Juan Bautista de Anza Trail

In 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza was helped by American Indian guides to discover a land route from Mexico to California. Various times in my travel I noticed Juan Bautista trail signs, and now I know it is an auto tour marking the more than 1200 mile historic trail from Nogales, AZ to Monterey, CA which includes many historic sites. In 1775, Juan brought about 240 people across the new frontier of New Spain from Mexico to California. With military escort and 1000 head of livestock, the journey took 5.5 months for the settlers to complete.

The settlers camped at some historic places I have visited, such as Historic Canoa Ranch – campsite #15, Mission San Xavier del Bac – campsite #17, and Picacho Peak State Park – campsite #21. Someday I will visit other historic sites on this national historic trail. I walked a couple of miles of the trail in the Rio Rico area beginning at the Guy Tobin Trailhead.

A short distance from the trailhead there is a chained gate. It was a local man, Guy Tobin, who had the foresight and public support to contribute land and establish a 13 mile segment of trail from Rio Rico to Tubac. He worked with the Anza Trail Coalition and National Park Service. Guy Tobin died in 2008 and a few months later the trailhead was dedicated to him. In 2011, Friends of the Santa Cruz River and Tucson’s Watershed Management started a year-long project constructing rainwater harvesting features at the trailhead.

Once upon a time, there were Mexican wolves and jaguars here, but now one may see bobcat, coyote, javelina and mule deer. I was happy to photograph this mule deer!

It is a very sandy trail with plenty of birds singing in the trees. The only flower I saw was the southwestern prickly poppy.

It was a wonderful place to escape everyone and have a trail almost to myself. I saw 2 people the entire time!

Where Are You Going?

It scurried across the soil under the mesquite trees so quickly, all I could do was wonder why it was moving so fast? So I waited and watched.

A round-tailed ground squirrel, often observed here in southwestern USA and northwestern Mexico, was on the run! Other posts I have mentioned how one never knows what you’ll see when outdoors. And here off in a dash, this ground squirrel was returning to its burrow made another time in the loose soil. I have seen plenty of these burrows here in Arizona, but this one had a chewed piece of cardboard there too!?! No doubt part of the ground squirrel’s architectural plan as it chewed and brought pieces of cardboard underground. I wish I could see the inside of this burrow; I can only imagine.

Yup, like I have said other times, one never knows what you’ll see next! Keep your eyes open! Wildlife is in action in your area also!

Urban Wildlife Habitat

Sweetwater Wetlands is a water treatment facility originally constructed in 1996. The wetlands now use reclaimed water and has become a wildlife viewing area in Tucson, AZ. There is about 2.5 miles of pathway for visitors to walk and it does connect with the “Loop”, yet no bicycles are allowed on the property. You can lock you bike at the fence and take a walk on a pathway from there.

On any given day, I never know if water birds will on the settling ponds, other birds in various trees, insects on the marsh grasses or hawks overhead. There have been days I viewed javelina and bobcats! Many people visit this urban wildlife habitat.

Here are some photos from my recent visit:

The red-winged blackbirds were definitely the noisiest of all the bunch, the duck was nonchalantly walking down a path … no doubt due to few people out in the late morning hot hours … and the turtles, well they may be finishing their mating act. Other visitors to the wetland may be more interested and focused on capturing insects as I guessed this man was with the specific net he was using. I could not capture any moth or butterfly in a photo, but he may have been also interested in damselflies.

For early morning time in nature, this urban wildlife habitat is an easy place to get to and visit, relax and observe nature. As the heat of the day rises, most wildlife settle in away from the hot air. This adds to my challenge, but I also like being out with fewer people on the trail and to see what else may be nonchalantly walking down the trail! (Reminds me too of the coyote I saw lying on a person’s driveway while I rode past on my bicycle.)

Always keep your eyes open; one can never predict what you’ll see in nature. That’s what makes being outdoors so exciting! Where and when are you headed outdoors? Enjoy.

Don’t Move … Thanks!

This desert spiny lizard was not lively at all. It simply stayed on the tree limb and watched as two photographers tried to capture the perfect photo!

I see you and I am staying right here for a moment or two!

I was sort of wondering what this lizard was thinking about while the two of us with cameras tried to jockey around for a photo. Its reptilian brain knew this was a safe spot in the park and there was no need to move till it was time to hunt for food: ants, spiders, plant material, and/or caterpillars. And so we enjoyed watching and photographing this colorful lizard!

I loved the colors of this desert spiny lizard!

People of All Abilities, Welcome to this Park!

In Pima County, Arizona, a park for all … who knew?

The east end of Speedway Boulevard in Tucson, Arizona ends at Douglas Spring Trailhead, but I wondered what about the west end? So I drove to this end of Speedway Boulevard, took a right turn on N Camino De Oeste and discovered Feliz Paseos Park! Needless to say this was my first visit.

Universally accessible trail system here.

I was most impressed with the trail signage. The directions were easy to understand and information provided more details than I ever expected. When home, I learned this private-public park’s goal was to have a universally accessible trail system. That explained the trail signs noting the grade and cross slope of each trail whether it be gravel or paved. Recognizing the special needs and capabilities of people with disabilities is a huge accomplishment and hopefully a model for other communities.

Super signage!

I enjoyed my visit and had a couple of instances to capture a photo, yet the black-tailed jackrabbit ran off before I could get a photo. Thanks to signage along the trail I learned the names of more plants and animals too. Today’s photos: black throated sparrow, cactus wren, saguaro cactus and a coyote was seen as I was driving out from the park. (And a sign of that jackrabbit that got away from me!)

