Thursday, July 31, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Pickly Pear Sky

(Prickly Pear Cactus and Fruit against a Monsoon Sky: Photo by kathie 7-23-08)

(Shooting data: Lens: 18-70mm F/3.5-4.5 G,Focal Length: 70mm, 1/200 sec - F/10)

Click on photos to enlarge for best view.

Today I am out picking prickly pears to turn into yet another batch of Prickly Pear Jelly. Liz and I did this last year and, though it was hot, it was so much fun to eat The Fruit of the Land. Here in Sycamore Canyon the cactus fruit is ripening and the birds are eating it, turning their normally white droppings raspberry and garnet. Not something you want to think about when you are eating jelly!

(Prickly Pear Jelly; Photo by kathie 7-24-08)

Shooting data Lens: 18-70mm F/3.5-4.5 G,Focal Length: 60mm,1/60 sec - F/4.5

Birding CT: Sunday Evening Walk-about

(Gray Squirrel: photo by Kathie 7-5-08)

This evening I took yet another walk about the streets in town. I found myself being observed as much as I was out to observe the birds. I walked behind a nearby restaurant where there is a wooded area along the edge of the parking lot in my search for birds. As I stopped to photograph a squirrel lying along the branch of a tree I happened to look up at the building behind me. It was actually a 2 story house and a man was leaning out the second story window watching me watch the birds! I jumped back, startled and apologetic. I didn't know there was a house there and I am technically standing in his back yard. He didn't seem to mind, though, and cautioned me to watch my step as I cut though to yet another parking lot down a small embankment.

From here I walked through the town office and police station parking lot. The manicured lawns are surrounded by tree where I often seen birds. Tonight the robins are out in force and before the night is over I would count 28 of them. I guess the people of this town must not get too many birders passing through because I get such stares and even questions about what I am doing. One gal asked me what I am taking pictures of and if it is my hobby. A child asks if I am a photographer. A man sitting on his porch drinking a glass of red wine asks what kind of birds I am looking for. Another man wanted to know if I am lost and need help! (I really think he wanted to know what I was up to. As soon as I told him I was trying to identify a bird in the thicket he lost interest!)

(Queen Anne's Lace; photo by kathie 7-5-08)

Queen Anne's Lace grows prolifically along the roadside. I smile to see this familiar flower, one of my favorites. It does not grow in Arizona where I now live.

(Killdeer in Parking lot; photo by kathie 7-5-08)

My route takes me past the schools I went to when I was growing up. So many memories fight with my desire to spot and count birds. A pair of Killdeer ran across the parking lot of a new school that has been built in the field that formally held our high school race track when I attended here. So many changes, but the old skating pond is still there on Halls Hill Rd. Only tonight it is ice free and full of lily pads with a Canada Goose family on the shore. As twilight starts to descend I look out over the water trying to find a few last birds. The geese walk towards me, begging for food I assume. When I offer none, the mother goose starts to hiss and snake her head at me. I stand my ground. Is she concerned for her goslings safety, or is she just mad that I didn't feed them? Finally she and the rest of her brood walk away and continue to graze on the tender shoots of grass that grow around the pond edges.

(Canada Goose Family: photo by kathie 7-5-08)

As I continue down Halls Hill Rd I come to the corner of Pleasant Street where I will turn towards home. Suddenly I spot something flying rapidly above my head. There are six of them and I am trying to decide if they are birds or bats. Their flight is swift, their bodies dark and chunky and their wings pointed and boomerang like. They remind me of the Vaux's Swift I have seen in Arizona and I realize that I am seeing the Chimney Swifts of the east coast--lifers for me! So, my evening ended in triumph as I head back to my mother's house which was once my grandparents home. Like all family homes, it is chock full of memories, along with the accumulated stuff of 70 years of life.

