Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Lies Beneath

Firewheel Blanketflower
On a brief weekend break, I was able to escape the heat of our desert and head up to Mt. Lemmon.  I stayed with a friend at his cabin.  It had been over a year since I last went up to Summerhaven.  It's surprising really since there are a lot of birds and critters up there.  You'd think I go up more frequently but it often comes down to the time and energy.  I like to have several days in a row so that I can get up early and do my photography.
Yellow Eyed Junco
There was lots to see in the early morning hours plus it was nice and cool.  You can't go wrong with that:)  Here's my first picture with a yellow eyed Junco and a bug in the beak:) 
The wildflowers are wonderful right now and can be found all over the hillsides of the mountain. The picture below is the Common Evening Primrose.  I also took snapshots of the Hartweg's Primrose.  Both are beautiful with their delicate yellow flowers.  In a day or so I'll have an art series of Colombines.  Yellow was the theme and I guess it's appropriate since Lemmons are yellow as well:)
Common Evening Primrose
All of these pictures were taken below a canopy of trees and this is significant because it tells the tale of how powerful the regenerative powers of a fire can be for a forest.  I remember this place before, during and after the fires.  Before it was dark and overcrowded with trees.  Most people loved this about Summerhaven.  During the fires, we were horrified that everything would burn.  It would be a hard afternoon to forget as the fires reached a gas container on Summerhaven and exploded. And with it the livelihood of many people.  From the city, we watched in horror as a mushroom size cloud burst into the sky.   It was a sad day and we knew that from that point on, Mt. Lemmon would be transformed.
And it did transform.  Going back up to the mountain right after the fire to check on my friend's strangely unscathed cabin was a very sad experience.  Most cabins were burned to the ground.  Stone chimneys were all that remained.  And oddly enough, there were pieces of forest still intact. 
A Broad Tailed Female Hummingbird
Fast forward 10 years into the future and you'll find a thriving ecosystem.  Dare I say it's healthy?  The animal life is abundant.  The scars are still ever present, but new growth can be found everywhere.  For people affected in Colorado Springs and elsewhere, it will come back. But it will be different for quite awhile. There is pain and loss when these things happen.  I remember when the fire came close to my apartment in the Foothills.  I now ask myself, "What would I do if there was a fire?"  Save my cats.  Save Pat.  And grab my camera and portable disk drive with all the family memories on it.
The happy side of this fire has been the undeniable comeback of the Aspen trees.  They have become the dominant tree form in the landscape.  The tree canopy is once again forming....taller this time than from last year.  And what lies beneath?
Life.  Hope.  A Cycle.  This has happened before and it will happen again.
Wild Geranium
Today if you head up.  Things will be different.  Perhaps more open, but things have come back again.  They never really left.  I remember after the fire, I saw an ash covered deer on a trail and it made me think that nature is quite resilient.  Of course, the pie place up on Mt. Lemmon isn't there anymore.  Strangely, the place didn't burn down, but the owner that made the pies passed away a few years ago.  Another restaurant is in that location now.  It's not the same, but not everything can last forever. 
Slender Blanketflower
You'll still find the observatory and forest around it intact.  The ski lift and the Iron Lodge is still there.  The hummingbird show is amazing.  I have another Chuparosa challenge coming up.  I'm very excited to share these pics with you. 
House Wren
So for now, I leave you with the delicate balance below the newly established canopy on Mt. Lemmon.  The birds are absolutely loving it.....and I myself enjoyed the cool shade:)  They must be doing a bird study because this Junco has bands around the leg.  I love the look I'm getting:)  More tomorrow....

Monday, July 30, 2012


We're heading to Mt. Lemmon for the next several days at Las Aventuras.  This weeks feature will include another Chuparosa Challenge, wildflower report, update on the older fire damaged areas and much more.  But for today, let's play a game. 
Imagine we are going on a hike on Mt. Lemmon.  Most of us are wildlife nuts. Can you spot the Stellar Jay, Mule deer , and Turkey vulture in today's post?  I'll number the pics. Answers on bottom.





Good luck!!! 

