Wildlife Surprise … Not a Bird!

My eyes are scanning … up, down, across … bushes and trees, the water’s surface while also wondering if a water bird will pop up through the surface and dive again, observing the ground and thinking the birds may not be enjoying the light rain that is currently falling … I too would fluff up and tuck away if I could! 

I am at Ithaca’s Stewart Park, located at the southern end of New York State’s largest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake. It’s a beautiful park with plenty of human activity when the weather cooperates. Some 10 -12 brave souls are learning and practicing sailing techniques in their sailboats, a couple of hearty fishermen are hoping to catch something and I am sitting in my van with the window open, camera and binoculars ready, and all of a sudden I notice something!

What is that drowned rat-looking creature? I think to myself, that animal is too large to be a weasel or a rat, I am guessing a mink. Thanks to the app, iNaturalist, I include a photo and the necessary info about time, date and location of my observation for others to agree or disagree with my identification. Here the American mink is running by:

American mink sniffing around…
And then it was running off!

I was surprised to see the mink since they are usually nocturnal, but the gray rainy weather may be throwing us all off kilter. The mink’s thick brown coat appeared to be soaking wet, possibly from just being in the water. Mink are known to rely on aquatic prey so it may be the reason it was active during the daytime. I like seeing other wildlife. My outdoor time is not only about birds, but observing the web of life firsthand … yet I do worry about its future… in this moment though, time to enjoy this critter as it will be gone in a flash! And so it was!

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!

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!

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!

Who Else Is In The Woods With Me?

I love being in the woods, especially with no or few people around. I am always looking for birds to photograph; I know they love it when few people are around. Others animals enjoy the quiet and ease of walking around in the woods too. At certain locations in the woods, I always set my camera and tripod up and stand silently for a half hour or so. When the woods are quiet or when the birds start to fly around and not notice me, I discover other animals will do the same and possibly within my circle of view.

One occasion, I saw two deer visiting a stream, do doubt coming for a drink of water and then to return higher on the hillside. On my walk back to my car, I passed a picnic area and saw a coatimundi. Actually it was obvious to see as the young people there were standing on the picnic table to get away from the animal. (Please do not feed wild animals or leave food scraps behind when you are picnicking.)

Another day I had 3 animal sightings. Two deer eating along a hillside looked at me and then went back to eating. One spot where my camera was set, I heard some movement and noticed a coatimundi climbing up a rocky area. And in a rocky ditch by a bed & breakfast place that has been closed the past season, I saw a raccoon. As I watched the raccoon moving toward me I knew he was curious about my snack food so I decided to leave. 

It is a shame people walk quickly through the woods and miss seeing wildlife. Animals are around, most often near water, and away from people. There is no harm in stepping off trail, being quiet while watching and listening to see if anyone else is around. You might be pleasantly surprised who is also in the woods! Enjoy!

Life in AZ Heat; Who’s Out?

Few of us venture outdoors at 2pm in Arizona monsoon heat; humans are whom I am referring to. Humidity in the air with over 100 degree Fahrenheit temperature, yet wildlife are going about their day with varying degrees of activity, otherwise called survival. I am here at a local wetland to see what’s happening.

Birds sing from deep within the tree leaves, bullfrogs croak under the tall grasses, cicadas buzz from a place I never can see them, funny but all stop their sounds when I move to close to them. As a result, I saw no frogs, no cicadas, and few birds. But these were my observations before the monsoon rain started and I needed to leave.

Grasses, cattails, cooper’s hawk, pack rat, duckweed, flycatcher, mallard duck and roadrunner. Not bad for a quick stop at the wetland!

Time to Notice Wildlife

How many times have I seen small lizards running across an area? Many times. How often have I seen one of these lizards eat anything? Never.

It’s fun to observe wildlife, but it does necessitate our slowing down and taking time to notice them. That scurrying lizard does stop to eat, yet we do not typically see it happening. Here is a Sonoran spotted whiptail we observed at Agua Caliente Park, Tucson, AZ near the base of a tree and some dried organic material. At first I did not think anything about it because they usually move away in short time and I would be back on my bicycle for my ride.

Sonoran spotted whiptail

However, I noticed the lizard was digging up the sand and snatching food as it flew into the air. Once home I researched its diet and they do dig in soil around bases of rocks and feed on termites, spiders, beetles, ants, grasshoppers and other invertebrates. Very interesting …

I feel fortunate to have learned something about Sonoran spotted whiptails especially since they are only found in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. You too want to learn about wildlife? Slow down and take the time to observe. You may be pleasantly surprised about something too.

Lucy’s Warbler Nest Boxes

At Isabella Lee Natural Preserve, I saw five Lucy’s warbler triangle-shaped nestboxes at 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 feet above the ground on a tree. Tucson Audubon set these up to find out which nest box the birds prefer since they ordinarily nest in woodpecker holes or bark crevices of old mesquite trees. Those trees are often removed for their valuable wood so this project is to encourage the Lucy’s warblers to remain in the Tucson area, especially if they do not find the tree of their choice.

I saw no activity in any of the nestboxes today; however, there were numerous hummingbirds, a couple of vermillion flycatchers, a red-tailed hawk flying overhead and signs of horses being through the area. This was my first time at the preserve which encompasses the confluence of Agua Caliente Wash and Tanque Verde Creek. Expect to see snakes, javelina, coyote and wildlife since it is a wildlife area also for them.

A spot to see the seasonal changes … come back again.
Lucy’s warbler nestboxes
All the info you need on this poster.
Rules will be enforced.