Tuesday, July 9, 2019

A Canyon in Santa Cruz County


My friend and I had planned a black-lighting trip to the northern Tumacocaries for a while. His schedule is super busy, so I was so happy he could fit the excursion in.  I was not too happy to find out that I was on gallery duty for that same day. It turned out okay though,  I met too few customers (it's hot!) but a very nice tarantula. Once invited to climb on, she hardly wanted to leave me again.


After 6, we headed south into Santa Cruz County and the north part of the Tumacocari Mountains. The evening was beautiful and the light lovely until the dirt road turned west and became quit invisible in the glaring sun through dirty car windows (my car, mea culpa).  But we got to our destination.


Our black light brought in pretty good bug activity at a great secluded spot close to nearly riparian drainage through the mesquite grassland. It even had some Mexican Blue Oaks.  We met one border patrol car on it's way out and then had the lush canyon all to ourselves.


I used a Mercury vapor lamp and 2 fluorescent UV tubes. Here is a small sample of the bugs that came to the sheet - Rich took many more photos than I this time.


We also put several LED black lights on a ground sheet right into the thick vegetation along the mostly dry creek. There we got scores of Trogidae, both Trox and the larger Omorgus. Also in this picture are 5 shiny little Pseudocanthon. While the Trogids are a welcome addition to the teaching collection for  this summer's Coleoptera Course in Portal, I was glad that we never found out why there was such a concentration of Hide Beetles in that part of the canyon.


Western Screech Owls called all night close to the sheet - that bug eater probably collected with us.  Early in the morning we went birding. Montezuma Quail males were whistling all around and came even closer to Rich's call. Gray Hawk and Thick-billed Kingbirds were hanging around our camp site.


Walking among sloping hillsides  crowned with copper-colored cliffs, we listened to and watched Varied Buntings, Blue Grossbeaks, Summer Tanangers, Chats, Cardinals, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers. Botteri's Sparrows, Rufous-winged Sparrows.  Have you ever heard a Black-throated Sparrow called a Diamond sparrow? It makes sense seeing the shape of his black bib and hearing his song - like cutting diamonds! 3 wren spp: Bewick's, Cactus and Canyon. We constantly heard Crissal Thrashers calling, but the only one we saw flew very quickly over our heads.


By the time we turned around the surprisingly cool morning had begun to warm up, so insects were getting day-active. The Tarantula Hawk, like us, covered both shifts. Pepsis males hill-top and tree-top in the morning hours and both sexes fuel up on nectar, but we also had several at night at our sheet. Considering that tarantulas are mainly night active, the big wasps may also hunt at night.


A nice Cerambycid, Rhodoleptus femoratus, had us mistake him for a Cantharid or a Lycid at first. But look at those deeply divided eyes! A very good mimic of the group of bad-tasting to toxic beetles of those 2 other families.


Real Lycids were also getting active. I think these were Lycus simulans.



We had seen Kuschelina jacobiana, now  Alagoasa jacobiana at the black light. So now we examined its host plant, Desert Honeysuckle. No A. jacobiana, but instead both color morphs of Kuschelina tenuilineata


Also present:  the other renamed species of Flea Beetles Capraita durangoensis now Walterianella
durangoensis. Too bad, Kuschelina was so easy to remember and Capraita reminded me of bouncing  goat kids - very fitting for those little hoppers.


Packing up camp took time - we had so much stuff with us for just one night! The frame for the black light sheet, generator and gas can are of course the bulkiest items.


A beautiful Antelope Jackrabbit waved good by with its huge ears and mournful eyes. Don't worry, I will be back one day. There is much more to explore in that canyon!







Saturday, June 29, 2019

Morning walk with too much excitement


Temps are in the triple digits, humidity is climbing too, so now we are going for our state land walks at 6 am. Our remaining 2 dogs, 2 weeks after we lost Mecki, need the exercise and the boost of morale. We humans too.


We walk pretty much diagonally across 500 acres directly adjacent to our own land. It's all creosote, cholla and saguaros, with ironwoods and palo verdes along the washes. We are in the slight slope of the bajada of the Tucson Mountains with sweeping wide views over the Avra Valley to Picatcho and Kitt Peak in the north and Boboquivari to the west.



