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!

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.