Who’s On The Plants?

Spider, butterfly and fly!

I love seeing a spider’s web! Such industrious work goes into creating a web to capture their prey that I simply admire the work done by spiders. Then I want to find the spider! In my perfect world I would have loved to have sprayed the web with some water so I could photograph it better, but I did not want to harm any of the work this spider was doing and actively working on. With the help of iNaturalist app, I have identified this spider as a western spotted orb weaver. Notice the spiral wheel-shaped web, orb, used to capture other insect prey.

Notice the spokes of the web.
Notice the silk.

As I was looking at nearby plants, I noticed another insect. Butterflies are a challenge to photograph; however, this one was slow in the heat of the day so I took advantage of that. This is a common gray hairstreak. They are found throughout North America and only live 3-4 weeks on average.

Butterflies appear in many myths around the world with the butterfly as a spirit guide. Depending on the stage of its metamorphosis there can be various meanings. Overall, they remind us to expand our awareness and insight, done in many ways such as: reading, travel, art and in healthy relationships with others who encourage us to grow and be better versions of ourselves.

I then thought I was seeing a bee, yet it was a type of hoverfly. Three hundred species of these Copestylum flies exist. Four of the species exist outside America having probably been introduced inside cacti. This is a Copestylum marginatum:

So they are the insects on the plants today, but tomorrow is a new day! Take time to notice the insects making use of or enjoying your yard of plants. No insecticides are used on our property so we can enjoy a variety of insects! They are important animals in the overall web of life and need to survive even for their short lifetime!

Butterfly Photography Drives Me …!?!

I thought it was difficult to photograph birds in flight, but I am beginning to get the hang of it … or let’s just say I am slowly improving! Lately I have not seen many birds, but the moths and butterflies have been all over the place! So I had this bright idea to try to photograph them … or at least one!

Every photo was with their wings closed tight … not helpful for identification, nor for seeing their beauty! So click, click, click and burst of clicks with hopes of capturing a butterfly in the photo frame! Finally, I got a photo of a butterfly which I think is horribly named … Southern Dogface … really!?! I would rather call it by its scientific name: Zerene cesonia. The upper side of the pointed forewings supposedly have a dogface pattern, you decide.

Look like a dogface to you?

The yellow underside of the wings have a black eyespot on the forewing and two white spots on the hindwing. Good to know since I see these butterflies this way the majority of the time when trying to photograph them.

See the spots?

I will keep at this challenge of photographing butterflies since at least it continues to teach me to be more patient while watching wildlife. Who knows, I may learn about another butterfly too!

Is It a Bird?

While weeding in our backyard I am often distracted by whatever living thing is moving around in the area. Often it’s a bird and I have wished my camera was available. On this day I decided to bring my camera out back where I needed to work.

I saw caterpillars and other crawling bugs among the weeds. In the air, plenty of yellow moths and colorful butterflies, but I was most interested in a larger flyer … a hummingbird moth! The couple of them flying around our desert willow tree, while I worked, enticed me to pick up my camera. An easy choice … time for a break and my camera was nearby! Perfect!

Here are a few photos of this hummingbird moth.

It looks like a bird, but it is a moth; technically named a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata)! And now you know!

So You Found a Feather!

I do not doubt you are excited when finding a feather, but there are some things to be aware of before picking it up with hopes of truly possessing it. Feathers are protected under a 1918 federal law even if the feather was found in your yard. In 2004 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was expanded to include all native bird species in the USA. So, the feather needs to stay where you found it, becoming the perfect time to take a photo of it.

It is unlawful to hunt, capture, kill or sell any part of a migratory bird without a permit. If a bird flies from one state to another or one country to another, it is a migratory bird. Some feathers symbolize deep spiritual meaning across many cultures. Native American Indians do obtain permits for certain feathers for their use through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

For those of us who are amateur naturalists, it can feel disheartening in not being able to keep the discovered feather. But with the photo we took and the website: www.fws.gov/lab/featheratlas/idtool.php we can identify the feather. Because of some unscrupulous people who shoot a bird for its feathers or raid a nest for its eggs, the federal law is so strict. If you find a non-native species (ex. house sparrow or European starling) or non-migratory bird (ex. quail or turkey) feather, you can pick it up and keep it.

