19 June 2010

Christmas Mountains

Our last morning of the trip was spent at the Christmas Mountains Oasis - a lovely bit of private property that is birder friendly upon request. We did not meet Carolyn, but we fell in love with the inhabitants we did come across.

Of the two 'tanks' hosted a very long-necked cooter of some sort [a tank, in west Texas, is any depression, scrape, hole, container, pond, etc that can hold water].

The path next to the parking area hosted two of the smallest dung-rolling creatures I've ever seen. They were easily half the size of the dung beetles we usually find. Very shiny little fellows, not making much progress while I watched. For scale, the ball they were trying to roll was roughly dime sized.

The desert scrub hosted a good number of singing Rufous-crowned Sparrows (Aimophila ruficeps), like the male in the photo above, as well as Black-throated Sparrows. The songs were faintly wafting up from all around, giving the property an ethereal break from silence. The occasional croak of Common Raven demanded attention, but otherwise the rhythms of summer heat were all that we heard. * there will be a cicada post eventually

Insect life on the property was abundant. I think we ended our visit with over a dozen species of butterflies alone. Desert plants in bloom are magnets.

Lesser Nighthawks (Chordeiles acutipennis) were the expected nighthawks for the area and the early morning acrobats were skimming low above the vegetation... except for the unfortunate creature above. One guess is that it went down in the hail storm from the previous day. Another guess is that it was already there, based on the amount of debris that had settled on the submerged feathers (by the time we left, the carcass sank, lending support to the hail theory). Unfortunately, it was never close enough to fish out for further inspection - and as much as I've fished dead things out of sewage ponds and everything else, this just never got close enough for an attempt.

I hadn't expected to get this shot of an adult male Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), but it turned out far better than the 3-pixel butt blur of Varied Bunting that will not be posted. Ah well, the mulberry trees were full of berries and being feasted upon by at least 5 different Western Tanagers.

Our new love: Western Black-necked Garter Snake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis collaris). There were at least 3 individuals seen, but no stellar photos beyond the one from Matt's earlier post.

...the view, graciously shared, of beautiful wilderness.


  1. That looks like a gorgeous spot --- and excellent weather for a stroll. But that poor nighthawk!

  2. Snail, thanks for the comment! It truly is an oasis there... except for the fist-sized hail stones, of course. Hopefully it was at least a quick death =(

  3. Hi Snail,

    Thanks for checking us out. We had an incredible hail storm that moved through. Some stones baseball-sized if not larger.

    We were certainly sorry to see that Lesser Nighthawk deceased.

    Less saddening was the damage our vehicle took.

    Thanks for stopping by!