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.

Spinarium

A close-up view of water drops pool on the spines and skin of a saguaro after a heavy rain on July 25, 2021. Original: _RAC5440.arw

I was photographing two of my favorite subjects last weekend, saguaros and the rain, when my macro lens breathed its last (or so I thought), the manual focus ring barely turning. This is my favorite set of saguaro spines, I wanted to capture water droplets pooling on them while I had the chance as no lightning accompanied the rain. The soft white cushion from which the spine cluster emerges is known as the areole, a distinguishing feature of a cactus (compare these to the thorns of the the ocotillo in the previous post which grow directly out of the stem). A few larger spines shoot out from the center while smaller spines radiate out in all directions. Bit of a shame that English botanist Adrian Hardy Haworth’s proposed term in 1830 for the areole, spinarium, never caught on.

As I held the lens in the following days, thinking back to how many things I had photographed with it over the years, there was some comfort in knowing it died doing what it loved, or more precisely what I love. After it sat idle on my coffee table for a few days I picked it up again, idly turning the focus ring and was surprised to see the lens focus in response. I don’t know if some rain had inadvertently gotten in and caused a mechanical glitch or if a cat hair had worked its way past the lens casing but in any case, the situation resolved itself and the lens has sprung back to life.

Rain, Finally Rain

Large water drops sit on the leaves of an ocotillo in our backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 23, 2021. Original: _RAC4236.arw

Thursday night a monsoon storm brought thunder and lightning and buckets of rain in a short period of time, while I prefer the Oregon rains that spread out a year’s worth of rainfall over hundreds of days rather than a few hours, I can’t complain as the desert desperately needs the water. Less intense thunderstorms arrived on Friday, since I was off work I was able to grab my macro lens to photograph a scene I had envisioned for a while but hadn’t been able to capture, large water drops collecting on the leaves of an ocotillo. The thunderstorms diminished as the weekend progressed but showers continued on and off through Sunday, giving me several days of joy out in the rain photographing plants around the yard.

The fun ended Sunday evening when the focusing unit of my Canon macro lens at long last gave up the ghost, I hoped it was a momentary glitch but sadly that does not appear to be the case. It was a few months shy of 22 years old as I bought it in November 1999 for $580, what fun we’ve had over the years! I have no idea what I’ll do for a replacement, modern lenses have a number of features I’d like that my old lens didn’t, but it’s the cameras that give me pause. Sony doesn’t have focus bracketing in their cameras but it would be so useful for the things I shoot I might add another system just to get it, but we’ll see.

Remind Me Where I Live Again?

Melting snow sits on the pleats of a saguaro in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 25, 2021. Original: _CAM9141.arw

On Monday my wife texted me a picture of our snow-covered backyard. I was supporting a couple of urgent tasks at work and by the time I got home the snow was rapidly melting. I needed to log on to work so didn’t have time to run out for pictures, which was a shame as the mountains looked so lovely dusted in snow. I grabbed a few pictures from the front yard, up top is one of our saguaros and below a barrel cactus. The melt was so rapid that even in the few minutes I was taking pictures our short steep driveway went from a slick surface I had to walk slowly on to one I could descend without worry. I’m so thankful I got to see it before it melted, even if not in its full glory, snow is not exactly a common sight in the desert.

An overhead view of melting snow atop a compass barrel cactus in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 25, 2021. Original: _CAM9217.arw

First Time Visitor

A western diamondback rattelsnake in our backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 11, 2020. Original: _RAC6352.arw

We had a new visitor to the house today, I was working in the backyard when I noticed this lovely western diamondback rattlesnake coiled up by the back fence wall. Since it was in a section far away from the only place it could get out, we called the Phoenix Herpetological Society and soon thereafter someone (our pool person as it turns out) came out to safely relocate it in the desert.

The Entertainers

A squirrel peaks out from the neighbor's bushes in Portland, Oregon on June 17, 2007. Original: _MG_0704.cr2

A squirrel peaks out from the neighbor’s bushes in the spring of 2007. Although Oregon has native tree squirrels in our urban Portland neighborhood you’d only find species introduced long ago, like eastern grays and eastern foxes. Our dog Ellie never paid them much heed but they were endlessly entertaining to all six cats over the years, with Emma and Trixie probably their biggest fans.

Little Pink Houses

An adult fork-tailed bush katydid eats inside a pink rose blossom in our yard in Portland, Oregon on September 12, 2009. Original: _MG_6338.cr2

As summer turned to fall in September 2009, an adult fork-tailed bush katydid dined on one of our rose blossoms. Once I discovered they were eating the rose petals I stopped pruning the flowers after they lost their aesthetic appeal and only cut them once the petals fell off. Which worked out well for both the katydids and myself, as they loved the roses and I loved watching them.

New Arrivals

A desert spiny lizard sits behind the entrance to its new home, it moved into an antelope squirrel's home, taken in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

I was delighted when an antelope squirrel dug a burrow in the front yard, but its time with us was rather short as I’m fairly certain a bobcat got it. A pair of spiny lizards moved in shortly after, although I didn’t see the female for long. A roadrunner made several attempts at this one on different days and I don’t know if it was eventually successful, as while I didn’t see the lizard for a while there is one around occasionally now, so perhaps it moved on to a better location. Hard to say as there are multiple lizards in the area as some came over to sample the flowers on the bush above this rock. The only way I could tell they weren’t all the same lizard is one was regrowing its tail and one had a missing front leg (it looked like it had learned to live without it just fine).

A desert spiny lizard is partially seen behind a cactus as it sits near the entrance to its home in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020