28 May 2010

Alpine, lepidoptera and Marfa Lights

This post would be "Alpine day 1 part 2" if we went in a linear posting pattern... Instead I went for a more descriptive title.

The above scenery surrounds the edges of Alpine; high, dry, rocky land and very hardy plants dotting the ground.

True to the title, we now present a squashed Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) - Matt's truck was never one for bug catching until the front end was raised a bit to level out both ends. Now it's almost as good as my Jeep!

I kid you not; that one peek shows (from top to bottom) includes a White-lined Sphinx moth (Hyles lineata), an American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis), a Common/White Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis/albescen) and some parts of a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Not pictured is a Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela) that was a bit to the right of that cluster.

After being thoroughly impressed with the bugs "collected" between McLennan and Brewster County (all of whom were eaten overnight, for what it's worth), we drove to Marfa to see their courthouse. It's quite an impressive structure for such a desolate county. Afterward we went to see the absolutely endearing Marfa Lights.

The observation area is a nice little raised deck with a wind break (thank goodness; I was wearing 2 layers of long sleeves, a wind breaker, mittens and the warmest hat I had! We arrived just after sun down, so there was still a nice evening glow... one light was there when we got there. I'd scanned past it, thinking it was a ranch light with an orange glow. Only after noticing that it was slooowly sinking behind a ridge did I realize that it was one of the lights! We saw up to four at once; a small red one that blinked in and out next to an orange one, the semi-stationary orange one, and two white ones that wobbled a bit but stayed mostly on a horizontal path. Very cool! If only the radio tower out there were gone...

Here's the wiki page for the Marfa Lights. Critics apparently claim that the lights are attributable to vehicular traffic; the road was darn busy when we were there and the lights didn't behave as the Anson Lights (you flash a light three times and eventually you see a light - there are a few contradictions about those as well). Disclaimer: I've not seen the Anson lights but have friends who have seen them. The earliest report of the Marfa Lights was apparently in the late 1800s and assumed to be Apache fires (so said the historical marker), but apparently they're also assumed to be the restless spirits of gold seekers. Good thing Disney doesn't have a hand in it, or it'd be a Tinkerbell pilgrimage.

26 May 2010

BPTransoceanLtd.Halliburton and the Infinite Sadness

(Gerald Herbert/AP Photo)

In spite of a few common name nomenclature errors...


*edited for content. This is a family blog*


25 May 2010

Photos from the field

Just a few fellow earthlings we ran into in the trans-Pecos:

Western Black-necked Garter Snake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis cyrtopsis), s. Brewster County, TX

This was a new herp for us. There were a pair of them in a water tank. -h may have a few better photos of these guys.

Also, hovering around the same pool of water in this portion of the Chihuahuan Desert were numerous ...

Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata), s. Brewster County, TX

A day or two earlier we spent some time in the Davis Mountains, enjoying great birds and bugs. A few of the leps we came across:

Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon) Jeff Davis Co.
We had a few Vesta Crescents (P. graphica) and later had Tiny Checkerspots (Dymasia dymas) in south Brewster County.

In the Davis Mountains the Satyrinids flying were

Canyonland Satyr (Cyllopsis pertepida), Jeff Davis County

This was a new lep for us and nearby was an equally new yet entirely uncooperative Drusius Cloudywing (Thorybes drusius). We were psyched about that species. -h did get a digi-bin of the drusius just for our records.

One bug we tried to turn into a Mexican Sootywing (Pholisora mejicanus) but just could not was

Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus) Jeff Davis County

The underside hindwing just was not helping our cause to make this bug P. mejicanus.

While enjoying all, and photographing some, of the leps we had Hepatic (Piranga flava) and Western Tanagers (P. ludoviciana) making their presence known along with Gray Vireos (Vireo vicinior) and Gray Flycatchers (Empidonax wrightii). The latter was a seriously excellent bird as its summer range in TX just touches the sky-island habitats such as certain elevations in the Davis Mtns.

More from this trip later...

22 May 2010

Alpine, day 1

We drove to Alpine on Saturday - I'll spare the wind farm lecture for this post. Suffice to say, we weren't thrilled to see the area east of Fort Stockton lined many rows deep on much of the horizon.

As usual, the fantastic icon of the Big Bend greeted us: Paisano Pete, the Greater Roadrunner. His size matches the personality of roadrunners, larger than life!

This next image is one that I hope folks will take to heart.

"Judy the Burro Lady" was something of a legend. Some very thoughtful notes are here, via the Big Bend Gazette. There are also some anecdotes here. And endearing reminiscing here. And a bit about the spot we visited can be found here.

Near said memorial are the above burros (Penelope and Petunia, I believe).

...and, well, it's a neat little park. Irreverent and free spirited, the way things should be sometimes. It's just a fenced in pair of burros who would appreciate a nibble of something, but don't mind a pet on the nose or ear. So very soft.

I can see why a burro makes a wonderful companion, also why the slow pace and the feel of the elements is such a strong pull.

19 May 2010

blatant promotion

An Inordinate Fondness #4 is up! It is hosted by xenogere and posted in the style of a road trip. Matt submitted our Ironclad Beetle post. (This is our first submission to AIF)


The Moth and Me is now up! It is being hosted by Beetles in the Bush.

Features include our own "stunning noctuid" and "Poor Grammia"

14 May 2010

Photos from MO

These photos are from the Missouri trip to visit the grandparents, so naturally we have a ratio of 1:20 when it comes to grandparents vs. everything else. Hopefully this will tide y'all over until we return from our next adventure!

First, a quick shot from the road. Matt's truck, Marley "the big red truck," got new tires earlier in the month and we were joking that they must have been special ordered - just like these. They are obviously HUGE.

