|Ocelot and Mexican Amberwing, watercolor October2017|
Sunday, October 22, 2017
I live in Tucson, Arizona. 30.7 miles, or 50 kilometers, or 44 min by car from the US/Mexico border. In my dual role as artist and biologist I spend much of my time in the field. Tucson is surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. As deserts go, the lower Sonoran is beautiful and rich in geological formations and fauna and flora. But also hot and dry most of the year. The long drive to the Colorado Plateau and Grand Canyon in northern Arizona would take me through the endlessly sprawling metropolis of Phoenix. So I turn south instead. The borderland to Mexico, studded with sky islands and the first hints of the Sierra Madre Occidental has become my favorite hunting ground. I regularly join excursions to study the biodiversity south of the border wit groups of US and Mexican naturalists and biologists. More often, and on my own, I spend time just north of the border. Long dirt roads connect the Canelo Hills and the San Rafael Grasslands, Parker Lake and Copper Canyon, Sycamore Canyon and Arivaca. Many side roads take me directly to the border fence. There are often heavy truck barriers, but they are low enough to step over. In other places, tall metal beams, set too close to each other to squeeze through, form a more impressive interruption of the landscape, but it still seems penetrable for small wildlife and cougars have been shown to jump it. In Lochiel, an old, nearly abandoned border town south of Patagonia, AZ, I used to pet Mexican horses grazing on the other side of an old chain link fence with big holes. It's a quiet area, somehow suspended in time, and full of natural beauty.
It's not all paradise. In many areas along the fence, there is a wide gash in the vegetation, where border patrol erased every living thing to create a corridor for easy surveillance. There are strange contraptions that the agents can pull behind their trucks to sweep the ground so new tracks of border crossers show up clearly. There is thrash that crossing people abandoned and sometimes clearly the packing material from drug transports. There are water stations that good Samaritans established because the harsh desert claimed so many lives. Very occasionally I meet people who approach me for help - who ask for water or need a charge for their phones. Or even a connection to the next agents of 'la migra'. The white, green-barred SUVs of the border patrol agents are usually not far away, always cruising, waiting, watching ... but also often the last resort for people in need. The agents keep up the immigration restriction that US law dictates, but so far, the situation is very different from what we experienced in the Europe of my childhood along the Iron Curtain and most of all the Wall and Death Stripe of Berlin. I can only hope that it stays that way.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
|Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) watercolor, available|
At Carr house in the Huachucas we saw a regular visitor high on the roof, slipping in and out of the beam of our flash lights. Similar fleeting impressions were left by a couple of them very high up in a tree during a black lighting session in Ida Canyon further south. At my friend Pat Sullivan's and Lisa Lee's house I wanted to check the black light at the bug room one more time before sun rise and found myself face to face with the resident Ringtail who had had the same idea. We both jumped and he retreated. Once I slept under the stars at the Madrone Ranger station in the Rincons - when I got up a Ringtail had just tucked himself into a crucked branch above my head to spend the day. Most encounters where ghostly and swift. No photos.
But during our August trip to the Sierra Juriquipa in Sonora Mexico one of our group, Steve Minter, wasn't giving up so easily. At nightfall, he saw a little guy watching him from a tree branch, so Steve climbed after the ringtail, up into the tree, camera and all. One name for Ringtails is Miner's Cat, but in fact, the little racoon relatives are better acrobats than even cats. So why did it not run? Steve was wearing a bright headlight - so maybe it was the 'deer in the headlights' effect or maybe the ringtail knew that the thinner branches would not support even the most daring human - anyway, the miner's cat stayed put and Steve got a number of nice photographs. This painting was inspired by them.
Ringtails are omnivores that feed on everything from bird eggs to berries, lizards and bugs. They like rocky areas with crevices and cavities for their dens and they tend to live close to water. I keep thinking of them as typical southwestern animals, but they can be found from southwestern Oregon, south through California, southern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, Baja California and northern Mexico. I have sometimes seen a couple of them together, but those may have been litter mates or a female with a sub-adult kid. Normally ringtails live solitary in small territories.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
|'She loves me, she loves me not' Peachfaced Lovebird Watercolor, October 2017|
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
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.
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|
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.
|Rhantus gutticollis,, Boreonectes sp, , Laccophilus fasciatus, Thermonectus nigrofasciatus,|
Rhantus atricolor, Thermonectus marmoratus
|Grasses and perennials setting fruit|
|Ericydeus lautus, Conotrachelus arizonicus, Zygogramma continua|
Collops grandis, Lobometopon fusiforme or related Pimelinae, Phaenus quadridens
|Desert Firetails et al - Damseflies by Lealie Brown Eguchi|
|Piezogaster spurcus and Pselliopus near zebra|
|Phidippus octopunctatus and P apacheanus males|
|Arctosa litoralis spinning electric blue silk?|
|Zenodoxus rubens Photo Sue Canahan|