Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oh, those javelinas

When young, javelinas are as cute as can be. As they get old, and start palling around with others, they can be quite destructive. We never mind if they are out in the desert eating their little hearts out. They need to live also. But, twice I found myself a little more than annoyed. Just after we moved here in 2002 javelinas got into the front courtyard and dug up two octopus agaves. They ate the middle of the plants thus destroying the plant. The second time was when a gate to the oasis didn't get shut. It was about 6:00 AM and I came out the door to go to the market as I do every morning. It was still dark, but I heard some commotion in the oasis. Seven javelinas were in the oasis eating everything in sight. They must have been there all night. They dug up agaves, aloes, and all of the flowering plants. Can I spell smorgasbord? Nothing was left untouched. It most have been like eating at The Golden Corral. After chasing the javelinas out of the oasis and shutting the gate, I stood dumbfounded. All the plants in the oasis were destroyed and had to be replaced. But, look at the faces of those little guys. How could I ever be mad at them?

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Office

Javelinas usually come around at night, but not always. This photo of a javelina nursing her young was taken just outside my office. The office seems to be a great spot for viewing wildlife. Over the past seven years I have seen the following from my desk: kit fox, desert grey fox, coyote, javelina, black tail jackrabbit, bobcat, gila monster, desert spiny lizard, greater earless lizard, desert grassland whiptail, praying mantis, walking stick, tarantula, western diamondback rattlesnake, black racer, desert king snake, sonoran gopher snake, and too many birds to mention including wild turkeys, numerous hawks, and of course, roadrunners. I have seen a roadrunner track down and catch a desert spiny lizard, and then bring him right by my office window to show off. I have seen cooper's hawks sitting in a tree or on the ground by the office plucking feathers out of a dove it just caught. One evening I went out the door from the office and in the parking and surrounding area I counted 23 javelinas. The Azure Gate Office: better than TV.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Determined Javelinas

One of the first javelina visits to The Azure Gate was around Thanksgiving seven years ago. Just outside my office was a container with bird seed. I heard some commotion and went out to see what was going on. Several javelinas had knocked over the container and were feasting on the birdseed. My daughter and son-in-lawe were here at the time. Andy and I "chased" the javelinas away from the bird seed, down the driveway, and out on to the street. We walked back, partially amused by the incident. By the time we got back to where the spilled birdseed was, the javelinas had return via our second driveway. Chasing them didn't seem to be an option, so I bought a large Rubbermaid container that could store several bags of different kinds of bird seed, including a couple 50 pound bags of bird seed. Did this work? In short, no. The javelinas would push the lid up with their snout, grab the 50 pound bag of seed with their teeth and pull it out of the container. It wasn't a full bag, maybe 20 - 25 pounds left, but still. So, it was off to Home Depot to buy a "lockable" container for birdseed. Even now, though, many mornings I'll notice mud and dirt around the lid where the padlock is. I guess they don't know that birdseed is for birds. Maybe a sign would help.

Javelinas at The Azure Gate Mud Hole

Javelinas are unique to the southwest. They are actually collard peccaries. Much like a wild pig in the way they look and act. The male can weigh as much as 60 pounds so they aren't small animals. We have a sprinkler system that drains to the lowest point on the property creating a "mud hole." This, as you might imagine, is a favorite playground for the javelinas. Sometimes they run off when they see me, sometimes they walk off, and sometimes when they are eating or "having fun" they just stare for a while and then continue what they were doing. This guy I couldn't get out of the mud hole if I wanted (not that I wanted). Javelinas present a different challenge to photograph. Their hair shimmers when nervous which makes focusing a little more difficult. You need a fast camera -- film speed to avoid blurring.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bobcat at The Azure Gate

We had a couple from New York coming to stay with us. Upon their arrival, as we were walking over to the guest house (where they were going to stay), a female bobcat walked in front of us and then along the path. Not five seconds later, a large male bobcat came from behind some cactus and onto the same path following the female. What a delightful surprise! We talked about wildlife here at The Azure Gate for a bit. They asked a lot of questions about "is it safe?" And, "What should we do if we see snake etc.?" After showing the guests the inside of the guest house (which took about five minutes) we went out the front door. And, there standing in the driveway was a beautiful coyote. Now, I must admit this really is NOT something that occurs every day. But, try to tell this to the New Yorkers. They believed they were in some far off jungle where their lives were in constant danger of being attacked by large carnivorous creatures -- or slithering ones. I may have embellished a bit much here. Animals, even carnivorous animals aren't interested in humans. Quite the contrary, after centuries of hunting they have learned to keep their distance. Both bobcats and coyotes are predominately night creates. In the winter we hear coyotes two or three times every night, but only see one once a week or so. Bobcats are stealth creatures. They are skilled at "not being seen." So, they are around but we may only see one once a month. It was a special treat for our guests. And, you know what? A special treat for me, too. I never get bored watching wildlife.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Antelope Jackrabbit at Muleshoe