Someday I will return to this park. I love the fact this park is close enough for all to visit and with trails all can handle along with quite a variety of wildlife to be seen.

Just over the hill and also bordering the park, houses can be seen.

It’s A Tarantula Hawk?

I learned something new today! A tarantula hawk is a spider wasp, colored blue-black and about 2 inches long, that preys on tarantulas which are large spiders. Earlier in the month I came across tarantula webs at a local park and I hoped to see and photograph a tarantula; so far I have not seen one. I have continued photographing wildlife with my latest a tarantula hawk!

Tarantula hawk on wildflower in our backyard.

The tarantula hawks have been buzzing around, enjoying this particular wildflower pictured above, and not bothering me. Tarantula hawks are docile. I guess if I started swatting at them would they sting me which would cause intense pain and numbness around the bite. (Not interested in that experience!)

We can be thankful we are not tarantulas. This spider wasp hunts for its food of choice, a tarantula! Tarantulas are one of the largest spiders, yet a bite from the tarantula hawk leaves the tarantula paralyzed and being eaten by wasp larvae. Now that would be something to see for real, and there is always YouTube, so check it out there until you see the battle between the two in real time!

In 1989, New Mexico named the tarantula hawk their official state insect. Thanks to elementary school students for being interested in adopted state insects. Ballots were mailed to all schools for a statewide election with three possible insects considered. Tarantula hawk wasp was the winner!

Just Passing By!

Yes, this small mammal may be passing by your neighborhood too.

It’s a very common wild animal; some people will love this house mouse. (Or is it a rat?) I was not taken with any love for it. I thought it should be shy and at least out of my sight! But no, right out there for all to see.

Mouse, or rat, climbing exterior column of business.

I could envy its wall climbing skills! My wall climbing is in need of great help, thus I am always harnessed in at the climbing wall in my town. Off it went; may pass your neighborhood soon!

If you can identify this animal, let me know…. thanks!

Looking for Tarantulas

I wish I photoed a tarantula; not yet! I will keep my eyes open for the 3-4 inch tarantulas that grow here in the Sonoran Desert.

I did walk past a tarantula’s web the other day, but no 8-legged creature was seen by me! Tarantulas are nocturnal hunters and spend a lot of time in their burrow so I guess I am not surprised to not see one.

Desert tarantulas live in a deep burrow and line the entire floor of their enclosure with silk and surround their entrance with a silken “welcoming mat”. Tarantulas do not have great eyesight so the “welcoming mat” helps when it vibrates like guitar strings, yet it is not for capturing prey. Unlike other spiders with webs to catch insects, tarantulas take on an active approach to feeding by subduing and killing the prey themselves. When the tarantula is alerted to the presence and location of the intruding beetle, grasshopper, small lizard or mice, it will attack and kill by injecting venom through its fangs into its prey. Since they have no teeth, it is the venom that liquefies the prey and the tarantula uses its sucking stomach to draw in the meal.

Who keeps the tarantula population in check? Coyotes and foxes.

There are 4 dozen species of tarantulas in the USA and Mexico, so hopefully at some point I can capture a photo of one. In the meantime, keep an eye open for more “welcoming mats”!

Capturing Action of a Hawk

It was exciting! There was a Harris hawk on top of the pole. I knew it would soon take flight. I did not really know what I would see, nor what I would capture in a photograph. I readied my camera. Where do I begin!?!

I refer to myself as a novice wildlife photographer. I get so excited about the action to eventually unfold that I sense great hesitancy within myself in how I should get my camera ready for the action. I don’t want to miss the action, but I also need to be sure the camera is set!

I begin with shutter speed. Bird flying, I select shutter priority. Dialed in, got it. I consider depth of field and set my aperture. Yes, the hawk is still on the pole. What ISO? Test shot of the hawk on the pole looks okay so I believe I am set.

The hawk has something in its talons!

Do I really have the best lens for a photo as this hawk flies off? Maybe not, but nothing can change in that department. I was only carrying my camera today because I never know what I will see and want to photograph. Often I have had regrets when I do not have my camera. (Best bird watching happens when you have no camera!)

The hawk flies and I immediately see the talons were holding a rabbit in place atop the pole. Wow! Thankfully I had continuous focus and burst on as I tried to get a decent photo or two. Not bad for this lens, but also not great … that’s the way it is sometimes. Any way I look at it though, it was an amazing sight for me to see! Photo or not, it is in my memory!

Time to Notice Wildlife

How many times have I seen small lizards running across an area? Many times. How often have I seen one of these lizards eat anything? Never.

It’s fun to observe wildlife, but it does necessitate our slowing down and taking time to notice them. That scurrying lizard does stop to eat, yet we do not typically see it happening. Here is a Sonoran spotted whiptail we observed at Agua Caliente Park, Tucson, AZ near the base of a tree and some dried organic material. At first I did not think anything about it because they usually move away in short time and I would be back on my bicycle for my ride.

Sonoran spotted whiptail

However, I noticed the lizard was digging up the sand and snatching food as it flew into the air. Once home I researched its diet and they do dig in soil around bases of rocks and feed on termites, spiders, beetles, ants, grasshoppers and other invertebrates. Very interesting …

I feel fortunate to have learned something about Sonoran spotted whiptails especially since they are only found in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. You too want to learn about wildlife? Slow down and take the time to observe. You may be pleasantly surprised about something too.