Journal archives for October 2021

October 10, 2021

Sept. 24, 2021 - Sept. 30, 2021 Arizona and Jacumba

Chris and I made what's becoming our annual trip to Arizona in late September. We got a later start than usual due to his work schedule and it definitely impacted our trip. Basically, our trips are nature, nature photography.

Arizona is great because the southeast portion of the state is a biodiversity hotspot. Here's a quote from Arizona Wild: "The Sky Island region of southeastern Arizona is one of the most biologically diverse areas in North America, where the temperate and tropical zones meet, and North America's two major deserts convene. Here, more species of mammals, birds, reptiles, bees and ants are found here than any other place in the country!" I also read somewhere a long time ago that 75% of the US moth species can be found in this area.

As you know, I do a lot of insect photography and to be honest I could easily spend a whole year out every day in that region and probably barely scratch the surface.

Anyway...on to our trip:

Since it's such a long drive to southeast Arizona from Los Angeles, we normally drive to Phoenix first. Neither of us likes's sprawling and just not that appealing. However, the only other way to get where we want to go is to drive south thru San Diego and over....a bit more driving but actually a more appealing drive...and so it happens, the way we returned.

Our first stop in the Phoenix area was at a place called Gilbert Water Ranch. Unfortunately, because we got a late start, it was almost dark when we arrived. At least one roseate spoonbill has been hanging out in Arizona now for almost a year and we hoped to photograph it at this location which was the last reported location on ebird. But alas, it was not there. So we walked around the wetlands -- and the grounds looking for interesting things. While we did find a few interesting creatures--Arizona bark scorpions being one of them, the photos were not great since we were using a flashlight and I left my flash in the car.

The next day we drove down to Sierra Vista which is near a large military base in Huachuca City, AZ. It's probably the largest city in the region. Our first stop was Miller Canyon. We've been there before and it's a really cool area if you can overlook the people who have a "guest ranch" thru which you must walk to get to the trails. I won't go into too many details but the guy who owns the property is an avid hunter and does not seem like someone who values wildlife.

That being said, he does have several hummingbird feeders that attract lots of wayward and migrating hummingbirds and we did get an opportunity to get some nice photos of a white-eared hummingbird as well as a violet crowned hummer, both of which we've seen before but I got a better photo of the white-eared hummingbird (I haven't yet posted it here).

And, there were insects galore there. Arizona has had a record season of monsoonal rain this year---it sort of makes up for the last 3 years of drought. As a result, everything everywhere was very green...much more so than California. And butterflies were everywhere...just thousands of them. It was so encouraging to see so much life everywhere.

Unfortunately though, it was cool and rainy on and off all day so the hopes for seeing reptiles went out the window. And it caused us to miss an evening of looking for wildlife.

The following day, we went back to Miller Canyon and walked around but it started raining again so we left for Brown Canyon Ranch. One of the finds I made at Miller Canyon before we left was of an African cluster bug which is an invasive species and I was quite surprised and dismayed to find it there.

It was cool and overcast at Brown Canyon Ranch but didn't start raining until we were there about an hour. We saw many Chiricahuan leopard frogs in the pond including youngsters and many blue grosbeaks in the fields. One of my favorite finds (thanks to Chris) was of a Great Western Flood Plains cicada. I had seen photos of these prior to our trip and was hoping to see one. They are very large and easy to photograph. We also found the stunning and aptly named Rainbow Grasshopper there.

Once the rain started again, we decided to drive over to a place called Casa de San Pedro B&B. Several people have small B&B's and inns in the area catering mostly to "birders". However you usually don't have to stay with them to walk the grounds as long as you make a small donation. We had never been here, but one of the appeals for me is that is was located right along the San Pedro River so I was hoping to spot some wildlife.

While it wasn't raining when we got there it was cool and cloudy so not a lot was happening. We took a trail along the river for a bit but didn't see anything. There were many butterflies around and some birds but nothing super unique. So we left and drove along a road that parallels empty fields in the hopes of spotting some hawks. We got lucky and saw a gray hawk (which we've seen before) but they are not super common so it's always good to see one.

We continued to drive and saw a hiking trailhead and decided to stop there. It was still cool and misting but we had the area all to ourselves. There was lots of bird activity but they were mostly buried in the dense vegetation. I heard a chirping that I thought was a common yellowthroat but opted to try and get some photos as it hopped through the low trees. I'm glad I did, as I got some reasonably decent photos of a Macgillravy's warbler...a brand new species for me.

The mosquitos were beginning to swarm so after taking a few more photos of the plentiful insects, we headed back over to Brown Canyon Ranch for some night photography. Still too cool for reptiles, we mostly focused on insects though we would have loved to run into a mountain lion! We only spent about an hour there before the rain started again and we headed back to our room.

