Wednesday, October 18, 2017

She loves me, she loves me not ...

'She loves me, she loves me not'   Peachfaced Lovebird Watercolor, October 2017
Finally back at the easel - no actually, I just made some room for my stretched paper next to my computer. Watercolors need to lie rather flat if you want to use any wet-in-wet technique.

The little gregarious parrots in the genus Agapornis were brought over from Africa for the pet trade. Escaped or released by unconscientious breeders, they found backyards and parks in the Phoenix area quite hospitable. Humans like them because they are pretty and their antics are entertaining. So the Love Birds find feeders and bird baths filled.  As cavity breeders, they appreciate the work of Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers. A peachy head poking out of a Saguaro cavity delights many valley (Phoenix) photographers. As a biologist I cringe, though. There is no telling yet what the impact of this invasive species will be. Can they adapt to real desert conditions and seriously compete with native Saguaro breeders? I got the impression that house sparrows (from Europe) manage to do so to a degree, while the European Starlings seem to stay around urban and agricultural neighborhoods and golf courses. This does not mean they are not depriving our endemic birds of prime 'oasis' living space. So far, the Peach-faces seem to stick to the Phoenix area and some backyard bird watchers in Tucson are clamoring to see them here. Tucson, with its proximity to the southeastern sky islands could be the jump-off point for the birds to colonize the sky islands. To me, a night mare.  So I love them (in Africa) and love them not (in Arizona).

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sycamore Canyon with Leslie, Sue and Curtis


In southern Arizona, October can still be a pretty good month for insect ans spider observations. So the four of us headed west on Ruby Road for Sycamore Canyon in Santa Cruz County.
Close to Pena Blanca Lake, Ruby Road turns into a dirt Road that winds its way up through the Atascosa and later the Pajarito Mountains.

Montezuma Quail
We spotted a family of Montezuma Quail by the side of the road - I think there was a dozen of half grown chicks hiding among the dry grasses. The male brought up the rear and posed nicely, but my macro lens was not quite up to the task.


Our target, Sycamore Canyon, extends from Ruby Road south towards the Mexican border. Many north-migrating arrivals, people as well as new insect species, enter the US here.


It's a lush, beautiful place, not the hard unforgiving desert that claims so many lives, but border patrol keeps a permanent presence. We met an agent peacefully lunching in the shade way up the canyon. We also came across a big cache of supplies for the greatest needs of human wanderers. 

Leslie Brown Eguchi and Sue Carnahan
This late in the year, the upper canyon was rather dry. Usually it's swampy and wet where Leslie and Sue are discussing a botanical question here. Several of the small water holes in the upper canyon were completely empty.


Further down, fish were crowded in little remaining ponds, but the rare chubb species that occur here are well adapted and can survive buried deep down in mud if they have to.

Neon Skimmer
Flame Skimmer

I think I saw my first Flame skimmers here years ago, and they were around again!  They mingled, or rather competed for perches, with their relatives, the Flame Skimmers. So we could clearly see their different coloration and also how the red extends much less into the wings of the Neon Skimmers. Obviously, the two species can be found sharing the same habitat.

Rhantus gutticollis,, Boreonectes sp, , Laccophilus fasciatus, Thermonectus nigrofasciatus,
Rhantus atricolor, Thermonectus marmoratus
In many places the water was not very deep, so aquatic beetles were easy to see and to catch. Several Sunburst Beetles shared one puddle with at least 5 other, less flashy species of Predaceous Diving Beetles.


Grasses and perennials setting fruit
Outside of the riparian zone, the grassland was yellow and most flowers had gone to seed. An army of black tenebrionid beetles was feeding on the starchy fresh seeds. Unlike their earthbound relatives, the crepuscular Pinacate Beetles, these smaller darkling beetles in the subfamily Pimellinae fly well and congregated not just to feed but also to mate among the wind-blown grasses.
 
Ericydeus lautus, Conotrachelus arizonicus, Zygogramma continua
Collops grandis, Lobometopon fusiforme or related Pimelinae, Phaenus quadridens
I also spotted some weevils (most are night active here in the desert). All conpostite genera seem to have their own, host-specific Zygogramma (Leaf Beetle) species. Many Melyrids (Soft-winged Flower Beetles) were out hunting - if I'm not wrong the larger Collops is feasting on a smaller Attalus in my photo. There was a small heard of black cattle watching our every move and noisily commenting on it. In the dung were mostly imported  Euoniticellus intermedius but I also pulled a dead Rainbow Scarab out of the mud at the creek.

Only very little water washed over my favorite bedrock area, but a dragonfly photographer was set up to patiently wait for a rare damselfly that had been reported from here recently.

Desert Firetails et al - Damseflies by Lealie Brown Eguchi
 We were just as happy to watch more ordinary species. The mating activity was still in full swing. Especially interesting was the mate guarding of most Damsel males that does not only allow the male to keep close control of 'his' female until their eggs are deposited, but also enables some females to safely submerse most of their bodies to place eggs in vegetation deep under the water surface.

Piezogaster spurcus and Pselliopus near zebra
Many true bugs were still active. Those 'suckers' seem to be especially well adapted to dry conditions. We also found water specialists in ponds and puddles: Gelastocoris oculatus (Big-Eyed Toad Bug) on the water surface and big, round Abedus herberti lurking well hidden in the brown water.

Phidippus octopunctatus and P apacheanus males



The activity time of the larger jumping spiders seems to be nearly over. Several females had sealed themselves in with their eggs - we saw hardly any silken retreats that were still open. A few males were still literally hanging out in the grasses.

Arctosa litoralis spinning electric blue silk?
Wolf Spiders raced and jumped among the moist leaf litter close to the creek and also skimmed over the water supported by nothing but surface tension. 

Tarantula Hawk
A Tarantula Hawk who was clearly at the end of her strenuous hunting life still ran and searched and twitched close to the wolf spiders. I think she would make do with one of them if she could. Not every Pepsis egg actually lands on a big tarantula.  Dwarf forms of big Pespsis species can often be observed and may result from unfortunate larvae that were left with just a small spider to devour.

Zenodoxus rubens Photo Sue Canahan
On our way home we stopped at the campground close to Pena Blanca lake, mainly so Sue Carnahan could identify the bush that has provided a number of interesting leaf beetles before. It turned out to be the Desert Honeysuckle Anisacanthus thurberi as expected. A nice Sesiid (Clearwing Moth) added a  last highlight to this late-season trip. The reported host of this moth (stem or root borere) is in the family Malvaceae, but it sure payed a lot of attention to the Honeysuckle