bird, the Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)

** post contents taken from an e-mail to the family, scientific names added for the blog only, since nobody on the e-mail list would have cared ;-)

Happy Saturday, everyone.

I hope y'all don't anticipate daily updates - Matt and I are quite nearly zombies at the moment, but at least we'll get to bed an hour before we would in our usual time zone. Friday's funeral for Laura in Abilene was beautiful, but it was followed by quite the exhausting drive to Dallas (even though we missed most of rush hour) and evening of screaming children running amok at the hotel. A few calls to the desk later, it was 1 am and things settled down for the most part. Of course, the alarm going off at 5 really didn't help, but we made both of our flights uneventfully and all of the children aboard were at least well behaved for our in-flight napping =)

We're pretty sure that Laura is tagging along for this trip (in spite of the chaos), since the giant thunderheads looming from Tampa to Boca Grande (2.5 hr drive) never did rain on us, and Matt ended up with 2 life birds by the time we reached the condo (we shared 1 of the 2). Oh, and the car we ended up with is an Eclipse - Laura always said that a convertible would be the perfect birding vehicle since the view is so much better, alas, this one doesn't have 4WD. Ah well. Thus far, the top has remained down and sun burn levels range from "mild" to "pink," depending on who you're looking at.

Highlights so far:
Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) (2)
Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus) (dozens, a life bird for Matt)
Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis) (6, a life bird for both of us)
Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis) (at least, they didn't look free-tailed)

We'll try to keep the blog updated, but I figured that y'all would get an e-mail before checking the blog... but, yes, we're in FL =) And the shells are not inhabited by hermit crabs so much as two-eyed, one-mouthed, single-footed slime aliens ;-) Very cute little fellows.

Tomorrow: to the marsh!


21 July 2009


Laura, January 17, 2009 - Tom Green Co, TX

Yesterday, Monday, was when Laura passed away in her sleep.

Laura Packer, Audubon president loved nature

The Texbirds notice from Lorie Black (of Big Country Audubon) is fairly succinct.

Randy, Laura's husband, posted "Courage, Faith, and Love" to their CarePages yesterday:
After battling cancer for months, Laura's courageous and loving spirit passed from her body and this earth around 12:30 p.m. today. Since I know that most of you that have followed these posts know her well, I don't have to describe what a wonderful individual she was in so many, many ways. I know that memories of her kindness and unselfish love for so many will live on in our hearts as we travel on through life. She wanted all of you to know how much she loved you and how much your thoughts and prayers meant to us. Thank you.

November 6, 2007 - we're pointing at a Brant we chased in Andrews, TX

Matt and I are planning to attend the funeral in Abilene on Friday, after which we will make a bee-line for Dallas so we can be on the red-eye flight to Tampa. Had the services been set for Monday, I'd have been tempted to bump the trip back a little, but Laura would have wrung my neck if she got wind of bumping birding down from being the top priority. It was such an honor and privilege to spend two years in her training, sharing meals (read: she fed me when I had no idea which way was up), challenging my ID skills, sharing freezer space (read: I also had no freezer), and she certainly nurtured my social void with sage wisdom. That was quite the run-on sentence, so I'll continue with eternal gratitude for her guidance in matters of life, relationships (our husbands seem to be clones), compassion, curiosity, cooking, you name it... Different views on faith never clashed in spite of our fairly steady discussions.

The memories with her are etched in smiles and laughter, and the most harsh thing she ever said (to my knowledge!) has become one of my favorite quotes (she cited Fiddler on the Roof). "May the Lord bless and keep [the Czar]... far away from us!"

Ultimately, Matt and I based the decision to marry earlier than anticipated on the travel-ability of my dad and Laura. Pseudo-elopement allowed all of those elements to fall into place (by removing everyone, impartially). We made sure that Laura's chemo dictated the timing of our Abilene reception, double and triple and quadruple checking because, well, she's Laura. Not having her there would have been entirely unthinkable for Matt and myself. She hit it off with everyone she came into contact with, since her smile and enthusiasm were contagious. And brains, oh, the brains...

Enough of tonight's ramblings. Eventually, Matt and I will finish our packing and venture forth. Until then, our hearts are very much with Randy, Melissa and Jay, as well as Chewie, with love and support.