Per agreement, our neighbor walks his group of foster dogs even before we get up, and then we have it all to ourselves.



Today, Kira walked up to a big black beetle and sniffed it. When it didn't go into the headstand of a Pinacate Beetle, I knew that it was a Giant Cactus Longhorn, a good mimic of the Pinacate but without its defensive smell.  Flightless, it has to walk to explore new cactus plants to place its eggs, and usually does so at night or the very early morning hours.



A bigger black shape loomed shortly after, but kept its distance. He is the bull of the small herd that is left to fend for itself on this very dry grazing lease.



Shortly after Kira and Bilbo had rounded up the herd but came back nicely and happily when called. Treats as rewards! The cows are neither afraid nor aggressive towards our 'cattle dogs'  and tend to follow us a little on our walks. 



Kira's greatest joy is to race around after lizards. She never catches any and usually gets outrun and loses sight of her game at the first creosote bush, but her chase is punctuated by excited high and wide hops and leaps that are great fun to watch and impossible to photograph.
But today she raced around a creosote bush to immediately rear back, and a faint rattle was heard. 



 A Sidewinder. Even though smaller than our more common Diamondback, it carries a very strong venom. It's cryptic, quiet, and rarely seen. In Picture Rocks, it is at the very border of its more western distribution. But lately I have seen the telltale parallel tracks on our dirt road and I also found a piece of a dead one along the path that our neighbor walks every day. Old fashioned folks here have no qualms killing rattlers. 


 .
This one of course lives, after first scaring our dog and getting really aggravated, he even gets to strike at me while I'm trying to get photos and video through those dry grasses. I get close to and sometimes have to move a lot of rattlers, and I can't remember the last time one actually struck towards me. 



That puny little rattle produces a mere whisper compared to that of a Diamondback. 



Kira squeaks continuously during  photos and video, but she is subdued and shows no intention to get close to the snake again. In fact, even the next Zebratail Lizard sends her backward.  We keep watching her face - no sign of a bite.  On the way home, her tail droops and she, usually pulling ahead, has to be dragged along. I know exactly how she feels:  a while after a close encounter - and she had her nose right on the snake - the initial adrenaline rush fades away and you are left feeling weak and shaking. I've been there, last year at the San Pedro when I barged right into the biggest rattler I'd ever seen and we both, the rattler and I, threw ourselves sideways in different directions.
I hope this was good snake training for the little bitch who is usually too feisty for her own good.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Nobody likes Ravens

Well, I do. But now I can imagine how they must feel.


Today our resident Ash-throated Flycatchers were on the attack. A raven, maybe a young one, flew low through our backyard, and a flycatcher dive-bombed his back. 'Squack'! said the surprised raven, waking up our dogs who also love to hate his kind. And stormed after him.


Pursued on the ground and from the air, the poor raven took shelter in an ironwood tree. His landing was so clumsy that he tumbled for a minute from branch to branch before he found his footing. A White-winged Dove flew by minding her own business, but the flycatcher were so enraged that they even attacked her. But then the Black-capped Gnat-catchers betrayed the raven, he left his perch, the Ash-throats chased again, and the raven  flew towards quarry and the Kestrels' Saguaro.


Too close! male, and then even female Kestrel picked up the chase.  Poor raven fluttered on, swooping falcons  above and below. But they did not go as far from their nest as the Ash-throats did - or were there 2 pairs of Ash-throats involved? Anyway, the raven finally made it back to the Eucalyptus tree where his elders were sitting, watching the chase, never moving a wing. Did they let him learn a lesson?



On Memorial Day Weekend, I was in Prescott for an art festival on the courthouse lawn. Ravens always live on the courthouse - it's their rock cliff fort. Very early on Sunday, one young one, by her behavior a female, was sitting on the lowest branch of an Elm-tree, chatting and clucking. Those ravens are pretty used to people.