It cleared some the next day and we headed north on our way to Tucson. On the way we made a few stops. The first was at a place called San Pedro House. Once again, this is a nature area, often frequented by birders but also great for wildlife in general. A couple of years ago Chris and I found a very cool Red Coachwhip there. And it has more grasshoppers than any place I've ever been to.

One of the new (for me) species I found there was a Plains Lubber Grasshopper which I ended up seeing in a couple of other areas. It's pretty large and quite colorful.

From there, we traveled north to Kartchner Caverns State Park which parallels the 10 freeway. As we approached, it began to cloud up and we were only out of the car a few minutes when it began to lightly rain. We walked around the planted areas near the visitor's center and did find a couple of cool jumping spiders: two phidippus carneus spiders which were quite cooperative for photos. We went in to the visitor center to get a trail map and started talking to the rangers. We asked about the cave tours since we were there and even though they require advanced reservations, they were able to get us on a tour. In the interim, we started down one of the trails but alas, it started raining harder again and we had to return to shelter. On the way back I found a totally black grasshopper which turned out to be an ebony grasshopper.

We went on the cave tour which was very interesting and though you can't take photos, it is well worth the visit. They even do have monthly photo tours of it for photographers so it may be in the cards for next year.

Because it was still raining 2 hours later after the cave tour, we headed north. We stopped at a place called Sweetwater wetlands in Tucson...a very unappealing area but known to be a hotspot for all kinds of wildlife. And we did find one animal--a fairly cooperative raccoon--the first time I've gotten a photo of a raccoon in the wild! I don't count backyard raccoons.

Our next stop was Sabino Canyon...our favorite place in Tucson. We spent a couple of hours on the trail looking for reptiles and insects. The rain had finally stopped and it was over 80 degrees for the first time on our trip. We were very disappointed though to see a pair of scorpion stealers. Evidently you can take as many invertebrates as you want--there is no law in Arizona...I don't really know about other places. But this couple had a cooler and were using a black light to find and pick up scorpions that they deposited in their cooler. It was depressing to see. And in fact, we saw their vehicle in the parking lot the next night when we returned.

The following day we started off by visiting the Arizona Sonora Museum. It's more of an outdoor botanical garden than museum but they do have animal exhibits (unfortunately), as well as an aviary and a butterfly garden. Our main goal for visiting was to get photos of the Saint Estaban Island x Sonoran Spiny Tail Lizard. These are living wild on the museum grounds. Evidently some were released a few decades ago and they have seemed to thrive within the museum grounds. They don't do well outside the area as they are used to a wetter climate. We were fortunate that there were some juveniles around as they are a beautiful bright green. The adults are also pretty cool, if a lot less colorful.

From the museum we stopped at a little open space in Tucson called Rio Vista Park. It was quite unappealing--basically a degraded looking area that skirts the Rillito River. However you never know what you might find in these areas (Chris was interested in this are as we heard a rumor there were Harris's hawks nearby). We lucked out and did find a gopher snake as well as many insects and birds.

Our next stop was Saguaro National Park East (there are two sides to the park, one on each side of Tucson). I'd really like to spend more time in this area as it seems to have some pretty unique habitats. I noticed that the plants in the park are often different from those you see in other areas of the desert so I'm sure you can find some really cool things there. We were hoping to see some eastern collared lizards there but really didn't see much wildlife at all. Perhaps because we didn't get there until 3:30 or so it already seemed like things were winding down. However, I did find many new plant species there and we were treated to a flyover of several nighthawks as we were leaving.

We spent another evening at Sabino canyon and as usual found some interesting creatures but we were not too excited about being there when we saw that the scorpion stealers had returned. And for all we know they were picking up snakes as well.

The next day we spent the entire day at Sabino Canyon. There is such a multitude of life there, especially this year as the rains have caused so many flowers to bloom, butterflies to appear and everything to come to life. My favorite find there was a Sonoran Whipsnake (thanks to Chris). We spent a good ten minutes watching it slither around some tree branches. It was very charismatic. In addition to the snake, we found a really cool metallic wood boring beetle and a cool beetle with super long antennae called a double banded bycid. Finally, as we stood over the creek (last year when we were here, it was completely dry) I saw some small fish. I took a photo even though I was thinking to myself, just another mosquitofish but I need it for inat...well it turns out it's an endangered fish called the Gila Topminnow. So every time I pause to take a photo for inat, I think, should I take one since I've seen it before--too many times it turns out to be something new. So I've learned to always err on the side of caution. I found several new species at Sabino and later that day we also found two western diamondbacks in spite of a pending thunderstorm.

