Graduations With No Pomp!

2020 graduations are like no other; heck the final months of schooling have been like no other! Covid-19 required everyone to quarantine to remain healthy and schools were closed for the remainder of the school year. As a result, students, parents, teachers and administrators attempted to provide an educational program with varied success. Janitorial staff cleaned and disinfected school buildings for the days when all return. Cafeteria staff prepared meals for students who normally receive breakfast and/or lunch with bus drivers delivering them to student homes or parents driving by and picking up the meals.

When I was a grades 7 – 12 high school principal and later a grades 5 – 8 middle school principal in upstate New York, graduation day was a big deal for the young people at my school. Eighth graders had a “moving up” ceremony and high school seniors wore caps and gowns and walked across a stage to receive their diploma. These hand shake moments were once in a lifetime events to be celebrated.

Covid-19 changed the ceremony for all this year. Kudos to the school administrators who held drive-by ceremonies … with music and other masked, physically distanced teachers … while you dispensed diplomas to seniors, or made a special home delivery of each senior’s diploma, and the numerous lawn signs available to recognize the students.

While I fretted for years whether a ceremony could be held outdoors before high winds or a down-pour of rain hit the area, I never imagined a school year and year-end ceremonies being disrupted by a virus. Thanks to all school faculty and staff for your service in educating, caring and supporting our young people. Congratulations students; stay healthy so you can be ready for your next step in life!

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!

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!

Check Local News for the Latest Re: AZ Wildfire

June 5, a lightning strike was the cause of a wildfire started in the Coronado National Forest bordering Tucson, AZ. Firefighters and support crews are still fighting the wildfire today, June 11. This afternoon some people are required to evacuate their homes in a specific area of the Catalina Foothills. Check the local news to know the latest status of the fire and what you should do if you live in the area.

So far the Bighorn fire has burned 4769 acres and is moving east as of this report. A back burn is being conducted with the fire perimeter being held by fire lines being built with the support of aerial resources. One can see the helicopters and small planes dropping water.

Unlawful drone incursions can result in significant fine or mandatory court appearance as that activity interrupts aerial support. Planes with fire retardant have flown over the area also which help suppress the fire; however, there is an evacuation order in place at this time for certain areas. Check your local news for updates.

Another wildfire in the Tucson area, the Tortolita Fire is 100% contained and 3140 acres were burned there. We should be appreciative of all the time and energies put in to fighting these fires and the work continues as I write. Hopefully the Bighorn wildfire will be contained in the very near future. Check your local news for updates if you are in the Tucson, AZ area.

Hummingbirds and Camera Work!

It requires patience to photograph hummingbirds; much easier to simply observe them and place the image in your brain!

During these pandemic days though, I have had time to watch the hummingbirds at our backyard desert willow tree. Its colorful flowers often welcome hummingbirds to flit from flower to flower and so some hummingbirds do. I decided one day to photograph them in our backyard at the desert willow tree. Although the hummingbird’s speed was enough to drive this photographer crazy, I held on.

Once I was all set to photograph a bird it was all about patience. The hummingbird flew in and around and under and beyond and was hard to capture in focus. I waited again … The bird would flit from flower to flower and hide behind leaves when taking its breather. I cannot say the bird was accommodating me.

But, I managed to capture some photos, see below, and am happy to share them with you. I know what I need to do with my camera work to capture better photos, but that is for another day. Enjoy!

Hummingbird coming in for the flower’s nectar.
Hummingbird enjoying this desert willow’s flower.
Hummingbird landing at a desert willow's flower to get nectar.
Hummingbird about to land.

Arizona State Flower & Tree

When you are not higher than 4,000 feet in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, you have a good opportunity to see a saguaro cactus. The stately stick-like cactus with possible multiple or no arms growing from its central column cannot be missed. Most arms will grow upward unless a hard frost caused them to grow downward. These cacti can be 16 feet tall when 100 years old and as tall as 45 feet when 200 years old, and again some with or without arms! The saguaro is a symbol of the west.

Often you’ll observe the saguaro cactus growing under a palo verde, referred to as its “nurse plant”. The palo verde provides the cactus protection from the sun and frost, yet as years go by the cactus may take water and nutrients sometimes to the nurse plant’s detriment.

Saguaro cactus and palo verde surviving together for many years!

When the saguaro cactus buds, which can number 100, pop their white flowers in the spring, birds, moths, bats and butterflies are attracted to the flower’s sweet nectar. The flowers gets pollinated and mature into a fruit. In the summer, the red fruit provides nutrients for wildlife and can be harvested by people, but be sure to get written permission to collect the fruit because saguaros are protected under the Arizona Native Plant Law. The fruit can be eaten raw or boiled and strained to make jellies.

The saguaro blossom is the Arizona state wildflower and the palo verde is the Arizona state tree. Arizona takes their cacti seriously as I recently learned it is illegal to shoot a cactus, ram into it with your vehicle or dig one up without a permit. Why anyone would do any of those things is beyond me. I believe the cacti should be left alone to be enjoyed by us all.

Enjoy saguaro cacti while in the Sonoran Desert!

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!

Driven Weed Crazy …

My front yard is covered with many weeds; yes, it is weedy. Who cares? Well, actually there are people and home associations that care. They see green growth on my front yard that are not on the approved plant list. Oops! Yet for me, I see the unwanted plant, a weed, important for all of us and especially while it has a flower. No way will I pull that plant out by its roots at that time. A seed blew in or was part of the hydro-seed thrown down when the landscape was created and now the plant is growing. It is beautiful with its flower and I want to see it each day it is there. When there is no flower, then I will pull it. You see I have a method to caring for my landscape. I appreciate nature’s colors and the role of all plants in our world.

During my latest weed-pulling hours, I thought this would be a good time to remind myself of the importance of weeds. Often people think they do not want that plant, the weed, and forget the role these plants play in our natural world. Weeds do grow much faster than other garden plants and for good reasons. They grow, flower, and produce more young weeds to continue the cycle of life. Weeds hold soil in place for a hillside to remain stable and not be washed away in a heavy rain. Weeds absorb nutrients from the soil and when they die the nutrients are released. Their process of photosynthesis is important for us all too! In nature, you rarely see many bare soil areas. There is much to be accomplished by these weeds and their seeds simply move in and do what they need to do.

There is one weed that drives me crazy! I get so frustrated with this one. Unless I look at the plant from a particular angle I cannot see it! This plant is called skeletonweed. Perfect name choice! I am sure it is doing all that a weed is supposed to do. But just as I walk away from an area of the yard where I think my weeding is done, there is another skeletonweed! Take a look for yourself … do you see it in the photo below?

Skeletonweed growing out of the rocks.

Your welcome. I photographed it so you could see it! If I included a photo of its first growth or younger growth or from a different angle, you would not see the plant. I don’t care it is a species of wild buckwheat; I just know it arrives every year to drive me crazy. For me, this weed is tougher to love!