30 December 2010

Resist Temptation

Gentle reminder, dear birders.

National Parks are no 'pishing' zones.
They are also no 'playback' zones.

This applies to State Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Wildlife Management Areas, areas that are birded, ANY area that has endangered species, and at any time of year that birds could be nesting. It's in the better interest of the bird to avoid undue stress, activity, etc.

While iThings and eGadgets and crazyphones might be required for surviving the urban jungle, avoid temptation. Leave the devices off, or in your car while out birding. Use headphones if you want to double check a call you've heard. Don't know what you saw? Wait, look harder, or walk away. Don't know what you heard? Look for the source; not all recordings will cover all vocalizations.

***

This topic came up due to recent discussions at a CBC, and it highlights the technology gap that many birders have never experienced. Birders who have never birded without the technological crutch would have a very different experience without it. I have never used playback; Matt and I never even carry equipment capable of it. We go through a mental checklist of whether or not it's worth it for the bird and situation before 'pishing' - birds may go unseen, but it's better for the bird. The welfare of the creature is of utmost importance, our sighting/documentation is not even on the radar. For CBCs, in some situations, it may be worth it 'for the count' to get a better look at a bird. Still, all of the above checks and balances apply.

Learn calls. Leave the gear at home.

Our backgrounds are in conservation; perhaps this makes us more aware, but perhaps it also shows that bird-ing does not give birds the respect that is due.

29 December 2010

Heidi & Matt's First Annual Blog-card

Dear Family and Friends,

This year has been One of Those Years. Cards are a nice idea, e-cards even nicer... but with so many folks to contact and no happy medium: we present our blogged update. Maybe we'll be the beginning of a trend that will become cliche! Who knows? At least this way we can link you to anything you might have missed! And you can read more about anything you're interested in - and skip over the rest.

Our last somewhat-annual e-mail update probably included getting married, having some receptions, a honeymoon with the first Western Spindalis nesting record for North America, fetching rings in Santa Fe, and other things like jobs and stuff.

This year's update is somewhat similar:
It started in January, involving me leaving a job, Matt losing a ring (it was a sacrifice to the Laredo banks of the Rio Grande for the Amazon Kingfisher), a nice variety of birds added to our shared life list - really good birds - and sending out tons of job applications.

In February and March, we were building snow dogs in the front yard then gathering four generations on my side of the family. We also celebrated our first anniversary, and got lots of appreciative honks on our way to San Antonio for the Baylor Women's Basketball Final Four games.

By April we had taken adorable photos of Anakin in bluebonnets, got certified to clean oiled wildlife the week of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, and had waited to hear back after interviews.

May brought a trip to NW Missouri to visit Matt's grandparents because we'd missed Thanksgiving, our first shared trip to the Trans-Pecos region, a growing fondness for the Marfa lights and some darn nifty wildlife *cough*

I'm not sure where June went. It must have happened because I donated my hair in June. Most of it must have been sorting photos from the Trans-Pecos adventures in May and packing for our impending sense of employment (see Aplomado Falcon Hack Site Attendant post). Our consolation for losing June? There are a metric sh*t ton (tonne?) of photos from our summer Aplomado gig.

July: First there were the boxes of falcons and then there were faces of falcons... and more fond of long walks at sunset and we started to grow fond of the region. Then we found a place to rent. Much of September was spent fixing it up and moving from Waco to Marathon. House repairs being on-going, of course.

As of October 1st, we're both working at the Marathon Motel & RV Park (mostly grounds & housekeeping, respectively) and have been blogging overtime at our new blog: Big Bend - Texas Nature, a work in progress.

We did spend Thanksgiving in Missouri this year with our niece and nephew (and the rest of Matt's side of the family, too)... and that pretty much catches us up to the current saga of a Tufted Flycatcher that is stirring up interest in the area.

Whew. If you're still awake, congratulations! We're looking forward to settling in 'out here' where the pace of life is relaxed and the NPR station gives traffic reports in single digits... and there are only two radio stations. Pretty nice.

19 December 2010

Groove-billed Ani. Sometimes it just finds you.

Well, often times it just finds you. Sure there are moments we go hunting for a particular species. However, for much of our time the birds just find us. We "had" this species or we "had" that species.

Did we HAVE it?
Or did the bird happen to travel to a particular place at a particular time only to show itself to an interested Homo sapien sapien. Then... sneakbackinthebrush.

Seriously.

After getting off work at 4pm today, I opened the truck driver-side door and put one foot down on the ground. A thrashing sound emanated from perhaps 8-feet to my left.

I look. Nothing. Nada.
Thrashing sound in the leaf-litter again, this time as I am looking. Niet.

Again.

video

What?!


Aaaaaaaaa!

Cue the Metallica track. No, one from before they cut their hair and got soft.

Here was THE(?) fall/winter Groove-billed Ani (GBAN) of the Marathon Basin. Foraging. Often tilting its head, looking up, stretching its neck to see.




This bird was first viewed at the Marathon Motel back on 10 October. It was 2 weeks until viewed again, on the 23rd and 24th of that month, still on motel grounds.

November, nada.

It returned to our view, once again on motel grounds, on December 2nd. The bird landed in a sumac not 6 feet from me.

Now, on December 18th, after returning home from a full day's work....

video

Folks. So very often, its not US. Its up to the birds. I didn't find this ani. I was stepping out of my truck and it decided to forage in some vegetation openings no more than 10 ft from me. I didn't "have" it.

Anyways, this bird was skulking and often thrashing and crashing around leaf-litter between cane cholla, sotol, and yucca.




It would uncover, attack, and forage on slow-moving cold-ish invertebrates.



Walking mid-sotol-story on blades, turning its head to focus on any potential prey item.




