20 December 2011

Annual Family Update

Dear Family and Friends,

We find ourselves in the midst of the holiday madness yet again, unprepared for the seasonal festivities and up to our ears in life. This year has been another one of transition, though we're still in Marathon and we're still juggling employment - that much remains the same. Thankfully our town was spared the wildfires that so much of our region was scorched with, but we're all in this drought together. If you feel the urge, y'all can even hear our local NPR segment on how the drought impacted birds (or our own blog entry about it).

Here's a boquet of Scarlet Musk Flower (Nyctaginia capitata, also called Devil's Boquet!) in the yard:

New in our life this year is a nearly hairless mammal who has brought an immense amount of joy to our lives... Anakin isn't always so sure about her, but he's the Original Puppy and she steals his toys. Nauga (naw-gah) was matched to us via Grand Companions shelter in Fort Davis* - she's half Chinese hairless, half Mexican hairless, and looks entirely Chupacabra (mythological goat-sucker vampire dog-lizard beast thing).


* Quick note about Grand Companions:
They are AMAZING. They don't have
rows of kennels so much as rows of offices
and each office houses a person and some
pups so the critters (and people) are well
socialized, people and house friendly, and
generally quite pleasant to be around!

In honor of Kindli's candid family photos, we bring you a few of the attempts made in the last few weeks to get the pups looking cooperative:

Anakin generally likes the camera, but Nauga's photogenic side is sneaky.

Also new to this year's update - our porch is now a *real* porch!

While we're at it, we should mention our fantastic pup-watchers, without whom we'd never have made it down to south Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival or up to Missouri for Thanksgiving. Dione and Gerald and their flock of 2 kids, 2 cats, 1 dog and 1 turtle are to thank for keeping Anakin well entertained in our absence - he LOVES staying with them! As for Nauga, she gets pampered by our friend Kathy and her daughter (our blacklighting companion!) and their flock of poodle and people and much fun is had by all. Below is Anakin playing with Star, photo by Miracle Tedrick (sorry, no pictures of Nauga's escapades!)

Finally, as this year winds down, there's a bit of schooling to report: 32 hours at Sul Ross Sate University means that in 12 more hours there will be a BA of "General Studies" on the wall. (Three schools and 170 hours later...) Highlights thus far have been two summer sessions at slight overload - Entomology being the Most Amazing Experience Ever, in spite of a drought year, and a fall schedule that included tutoring English, reading and writing. Work gems included a 7 hr shift in which over 30 papers were edited. Students still don't understand deadlines!

The Sul Ross longhorn, all dressed up for homecoming:

Also included in 2011 adventures: learning to crochet, turning t-shirts into dresses, trying our hand at raising Hubbard's Small Silkmoth caterpillars (conclusion: don't) and a lot of really, really good local birding. For that, we've been maintaining a second blog: Big Bend Birds & Nature.

03 December 2011

Orange Palps of Doom

Because Coleoptera need blog time, too...
2 Dec, 2011 - 10 miles north of Hwy 385/Hwy 90 junction. ID pending.

26 November 2011

That Eagle Optics shirt?

The previous post showed a mere outline of the awesome-yet-to-come:

The actual screening on the shirt, of course, is by Louise Zemaitis - now autographed, initialed and accompanied by fangirl antics. Who knew birders had such rabid fans? Oh, wait.

Sleeve art by Michael O'Brien... how awesome is that? Clearly another perched Black-and-white Warbler would have been too boring, but way to one-up the original art!

17 November 2011

RGV Birding Festival

We may or may not have seriously nerded it up over the weekend:
Louise Zemaitis autographed her Black-and-white Warbler shirt
Michael O'Brien drew another Black-and-white Warbler on the sleeve of the shirt
Jon Dunn autographed the newest Nat. Geo. on our honeymoon spindalis page
...and we wrangled a booth all weekend, too!

05 November 2011

The "why" of window monitoring

Birds hit windows. It's pretty much impossible to overstate the  extent of the issue. Pretty much everyone knows that it happens but very few people look beyond face value of the smudge on glass.

This is more eloquent than anything I've seen yet, so please take a look at
Tim O'Connell's piece: A window into the perils of migration. He beautifully outlines the "how" and "why" of dead birds as educational tools, as well as one example of the mind boggling architecture that causes such high mortality rates. Flat-sided buildings are bad enough, but a horseshoe with a 'corridor effect' cluster at one end? Yikes!