Note: The text of this post is taken from an earlier post but I have now added the photos I took that night. Click here to see the original: Hello From Connecticut.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sunday At Lake Hayward

(Lake Hayward Cove; photo by kathie 7-5-08)
Click on photos to enlarge

Sunday morning Alex and I headed out to Lake Hayward to see Stephen’s new cottage. Lake Hayward is the site of the Adams Family Road Race and the first site of Bacon Academy’s Cross Country Course back in the 70’s. Lake Hayward sits nestled among the Connecticut hills just south and west of Colchester. Our drive out here takes us past old farms long overgrown, some now turned into housing developments. Soon we enter the thicker forest that surrounds the lake and find our way to Stephen’s cottage in the woods.

(Cabin in the Woods; photo by kathie 7-5-08)

The cabin is rustic but quaint with an outdoor shower and patio. We walk up a moss covered path through ferns and mountain laurel to get to the cabin tucked into a hillside. The forest is closing in all around with trees of all sorts shading the place. It has a cozy, private feel to it, which we all like.

(Forested Patio; photo by kathie 7-5-08)

Stephen wants to practice for the Adams Road Race, so he devises a training relay where he and Alex will run segments with me driving the car and picking up each runner and dropping them off ahead. It works this way: Alex starts to run. I drive past him and drop Stephen off where he waits for Alex to catch up and hand off a piece of rubber tube being used as a baton. Then, Alex jumps in the car and I drive him ahead a short distance and he gets out and waits for Stephen to hand off to him. In this way we covered the 2.8 miles of the Adams Road Race and Stephen records the time for the first ever Adams Family Relay. Then, it is off to the beach for a swim in the lake.

(Stephen and Alex prepare to run; photo by kathie 7-5-08)

The lake water is so cool and refreshing. We all swim out to the dock and I fill my nostrils with the scent of the fresh, dark water. I feel its coolness slip past my body and I dive beneath the surface, rising a few feet later in the bright sunshine. We sit on the dock and warm ourselves, chatting about all kinds of things. Soon I dive in and swim back to shore, remembering I don’t have my cell phone with me and I need to know the time. On the way to the car I snap a few photos of canoes and row boats lying on the shore of the quiet cove.

When I return to the lake and prepare to swim out to the dock again my brother informs me there is a large snapping turtle in the vicinity of the dock. Stephen is a great tease, and though I know there are large snapping turtles in this lake, I figure he is trying to scare me and I don’t believe him. The more he insists, the more I think he is pulling my leg. Just as I am about to dolphin dive and start my swim out to the dock a large bumpy head surfaces only feet from the dock. I can just barely make out the hub-cap sized shell trailing behind it. Stephen and Alex start to laugh and stand smugly on the dock’s edge. Flabbergasted, I stay what I hope is safely in the shallows and watch as the turtle nonchalantly looks around before diving beneath the surface once again. Stephen and Alex wait a few more moments, then dive in and swim back to shore. We all decide we’ve had enough swimming for the day!

(Alex and Stephen prepare to swim; Photo by kathie 7-5-08)

Note: This is the first in a series of posts about my recent trip to New England. Look for additional posts within the next week or two with Stories from Sycamore Canyon interspersed.

Sycamore Canyon Update: It's sunny and hot here today. The humidity has dropped and the temperature is rising. Right now it is 96F in the shade. In the desert the prickly pears are ripening which means it's time to make prickly pear jelly once again. A Say's Phoebe has been hanging out around the house and seeking shelter from the sun underneath the covered patio on the blades of my patio fan. I am seeing House Finches, House Sparrows, Gambel's Quail, Mourning Doves, White-winged Doves, Curved-billed Thrashers, Cactus Wrens, Gilded Flickers, Gila woodpeckers, Turkey Vultures and Lesser Goldfinches on a regualr basis. I haven't seen the Sonaran Desert Toad since Saturday night.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July 4th Send-Off

On the morning of July 4th I packed my bags for my trip to the east coast and the annual Adams Family Road Race. Gus had packed the camera the night before but as I hurried about with last minute preparations I glanced out the den window to see the smallest little Gambel's Quail hatchlings I had seen yet. I quickly unpacked the camera, attached the 70 to 300mm lens and snapped of these darling photos. A perfect send off, don't you think? After all, this is a birding blog and a lot of toads have been making an appearance here lately!

