Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Through the Grasslands of Santa Cruz County

I love those grey-golden expanses of grass that role and wave under the low standing winter sun, and those mountain ranges with names like Mule and Mustang that cast their deep shadows. So when I had to deliver art work to my little Patagonia gallery (Creative Spirits Artists) I took my time on southbound Highway 83. I did not stop for every Hawk that perched on the power lines, but a whole heard of Pronghorns was too good. There were at least two dozens of them, grazing not too far from the road side.

 I even swung around to go back. Of course, shortly later several more cars and a motor cycle with blaring music stopped too.  Most of the people saw the pronghorns for the first time, and their questions made me realize that I don't know a lot about these attractive mammals either - I see them in open grassland towards New Mexico, around Prescott Valley and around Sonoita (yesterday's heard) and once I saw a big mixed group - Half Mule deer and half Pronghorns in the Watson Lake area of Yavapai County. I knew that at 50 miles per hour they are  the speediest US mammals, and I just learned that they are also great long distance runners.

Both sexes carry horns with the name-giving prongs. These horns are composed of a slender, laterally flattened blade of bone that grows from the frontal bones of the skull, forming a permanent core. As in the Giraffidae, skin covers the bony cores, but in the pronghorn, it develops into a keratinous sheath which is shed and regrown on an annual basis.

Like deer and other even-toed hoofed animals, pronghorns chew their regurgitated cud. This enables them to live on a diet of grasses, sage, cactus and other hard-to-digest plants of the steppe, often including plants unpalatable or toxic to domestic livestock. 

They fill an ecological niche very similar to that of the Antelopes of the old world whom they resemble physically and behaviorally. So they are often called 'Pronghorn Antelopes'. But the similarity is mostly  based on convergent evolution. Zoologically they are the last representatives of the family Antilocapridae.

 I was asked if they are native.  Yes, they are but some groups have been moved around to repopulate parts of their natural range. Are they wild or owned and put on those fenced pastures? Yes, wild and able to move across those fences. But I thought that they might jump, like deer. Apparently, they rather go under the obstacle. For this reason, the Arizona Antelope Foundation and others are in the process of removing the bottom barbed wire from the fences, and/or installing a barbless bottom wire.

Pronghorns seemed to be close to extinction around the turn of the twentieths century. Their number had been decimated by over-hunting, habitat loss, break-up of their migration paths, and sheep-transmitted diseases (blue tongue disease). Protection and management have helped most populations to recover. But the  Populations of the Sonoran pronghorn in Arizona (and Mexico) are still endangered  and  protected under the Endangered Species Act (since 1967). 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Birds and weather at the Fountain Hills Art Show, November 2015

The Fountain Festival in Fountain Hills, Arizona, takes place along the artificial lake of 'the Tallest Fountain of the Planet'. I'm always looking for winter guests, the customer kind at the show and the avian kind on the water. I like those Hooded Mergansers. In the afternoon, when I had no camera with me, they were displaying and vocalizing around their females, a great spectacle.

Blue Heron, Great Egret, Night Herons and Cormorants were sleeping in a mesquite tree on an island. They are smart to seek that safe haven. I found the feathers of several coots on the bank of the lake, and in the morning we ran right into a very wet bobcat that strolled leisurely across the road, ignoring several close-by dogs. He must have known that in FH, they take their leash-laws awfully seriously.

A young Night Heron got hungry and tried to fish - I guess the mergansers and grebes would not be there inf the lake was as sterile as it looks?

I think these are Eared Grebes, I have seen also Western and Pied-billed ones there. Fish-eaters all, I believe. There were also 5 smallish gulls that I could not identify. Bonaparte Gulls maybe.  Herons and Cormorants usually only come for the night, they spend the day at Salt and Verde River.

On Friday and Saturday, the weather was beautifully sunny and warm. Show weather that makes you remember why the Arizona the outdoor show season is in winter. But on Sunday morning, the sky looked ominous. By noon it was raining on and off, later it poured and the gutters begun flooding the back of our tents. Luckily, the front of my tent consists of clear see-through material with a door, and it stayed inviting enough for shoppers to step in out of the rain. I need to take some photos, next time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The 'Spider Poster' is ready!

The Arizona Arachnid Poster is now ready to be printed. For posters I don't use my own Giclee Printer, because the inks are too expensive for mass production. Instead, I'm ordering from a company that specializes in posters. So I have to make sure to order enough at a time, at least 10, better yet 20 or 30. It's looking good, the orders are coming in.

This was the old post, showing how the poster came together, slowly:
I am working on a new poster: Spiders and other Arachnids of Arizona. It won't be ready for Halloween, but it is not meant to become a short lived spooky decoration anyway. Rather it's supposed to show the beauty of spiders and maybe raise some interest in this fascinating group. So here is a teaser - 15 of about 50 images are placed so far, but they can still be moved around some.

I will also again make a black and white template with the species names that I'll send out by e mail - to everyone who orders this poster. The size will be 18 by 24 inches to match the Arizona Beetle Poster. It will cost $35 plus shipping. You can order by e mail or message me on my Facebook page. I will add new images here as I progress.

I am also printing greeting cards. The will be available for the first time at the Fountain Festival in Fountain Hills this weekend.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A last Hurrah of the Desert Broom shrubs in Madera Canyon

On the first of November I went back to Madera Canyon and found just a few of the Desert Broom bushes still blooming. The weather was perfect this time: sunny and not particularly windy.
Many more butterflies than last time congregated mainly on the few male shrubs that still had something to offer.

Apodemia palmeri (Palmer's Metalmark)

Anthanassa texana (Texan Crescent)
Hemiargus ceraunus

Asterocampa leilia (Empress Leilia on a female shrub

Libytheana carinenta (American Snout )
Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady)
Junonia coenia (Common Buckeye)
Atlides halesus (Great Purple Hairstreak)
Chlorostrymon simaethis (Silver-Banded Hairstreak)
This green Silver-banded HS was a first for me, so I asked my friends Mary Kinkel and Fred Heath for confirmation and background info. Mary confirmed that we have a pretty 'good flight' of these pretty guys this year.
Fred wrote: The Silver-banded Hairstreak uses Balloon Vine (Cardiospermum sp?). This plant is  a rare and very local plant in extreme southern AZ. It is found in some local gardens, for example the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum where I’ve found a few Silver-banded in the last couple of years. There may be more than we know locally , but the local botanists have not found it. There is also the possibility that they are using something else locally. The Soapberry and Hopbush, two common plants here are in the same family, but do not have the same type of hollow fruit with the seeds inside which the caterpillars are known to eat. Jim Brock says it wouldn’t surprise him if they are using something altogether different. Interestingly, Jim Brock and Bill Beck have Balloon Vines in their gardens and have found Ceraunus Blue caterpillars happily feeding on them. I guess the butterflies just don’t read the books.
Fred Heath