Thursday, September 17, 2015

Continuing Quest for #700 - Part 1

An upcoming hummingbird bander's conference in late August in West Texas provided an opportunity for us to hop over to southeastern Arizona to try to find a few more birds for the ABA list. After our last trip to the mid-Atlantic coast in June, Allen's ABA list was up to 697 (not counting the Striped Sparrow in Texas which is still undecided as to status). Arizona had several species that were potential targets including some that were irregularly being reported. Four life birds were a priority, and included Plain-capped Starthroat, Sinaloa Wren, Five-striped Sparrow, and the introduced and newly countable (by ABA rules) Rosy-faced Lovebird. Non-lifer targets included Buff-collared Nightjar, Tufted Flycatcher, Rufous-capped Warbler, and Slate-throated Redstart.

First, the long drive...
We have not flown anywhere this year, for a variety of reasons. But having a car (Prius) that gets 45-50 miles per gallon, and the convenience of gas prices being lower than they have been in recent years, makes this a good year to make some long drives. Our first day, Thursday, August 19, was spent driving out of Michigan, through Ohio, and well into Kentucky. Normally, we stop at most rest areas to break up the monotony, and to check for moths on the walls of the buildings. This summer has been rather poor for moths, so there wasn't much to see this first day. On the second day (August 20), at a rest area in Kentucky, there were flowers blooming in a small garden, with some butterflies around. One that stayed put for the camera was a skipper that I believe is a Sachem.
Sachem (Atalopedes campestris)

Sachem (Atalopedes campestris)

Other butterflies there included Red Admiral and a large all-yellow sulphur that may have been a Cloudless Sulphur. But surely the friendliest butterfly today was, appropriately, at the Tennessee Welcome Center, a Tawny Emperor that was on the wall, and flew down around me, eventually landing on my hand! Welcome to Tennessee!
Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton)

The third day (August 21), we mainly drove across Arkansas. Of course, we had to just make a stop at Bayou de View just in case an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flew over us as we stood at the canoe trailhead. No such luck, of course.
Bayou de View canoe trailhead, Arkansas

From Texarkana, where we spent the night, it was a very long drive across Texas on August 22, where we stopped in the town of Odessa, still over 200 miles short of El Paso! Instead of moths or butterflies on the rest area walls, there were grasshoppers including this interesting Creosotebush Katydid.
Creosotebush Katydid (Insara covilleae)

With only a couple hundred miles to go from Odessa to Fort Davis, Texas, today (August 23) we decided to take the long way, via Big Bend National Park. We'd been there once before, back in 1988 when we hiked the Boot Springs trail as well as up to the top of Emory Peak, finding our lifer Colima Warbler (several seen). This time, we were short on time so the objective was just to view the scenery and whatever else was around. It took almost 3 hours to get from Odessa to the northeastern park entrance, and along the way there were some interesting birds, including several cooperative Swainson's Hawks.
Swainson's Hawk

We also came across a large, and clearly dead, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in the road. Not too much farther down that same road, there was another smaller one that we weren't sure if it was dead or not.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

Stomping my foot, one time, on the road from a safe distance gave me the answer I'd hoped. It was quite alive! Using a walking stick, I managed to coax it off the road and into the grass, so hopefully it didn't move back out onto the road to least not today. I do not recommend that everyone do this, but I was VERY careful, and far too many of these beneficial snakes are killed every year, in various ways.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

The views in the National Park were awesome, as always.
The Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, Texas

At the northwest end of the park, we drove north into an area that was still scenic, with interesting geologic formations.
Basalt columns south of Alpine, Texas

Rock formation south of Alpine, Texas

North of Alpine, we got into Fort Davis in the mid-afternoon and checked into our motel for the next four nights, and Allen checked in for the orientation session at the conference facility.

Then, The Hummingbird Bander's Conference...
About 50 of us turned out for this informal conference, to learn from each other, and to get a good look at Kelly Bryan's hummingbird banding operation of the West Texas Avian Research project. This was about half of all the hummingbird banders currently permitted by the Bird Banding Lab, and it was a great opportunity to meet quite a few people I'd know for years only by email. This morning (August 24) we divided into groups, to visit the several banding locations that this group operates. I was with a group that visited Kelly's cabin up in the Davis Mountains, not too far from Mount Livermore. It was a 4-wheel drive type road and we carpooled to the area.