"When someone has been such a presence and made such an impact in your life, you take them with you for the rest of it. This is not goodbye." (Matt)



ABILENE — Laura Grey Packer, 56, died Monday, July 20, 2009, at an Abilene medical center. Services will be 10 a.m. Friday at Hillcrest Church of Christ. Interment will follow in Elmwood Memorial Park directed by The Hamil Family Funeral Home, 6449 Buffalo Gap Road in Abilene. Visitation will be 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the funeral home.


Laura Grey Hejl Packer

Laura Grey Packer, 56, of Abilene, TX passed away on July 20, 2009 in Abilene, TX.

Visitation will be 5 – 7 p.m., Thursday, July 23, 2009 at the Hamil Family Funeral Home, 6449 Buffalo Gap Road.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m., Friday, July 24, 2009 at Hillcrest Church of Christ, 650 E Ambler Ave, with Dalvin Hampton, of Waxahachie, TX, officiating. Burial will follow at Elmwood Memorial Park. Arrangements are by the Hamil Family Funeral Home.

Laura was born in Austin, TX to J.C. and Betty Hejl on September 4, 1952. She went to elementary school in Tyler, and secondary schools in Corpus Christi and Conroe. She married Randy Packer on August 5, 1972 in the home of her parents in Abilene, TX. She graduated from Abilene Christian College after studying art and office administration. She initially worked for Abilene Christian College, local banks, accounting firms, and oil and gas concerns before leaving the job market to have a family. She often said she had found her purpose in life in raising her children. She was an active school volunteer and served as PTA president. She served as president of the Abilene Quilter's Guild and was an accomplished quilter having won best in show each time she entered a quilt at the West Texas Fair. She learned tatting directly from her grandmother, designed and created numerous quilts for family and friends, and created custom quilts for the public until carpal tunnel syndrome restricted that activity. She was an avid “birder” and was currently serving as president of the Big Country Audubon Society. She traveled in a number of countries and clearly informed her fellow travelers that “every trip is a birding trip.” At Dyess Air Force Base, she created and maintained the base avian checklist which is posted on the Department of Defense Partners In Flight website with links to pictures, most of which she took. Laura assisted with spring and fall quail counts and helped the base golf course maintain its Audubon International Wildlife Sanctuary status. She was awarded a special medallion by Dyess Air Force Base for her services as a contractor and tireless volunteer. She served as a host mom and mentor for international students, several of which she taught to drive using her own car.

Laura is survived by her husband Randy, son Jay, daughter-in-law Amy, daughter Melissa, brother Jerry Hejl, sister-in-law Angie, brother Lee Hejl, father and mother J. C. and Betty Hejl, father-in-law and mother-in-law C.E. and Virginia Packer, and many other family and friends from around the world who thought of her as a true sister or mother.

Pallbearers will be Kim Walton of Clyde, TX, Wyatt Walton of Clyde, TX, Danny Walters of Buffalo Gap, TX, Doug Boone of Parker, CO, Wayne White of Parker, CO, Mark Lansdown of Castle Rock, CO, Lowell Johnston of Abilene, TX, Tim Colglazier of Fort Worth, TX, and Nathan Maxson of Houston, TX.

Memorials may be given to

Big Country Audubon Society
P.O. Box 569
Abilene, TX 79604

Community Foundation of Abilene for the ARMC Nursing Scholarships
500 Chestnut Street
Abilene, TX 79602

Abilene Cancer Society
209 South Danville
Abilene, TX 79605

The Packer and Hejl families wish to extend our sincere thanks to Dr. Anton Melnyk, Dr. Mark Reedy, Dr. Joseph Crumbliss, Dr. George Dawson, the nurses in outpatient surgery at Abilene Regional Medical Center, the nurses at Texas Oncology and the Texas Cancer Center, the nurses and caretakers on the fifth floor at Abilene Regional Medical Center, Hospice of the Big Country, and all of the members of Hillcrest Church of Christ who loved and supported us so tenderly during our recent struggles.

(ARN obit link)

20 July 2009


Matt and I are quite honored to have such a talented nephew. Talented? O-yes. Oliver has quite a dominating presence on a Youtube channel, and he has started the occasional guest-blogs over at Avid Inkling.

