Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First sightings for this year

Yes, I know. The first of May is a funny date to start this attempt to record some phenological data for our area in SE Arizona. I think there is still enough of my northern European upbringing in me to feel that this date is special. I will try to begin every month with a little summary of the season's best observations that haven't made it into a blog of their own.

So here goes:
Iron Cross Beetles, Tegrodera aloga, in Sabino Canyon, April 27 2013, Photo by Ned Harris
All week in Sabino Canyon we found big groups of mating and feeding Iron Cross Beetles. Most of them congregated around nearly dried up Whooly Star plants.

Gambel's Quail, Callipepla gambelii, with chicks
Yesterday, April 30, the first very tiny baby Gambel's Quail. The parents made such a ruckus that I actually went and checked whether it was a snake alarm. But eventually they coaxed some very young chicks out of the brush, so I knew what the excitement was about.

Centris pallida on Ironwood and Centris rhodopus on White Ratanay
The first Saguaros bloom and the first Ironwoods are covered in pink. The deep humm of Centris bees can be heard from a distance. Centri pallida visits the leguminous trees, the flowers of the White Ratany and Creosote are attracting the darker Centris rhodopus.

Mesquite flowers in Saguaro National Park West are covered in mating Netwing Beetles of the genus Lucaina, and the first Lycus sanguinea showed up, too. No group leks for this species.

Creosote Bush Katydid, Insara covilleae, nymph
I also found a very camouflaged last instar nymph of the Creosote Bush Katydid, Insara covilleae, feeding, as it should, on creosote leaves.

Enallagma civile (Familiar Bluet)
At a pond at the Desert Museum, another nymph had just left its old skin and its former element behind to spread its wings as a Damsel Fly. But first it had to patiently wait until its teneral paleness transformed itself into the beautiful color of an adult Bluet.

Today: May 1, the first Lesser Nighthawk swooped out of his hiding spot in a Palo Verde in the State Land. In the evening they were courting, a pair gracefully dancing over our backyard while continuously making a sound like a melodious purr.

White-throated Swifts Aeronautes saxatalis) adapted from a photo by Alexander Viduetski
 In the morning four White-throated Swifts were also very active over our yard, but their shrill, twittering calls drove the dogs crazy and their ballet soon deteriorated into a wing-on-wing battle, with two of them (a couple, two males??) tumbling repeatedly all the way to the ground. I had never before seen them do anything but catch bugs so high above that they seemed to belong to another reality...not earthbound as they suddenly seemed. The things we do for sex...

Prickly Pear Cacti and Chollas are in full bloom. The flowers are full of Diadasia bees, the digger bees that are specialised on cactus flowers.

Little swarm of feral, Africanized Honey Bees. The wandering swarm (left) is very peaceful and approachable. The one that found a cavity in the saguaro will build a hive there and then may get aggressively territorial
This year we seem to have fewer feral Honey Bees than usual. Our Africanized version is not as freeze tolerant as the European stock (that's why they never became a problem in Europe and further north in the US, just here in the Southwest where the winters are usually warm). The species is otherwise very robust and there are enough bees left to increasetheir population again to compete with our native bees.

Male Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
From my studio window I'm watching the antics of four or five fledgling Black-tailed Gnatcatchers. They are probably learning to glean the Palo Verde tree for small caterpillars of the Palo Verde Looper.

Palo Verde Looper, Faculta inequalis

The adult moths are coming to my black-light at night where they are eagerly awaited by several small Red-spotted Toads who were joined last night by the first huge Sonoran Desert Toad.

Western Banded Gecko, Coleonyx variegatus
I have never seen a Banded Gecko this big and colorful. I think he must be in his mating-season best!


  1. Beautiful pics as usual and I love the water colour paintings of the Quail family. I miss the sound of Quails.

    I see the deadly Armor Defenses of Saguaros just got deadlier. *smile*

  2. Such a wonderful blog entry. The beauty and variety is truly moving, Margarethe. Thank you for treating us to such an awesome sampler.

  3. How wonderful to see so many different animals I've never encountered before. I really enjoy your blog; I learn something every time.

  4. Inspirational photos Margarethe. Always a pleasure to visit!