For the first time in a long time for me, this single GBAN looked and behaved MUCH like its Family Cuculidae cousin the Greater Roadrunner.

video

About an hour later it sat, preened, and sunned itself between a yucca and a patch of "cow tongue" prickly-pear.

It then flew southward just across the street.


So people, I would as well I suppose, come out and ask "Where's the ani?".
Depends, really. It was here a month ago. Two weeks ago. Yesterday?

Come on out here and enjoy the birds. I do.

Some always show themselves. Some more than others.

After all, it's up to the birds.
We just have to be out there.

17 December 2010

making a house a home

Our little household has grown by leaps and bounds. Leafs and grounds? Hm. There are an awful lot of coffee grounds out back... Anyway, the bedroom seems to be at its final stage in evolution: it has been painted, there are curtains, there is a bed. And the living room has turned into a nursery. NO! Not that kind of nursery!

A dead basil plant sits next to the south window to show neighbors how in denial I am about it being dead... but next to it there are sprigs of 'showy flameflower' (did you read that as 'flamethrower' the first time?) and up in the corner, a spider plant. Below the spider plant is my eccentric aloe, who is always in 'time out' because it likes the shade in the dark corner and it won't get run over by the puppy there.

(Prior to space heater and piles of plants - but aloe is still in time out. You'll note that a thrift store sleeping bag is now Anakin's living room bed. Happy puppy!)


















The shared wall has a book shelf that hosts a photo of our West Coast kin, along with pothos spp crawly plants that will take over the entire room eventually. They're sacreligiously arranged in bottles that used to house Don Julio tequila, Arrogant Bastard Ale, an Irish whiskey of sorts Patron, and some other novel brews. These are the perks of living in a town with diverse taste in alcohol. In an old thrift store teapot, two sprigs of 'time out aloe' are taking root. Apologies for poor photo quality.


















The one somewhat-useful table in the living room keeps the big barrister cabinet thing from attacking us (it wants to fall down if you look at it too long). The table hosts a jalapeno plant, wandering jew, and some funky off-brand of parsley until the weather warms up. The table also provides nighttime housing for some of our patio plants... we've got frogfruit (that's not transplanting very well at all), some native forbs (same story as frogfruit), some clusters of candelilla (can-deh-lee-ya), and quite a few Harvard agave pups. So many agave pups... Our secondary table-thing is the roosting place of a 'Texas bird of paradise' plant and a purple prickly pear, so no surface is immune! Maybe in the spring, the living room table will be useful for things like meals - but for now we enjoy the plants more than we feel inconvenienced.

As for the daily rotation of porch plants, our super-awesome neighbor across the street procured some sprigs of Mormon tea and gopher plant(??) for us as well, hopefully we'll glean enough knowledge by osmosis to keep the rest of the plants alive! It does feel strange, taking hummingbird feeders and plants in at night and then worrying over them when we do leave them out and the temp is below 40... guess it's just the 'new plant' jitters.

And here's the porch now: after "401 North Senate Street" was interpreted by one shipper of a package, our PO box has competition. Anything that can't ship to a PO box can go to 401... not Senate Street. Those fancy numbers? Are classic blue tape, of course!


















PS - Anyone who noticed the yellow mop bucket in the corner of that photo: 10 points! It's our new laundry wringer. To save my frozen fingers and crazy strong biceps, of course.

13 December 2010

Schrödinger's Quail

This morning at about 9:30 I got a phone call from a dear friend and fellow birder. He reported a deceased Montezuma Quail at the Lawrence E. Wood picnic area in the Davis Mountains. I was *thrilled* because I thought that meant that he had picked it up for me. Alas. He was already in Balmorhea and the bird was still on the side of the road!

In a hasty scramble, Matt and I attempted to notify birders in Alpine and Fort Davis and anyone who might possibly still be in the area after chasing the Tufted Flycatcher - and we came up empty handed. We knew that the bird was dead. But was it still there? Had it been hit again? What state was it in; smashed or still fresh? We summoned the powers of Sul Ross and The Nature Conservancy in the form of voice mail, e-mail and feeble telepathy. By 11:30 I was able to sneak away from work; we'd not been able to check e-mail since our initial plea, but it was worth the risk to discover whether or not 'Schrödinger's Quail' was still on the side of the road for me.

Best case scenario:
Dead Montezuma Quail would be in the shade on the side of the road.

Plausible Situation A:
Dead Montezuma Quail would be picked up by someone else.

Plausible Situation B:
Dead, smashed Montezuma Quail would be on the side of the road.

Plausible Situation C:
Dead Montezuma Quail would be unable to be located.

Clearly with A & C, there's room for interpretation. A phone or e-mail not to be received for a long time, a scavenger traipsing off with a prize...

So for the longest 90 minute drive, the Montezuma Quail was in a simultaneous state of being there and not-being-there; I just needed to open the proverbial box and look.

1: It is there!


















2: The facial pattern indicates that the bird is male.


















3: The poofy crown concealed a few pin feathers.


















4: Disney's version of "Sleeping Beauty" got nothin' on this guy.


















5: Big, scratchy, kicky claws. All the better to dig at roots with.


















6: I spy something molting. The gap in primary feathers has a new one growing in.

















Post to be elaborated upon once we've walked the dog and had dinner and... you get the idea =)

FAQ #1
Q: Aren't you worried about catching something?
A: No. As with windows and wind turbines, cars tend to hit birds that are healthy enough to cross roads. If the bird was a carrier of [West Nile, Avian Influenza, etc] I'd still probably have to lick it (for fecal/saliva contamination) and that's just not how I operate.

Edit: the slightly more stuffy version of this post is over at that other blog that steals all of our attention these days.

