25 August 2010


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.

21 August 2010


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')
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.

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

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

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 -

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:

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!

Yes. We named a Vinegarroon Cuddles.

10 August 2010


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!)

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.

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!

08 August 2010

site visitor

Pronghorn Antelope:

...and yes, it IS native!

More to come, just need to get a pile of things uploaded. There will even be some antelope/falcon interaction if it would just upload faster!

07 August 2010


In an earlier post, I think I confessed that we try to use band numbers and haven't given nicknames (beyond K8, conveniently "Kate"). Alas, the first day out of the box for young 93, he ended up with "peachy britches" due to his extensive peachy facial markings - but they all have peachy britches if you get technical.

In the video above, taken on Aug 2, you see H7, the young female, just to left of center. There's some down on her head in the video, but there's not much left these days. To her right, perched up high is 93, our peachy friend. The other 3 older birds were diving at them, circling them and perching with them... before going to the towers to eat. That's pretty helpful, if you ask me. The cooperative behaviors have been really fascinating to watch.

We think that hanging out with the older birds might have given us a scare yesterday. Thankfully 93 has been hanging out with the older group and avoiding owls; yesterday he missed both feedings though. Today we were bracing for official disappointment. Having only been out of the box for 8 days, skipping a full day wasn't exactly a good sign. This morning he showed up and ate until about 11:30 (generally everyone is done by 10:30!)

We're happy he finally resurfaced... now if only 83 (who has missed 5 meals) would show up again...

04 August 2010

Pyrgus philetas Por Fin!


Heidi and I finally came across Desert Checkered-Skipper at the work site.
Did not detract from our responsibilities of employ, by the way.

03 August 2010

General Update

C2 (Red over Black), our remaining full-tailed female from the old groups (K6 has been MIA for a few days now), was spotted 4.3 miles west of the ranch gate Friday morning. Bulls shoved things around at the tarp, but most things were relatively unscathed. Horses came traipsing through and left a trail of fantastic poop for butterflies; Nysa Roadside Skipper, Sleepy Orange, Spotted Roadside Skipper, Common Buckeye, Queen and Variegated Fritillary were present!

Saturday was the release of Group 3.

Group 3 has been rough. They fared better than Group 2 at first; everyone was accounted for on Sunday, the day after release. Alas, only H7 and 93 were seen at all on Monday. This leaves 15, 24 and 32 missing. The day of release and the day after, the older birds were really helping the youngsters. If one was on a shrub too far from the tower, the older group would circle it and push it in the direction of the towers. The older group also seemed to repeat this behavior in the evenings when youngsters wanted to roost on the towers (not safe!)

This update comes pretty late because we've been busy; aside from spending a few extra hours trying to hope for the missing Group 3 birds, we've completed phase two of ridding the porch of mites. Also, we've had to make an extra trip to Alpine for supplies since this week will be a scorcher and our water stockpile was rapidly being depleted. So our energy levels and spare time have been pretty precious. In the midst of all of this, I've noticed that my computer is filling up quickly. It doesn't help that I was about 4 months behind in backing up photos before this job started! Between the videos and whopping 5MB photos (old camera took 3MB photos), I'm watching my available memory get sapped at an alarming rate. This calls for an external drive in the next week, lest I start deleting music that I actually *do* listen to (I've already deleted everything I don't!)

Exciting small things:
We're not seeing any millipedes these days, but wind scorpions have been seen regularly for the last week. There's a lovely Black Widow near Tower 2 who has been efficiently wrapping up beetles and harvester ants.