Thursday, May 17, 2012

Desert Tortoise II

Saturday I was in southeastern Joshua Tree National Park, near Eagle Mountain and Carey's Castle, when I had a wonderful surprise. I was at the edge of a small mountain climbing over and around some boulders when I looked down and saw a medium sized desert tortoise standing on top of a large rock.
I have posted previously on the desert tortoise. We had a large one as a pet for a number of years and I'd seen one at Joshua Tree years ago when I was part of a large youth group, but this one was different. I was the only person for miles, 4 1/2 miles from my car, and seeing it there just didn't seem right. It is hard to believe that these slow, nonaggressive, lumbering animals can survive in that environment. I circled it, 
taking pictures 
and observing for more than 30 minutes. 
Why would a desert tortoise climb up a large rock? 
There is no food, and their flat, armor plating, doesn't create a good platform for going up uneven rock. It was such an incongruous place to see one 
that I am still scratching my head. 
But that is part of the charm of the desert tortoise, that something so seemingly ill-fitted for that environment can survive. The face is pretty homely, 
something only a mother could love. The mouth lightly stained green by vegetation 
and the large padded front legs are reminiscent of the leg pads on a hockey goalie. 
These same pads are used to shield the tortoise's face when threatened. 
Both front and hind legs have impressive long nails
which must be beneficial when digging in the hard dirt, a necessity for them to burrow. On the hike back to my car I re-thought money of the signs of animal activity I've seen in this area and realized that some of it is attributable to the desert tortoise. I've seen many partially caved in holes, that must be tortoise, and some of the dung I've seen, which I've thought was probably coyote, probably was desert tortoise. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Acorn Woodpecker

The acorn woodpecker, 
also called the California woodpecker, is our most common local woodpecker in Redlands and in Southern California. They are found from Oregon, south through California (on the western side of the Sierras), Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas, and down to Panama. They love acorns and store them in holes in trees and telephone poles. They have what is deemed a "clownish" face, 
which is black with a red cap, a white forehead, whitish eyes, white cheeks and a black bill. 
The clownish look is primarily the eyes, but also the bill that looks like it could be a carrot nose sticking out of a snowman. 
It also has a black back, wings 
and upper chest and white rump and lower chest and belly. 
They are quite loud and raucus (click to find a site where you can hear their calls). A number of years ago the Living Desert in Palm Desert has an exhibit with acorn woodpeckers and you could pick your fingers up to the cage and the woodpeckers would jab at your fingers with their sturdy tongues. It was a very weird feeling. The woodpeckers in these pictures were photographed near Warner Springs, California while hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Southern Desert Horned Lizard

Saturday I went out to the Hayfield Road exit off the I-10 and hiked into Carey's Castle. About 30 yards from the Castle I found a small southern desert horned lizard 
scramble ahead of me under a bush. I have been out to this area many times and this is the first horned lizard I've seen there, so I was quite excited. The desert horned lizard has one row of fringe scales on each side of the body 
(the coast horned lizard has two rows of fringe scales). The color resembles the soil color of the habitat. 
It blend in so well that when I was taking pictures I sometimes couldn't see the lizard within the view finder although I knew I was looking right at it. 
Its main defense is to remain motionless and blend into the background to make it difficult to see. 
A pair of large dark blotches mark the neck 
and wavy dark blotches mark the back. The belly is white with scattered small dark spots. 
It has a blunt snout 
and horns that extend from the back of the head, with the two back, central horns, the longest. 
The main distinguishing characteristic between the northern and southern desert horned lizard is that the two back horns on the southern are longer than on the northern and the spaces between the bases of the horns are smaller.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Joseph's Storehouse: San Antonio

One of the stops on our food tour in San Antonio was Joseph's Storehouse Restaurant & Bakery 
located at 3420 N. St. Mary's (phone: 210-737-3430). Joseph's is run by Patrick McCurdy, who we met, a non-denominational pastor, who holds worship services in the restaurant every Sunday between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. I don't know if they serve food during the service, but if they do, I can't think of a better way to go and get fed. It has a little bit of a look like a cafeteria, 
but everything we tried was good, and some things were excellent. In fact, after our sample during the food tour, we went back the next day and got some food for the road. Everything is made fresh daily from scratch, including the flour which is ground daily right before cooking.   We got a little sample of chicken pot pie 
which was full of vegetables and had a nice, comfort taste to it. It would be wonderful on a cold evening. They have wonderful baked goods, 
including fresh rolls, 
pecan sticky cinnamon rolls, 
and pecan praline cookies which I believe we were told were named the best cookie in San Antonio. But the best thing I had was something I'd never heard of before: a kolache, or kolachee as they spelled it. 
They are of Czech origin, originating as a pastry with fruit rimmed by dough. In Texas, there are apparently quite a few restaurants that specialize in kolaches, particularly among Czech Americans. The ones we saw did not have fruit, but rather had vegetables, hash browns, sausage and pork. I ordered a vegetable kolache 
for the road and the bread was kind of doughy, with quite a bit of melted cheese, and all kinds of vegetables plastered all over it, including olives, lettuce, onions, chiles, carrots and mushrooms. It was big, filling, unusual and fantastic. Joseph's is well worth a stop and I would love the kolaches to catch on in California.