Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tree Bear

Photos by Vaughn Donlin 1/25/2015

Put on your imagination hat and take a closer look at these two photos. You'll see (perhaps among other things) a bear in profile (facing right) hugging the mesquite. For an even closer look, go to the picnic area near the creek behind the bathroom (with the lot in front) at stop one.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Barrel vs. Saguaro

Photos by Ned Harris 1/13/2015

When they are small, it's sometimes difficult to tell a barrel from a saguaro. Both have spines, both have pleats, both are green. What to do?

Fortunately, there's only one species of barrel cactus in Sabino, namely the Arizona Barrel Cactus (aka Fishhook, Candy, Southwestern) Ferocactus wislizenii. (There are other species of barrel cactus; just not in Sabino.) And, of course, there's only one species of  Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) on earth. We can look closely (but carefully) at these plants to figure out what's what.
The main spines of AZ barrels are curved at the end (like fishhooks) and look reddish. Saguaro spines, on the other hand (not in the other hand, I hope) are neither curved nor reddish. Now you know!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Puddle Party

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/26/2015

Spring Azure butterflies puddling at a pothole in the Rattlesnake wash. Yes, all are adults. Remember, in the insect world, adults have wings : -)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bees and DYCs

Click on the photo and note the red oval drawn at the base of the willow
Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/26/2015

Marty sent this photo of an active beehive located above the dam, at east end (along the creek) in the area where the hummingbird feeders are located during the banding activity. He's alerted the Forest Service, and the appropriate barriers and signs should be up shortly. But use caution and avoid that area altogether.

Photo by Ned Harris 1/21/2015

This bee is attracted to a invasive from South Africa, Sweet Resin Bush (Euryops multifidus). We noticed this on Ned's Nature Walk on the north side of the main trail from the parking lot. It looks pretty in this photo, I'll grant you. A team will be removing this patch in early February, though.

If you see people - regardless of how official looking they are - removing or destroying plants in Sabino Canyon, be sure to stop and inquire. Alas, it's not always official.

And please never remove anything that you think might be an invasive without verification and permission. The plant above look like other plants in the Aster (Sunflower) family, including Turpentine Bush and Snakeweed. Lots of DYCs (damn yellow composites) in Sabino Canyon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Foam again, foam again

Photo by Ned Harris 1/21/2015

I've posted about this before (here, with Deep Purple); (here, with Marty-art). I'll reproduce the Anne-approved explanation here: (entire post, with photos, here)

Water normally sticks to itself. This allows tiny critters like Water Striders to 'walk' on water. As tiny particles - dissolved organic carbon, to be exact - get washed into the creek after it rains and get further churned up as they flow downstream, they reduce the stickiness of water to itself and allow air to be trapped as bubbles. The bubbles then congregate on the surface where the flow isn't as swift. You can sometimes see inches of thick foam around rocks and near the 'shore.'
The source for this organic carbon is - you guessed it - anything that was once living. Algae, plants, animals - we're all carbon-based life forms. Bottom line: harmless and 'natural' in Sabino Creek.
Yes, detergents, soaps, fertilizers, and other substances can cause foam; and that's not usually optimal. I'm reasonably certain that good ol' dissolved organic carbon is the source for the soapy foam on Sabino Creek.
(You might wonder what 'inorganic carbon' is. Best example: diamonds. Made of carbon, but not alive. If you find any when you're panning, be sure to let me know.)
See you in the canyon!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Portrait of AZ State Bird

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/19/2015

The Cactus Wren is the state bird of Arizona. Males and females look the same, and they eat mostly insects. They build their nests of grasses and other plant materials in cacti - often chollas. This one is perched on an Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), which is not a cactus. (Ocotillos have leaves at times; cacti never do.)

Octotillos and Boojums (Fouquieria columnaris) are the only members of their family (Fouquieriaceae). If you've never seen a Boojum, and can't make it to Baja California, head to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (right here in Tucson); the Desert Botanical Garden (in Phoenix), and/or Boyce Thompson Arboretum (in Superior).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mustard time!

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/19/2015

Spring Azure on London Rocket (Sisymbrium irio). London Rocket is a non-native (but hey, so am I); but it doesn't appear to be invasive (and downright nasty) in the same sense as, say, Giant Reed (Arundo donax) or Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare). Moreover, it's blooming now and looks to be a nectar plant for Spring Azures! (Which is more than one can say about Giant Reed and Buffelgrass.)

London Rocket in the Mustard family and, like many mustards, is edible. The leaves make a nice addition to mixed salad greens.

Grows in disturbed soil - you'll see it all over in Tucson along road sides and on construction sites. London Rocket gets its common name because it grew in abundance after the Great Fire of London in 1666. (Talk about disturbed soil.)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

When an antelope is a ground squirrel

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/19/2015

This little guy has some camouflage on! Harris's Antelope Squirrels are very common in Sabino Canyon. They love seeds and fruits, but also eat insects and mice. They somehow manage to climb the spines of barrel and of prickly pear cacti to get at the fruits. They are solitary, except during mating season - which is generally around February.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Photo by Ned Harris 1/13/2015

Click on this photo for a better view of a paper wasp at work. Paper wasps' nests (say that five times fast) are works of art as well as fine feats of engineering.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bird Tales

Photo by Alan Kearney 1/3/2015

This Roadrunner (actually Greater Roadrunner, but since there aren't any Lesser Roadrunners, we're good to go without the modifier!) hangs out by the shuttle shed. 'Roady' seems pretty aggressive - begging for food and attention. Seems to especially like children. As a food source, perhaps?