Our first batch of "vertebrates" somewhere near Stanberry:

On the last leg of our drive from St. Joseph to Albany we passed about a hundred wind turbines (1.5 MW from the looks of it, need to dig a bit and see). Very disheartening. On the bright side, we saw plenty of old windmills and some that were even still working. And then this.

The yellow truck combination is made of epic win - it's an old windmill that Matt's uncle bought. I suppose this is the easiest mode of transport for a fully assembled one, but it must have garnered some strange looks on the road!

The plants were photogenic as ever, and it was our first time to see them not-brown since 2008, because our last trip up was Thanksgiving and everything was gray and dreary. So what did I do? Take pictures of vegetation that was gray and dreary!

[insert witty transition here]

Rascal is Anakin's cousin of sorts - you can see the family resemblance. He's the most mellow Yorkie on the planet, don't let his little Wookie face and Ewok size make you think otherwise. Technically he's the pup of Matt's uncle and his wife. He's also their granddaughter's best friend. So his name becomes "Rashul" often enough.

Ok, now for the REAL family:

Matt, Sargent Major York (Grandpa) and Grandma. It's a wonderful experience to hear about the history of the area, the changes in the community since WWII and get practical advice on surviving 62 years of marriage. One year down, 61 more to go ;-)

12 May 2010

April in May + storytime

Looks like we've fallen a bit behind, so here are some lovely photos and ID requests! Apologies for the jump in chronology; these photos are from Colorado Bend State Park from April 30 (and it's May 12, whoops).

Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiacus), a slightly worn adult whose wing shows the evidence of life.

Juniper Hairstreaks (Callophrys gryneus) put on quite a show for us, above on a tendril and below on Antelope-Horn Milkweed (Asclepias viridis).

Many years ago now, I went on a birding trip to SE Arizona and upon my return I showed pictures to my mom... there were bugs and flowers and water droplets and a person or two. Then she asked about the scenery, since AZ is quite dry and my photos were quite lush. There was only *one* photo of the mountains that I'd taken; just a ray of light breaking through the clouds with the mountains in the background.

So the one below is for Mom; look! Trees! (This path is where the Ironclad Beetle and fungus eater posts came from!)

Now these next two are up for ID; I think the second is a shield bug young'n of some sort, but haven't narrowed down this first lovely little fellow yet.

And since I'm cramming as many photos as possible into this catch-up post...

Above and below; Common Roadside-Skipper (Amblyscirtes vialis), a "life" bug for me! Oddly enough, Matt had seen one at our Houston wedding reception...
Edit: from Matt - I came across Celia's Roadside-Skipper at our wedding reception, not Common. :-)

Below; Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

And now for an exciting story: once there were two birders driving home from Colorado Bend State Park. They were nearly home, so close they could see the county line... suddenly out of the corner of the windshield they noticed a field with a huge puddle of water in it!

They made a U-turn and went back to investigate. Right as they stopped the vehicle, a Crested Caracara flew over them! They watched and watched as it flew away, hoping it would cross the county line because they're nerds and McLennan Co hardly ever gets Crested Caracaras, but Coryell gets plenty... but it never did cross. Luckily for them, however, their U-turn put them right next to the field.

The water in the field was so deep that some of the birds were nearly swimming! Alas, for most of the birds, the water was only deep enough for them to wade. There were Stilt Sandpipers with their looong legs and beaks were off out of photographing range, but there were some stunning female Wilson's Phalaropes in breeding plumage! And they were gorgeous.

So the moral of the story? Check out flooded fields. You might just find Wilson's Phalaropes in their summer splendor. Or Snowy Plovers in Missouri!

Note: non-birders take heed, the females of Phalarope species are far more colorful than the males. Not only that, but she leaves incubation up to the male. How's that for super exciting factoids and random trivia?

10 May 2010

122 species of the Central Flyway

The title says it all. Of the 122, 108 of these species were seen in the far NW corner of Missouri, the rest were seen en route. Anything in bold was exciting, unusual, unexpected or just plain novel. Our heaviest morning of diversity was undoubtedly the 2 hrs and 15 mins at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge that yielded 70 species (plus Empidonax flycatchers by the truckload and some distant "peeps" that didn't cooperate). Thanks to Pete Hosner for suggesting Squaw Creek!

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
Sora (Porzana carolina)
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda)
Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)
Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)
Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri)
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii)
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus)
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus)
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
Purple Martin (Progne subis)
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia)

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla)
Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata)
Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum)
Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata)

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea)
Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla)
Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis)
Louisiana Waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla)

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla)
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida)
Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)
Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
Harris's Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)
Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

...not bad for only 7 cumulative hrs of intentional birding! Methinks the 24+ hrs of driving is what did it, though.

Froggi, this photo is for you:

03 May 2010


A few more glimpses from Friday: the urge to spy, the urge to... have really convincing camouflage, the urge to feed and the urge to make more beetles!

...the ID of the little pinkish and green fellow is pending, no clue about the fellow behind it. I think it's a green beetle with black spots, but didn't even notice it until looking at the photos - it was spying on the photo session with the little pinkish one! Pardon the anthropomorphism.

An unidentified moth that looks like bird poop (it was just a matter of time until another one showed up in this blog!)

These Juniper Hairstreaks have the best of both worlds - flowers, and lots of them. Walking from blossom to blossom on Antelope-Horn Milkweed (Asclepias viridis), these four butterflies are downright pampered. They were also quite complacent when approached, so more photos are likely to follow.

New to our vocabulary, the Net-winged Beetle (Lycus fernandezi). Looks a lot like the Black-and-yellow Lichen Moth from our last post, no?

Nothing like beetle procreation.

And we'll leave you with those signs of spring while we run off to the vast, frozen, north Midwest. Back in a week!