Friday, April 30, 2010

It's Miller Time Again

After breakfast I headed up to Miller Canyon today where I was delighted to find this Hepatic Tanager not to far from the canyon's creek. Much further up the trail I found a Spotted Owl. It took a while to get into a position where I could photograph him. And, once in position his head was turned sideways and he was sound asleep. It took about 45 minutes before he faced front and I got this photo. On my way down the canyon (in the Huachuca Mountains) there were a few snowflakes. Didn't realize that it was that cold.  And, tomorrow's May 1st.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Unexpected Visitor

There are animals we expect to see every day: harris antelope ground squirrels, round tail ground squirrels, desert cottontails, and a wide variety of lizards. Every once in a while we will see a gila monster, a desert kingsnake, a western diamondback rattlesnake, a bobcat, a coyote, a javelina etc. There are birds we expect to see every day: mourning & white winged doves, gambel's quail, curved bill thrasher, cactus wren, goldfinch, house finch, cardinals, pyrrhuloxia, phainopepla, gila woodpecker, and a wide variety of LBBs. Every once in a while we will see a hooded oriole, a brown crested flycatcher, a black tail gnatcatcher, a ladderback woodpecker, a gilded flicker, etc. Yesterday, was not every day --- nor was it a "once in a while" day. Yesterday, there were a pair of Mallard Ducks! Yes, sitting by the pool wondering why there wasn't plant food in the pool to eat. After a while they were content to just sit and sleep. At some point -- didn't see it -- they must have flown away. It was a special day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prickly Pear Cactus Flowers - They're Everwhere

As you can see the Prickly Pear flowers come in many different colors. Yellow with red inside, pink, cream, or just plain yellow. I counted 17 budding flowers on the pad of the last photo. Imagine 50 pads per Prickly Pear. Now imagine a hundred or more Prickly Pear.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Swimming Pool

Day before yesterday, I was watering the plants in the oasis. As I started watering one of the potted plants out jumped a Desert Kingsnake. We seemed to startle each other. I was reminded of previous "encounters" in the oasis with these "nice fellows." Once I was cleaning the pool filter, reached down to get the basket and and instead of grabbing the plastic handle, felt the slimy soft skin of a young Desert Kingsnake (top photo). On another occasion, my brother-in-law was here with his family. We were in the oasis having breakfast and he was asking about how often we saw snakes. I think the words were still rolling out of his mouth when I looked down at the pool and saw this Desert Kingsnake drinking water from the pool. That was a treat for him and his family. (Except for those who were still in bed). The Desert Kingsnake is the snake we see the most here on the property. But, we have also had our share of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, Black Racers, Sonoran Gopher Snakes, Bull Snakes, and once a Western Longnose Snake. Most of these are really nice to have around. They keep the "pack rat" population down.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Prickly Pear Cactus Flowers

The Prickly Pear Cactus are now starting to bloom. Prickly Pear Cactus is the predominant cactus in the Sonoran Desert. That means it is everywhere. Each plant may have as many as 50 "pads." Each pad may have as many as five flowers the size of a rose. So, you can imagine how beautiful it is. There are dozens of varieties of Prickly Pear. The top two photos are of the most common type: Engelmann Prickly Pear.  The third photo is Pancake Prickly Pear, which has very short and fuzzy looking thorns. DO NOT TOUCH!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Barrel Cactus in Bloom

The first photo is a Fire Barrel Cactus taken in Joshua Tree National Park. The middle photo is Eagle Claws, another barrel cactus that we have in our "cactus garden". The third photo is the most common of the barrel cactus, the Arizona Fish-hook Barrel Cactus. Those are just about everywhere. We probably have 100 of them here on our property. When walking in the desert -- especially, when camera in hand -- it is always a good idea to watch where you walk. Tripping over a barrel cactus is not much fun. Did it once, and I never forget. It is not called "Fishhook" without good reason!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bloomin' Cactus - Part II

Here are some more cactus in bloom. The first is a "flying saucer." Don't quite get the name, but the flowers are huge: five inches across. The second and third are cacti that I haven't positively identified. One is like the rare Peruvian Cactus, the second is similar to the Organ Pipe Cactus. If anyone can help with their identification it would be appreciated. Nonetheless, they are quite beautiful. The white flowers on the last photo are 8 to ten inches long.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Still More Desert Flowers

I had a nice break this morning. None of our guests were having breakfast. So, I headed out to Saguaro National Park (east) to be there when they opened at 7:00 AM. I drove the 8 mile one-way auto loop. All I can say is spectacular. Yellow everywhere. The top photo is of Prairie Sunflower. Acres and acres and acres of Prairie Sunflowers as far as the eye could see. The second photo is Prairie Zinnia, not nearly as expansive as the sunflowers but many of them as well. Then the third photo is Ocotillo. In eight years here in the Sonoran Desert I have never seen them so beautiful. Most of the year they look like dead sticks in the ground. After a rain they fill out with dark green leaves and red flowered tips. Gorgeous! The bottom photo is hedgehog cactus which are the first of the cactus to bloom. Beautiful purple flowers. It was like a "walk in the park."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cactus Flowers - Part I