So small! This little one looks like a fluffy golf ball with legs!

Two little chicks. You have to figure that patio block is only an inch or 2 thick!

It wasn't until I looked at these photos on the computer that I noticed something strange about the daddy's head. (Click to enlarge for a better view. )

So I cropped and enlarged the bird's head , then checked other photos of the male. Yep! he does have 2 plumes on his head! A 2-plumed Papa! Does that make him more desirable to the ladies?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Birds and Bugs with Doug

(Doug Taron and Kathie. Photo by Gus 7-26-08)
Click on photos to enlarge for best viewing.

I waited anxiously on Saturday afternoon for the arrival of Doug Taron from Gossamer Tapestry. Doug is in town for an insect conference and we made arrangements to meet a few weeks ago. Now the day has arrived, the house has been cleaned and Gus and I have just returned from a trip to the store to buy the pizza cheese and a few other items. I have recently started using block mozzarella and shredding it myself when I learned that pre-shredded cheese is coated with plastic to keep the pieces from sticking to each other. I am in the middle of putting away dishes when the doorbell rings. Gus and I both greet Doug and welcome him into the house. One of the first things Doug notices is Gus' Red Sox T-shirts. Gus is an avid Red Sox fan and has been since he was a child. It turns out Doug is also a Red Sox Fan, having grown up in that area, so he and Gus discuss baseball while Gus gives him a tour of the backyard and I shred cheese and whip up the pizza dough. We have been making our own homemade pizza for over 25 years and chose to serve it to Doug tonight. After the backyard tour, with the dough rising, Doug and I set off to see Sycamore Canyon Wash. I trade my sandals for my hiking shoes and don my hat and binoculars. With my camera hanging from my shoulder strap we cross the street and enter the canyon.

(Sycamore Canyon scoured by flood waters photo by Kathie 7-26-08)

This is the first time I have actually entered the canyon since the big flash flood earlier this week. I am impressed with the new landscaping created by the scouring waters of the flash flood. Parts of the cliff have been scooped out even deeper and new channels have been carved. Piles of debris are stacked here and there along the banks and wrapped around tree trunks. It is a whole new world for me, but houses and the cliffs above keep me oriented. a few clouds drift overhead on this warm day. When a few sprinkles fall from the clouds I wrap my D80 in the plastic bag I stuffed in my pocket as we headed out the door.

(American Snout butterfly photo by kathie 70-300mm lens, 7-26-08)

One of the first insects we find is this long-nosed butterfly. I'm amazed by it's silvery wings and compound eye. Their wings do have a spot of orange in them, but that photo did not come out.

While there are many birds in the wash our focus today is on the insects they dine on. Still, we couldn't ignore this Gila woodpecker that perched nearby scolding us from his perch.

Doug found these insects with piercing mouth parts that penetrate the cactus pads and fruit in order to suck out the nutritious liquid inside.

This orange beetle in a yellow flower is a bright spot in the day.

(click to enlarge)
(Long-horned beetle photo by kathie, 70-300mm lens)

I spotted some motion around the top of a mesquite tree that quickly attracted Doug's attention. A long-horned beetle hovered near the top branches back lit by the setting sun. We chased it around the tree trying to get a photo with the sun on the insect but it would not cooperate. Still, this silhouette shows how long it's antennae really are. By now I am sure the pizzas are ready and Gus must be getting hungry so we head back to the house. Sure enough, the two pizza pies wait on the counter, already to go into the oven. Gus and Doug sit down to watch the Red Sox game Gus has recorded while I quickly upload photos onto the computer to show Doug. Soon we are eating steaming hot pizza and chatting around the big screen TV.

The sky grows darker while the guys watch the game, then Doug inquires if I would like to try black lighting in the wash. Heck yeah! We pack up his gear and I change my shoes once again before heading out the front door and across the street. We walk back down toward the barbed wire opening trying to decide where we might find two trees to string a rope across and hang the sheet from. Then Doug decides that barbed wire fence might just do the trick for us.

