Thursday, February 23, 2017

Animals in their Habitat: Elegant Trogons

'Habitat' includes of course the geologic base (soil and profile), the resulting plant society, climate and geographic location. But the animal neighbors are as important. They are part of the food chain as prey or predator and, usually most importantly, compete for the same resources or provide them, like food and nesting cavities. In this painting after my very first observation of Elegant Trogons in Madera Canyon (1994), I posed them and their neighbors in a thicket of Sycamore branches, Ferns and Columbine flowers. So I considerably shrunk the distance between canopy and forest floor in my imaginary world.

I think back then, Trogons, who reach the northernmost point of their distribution in SE Arizona, only migrated north for the breeding season. Trogons are primarily occupants of tropical forests, but as omnivores, they are somewhat adaptable. They glean the brush for insects and they love the berries of the Madrone tree, but they do not refuse those of introduced Pyracantha shrubs. In spring, the pair raises 2 to 4 chicks in a tree cavity, and Sycamores seem to provide the most desirable ones. Nowadays Elegant Trogons can be seen year round in SE Arizona's canyons and riparian areas.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Animals in their Habitat: Coatimundis in Sycamore Canyon

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to watch a single Coati foraging under the bird feeders of Madera Canyon Lodge. That reminded me of a quite dreamlike experience from my very early days in Arizona. I was camping in Chiricahua National Monument with a group of friends. I woke up early and peaked out of my tent.. The young bright white sycamore trees were too thin to block the rays of the raising sun. While I was drowsily squinting, the trunks seemed to sway and move. But as soon as my eyes adjusted, I recognized that the moving things were actually the straight-upright tails of a gang of coatimundis. They hung around for a while, chattering and sniffing noisily under rocks and branches that they seemed to move with their little hands.
White-nosed Coatis, Nasua narica, are related to Racoons. Our Arizona coatis are the northernmost ambassadors of a genus that is widespread in central and south America. They are day-active omnivores with a taste for insects, lizards, roots, fruits, nuts and eggs. They are very fond of fruit, especially manzanita berries. Normally, they weigh from 10 to 25 pounds, but the ones at Madera Canyon look like they are quite a bit heavier.
Coatis mate in early spring. A litter of 4 to 6 young is born after a gestation period of about 11 weeks, usually in a den in a wooded canyon. Coatis usually stick together in groups of one half to two dozens, but lately a group of 40 was observed in Ramsey Canyon in the Huachucas. Although they seem to like woodland and creeks, they also sometimes appear in the backyards of Oro Valley and Tucson.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Animals in their habitat: Acorn Woodpeckers in Madera Canyon

 Acorn Woodpeckers in Madera Canyon. The creek was running underground at the time, as it does during longer and longer periods each year now. When water is a limiting factor, artificial water sources become a big draw for wildlife.
Acorn Woodpeckers don't just look like clowns. As the only social woodpecker species (that I am aware of) they are given to a lot of very entertaining antics from the human point of view. And they are smart. I'm sure these two were discussing the idiot who had closed the valve so tightly
The old little drinking fountain at the Lodge fell victim to the parking lot extensions years ago. The dated Tucson-insider title was 'CAP' Water?' An engineer from Tucson Water bought the painting

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Desert Animals in their habitat: Backyard Hummingbirds

Costa's Hummers stay year round in our backyard and the males fiercly defend their territories, often in form of a particular feeder and pearch nearby. February is already mating time and nest-building time for the females. The male accompanies his flight display with a long, piercing whistle. In our backyard, Aloes introduced from South Africa are blooming. While they are mainly ignored by local insects, Hummingbirds, Orioles (and Honey Bees) are less fussy and enjoy the early nectar board.

 Anna's hummers are also in their nuptial best right now. Gorget and forehead are shimmering in metallic colors from purple to orange and green. depending on the light refraction.  Much of their mating song is produced while sitting on the highest point of a Mesquite tree. Anna's only lately became year-round residents of Arizona. Garden flowers, feeders and decorative water features enabled them to do so - one of the species that benefited from the transformation of pristine desert into suburbia.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Desert Animals in their habitat: Urban Doves

 Mourning Doves are so adaptable. They breed on top of sun exposed cacti in the pristine desert, but I also had a pair in the tiny patio area of my very first Tucson apartment. They raised their 2 chicks in a flower pot and afterwards started right over - up to 5 times a year. I called the painting originally ' Keeping an eye on the alien'. At the time my I was on a J -Visa and and frequent questioning by border patrol agents was still upsetting to me. But when I entered the painting in a show, it was rejected. Later it won an award in a different setting. Go figure. I had changed the title, but that may not have been the reason.
As an afterthought: Today, but not in the early nineties when I painted this, our local doves, Mourning and White-winged, really have to compete with alien invaders. The Eurasian Collared Doves are pushing them out of several prime nesting sites in our backyard as we speak.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Desert animals in their habitat: The Owls of Sabino Canyon

To me, this is also a painting of wildlife in its habitat. If you can't see it, close your eyes and listen. There: the hooting call of Great Horned Owls. I have never hiked the area at dusk without hearing them calling to each other. In fact, a Native American friend who was often with me felt their presence so keenly that they made him uncomfortable (I did talk him out of it). Why is it that owl...s have such a bad reputation in many traditional cultures? When I was a kid in Germany, my mother thought that owls might have been drawn to windows that were illuminated at night and in the old times that often happened when someone lay sick or dying. So they were thought of as harbingers of death. Anyway - I'm glad we moved away from those superstitions and can enjoy our owl sightings now. Not all old traditions are to be cherished.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Painting of desert animals in their habitat: Racoons

 'At Night at Sabino Creek'. Often I just find the left-over shells of crayfish in the morning, but lots of five-fingered prints tell the story. The clear, cool water shows the gold-brown color of tannins from decaying oak leaves: this creek originates high in the Catalina mountains and can tell of snow melt and towering Ponderosa Pines, rare Arizona Cypress, Live oaks  and Aligator Juniper, and finally Saguaro Cactus and lush Cottonwoods.