04 December 2010

World Parrot Count - Jan. 1, 2011

I'm passing this along for friend and fellow parrots-out-of-native-range enthusiast, Roelant Jonker. He has been tracking feral parrots in The Netherlands for quite a few years now and this new project will help gauge populations of parrots out of their ranges. For folks in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and quite a few other states, this is a great opportunity to help out!

Our nearest Monk Parakeet colony is Andrews, TX where this photo was taken:



(by Laura Packer, Nov. 2007)

*****

You are cordially invited to join the "World Parrot Count". We, Roelant Jonker and Michael Braun of the "extra-tropical department" of the Parrot Researchers Group of the International Ornithological Union (IOU), would like to initiate the first global parrot census this January in order to get much needed scientific data about parrots living in cities around the globe. This count is intended to become an annual event.

For furth...er information please visit the following website: http://www.cml.leiden.edu/parrot.html

If you have any questions please contact us via the following E-mail address: parrotcount/at/cityparrots.org

Please feel free to forward this message to everybody who could be interested. We would like to create a global parrot community of professional researchers, field ornithologists as well as amateur naturalist that will enable us to measure the development of native and non-native parrots living in cities.

See you at the roost!

All best,

Roelant Jonker (Leiden University, The Netherlands)
Michael Braun (Heidelberg University, Germany)

30 November 2010

Tufted Flycatcher video

For some reason, our Big Bend blog refuses to let me upload the Tufted Flycatcher video from this morning... Seetrail lets me, so here it is! Shaky tufted awesome.

video

(original post: Tufted Flycatcher, Nov. 30)

23 November 2010

Thanksgiving hiatus

Since this blog has been sooo quiet lately, it's unlikely that y'all would notice that we're actually going to be intentionally quiet for Thanksgiving... Meanwhile this month, over at BigBendTX.blogspot.com Matt has been posting some pretty fantastic butterfly stuff:

Two among the flighted
Metallica
Winter blues

Hopefully we'll have a few more posts over here after the holiday adventures, hopefully to rival last year's Black Friday post. Time for another puppy photo shoot, methinks!


(Anakin last year)

14 November 2010

Trans-Pecos Christmas Bird Counts

[crossposted and backdated from our Big Bend regional blog]

The 'Christmas Bird Count' or CBC is a long tradition (see wiki link here) among birders. Perks? It encourages birding during an under-birded time of year as well as covering areas that aren't always included in casual birding. It's essentially a citizen-based bird census that takes place all over the continent between December 14th and January 5th.

Why not celebrate the New Year in a gorgeous part of the state while contributing to science? CBCs are great for people with all levels of bird interest - there's ample opportunity to learn and just because you can't identify them doesn't mean you can't spot them! Also, note-takers are in high demand (without notes, what data have you got?)

For more CBCs check out Houston Audubon's list of Texas Christmas Bird Counts for 2010-2011

In the Big Bend region, we've got a few to CBCs consider:

Sat. Dec. 18 - Davis Mountains

Sun. Dec. 19 - Balmorhea

Contact for both: Marty Hansen, birdsinflight/at/mac.com

Tues. Dec. 28 - Chisos Basin (Big Bend National Park)
Meet at 7:30 am in the visitor center, reconvene in the evening at the Panther Junction auditorium (around 6:00 PM) to compile the day's counts , pay registration fees, and prepare for the next day count.

Weds. Dec. 29 - Rio Grande Village (Big Bend National Park)
Meet at 7:30 am at the Rio Grande Village store. Meet again at Panther Junction auditorium to compile the list in the evening.

Contact for both BBNP counts: Mark Flippo, Mark_R_Flippo/at/nps.gov

Sat. Jan. 1 - Guadalupe Mountains
It is worth noting the dire situation for the Guadalupe Mountains CBC:

We have tried to set our count as the last Saturday of the count period every year so that people can routinely make plans. We would welcome the help. Several of our routine participants have died, moved away, aged to the point of not being able to do the hiking, etc., so I have been crying for help over the past couple of years. In the winter some of the park apartments or RV pads are vacant and I can usually offer a place to stay for $8 a person a night so participants can be here at dawn. Stay in touch and let me know if you or others can join us so I can pre-assign coverage areas. Thanks.
Contact: Fred Armstrong, Fred_Armstrong@nps.gov


Note on dates:
Counts used to start on the "second Saturday in December" and then it was changed to Dec. 14 regardless of day, causing a lot of conflict in areas that have many counts but not enough birders to go around! So when living on the Upper Texas Coast, I could do nearly 20 counts in one season because of ample weekend counts - when the dates changed and counts started to overlap, I was only able to do maybe eight. With only five counts out here, I sure hope there's good attendance!

30 October 2010

"I'm not dead!"

Cue Monty Python:



Basically, we're working a lot. And occasionally sneaking a coat of primer after work, but usually the time is spent with our own little R2-D2. Unless we're watching the World Series(!!!)

















...the kitchen is in a constant state of drop cloth, disarray and chaos. At least sometimes there's food involved. As for our personal washbot? It lives in our, uh, laundry room. Yeah.

















Well, it's not really a 'bot so much as a spinning barrel. My biceps are amazing, by the way. Technically the beast is a Wonderwash and it does pretty well in terms of capacity. Three loads fills up about half of our clothesline (maybe 50' or so?) and I seem to run out of clothespins and hangers before I run out of line.

















Overall, aside from gravity and wind being constant battles, the line holds up pretty well. It's the lack of humidity that's so awesome - we can hang things out overnight and (barring abnormal weather) it'll be dry in the morning.

















For other adventures, check on our Big Bend blog because it is getting more love than this one is. We knew that would happen, but we didn't think it would be so drastic.

