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!

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!

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!

Wished for Wisconsin Travel

January 2020, I had a great idea! Could I organize a road trip to Madison, Wisconsin? Once settled at a state campground, here was my plan: photography and bird watch in the morning, photography and bicycle ride on bike paths and rural roads during the day, and enjoy dinner and craft beers in the evening.

February 2020. So I could camp at state parks, I got my Non-resident Annual Admission Sticker to WI State Parks and Forests and to bicycle ride on their trails I got the WI Annual State Trail Pass. I wanted both done to have 2 less things to do when in the state. Campground and hotel reservations were also made from Arizona to Madison and Stevens Point, Wisconsin. My plan was to be traveling for a month but I only booked half the accommodations. I researched Audubon Centers and other places of interest, along with bike paths that criss cross the state of Wisconsin. How could I not get excited about eating cheese in this state? It has the largest number of milk goats and 600 or more cheesemakers. I did not know it is a large cranberry producer and despite being known for its Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, I heard a craft brewery scene had been growing. I wanted to check all of this out!

I was ready for Wisconsin camping and bicycling!

March 2020, do I have to cancel my May into June visit to Wisconsin? Covid-19 has run rampant the past few months around the world, including the USA. What shelter-in-place world am I living in now?

April 2020. The numbers of USA Covid-19 cases and deaths related to the virus increase across our nation. I cancel all my accommodations. Thank goodness I only booked a couple of weeks, but I am sad. I love to travel and discover new places and things. Darn, darn, darn!

May 25, 2020, I thought I was going to be on the road this day, Memorial Day. I had booked my WI state park reservation back in the winter since I figured everyone else would be camping this weekend too. Instead I am home in Arizona with limited access to most places and our Covid-19 cases still on the rise. I will take time on this day to honor the men and women who died while serving in the US military. There usually are parades, but there is a 3pm, your local time, national moment of remembrance on this day too … a time to think and thank those who served, and I want to thank those individuals who still serve!

You and I are alive; let’s have a good Memorial Day wherever we are!

The message on this trail is a good one!

Forget Your Birding Plan

My goal was to photograph the red-faced warbler. Well actually to get a better photo since the last time I saw one. How difficult can that be? For starters, I needed to find the bird. And have my appropriate camera lens out and ready to capture the photo.

Forget any birding plan you may have; it’s a crazy idea to think you’ll view and accomplish what you want. Last week I did not see the red-faced warbler till I was further in the woods so today I casually walked the path observing yellow-eyed juncos, robins, and gnatcatchers. Then to my surprise I see a pair of red-faced warblers!

I was happy and annoyed to see this pair as there was no way to capture a good photo! I decided to follow them down the path. I mean how far could they go and not allow me another opportunity to see them in this vast forest!?! Stupid idea on my part. It’ll be hours before I see red-faced warblers again.

I spent 4.5 hours in the forest and did capture a couple of okay photos and saw a bird I had never seen before: the painted redstart. Here’s a photo:

Painted redstart

This bird was then displaying it feathers and putting on quite a show … obviously not for me, but I tried to capture the action in a photo.

Painted redstart trying to catch someones’ attention!

I walked past acorn woodpeckers, Swainson’s thrush, Western bluebirds, yellow rumped warblers and FINALLY I see red-faced warblers! I am hoping for the best light. I am holding the 5 pound zoom lens to capture a good photo within focus. I am wishing my tripod was set up, but I am not going to let these birds escape me again today. So here is one photo:

Red-faced warbler

I will keep working on my birding, my photography and my patience with hopes that someday my birding plan will go as I planned. No, that’s crazy! That will never happen.

Sexy Time for Roadrunners!

Last week my bicycle ride was eventful! While cycling a quiet neighborhood there was this fluttering sound on the other side of the road. My cycling partner and I noticed roadrunners having sex! Amazingly the male was simultaneously holding a dangling dead lizard in his beak … talk about multi-tasking!

My photos are not very good, but here the two roadrunners are in action.

Male on female while he holds the lizard in his beak!

The male went running off, then returned seeming to offer the female the lizard. Now they had the lizard being torn between the two of them! The female cowered and the male strutted away. Wow, what a sexy time!

Female roadrunner cowering.
Male roadrunner strutted away.

Day 26: Hidden

I spent more than an hour in one spot bird watching. Why? Did I have nothing else to do with my day? No, I find to photograph birds one needs to be patient, plus I did have plenty of time.

I was watching a house wren fly in, pass me and then disappear. For the longest time I could not figure out where it was going? In the forest underbrush and upward to its canopy of leaves there were plenty of places for this wren to go and be lost to me.

I changed my position, waited for it to fly by me again, and began to narrow down the field of landing places for this bird. On one fly-by the bird had a blade of dried grass and it slowed the bird down as it tried to enter a hole in a tree knot. Finally I saw where the wren was building its nest! It was hidden yet also in plain view once one knew where to look!

The wren did plenty of work and also took time to rest between flights. As a result, all of my time observing and the bird’s work easily involved more than an hour. The location of the wren’s home is safe with me.

House wren takes a breather while working on a nest on the next tree.

Day 25: Magic

This is magic to me … use of editing tools on my photos.

I know these tools are not really magic; however, to use them and more clearly see a bird in a photo surely seems like magic to me! I was in a canyon looking for a particular bird and using a new camera lens. I waited an hour and finally saw a few birds in the area. One was right above me and not with the best light for photographing it, but it was a bird I hoped to see. I snapped a couple of shots and the bird was gone.

Not till I was home looking at my photos on my computer did I know if I captured the bird in a photo. I am new to the editing programs so I simply hoped for the best and tried some “magic” to the photo. No doubt better lighting at the time of the shoot would have helped tremendously!

While this is still really a rough photo, otherwise I would refer to it as a lousy photo, it does prove to me I saw the bird I had hoped to see. There is enough information in the photo for me to identify the bird and that was the magic at work for me!

I do remember the old days when I would wait days for a roll of film to be developed, often times with really lousy photos on the roll when I finally saw my work. Today, I love digital technology and the magic of the editing tools! Now to get outdoors again and take a photo with better light.

Red faced warbler