The above is from an Avid Inkling post.

The snippet below is from our first video chat. I'm telling you, the kid is part of that internet generation...

Yeah, he's staring at the dark blur of his Uncle Matt and the very startled eyes of his Aunt Heidi. And the internet will never be quite the same again.

19 July 2009

dung, revisited

Summer is an epic season for defecation. Nay, this is not intended to be another potty post. To be completely fair, though, Matt and I happened upon dozens of dung beetles while in Edwards Co. - they were in such a writhing mass that we were both stopped in our tracks, somewhat dumbfounded. My brain clicked "have camera, need pictures!" and Matt was able to get a short video of the madness.

Somehow it appeared that the bugs were flattening, compressing, or otherwise deflating (dehydrating?) the dung that they were swarming. At least, no dung was seen rolled away from the main pile.

How about a dung related cartoon?

And since our last post was a non-dropping moth, here's a dropping-mimic!

15 July 2009

"she's a witch!"

It's not often that an authentic witch shows up at your front door. Surely there's some implication of doom and black cat type superstition, but until then... "SHE'S A WITCH!"

Monty Python aside, the Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata) is a ginormous moth that isn't entirely well known. Not that any moths are, really. But with a name as ominous as Black Witch, it's pretty neat that this could be a first county record for McLennan Co. Now back to why she's a witch - she's HUGE. The size of my hand type HUGE. You're laughing, because I have small hands. But this is a moth we're talking about here. The female of the species has a double/triple lined "v" of scalloped white down both wings, the male is all dark.

She doesn't look like a witch. Perhaps she weighs the same as a duck, but Matt and I were unable to verify. We were also unable to determine whether or not she was made of wood, but she didn't turn either of us into a newt. No floating experiments were performed, either. I know, shoddy use of the scientific method, eh? This paragraph might as well confirm that she's not a witch (by conventional testing, anyway).

Mike Quinn is a fellow who has been keeping track of Black Witch records in Texas and has quite an in-depth site: texasento.net. One of his pages is devoted to our new moth friend, it's an interesting read for anyone so inclined - documentation of an enigma.

My first encounter with a Black Witch was in the fall of 2002, the only other I'd seen until this one. Said critter was seen on the main building at the Texas City Prairie Preserve, where I was volunteering with the Attwater's Prairie Chicken folks. It's in Galveston County - so the BWM map illustrates coastal normalcy for sightings. Somewhere I probably still have a picture of it, he was a male that didn't show obvious signs of wear and he made quite the impression on me.

She was only around for a few hours that we're aware of, but I'd like to think that her fate will be less dramatic than the Waved Sphinx (Ceratomia undulosa) that we had in the yard - it was also a candidate for first county record, but it only came to our attention after Matt's father watched it get thrashed and snacked upon by a Northern Mockingbird.

Indeed, such is the world in witch we live. Er, which. In which we live...

07 July 2009

the ode

My dear mother has adapted well to a biologically inclined daughter. She no longer calls anything a "seagull" because if she can't call it a Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla), she has to call it a "Larid species." For butterflies, unidentified, they are "Lepidopterids" and our beloved dragons and damsels are "Odonates." So to honor the Odes of Texas, I'd like to introduce some of the carnivorous little friends we saw at Lake Waco Wetlands in June.

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia), male. These were both actually taken through my binoculars, so apologies for the quality!

As my own understanding of Odonates is so horribly limited, I will have to just apologize for the next two shots. They're rather diminutive, even for damsels, with tootpick-sized bodies and less than gaudy features. The subtle colors could have something to do with sexual dimorphism or just great camo.

At least the bird and bug worlds are similar in applying easy labels to relatively abundant and easily distinguishable species - there are some remarkably charismatic odes out there.

02 July 2009

Shhh. Some are still nesting...

My agenda this morning in part directed me to check on a Black-capped Vireo (Vireo atricapella) nest. A nest that, last visited, was "active" but unfortunately parasitised by a Brown-headed Cowbird (Molotrhus ater).
At that time 1 large cowbird egg, 2 vireo eggs. While the adults were around at that time; behavior-wise, they were not actively in an egg-laying or incubation stage with the nest. The end of egg-laying at best. Didn't look good.