On a coincidental note, I'm about half way into a paper on the complexities of North American window collisions - they've been my constant companion since 2003 and I need to get my thoughts out of my head and into writing. Unfortunately it's a rather dry, sciency sort of writing, but I think the discussion will be helpful. It's just terribly difficult to keep citations sorted out since there are about 20 papers that cite each other ad infinitum and the resulting citation loop is frustrating. One paper that I criticize lists my paper in its citations, too, for that matter!

Anyway, here are some lovelies - Tennessee Warblers - from Principia, circa 2004-2005 (a tiny fraction of the actual species diversity and even fewer of the overall body count.)


External link: dead bird album

This is also cross-posted over at Big Bend Birds & Nature.

04 November 2011


The eyes have it.

More of this lovely caterpillar over at Big Bend Birds & Nature!

31 October 2011

Happy Halloween!

From our pack to yours...

The onesie was too big to fit Anakin, so hopefully these uh, lovely, pictures of Nauga will suffice!

20 October 2011

general update

Matt has been wrangled into a super-awesome opportunity to represent the Gage Hotel/Gage Gardens at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival! We'll both be attending and are very much looking forward to being back in the RGV - plenty of friends we've not seen in years, plenty of birders who haven't been to the Big Bend region and definitely a good opportunity to get caught up on all of the above. Long time, no travel! And this will be right before Thanksgiving, which is always in Missouri.

Other than surviving midterms, there's not too much to report on the academic front; GPA is better than anticipated and classes for the winter mini-mester have been determined. Spring might actually be less hectic (hah!)

And in other news: Nauga is a happy puppy.

22 September 2011

Houston, we have a Pupa!

Edit: this has now been blogged (with more pics!) at Big Bend Birds & Nature - when inch worms grow up.

I should be blogging this over at the other blog, but I managed to forget to take a picture of an inch-worm that adopted us. I harvested some mesquite nibbles for the hubbardi bunch and the little critter caught a ride and found itself in with a bunch of non-geometers. So while I forgot to take its picture, it thrived. Then it started to look pretty bad and I felt terrible and was certain that, along with ~40 other caterpillars this season, it had died. It turned this bizarre shade of teal blue on one end and darkened and instead of being a long, juicy inch-and-a-smidge long... it was barely half an inch long.

But then it turned into a pupa. How ridiculously awesome!

09 September 2011

t-shirt dress 2

This shirt/dress/thing was a fun challenge: I wanted to loosen the neck and lengthen a shirt that already fit (size small, but a shirt from the 80s, so a bit longer and narrower than a 'modern' size small). This should really only be done with shirts that already fit or are too large... anything too small could get really awkward.

Unlike the last dress, there were no scraps left over - 100% of the shirt was used and very little fitting was required. Practical! Basically it's the same cutting as was done on the first t-shirt dress; cut sleeves off, once they're off, cut the under-arm seam of the sleeve. Cut the shoulder seams. Attach sleeves to the shoulder seams! This lowers the front neckline considerably (and turns into the back of the final product unless you're layering!) and lowers the back neckline to a reasonable level for front or back. Stitch up the former sleeve holes to fit; the top of the old shoulder should be about at arm pit level.

The resulting long tunic type thing was definitely not something I'd wear without jeans, but it's not scandalous enough that it'd be inappropriate in public for some people* (depends on your taste!)

Apologies for the blurry comp photos; it has since been gifted to a friend who enjoys the color black, layering clothes, and happens to also be a similar size.

23 August 2011

t-shirt dress

I'm not sure if the tye-dye t-shirt skirt(s) ever made the blog, but just for amusement's sake, here's the latest project: Matt's old t-shirt = Heidi's new dress
(*All photos were taken after the dress made it to a wearable state!)

Sage green shirt, size XL, inside out. Sleeves cut off.

Closeup of random sewing to trim the sides a bit - yes, there's a gap at the bottom because pleats are challenging and a pocket may be added eventually. Hand-cranked lines, there. On both sides. All sides, really. Because it's either that, or needle and thread without the machine! Another disclaimer: it's darn hard to talk on the phone and sew straight lines anyway, much less intentionally curved ones!

The neck line! One super-long crocheted strand of pale cream colored yarn was double-threaded as a drawstring neckline (only slightly adjustable, really) and the shoulder seams were cut as well. This is when the front of the shirt turns into the back of the shirt and the back of the shirt makes for a much better neckline!

