Friday, April 30, 2010

April 30, 2010 Mulberry Birds

No Shortage of Thrushes this year in POC

  Despite the nice south winds a lot of migrants are in town.    A
short visit out today found good number of "mulberry birds" about but few to no empids or warblers.  With the bummer crop of berries  they probably are lingering longer than usual to restock up on lost reserves.

  I am very concerned about the oil spill and its impacts for the
nesting season on the gulf coast.  I will have to be elsewhere working the next few days so I know something good will be found in POC.

   Here are a couple of photos of berry eating thrushes fueling up under a mulberry tree.  Just one of the many trees in town that are loaded with fruit after such a bad drought last year and perhaps influenced by the very cold couple of days back in January.  Notice the dark one?  I assume this to be a melanistic Swainson's Thrush (?).  I did not get get great looks at the belly as I too was sitting in the grass. But is sure an odd one.

The weather portends perhaps a good fallout come Sunday.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Port O'Connor April 27, 2010

I had very little time to bird today and nothing to report from yesterday much. My next few days will be busy ones to be sure. I only had about an hour to bird POCO today so probably missed some good stuff.

sIn my last entry I posted a late afternoon photo of Sam. Call it intuition, foresight or whatever but after I took those photos on the evening of the 25th Sam left within hours despite my searches for him at other known resting spots the next day and today. Nah!  He is headed back north. Something inside me drove me out there to get photos of a bird that had been here ALL winter. Odd is it not? Just just a couple of hours before he was gone. I have a worm in my head  that I sometime think brings in things I would likely not otherwise know in advance but read on. 

On the same day (April 25) I last heard the Yellow-green Vireo. It was so close to the house that I could sometimes hear it from the backyard, but since the morning of the 25th, the same day that Sam vanished so did the vireo. I am saddened by that for it was here for almost 2 weeks and was hoping for a nesting pair.....Maybe it moved elsewhere in town. I mean they have to go somewhere. Now that it seems to be gone, I will state the location as being the ash woods in the backyards behind the Methodist Church.

In the very short time I had to bird in town today, none of the previous highlights were noted but there remain scores of spotted thrushes and other migrants. The Hooded Oriole male found yesterday was the highlight of the day and only the 3rd ever I have had in Calhoun Co. I did not add a new 2010 bird to my "square mile" list today given the brief time I was out between chores. A couple of Lazulis remain and one was in the Hockey's mulberry which might be a yard bird (?)  I missed the Black-headed Grosbeak, Bullock's Oriole or any Western Tanagers from the previous days.  I  saw 2 Ovenbirds.

   Anyway there are tons of mulberries ripe at just the right time (later than usual) and it is little wonder it is a big thrush spring here. I have my favorite trees and eat berries until my fingers are purple, despite the warning that my long departed grandma used to tell me....IE "eating mulberries will give you worms"... if so I am happy to be a worm rancher for few native fruits are better than a GOOD handful of ripe mulberry. For sure the chickens back when I was growing up ate them to the point they got fat and then so tired of them that late in mulberry season they tended to ignore them....Same deal with the big yellow fall grasshoppers that stirred up in the hundreds in the pastures in summer....AKA Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittaus). The chickens grew to ignore them once the grasshoppers  were full adults , I guess because they were so tough and leathery, but an old fellow (Lem Mary) told me when I was a kid that these are what made fresh eggs yolks so bright orange in the summer...Beats me....That was so long ago.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sam the Great and birding POC on Happy Hooker Weekend April 25, '10

   It is Happy Hooker weekend in Port O'Connor, which hosts a big fishing tournament.  The place is full of people which really limits access to a lot of my birding spots.  These tourney's will continue now thru September and I despise them on principle even though they claim be mostly be for one "good cause" or another. I suppose it does help the economy here, but they sure do nothing for these over-fished waters.  It mainly is just a high dollar fish slaughtering pastime.  The front beach is filled with people BBQ'ing and playing in the low tides.