Nest failed.

BUT within the territory I found another nest attempt. This pic is grainy b/c I was well enough away from it, with digital zoom, and I cropped it.
**This nest WAS NOT imprinted upon by yours truly. Ehem.** Do be careful when you have a shiny new camera and have dubbed thyself a shiny new "nature photographer". Have an idea before you poke and prod. If you don't, then don't. Your subject matter, your friendly biologist, your deity should you have one, your neighbor, common sense, and even the law thank you.

And..... YES, this is the adult male on the nest. (Fellas, you help make the egg, you can help hatch the egg)
He was on for ~10 minutes before the female came back. She was on for over 30 minutes before I left her and the area.
Nest stage = INCUBATING

The sound of Brown-headed Cowbirds were in the air...

playing with wildlife

I'd like to clarify that I don't often "play" with wildlife. Generally it's a miracle that I get my hands on them to begin with, or it's a risk of crossing the road (in the case of snakes and turtles). June offered a rather complacent Plains Clubtail (Gomphus externus) in Brown Co. and Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) in Palo Pinto Co. Both were a bit disgruntled when handled, but each was returned from whence it came quite intact (and well documented).

Startled and kicky would be a good description for this beastling.

The Onate Box Turtle was displeased from the start:

Check out the defense system this little fellow has - CLAWS and the FANGS... well, not so much on the fangs, but there's certainly some digging power in the claws. And a rigid carapace is definitely handy on occasion, for retreating anyway.

Since Matt was suitably intimidated by the glaring of such a ferocious creature, s/he was released to wander the other side of the road. Roads are not only a horrible cause of habitat fragmentation, but roads cause the fragmentation of turtles that people don't (or can't) slow down for.

01 July 2009

Various photos

young Chuck-will's-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis)
Very young.
I flushed up a group of 4 of these Nightjars on a property I was working on in Palo Pinto County, TX; two adults and two of these extremely small juveniles. Chucks are North America's largest member of the Genus Caprimulgus with adults measuring in at about a foot long. These two juvies may have been 6 inches, eyes closed, and check out the fluffy down feathers this pictured kid is still sporting. Thankfully the adults didn't fly too far from the explosion out of the leaf litter. I quickly let them be.

This was about the same time Heidi radioed me that she was observing an adult male Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendrioca chrysoparia) feeding a fledgling Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) while a young hatch-year Golden-cheeked was foraging for its tiny, short-tailed self, gleaning among the lichen on a nearby branch. We were seriously rooting for that little guy.
Way to go, Pops.

(Hemileuca maia) larva
This kid, should certain things work out, will grow up to a Buck Moth. A cool "silkmoth" family member that generally flies beginning in the fall. This picture was taken in Rocksprings, TX. It wasn't too amused with me. I took some pics and then ran away in terror.. Let it know that the "ferocious" defensive posture still works.
The spines of H. maia larva are actually hollow conduits for underlying poison glands. Contact could cause burning sensation, that to some may intensify akin to a bee sting.
But seriously, we got the cushy spot in the ol' food chain. Just tell little Johnny not to lick the caterpillars.
If one were to fall off an oak (the hostplant of Buck Moths) and down your shirt then mayhaps you just haven't been livin' right and need to check the karma.

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)
Heidi and I were on a portion of the South Llano River, near the town of Junction, Texas. Snooping around for butterflies and moths leads one to come face-to-frons with the insect order Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies). We have enjoyed learning more about the species we have come across....and can identify.
Anyhow, American Rubyspot is a distinctive species found across much of the U.S. One became the photo interest of ours which led to a series of interesting stills we captured.

Along that same stretch of the southern fork of the Llano River we happened upon a "puddle party" of Abaeis nicippe or Sleepy Orange. Dampened soil, puddles, ... mud are sometimes host scores of butterfly species that take in salts and minerals found. Sleepy Orange is a beautiful (albeit common in the southern half of the U.S.)species that flies almost year-round in the warmest regions of its range.
Heidi ended up capturing some nice photos of these. They pretty much peaced out when I lowered myself onto the mud.
There were perhaps 20 or so.