When I imitated her clucking, she took no offense, but started to inch closer on her branch in coy little steps, then spreading her wings a little and making little bows. Her head got big and round with all its feathers erect, the iris of her eyes widened, and her clucking became a flirty cooing. From above a big raven scolded, but he stayed on the roof, just peering over the eves. The young one shook her feathers, all sleek for a moment, and cawed back. But then she became sweet and flirty again, and we continued our conversation. Until suddenly something hit me on the back of my head. Not hard, but noticeable. Then my shoulder, with the swish of feathers. I was pretty shocked at first because I thought the big guy had come off the roof .... but no, he was still just watching. But close to me, a nasal 'daeh- daeh-daeh' came first from one tree trunk, then the other ...


Then my attacker came racing around the tree:   a Nuthatch! The small, white-breasted bird ran up and down and around the tree, flew at me, then the next tree, then came back for more. I certainly don't look like a raven, but I must have sounded like one, German accent or not. So now I know how those ravens must feel ....


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Kestrel Pair in our backyard

May 21. Yesterday Shortly before 5 pm I heard again the intense keening sounds of  Kestrels in the eastern Saguaro area of our property. But by the time I had binoculars and camera, there was nothing going on.

A Kestrel Pair nested in our backyard, in a Saguaro cavity, several years ago.
I got to watch dozens of feedings of the Gila WP chicks in an arm of the closest Saguaro, but no Kestrels.
At that time, I did not really know where the Kestrel nest would be, but observation and whitewash on the ground had told me where the male often hangs out: in a dead Palo Verde in the middle between our eastern Saguaros and one right on the border to the quarry. 



After a while  our Dark Female Redtail soared along the slope of the Twin Peak and the ravine. Just when I thought her presence spoke against a Kestrel territory, the male Kestrel showed up and attacked her. He looked as small as a mosquito against her bulk. But he has courage and agility. Still she kept patrolling the mountainside.



 I stood for another eternity and was ready to leave when suddenly, out of nowhere, a female Kestrel came from the east and, high over my head, met the male flying in from the west. Noisy greeting, then they landed on the Palo Verde, a few feet apart. He kept keening, she looked very disheveled. Then I realized that the scrubby part was not her brood-patch but a dead bird she was clutching. The male must have transferred it to her when she greeted him in the air. He left, she fed. For a long time she seemed to have no intention to stop eating before the whole thing was gone. She changed position on the branch several times, preened a bit, ate some more. But finally, she took the left overs and flew to the saguaro by the fence - slipped into the hole where a tribe of bees lived years ago.  So fast that I nearly missed it. No sound from inside, the chicks must still be very small. When all of this finally happened, the light was too low for any photos.  

The following images were taken this morning around 10 am


The pair met in an old Ironwood where he passed the prey to her. She is in the top right corner, visibly larger than he.
The female had very pale markings compared with the one in the picture which I took some years ago when they nested here. . Yesterday I first thought that she might be a fledgling (I did not want to go too close) But the expert way she handled the big prey spoke against her being a chick and also that she flew into the saguaro cavity afterwards. Observing the pair again today confirmed that she is indeed the adult female. 


She started to eat right away

He hung around until 2 Turkey Vultures soared over and demanded his attention

She moved with her prize to her favorite dead Palo Verde. This time it's a Zebratail Lizard. Later she moved on to the nesting cavity in the Saguaro.

The Cactus Wren celebrates that he has the Ironwood to himself again. His nest is in a nearby Cholla

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Singing Tree Hoppers

As some of you may know, part of my business is to help other scientists to find insects that they need for their research.
Last year a client wanted to search for specific tree hoppers in Arizona. We found all three species that he was looking for, and he recorded their voices. Amplified, they sounded like an ocean recording of all kinds of whales. Quite amazing. Adults and nymphs seemed to communicate with wails and clicks


Enchenopa permutata male

This year he had no time to come out to Arizona, so today I drove to Box Canyon in the Santa Ritas to collect nymphs and adults of Enchenopa permutata on Lycium.


Monoxia sp. leaf beetles
But when I got to the bushes where we collected and recorded last year, I found to my dismay that other insects had taken over. Leaf beetles in the genus Monoxia and their larvae were feeding on the leaves and the bushes were in very bad shape.