We hang the white sheet across this bit of barbed wire fence that is used to discourage Off Road Vehicles from entering the wash. Doug says the wash acts like a super highway for the insects providing an uncluttered flyway as they go about their nighttime business. I watch as Doug gets out the rest of the gear to set up the black light and attach it to its power source, a portable but heavy battery pack he carries around with him. We have a bit of a brief shower that temporarily slows things down, and I have to stow my camera in Doug's backpack to protect it from moisture, but once it is over it isn't long before the insects start to arrive. A few beetles and smaller moths come first, but then the larger insects start to show up.

(Close-up of a White-lined Sphinx Moth hyles lineata. Doug says they are as common as Dandelions but I am excited to see them anyway. )

The moths and other insects collect on the white sheet that hangs over the barbed wire. You can just see the black light shining through from the other side. The moths would get so frantic that some of them beat themselves against the ground, or worse, against my ankles! Yuk. I'm sorry but I jumped like a girl. Unknown insect wings in the dark are a little hard to take, but it was worth it. Almost all the larger moths seen here are white lined Sphinx moths, the only name I can remember.

(Rustic Sphinx manduca rustica photo by Kathie 18-70mm lens 7-26-08)

This big beautiful guy was the prize of the night. I wanted to take its picture but was afraid it would fly away before Doug could collect it. Doug assured me it would be alright and it was. I was so excited by the whole process. I snapped a few photos and then into the jar it went. Finally jet lag got to Doug and we decided to call it a night. I'm afraid I could have stayed out there for hours enjoying the mysteries of the night. Who knew there was all this activity happening while I sleep soundly nearby in my (mostly) bug free house! We shut off the black light, shook out the sheet and headed back to my house with Doug's head lamp lighting the way for us until we reached the sidewalk again.

When we returned to the indoor lights we discovered this hitchhiker riding on Doug's shirt. You can see how big it is compared to his shoulder. I have never seen any moth other than a Luna moth that was this big.

(Colorado River Toad photo by Kathie 7-26-08)

As Doug stepped out the front door to leave, look who was waiting there in the corner catching insects that were drawn to the light. "Wow! they're bigger than they appear on your blog," Doug exclaimed. Yep. Pretty darn big. Perhaps I should put a shoe outside and turn on the light, just so I can take a photo that will put the size of these poison Colorado River Toads , bufo alvarius, also known as Sonoran Desert Toads, in scale for you. They are very big: 7 inches from nose to rump and that does not include their legs! What a way to say good-bye. I chased the toad across the front of the garage trying to get another good picture. Later, after Doug left, Gus went to take Blossom out the front door for her last good-night stroll of the evening. Mr. Toad was sitting there waiting for insects again, so Gus let blossom out the backdoor instead. We also found tow other White-lined sphinx moths that somehow got loose in the house. I captured them carefully and released them out the backdoor into the mysterious night.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Further Adventures with the Colorado River Toad

(Colorado River Toad bufo alvarius a.ka. "Sonoran Desert Toad" Photo by Gus July 19, 2008)

It’s Friday night and Gus and I are sitting on the patio relaxing after our supper of red snapper and fresh green beans. The sun has already set and a thick blanket of clouds hangs above us in the sky. Over the Catalina Mountains we watch the lightning flash, providing an electrical show we can enjoy as Gus sips his beer and I drink my cup of steaming green tea. It has been a busy week for both of us and it is so nice to just sit.

The soft light of one patio lamp casts a warm glow over the red brick. Now, as I sit facing east and Gus sits facing west I catch a movement out of the corner of my eye behind and to the right of Gus. The large lump leaps again and I exclaim, “Oh, Oh!” Gus looks at me wide-eyed and asks “What?”