They call their place Magnificent Canyon Lodge, as the Magnificent Hummingbird is one of a dozen species that frequents the feeders there. A male Magnificent made a brief appearance when we first got there, and before the traps were up, but a good number of other hummingbirds were banded. Most numerous among the 300+ hummers that were swarming around were the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, which breed here, but in late August there were surely some migrants present as well.
After hatch-year male Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Other species that we, as a team of a half-dozen banders, banded this morning included Black-chinned, Rufous, Ruby-throated, Calliope, and a few Lucifers. A White-eared made a pass at the traps but didn't get caught. Another interesting hummingbird that was caught found its way into my hands during my turn at the table, and is shown below.
Possible Broad-tailed X Black-chinned Hummingbird

If I remember correctly, this was determined to be a Broad-tailed X Black-chinned hybrid. The throat pattern is a lot like a female Anna's or even a female Rufous, but the purplish coloration is wrong for either species.

The next morning (August 25), I was with a group that made a long trip back down almost to Big Bend, to the Christmas Mountains Oasis (CMO). The homeowner, Carolyn Ohl-Johnson, was a gracious and interesting host, and has a blog that is certainly worth a look (check it out here). She basically created this oasis herself, by diverting some creek beds into an area where she subsequently planted palms and other plants. An amazing place.
Near Christmas Mountains Oasis, Texas

The base of the vertical cliffs in the photo above are a favored nesting area for Lucifer Hummingbirds, the specialty of this area. Everyone in the group got a chance to work with at least a couple of these very cool hummingbirds, and nearly two dozen were handled over the course of the morning.
After hatch-year male Lucifer Hummingbird

After hatch-year male Lucifer Hummingbird

After hatch-year male Lucifer Hummingbird

After hatch-year male Lucifer Hummingbird

Several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded in this area was a bit of a surprise to me, although they do breed fairly far west in Alberta, Canada, into eastern British Columbia. Our time was too short at this wonderful place, but as we were taking traps down to go to a second place, several of us could not resist photographing the cooperative butterflies and dragonflies.
Flame Skimmer (Libellula saturata)

The second banding location was a private residence that was about 3 miles away from CMO, but it took about a half-hour to get there since you can't go directly anywhere in the mountains. The star of the area was once again Lucifer Hummingbird, and we banded several more of them here.
Hatch-year female Lucifer Hummingbird

This afternoon was open, so Nancy and I went to nearby Davis Mountains State Park.
Davis Mountains State Park, Texas

We checked out the feeders and photo blind, but as it was the heat of the day there wasn't much activity. On the wall of the small building at the feeder area, we saw this cooperative Crevice Spiny Lizard.
Crevice Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus poinsettii)

The diagnostic character of this species of spiny lizard is its complete black collar. It is interesting that in the photo below you can see its pineal (third) eye on top of the head.
Crevice Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus poinsettii)

 The common feeder birds of this area included Lesser Goldfinch and White-winged Dove.
Lesser Goldfinch (dark-backed form)

White-winged Dove

In the evening we had a get-together dinner that was generously sponsored by Martha Sargent. We all thank her, and spent some time remembering all the wonderful ways that Bob Sargent, who passed away in September 2014, had touched almost all of us. After dinner, we drove to the McDonald Observatory for a "star party" but we decided that $13 per person was too expensive, and especially with a bright full moon in the sky. On the way back to Fort Davis, we saw a tarantula in the road.
Texas Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi)

Although the conference was running until Friday, today (Wednesday, August 26) had to be our last day here. It was another early morning start, and we took the time to appreciate the wonderful night sky; given the dark skies it was fairly easy to see the Milky Way, which we hadn't seen in years. And the full moon had set, making early morning a great time for stargazing.

The Pleides

Today's banding location was the McIvor Visitor's Center in the Davis Mountains Preserve, a property of The Nature Conservancy.
Davis Mountains Preserve

Again, we banded several Lucifer Hummingbirds...they're all over the Davis Mountains and easier to find here than in Big Bend, in my opinion.
After hatch-year female Lucifer Hummingbird

But the bird of the day here was clearly Black-chinned Hummingbird, with a few Ruby-throats, Rufous, and Broad-tailed thrown in for variety. With only two of us banding here, it was too busy to stop and take a photo of one, but the handsome adult male Calliope below brought operations to a brief halt while we appreciated him.
After hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird

Before our final afternoon sharing and presentation session, we stopped by Kelly's main residence in the town of Fort Davis. We enjoyed a few hummingbirds in his yard, but what we really wanted to see was the wildflower he was cultivating that had been thought extinct, but only recently (1980s) rediscovered under an Interstate 10 overpass!
Big Red Salvia (Salvia penstemonoides)

In the next part of this blog, moving on to birding in Arizona.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Fascinating, as always, Allen. I'm hoping to get back west to see some hummingbirds in the next couple of years. Still awaiting a Plain-capped Starthroat.