Many of the remaining leaves showed rust infections. On those bushes were only very few Echenopa adults and nearly no nymphs.


Enchenopa permutata female
It took me a long time to find healthier Lycium, but luckily there were tree hoppers on those. Instead of gleaning like we did last year, I finally resorted to the use of my beating sheet.

Enchenopa permutata nymph
Not easy because of the dense, low growth but in the end I had hopefully enough bugs for my client. Now I hope that they survive the shipping and like the potted Lycium plant that is waiting for them. And start singing again!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A tethered Ladybug, a parasitic wasp and a virus

Hippodamia convergens tethered above pupae of parasitic wasp Dinocampus coccinellae
I found this below Snow Bowl in Flagstaff, Arizona: Ladybugs, seemingly alive but immobile above a little cocoon, as if guarding it.
The explanation:
Dinocampus coccinellae (braconid wasp) stings ladybug and oviposits. The wasp also transfers virus D. coccinellae paralysis virus (DcPV for short). The virus multiplies in the developing wasp larva and eventually infects the Ladybugs nervous system. At the time the wasp hatches and pupates, the virus immobilizes the ladybug. The brightly aposematic and toxic beetle now stands guard over the silk cocoon that its  former unwelcome guest has spun beneath it, basically providing protection for the pupa. The beetle is still able to move, but not walk away. The DcP virus may actually enhance their deterrent effect by making the beetle  twitch.
Some beetles seemed to recover later to be able to move around, but how far the recovery goes is unknown.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Backyard Bird list 2019

July 10: I have put out as many watering tubs as I could find, and they are in great demand. A Black-headed Grossbeak seen from my studio window



One of the kids
June 22 The Kestrel chicks fledged yesterday, June 21, Midsummer! They are still as noisy and demanding as they were in the nest and the parents will hopefully feed them for a while. They fly well, we saw them all over the state land this morning. The young Screech Owls are also around, often close to the black light at night. # days ago a pair of GH Owls was also hanging around close to the light, but the little guys seemed to have survived that menace. Yesterday I caught a young Pyrrhuloxia in the garage. Cactus Wren kids are also noisily exploring the yard we share. Quail appear with bunches of newly-hatched chicks. Harris Antelope Squirrel kids are rushing back and forth from the shade of Randy's car





June 7, Brown-headed Cowbirds. If they arrive late - which they always seem to do, the host birds are at least raising their first brood without interference

May 21. Shortly before 5 pm I heard again the intense keening sounds of the Kestrels in the eastern Saguaro area of our property. But by the time I had binoculars and camera, there was nothing going on.
 I watched dozens of feedings of the Gila chicks in an arm of the closest Saguaro, but no Kestrels.
At this time, I do not really know where the Kestrel nest would be, but observation and whitewash on the ground have told me where the male often hangs out: a dead Palo Verde in the middle between our eastern Saguaros and one right on the border to the quarry. After a while I saw the Dark Female Redtail searching along the slope of the Twin Peak and the ravine. Just when I thought her presence spoke against a Kestrel territory, the male showed up and attacked her. He looked as small as a mosquito against her bulk. But he has courage and agility. Still she kept patrolling the mountainside. I stood for another eternity and was ready to leave when suddenly, out of nowhere, a female Kestrel came from the east and, high over my head, met the male flying in from the west. Noisy greeting, than they landed on the Palo Verde, a few feet apart. He kept keening, she looked very disheveled. Then I realized that the scrubby part was not her brood-patch but a dead bird she was clutching. The male must have transferred it to her when she greeted him in the air. He left, she fed. For a long time she seemed to have no intention to stop eating before the whole thing was gone. She changed position on the branch several times, preened a bit, ate some more. But finally, she took the left overs and flew to the saguaro by the fence - slipped into the hole where a tribe of bees lived years ago.  So fast that I nearly missed it. No sound from inside, the chicks must still be very small.   
PS The female had very pale markings compared with the one in the picture which I took some years ago when they nested here. . I first thought that she might be a fledgling (I did not want to go too close) But the expert way she handled the big prey spoke against her being a chick and also that she flew into the saguaro cavity afterwards.  