   Well there is Sam the Great on his very favorite rock as you can likely tell from the white wash there. A grand looking animal is he not?  He has been there all winter and there each winter for at least the last 8-9 winters.  We like him.  I took this photo today fearing that he was going to leave us at any time.  But he could be here for 2 more weeks or just two more hours.  It is such a pleasure to look out the window every day and see him on his rock.  Only in the worst of weather or close approach by people and dogs force him to move elsewhere in town and usually not far.   Will miss him once he finally heads north.

  A lot of birds in town but like I said access to some areas was more difficult than during the weekdays. For instance the Bell's Vireo location from yesterday was busy.   I keep telling myself I will get up the next morning in search of rice fields but the birds here in my Square Mile keep me more interested....I am always afraid I will miss out on something big.

  Perhaps one of the odder finds was that of an American Robin this morning.   I have not seen one in a couple of months here and they just did not make it down this year....And to suddenly see one below a mulberry in POC in late April with other thrushes is a bit perplexing.  I have never known them to breed in Port O'Connor....Very little actually does. When I first spotted it in the shadows my heart skipped a beat thinking it was a Rufous-backed or perhaps Clay-colored so some disappointment there.

   New 2010 birds for the patch include

White-rumped Sandpipers
 Olive-sided Flycatcher
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Good to rare, lingering birds include

Yellow-green Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Black-headed Grosbeak
Western Tanager
Lazuli Buntings

Many warblers and thrushes, a Golden-winged, Blackpoll and a single Bay-breasted....Best of all (other than the continuing YGVI) a second Cape May has shown up, this time either a young male or female.  Also a good find here. However I am cursed with the Black-throated Blues this year and have yet to find a single one.

Baby Shrikes are starting to appear all over town from the first hatch with their irritating begging calls.

 It has finally warmed up enough so that I wore shorts for the first time this year today....Come 6:00P I will likely have to get back into real clothes.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lifer No. of Vireos in one square mile

   Migration was good in Port O'Connor today but not great and ended on a sad note.  The 12-14"of rain down in S. Texas have sure put a nix on any near term work which I was really counting on as some ranches are just to wet to do.  And this is my biggest business time of year income wise except for fall.
   On the upside I birded Port O'Connor for several hours and lacking anything better to do and ended up having a wonderful day and when it comes to Vireos a day like none I have had in my life.  Within a square mile I found 9 species of vireos.  Actually a friend Tria Overstreet was the first to spot one of those , a very rare one for Port O'Connor and one which I think I have only seen here before 2 times in 17 years.  Tira is a birder I met thru Petra a few years back and from a near total novice then, has garnered the skills.  Very observant, great eye for detail and eyes better than mine for actually spotting birds to begin with. A dangerous competitor in town :-)  I also birded some with the  Eberhards who spotted numerous good birds for me.  Here is the lowdown on the Vireos seen today in POC....A total lifer number for a day/location as far as I can remember in terms of nubmers of species, for sure in the US, though I have had 8 species before in one day but over a much larger area..

Red-eyed Vireo
Yepllow-green Vireo (rare)
Warbling Vireo 1 (they were junk birds 3 days ago)
Philadelphia Vireo 3
Bell's Vireo (rare in POC)
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo (rare in POC)   Thanks Tira!
Blue-headed Vireo

  Ended the day with 21 Warbler species as well...Best being I guess Golden-winged, though I may be biased as it is such a favorite of mine and they are becoming so hard to get in recent years.

   Tragically as I was looking for birds a few blocks away, dear sweet old Eva Meitzler's house was burning to the ground.  I heard the sirens and saw the smoke but did not realize it was her place.  She has a lot of friends with the church and folks in town so she will be well taken care of but she dearly loved her old house and yard which she always allow us to bird freely. She did not even own a car.  It was a bummer to an otherwise very good day.  She did not have much to begin with and her place was in bad shape.

  I can hear the Skimmers out on the bay as I wrap this up.


Friday, April 23, 2010

My kind of man!

Death of 'Caveman' ends an era in Idaho

Richard Zimmerman, known to all as Dugout Dick, succumbs at 94


Copyright: © 2010 Idaho Statesman

Published: 04/23/10

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Idaho Statesman file
A lifetime of living alone in solitary places shows in Dugout Dick's face in this photo shot in 2002. Born Richard Zimmerman, he was the last of Idaho's legendary loners. Zimmerman died Wednesday.
Known as the "Salmon River Caveman," Richard Zimmerman lived an essentially 19th century lifestyle, a digital-age anachronism who never owned a telephone or a television and lived almost entirely off the land.
"He was in his home at the caves at the end, and it was his wish to die there," said Connie Fitte, who lived across the river. "He was the epitome of the free spirit."
Richard Zimmerman had been in declining health when he died Wednesday.
Few knew him by his given name. To friends and visitors to his jumble of cave-like homes scrabbled from a rocky shoulder of the Salmon River, he was Dugout Dick.
He was the last of Idaho's river-canyon loners that date back to Territorial days. They are a unique group that until the 1980s included canyon contemporaries with names like Beaver Dick, Cougar Dave and Wheelbarrow Annie, "Buckskin Bill" (real name Sylvan Hart) and "Free Press Frances" Wisner. Fiercely independent loners, they lived eccentric lives on their own terms and made the state more interesting just by being here.
Most, like Zimmerman, came from someplace else. Drawn by Idaho's remoteness and wild places removed from social pressures, they came and spent their lives here, leaving only in death.
Some became reluctant celebrities, interviewed about their unusual lifestyles and courted by media heavyweights. Zimmerman was featured in National Geographic magazine and spurned repeated invitations to appear on the "Tonight Show."
"I ride Greyhounds, not airplanes," he said in a 1993 Statesman interview. "Besides, the show isn't in California. The show is here."
Cort Conley, who included Zimmerman in his 1994 book "Idaho Loners", said that "like Thoreau, he often must have smiled at how much he didn't need. É What gave him uncommon grace and dignity for me were his spiritual life, his musical artistry, his unperturbed acceptance of life as it is, and being a WWII veteran who had served his country and harbored no expectations in return."
His metamorphisis to Dugout Dick began when he crossed a wooden bridge over the Salmon River in 1947 and built a makeshift home on the side of a hill. He spent the rest of his life there, fashioning one cavelike dwelling after another, furnishing them with castoff doors, car windows, old tires and other leavings.
"I have everything here," he said. "I got lots of rocks and rubber tires. I have plenty of straw and fruit and vegetables, my dog and my cats and my guitars. I make wine to cook with. There's nothing I really need."
Some of his caves were 60 feet deep. Though he "never meant to build an apartment house," he earned spending money by renting them for $2 a night. Some renters spent one night; others chose the $25 monthly rate and stayed for months or years.
He lived in a cave by choice. Moved by a friend to a care center in Salmon at age 93 because he was in failing health, he walked out and hitchhiked home.
Bruce Long, who rented one of his caves and looked after him, said the care center "had bingo and TV, but things like that held no interest for him. He just wanted to live in his cave.
"People said he was the only person they'd ever known who was absolutely self-sufficient. He didn't work for anybody. He worked for himself."
Born in Indiana in 1916, Zimmerman grew up on farms in Indiana and Michigan, the son of a moonshiner with a mean streak. He rebelled against his domineering father and ran away at a young age, riding the rails west and learning the hobo songs he later would play on a battered guitar for guests at his caves.
He punched cows and worked as a farmhand, settling in Idaho's Lemhi Valley in 1937 and making ends meet by cutting firewood and herding sheep. In 1942, he joined the Army and served as a truck driver in the Pacific during World War II. When his service ended, he returned to Idaho and never left.
He raised goats and chickens, tended a bountiful vegetable garden and orchard and stored what he couldn't eat or sell in a root cellar. A lifelong victim of a quarrelsome stomach, he survived largely on what he could grow or make. Homemade yogurt ranked among his proudest achievements.
He was married once, briefly, to a pen-pal bride from Mexico. The other woman in his life, Bonnie Trositt, tired of life in a cave, left him for a job as a potato sorter and was murdered by her roommate. He claimed to see her spirit in the flickering light of a kerosene lamp on the cave walls.
He rarely went to church, but read and quoted continually from the Bible.
Services are pending. A brother, Raymond Zimmerman, has requested that his remains be sent to Illinois.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Coastal/Migrant Updates