Some people feel a spiritual connection when feathers show up in their lives. For me, here is how I look upon a feather:

I count my blessings, am grateful and thankful. While a bird lost a feather, it is my moment to recognize, appreciate and love what I have right now in my life.

I also feel free and inspired. The bird soared wherever the wind took it. The feather on the ground reinforces my travel goals and reminds me to stay positive and creative in my thoughts and actions.

With a photo of the feather, I research, at the website mentioned above, what bird flew over the area recently and wonder if I will see it in the upcoming hours or days. I hope so as I’ll always do my part to protect our birds!

Red tail hawk feather, I think.

Never Say Never …

Often we hear the phrase “never say never” in relationship to motivating oneself to do whatever; stay in the game, not give up since anything is possible. Yet as I walked midday through a wetland area, I heard frogs croaking, calling or whatever you wish to name their territorial and/or mating sounds and thought I will never see one of these frogs! Hear them, yes, see them, no.

Truth be told I was walking the area to bird watch, but we know how that goes somedays. Few birds were around. No doubt they were smarter than me, hidden in the cool shade of tree leaves! No problem, I love being outdoors in nature, so I walk on hoping for some new observation … will it be lizards mating, dragonflies relaxing on a grass blade, or coyotes passing through the area?

When I least expect it, I see a green something or other sitting in muck. I crept closer to have a better look. It’s a frog! I crept closer to photograph the frog even though it was not sharing its best side! 

Okay, never say never … anything is possible … even a sun-bathing frog in the middle the day, and then it jumped into the water! Wow!

I hear you and see you! Thanks!

Look Who Is Basking in the Sun!

It is 99 degrees. I am standing in any shady place I can find looking for birds this morning. They too are in the shade of many tree branches thus challenging my ability to observe and photographic a bird! So I turn my attention to some, very easy to spot, turtles as they walk at a pond’s edge or lay on a rock or log!

When I returned home, I researched why turtles and lizards were basking in the sun, holding their legs out for more sun. Were they cold and needing heat? Were they hot and cooling off? 

I discover the scientific community no longer refers to turtles and lizards, reptiles, as cold-blooded animals. Forget the cold-blooded term for an animal getting their heat from outside their body. The turtle and lizard were basking in the sun to raise their body temperature which allows cellular chemical activity to speed up and these animals are now called ectothermic poikilotherms. 

These ectothermic poikilotherms, turtles and lizards, move slowly till their body warms up since they do not retain heat from the food they eat. Sunning themselves is important!

In case you are curious, humans once referred to as warm-blooded individuals are now called endothermic homeotherms. We eat to keep our body temperature steady no matter the environment. I now am sorry the turtle jumped into the pond when I possibly got to close … not sure it was done warming itself! I’ll be more careful in the future.

Cicadas Sound Like A Buzz-saw!

Traveling through midwest USA to the eastern coast, one could not help hearing the nuisance noise of cicadas and see thousands of them descending on a square meter of land. Brood X cicadas emerge every 17 years. Through the month of June and by now many are dying off. These periodical cicadas spent many years feeding on tree-root fluid, and have now emerged, mated, laid eggs and soon all will be quiet again.

While many of us are buzzed-out with the cicada noise, let’s remember the good things about cicadas. A female cicada can lay 500 eggs on new tree leaves and those young ones provide natural tree pruning. The holes in the ground provide natural aeration and cicadas are food for birds and other animals. Finally, when they die they are natural fertilization for trees.

In Arizona, we have 50 of the 3,000 species of cicadas in the world and these cicadas are annual cicadas, not the periodical cicadas of Brood X. When I hear cicadas in Arizona, I know 100 degree weather is not far behind.

Is That A Bird Nest or What?

