Raccoon and Birds Near Each Other?

I need to remind myself, wildlife areas have opening and closing times and days. San Jacinto Wildlife Area in Lakeview, California is no different. Open: seven in the morning till six at night with Wednesdays and Saturdays during certain parts of the year only open for duck hunters! Fortunately in our first visit here we were able to check out a few ponds near the entrance kiosk and were most interested in seeing if any raptors were flying in the area.

No doubt I need to return to this area when I have more time and it is open to all with no worry of hunting season; however, we did see 25 different species of birds! Four raptors were seen and a photo of each is below: red-tailed hawk, northern harrier, American kestrel and a new bird for me, the red-shouldered hawk!

Red-tailed hawk
Northern harrier
American kestrel
First time seeing a red-shouldered hawk!

The other fascinating observation was seeing a raccoon so near to birds! We heard some birds squawking, yet not moving away from a raccoon slowly walking through the water! It had to be the largest raccoon I have ever seen too! The raccoon simply continued on his way … I am assuming it a male, yet I have no idea… and the birds didn’t seem to have a flap about it! Before it stepped into the tall grass, it turned and looked back in my direction, despite me being quite a distance from it. I wondered if the raccoon actually noticed me. Fascinating!

First, calmly walking in the pond.
Birds squawked and stayed while raccoon continued on.
Does the raccoon see me?

Spending time in wildlife … a joy, an adventure, and one never knows what will happen! We thought we would only be seeing birds! Are you getting outdoors to enjoy nature? I hope you do!

I See You, What’s Up?

It’s becoming habit now, my talking to the birds, especially when I see that “what’s up look” … cocked head, eyes looking straight at me with no judgment. How can I not respond?

Let’s talk, I say. Tomorrow is my Dad’s birthday. Is that, what is up? 

Or my concerns about the past year? Covid variants rampant worldwide, climate catastrophes: towns wiped out by tornados, wildfire, floods … or maybe gun violence, racial inequality, homelessness, poverty, hunger, disrupted supply chain for basic goods … or all of it and more. I am saddened as government leaders are slow to solve issues. At local levels we support area food banks, agencies helping those in need, and remain patient when all is not happening as quick as we wish. Local or even statewide help cannot do it all. If we could, we would!

You know what’s up? I could see how an autocrat comes to power. Provide … and provide … even if not in the best interests of their people, and people simply accept because they are in need. Gains fog over basic democratic principles and we lose ourself to another power because it provides. Are we on a downward spiral? The current worldwide chaos makes me wonder and worry. It is not just about the climate, but also the political, religious, economic freedoms we have, in some countries, that are global concerns. Look at a variety of countries, see how different each is and ask yourself if you would rather live within those borders. 

While I patiently wait for our political leaders to make big decisions providing for our entire country, I think about our own country’s history. This is not the first time our country has had huge challenges. We as a united people often did work together … there were depressions, weather catastrophes, political, economic, and/or medical strife around the world and within our own boundaries. Where is the united front today as we continue to face Covid with home and work environments forcing people to choose differently than they would have done 2 years ago? For many, life has been difficult. I want and wish for a united country so we and the rest of the world can get on with life with generosity, kindness and productivity. We are a humankind and need to live as one!

This bird, a phainopepla, continues to look at me. Its quizzical look brings back a memory for me … a time when I wondered what I should do. I had a friend in college who was suicidal. One particular night I discovered this fact, was over-whelmed, and quickly got my friend medical help that night. Sometimes now I have the same over-whelmed feeling and don’t know where my help is needed most. Do others see or feel what I do about our current state of affairs? Is what I do enough? Fortunately, I am reminded of what my Dad often said to me when I was in college, and probably what he would say now, “Do what you can do.” And so I shall one step at a time; thanks for asking, you cute little bird!

What’s up?

Flamingoes in Palm Desert, CA

Each time I visit California’s Palm Desert area, I stop by the Marriott Hotel to see the flamingoes. The staff here care for some Chilean flamingoes, birds normally found in South America. 

Flamingoes are interesting birds to observe. The adults have bright pink feathers and a pink-base, black-tipped bill shaped quite differently from other birds. The pink color comes from the carotenoids in plants they eat. Immatures have gray-colored feathers. It is not for 2-3 years before the immatures have their hook-shaped bill and pink feathers.

Flamingoes are filter feeders. They turn their head upside down, bill pointing at their feet, and sweep their head side to side. Using their tongue they pump water in and out of its bill with comb-like plates along the edge creating a filter. Water rushes out while the food is trapped inside.

I was trying to figure out what this adult was doing with the immature flamingo. With some research, it seems “milk” is produced by both parents in their crop (part of their throat) to feed young ones. Brought up through their mouth, the “milk” provides healthy proteins and fats so the adult is feeding its young.

The knee is actually higher up on the leg hidden by the body and feathers. This is actually an ankle joint seen in the above photo.

Final note: a group of flamingoes can be called a stand, colony, pat, or flamboyance!

Who Knew? Animals in My Neighborhood!

It is not necessary for me to travel far to enjoy outdoor time and see a variety of animals. Living outside a city, and what I consider horse country, I do see birds in the trees and flying overhead, people walking their dog or out for their own walk, and/or some people riding horseback along the roadside to a local trail. It’s a relaxing time while runners and bicyclists also use the country road I am walking.

