Monday, February 2, 2009

My World: Sycamore Canyon

My World is Sycamore Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains of Southern Arizona. I have only to step out my door on a chill January morning with my new friends Carolyn and Daniel. We hike up the mountainside trying to find the path down into the canyon. Steep cliffs and cactus greet us everywhere. A stiff wind blows through our bones. A pair of Red-tail hawks fly up from below the cliff as I search for the path we need to take. Finally I find it and we head down, down, down into the gravelly wash.

Daniel and Carolyn have recently completed their training to be volunteer naturalists at Sabino Canyon. Down in the wash Daniel points out to me this twig of a mesquite tree that's been girdled by an insect. Though it looks like someone has neatly cut it, an insect actually did this. It lays its eggs in the cut on top where the sap no longer runs. Soon the larvae will hatch and eat their way through until the thin branch drops to the ground as if cut with pruning shears.

Though we are looking for birds there are signs of insect life all around us. A preying mantis egg case glows golden in the early morning light. Though it appears dry, it is really a promise of spring time, with new life growing inside.

Above us we hear the croaking of ravens and crane our heads to watch their powerful flight.

They perform a black ballet in a sea of blue and fly off over the rim and out of sight.

Another egg case hangs on a twig peppered with holes from a wasp. She has laid her eggs on this food source for her young. No preying mantises will emerge from this egg case in the spring. I do not know when the wasps will appear. All is life, death and beauty out here in the desert.

We turn north down the wash with silver sand beneath our feet. Down here in the Canyon we are somewhat protected from the biting wind. The sun has risen higher now and finally starts to warm us. It has coaxed the birds out also and the verdins sing from the trees. Sparrows flit about furtively and dive out of sight before we can identify them. We find a few Brewer's sparrows, and I hear the black-throats sing. A pair of canyon towhees pops up on a bush for one brief moment, then ducks for cover again. Beyond them a Pyrrhuloxia appears back-lit by the rising sun. When it flies to a different bush the sunlight bathes its feathers in light revealing the red eye mask and stubby beak.

I am amazed how tree-like some cactus seem. This prickly pear is so old and heavy its trunk looks like it has bark.

And in a silver teddy bear cholla two cactus wren nests wait for springtime warmth and romance.

Daniel and Carolyn ask me if I know how to tell a Teddy Bear cholla from the other varieties. Daniel demonstrates by removing the sheath from a cactus spine. "Doesn't that hurt," I ask? But Daniel says no. Then he explains that the silvery spines of the cholla cactus are really modified leaves. They help to shade and cool the plant as well as protect it from damage. You can actually grasp the pointed end and slip it off the spine as easily as removing a satin glove. The hard inner spine is left behind, but the sheath is soft as silk. Their flaxen color reflects the sun's harsh rays away from the tender flesh, thus cooling the cactus. So, if you see a silvery cactus shining like silken fuzz in the desert you know it is a Teddy bear cholla.

Farther down the wash the remnants of last summers Monsoon are piled up against the base of this small tree. How it withstood the onslaught of water and debris I'll never know. It stands here now a silent witness to the nature's former fury.

As we near the end of our hike a Black-throated sparrow finally flies up to sing in the sunlight atop yet another Teddybear cholla. I have never figured out how they can stand on one of these cacti and not come away with bleeding feet, but many of the birds do it and many use this species of cactus as a safe nesting place. For now the desert waits as I do, for the healing warmth and renewing rains of spring.

Today's photography comes to you courtesy of Kathie Brown with the 70 -300mm lens. Click on any photo to enlarge.


Cheryl Ann said...

Katie, stop by my blog (deserthorses) to pick up you One Lovely Blog award that I am passing on to you! I LOVE your blog and your photos! It's always an adventure or an interesting animal! Thank you for sharing your world!
~~Cheryl Ann~~

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Your area is a fascinating place.Thanks for sharing it with me in this way.

Kim said...

I just found this blog and love it. Your photos are wonderful and you have a way of telling the story that makes the reader feel as if they are right there with you.


Deborah Godin said...

Another good walk for you (and us!) I love those ravens, but they don't hang out here along the lake, so I'm happy to see them again any way I can. Just stunning shots!

Shelley said...

Through your descriptions - I always feel like I'm there w/ you. So many wonderful shots - loved the close ups of the cactus especially!

Celeste said...

Great post Kathie, I could almost smell the desert air! I love your photographs, the ravens in silhouette against the blue sky is stunning - it looks like a piece of art.
I have just had baby mantises hatch here, it is always so neat to see so many tiny creatures emerge from one of those egg cases.

Guy D said...

Those are great shots, thanks so much for the tour of your world.

Regina In Pictures

Gaelyn said...

You've done it again, Kathie. Taken us on a wonderful walk into the canyon to see and hear it thru your lens and voice. Nice to take naturalists along.

Anonymous said...

What a captivating post. Love the text and the photos are great.

Janie said...

Great description of your hike, and vivid pictures to highlight it.

The Good Life in Virginia said...

enjoyed your very informative and interesting post so very much.
thanks for sharing with us.

have a great week


desertsandbeyond said...

Very informative post! Thank you for sharing your world with us!

Anonymous said...

It's a great world you live in, Kathie.

EG CameraGirl said...

Thanks fr he walk through the canyon, Kathie.

Lilli & Nevada said...

Nothing better than the desert with all the warmth. and what a great set of photos you have here

Unknown said...

Your shots of the birds flying in synch are just wonderful. What an interesting area, thanks for sharing.

Baruch said...

Such beautiful, interesting & informative photos. I like the semi-desert look of the landscape. Reminds of the Karoo in South Africa

Quiet Paths said...

I learned so much! And I really admired the way you laid out your photos with the narratives--great down to the last " renewing rans of spring." Thank you.