Just about every plant in the Sonoran Desert has thorns. And, just like roses, beautiful flowers as well. The top photo is of Chain Fruit Cholla or also called Jumping Cholla. And, it is called Jumping Cholla for a reason. You'll walk by and swear that you never got close to it but there is a clump sticking in your arm nonetheless. The second photo is Staghorn Cholla. And the third one, worst of all, is Christmas Cactus. Not sure why it is called Christmas Cactus other than they like to leave little "gifts" in your arms, hands, legs -- anything exposed. If you get a clump of cholla stuck in you, the best way to get it out is with a comb. Just about anything else could make it worse. If you get a thorn, then tweezers are necessary. And, if the thorn is in pretty far into your skin and still long enough, cutting the tip of the thorn before pulling will help. The thorns are hollow and cutting the end reduces the pressure. The problem with the Christmas Cactus is that all the thorns are tiny. They are hard to see. Definitely, though, tweezers (and a magnifying glass) are the only answer. Some people try tape, although I have never had much luck with it. It seems to make matters worse for me. Anyway, enjoy the beauty -- but from a safe distance.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Flowers from The Azure Gate B&B

It is not just wildflowers that are blooming now. It seems like almost everything is blooming. The top two photos are of trees that sit side by side. When not flowering they look identical -- height, color, leaves, etc. On close inspection the leaf of the top tree is ever-so-slightly larger. The second tree is a pomegranate tree -- for sure, and produces large pomegranate fruit. The first tree produces no fruit at all. And, as you can see its' flower is red and white with many layers of pedals. The second, has fewer leaves and is entirely red. I am not an expert in this area. I have thought all along that they were both pomegranate trees, the first being a male tree and the second being a female. That would explain the differences. However, if anyone reading this can confirm or set me straight I would appreciate it. The third photo is a creosote bush. We have lots and lots of them. Normally, they look very spindly and, well -- dead. But, this is the best I have ever seen them. Full of leaves and flowers. The fourth photo is oleander which absolutely thrive in this desert sun.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Azure Gate Flowers

Yesterday, I walked around our Bed and Breakfast with camera in hand just to photograph some of the colors. Today, I'll show you a few of the agaves and aloes that are in bloom. Most of the agaves like the top photo of the Octopus Agave bloom just once in their lifetime. After about 8 to 10 years they throw up a stalk in a matter of a couple of weeks with beautiful yellow flowers. The stalk is about ten feet tall. We have a great many on the property, so it looks like we have put up "flags" for our guests. After a month or so the flowers start dropping off and are replaced with polyps. The polyps grow on the stalk into baby plants (even with roots). We then plant them in small planters until they are mature enough to be replanted in the ground somewhere. We learned this was a requirement, otherwise the javelinas would eat them. The other three photos are of various aloes which bloom yearly. Their stalks are more pliable and typically three or four feet tall. These are the ones the hummingbirds love as in the photo below:

One More Wildflower Blog

From the Top:   Ivyleaf Morningglory; Mexican Hat Coneflower; Sacred Datura; Water Lily.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Great Horned Owlets

About 40 minutes before I was to serve breakfast this morning I got a call from our neighbor across the street. The baby owls were out of their nest. I ran over with my camera and got this photo. Not bad. I must say that this was "one sweet moment". I have photographed a great many animals and birds over the years, but this was mother nature at her finest. Yes, there is a magnificence about photographing a fully grown male grizzly bear or huge bull moose (each weighing well over 1000 pounds). But, photographing bear cubs frolicking in grass or playing peek-a-boo around trees; baby mountain goats trying to jump from one rock to another; young bobcats learning how to pounce; or baby owls sitting side-by-side just old enough to see the new world, are very special and memorable moments. I love photography and the cherishing memories they create.

Just More Wildflowers

From Top: London Rocket; Western Coral Bean; Thistle; Mule Fat.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Just Wildflowers

From the top: Puffball; sweet four o'clock; Mexican bird of paradise; prickly poppy; common sunflower.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Western Screech Owl

While we are on the subject of owls, Ramsey Canyon which is two canyons north of Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, is another favorite birding spot. It is run by The Nature Conservancy and just outside the little visitor's center is a large Sycamore Tree that a Western Screech Owl nests in. Sycamore trees are found alongside creek beds in Southern Arizona so they are an ideal spot for birds. Just as in the photo above they provide a natural nest, requiring very little effort to create. Just a little housecleaning, that's all. So, they are home to many nesting birds. In addition to the Western Screech Owl, Sycamore Trees are a favorite place for the Elegant Trogan (which I have shown you in almost the identical photo -- but in a Sycamore Tree in the Chiricahua Mountains further east). The nests can go down the tree trunk a foot or more so birds nesting are not often seen. It's only when they come up like this owl and "perch" on the opening. I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time -- true of most good photographs. On the other hand a mountain lion could have walked right by that tree two minutes before I arrived (that I missed photographing).