I had four days off for Memorial Day and was able to get up before sunrise on three of them, taking a short photography hike before a quick trip back home to pick up Bear and bring him along for a longer hike. Only possible because the trailheads are so close by, one of the main reasons I wanted to settle in this part of the city. I call this saguaro “The Muppet” as its center arm has a face that reminds me of something I might have seen on Sesame Street while growing up, though this muppet lives on the Latigo Trail. Taken as the light first cleared the mountains.
Bear Passes an Important Test
Yesterday as Bear and I took an afternoon walk around Cone Mountain, I took a few snapshots of the desert in bloom as mementos of our time together on the trails. Later on as we circled the mountain, as we passed a boulder closer to the trail than this one, the tall grasses began to shake and rattle. I instinctively told Bear to leave it (we’ve been practicing whenever my beloved lizards scamper across the trail) but he wasn’t showing any interest in any case. To be sure he understood what I wanted him to ignore, I backed up a few feet, still far outside striking range, to make sure he saw the rattlesnake. He looked at me the same as when I stop for a picture, ready to go when I am, so we continued on our way.
I’m delighted he didn’t try to position himself between me and the snake, or show any interest at all, but the snake was fairly hidden in the tall grass so perhaps it would have been a different story if the snake was slithering on the trail in front of us. Odds are highly in favor of it being a western diamondback but it was so obscured I couldn’t tell with a quick glance and didn’t take a picture since I didn’t want to risk disturbing it any further or to take my eyes off the pup.
Bear gets formal snake training in a few weeks but I’m glad to see he passed the test, this was his first rattlesnake. It’s a test he’ll have to pass repeatedly to be allowed to hike in the desert in the warmer months. Sadly our afternoon hikes will come to an end soon as hot weather is fast approaching, then it will be early morning hikes only for him. There are more dangerous things than rattlesnakes.
As the Raven Flies
A common raven looks out from a flowering saguaro, one of a pair raising their young in an old hawk’s nest in a nearby saguaro. If I could fly as the raven flies I could fly just to the left of the mountain and land at our house. Alas I have to hike as the human hikes and drive as the Lexus drives so my route home is a little more circuitous. One of the reasons I chose this house is that it is surrounded by an embarrassment of trails within a 10 or 15 minute drive, each dense with the plants and animals I love so much. There are trails in other parts of the metro area with better views but I know where my heart lies.
One day I hope to take a single picture that includes each of our types of cactus and while this image doesn’t pull that off, I think it’s as close as I’ve yet come.
Cloudless Above and Below
More Hungry Than Sleepy
A Mild Awakening
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.
Gardening at Night
Hard as it is to believe we’re in our third summer at our house. Out front in addition to a saguaro and a barrel cactus is some sort of big beautiful sprawling cactus. I was rather startled in July to see large flower buds emerging as it had sat silent during our time here, perhaps finally getting some decent rain this monsoon season woke it from its slumber. Even better? Like me, it blooms at night!
On a cloudy morning in late July the flowers hadn’t closed up yet so the bees were taking advantage of the new and abundant source of pollen. They seemed to struggle a bit gaining purchase on the flowers, such as this one clinging to the petal tops after clumsily climbing out from the center. Usually the flowers have closed up by the time I drag myself out of bed so I’ve developed a nightly ritual where I go out a couple of times to see the blooms and the wildlife feeding in the dark.
There are moths of course, mostly the little brown lovelies we see around but a couple of nights I saw what I think was a white-lined sphinx month, though I didn’t get a good enough look to be sure. Despite the large blossoms when this massive moth tried to land inside one it reminded me of when our dog Ellie would curl up in a cat bed when they took hers.
Best of all, we had a couple of bats coming in and resting in the alcove outside the front door. Have they been there before and I just haven’t noticed? Also best of all I saw a western banded gecko, while it doesn’t care about this cactus I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t been going out to watch the blooms.
There are still a few flowers each night, mostly up high, and a whole bunch of fruit that some leaf-footed cactus bugs (at least I think that’s what they are) have been gorging themselves on, they stick around for more than just the night so I do have some pictures of them. And though I haven’t seen them, around me I can often hear coyotes howling to each other as they move about in the night. What joy this cactus has brought me, my brother in spirit if not in form.
I’ve not seen a house sparrow in the local desert but they are neighborhood residents, judging by the leaves and fur in this male’s beak I imagine he’s building a nest nearby. We may not be contributing to nesting materials here but I like to think a great many birds in our Irvington neighborhood in Portland grew up in the luxury of a fur-lined nest courtesy of a black lab who seemed to shed her weight in fur each week.