Baby Food

A white-breasted nuthatch holds a multicolored Asian ladybeetle in its beak as it clings to a mossy tree in Bower Slough at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in June 2011

Another picture from 2011 and from another place near-and-dear to my heart, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. This white-breasted nuthatch had snared a multicolored Asian ladybeetle (not native to the Pacific Northwest, I don’t think I ever saw a native ladybug in our many years there). While nuthatches do eat insects this meal I suspect was destined for the hungry maw of the babies in the nearby nest. I wish the picture had more depth of field but I was shooting as wide open as I could since I had forgotten my tripod at home and the light was dim under the canopy so I needed as much speed as I could muster.

Near Death Experience

A pair of grasshoppers sit on a plant next to a sooty grouse on the Deadhorse Creek Trail in Mount Rainier National Park in September 2014

I wonder if these two grasshoppers thought their end was near when this sooty grouse suddenly loomed large, as they are one of the insects grouse like to eat, but the bird paid them no heed as it sauntered through the mountain meadow. Taken in the fall of 2014 on my last visit to Mount Rainier National Park.

Don’t Lend Me a Hand

A master blister beetle clings to one brittlebush blossom while reaching out to try and grasp another blossom, taken on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

I didn’t read comics as a kid but I watched the Superfriends on TV and was enamored with Aquaman’s ability to communicate with animals. It would have come in handy on this morning in May as the master blister beetle was trying to move from one blossom to the next but finding it too far out of its reach. I would have loved to tell it to sit still and that I’d gently push the stem closer to the other flower, but alas I could not. Rather than scare it I left it alone, eventually it gave up and moved back down the stem. While I didn’t know it at the time there’s an extra reason not to lend a literal helping hand to these beetles as if they feel threatened they can cause caustic yellow blood to ooze from their legs, which can blister human skin. Lovely to watch though!

Mellow, Yellow

An overhead view of a master blister beetle sleeping on a heavily-chewed brittlesbush blossom on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2019

A sleepy master blister beetle isn’t quite ready to shake off its slumber and rise to meet the world. From the heavily chewed flower petals you can see why the brittlebush is both bedroom and dining room for the lovely little ones, at least on the one and only time I saw them this spring.

A Surprise in the Familiar

Two master blister beetles cling to a spent brittlebush flower early in the morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

While I enjoy exploring new trails I like to have a set of favorites I visit repeatedly, both because I find comfort in the familiar and because it makes it easier for me to see change from day-to-day and season-to-season, never more so than when we are in a new area like we are now. The Marcus Landslide Trail has been a favorite since I discovered it late last year but this morning in May had a surprise in store as these gorgeous little creatures clung to seemingly every blooming brittlebush. I had never seen them before (or since) so I did a little research when I got home to learn these jewels are master blister beetles. It was still pretty early, the sun still hiding below the mountains, when I found these two clinging to the same spent flower in the middle of the brittlebush.

A Second Look

An overhead view of a male (I think) desert tarantula as he sits on grasses and a rock beside the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in August 2019

The trend of being too tired to go hiking in the morning continues with one exception, I woke up early on Monday and couldn’t get back to sleep so I went for a short hike before work. I was rewarded with my second look, and first good look, at a tarantula since we moved here. I’ve just started researching them but I think this is probably a male, and probably out looking for a mate. If so, he’s not got much time left on this earth. Given that I saw the bobcat on a quick hike before work, perhaps next time I’ll also see something unusual. Fingers crossed, maybe the Sonoran sasquatch aka the desert yeti!

Surprises

The hole of a tarantual burrow (I think) is covered with spider's silk

I researched Arizona as much as I could before deciding to move here and now that we’ve been here over four months I can say there haven’t been any major surprises. I was a little worried that the summer heat and inescapable sun would drive me crazy right away, the risk I thought was low but the consequences severe. I thought it more likely I might be sick of the heat by the end of the summer and would want to escape back to the mountains or coast of the Northwest for a vacation, but so far that hasn’t happened. We are probably past the hottest days although it will still be above 100 degrees for a while yet. I’ve been pleased to find I can hike even on the hottest days as long as I’m on the trails early and off before the real heat of the day. We’ll see how I feel about the heat in the long term but so far the air conditioning, a nice swimming pool, and the wonders of the Sonoran Desert have made it tolerable.

Speaking of surprises, I was hiking near Granite Mountain one day when I saw what at first seemed like outstretched fingers of a human hand retreating into the earth before I quickly realized it was a tarantula pulling its legs into its hole. We saw a tarantula during a week’s vacation in New Mexico years ago so I assumed they would be more visible but so far I’ve only seen the one. I think this may be a tarantula hole, I saw it on the Vaquero Trail but didn’t see its owner, but I’m far from certain as I still have much to learn about my new home.

Threat Assessment

A tarantula tries to hide in a crevice under a rock

I grew up thinking tarantulas were deadly assassins that would kill you if you crossed their path, as I lived far from their domain and my impressions were formed based on how I saw them portrayed on television. We love to demonize and vilify certain animals (and worse, people) based on primal fears, and on deliberate lies told to mask the real threats, but in truth tarantulas are not a threat to us. As my wife and I walked down the path and stopped to watch this tarantula in New Mexico, she noticed us (their vision is poor but they are good at sensing vibrations in the ground) and ran over to this rock and tried to hide in a crevice but was slightly too big to fit. I always feel bad when I frighten an animal when I hike but thankfully she decided to trust us and climbed out onto the rock. A lesson my young self did well to learn – I was the threat.

A tarantula climbs up a rock