Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What's In Bloom in the Desert (and a few bugs too!)

I woke up this morning with the desert calling me. I dressed, did a few chores, then loaded up my camera and binocs and head out the door. At 7:30 a.m. I can already feel the heat engulfing me. In the background beyond the various bird calls, I can hear the sounds of construction going on; earth movers up the hill where roads are being constructed; the Pop! Pop! Pop of a power hammer nailing walls together in a new house down the street. I try to ignore these sounds as I head up the road to the Saguaro Loop Trail that runs along the backside of the houses across the street. I really won’t be far into the desert, but I want to photograph whatever is in bloom.

At the top of the cul de sac I enter the desert. Here is my sunset lookout point. Here the sentinel saguaros stand and I search them yet again for signs of bird life, but I see none. Last year these holes were full of purple martins, Gila woodpeckers, and gilded flickers. Now the sentinels stand silent, their openings empty. Along the tops the little knobs of green will open soon to creamy white blossoms which provide nectar to bats and birds alike.

Today the skies are dusty blue with smoke from two wildfires burning along the borders. A desert cottontail hops lazily along in the path ahead of me. I stop to photograph these ocotillo blooms that cascade from the tips of the spiny branches.
On one of the ocotillo branches a Pyrrhuloxia sings. Then a black-throated sparrow joins the chorus with the silvery song it is known for. Below in the wash I hear Gambel’s quail calling to each other. Far across the wash I hear the cooing of white-winged doves which have recently returned to Sycamore Canyon. Their voice is totally different from a mourning dove’s sounding as if they are saying, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you” in a rolling cadence.
As I walk along the canyon rim I photograph the buds of prickly pear that will be blossoming soon. The foothills Palo Verde are making a riotous display with their tiny yellow blossoms covering their green twigs.
These tiny blooms are covered with bees and other insects drinking up nectar as fast as they can. Standing nearby one the hum of insect life produces a loud steady buzz. The ash-throated flycatchers have also returned to Sycamore Canyon and I see three of them on this short ¼ mile walk today. I reach the point on the trail where the stairs take me down to the canyon floor. I find this cholla in blossom just as I am about to leave the desert and return to suburbia. My dry mouth encourages me to return to the house, but I look longingly at the path before me. As the sun blazes I decide to return home thinking perhaps I will take an evening walk in the desert instead. Along the sidewalks the fairy dusters are in bloom. Believe it or not, these red tulle looking blossoms actually attract hummingbirds. When the bloom is finished it turns into a pinkish petticoat-like puff which I assume then disperses the seeds. These do grow wild in the desert with dwarf sized shrubs as well as taller bushes.

The desert willows are also in bud with the first blooms just starting to open. Desert willows bloom in shades of wine, pink, scarlet and lavender. When the blooms are finished they produce long bean-like pods full of seeds and some have already started to self-sow in the vacant areas around the neighborhood. Desert willows are deciduous, dropping their leaves over the winter and sprouting new again in the spring. The trees will continue to blossom over the course of the summer before dropping their leaves again late in the fall. Then the empty seed pods dangle like paper tails from the branches.
We still have a few globe mallows in bloom, as well as a few Mexican poppies dotting the roadsides.

Desert marigolds are in profusion creating ribbons of yellow in the parking strips and along the sidewalks. Mixed in with all this yellow, red and orange the desert bluebells create a cool contrast.

Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog recently asked what spring migrants we are seeing. Well here in Sycamore Canyon these birds have returned: turkey vultures,
white-winged doves, lesser nighthawks (I saw my first ones of the season on April 21st) ash-throated flycatchers, green-tailed towhees, and various warblers. I have not seen any Say’s Phoebes in awhile and the hummingbirds have quit coming to my feeders, so I have taken them down, though I did see a male Costa’s sipping from some salvia up the street last week. At my house I see house finches, house sparrows, lesser goldfinches, mourning doves, and Gila woodpeckers every day. Almost every day I see curved-billed thrashers and Gambel’s quail, and I usually see either common ravens or Chihuahuan ravens flying overhead at some point during the day. I’m still waiting for the return of the Swainson’s hawks as well as the purple martins.


Anonymous said...

The bueaty! Who knew the desert offered so much. I have never seen or even heard of the Pyrrhuloxia or the desert Blue Bell. I was just stunned by the awesome bueaty. Got the link from Pappy's Balderdash. Do you have any other pics of the Pyrrhuloxia?

Kathie Brown said...

for the people, thank you for coming to visit me! Yes, I do have more photos of the pyrrhuloxia. If you click on the label for pyrrhuloxias at the end of this post it will bring up all the other posts with photos or information about pyrrhuloxias.

Mary C said...

Hi Kathie - oh your photos of the blossoms are so beautiful. That cholla blossom should be framed! Wow! Now that is one plant (and blossom) I REALLY miss. I'm still trying to figure out the difference between a Mexican poppy and a Calfornia poppy. To me they look identical. ;o) Your poppy and desert marigold also should be framed! Thanks for giving me my "desert fix."

Kathryn said...

Hi, Kathie. Wow, great blossoms. It amazes me how the pyrrhuloxia was reflecting the red. Beautiful!

Kathie Brown said...

Mary, I think california poppies are larger, but I'm not sure. I heard someone else discussing that very issue. Glad you like the photos.

katnell, doesn't that pyrrhuloxia look almost like the blossoms? I actually saw it eating the petals! Amazing. BTW, that photo was shot with my regualr lens. I was taking landscapes and flowers, so left the zoom at home! That's how close I was to it!

Jackie said...

The colors in the desert always astound me with their intensity, especially with flowers. Your site is very nice, informative and I've linked to it from my own nature blog.

Kathie Brown said...

zhakee, Thank you so much! That is very nice of you!

Ramosforest.Environment said...

Thanks for so beautiful shots and informations.