17 October 2010

little house

The long-awaited photo upload... our little house 'up the hill' in Marathon:



These are all 'before' photos (other than the painting and the puppy); I'll spare the termite video for now. 'After' photos may take a while, since the moving-in has happened in the middle of the fixing-up. For now let's just say that a bit more than half of the house (inside) has a fresh coat of paint, most of the unfinished wood trim now at least has one coat of varnish, the kitchen now has a stove and other projects are progressing nicely, if slowly.

Most importantly, in all of this painting and varnishing and fixing and otherwise revitalizing... we're back together as a family.



Anakin on his bed - thanks to Aunt Kindli for the old red sleeping bag.

15 October 2010

birth of a blog

It's official. In order to keep Marathon a bit more updated, and to keep our personal lives out of those updates (as much as observers can, anyway), BigBendTX.blogspot.com has been created. The Groove-billed Ani sighting already has its own post, along with a giant lump of Semptember sightings.

Now we just need to get the butterflies and moths in there as well...

yard swap

Here's the official yard list, in chronological order, for the house at 5th and F:

(Date range was from July 2 through September 15, 2010)

Turkey Vulture 7/4
Eurasian Collared-Dove 7/2
White-winged Dove 7/2
Inca Dove 7/5
Lesser Nighthawk 7/7
Common Nighthawk 7/2
Black-chinned Hummingbird 7/4
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 7/4
Vermillion Flycatcher 7/2
Ash-throated Flycatcher 7/2
Cassin's Kingbird 7/3 nesting
Barn Swallow 7/2 nesting
Cactus Wren 7/5 heard
Northern Mockingbird 7/2
Curve-billed Thrasher 7/2
European Starling 7/4
Canyon Towhee 7/4
Great-tailed Grackle 7/2
Bronzed Cowbird 7/2
Orchard Oriole 7/4
House Finch 7/2
Lesser Goldfinch 7/2
House Sparrow 7/2
*domestic red junglefowl 7/3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 7/20
Western Tanager 7/26
Bell's Vireo 7/30
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 8/8
Say's Phoebe 8/8
Rufous Hummingbird 8/20
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 8/20
Barn Owl 8/20
Upland Sandpiper 8/25
Summer Tanager 9/1
Bullock's Oriole 9/4
Blue Grosbeak 9/9
Empid Spp 9/9
Wilson's Warbler 9/9
Cedar Waxwing 9/11
Spotted Towhee 9/15

Additional vertebrate observed in that time:
bat spp 7/4
spadefoot toad 7/9
chorus frog ? (?)

Butterflies:
Queen 7/2
American Snout 7/4
Sleepy Orange 7/4
Lyside Sulphur 7/4
Gray Hairstreak 7/4
Texan Crescent 7/4
Western Pygmy Blue 7/4
Reakirt's Blue 7/4
Orange Sulphur 7/5
Question Mark 7/6
Definite Patch 7/13
Theona Checkerspot 7/13
Bordered Patch 7/18
Fiery Skipper 7/20
Dun Skipper 7/20
Mexican Yellow 8/2
Pipevine Swallowtail 8/24
Eufala Skipper 8/25
Southern Dogface * pre 8/25
Variegated Fritillary * pre 8/25
Common/White Checkered Skipper * pre 8/25
Goatweed Leafwing 9/1
Funereal Duskywing 9/3
Monarch 9/4

And species not in our yard, but observed in town during that time:
Cliff Swallow 7/4
Western Kingbird 7/4
Cassin's Sparrow 7/7
Black-throated Sparrow 7/7
Great Horned Owl 7/27
Yellow-headed Blackbird 9/26
Scott's Oriole 9/30

08 October 2010

Agapema anona

alias Mexican Agapema, alias Greasewood Silkmoth, alias William H. Bonney....

Heidi gave me a call this morning:
H- Matt, get your butt up here and get the camera out of the jeep
me- okay, okay.... , I am working in here.
H- alright, just hurry
me - okay...., what is i -



WOW!!!!!!

Great find, Heidi!

Agapema anona
is a member of the family Saturniidae, or "Silkmoths". The members of this family are our largest moths, however they are not always humongous. This particular individual's wingspans might be slightly longer than two quarters stacked side-by-side.

Absolutely spectacular male on a very cool morning. I can tell this guy is male due to the crazy feathery antennae. This attribute detects the subtle fragrance of a pheromone released by the female. This is intentional on her part, and is in a way.. a "call ." With a breeze, this male may be able to detect a "call" from half a mile a way.



A. anona larva feed on various condalia (Condalia spp.) and Greasewood (Sarcobatus spp).
Certainly some of that around. Adult females spin the cocoon in the branches of these host-plants.

This species is thus far known to range from SE Arizona, S New Mexico, and far-west Texas.



We are happy to range here too.







Edit: this lovely fellow was found early in the morning out near the public laundry room at the Marathon Motel. -heidi

06 October 2010

Post Park inhabitants

September 5th was when these photos were taken, and yes, other older photos will start to pop up on the blog, now that things are settling down.



Ah, tent caterpillars...

Post Park, also known as Fort Pena Colorado Park, or The Post, is a county park about 5 miles south of Marathon. The birding is fantastic. So are the butterflies (not to mention moths; we found a Poplar Sphinx there!) Anyway, while the juv Canyon Towhee seen begging earlier in the season was still begging, we found a few other juvies being a bit less dependent:



Young Vermillion Flycatcher out over the pond.



Young Zone-tailed Hawk on a yucca.

The Zone-tail was first seen up in a high cottonwood tree, Matt found it and pointed it out to me - we immediately assumed Common Black Hawk due to habitat and, well, it was perched. Zone-tailed Hawks never perch (common knowledge). Once we realized that the tail was not particularly banded, we quickly wavered over whether or not this could be an insanely dark Red-tailed Hawk... wing length vs. tail length and a solidly dark back helped ease our concerns. Finally when it flew we had a perfect Turkey Vulture mimic; Zone-tailed it was! And one short, adult tail feather was growing in, so as it cruised the area we were able to reassure ourselves that the ID was correct.