There on the patio is another Colorado River Toad! When Gus sees it he leaps from his chair and heads for the door. We watch as it hops neatly up on the raised patio and proceeds to hop right beneath the chair Gus had been sitting in. I wonder if it is the same toad we had seen the night we first discovered them and it hadn’t gotten out after all. Whether it is or not we can’t leave it here to endanger our dog, so I grab a nearby empty flowerpot. I scoop up the toad and dump it over the wall, all the while Gus is standing close to the door, ready to beat a hasty retreat inside if warranted.

Sonoran Desert Toad beneath the grass: Photo by Kathie 7-25-08)

I run and get the flashlight and we both stand looking over the wall at the wet looking toad oozing poison from its glands. By the time I run and get the camera it had hopped beneath some desert grass that is growing prolifically in this very wet monsoon.

(One happy Gus photo by Kathie 7-25-08)

We sit back down to enjoy the rest of the evening. I snap a photo of Gus sitting across the table with relief written all over his face. “You’re going to write about me, aren’t you?” he asked. “Yep.” Just then I see something moving along the top edge of the block wall we are sitting next to. I shine the flashlight on what I thought was a spider but turned out to be one of those darned crickets. “You know, toads eat crickets,” I said to Gus. “I’m not sure that’s a good trade off,” he replies as he moves his chair away from the wall. We sit in happy darkness watching the lightening flash.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Monsoon Saguaro Sunset

Photo taken by Kathie July 22, 2008 after a thunderstorm that caused a flash flood in Sycamore Canyon. Click on image to enlarge for best viewing.

Shooting Data: Nikon D80
2008/07/22 19:29:33
JPEG (8-bit) Normal
Lens: 18-70mm
F/3.5-4.5 G
Focal Length: 70mm
1/60 sec - F/4.5

Click on the button to view more Skywatch Friday photos.

View my other Skywatch entry at Kathie's Poet Tree.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Flash Flood in Sycamore Canyon

(Click on photos to enlarge for the best view)

Part of the adjustment I have to make during the monsoon is to try to get all my work done in the morning before the afternoon storms break out. This Tuesday morning I sort through email and upload vacation photos to the computer. Then, I spend the next 2 to 3 hours editing and filing almost 700 photos, and that is just one card! I have 3 more to go through! By 2 p.m. my eyes are watering and my brain is fried. I make myself shut off the computer and go fix myself some lunch.

The skies are turning gray with heavy clouds and as I am sitting watching a movie the thunder and lightning start. Soon the rain is pattering on the rooftop and patio bricks. Then a giant clap of thunder cracks the sky with a brilliant flash. The power surges and the TV goes out. The gentle rain has turned to a pounding water faucet and I watch as the retention basin next to the house fills with churning brown water. Through the shut windows of the house I hear a familiar croaking cry and open the laundry room window to see and hear better. The Colorado River toads are singing in the flooded wash one again. The rain cooled air feels nice, so I decide to open the glass sliders under the covered patio to let in the fresh air without getting splashed by rain.

I watch the storm rage in all its fury from sheets of rain to lightening flashes and cracking thunder. One crack is so close and so loud it startles me and I jump in my seat. I cannot use the computer or the TV, so I sit and write in my journal and watch the water flow. At 5:15 I turn on the TV in the bedroom, which is still working. The news is reporting that there is flash flooding in Green valley and Sahuarita and Sahuarita Road is closed. When I finally get a hold of Gus he is on his way to the car and it isn’t even raining where he is. However, he decides to come home by a different way and all I can do is wait. The next time I speak with him he is off the highway about 10 miles from home and traffic is moving at about 2 miles per hour. In the end it will take him over 2 hours to arrive home, a difference of 3 ½ hours from his usual trip.

I step out the front door to look for his car as the rain has finally tapered off here. I hear the sound of rushing water and realize that the Sycamore Canyon wash must be running! I have lived here for over a year now and have never seen water in the canyon, though I have seen evidence of its force each time I walk on the dry gravel when I go hiking. I hurry inside for my camera. I grab a coat, change my shoes, and wrap the D80 in a plastic bag to protect it from the few sprinkles of rain that linger. Then, it’s out the door and up the hill to a point where I can access the desert. As I walk through I am met by a blond-headed boy named Noah (I’m not making this up). He talks to me excitedly about the wash running and informs me he has been in it just recently when it was flowing at around 3 feet. As I look down the edge of the 25 ft. cliff at the churning, roiling brown flow I warn him strongly to not do that again.