May 17, Trasher chicks have been following their parents around for weeks now (maybe not always the same ones) They were screaming and demanding to be fed even if food was right in front of them. But  Saguaro flowers full of nectar (in the morning) are irresistible. They are eating by themselves! . 



May 17, Gilded Flicker chicks are out of the nest. The parents were so quiet while rearing them so far, but now they are screaming and gigking all over




May 13, one of 2 RDH chicks is still in the nest. Mom seems to get impatient with him. On 5/15 he is finally gone as well.




May 5: Ashthroated Flycatchers very vocal, fledglings are fluttering around. Redtails: 1 of 2 big chicks is still in the nest, looks pretty ready to fly. 


April 30 Harris Hawks are very active over the neighborhood. One youngster has buff spots under his hand-wings that were very confusing  But then he not only joined the other 4 (?) but also landed - no question about his identity anymore

April 30  the red-tail chicks are stretching their wings, seeming eager to fly. Pyrrhuloxia chirping up a storm with second male in hearing distance
Black-headed Grossbeak at feeder

April 17  lesser Nighthawks purring away at night. Whip-poor-will calls. English Sparrow

April 16  A Green-talied Towhee across the street at Frank's and I also saw one at Tohono Chull




April 15: a European Starling on the phone line where ProRodeo crosses Magee. That was the closest to our place they have come (that I know of) 



March 25
I am watching a pair of Black tailed Gnatcatchers through my studio window right now. The Kestrel pair is still hanging out on our Eucalyptus tree or a power pole every morning and evening as if they have no breeding to do (they do copulate often enough though) White-winged Doves are back, White throated Sparrows are singing constantly, and the Gila Woodpecker pair that frequents our humming bird feeder seems to be taking residence in the huge saguaro right at our patio. He was hammering away for a long time in there this morning. I know they would be noisy neighbors this close to our breakfast table. We'll see!
During luch I heard the harsh call of an Oriole - arrived just in time for the first blooming Aloe Vera candles. It took off in a flash of yellow, too fast to tell if it was a Bullocks that may soon move on to higher elevations or a Hooded that may stay to nest here.




March 19
There were suddenly singing male Pyrrholoxia in front and back yard and the state land and I saw 1 female. The burst of activity lasted for a couple of days, then slowed down. Were they just migrating through? They used to be around, and territorial, for most of the season in other years. I hope they are hanging around again.



Beginning of March
we see male and female Northern Cardinal at the hanging feeder and in the bushes of the dog run. They used to breed here - Ingrid took a photo of a nesting female in 2005. But for year we had only singles males that quickly moved on.


In our backyard, in order of observation, Jan 1 till early March 2019:

Gila Woodpecker, Costa's and Anna's Hummer, Housefinch, Verdin, Curvedbill Trasher, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Ladderback Woodpecker, Gamble's Quail, Redtail Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Common Raven and Harris Hawk. Gilded Flicker, Black tailed Gnatcatcher, Cooper's Hawk and Phainopepla, Black throated Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, N Mockingbird, Kestrel, Black Vulture, Road Runner, Pyrrhuloxia, White-crowned Sparrow. Abert's Towhee, singing. Great-horned Owl. Lesser Goldfinches, Cactus Wren, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Ashthroated Flycatcher, Prairie Falcon. Pyrrhuloxia 3 territorial males finally on March 19.
Whit-winged Dove, Oriole 3/25.

Seen in other locations

Sweet water (Jan 2019) Pied -billed Grebe, black crowned Night Heron, Mallard, Am Wigeon, N. Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Wood Duck, Am Coot, Sora, Blacl Phoebe, Vermillion FK,

Christopher Columbus Pond (Jan 2019) Great Blue Heron, Great Egret

FountainHills (Feb. 2019) Eared Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Killdeer, E. Starling, Great Grackle

Santa Cruz River: (March 2019): Northern Harrier, Swallow, Red-shouldered Blackbird

Sabino Canyon (Feb 2019): W. Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing

Kitt Peak March 21, still some snow in shady corners: Mexican Jays, Bridled Titmice