Only one tarantula was seen at the park on the 5th; one of those bound and determined to get to wherever it was going, not stopping for photos nor introductions. The bright abdominal fuzz was so attention grabbing that I crawled along for quite a while just trying to get a decent angle while it ran southwest. Trying to lure it onto my hand just resulted in it trying to find a detour. Such pacifists!



(Note: it shows up a bit larger than life-sized on my screen... it's really a bit smaller than my hand.)

04 October 2010

lurking in the shadows

One month ago, late into the night, Matt and I heard a large flying-insect type noise in our bedroom. We thought nothing of it, as moths were regular visitors.

The second night that we heard it, Matt had turned on the light and saw a huge, fluttery, shadowy beast. How this visitor entered the house, we do not know. We do know that the amusement factor was directly proportional to the amount of shadow chasing.

What invertebrate lurked in the shadows of our bedroom?

video

...a praying mantis, of course.

02 October 2010

Tuna Juice is pink

Mmmm, tuna juice. No, seriously, the fruit of the prickly pear is called a tuna. Nopal is the green pad. So juicing a tuna isn't nearly as bizarre as it sounds... but it does confuse people when you talk about going around town picking tunas to juice. Especially when you live in pretty much a desert!



The juicing setup: buckets of tunas, a huge rinsing tub, a chopper/grinder thing, bucket for juice, press, screen, clean containers. You can see where this is going, right?



Tuna puree! Of course, since I ended up helping after snapping these photos (and I wasn't thinking about it during the 2 weeks we sipped upon a small fraction of the harvest), this is all the evidence I've got for the juicing of the tunas. Most of the juice was frozen, to later be turned into margaritas and wine, but what was consumed fresh was also consumed with care - apparently it has enough antioxidants to mess you up if you drink more than 1/2 a cup or so per day. Just sayin' (one of the guys there ended up drinking about 3 cups and Did Not Feel Well). Oh, and it is like magenta henna if it gets on your skin. Not to mention clothing!

Exciting factoid: cochineal yields an identical magenta dye. You are what you eat, no?

While on the topic of pink things:



Strawberry Tres Leches - does not transport well. Tastes like heaven. Except for the crazy pink stuff on top, that was concentrated sugar with sugar extract and more sugar. And maybe a funky strawberry flavor additive. But overall, we felt good knowing that our purchase for the bake sale would help fund prom for Marathon High. Rumor has it the graduating class this year is four.

(This post's photos were taken around September 3rd)

Eumorpha vitis



Vine Sphinx

Found first thing this morning in near-perfect condition floating in the courtyard fountain at work. Drowned.

Kept.

First one since Junction, Kimble Co., TX in summer 2009.

Spring Valley Elementary. in Hewitt, TX, had one of these guys in '09, too.. link.
That one, a McLennan County first.

Nothing nicer than a sphingid first thing in the morning. Well, not a whole lot. Some things. More than some. A few?

Like what?
...

29 September 2010

Lintneria what? Lintneria who?

Yesterday, Heidi and I traveled to the Brewster County DPS/DMV in Alpine to get some affairs in order.
In the middle of the afternoon we came across a huge sphinx moth snoozing on the outward side of a window on the DPS building.



I was about to quickly write it off as a "surely" fairly common certain Ceratomia species;I was getting tired.
Heidi wasn't so sure of the assumption within my rapid response. "I don't know about that.."



I happened to have my camera in the truck on this trip. This is what I took these pictures with.
The only camera Heidi had was the one in her cell phone. She took some pictures nonetheless. In fact, the moth actually spread its forewings momentarily to give us a brief glimpse of the upper-side of its generally covered hindwings.

The photo that cinched, unanimously, the ID with some fairly knowledgeable folks in the lepidoptera world:

Heidi's:


Lintneria istar, "Istar Sphinx" moth.

New species for us!
New genus for us!

What a team we are. What a balance. :-)
Thank goodness for Heidi.
Thank goodness for so many reasons..

And a bare-basics cellphone w/ camera.

28 September 2010

Previous post now has video!

Friday's post now has a video at the very bottom - apologies for the delay!

24 September 2010

Aplomado Falcons vs. Northern Harrier

Finally, the video you've all been waiting for (even if you didn't know it!) ...three Aplomado Falcons chasing a young Northern Harrier. This is from September 4th around 7 pm. The drama lasted for a few minutes and the harrier was escorted out of the Aplo territory. I suggest having your volume all the way up to hear the little fellows.

[someday, there will be a video here]

Shadowboxing mantis footage might take a while ;-)

A quick personal update:
Yes, we really are moving to Marathon officially. This update is from Waco, because the internet here is amazing. We'll be on the road this weekend (so be extra nice to folks with U-Haul trailers!) and then it's back to making the house livable. One more coat of paint in the living room and two on the trim should do the trick. The kitchen is another story entirely though!

Edit: I'll try to re-upload the video after the move if it didn't work. Apologies! [vid 9/4 706]

video

Edit: See? The video DOES exist!

11 September 2010

falcon finale

Things have been busy lately between cleaning two houses and packing! So for the silence, we offer our apologies. It is at least with good news that we wrap up our ~2 months with Aplomado Falcons.

10 September - 93 showed up for dinner carrying his own small, unidentified snack.

8 September - 16, 95, H7, 93... two birds from Group I, two from Group III. 95 had been gone since 1 September, so it was a surprise to see him again.

Here are the final numbers for our groups - since most birds were at or just under 40 days when released, you can base "Age Last Seen" on that. Good news: pretty much anything over 61 days, in this case, counts as successful.

