Monday, May 31, 2010

Two more photos from Imperial NWR

I came across this female with her colt as I was hiking in one of the washes at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge (on the Colorado River) in Southwestern Arizona. It was a challenge to get a clear photo as they were running through the vegetation. But, there is something about it that I like. The second photo is a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake I came upon. Snakes are difficult to photograph when they are stretch out. You have to get back too far to get the entire snake, but it then looks too small. But, when coiled or wound sideways, like this one, it can turn out to be a nice photo. This rattlesnake seemed perfectly content to stay exactly how he is in the photo. I came across him like that. And, I left him like that.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge: Feral Burros: Part II

Here are four new Feral Burro photos just taken on my trip to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge.  When you come upon a group of them they tend to bunch up: the three in the top photo, and then the six in the second photo. I suspect that is a defense mechanism, making them look larger and more formidable to predators.  They range in color from dark chocolate (third photo) to light grey (last photo) and everything in between. Feral Burros are found within a hundred miles of the Colorado River (between California and Arizona) and then up into Nevada. There is controversy about their existence. Some argue that the population is increasing and destroying important vegetation for other wild animals and cattle. They further argue that since Burros are not native they should be removed (another word for destroyed/killed). Of course they are no less native than farm raised cattle, sheep, or goats. (And, no less native than a lot of "Americans." And, I would point out that the human population is also increasing and destroying important vegetation for wild animals). There are less than 10,000 wild burros in the United States. In comparison there are over 20 million deer in the US. Most Burros live in wilderness areas where the temperatures soar over 100 degrees frequently. It is not exactly prime real estate.  I see Burros as beautiful. I marvel at the freedom they now enjoy. I get excited when I see them, and would rather let mother nature determine their path. I don't mind trying to protect and preserve endangered populations of any animal. But even that requires careful study and thoughtful decisions. However, choosing one over another I would rather leave to nature itself.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge: Feral Burros

So, not only did I see the Desert Bighorns, I found several feral (wild) burros as well. The first photo shows you the kind of terrain at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. The second photo shows that, like nearly all wild animals, they are afraid of people and will run away. The third photo, a different group entirely, was curious but kept their distance. They walked away instead of running, turning to look at me every couple of steps to see what I was doing. Wild burros are not native. They were originally brought to the Southwest from Northeast Africa. Their ability to live in the desert made them ideal for explorers, prospectors, and miners. However, once those people died or mines played out the burros were released into the wild. So, while not native, they have been "wild" in the US for over a hundred and fifty years.

Friday, May 28, 2010

SUCCESS!!!!! Desert Bighorn Sheep

Finally, success in finding the Desert Bighorn Sheep in the wild. I had mentioned before that I have found Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the White Mountains of Arizona, but never the Desert Bighorns. They always seemed more elusive. Desert Bighorn Sheep have adapted to the desert and are quite unlike their Rocky Mountain cousins. The Desert Bighorn Sheep can go three weeks without water. That means they can stay high up in the mountains far from sight most of the time. I had looked many times in many places: Cabeza Prieta, Cibola, Imperial, and Kofa National Wildlife Refuges, Barry Goldwater Range, Yuma Proving Ground, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, all of which have fairly substantial populations (200 to 800). What you have to do is put yourself in the place with the most potential; meaning: time of year, time of day, and rugged mountainous terrain. This time the Yuma Proving Ground just north of Imperial NWR was the answer. There is but one road into this area starting at Imperial NWR. After about five miles (through Imperial) you reach a desolate area of the YPG. This is a 4x4 high clearance "road" only. Definitely not for the faint of heart. I had done this three times before without luck. The first time I blew out a tire and had to return 115 miles to the nearest city (Yuma) to get it replaced. The next two times I made it all the way to where the road dead ends. This is gorgeous country. And I had it all to myself.  (I have never seen another person or vehicle in this area.) You drive up into the mountains. The mountains aren't tall, maybe 200-400 feet above the ground level. But, they are very rugged which makes them perfect bighorn terrain. Each time I had gone through this one spot, I would say "if I were a bighorn sheep, I would want to be here."  This time they were exactly were I thought they would be. And, not just a couple of ewes. Three magnificent rams! The first photo was one of the first I took. I watched them for about 45 minutes. They were very cautious of me at first, but as you can see from the third photo, they became comfortable enough with me to start eating again. I did drive out to the end of the road again seeing one more ram at a much further distance. I don't have the words to say how excited I was in finally finding these beautiful creatures in the wild. NOTE: There is a wonderful book, "Counting Sheep: 20 Ways of Seeing Desert Bighorn" which is a collection of 20 essays from writers who also love nature and wildlife and who went out searching (some finding) the desert bighorns.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Off to find Desert Bighorn Sheep

Well, I am off for the next four days. Another exploration of the Colorado River from Yuma to Vegas. We'll see what I can find. I am hoping for Desert Bighorn Sheep.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Saucy Cactus Wren

Cactus Wrens are quite common, though not abundant like quail, doves, goldfinches, and sparrows. They are usually solitary or in pairs. They seem to be explorers, checking out every crack or crevice for bugs. Occasionally they will jump up on the window or on the bird seed container (outside my office) and look in at me sitting at my desk. A couple of weeks ago I left the office door open for about two minutes and when I came back a Cactus Wren was checking my office for bugs. Cactus Wrens build their nests in various cholla cacti. You can watch for hours as they painstakingly fetch the perfect twig to build their nest. You wonder in amazement how they aren't skewered in the process. The first and third photos above are Cactus Wrens perched on the end of a dead cholla. The middle photo is a young Cactus Wren waiting for her mother to bring her some food.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Opportunistic Roadrunner!

Roadrunners are as much fun as the cartoon -- maybe more, beep beep. Yesterday, a young sparrow was on the ground obviously hurt. I would walk past and the sparrow would hardly move. He stayed within a four foot radius for a couple of hours -- until, a Roadrunner came by. That was the end of the sparrow. Such is life -- and death -- in the desert. The weak, the sick, the hurt just don't last long. Two years ago the same thing happened to a Gila Woodpecker that had been hurt and on the ground. That seemed strange because a Gila Woodpecker is much larger than the sparrow. In both cases, though, the Roadrunner took the hurt bird in his bill and thrashed it time and time again on the ground until it was dead. Then started eating. Roadrunners walk a few feet, stop, and raise their tail and crown feathers. Then walk a few feet and go through that process again. Sometimes that aren't afraid of people at all. Once we were serving breakfast outside and a mother Roadrunner and her baby came walking right up to the table, hanging around the patio the entire time looking for insects and bugs. All photos above were taken here at The Azure Gate Bed and Breakfast.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Other "crawling" Things

Guests who haven't stayed with us or been to Southern Arizona before often ask about Tarantulas and Scorpions. We were "introduced" to both within the first month we were here (eight years ago). Christine was vacuuming one of our rooms and lifted up the window curtain and found a large Tarantula -- as she tells the story, the size of a school bus. She screamed for help because she didn't want to leave the Tarantula, after which a game of hide n' seek would be necessary. I came with a dust pan and broom,  scooped him up, and put him outside where he belonged. I must admit now, after several years and many encounters that the Tarantula's reputation is a bit overblown; probably has something to do with movie making. Tarantulas are really quite beautiful, slow moving, and docile animals. Wonderful to watch walk up a wall (outdoor) for example. Not more than a week or so later, Christine and I were listening to music in the living room when a Scorpion (the second photo to be precise) came walking through. This was the first Scorpion that I had ever seen. I regret that my immediate action was to "kill" it. But, because we run a Bed and Breakfast, we decided we couldn't have Tarantulas and Scorpions running around inside the house. So we have the entire house treated (along the outside) once a month. That has stopped anything from "crawling" inside.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

last of the Snakes (for now)

Back to the snakes for one last day. Three years ago I was in the Florida Mountains in Southwestern New Mexico (about three hours from us). I was looking for Ibex,  wild goats from the middle east that were brought to New Mexico and released in the 1950's. Their population now ranges from 400 to 600, all in the Florida Mountains, south of Deming. They are extremely difficult to find and get close to. I saw one through a spotting scope but that was all. Anyway, as I was looking I came across two snakes. The first was a Western Coachwhip (first photo), the second was a Western Hognose Snake (second photo). The third photo is a large Western Diamondback Rattlesnake I came across as I was hiking in Saguaro National Park. He was sleeping in the middle of the trail. Just a reminder to always watch were you walk when hiking in the desert.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ramsey Canyon, Another Trip with Pierr