On one particular road these are the animals I see: horse, pigs, donkeys and longhorn:

The horse is in the same pen as the donkeys. I never see them interacting with each other and I guess that is the point of putting them together! On this road we have a couple of riding rings where I see young people practicing their skills on horse. I only have 2 memories of anything related to me riding a horse. One, my injured tent mate on a Nepal trek needed to ride a horse back to town. The narrow trekking trails would be the last place I would want to be on a horse, 4-6 feet higher than the ground … for me, that is to far to fall off a horse! I’ll trek on out thank you. Second, I must have been on a horse at some point in my life, yet I only remember my youngest sister losing a contact lens during the ride … hmm … maybe someone will refresh my memory as to where that happened.

The donkeys … enough said.

The pigs at this property I walk and/or bicycle by are interesting because they are the only pigs I ever see. In researching pigs I learned one refers to a pig as domestic swine if the animal is less than 180 pounds and a hog when more so. Often visitors to Arizona see a javelina and think they are a pig, but they not! They are peccaries. I can tell you about javelina: poor eyesight, great sense of smell and most active at night. I think one or two tromp through my side yard quite often; pigs … I know nothing! (Some day I will provide a javelina photo.)

On this particular walk there is an animal I refer to as a longhorn steer. This animal has huge horns, although the photo may not show it best. There is an electric fence to keep us all a safe distance from the animal. Those horns can grow to 65 inches across! In researching longhorns I learned they can be aggressive but also known to be a loving farm companion. I am not sure what that means since I never see a companion. (Someday when the longhorn is looking my direction I will get a better photo!)

I have to include another horse photo because this is my favorite horse. It resides on another one of my walking routes. I am always excited to see the horse, especially when it has no bug netting over its eyes! The horse sees me and trots over each time to say hello. Ok, maybe not hello but maybe to see if I have food! In any case, I have no food and do not even move closer to the horse, but simply walk by and say hello. I think it is a beautiful looking horse!

While on these couple of walks I was looking at all of these larger animals and cannot help but notice the smaller ones too: insects. That may be my future challenge to photograph the variety of insects I see on a walk … maybe when it warms up in 6 months … In the meantime, I hope you are keeping your eyes open to what nature has provided within your sight! Enjoy!

Eaten in A Bird-Minute & Five-Seconds!

A photographer can capture one very quick wildlife moment or remain for hours at a site and only have taken one photograph! Or a series of photos can result when watching wildlife for a minute and 5 seconds! Here is a white-breasted nuthatch I watched and photographed while it caught a bug of some sort to eat. Amazing beak work!

Looking, watching!
Fooled! It was right below me!
Squirmy little one!
My snack is not being dropped.
Got to angle this bug for a slide into my beak!
Got it; a snack and ready for more!

Birds eat quite a bit of food, contrary to people believing they do not. I know this white-breasted nuthatch will be off looking for more to eat.

Surprise! Elk Ahead in Arizona!

We just ended a late-afternoon Picture Canyon hike in Flagstaff when across the road from the parking lot we heard a sort of bugling sound and noticed some animals in a field. Upon a closer look we discover a herd of elk! There were at least 50 elk grazing in the field and unaware of us.

Elk are the largest species in the deer family and the largest terrestrial animal in North America. They are also called “wapiti” which is a Native American word meaning “light-colored deer”.  We anticipated the elk moving along so we drove our car about a quarter mile down the road to watch them more closely, as they too wandered down to this area. A couple of them looked back at us as we used our car as a photography blind. We certainly wanted to provide these 500 pound animals with plenty of space and to not feel bothered by us.

We were observing this herd after rutting season and it seemed obvious the bull elk had his cows together to move south for the winter. This herd is probably part of the elk herd, referred to as the Interstate -17 herd, which migrates about 24 miles south of Flagstaff for warmer temperatures. The bull elk was calling the others to move.

The herd moved through a fenced-area and away from us so capturing photos was a challenge, but here are some:

Quite a sight to see these animals! I did worry about them traveling south because there are many highways to cross and I am not familiar with any wildlife corridors in the Flagstaff area. I am aware of many elk-vehicle collisions per year. I can only hope this herd finds safety and will return next year to this area. What a great opportunity for us to view wildlife in their natural habitat!

Ten Minutes With a Bobcat …

Many times I drive into Tucson’s Sweetwater Wetlands parking lot and think, which direction will I walk, is this a birding or a photography day, where will there be fewer people on the path. But on this day I see the back-end of a bobcat as I turn into a parking spot! 

I tell myself, I know it is a bobcat and I want to observe him. Slowly I get out of my car, walk around and pull out my camera from the passenger seat. Amazingly the bobcat does not seem to notice my movement and I am about 40 – 50 feet away. I use my car as a blind, snap a couple of photos before I see it pounce into the tall grass. I am hoping to have caught that shot of him pouncing!

Bobcat watching
Bobcat still watching
Bobcat pounces on prey

The bobcat licked his lips as he walked away, totally unaware of my presence. He was so comfortable with the surroundings he even stopped to poop!

Licking lips … nice snack!
Bobcat walking away and not noticing me.
Bobcat poops on the trail.

The bobcat crossed the road, walked along a fence, sat and watched whatever was happening on the other side of the fence for about 5 minutes before he finally walked off. In keeping my distance from the bobcat, both of us had an enjoyable day.

I did take a photo of the bobcat’s scat, but with future scat photos I need to place something down, like a penny, so size is more obvious. Instead, I was more interested in watching what the bobcat was going to do next! What a great opportunity to watch this bobcat!

Bobcat poop
This bobcat is very healthy looking!

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!