Coatis like canyons, as do many animals of the desert since water is easier to come by there. Some canyons, like those in the Galiuros have pools of water even if water is not flowing. Coatis have been harder to find, though, over the past couple of years. The cause is unclear; maybe the drought has kept the number born to a minimum; maybe some disease has affected the population; maybe they have become more afraid of humans; maybe the mountain lion population has taken more. You still see coati tracks by the pools (along with deer, javelina, skunk, and occasional lion). I was hiking once with my daughter Ashley through Muleshoe hoping to find some coatis for her to see. No luck this time, but we did come across a very willing and quite beautiful Antelope Jackrabbit. I was able to photograph him from several angles as he seemed perfectly content eating the grasses. Every once in a while he would "pop" up for a portrait like this one. What is special about the Galiuros is there is always something to see. Maybe not what you came for, but it seems to always have a surprise or two.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hooded Skunk

Still at Muleshoe in the Galiuros, I have come across hooded skunks (also striped skunks) on a number of occasions. Skunks are fun to photograph. First, because they are so beautiful. Forget what you think when the term "skunk" comes to mind, they are gorgeous like the hooded skunk in this photo. Second, they are very business oriented, constantly searching for ants, bugs, worms, etc. so, you can follow and photograph them as long as you don't get too close. I found out how close is too close, once. I didn't get sprayed, but the skunk "charged" me like a bear did -- once. They do what is called a "false" charge: two or three steps to let you know you are too close. I suspect skunks are a little reluctant to spray, because it could leave them defenseless. But, finding a skunk in the wilderness and being able to watch it for a while is as trilling as seeing a bear.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Young coati at Muleshoe

Our oldest son, Matt lives in Hawaii with his lovely wife, Rung (who is from Bangkok). We don't see them nearly as often as we would like, but several years ago just after they were married we took them on a wildlife photo trip into British Columbia and Alberta. As it turned out Rung was quite a "wildlife spotter." I remember once we were driving along and I heard this sweet soft voice from the back seat saying "I think that was a bear." So, we backed up and to my surprise (because I am the "expert" and I missed it) was a black bear standing up looking at us. Well, two years ago they came here to Tucson and we took a little trip into the Galiuro Mountains and Muleshoe Ranch. Once again she was the one who spotted a family of coatis. This little guy was most curious and posed for me for several minutes. A wonderful experience thanks to Rung. I do love the Galiuros --- Rung, too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Muleshoe Ranch, Arizona

I first went looking for coatimundi in October, 2002. I was hiking up Hot Springs wash when I heard a sound in a nearby tree. This wasn't wind, nor was it birds, it was animal. Didn't sound like a black bear, so maybe .... I looked into the tree and saw a pair of huge eyes staring at me. Could it be? Yes, a coatimundi! As I climbed out of the wash he "flew" down the tree and ran off, but then came a second running down the tree, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth ..... I counted 15 in all, but could have been off one or two. It was deep in the woods, poor lighting, the wrong lens, they were moving pretty fast and it was over all too quickly. I stood there helplessly hoping a photo might turn out. But no, they were indeed blurs. On the positive, it verified that coatis were around and with persistence I might find another. About an hour or so later I found this little guy sound asleep in a nearby tree, so I didn't go home empty handed. I had proof that I had found the elusive coatimundi.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coatimundi at Muleshoe Ranch, Arizona