Pic 1-Mule Deer  Pic 4 Stellar Jay and Pic 6 Turkey Vulture

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mesquite Pod Love

Ground Squirrel
 Well look who's hungry! Mesquite trees are iconic for the Sonoran desert.  Next to the Saguaro cactus and Palo Verde tree, it is one of the most common trees found around our landscapes.  So I'd thought I'd write about one of the benefits of this tree for our wildlife and also answer a question for dog owners about the pods.
 Mesquite pods are enjoyed by all kinds of wildlife around our Sonoran desert.  The pods fall around mid July and are quite popular by the local rodents:)  Ground squirrels can be seen eating the pods.
Hispid Cotten Rat
 I was finally able to get a great shot of the Hispid Cotten Rat.  This little guy seemed a bit lethargic as I neared him:)
 Some of you are dog owners and if you see your dog eat these pods, don't panic.  They're okay to eat, but they'll make your dog's um...poo smell a bit:)  If they eat too many, they'll throw them up.  But like many dogs, they don't know when to stop eating, so just keep an eye out.  Many homeowners here just sweep under the trees before the pooches can get to them:) 
As for humans?  Many will ground our local mesquite pods for a healthier flour.  It tastes pretty good.  Places like Native Seeds SEARCH will ground up the pods for a minimal cost.  The flour makes some great pancakes:)  Just another benefit of the mesquite tree.  More tomorrow....

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Return Visit

Last year, we went to the Biosphere 2 after the UA had taken it over.  Over a year has passed and I headed back to see what has changed about the takeover. Biosphere 2 is considered one of Tucson's major attractions.  At 20 dollars a ticket, it can be a pricey entrance fee.   So I'll tell you what I know from past experiences and bring you all up to speed.
Last year I reported that the facility was in need of repair.  The good news is that the place has cleaned up quite a bit.  Of course their work is still ongoing but you can see the improvements.  Inside the biosphere, one can see the saltwater damage that has occurred over the years along the side of the "ocean".  So that's a negative but a positive to balance it all out?  The facility feels alive again with research activity and projects set up around the property.   In fact, a major project on rainwater is in the works and it will be exciting to see what happens.  As for the tour.....
I was a bit....what's the word I'm looking for?  Disappointed is too strong.  Let down?  At one point, years ago, the tour went from the ocean room into the most exciting....the rain forest.  Instead, they hit you with the rain forest room first and it was honestly a big let down.  We walked into the room and spent around 10 or 15 minutes there and left.  What's even worse?  The entrance was a closed off patio area and you looked over the entire room instead of being inside of it like before.  We once could stand in the mist and be surrounded by all the plants.  Those days are over.  But here is something fascinating.  There was a tree frog that was placed into the Biosphere from the early 90's.  Even though the place has gone through several changes over the past 2 decades, this tree frog still has found a way to survive. One had been recently spotted while they were cleaning the algae off of the windows.
Most of the animals after the '93 experiment were relocated to zoos, but some found ways to breed in secret places and today this tree frog continues to be spotted by facility operators.
Essentially you move from the rain forest, to the ocean area where you get to spot the really cool Mangrove forest, and then move into the coastal desert room.   
The route has been altered.  Before, you started with the ocean and then moved into the rain forest room at the end of the tour.  The mist had felt good:)  It was hard to imagine that it was 111 degrees outside on this very hot day in the Sonoran desert.
There was an insect experiment above and yet another experiment on water usage from ancient cultures below by a Saudi Arabian study team.  They are facing an extreme water shortage in their own country.  The population continues to rise.  The water table continues to lower. They will not be able to sustain their people.  And in the upcoming decade, Saudi Arabia will face this huge crisis.  They also import most of their food from around the world.  I guess "gas" will get you only so far.  Research is now being done to correct the mistakes of the past and they are studying the ancient ways of utilizing water again in the desert. Another write related to this topic will be coming up. I started asking more questions to myself about these deserts and found out some fascinating information.  This was the most fascinating project for me.  I didn't know all this was going on....so I learned something new:)

So my final words for today?  I'm really happy that this place is up and running again.  I'm also happy that they are using it for research.  As for the tour?  Well, I'll let you read the reviews on TripAdvisor.  It seems like most people enjoyed the tour.  Some specifically mentioned that the tour is all about the guide.  I should mention that the campus is quite excellent for wildlife watching.  So keep your eyes open.  More tomorrow....