So here's the front of the shirt, which is now the back of the dress:

And here's the back of the shirt, which is now the front of the dress:

And the results?

...not bad for only one shirt and two revisions!

Post is also tagged 'pets' because their supervision and cooperative posing made the project all the more amusing. Neither critter was harmed in the process! No caterpillars, either - but that's for another post.

19 August 2011


Owning very little furniture is handy for being mobile, but at times there are situations in which furniture ceases to be versatile. A bed, for example, is a bit cumbersome to move out to the porch to sit and watch the world go by. Last summer's field work did have two folding chairs that, unfortunately, were not made to last. In spite of the seat falling through on one and the arm/seat support breaking on the other (duct-taped and masterfully zip-tied), we nursed them both through a full year of use. So instead of routinely hauling the heavy, suitable-for-an-office rolling chair outside, it was time to say farewell to the less-intact of the folding chairs and welcome a dumpster-diving treasure to the porch. A seatless, aluminum folding chair. Scrap canvas was originally slated for the seat, but somehow procrastination kicked in and that never happened. Scrap 2x4s were on hand, however.

Aluminum frame + scrap wood = chair

...and then there's the whole issue of having only one functioning porch chair. The dog bed had been sitting on a pallet (to avoid gathering dirt, dust and fur on the concrete), but only the small dog used it. Another pallet was added for height with hopes that, small dog aside, some day it might turn into a couch. Finally, 6 cuts with a borrowed saw later... there were 4 pieces of pallet. Stack 3 and add some scrap 2x4s to prop up the 4th?

...just add a blanket to sit on, and voila! Big pup has his bed back (albeit on the ground), and small dog has one piece of furniture she's allowed to be on.

17 August 2011

August update

Last week we were asked to speak about the impact of drought on birds and other wildlife on Marfa Public Radio; the audio has been archived and can now be accessed anywhere, at any time, should you feel the urge.

Photo/permalink via Marfa Public Radio:

Handy links from previous posts on the Big Bend Birds & Nature blog:
the drying, the drought (a bit heavy, but eye-opening)
in the meantime, pictures
freezer catch-up
and an optimistic final note: drought?

...in the meantime, things are keeping a hectic pace that neither blog quite reflects. We'd promise more updates if we knew there would be any soonish, but that's a long shot! Perhaps photos of some furniture projects one of these days, though...

30 July 2011

Busy, busy summer

As the title implies, we're up to our ears in... life. Between wrangling pups, pup-sitting for others, work, school, work and more work, we've managed to get a few photos worth sharing:

Family portrait: Matt, Nauga, Heidi and Anakin. Awww.

A Black Witch moth on the back wall while blacklighting.

The Chihuahua named Little.

Pepsis wasp. Oh yes, there's an Entomology class afoot this summer!

Recent bug life: Lyside Sulphur, Eyed Elater and an Opuntia Beetle (the 'longhorn')

The reason you don't go the speed limit out here. Ever. This was taken at 6:40 - long before dusk!

...and, FINALLY, our first dung beetles of the season. It only took until mid July to see them at Post Park. Still no sign of them in town. Maybe after a few real rains?

16 July 2011

near and dear to my hawk tower

I wondered if this day might come: the Smith Point Hawk Watch is basically losing funding for a season. It is a brilliant place to see raptor migration but counting hawks there is like trying to count spaghetti as they boil! Falcons and kites are a MUCH more reliable count, but the location is prime for kettling Wood Storks and Magnificent Frigatebirds at the same time.

It is where I 'cut my teeth' with raptors in high school, spent the better part of a fall after Prin and have followed every snippet of its life through hurricanes and budget ails. For birds, for bugs, for life, Smith Point is not to be ignored.