Photo by Alan Kearney 1/12/2015

This Spotted Owl lives in Alan's neighborhood across from Sabino Canyon. Note that the head is turned about 180 degrees to the back. Yes, I wish I were that flexible! This bird does eat small mammals...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Birds for All Seasons

All photos by Ned Harris




And the fruit from yesterday's post is from Creosote Bush (Larrea divaricata var. tridentata). Break apart the fuzzy ball to see the seeds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Name that fruit, too

Photo by Ned Harris 1/11/2015

Those fuzzy white balls are the fruit (fruit = the thing that contains the seed or seeds) of this great desert plant. Answer in tomorrow's post.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Water works

On the same foggy day (1/14/2015), water made wonderful patterns, too. Click here for all of Gene's photos from that nature walk. 

All photos by Gene Spesard 1/14/2015

And bonus photos of "Naturalists in the mist" : -) Spooky!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fog Webs

Ned's Nature Walk on 1/14/2015 began in dense fog, very unusual for Tucson. We noticed so many more webs than we normally do, though, because the webs had captured the fog. Gorgeous!

All Photos by Ned Harris 1/14/2015
All webs by Orb Weavers

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Another bird of winter

Photos by Marty Horowitz 1/15/15

Western Bluebirds are also winter visitors to Sabino Canyon. Like Cedar Waxwings, they enjoy a Desert Mistletoe berry (or two). Unlike the Cedar Waxwings, the sexes look different; the male Western Bluebirds are the prettier, bluer of the two.

And the fruit from yesterday's post is Wild Cotton (Gossypium thurberi). Another photo here. This plant is in the Mallow family (Malvaceae); seeds are encapsulated in rather elaborate and beautiful fruit.

Highly trained naturalist holds other fruits from plants in the Mallow family.
Photo by Matt Ball 12/24/2014

Friday, January 16, 2015

Name that fruit!

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/10/15

This is a fruit (fruit = thing that has the seeds). The question is: Of which plant is this the fruit? Bonus points for name of plant family. Answer in tomorrow's post. (And don't ask Marty. He said it's an evil pac man. For all you youngsters, pac man was a character in a video game - back in the pre-internet era.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quacking up!

Photos by Marty Horowitz 1/10/2015

Perhaps these are juveniles :-) In any case, check out these cool facts about Mallards.

And click on this photo for great detail on the bill.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Butterfly action

Even though butterfly action is at its low point for the year, Marty captured some beauties last week.

All photos by Marty Horowitz 1/10/2015

An overdue correction on this butterfly post. Thanks, Fred.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


All photos by Ned Harris 1/10/2015

Can't get enough of these Cedar Waxwings! Click on the photo above for a larger view. Note the brilliant red at the tips of the wings and the bright yellow on the tail. According to the link above:

Cedar Waxwings are pale brown on the head and chest fading to soft gray on the wings. The belly is pale yellow, and the tail is gray with a bright yellow tip. The face has a narrow black mask neatly outlined in white. The red waxy tips to the wing feathers are not always easy to see.

Cedar Waxwings are social birds that you’re likely to see in flocks year-round. They sit in fruiting trees swallowing berries whole, or pluck them in mid-air with a brief fluttering hover. They also course over water for insects, flying like tubby, slightly clumsy swallows.

These winter visitors to Sabino Canyon love Desert Mistletoe  (Phoradendron californicum) berries.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Snowbirds in Sync

Ned writes:
One of my favorite parts of winter in Tucson is the the return of the Snowbirds, especially the Cedar Waxwings.

Anne says: All photos by Ned Harris, 1/10/2015; Captions mine : -)





All together now!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Talkin' Tracks

Photos by Ned Harris 1/7/2015

Lyn consults her track book. 

We saw some nice tracks on Ned's Nature Walk. Not sure, though, if they're from a raccoon or a ringtail. If you know, please let me know. Note the quarter for scale.

This update from Jim Chumbley:

Those are skunk tracks, either striped or hooded. Raccoon would be much larger. Ringtail more round and the claw marks wouldn't be so far out in front of the track.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pretty bird

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/7/2015

Phainopepla (fain [rhymes with pain] -oh-pep-luh [rhymes with duh]) female. How do I know? The females are dull gray; males jet black. Both sexes have red eyes. This one appears to be smiling.

For blog newbies: you can always click on the photos for a larger view; text in a different color indicates a link to click for more info.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Peregrine and TEP tale

Photo by Ned Harris 1/4/2015

Peregrine Falcon and last year's tale. Thanks, TEP!

Take a look at Ned's flickr site for more amazing photos of raptors.