Group I - Released 10 July
Name / Sex Date Last Seen Age Last Seen
Green K8 / F 17 August 77 days
Red OK / M 28 August 89 days
Green 16 / M 8 September 99 days
Red 59 / M 11 July 40 days
Green 95 / M 8 September 98 days
Red 78 / M 11 July 40 days
Green 58 / M 30 August 90 days

Group II - Released 11 July
Name / Sex Date Last Seen Age When Last Seen
Red OP / M 11 July 40 days
Green K6 / F 24 July 56 days
Red C2 / F 13 August 71 days
Green 66 / M 15 July 42 days
Red 43 / M 15 July 42 days
Green 83 / M 4 August 62 days
Red 13 / M 11 July 38 days

Group III - Released 31 July
Name / Sex Date Last Seen Age When Last Seen
Red 93 / M 10 September 81 days
Green H7 / F 8 September 78 days
Green 32 / M 1 August 40 days
Red 24 / M 1 August 40 days
Green 15 / M 1 August 38 days

09 September 2010

sad day for Marathon

The Marathon Motel has operated Basin Radio for the last 8 years. As of Thursday, September 9th, 2010 the FCC has shut it down.

So now we get Marfa's watered down excuse for a station. Bright side: it does have some NPR programming. But it's just not quite the same.

05 September 2010

no news is good news

Recent events have led to a massive backlog in photos and posts. Namely, we found a place out here to rent! The falcons are fewer and farther between, now that they're getting to fend for themselves. So in our down time we're not getting much of a chance to update the blog or do much other than... paint. And clean things. And paint more. And schedule termite treatments. And did we mention paint? The place we're renting is a cute little 1 bedroom house that has some great native grasses in the yard (a lawn crew would absolutely cringe at the sight of it, all patchy and uneven) and is on a quiet corner where 2 of 3 neighbors on the corner have horses. The third actually has a silhouette of a horse painted on the side of the house. Our 'next door neighbor' is a giant wall (somewhere in the compound there does seem to be a snazzy abode), and the lot behind us is vacant, so we have a nice view of the water tower ~2 blocks behind us. We, however, get well water. But it's all the same, cool, crisp, delicious water... we hope.

The excessively fragile old furniture in the house has been flagged as 'not appropriate for the shed' - we should clarify here that the 'shed' is a corrugated tin-roofed, leaky, mud brick pile of old railroad ties supporting an awning... and is not fit for any creature's habitation, much less old furniture. Alas, if we look at the chairs and tables too hard, they may crumble under the sheer intensity of the modern gaze. Never mind touching or moving them! Storage is at a premium, as there is only one closet in the entire building, but there is not a single cabinet anywhere in the house (other than some old glass cases... that are not fit for actual storage). So "quaint" is a good word for the situation! Practical, on the other hand, might be a stretch.

The front porch is a vast expanse of concrete - in the shape of a slab - that in the midday sun, shines a blinding glare. It is due for an awning or roof or at least a gutter of some sort. In the evenings, it'll be fantastic for porch sitting though! The back of the house is another story. Yet again, we'll be living in a house with a non-functioning back door. There's not much hope for this one, either. The light outside the door, however, does turn on! It's one of four lighting fixtures in/on the entire building that does work! We keep flipping switches and swapping new light bulbs with high hopes. Thus far we've not worked during non-daylight hours though, so lighting has not been a problem. Fixtures, other than one soot covered ceiling mount, simply do not exist. Yet.

Oh! There's a composting toilet. We've yet to find the 'starter mulch' for it, but there's some in the mail, and hopefully it arrives before we need to use that restroom. Fingers are crossed! The giant hole in the yard with dead ragweed or milkweed stalks (and crushed keystone light can) should prove fruitful as a compost pit once we get the "biolet" up and... composting. For now there is a gentle aroma wafting through the bathroom. We look forward to having a 'butterfly' pit to accent our butterfly 'nectaring' station. You can tell we'll have way too much fun with this living experiment!

To skip around the house, we should mention the painting situation. The bedroom MUST be painted before we 'move in' (late September being our anticipated Puppy Arrival time). Apparently the little white space heater had itself a little too much fun and the walls, ceiling and windows were COVERED in soot. Several layers of soot. Really, really nasty soot. Three layers of Killz primer is finally making the walls look better. There's little hope for the ceiling, since it's grooved wood panels. We'll pretend that 2 walls looking shiny white will make the dark, reclaimed wooden walls cleaner, too. It's the thought that counts, right? Washing the walls did very little, so the first layer of paint ended up being a kind of smeary gray.

We'll leave the highly visible termite infestation up to the fruitful imaginations of our dear readers.

To conclude this post, we'll give you some strange highlights:
Julio's mild salsa is really medium (the only bad thing about it is that it isn't sold by the quart!)
Black Widow spiders live *outside* the 'new' house, not inside!
Chili cheese dog pizza is WAY better tasting than it sounds
there's a mural of mountains and a yucca in the shower at the 'new house'
prickly pear juice (from the fruit) is a hilariously fun adventure... it deserves its own post
we managed to procure 3 more jars of last year's honey batch!
shadowboxing praying mantis... in the bedroom! (of the current house, not the 'new' one)

...for the record, the praying mantis won. It was then caught in a glass and relocated outside so it could hunt something more juicy than its shadow. Yes, we do keep a very tall glass next to the night stand for that purpose!

25 August 2010

breakfast

A few mornings ago, Matt noticed a sound behind us - it was a slightly grinding sort of crunchy noise. Apparently grasshoppers are delicious for breakfast, at least for a mantis.

video

21 August 2010

correction

The previous post was supposed to have a video at the end - it has been added now!

19 August 2010

goings on

My non-food Marathon post may have been too soon. Now that the community is overrun with tent caterpillars of some sort, I feel they're missing out on the limelight that the mites got. With last weekend's rain, there are also a few more mosquitoes around, too. Only one snake has been seen in town so far - another Kansas Glossy crossing the road.

Community update part 2: The somewhat locally made soap smells delicious and is quite gentle on the skin (the gal who makes the soap is from Minnesota but her dad lives in town - will have to elaborate on the rosemary soap some other time, but the 'air' has a slightly minty scent that's wonderful). In other news, dare we say food-related, Don of Shirley's Burnt Biscuits is back! The place won't be open for another week or two, but for someone who had heart surgery last month, he's looking great. Can't wait for those oatmeal cookies...

Site tidbit: on Sunday (the 15th) we had quite a fascinating visitor at the site, more will be posted about the Mohave Rattlesnake later.

But, on to a falcon update! The falcons are doing well, H7, the female from Group 3 is doing a splendid job of catching her own grasshoppers - she seems to have caught on while watching OK, our only black/red male from the first two groups. OK will sally from a shrub and nab a dragonfly midair, eat it, and grab another... and that will continue for quite a few snacks!

It has been nearly a week since C2, our red/black female - the last female from Group 2 - showed up just to show off that she wasn't hungry. She had skipped 2 days prior to last Friday, and showed up wiping her beak and didn't eat that morning, just in the evening. She must have been pretty full. That said, she has not been seen since. We're pretty confident that she's down the highway scaring the pants off of the little American Kestrels who have just started to show up this month. Ah, migration!

Big news for K8 - when C2 returned, K8 had been MIA for two days. So K8 skipped a total of 7 feedings (3.5 days) before showing up again and has been regular since Sunday. She is looking great, ragged tail and all.

Our most recent Wednesday morning was the first time we did not see a single falcon for the duration of the morning. None even observed in the distance. Everyone who showed up in the evening ate very well, but only five showed up for that. This (Thursday) morning was a bit of a surprise, since we generally put out two quail and have one left over - five birds showed up and only a few stray clumps and "spaghetti" of quail were left. [Ewww.]

So here's the remaining cluster:
H7 (female, group 3)
93 (group 3 - aka 'Peachy Britches')
OK
16
58 (now with his own 'scissor-tailed appearance)
95 (aka 'Leggins' on a good day)
K8 (the female known as 'Kate')
C2 (female, gone for a week now)

Oddly, 16 is a bird who is just plain normal. OK has a slightly pale rump, and is notable for being the black/red male who isn't 'Peachy Britches' ...he's otherwise pretty average, but 16? There's nothing particularly notable about him. He has a regular, striped tail, unlike our solid-tailed 95 and C2, or the ragged tailed K8 and 58. Perhaps H7 is then the next closest bird to 'normal' that we have since she has no distinguishing features beyond being not-K8.

video

17 August 2010

non-food Marathon

The library. We like it, it is small and friendly and Shirley (who no longer bakes biscuits) works there. There are picnic tables out front for when shade and temperature allow, and a desk inside for when AC is needed. Alas, there seem to be no outlets inside. That's what the French Grocer and The Famous Burro are for. Outlets and wifi - outside! The community room may have outlets, but we've yet to explore it well enough. Eventually I'll have to get a French Grocer t-shirt and have it autographed by the owner. Just because.

The community room is finally open. Apparently the woman who tended it had been out of town for most of our stay. Now that she's back, the little community thrift store (in the back of the building) is open pretty much daily. There's wifi 24/7, generally half a dozen young kids playing video games, a shelf of locally made crafts and a lot of art for sale (large red/blue western themed paintings and some small, funky black and white negative exposure type photo compositions). We bought two of the handmade soaps to sample and look forward to when they carry more produce (alas, peppers aren't quite my thing, though the tomatoes looked good). There are Mexican style pottery lizard things, a ton of shiny crosses from a store that closed down, some pin cushions and quite a few really neat looking dish towels. Not sure how authentically local those dish towels are, but some are almost tempting.

Mites. Our mite infestation has pretty much vanished now that the Gladys family is gone. All three young Barn Swallows apparently fledged, and we congratulate the Gladys parents for a job remarkably well done. The nest withstood the season and the kids were well behaved! However, in the last few days, it looked like Mr. and Mrs. Gladys were thinking about one more brood. Their visits back to the nest had us worried about more mites... couldn't they just go to the nest on the side of the house, up under the eaves? We brainstormed about ways to startle Gladys and Gladys - get a helium balloon and float it next to the nest, put a ping-pong ball in the nest, fence it off with mesh... all ideas that required just a bit too much effort for the amount of incentive we had. Finally, in a fit of inspiration, I took some twist-ties from bread bags and produce bags and made a rather pointy looking ball of ~8 legs. Upon a chair I stood, and into the vacant nest this twist-monster was placed. It won't blow out, it is pretty much non-toxic, it won't hurt the birds, it won't chase more mites into the house.... it just keeps Gladys and Gladys from getting cozy again. We love them, but the mites were pretty psychologically troubling.

Spiders! Our beloved jumping friends ('bold jumping spider') have now surfaced in the living room as well as the bedroom. One each in those rooms, and at least three or four different individuals from the bathroom (do they like humidity?) brings us to a total of... many relocation trips outside. We've had teeny ones, the size of my pinky nail, dime-sized ones, at least one nickel-sized one and one gigantic critter whose legs would likely shadow a quarter. Pretty, alluring, constantly alert, these critters have become friends so long as they're not in the bedroom. Admittedly, the bedroom critter was escorted outside with a little less ceremony than the others.

Nocturnal roommates. Perhaps it's because nothing in this house is sealed - you can see daylight underneath and through the middle of the back door - but generally twice a night we have to relocate, squish, or otherwise lure out uninvited 'bed friends.' It's disconcerting enough with moths, but we've had beetles, wasps, some funky long-necked winged ant creatures, you name it. Alas, a bug net would not be compatible with the ceiling fan. Lately we've been getting less sleep than we'd like due to these nocturnal buzz-thump-buzz-thump ::crawl:: activities. Our evening reading is therefore in the living room, or with a much brighter hall light on (which stays on when we turn off the lamp in the bedroom, then we have to scurry out to turn off the hall light and quickly retreat lest the moths follow us back - it's an odd routine). The gigantic katydid was the last straw - we've down put duct tape over the window gaps, back door edges, etc.

Happy Tuesday!

15 August 2010

just roll with it

video

When the horses visit the site, they leave stunning biodiversity in their, er... wake. Generally there are Pearl Crescents, Common Buckeyes and other butterflies to keep us amused. Other times the amusement finds us. The dung beetle pair above spent a good long while rolling in front of the tarp. We were a bit confused about the arrangement until we read in Kaufman's insect guide that the female will ride along or help. Most of the other beetles were buried up to their bums in the dung, but also very photogenic. Perhaps more evidence another day!

14 August 2010

everything eats caterpillars

video

I watched this spider make an attempt at a wasp that walked over the hole (repeatedly), but there wasn't much else to report on that - the wasp got away. But the spider had grabbed the caterpillar not 5 minutes sooner, so it's just as well.

(I would post video of the above incident, but in the background you'd hear me rambling on the phone about the camera... and nobody needs to hear that!)

At some point I may try to get photos of a lovely ichneumon wasp on here... yes, it was in the process of dragging away a caterpillar (and down into the hole they went).

13 August 2010

little town of food

A while back I posted about our local-ish adventures in Marathon. Here's a bit more, focusing on food:

Sadly, Shirley's Burnt Biscuit has been closed pretty much since that post - Don, the fellow who used to work for Shirley and bought the place - is having heart surgery in Houston. No idea when it will reopen. I'm acutely aware of the lack of gingerbread oatmeal cookies.

The building that used to be Shirley's is now Guzzi Pizza, and they opened on Aug 2 or 3. Delicious, especially the Spinach Alfredo pizza. Michelle is the brains behind the place (edit: family owned and operated!) and she has even agreed to sell us globs of dough for our own culinary adventures! There's no room to eat there, so it's better to call ahead or have 10-15 mins to kill waiting.

Marathon Coffee (known as "Breakfast & Lunch" to the rest of us) will have live music later in the month, a rare non-breakfast, non-lunch occasion! They're not open Mon/Tues, but at least the rest of the time they seem pretty consistent. Alas, breakfast options are not served for lunch. Very sad. We've compensated by having breakfast burritos at home for lunch.

The Oasis, to our knowledge, has not been open at all since we got here. So there are no local Mexican food options at all! The same can be said for the Gage Hotel's restaurant & bar, due to renovation - they've pretty much been closed since we got here. Rumor has it, they'll be open by September sometime.

The Famous Burro continues to be pretty busy when it is open, but we've not made it back yet due to the timing of our work.

...that said...

We made it to the Saturday night fish fry that benefitted Marathon ISD. You read that right. Marathon ISD. Because a town of fewer than 500 people is its own Independent School District. Ugh. So we ate up, contributed, and scurried off to work before it got too crowded. Darn good catfish and potato salad. Coleslaw wasn't stellar, nor were the cobblers. The hushpuppies and cake made it all worthwhile though.

Now, in my infinite wisdom, I have no photos of foods mentioned, nor the locations. Google Street View might even let you down since so much has changed recently. But you'll just have to settle for your own imagination.

[insert imaginary photo here]

12 August 2010

not a meerkat

The Mexican Ground Squirrel is an occasional distraction on site -

video

We never see more than one at a time, and the behavior is always pretty consistent: alert, snacking, and acting like a meerkat. So considering we've got antelope wandering around the site* (ok , fine, just one of them) and a meerkat's stunt double, it feels pretty exotic!

11 August 2010

Pronghorn Antelope revisited

Here's a slightly longer snippet of our guest:

video

You might notice that he gets passed not one, not two, but three times by our curious little Aplomado friends!

likes sunsets, long walks

Our tarp neighbor, Cuddles, is a late riser. As the sun starts to go down, Cuddles comes out of a little tunnel and goes for an evening stroll. From what we can tell, the preferred lifestyle is solitary, slow-paced, curious and always aware. Everything must be taken in, felt, absorbed. With careful feeling, Cuddles negotiates uneven terrain, grass clumps, rocks and other invertebrates. We've yet to see Cuddles eat anything, but it might just be our timing - or perhaps Cuddles is shy. We're not sure if those front legs that act as feelers are because Cuddles can't see due to always having his/her face covered, or if it's just for extra sensory benefits. Perhaps navigation is best left to legs anyway, but we'd like to see that little face just a bit closer... and not behind such intimidating jaws!

video

Yes. We named a Vinegarroon Cuddles.

10 August 2010

bathtime

Ever wonder what a falcon taking a bath looks like?

I think the bird in question is 58, who enjoyed nearly three minutes of standing in the water, lowering his chest - feathers ruffled of course - into the water, and splashing into the water with wings and beak (all the better to fling the water!)

video

09 August 2010

Lark Buntings

My familiarity with Lark Buntings has been mostly a winter flocking phenomenon in Abilene - a rolling tumble of oreo blotched birds who stay fairly low and then drop to the ground in an instant.

video

One lone male in the middle of August seemed a bit out of place yesterday morning, but by late afternoon we'd seen a handful more. In almost-breeding glory, they loitered near the tarp and preened before heading southward. Freeze the video while they're in flight to get the full impact of those giant white wing patches!