Archive for Critters

Saguaro Cactus Flowers and Gila Woodpeckers

Saguaro Flowers Gila Woodpecker Browsing Flowers for Nectar
Mama Emerging Mama Aloft

Today was our grocery shopping day and, as usual, we stopped at the post office box to pick up the mail. While Bob was in getting the mail, I noticed that a large saguaro cactus across the parking lot had open flowers, some of the first of the season. When we were both back in the truck, we drove across the lot so I could get some photos of the beautiful open flowers on the cactus.

As we got close, we saw a Gila Woodpecker perched by the bunch of flowers on one arm of the cactus. I began snapping shots of the male bird as he browsed the flowers. Shortly after that, the woodpecker flew up the side of the cactus and perched there until the female woodpecker came out of the hole in the side of the saguaro. I was fortunate to get the shots above as the birds did their thing.

Wikipedia has this about the Gila Woodpecker:

The Gila woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) is a medium-sized woodpecker of the desert regions of the southwestern United States and western Mexico. In the U.S., they range through southeastern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

They build nests in holes made in saguaro cacti or mesquite trees. Cavities excavated by these woodpeckers in saguaro cacti (known as a “boot”) are later used by a variety of other species, including the elf owl. There, they typically lay 3–4 white eggs, although as many as 6 or 7 have been noted. 2–3 broods are laid a year. Both sexes incubate and feed eggs.

Click on any image to enlarge.

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A Serious Pollinator

A Serious Pollinator

Now that the cactus flowers have started to open here at the homestead, the bees are out in force. I took this shot of a honey bee with its head, thorax and wings buried in the stamens of a hedgehog flower out front. The bee was burrowing down to gather nectar at the base of the stigma, I guess. Click on the image to enlarge.

Damsel and I have been out in the yard over the past couple of days taking photos of the recently opened flowers on both the beavertail cacti (opuntia basilaris) and hedgehog cacti (echinocereus engelmanii). There are flower buds forming on other cacti in the area and we will look forward to getting more images of those when opening.

The weather is quite pleasant this afternoon with light breezes and 93° temperature. The forecast is for more of the same tomorrow and then cooler at the end of the week with a 20 percent chance of precipitation. Gotta love the Arizona springtime weather!

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Spring Weather Finally Here

Turkey Buzzard Antelope Ground Squirrel

A sure sign that the weather will be getting warmer is the reappearance of Turkey Buzzards (Vultures) after their winter migration to Mexico is over. There have been Buzzards overhead for a few weeks now, but they now seem to be circling more frequently over our little parch. I photographed this one as it swooped over our house this afternoon.

Another more subtle sign of spring is with the squirrel above. If you click to enlarge the photo you will see that her little teats are swollen as in she is nursing her offspring hidden away in some tunnel nearby. She was venturing up to see what could be foraged underneath the bird feeders out back when I spotted her and took the photo.

As for the weather itself, Wickenburg and Arizona in general have been experiencing a cooler, longer winter this year as is most of the country. Our daytime temperatures have finally risen to high 70’s or mid 80’s with warmer temperatures to come soon. Nights are still cool, however with lows in the low 50’s.

We actually look forward to the summertime high desert temperatures. That’s one of the many reasons we moved to Arizona. :)

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Rosemary Farm

Bee Gathering Nectar

When we originally had the landscapers plant our yard along the back slope above the RV drive, they installed about fifty or sixty one-gallon rosemary shrubs with an irrigation system. The shrubs have been there for over seven years now, and have grown to mostly cover what once was bare slope behind the house.

I took this photo (click to enlarge) of a bee browsing some of the tiny flowers on the shrubs which have been blooming most of the winter. I can’t hear the buzzing anymore (tinnitus), but Damsel says the bees are quite loud as they busily gather nectar. Now, when the hummingbirds come by to do the same thing, I can hear them just fine.

When we need herbal rosemary for a recipe, we have no further to look than out behind the retaining wall on the north side of the RV drive. Damsel will send me out there with a pair of shears to snip off a couple of the freshly grown stems from one of the many bushes. I take the stems inside, wash them and pull the needles from the woody part. Damsel will either mince the needles or use them whole, depending on the recipe.