Friday, July 27, 2012

Riding Out The Storm

I really enjoy the hikes during some of our softer monsoon rains.  These pics today aren't spectacular but they are interesting.  The cooler temps allow the birds and animals to come out and play.  Well if play meant eating:)  Some of the things that I love to see on my walks are how the hummingbirds, in their natural state, fly and hover over water to capture bugs.  An update from yesterday.  A beautiful morning in Montosa Canyon with some fantastic wildlife shots.  No luck on finding the hummer but that's okay.  I had a scary run in with drug runners and that was unexpected but I'll write more about that later.  Everything is okay once I was with my birder friends who weren't far off.  These pics today are from Sweetwater after one of our gentle monsoon rains.
A hummingbird hawking
This act is called “gleaning,” “gnatting” and “hawking.” Hawking looks like aerial acrobatics made of erratic twists, stops and whirls as they chase invisible bugs.  The thing I like about Tucson is that you can see hummingbirds doing things naturally without feeders.  These were tricky shots to get but I had so much fun watching them.  This was the closest that I've been able to get to them while they are in this mode.  It's hover...zoom....hover.....zoom 4 miles.....hover....zoom back....zoom up....zoom down:) By the time, I get the manual on focus, it's too late:)
The views are wonderful.  The cloudy weather a relief from the blasting sunlight.  And it's a great reason to get out and breath some of that rain cooled air:)
"Ah-AWWwwww!".  Where oh where are you now Mr. Gambel?  You never know where they are standing watch.   In the trees, on a fence, or in this case, on top of a huge dirt hill looking down at me:)
Or the American Coot.  She didn't mind me getting too close while on her nest.  But the male did:)
And finally!!!  The Night Heron shot was nice because these guys tend to hide.  But since no one was on the trail, I was able to get an okay shot of this beautiful bird.
It was great getting out in Tucson for some hiking.  No canyons today.  No mountain tops yet(those are coming up:).  Just a nice walk nearby our home:)  More tomorrow....

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Barn Swallows

Barn Swallow
Some fun shots of Barn Swallows.  I finally found an area where they live and breed. And here they posed for me on the Biosphere 2 grounds!  Check out the little dorms along the way and you'll see them all over the place.

On a personal note, I am working on two stories....lightening strikes around Tucson and the Plain Capped Starthroat Hummingbird.  By the time most of you are reading this in the US, I'll be up and in a canyon waiting....and waiting:)  It's a tricky shoot so we'll try this again.  I've already done it once and I keep reading the birder notes for the trek.   I am hoping to complete these two stories for an August release, but I am dealing with massive heat issues and the ever present and dangerous flooding issues around the canyons areas.  A couple days ago, I sat filming a lightening storm off in the distance.....and I got nothing!  Frustrating:)  But when it happens, if it happens, I'll hopefully be able to present something interesting for people to enjoy:) I do have a job but I'm on vacation now so I'm trying to fit as much in as I can.  More tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Chuparosa Challenge-Exotic Numbers

 Off the infamous Pipeline Road in Gamboa, Panama, we went to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center.  It was a hike into some of the most beautiful rain forest of Panama.  It was also last year that I would be converted into a birder.  The nice thing about a blog is that you can review your notes and journals from the past.  And I have to admit that since our trip there, a lot has changed for me.  I feel smarter about wildlife and especially about birds.  As I was working on the Chuparosa challenge, I came upon a website that reminded me about another aspect of hummingbirds.  We have 17 species in North America.  But did you know that we really have over 356 species in the Americas!!!?? 51 of which are endangered.  And most of them are found in Central and South America.
Long Billed Hermit
 Then I remembered that I had all of these photos from Panama.  I didn't know much about hummingbirds at the time.  And my older camera was difficult to use.  I started discovering limitations on photography.  A couple months later, I'd have a professional camera to capture my shots.  But looking back at these pictures, I'd had to say that they aren't bad at all.  However, I took more shots with that older camera than I would have with my current one just to get that "one shot".
 There are some amazing hummingbirds that truly stand out from the rest in this incredibly beautiful bird family.  So I thought I'd challenge myself and identify the ones I caught on camera.
Violet Bellied Hummingbird
 Some hummingbirds have massive bills like the Sword Billed Hummingbird.  I am not joking when I say their bills are almost longer than the length of their body.  And some have tails that are very elegant and loooong.  I've seen this particular one flying around....it looked like something out of a disney movie. It's called the Booted Racket Tail.  Most of these exotic species are found in Ecuador.  I have yet to go there so when I do, you all know what I'll be doing:)  We were in the Amazon of Peru where I had the chance to observe lots of monkeys and birds....and my infamous Jaguar sighting:)
 Some hummingbirds have a mohawk like the Frilled Coquette. About 10 seconds into the video, you'll have a better look.
Blue Chested Hummingbird
 The fact is that there are so many kinds of hummingbirds that it is probably one of the most challenging jobs out there for a person to have.  I've spoken about the id'ing of females in this group as well as distinguishing the minor differences between species......like the Ruby Throated and Broad Billed Hummingbirds.  It can all be very tricky. And I'm sure there are still species out there that haven't been identified yet in the last remaining untouched areas of the Amazona.
White Necked Jacobin
There are a lot of hummers I haven't mentioned.  But WOW!!!  Next time on my journeys, I'll be better prepared:) For more fun on tropical birds, check out my video below from Panama last year.   More tomorrow....