During my daily neighborhood walks, I look for plants and animals new to me. Recently I was looking for active bird nests for my possible participation in Nest Watch. With focused eyes toward tree tops, shrubs and cacti, I saw a hefty silhouette of something and thought it may be the start of some bird’s nest-building. Here is what I saw … look closely in the top quarter of the photo below:

As I walked closer to the tree, I observed it was not a bird nest. And what was in the space remained in place, not bothered by my approach. Upon closer inspection I observed a ground squirrel, sitting on the tree branch riding the wind as the branch bounced up and down, looking at me! The ground squirrel never moved as I took a couple of photos with my phone. These photos allow you to more easily see the ground squirrel:

Usually I see ground squirrels on the ground:

But the winning, most fun observation for me was when 9 months ago in our backyard I saw this ground squirrel pulling on our prayer flags! 

It is important to keep our eyes open, even during our daily neighborhood walk or looking in our backyard. There may be a fun observation to be made by you! What will you see? No idea until you get out there and look; have fun!

I’m Late; Blame the Bobcat!

I was birding at a quiet location and time of day. I loved it! While most birders are up early with the birds, there is some ease at birding hotspots midday; less stress on mask-wearing or maintaining physical-distancing since few people are on the trail. I may not see all the birds others see, but I like to search for birds and enjoy the quiet, if only interrupted by a bird call. As a naturalist, I am also curious about the plants and other animals in the local environment.

It is exciting to discover a nest with a bird in it or discover a new bird for my life list. I can get caught up in numerous wildlife observations. It is true, time really does fly when you enjoy what you are doing! And since I have no sense of time, it is best for me to set an alarm on my watch if I need to be elsewhere by a particular time. (Watches capable of numerous alarms were made for me!) My typical goal is to be home for cocktail time and then have dinner. It’s a retiree’s life I am fortunate to enjoy!

I had a good birding day so when my alarm went off, I began my walk back to my car. Perfect timing; I will be home for all as I hoped. I was walking the trail when I noticed a bobcat staring back at me. Okay, I got the message, I’ll give you some space. I continued to follow with a healthy distance between us, but also wondered where the bobcat could exit the area. The bobcat obviously passed the easiest exit back where we first met. Time passed as I watched the bobcat slowly walk the trail ahead of me. I noticed its retractable claws and knew they would extend if the bobcat decided to climb a tree or defend itself. I was not going to give it any reason to do that! Usually bobcats do not attack people and any I have seen in this area are used to birders walking the area too. It did finally find a place to exit, and so did I!

My plan to be home on time was squashed by this bobcat encounter, but it was definitely worth having!  Here are some photos: the bobcat and some birds seen that day.

Wildlife Bridges, Important & Absolutely Amazing!

I was driving to one of the small ponds I check every so often for waterfowl. On my way I saw a wildlife person picking up a dead coyote off the road. I assumed the person with the other car reported the dead animal to the wildlife person. Not every highway has a wildlife crossing, but the work the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection group has encouraged did result in an overpass and underpass for wildlife at 2 different locations in the Tucson, Arizona area.

I continued to the pond which is within a golf course. I saw a coyote there. I wondered if this coyote had been with the other coyote sometime during the day. I watched the coyote walk across the golf course. I followed it in my car to see what direction he was headed. The coyote did stop, listen and watch for some small animal to pounce upon and capture, and finally walk further down the golf course beyond where I could see.

I was curious how popular wildlife bridges are, so of course I Googled it. I discovered at www.boredpanda.com/bridges-for-animals-around-the-world there was a list of the amazing top 50 wildlife bridges. It truly is amazing to see bridges, tunnels, rope bridges and more for amphibians, penguins, crabs, turtles, elephants, salmon and bees! Do check the post out! It was written three years ago when the Tucson area wildlife, bridge and underpass, made the list at #47 and #49. Both are now completed projects.

While I have no idea where this coyote is heading, I do know we have a healthy population of coyotes in my area. Often I see them walking across smaller roads and I hear them howling at night. It is all part of the natural world to have some die, unfortunately being hit by a car seems the worse way to go. You can support the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, or learn more about the organization, at www.sonorandesert.org