More on the Rosemary Herb from Wikipedia:

Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly known as rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region.

It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea”. The plant is also sometimes called anthos, from an ancient Greek word meaning “flower.” Rosemary has a fibrous root system.

Rosmarinus officinalis is one of 2–4 species in the genus Rosmarinus. The other species most often recognized is the closely related, Rosmarinus eriocalyx, of the Maghreb of Africa and Iberia. The name of ros marinus is the plant’s ancient name in classical Latin. Elizabeth Kent noted in her Flora Domestica (1823), “The botanical name of this plant is compounded of two Latin words, signifying Sea-dew; and indeed Rosemary thrives best by the sea.” The name of the genus was applied by the 18th-century naturalist and founding taxonomist Carl Linnaeus.

My only observations regarding the text above is that (a) we’re a long way from the sea and (b) we don’t get much in the way of dew in the desert. I guess that the Rosemary herb likes it hot (it does get hot here), tolerates mild cold (rarely below freezing) and depends on the irrigation system we have here for moisture. And, clearly, the bees and hummingbirds pollinate them to their mutual benefit.

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Mule Deer Sighting

Doe
 
Fawn

We don’t often see the local mule deer since they keep mostly out of sight. Today, however, one of the dogs got my attention to look out front. I saw the doe in the top image. She was standing pretty still, so I got a camera and took the top photo from the courtyard.

I then realized that the deer think our lemon tree leaves are a delicacy since we see evidence of them nibbling on it. I looked over at the lemon tree just in time to see a couple of fawns that were there take off. I got a fairly decent photo of one of them about to leap the back wall. The other was too far up the hill behind the creosote and other brush to get much of a photo.

Once both fawns were up on the hill, the mama doe easily leapt over the neighbor’s four foot wire fence and proceeded to join the little ones. They all disappeared from sight after that. Click on either image to (slightly) enlarge.

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Sphinx Moth and Red Bird of Paradise

Sphinx Moth

Last evening at dusk, I was in the courtyard photographing the sunset colors. I turned around toward the Red Bird of Paradise shrubs and saw several hummingbird moths browsing the flowers. I got the close-up above of one of the moths.

Hummingbird moths are actually an entire family of moths called Sphinx Moths. Family Sphingidae (Sphinx Moths, Hawkmoths) contains a very large number of related sub-families and species.

From the Butterflies and Moths of North America website:

The Sphingidae belong to the Superfamily Sphingoidea. Members of this family are commonly called “hummingbird,” “sphinx,” or “hawk” moths, and some can be mistaken for hummingbirds. Most are medium to large moths, with heavy bodies; wingspread reaches 5 inches or more in some species. The Sphingidae are strong and fast fliers, with a rapid wingbeat. Most species in the group are active at dusk, and most feed much like hummingbirds, hovering in front of a flower and sipping nectar through the extended proboscis. The proboscis rolls up when not in use. Some species lack scales on large portions of their wings, resulting in transparent or clear wings. In most species, the larval stage is called a “hornworm” because the caterpillar’s posterior end has a harmless hook or hornlike appendage protruding upward. Unfortunately, the caterpillar of some species can be very destructive to agricultural crops and ornamental plantings

Click on the image to enlarge.

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Caught on Google’s Aerial Image

walking-the-dogs-on-google-maps-2.jpg

I was casually looking at the Google™ satellite map of our neighborhood (actually an aerial photo mosaic, not taken from a satellite) when I noticed a couple of objects on our neighbor’s driveway. I zoomed in to have a closer look and the conclusion I came to was that the objects in question are us walking our dogs!

Our morning routine after breakfast: we feed and then walk the dogs. We generally walk them up the road to the west toward our neighbor’s house up the hill from us. In the image, the dark colored part of the road running to the left side is where we are. You can see our light colored cowboy hats, our shadows and the dogs and their shadows. Damsel is further up the road than I am by about 30 yards. The image below will clarify where we are in the top image.

walking-the-dogs-on-google-maps.jpg

I think it’s a funny coincidence that we happened to be out where we were when the aerial photo plane flew over. I estimate the time frame for the image is last summer. My clues are that the RV is not in the usual place as it was being serviced down in Avondale last year and the shadows are shorter on the north side indicating summertime.

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