We decided to head back a day early as Chris had a lot of work pending and was getting nervous about being gone the additional day. And he was disappointed that we didn't find a gila monster--one of his goals for the trip.

Our destination for our final day was Jacumba, CA. Right on the Mexican border--we got very close looks at the wall (without binoculars) as well as saw a lot of border patrol trucks, Jacumba is famous for its hot springs. We didn't really see those--there seemed to be a fence around that area so we weren't sure if it was closed or what. Anyway, our goal was to find Harris's hawks. They've been reported on and off in this area for the last couple of years, though only in ones or twos. This year, someone recently reported 8 hawks so this we had to see.

How can I describe Jacumba? If you want cheap California real estate, this is the place for you. It's a very small town with a defunct looking main street. Perhaps one or two businesses are open?? It also has a church and a branch library with a dirt parking lot. There were a few nice looking houses, but for the most part, the residential area (which we cruised up and down looking for hawks) is full of dilapidated homes with chain link fences and ferocious looking pitbulls roaming around barking. It's not a place where you want to linger...especially with a telephoto lens!

Yet, we spent most of the day there! We started by parking in the dirt lot adjacent to the library as it seemed the only safe place to actually "hang out". While Chris scanned for hawks, I brought out my macro and checked out some insects on the plants that were growing wild along the edges of the dirt lot.

We gave up after about 30 minutes as we were seeing nothing. As we drove down one street I noticed a sign that said nature reserve. So we found a place to park and discovered that there is a nature reserve with a pond there. Imagine our surprise to see 50+ American avocets there! It seemed to be a "birdy" place and there were lots of dragonflies around too. After spending awhile there, Chris spotted a hawk and we proceeded to walk down a dry creek bed. We spent the rest of the day chasing hawks and intermittently shooting other animals as we saw them. At close to the end of the day, we actually saw 13 Harris's hawks perched in one dead tree. Unfortunately, we never really got close enough to get great photos but it's pretty cool to see a "flock" of hawks!

Finally, I should mention another cool find we made--a Sonoran coral snake! I obscured the location but though this was the second time we saw one, I finally got a mediocre photo instead of a bad photo of the snake...and it wasn't in the road!

Posted on October 10, 2021 02:19 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 19 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 26, 2021

October 24, 2021 Hudson Ranch Road

Since we hadn't been to the Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge overlook for a while, we took a trip out there in the hopes of spotting a condor. Like last fall, we came up zero on condors, somewhat disappointing, though we have been very fortunate to see quite a few condors in the past.

Traveling Hudson Ranch Road is an interesting experience nevertheless. It doesn't attract too many people as it is fairly remote. There are the usual day trippers and those trying out their cars--we saw a group of corvettes drive by as well as a very few people like us...hoping to see condors and looking for any other wildlife we might find.

The day started very slow and we didn't see much around. The weather was gorgeous though--high 60's, many nice puffy clouds in the sky and one of the clearest views into the San Joaquin valley we've seen from there. Normally, we see a huge dust/smog bank lingering over the valley. Perhaps the recent light rain tamped down the dust and fertilizers.

An hour and a half into our time up there, we saw a helicopter circling and when we drove by, we saw a vehicle had gone over the side. We don't know if there were any injuries, the vehicle was right side up but down quite a ways on a steep embankment. When we left around 5:30 PM the truck was still down there and two towing vehicles were sitting up above.

Though we had a very slow start, things started picking up once we spotted a tarantula in the road. Chris carried him to the side of the road and we watched him make his journey hunting for a female....he seemed quite intent on a certain direction so I hope he was able to find his mate. We took a lot of pictures of this cool spider.

Once we saw the spider, it seemed like we started seeing more things. Basically we travelled back and forth along the road a couple of times in a 5 mile section, finally stopping at the Las Padres National Forest sign. Along the way we spotted very high above us, a beautiful white ferruginous hawk. Then we spied a female mule deer high on a hill in the distance.

Once stopped we watched a red-tailed hawk as it flew around calling. All of a sudden another red tail came in and the two tangled on the hillside hundreds of feet below us. The photos were much too distant to post.

After spotting and photographing several local birds and a couple of insects, we took to the road again. We saw a very cooperative loggerhead shrike, a flock of beautiful mountain bluebirds that were too skittish for photos and then on one hillside, we hit the jackpot--we saw a male northern harrier (gray ghost), a coyote and best of all a handsome golden eagle. It was a great way to end the day. Though we are avid nature photographers and didn't really get exceptional photos on this excursion, just spotting and watching wildlife is a great way to spend the day.

Posted on October 26, 2021 12:47 AM by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze | 7 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment