Trixie Approved

Our cat Trixie rests on pillows at the edge of a futon on July 8, 2021. Original: _CAM1901.arw

I awoke last weekend to a proper Portland rain here in the desert, low clouds as far as the eye could see, temperatures in the mid-60’s, a steady but gentle rain that lasted for hours, the water soaking deep into the ground instead of running off into the washes. Trixie approved and slept on the pillows on the futon all day, though this picture is from July when Mother Nature’s preferred form of water delivery is considerably more violent and sends her into hiding for hours at a time. We did get a thunderstorm later in the week as monsoon season came to a close so she went into hiding for hopefully the last time this year.

Normally I would have headed off to one of the county parks to literally soak in the delightful weather but I was resting a sore arm and stayed home. I worked in the yard today and it’s been OK but we’ll see how it’s doing tomorrow.

A Sea of Wings

A Mormon metalmark butterfly perches on the red-winged seedpod of a slender janusia vine at sunrise on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 24, 2021. Original: _RAC7317.arw

I woke up early one morning in August and couldn’t get back to sleep so I went out for a short hike before work, feeling a rush of euphoria as I got a glimpse of what it must be like to be an early bird in a world designed for them. I met a couple of butterflies as the sun crested the mountains, including this Mormon metalmark set in a sea of wings. The plant was so distinctive I thought it would be easy to identify but it took me a while as at first I was looking at plants with red flowers, but thanks to Marianne Skov Jensen’s excellent field guide of the plants of the preserve I realized the red wings are part of the seed pod and the plant is slender janusia.

After returning home for breakfast and heading into work, I knew I’d pay for my early start and indeed left early that afternoon while my energy levels were still good so I could crash on the couch instead of the road. The night owl has been re-asserting himself the past couple of years so early mornings like this have not been as common as our first year here.

Death in the Desert

A dead white-lined sphinx moth with its head bured in the rocks of our backyard on September 5, 2021. Original: _RAC9029.arw

I was working in the yard early this month when I noticed a white-lined sphinx moth flying near one of our plants, I had seen them a few times before but this was my longest look. Sadly it soon landed on the ground, walked around a bit, then stuck its head under the rocks, shivered, and died. Most moths and butterflies have short lives as adults, it wouldn’t have picked up insecticides in our yard though I can’t speak for the neighborhood, but it was still sad to see. I wasn’t going to photograph it but had a change of heart and went out in the dark after sunset and took a picture as a tribute to a beautiful little life.

I hadn’t planned on posting the picture but learned there was a death a week or two ago at my favorite trailhead not far from here, I don’t know the details but given it was one of the last truly hot days of the summer heat stroke would be a possibility. My thoughts go out to her family on what should have been a fun visit to the desert and to the rescue crews who spent hours looking for her. Usually their tireless efforts have happier endings.

The desert is unforgiving in the summer, especially once the air temperature rises above body temperature, please don’t underestimate the heat and low humidity if you’re visiting from out of town. Fitness and hydration are important but only get you so far if you wait to hike in the hotter parts of the day. Especially avoid the trails with elevation changes, there are a number of nice short trails where you won’t get the views of the mountain trails but you can get a good taste of the desert flora, including saguaros you can see up as close you’d like, and you can quickly retreat to safety if one of your party starts to overheat.

A Fixer Upper

A close-up of worn and hardened skin of a saguaro on the Cone Mountain Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 21, 2021. Original: _RAC7182.arw

Even after a few years in the desert I don’t know who to call when I see a saguaro in need of a fresh coat of paint. Who maintains them, the city? The county? The state?

I had gone out to photograph a particular saguaro at sunrise but as I feared Brown’s Mountain blocked the light for a good while. I switched over to my telephoto lens, the old saguaros always have interesting beauty spots to photograph and this one was no exception. I like the early diffuse light for shots like these.

A Mild Awakening

A top-down view of a leaf-footed bug (Narnia femorata) on a cactus blossom in our front yard on a rainy summer evening in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 18, 2021. Original: _RAC6564.arw

Last year after getting some confidence identifying the more common birds and mammals and reptiles of the Sonoran Desert, I decided to start learning the desert plants. I spent an evening reading up on the trees (there aren’t a bunch, this shouldn’t have been hard) but the next morning I couldn’t remember anything I had read the night before. I was a little frustrated with myself but heard a pleading voice that there had been too much that was new and to focus on the things I had to learn, not the things I wanted to learn.

As a creature of habit I knew Arizona would provide beneficial opportunities to experience something different but also that there was so much different both at work and at home that it might be overwhelming (the pandemic hasn’t helped). So I heeded that voice and put aside the guide books and stuck to familiar nearby parks rather than venturing further afield, trying out trails new to me when I felt up to a little challenge.

This summer has brought a mild awakening in being willing to learn new things, spurred on partially by the giant cactus out front that exploded in blooms after the summer monsoons and brought in a host of small creatures to feed on its bounty, and the butterflies that similarly burst into view at the same time either in our yard or on my beloved trails.

Insects have been tricky to learn but I believe this little lovely is a leaf-footed bug of the species Narnia femorata but take that with a grain of salt, I’m not a biologist much less an entomologist, and this is all new to me besides. While they apparently prefer prickly pear (the neighbors have a glorious patch) a group of them have been hanging out on this big cactus in our front yard, feeding either on the buds and blossoms like here on a rainy summer evening, or on the fruit that grew after the pollinators got to work.