I am wide-eyes and open mouthed at what I am seeing. Brown water rushes by in every available channel. If I were walking down there today I would have been washed away. I had just heard on the news how Cienega Creek rose 6 feet in five minutes! I have no idea how deep this is, but I have no doubt the current is strong and fast.

I keep back 6 to 8 feet from the cliff edge due to the already saturated ground. As the water below me carves yet a deeper curve into the cliff, I do not want to be standing there when it decides to collapse.

I walk farther south up the path to the open place behind the homes at the top of the cul de sac. I call this spot Sunset Point due to the fact that there is a wide open view to the west. I am not the only one with this idea, for many of my neighbors are already gathered here, watching the wash run. They come and go in their own steady flow the rest of the time I am here.

I cannot describe how loud the water is or my amazement at this flow of water. It is unlike anything I have experienced in my life. Though I have seen video of flash floods on the news and read about it in stories and in the newspaper, it is quite something else to stand here and watch previous dry ground be turned into a raging roiling river.

A man is standing next to me with a wide brimmed Aussie looking hat and a camera hanging from his neck. I, too, have my camera and birding hat on and as we start to talk he asks if I am the person who writes the Sycamore Canyon Blog. When I tell him yes he tells me that he reads it almost every day. I am quite surprised and pleased by this and we discuss living in AZ and the pending Rosemont Mine. Having moved here from Seattle, we discuss the weather and sunshine and then I find out that he knows the Ray Bradbury story about the little girl on Saturn where it rains all the time. The sun only appears for an hour once every 11 years and on the set day she is tormented by classmates and locked in a closet during that one hour of sunshine. For me, it is the cruelest joke and a punishment worse than death. I cannot live without sunshine. Now I meet a stranger from Seattle standing on a cliff edge in AZ and he is the only person I have ever met who knows of this story and relates to it as I do. Meeting Dave was quite a delight and we chatted for the rest of my time there until Gus called to tell me that he was finally home. As I turn away from Sunset Point the sun is just setting behind the remnant clouds.

It cast a rose and tangerine glow over the desert and after snapping a few shots I walked home on streets of pink and purple pavement.

This morning I hurried out the door to see if the wash was still flowing. It was not. All the water had drained off leaving behind new channels and piles of debris. The desert is alive with activity. Birds are everywhere and their songs fill the desert around me. I see a coyote dart across the muddy wash below me. A family of quail darts across my path.

A look across the desert reveals some kind of swarming insect rising in a column. Then I find a similar column nearby and I am able to photograph this insect.

I stand on the same cliff edge where I stood with Noah and gaze down at new piles of gravel. I find a puddle of soft mud, unusual in this cement like caliche.

Purple martins dart overhead twittering and chirping as I walk by the Sentinel Saguaros.

I walk to sunset point and view the ground below where my shadow falls on the damp earth, amazed at the lack of water. All is silent now, save for the bird sounds. Cooing doves and cackling cactus wrens are the only sound filling this muggy morning air.

Looking north down the canyon the red cliff edge where I stood last night is a dark spot amidst all the lush green foliage. From here the homes look dangerously close to the wearing away of the soil.

But at my feet, a desert marigold blossoms, a cheerful sunny face after the pounding rain, a symbol of hope in the desert.

Nearby the prickly pears ripen like fat red jewels along the rims of the cactus pads. Soon it will be time to make prickly pear jelly again.

As I walk home, rain is falling through sunlight, a deceptively gentle rain. In the west, a rainbow appears over the previously flooded canyon and the humidity rises in preparation for another round of storms.

Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Kathie with the Nikon D80 18-70mm lens set in various automatic settings.