The Painted Redstart (first photo) is a regular at Ramsey Canyon. Fairly reliable to find and photograph. I took many photos of him zooming around the tree trunks pecking away looking for bugs. But this photo I chose because it was a "close-up" and you can see just how beautiful they are. The female Blue Throat Hummingbird can only be found in the United States in the lower end of the Huachuca Mountains. It has a very small range into Mexico as well. We were hiking and she zipped right by me and up into this tree where she started cleaning herself. Almost immediately into our hike a sharp shinned hawk few across the trail from one side to the other. On the way back we found its nest. The fourth photo was a red skimmer (dragonfly). There were many in the various pools only the canyon's creek. Then the last photo is a vinca, a wildflower often found in the gardens of Arizona.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trip with Pierr

Yesterday was a nice day. Our dear friend Pierr (who illustrated Christine's last Children's Picture Book) is staying with us for a week. We decided to hike in Miller Canyon (Arizona) to look for the Spotted Owls. (It is also a great hummingbird spot). Miller Canyon is about an hour an a half from us. The hike is through the Coronado State Forest in the Huachuca Mountains. While the trail is wide, it is essential a continuously steep climb. We had seen the Spotted Owl there before. This time though, we needed to climb about a mile further than before. After a couple of miles, we decided to turn back to get a different angle on the return, that maybe we missed him. That was the trick. About 100 yards after we turned around we saw him. He was on the downward side of the trail, in a tree about 15 feet off the ground. But since he was downhill, the owl was nearly level with the trail. The first photo is from the point where we first saw him. The second photo was further down the trail about 15 yards where, sitting down I could be eyeball to eyeball with him. He pretty much slept undisturbed, with an occasional peek at us. We enjoyed how beautiful he looked for about 20 minutes, then said thank you, leaving him to sleep again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

So there I was just finishing yesterday's blog about snakes. I walked out to get the morning newspaper, going through a little wooden gate. I got the newspaper and came back and there fast asleep in the middle of the gate was a baby rattlesnake. I obviously did not see him when I went through the gate. I must have stepped right over him (that's a scary thought). I'm glad I didn't step on him. He was all curled up and still asleep. Coiled up he was about the size of a fist. Without a doubt the smallest rattlesnake I have ever seen.  I went around (via the driveway) got my camera and came back and took this photo. There wasn't good lighting and I didn't want to disturb him, so this is the best I could get. You can see his arrow-shaped head pointing toward the upper left corner of the photo. Eyes are closed though. I went back after breakfast to check and see if he was gone -- and, he was. It's exciting when the desert provides us with these little surprises.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Holes, Rocks, and Trees

 HOLES: The first photo is the Desert Kingsnake. This is the most common snake we have on the property. I startled one last week watering a potted flower. I was not paying much attention and as soon as I put the hose in the pot out jumped this five foot Desert Kingsnake. The Desert Kingsnake lives in holes typically dug by Harris Antelope or Round Tail Ground Squirrels -- of which there are many. ROCKS: The second photo is a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake (5,000 ft). We were picnicking in Madera Canyon (about an hour's drive from us) when this guy crawled out from between some rocks.  I always try to be prepared for these momentary pleasures, so this was the first of several photos. TREES: Yes, snakes like trees, too. The third photo is the Sonoran Coachwhip. I was driving north past Mescal, AZ to get to the East side of the Rincon Mountains (again about one hour's drive). The Rincon Mountains is where Saguaro National Park is, although access is almost always from the West side. As I was driving I saw this snake "sunbathing" in the middle of the (dirt) road. I stopped, got my camera and he decided that was enough sunbathing and took off so fast I only knew what direction he went. I kept looking around on the ground for him but couldn't find him. So, I turned to go back to my Jeep and saw him in the tree "sliding" through the branches like this was his natural habitat. (Which, later I found out was the case). He was a good eight or nine feet long and completely "pink" in color. Here I was in the desert and seeing something from the Amazon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On to Snakes

Since the snakes are out and about now, I thought I'd spend the next couple of days with the Arizona Snakes. The first is the black racer. And, he is fast when he wants to be. One day, Christine saw him speeding down the driveway with a Gambel's Quail on his back and several others following behind. This time of year snakes and quail don't get along well together. Too many quail eggs around. The second photo is a Bull Snake roaming around our property a couple of years ago. The Bull Snake is the largest of Arizona's snakes in it a subspecies of the gopher snake. The third photo is another subspecies of the gopher snake, the Sonora Gopher Snake, taken in the Galiluro Mountains of Arizona. I showed you one of these a couple of days ago that was drinking from a water bowl here on our property.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Last of the Lizards (for now)

We had a Gila Monster around a couple of days ago, which one of our guest was able to see. This particular photo though was taken in Saguaro National Park. I lay down on my stomach, using elbows as tripods to take the photo. The second photo is the Stripped Plateau Lizard which is only found in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. As you can imagine I was thrilled at finding him. Well, maybe thrilled isn't the right word. Happy. Yeh, that works. The third photo is the Tucson Banded Gecko. He was on our oasis patio. Again, lying down to take the photo worked best. We don't see them often. And this was the largest I've seen; about six inches (including tail). I have seen several little ones. One seemed to live in our birdseed storage cabinet for awhile. Another lived in the swimming pool electrical control box. They are cute little guys. This brings us to the end of the lizards for now. I think I have shown you all of the different lizards I have photographed. Anything new comes up I'll let you know.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lizards Part Five


Okay, back to lizards: The top photo is the Great Basin Collard Lizard. It was taken in the Florida Mountains of Southeast New Mexico. The Collard Lizard, unlike most other lizards, cannot cast off and regenerates its tail. Another peculiarity of the Great Basin Collard Lizard is that it runs on its hind legs (with forelegs off the ground). The second photo appears to be a Crevice Spiny Lizard. (No confirmation on that). It was taken in Tucson Mountain Park. The third photo is the Yarrow's Spiny Lizard. It was taken in the Chiricahua Mountains. Yarrow's Spiny Lizard winters in crevices of rocks as opposed to many other lizards that live  underground during the winter.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Javelinas Pay Us a Visit

Just as I was working on the next series of lizards, I got interrupted by ten Javelinas. You can see seven of them in the first photo. The second photo shows one sniffing around for the next entree. The third photo shows one eating the flowers of the Prickly Pear Cactus. And, the last photo shows the after lunch siesta. Male Javelinas weigh about 60 pounds, so it is a good idea to walk quietly -- actually be quiet -- and, with no sudden movements. They were around for about 30 minutes. Our guests were able to come out to see and take photos. It is interesting. A month ago I planted 15 Mission Cactus (Indian Fig Cactus) pads. A week ago the Javelinas came around at night, long after everyone was asleep and dug up and ate everyone I planted. Mission cactus are similar to Prickly Pear Cactus but grow much taller and have bigger pads. But, they also don't have thorns like other Prickly Pear varieties. I suspect that makes them easier to eat. I guess the Javelinas were around today to see if I planted more. There were only some scraps leftover, but they seemed content to eat the Prickly Pear flowers too.

Sonoran Gopher Snake

I must interrupt the current topic of lizards to bring you someone else who loves lizards. I took this photo yesterday of a Sonoran Gopher or Bull Snake. This is the largest of the snakes found in Arizona. He can be nine feet long and the diameter of a coffee cup. We had one that large the first couple of years we were here. Then one day found him dead. This one is about six feet long. He was drinking water from a small cement drinking pool that we have. You can see what a beautiful pattern he has from the second photo.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lizards Part Four

Three more lizards all photographed here at The Azure Gate. The first is the Sonoran Spotted Whiptail. The second is the Desert Grasslands Whiptail. And the third, is the Zebra Tail Lizard. The first two hang around the buildings a lot. The Zebra Tail is further out on the property. He is very hard to photograph. Rarely stands still -- at least when people are around. His tail is held high and moves back and forth as he moves.