Sunday, April 30, 2017

Greater Antillean Grackle

Grackle is a name given to 11 species of birds in North and South America in which all of the adult males are all black, or mostly black. The Greater Antillean grackle is one of those 11 species. The male is glossy black and has a large rudder-like tail. The female is smaller, less glossy, and has a smaller tail. Its yellow eyes are the only non-black body part. 
It is very distinctive with its yellow eyes and large bulbous tail. 
A view from the back shows that the wide tail is kept up and down rather than sideways. 
There are seven subspecies of Greater Antillean grackle, 2 found in Cuba, and one each on Grand Cayman Island, Little Cayman Island, Jamaica, Hispanolia and Puerto Rico. I saw the grackles in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The differences between them relate to size, bill size and color tone. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Western Red-Tailed Hawk - Sonora, Mexico

Just two months ago I did a post on a western red-tailed hawk I saw in southern Arizona. After a recent visit to El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, about 50 miles south of there in Sonora, Mexico, I'm doing another one. 
Western red-tailed hawk
I arrived at the entrance to El Pinacate about 7:15 a.m. and found that it did not open until 8:00 a.m. So I got out of my car, parked in front of the gate across the road and sat at the base of a flag pole. I looked up and was shocked to see a huge hawk about 10 feet from me standing on a wood rail. I figured it must be injured and unable to fly. I got up and moved closer to it and it let me get very near before flying across the road and lighting on the ground. 
I was doubly shocked, realizing this bird was not injured and was letting me get very near it. I walked across the road and followed it around for about 30 minutes as it walked along the ground, flew up on a roof, landed on some couches outside a home for the caretakers and then flew up on the flagpole. 

I've never been anywhere near that close to a red-tailed hawk before. About 8:15 one of the park employees came out, saw me and told me he would let me in. Contrary to the sign, he said it did not open until 9:00 a.m. I asked him if the hawk was a pet and he said "no." Its name is Pancho and it was a pet to a very rich man that kept it cooped up and it could not fly. Pancho was confiscated and brought to them. They kept him inside for awhile and taught him to fly. Then they released Pancho and he stayed around that area, then left for a month or so, and came back. Pancho now lives independently but near them and will occasionally come back for a bite to eat. The man I was talking to described one of the other employees holding up a piece of chicken and having Pancho swoop down to grab it out of his hand. But Pancho does feed on his own and obtains most of his own food. He will allow several of them to pet his back occasionally. 
I love Pancho's beautiful talons and large yellow feet.
His striking red tail.
His beak and sharp eyes. 
Pancho is a beautiful bird and that half hour following him around was worth the drive into Mexico. 

Friday, April 28, 2017


Near Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument I saw a very striking shrub with ripe orange/red fruit. 
The thorn-berry, with red fruit just visible.
Closer view.
I've not been able to pin it down, but I think it may be what is known as the Arizona desert-thorn (lysium exsertum), found only in small portions of Arizona, mostly the south, and into northern Mexico. It has green tear-drop shaped leaves and lavender flowers. The flowers, of course, turn into the fruit and the one I saw was in the fruit stage with the flowers all gone. 
Closer view of the fruit. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Yellow Desert Evening Primrose

On a recent trip (early April) to El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Sonora, Mexico, between Sonoyta and Puerto Penasco, I encountered the yellow desert evening primrose (oenothera primiveras) right near the entrance. It is found in the southwestern U.S. (CA, AZ, NV, UT, NM and TX) and northern Mexico in desert flats below 4,500 feet. It has a rosette of green or grayish leaves that are cut into deep lobes or teeth and wavy or crinkled edges. 
Yellow desert evening primrose
The flower can bloom from February to May and has four heart-shaped yellow petals which will fade to orange or red as they age.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hedgehog Cactus - 2017

With a wet year (finally) I've been desert-bound and adding to my round of desert posts from seven and eight years ago. Hedgehog cacti are one of the stars of the desert bloom as they have brilliantly colored flowers, stay open day and night, and flower in bunches, making for spectacular photos. 

Even though comparably small, they stand out, as illustrated by the pictures that follow. 
Even though dwarfed by teddy bear cholla, the brilliant hedgehog flowers demand attention. 
Barrel cactus and yellow brittlebush, the hedgehog holds its own. 
Even in this panorama, with barrel cactus, teddy bear cholla, brittlebush and ocotillo, the hedgehog is no "where's waldo."

They tend to clump in bunches. And when those bunches flower, they are spectacular.

They are beautiful from the side, if you can get down low enough to see them from that vantage point. 

But my favorite view is inside the flower, the brilliant cone, the green pistil and the yellow stamens and the collected pollen. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ocotillo - 2017 Rains

It has been number of years since I've spent much time in the desert. This year's rains got me excited to get out again and to see the desert in its blooming splendor. I've been out to Joshua Tree National Park twice and Organ Pipe Cactus National Park twice.

I did a post on ocotillo in 2009 and it feels like the right time again to share some photos of these wonderful desert plants that benefited from this year's rains. 
This area of ocotillo in Joshua Tree NP is probably the most concentrated cluster of ocotillo I've seen. 
The secondary leaves are out in green splendor and they are proudly displaying lots of red flowers. 
This area on the fringe of Joshua Tree is off Hayfield Road and has a nice mountain backdrop. 
The sun is catching the leaves of this ocotillo which stands out against the dark mountain backdrop. 

This water-logged ocotillo was in Organ Pipe Cactus NM during a heavy rain. 
These new, light green, secondary leaves are catching the morning sun. 

These red flowers really stand out against the dark green secondary leaves. 

The unopened flowers look like lipstick. 

As I mentioned in my 2009 post, ocotillo is one of my favorite desert plants. It was wonderful to see them beautifully green, flowering and thriving. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Buckhorn Cholla - Flowering

Seven years ago I did a post on buckhorn cholla, but none of the cholla I posted pictures of were flowering. In early April I was in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the buckhorn cholla were flowering in profusion. I got lots of photos. I found three variations of colored flowers: orange, yellow and red. 
Buckhorn cholla with orange flowers.
Two buckhorn cholla: red flowers in the back and yellow flowers in front. 
Buckhorn cholla with red flowers between two saguaro cacti.
The orange flowers were particularly beautiful, especially when the setting sun light was shining through the petals.