   Port O'Connor has been hopping with migrants and I have tried to bird fairly often but have had other rats to kill as well   Despite the town being full of birds today I was not out a great deal.  The 3 biggies are still here, The male Cape May Warbler, Yellow-green Vireo and Golden-winged Warbler but I actually did not have the YGVI today but did not look/listen as it is a tough location.  Lots of Yellow-headed Blackbirds on the west side of town on 185.  Should have spent more time out but did not have it.  A dead Texas Blind Snake was on the driveway for whatever reason.  Petra's little mulberry tree was full of birds ( and loads of ripe fruit) all day and she was not here to see it.  Tanagers, orioles, Indigo Buntings and even a Blue Grosbeak.
  The Common Nighthawks are back in force and I listened to them "booming" this evening.  Trimmed two huge garbage cans of bushes and vines back today as it is trash day and it needed to be done before the trash guys came so that ate up much of the morning.  The Cape May Warbler is gorgeous and as far as I know the only one in Texas so far this spring.   It is on Main between 14th and 15th streets. The rain yesterday kept me from doing a 1/2 day survey (paying) job today and likely will tomorrow..  Still the rain kept me from having to water much... Not much else to render out for tonight.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Starling emergencies? Rat berries.

   Despite my continuing warfare against the Starlings, they come one by one to try to build onto the nest that I have already taken out twice.  Today a very sly female kept escaping my sights by flying directly into the hole without landing first, each time with a load of pine needles from a neighbor's yard..
  After all the martins had left around midday to feed, I lowered the rack to pull out all of the materials the starling had brought in and lo and behold there was a warm sky blue egg .  I guess it just got to a point whereby she just could not hold it anymore even though she was still building onto the nest,  It might be similar to one of us having sudden diarrhea on a city bus during rush hour.  Something is gotta be unloaded whether you want it so or not,  the consequences you'll just have to deal with after the fact.......But then maybe it is not like that at all. I am not a starling..

   Lori was telling me how she watched as a starling fought with a Golden-fronted Woodpecker over a nest cavity with the starling eventually killing the woodpecker before she could get to them to save it.   I had the  same thing happen with a Red-bellied Woodpecker in Austin many years ago in my front yard.   There was an old tree with a dead snag that the woodpecker had chosen to make a cavity.  Every day for what seemed to be a month or more the woodpecker chipped away at that hole, then suddenly there was a pair of woodpeckers there ready to set up shop.
  I came home from work one day and found the male dead and bloodied at the base of the tree which really bummed me out.   I went inside feeling horrible and just as I got into the living room, I looked out the picture window to see a starling fly to the hole with a beak full of grass.  I was livid!....And even though I lived well within the city  limits I blew that bird to pieces with a .410 shotgun as soon as I had the first opportunity.(This was in the late 70's)  I am sure that shot stunned everyone in the otherwise quiet  neighborhood, but I did not own a pellet gun at the time and frankly did not care in my rage.
   Starlings are blamed for the ghastly decline of the once abundant Red-headed Woodpecker in the US.

  Two of the four folks that I birded with yesterday afternoon were back in town hoping for a repeat of yesterday's great fallout of birds.   The winds had settled a lot and were from the south.  I birded with them for perhaps an hour and fifteen minutes before having to get back to the house.   In contrast to all the birds we saw yesterday, there were virtually no migrants in town at all today.  In fact it was very slow with only an Indigo Bunting or Orchard Oriole here and there to hint that migration continues.

  We stopped by the same famous mulberry tree as yesterday but there were no migrants in it, only those damn starlings, but we picked and ate a few berries.   Now across the street from this tree is another fruiting tree growing tall directly against the wall of a dilapidated old house where a junk collector an strange lady  lives.   We saw a couple of Indigo Buntings in that tree which gave us something to look at.   The crazy lady was not home.
  As we were looking at the tree we saw some other movement in there and after several seconds realized they were RATS running out and collecting berries in broad daylight!.  Maybe 4 of them. We saw one of them get a berry return and run into a hole under the eaves of the lady's house!!  The place is one huge junk pile and there is no telling how many rats are living there. And she does not like cats??   Maybe it is sort of a good thing for me as a birder that we have a good rat supply not far away as we do enjoy our Great Horned and Barn Owls and I bet they know all about this property and those plump well fed rats..

  I pretty am sure the rats know about Louise Echol's tree as well and in addition she feeds birds seed in the backyard.  I have to bet that a few rats live with this kind old widow woman too.  Needless to say, the couple I was with also saw the rats and the older lady (Grace) that said she had not tasted a berry since she was 12-13 did not touch another berry off the tree despite it being loaded with ripe fruit.   I have seen these rats (Roof Rats) in the mulberry trees before on occasion so it was not a shock to me.  Hey they are really good berries and of the course squirrel people love them and they are just bushy  tailed rats....even Laughing Gulls will feast on them at times..

   I only saw one other birder today.  A fellow out on the beach with a scope.  We did not cross paths.  Don't know if he was associated with the TOS meeting in Rockport or not..  Out of town birders are a rare sight in POC especially when there is no migration.

  Some sort of big motorcycle (murdercycle) event was going on at the park today so it has been a very noisy day around here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Update to April 16 post

   Wrote the last blog too soon.  Within 30 minutes as I was out watering a car with 4 people pulled up to the park and walked toward the beach with bins.   They were all on a Piping Plover before I reached them.   They had no clue about the Lesser Black-backed Gull so I showed it to them just down the beach.  What a gorgeous bird it is now as an adult in high alternate..We also watched Least Terns and a Wilson's Plover.
  I then told them of the birds in town and of some mulberry trees.  We went down to Mrs. Echols tree where the best mulberries in town are and ate mulberries until our hands were purple.  One lady, perhaps in her early 70's was just beside herself saying that she had not tasted a mulberry since she was 12-13 years old and just finding this tree and tasting the berries was the highlight of her trip.
  We had good looks at Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Orioles, Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings but the strong winds kept us from seeing many of the smaller migrants in the trees.  The folks had to leave to soon due to a previous commitment in Victoria.  They were dressed as normal people :-)   They might be back tomorrow but I told them every day and every hour in the spring in Port O'Connor is a different one.

  One of the old guys worked at Bell Helicopter in Ft. Worth back in the late 60's-70's and seems to recall my father who also worked there.  When I told him dad drove a Nash Ambassador, he was sure he remembered, at least the car.   He was not positive however on remembering dad. Can you believe it has been 40 years since the Beatles broke up as a band!?   Gawd am I getting old.


Stone Sheephead, Starling Hunts, Birders, and Fallout detection.

   Well except for a few hours of data entry, I had the morning off so got up mighty early to see what was fetching.   The tides were high and there was a strong east wind so shore birding was a bust.   Walked down toward Harry Pond's place and found this new display.  A limestone Sheephead (a type of fish).  Something obviously picked up in the Hill Country and I think the eye was painted in but still pretty cool.

  Damn Starlings are trying to over-take the Martin colony this year and despite my best efforts they continue to try to take over.  In fact I found a female Martin with 2 eggs that had been killed by Starlings as they trapped her in a gourd.  If you think that a starling will not kill an adult martin over a nest site your are more than dead wrong...Your crazy!  So I began shooting the Starlings.   I hate shooting any living thing but Starlings really piss me off.   So for now I am 11 for 17 shots and likely nicked one or two more that probably now know better than to return.  And this is in just 3 days!   For some reason one particular gourd holds the most interest of all for the Starlings that show up.  I can not figure the reason for that out even though I have torn out all the contents twice..   Starlings are actually quite beautiful birds when in high alternate plumage but their aggressive behavior makes them one of the worst introduced exotic pests to the US.

   There is a TOS convention in Rockport and I feel somewhat guilty for not being involved in it but I have my reasons for not doing so.   Today I noticed a number of birders in town.  I spoke with none of them though there was a fairly good fallout of migrants.  I noticed several cars loaded with birders slowly driving the front beach , I assume for the pristine adult Lesser Black-backed Gull in all it's glory.   But never did a single car roll down a window or get out to see the bird so all but one young couple just drove right by it without even slowing down.  I know they were looking as they were scanning the bay with many bins.  I did see the young couple stop and as a result of that I did go out to show them the bird and they alone were the only birders I met..  They barely had time to study it, before a neighbor with a new puppy hit the beach and scared off all the birds.   But still they saw it well and were quite pleased as it was a lifer for both..

  Later I went to the PO and to the Speedy Stop (only store in town) .  I walked into the store and within 2 seconds realized that birders were in there.  There must be a gene in some of the birding population that forces birders and butterfliers to exhibit what I would call "Dorkism" traits.  There were at least 5 birders, whom I did not know or recognize.  They were dressed in the typical goofy ABA type vests, flop hats and multi-pocketed garments.  One older fellow had his pants tucked into his white socks.....Uhhh.  The rest had bins strapped multiple times to their bodies with all forms of security straps.  One guy had a camera that must have been 4' long.....Then there were the bird pouches, vests and patches. OMG!
  That fallout came as a short bout of rain fell around noon-1:00PM.   I do not have to walk two-three steps out of the door to know if there are birds in town or not.  Key indicators are a very sudden increase in activity at the Hockey's hummingbird feeders and more than a single migrant in their fruiting mulberry.  If it is good in this yard it is wonderful back a few blocks.  And so it was with many an Indigo Bunting, Oriole, Tanager in the good areas and the occasional birder(s) walking the streets there.  Some I even knew by face but not name.   The ones on foot were the smart ones, IE those that were walking for they saw lots of birds.  The other "Birders" I saw crawling around the streets in cars/trucks with windows rolled up at less than 3 mph probably saw nothing and considered Port O'Connor a complete waste of time.  I long ago gave up on those types.

  I did not feel like birding socially in the least today, but since I have most of my rats (and Starlings) kilt today, I might strike out early to meet a few folks in town as more rain is predicted and tomorrow could be a good day.  Plus I have no real serious work tomorrow.  But early morning is also prime Starling popping time so there is a hard choice there.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Parrots and Valley Hepatic Tanager

Red-crowned Parrots near nest their cavity at a park near Weslaco April 4, 2010.

One this same day I found a female or first year male Hepatic Tanager in a Mulberry Tree with ripe fruit in the cemetery adjacent to the Frontera Audubon Sanctuary.
This species is a real rarity for the LRGV.  Unfortunately I was not able to obtain photos before a pick-up drove below the tree and flushed the bird.
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Valley Crops

Sugar Cane and Water melons being grown together
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Early April S. Texas visit

Work, laziness, and other factors have prevented me from updating this blog recently.  Back on April 3, after some survey work in Webb County I drove to the valley taking some back roads.  North of San Isdro on a dead end gravel road, I found this very old water cistern and well.  The well hand chopped out of solid caliche perhaps before the Civil War must have been a community effort with hundreds of man hours spent.  It measures about 6' X 6' and was at least 25 feet deep but how deep it actually was when completed is hard to know now that so much trash has been dumped into it.    I can only imagine the sweat and toll it took the diggers with pick-axes and iron rods to dig a hole so deep into solid rock, and the many buckets of debris that were pulled up by hand to help construct the containment tanks above.    Real work back then. One can only wonder what relics lie below that modern day garbage.  In the dusty, dry mesquite desert of the 1800's, this well and the associated cisterns and water troughs must surely have been an oasis.  Indeed there are small tell-tale signs that houses and other buildings were nearby from the old sun glazed glass shards spread about as well as the old home made adobe bricks.

   That afternoon, after I had arrived at Weslaco, I spent a dry windy few hours at Santa Ana NWR.  That long hike down to the Resaca and Oriole Trails would have been very lack luster had it not been for this butterfly.  It is a Dark Kite Swallowtail and by all accounts this photo documents it as only the 4-5th record for the United States.  It is a very tropical insect.  I actually thought it was something else at the time until corrected later.  Gorgeous animal and a "lifer" for me.   There were very few birds to be seen and the famous Valley winds were at their peak, so I just enjoyed the rest of the afternoon at the Vali-Ho Motel relaxing.  I very much enjoyed the plant and tree nursery just down the street.  And then there was Chavez the tuna loving cat to pay a visit.