A full look at the male black witch that rested beside our door.
Since it can be difficult to get a sense of how big the black witch is from pictures, I placed it at scale next to a blue whale. So not as big as the biggest animal to have ever lived, but still pretty big.
(Whale drawing is from Kurzon)
I cast no spell but charm
and do not mean you any harm,
for I am not to blame
for my often fearsome names.
I’m the biggest in the land,
almost the size of a hand,
who am I?
Answer is in the tags, I had no idea this creature even existed until my wife woke me one weekend to tell me one was sitting outside our door. This is a male, we’ve since had a female and another male come visiting, though they only stay for a few days. One of the biggest surprises I’ve had since arriving in the desert, just an absolute joy to behold.
This is a macro shot of some of the patterns in his wings, I left it a little dark but it didn’t look quite right if I left it as dark as he was in person as my impression of him as he rested in the shadows was of a void, a hole in our reality. A long exposure (this one is 2.5 seconds) revealed the glory in his details.
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.
Two years ago I watched a pair of Gila woodpeckers, my favorite desert bird, bringing food to their nest in a saguaro. While all of these pictures are of the male, both parents were relentless in caring for their young. Mostly he was doing the sort of things he should, such as bringing a moth (1st picture), a spider (2nd picture), and clearing out debris made by the growing family (3rd picture). But then he brought a small rock, thankfully he realized his mistake before feeding it to the babies and brought it back out. I suspect he must have grabbed for an insect and picked up the rock in the capture, which left enough of a gap for either the insect to get away or fall out in transport.
I took a couple of days off work last week but it wasn’t to do anything fun, I was laid low by a cold and didn’t feel much like getting off the couch. I was watching some Gila woodpeckers in the backyard with my binoculars and something felt off, I couldn’t figure out what at first until I realized their faces were the same color as their heads. I had been editing pictures from the spring, like this male holding a freshly caught moth, and was used to seeing them with their faces dusted yellow from the pollen of saguaro flowers.
Usually I see woodpecker nests in vertical saguaro arms but this male and his mate had chosen an angled arm. At 5:20 am with the sun about to rise they were already bringing food to the nest, in this case a moth. Given the angle to the sun I wasn’t sure if the light would illuminate them when the sun came up or if the saguaro would cast them in shadow, and I still don’t know, as while they brought food to the nest at first they started holding back. Raising young is precarious and stressful enough so while I suspected they would quickly come to not see me as a threat I didn’t want to risk it and continued up the trail.