One of my favorite day trips is to Muleshoe Ranch in the Galiuro Mountains, near Willcox, Arizona. Muleshoe Ranch is a cooperative wilderness area jointly owned by Muleshoe Ranch, the Nature Conservancy, and the BLM. There is 30 miles of gravel road to get to the small visitor's center and then 14 more miles (four wheel drive only) to get to Jackson's Cabin. This 14 mile stretch for which you must sign in and out to enter is as rough as any back road you might ever encounter. The payoff is beautiful mountains, valleys, and canyons with bighorn sheep, black bear, mountain lions, and lots else. I should add that I rarely ever see any human beings whether I am hiking in this area or even driving up to the cabin. What I have found and photographed are bobcats, javelinas, mule deer, white tail deer, gila monsters, hooded skunk, stripped skunk, antelope jackrabbits, lots of birds, lots of butterflies, and my favorite: the coatimundi -- or, coati for short. Coatis are playful and curious little animals a little bigger than a raccoon. Story One: I was hiking along hot springs wash checking out the cottonwood groves on either side of the wash. The coatis can be in the trees or scrounging around the ground for ants or insects. Eventually I reached a grove where I had seen coatis before. Not seeing any, I thought this would make a lovely place for my lunch, anyway. So, I am sitting on a log eating a sandwich when I hear some noise behind me. I turn around and 15 feet from me is the coati as he is in the above photo. I never knew whether he was in the tree and was coming down -- or, he was just arriving and wanted to go up the tree. None the less, he and I looked at each other for a couple of minutes after which he decided to depart. It's one of my favorite photos.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hart Mountain

One more pronghorn story: This takes place on Hart Mountain in the extreme southeast corner of Oregon. I had read that pronghorn gather on Hart Mountain for the winter. On the way there I stopped at Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada where I found this wild burro nursing her colt. Then into Oregon where I spotted a small group of mule deer on the right side of the road in open terrain. As I approached it seemed evident that they would cross the road and hop this fence to escape into the mountain. So, I was ready with camera in hand, pulled close enough for a photo -- and, there they went and here is the photo. I thought this is going to be an outstanding photo trip: wild burros, mule deer hoping fences, surely there will be pronghorn at Hart Mountain. The rest of the day and early mountain proved me wrong -- temporarily. Then, in a moment I drive over a small hill, and to my pounding heart's (Hart's) surprise maybe six or seven hundred pronghorn divided on each side of the road. I drive slowly at first, trying not to disturb so I can get photos. But, soon they are on the move, each side running parallel to the road. I speed up driving with one hand on the wheel and one hand with camera taking photos - such as the one above. I am going 55 miles an hour on a dirt road with pronghorn passing me on both sides when the pronghorn on the right decide they want to join those on the left. Now it is a game of chicken. I stop, quickly get out and get my last photos of them crossing the road in front of me. I'm thinking, why go to Africa?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh how I love pronghorn

So while we are on the subject of pronghorns, I am reminded of a wonderful story. I was returning home from a trip into the White Mountains in east central Arizona looking for Mexican Grey Wolves. Although no luck with wolves, I came across two large bighorn sheep rams (my first bighorns in the Arizona wilderness). Anyway, I had read about Eagle Creek, so I took the 22 mile (one-way) trip on a dirt road. When I reached the site -- well, not a drop of water in the creek and not even a sparrow to photograph. Feeling as if the extra four hours was going to be a waste, I started back on this dusty old road coming through a large field (maybe 500 acres) of grass. I started thinking this would be good pronghorn terrain. Low and behold, I look out the window and about 200 yards away I see something other than grass. I stop, look through my binoculars and see a male pronghorn lying down with just head and antlers showing. So I start walking toward the pronghorn taking photos every 30 steps or so, thinking well this might be the last photo -- but no, he doesn't move. When I am 30 yards away I see a young colt lying down behind the adult.

Now I am really excited, and I start taking photos of the little guy too. Dad then gets up and starts walking away (more photos), but the colt just lays there. Dad, who is now about 50 yards away makes a sound; a low deep sound. The colt stands up but instead of walking towards Dad, walks toward me. (Typical defiant teenager I guess). When Dad makes another call, the colt starts running away as does Dad. I say "thank you very much" to each of them and walk the 200 yards back to the Jeep, get in, turn on the engine, put the transmission in drive, look out the window and notice that the young pronghorn has followed me all the way back, and was now only 10 yards from the car. So, transmission back to park, engine off, out of the car again, and many more photos. I relived the (90 minute) experience the remaining five hour trip home being so lost in thought, it went by in a blink.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

A little closer to home, about an hour and a half away, is the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. It is here that I have had the best luck finding the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn (photos from last year). Interestingly, you cannot drive up US 191 through Southwestern Wyoming and not see pronghorn every couple of miles. And, Hart Mountain in Southeastern Oregon is the best place to see several hundred pronghorn as they gather together for the winter. The Sonoran Pronghorn, though, is a subspecies and estimates range from only 100 to 300 left in the United States. Like their cousins they have incredible eyesight, able to detect movement from 4 miles away! They are also the fastest animal in North American reaching speeds up to 60 miles per hour. So, finding them is a challenge, but getting close enough for a photo requires great patience and a lot of luck. Usually, your coming over a hill so they haven't been able to see you. Then it is stop, wait, watch, and move ever so slowly diagonally to get the photo. I love the coloration in the neck. It's like they have "dressed up" with a bow tie and cummerbund.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge

I had seen these wild burros in Cabeza Prieta NWR back in January. So, I was hoping maybe I would see them again on this trip, but as with the sheep and pronghorn no luck. Other than the Ranger at the visitor's center, the only person I saw was a Border Patrol Officer. When I asked him about the burros he said he hadn't seen any since being posted there in February. WOW. Okay, so on to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge which is on the Colorado River just north of Yuma and known for its healthy population of both sheep and burros. I arrived at Imperial just before dawn. Drove 20 miles into the mountains with not so much as a rabbit to photograph.( I did see a couple of Harris Antelope Squirrels.) Imperial has six or seven barren "plateaus" along the otherwise lush Colorado River. These plateaus are covered with crushed lava rock. However, you can clearly see from a distance burro paths. Over the past 150 years burros have followed the same route pushing aside the lava rock to make one-foot wide paths. As you take a closer look you see the burro tracks in the path. If you make a horseshoe out of your thumb and forefinger about two inches apart you have a perfect burro footprint. I thought that with so many tracks I was bound to find some. So I persistently followed several of the tracks -- all leading down to the river and then disappearing into the thick cattails and other plants of the jungle. Later after the Visitor's center opened I had a chance to talk with the Ranger who was reluctant to share that she had not seen any bighorn sheep in a year, and it had been a couple months since seeing any burros. And, yet, there is something about this land --- even absent of seeing sheep, pronghorn, or burros that feeds and renews the spirit within me. It's a far cry from working in downtown Manhattan.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Sunset

Cabeza Prieta NWR is 860,000 acres (the size of Rhode Island) of boundless heat scorching desert along the Mexico/US border. There are but two "roads". To call them roads is a bit misleading. They are more like wagon trails with long stretches of rock that test the stability of the internal human anatomy. The southernmost road is called "El Camino del Diablo" or "the Devil's Highway." Needless to say, a four wheel drive vehicle, elbow and knee pads are required. Refuge literature suggests carrying two (!) spare tires. In order to get a permit to go on the refuge you must watch a 25 minute "hazard warning" video and sign a two-page "hold harmless agreement." With permit in hand, you still must call as you enter the refuge and call again once you leave. As for the bighorn sheep, there are seven mountain ranges within the refuge. Most require long hikes just to arrive at base of the mountain. There is one exception, Charlie Bell Pass. This is a 17 mile wreck of a road that the ranger suggested was my best chance to see sheep. I might also see some of the endangered sonoran pronghorn on my way. It was the perfect time of day -- late afternoon. Three hours later, no pronghorn, no sheep. But, I did see an amazing sunset and mountain lion tracks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Visiting Bobcat

So, just as I finished telling you that I had no luck finding bighorn sheep in three days of looking, I look out the window (from my desk) and see this bobcat. He jumped up on the wall while I was getting my camera, sat there while I took three pictures, then off to some new adventure. Seeing wildlife is always thrilling and usually a surprise. There's a line from a movie: "If you go looking for something it may be difficult to find because of all the things in the world you are looking for just one in particular. But if you go looking for anything, your chances are much better because of all the things in the world, you are sure to find some of them." Have a nice day.

crested caracara

Apologies for the "break in the action." We had a couple of days without guests so I took a photo trip looking for Desert Bighorn Sheep. I went to three of the best places in Arizona: Cabeza Prieta NWR, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Imperial NWR. I was in the best places at the best time but, no sheep. Sheep are very difficult to find in uninhabited wilderness areas. It is a little easier when they live closer to "developed" areas, i.e. Jasper or Banff in Alberta. Photo trips are never wasted, though. Just the scenery alone is worth the trip. And, I did get some photos, like this Crested Caracara.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cloudless Sulphur

Staying in the Huachuca Mountains, but moving slightly north we find Fort Huachuca, established in 1876 (5 years before the famous gun fight at the OK Corral in Tombstone). It is not difficult to get into this military facility; just photo ID and car registration will do. But it is snuggled up against the mountains with a wonderful drive through Garden Canyon the attraction. Late summer and early fall is butterfly season. And, since the canyon is full of thistles, it is also full of butterflies. Here we have five butterflies, consisting of Cloudless Sulphurs and a Southern Dogface Sulphur. There are two wonderful hikes in the canyon: Sheelite Canyon and Sawmill Canyon. Each is different. Sheelite is a narrow and relatively steep hike. Sawmill and little more open, wider trail, and not quite as steep. We hiked Sawmill a couple of weeks ago and just as we got to the end (the top) it started to -- you guessed it -- rain. It always seems to happen at the farthest place from the trailhead parking. But, that makes a fun story.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

black chin hummingbird

We will do one last photo before we leave Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains. This is the male black chin hummingbird. He is very similar to the ruby throat except that the black chin is found in the West and the ruby throat in the East. An interesting note: Of the 18 (U.S.) hummingbird species, only the ruby throat and the rufus are found in the East; while 17 of the 18 are found in the Southwest.

Friday, October 9, 2009

costa's hummingbird

Well let's leave the Huachuca Mountains for the moment and come back to The Azure Gate where a Costa's Hummingbird seems to want to perform. This is a male Costa's showing off. Our guests now are from Colorado Springs, Santa Fe, and San Francisco. They seem to be having fun sharing stories over breakfast (Southwest Salmon Benedict). All are headed to Sabino Canyon today for a hike.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

rufus hummingbird

Here we have the Rufus Hummingbird, which is more common throughout the United States. The male is the top photo, the female the lower two. This is such a sweet little hummingbird I had to show you. Typically, at The Azure Gate B&B we get Anna's, Broad Tail, Broad Bill, Costa's, and Calliope. In the mountains ranges just to the South of us you can also find: Berylline, Black Chin, Blue Throat, Magnificent, Rufus, and White Eared for a total of 11 hummingbird species I have photographed in Southern Arizona. Last year there was talk that a Star Capped hummer was at Agua Caliente (about five miles from us) but I couldn't find him. As I am writing this the male and female Anna's are chasing each other about my office. I am sure they are just "playing."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Magnificent Hummingbird

Back to Miller Canyon in the Huachucas. The Magnificent Hummingbird -- aptly named -- is not as rare as the Berylline, White-eared or Blue Throat, but is certainly not common, and rare to the United States except for these southern most Arizona mountains. At 5 1/4 inches it is the largest of our hummers. It is a treat to see, although a little more cautious of people and thus a little harder to photograph.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Azure Gate Sunset

We interrupt our blog today to bring you last night's sunset. It was there for all to photograph. Our wonderful guests from Scotland were able to take several photographs. It wasn't that there aren't sunsets in Scotland, there just aren't many with Saguaros in them, he said. I think he's probably right.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

blue throat hummingbird

And here is the third of the rare hummingbirds we found in Miller Canyon. These are the Blue Throat Hummingbird; male on left and female on right. While we have hummers that stay around The Azure Gate year round, the mountains attract hummers only in the summer months. I say that as I watch our Anna's Hummingbird sitting on a Palo Verde tree by my office. He's probably thinking I haven't come out to say "good morning" to him yet. Better do that.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

white eared hummingbird

Here is a white eared hummingbird, which is rare in the United States. We've seen him two summers in a row at Miller Canyon in the Huachucas. To get to the hummingbird station at Beatty's Orchard (in Miller Canyon) you take a small hike up the canyon, across a stream, and up the hill where they have set up a small viewing tent. They have nine feeders hanging amongst the trees. So you just sit and watch as literally a hundred or more hummers fly around you. At times some will be less than three feet away from you. There are picnic tables at the trailhead, so take a lunch and have a great day.

Friday, October 2, 2009

berrylline hummingbird

One of the mountain ranges just to the south of us is the Huachucas. It is home to one of the older Army forts. Fort Huachuca has a fascinating Military Museum displaying its history going back to 1876 and the "Buffalo Soldiers." For the next few days we'll share with you some of our experiences in these wonderful mountains. Maybe the best hummingbird spot in the United States is Miller Canyon, where you'll find Beatty's Orchard. Christine and I visited there three weeks ago and found (this might be hard to imagine) but over 100 hummingbirds, including three very rare (to the US) species: the Berrylline (above) and .... well, let's wait til tomorrow for the others.