Subject: Smith Point Hawk Watch
From: Susan Heath sheath/GCBO.ORG
Date: Fri, 15 Jul 2011 15:07:08 -0500


We have been warned by our leaders that belt-tightening must take place and that all will feel a little of the squeeze. That reality has hit GCBO's Research Program for the coming year. To be honest it has always been a touch-and-go situation when it comes to raising the resources necessary to fund the important Smith Point Hawk Watch, and some years GCBO has had to swallow much of the cost, draining funds away from other, equally important programs. The season, our 15th, we have had to make a lemons-to-lemonade situation on the raptor migration monitoring project. In the past, the cost of the hawk watch was shared between Hawk Watch International and GCBO. This year neither party was able to raise the necessary funds to cover the expenses associated with running the hawk watch. Therefore we have decided to do two things: (1) try to keep the count going with volunteers, and (2) change the focus of the count a bit. We have decided to focus on the Swallow-tailed Kite, since Smith Point is strategically located to sample much of the southward migration of this vulnerable iconic symbol of the southern bottomlands. Kites migrate earlier than other raptors so we will begin the season on August 1st instead of the 15th as in the past. The Swallow-tailed Kite migration is largely over by October 1st so we will concentrate on that 60-day period initially. Several intrepid volunteers from past seasons have already volunteered to cover much of that period, but we need a few more volunteers to fill out the calendar. Several volunteers have agreed to continue counting through November 15, to keep this season's data comparable to previous years. Last, but to some by no means least, if in past Smith Point seasons you were in the habit of swinging by the tower to use the sanitary facilities, don't bother. Sadly that has been a casualty of belt-tightening this season also. We are checking with local officials to see if any one else can support that need.

If you have hawk watch experience and would like to volunteer, please check the calendar at:


If you are available for any of the open dates, please e-mail Sue at sheath AT gcbo.org and let her know of your preference. We really appreciate the efforts of all our volunteers to help keep the Smith Point Hawk Watch alive. We have high hopes that we will be able to raise funding to resume with paid counters next year. To that end, if you would like to make a contribution to the hawk watch or know of other organizations that can, we would really appreciate the support. You can make a donation at:


and specify Smith Point Hawk Watch or mail a check to the address below. Thanks for your support everyone!

Sue Heath & John Arvin

Susan A. Heath, Ph.D.
Avian Conservation Biologist
Gulf Coast Bird Observatory
103 W. Hwy 332
Lake Jackson, TX 77566
Join us in our quest to study and conserve birds and their habitat around the Gulf of Mexico.

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18 June 2011

Marathon t-shirts?

Howdy, SeeTrail readers! We're not dead, just busy. Before we bounce this off of our Big Bend Birds & Nature readers, we'll run this past y'all...

It is a prototype, but would anyone be interested in purchasing a shirt like the one below? Cost would be around $20 before shipping, sadly. Not sure what the colors will be, nor the full range of styles (tank tops and regular t-shirts should be doable), but the back will have some sort of "Big Bend Birds & Nature" logo/site/promo (bummer, we know). Those of you familiar with our business cards; is the horned lizard photo* too complicated? Should we just stick with text on the back because the image is on the front?

* It's the same horned lizard photo that's on the right sidebar on the Big Bend Birds & Nature homepage, if you'd like to check it out; or just look above this post on the SeeTrail page - RSS people, that means you!

...basically, we'll likely be joining the Marathon Chamber of Commerce (because, y'know, we make no money doing what we do!) and since they have this t-shirt promo thing going on, we could sell them to anyone feeling brave enough to rock a scene where the sun actually sets to the north, the park is not drawn to scale or proportion, and Mexico will likely be omitted from the final version. Fearmongering or somesuch concern.

The shirt actually says "The sun sets on Marathon Texas" above the design and "www.marathontexas.net" on the bottom. Where it says "Mexico" will likely read "Gateway to Big Bend" or something like that. Unfortunately, we have no control over that portion of the design.

So... what do we think? Kinda cool? Lame? Overrated? Interesting? Too obscure for anyone else to appreciate? Leave us a comment!

29 May 2011

June 2011 Update - rehab newsletter

This is my first attempt to post an e-mail, hope it works! Bear with us if not...
(Posted due to cute-fuzzy-mammal drought impacts, but not posted to the other blog because it's not regionally relevant!)


The drought has brought to the Wildlife Center greater and greater numbers of wildlife that are dehydrated and undernourished. It is estimated that the drought will bring over 1000 more animals to our doors than in prior years.

The drought is also bringing species to the Wildlife Center that are either rarely seen or in the case of the North American River Otter never seen. More information about the North American River Otter can be found in our new blog. To see these interesting animals in action, enjoy the Otter video

The next Volunteer Orientation is June 11th contact the Wildlife Center at 713-861-WILD (9453) or volunteer@wrande.org

Blog postings since the last update include

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker video

North American River Otter

Otter video

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