May 30, 2007

A Week in Pictures

Sonja's sister, Sue, came for a five-day visit this past week. Unfortunately, I had to work the entire time she was here, so I didn't get to go exploring with the two of them. Even so, we all had a great time together in the evenings after a long day of hiking and driving around by Sonja and Sue. We watched a couple movies, sat around and chatted, and even played a game of Scrabble, during which I scored the highest point total for a single word I've ever gotten (87 points). That was my highlight of the week (ok, not really. But I'm pretty proud of it, considering the word I scored those points with was "slimey").

Anyway, since I wasn't along most of the time I can't really add much to these photos. I guess they'll have to speak for themselves, mostly.

Ok, this 5 foot bull snake wasn't actually from Sue's visit. I took this the day before she arrived at the Castle. I just haven't had a chance to post it, yet, so here it is. The rest of these pictures were taken by Sonja and Sue during their adventures.

We did actually see a snake while Sue was here. This is a tiny western diamondback rattler that was crossing the road just down from our house. It was kinda dark out, so the picture quality wasn't that great. This was Sue's first rattlesnake!

Sonja and Sue's first adventure was to hike the Broken Arrow Trail outside of Sedona.

The century plants were still in bloom.

Next, they explored the Verde Valley, including a visit to Tuzigoot National Monument. I think it was a little on the windy side that day.

Sonja took Sue over to a llama farm to help with some llama-sitting chores, too.

I don't even want to guess what the llama on the left is thinking. At least the sheep looks appreciative of the effort Sonja and Sue put into feeding them.

Their next adventure took them up to Flagstaff and Walnut Canyon National Monument.

Sue at Sunset Crater National Monument, just north of Flagstaff, standing amongst the Aa lava.

And yesterday, they both spent several hours in the car to get to one of the most recognizable natural landmarks on the planet, the Grand Canyon. Here's Sue at Mather Point.

This was Sonja's second time visiting the "Big Ditch", and she was very excited to report having seen her first "crap-load" of condors (I think that's the official classification for a group of condors). Some of her pictures came out really good, too, so I turned them into a fun little montage. It's not often you get to look down at a soaring California Condor.

So, that's the last week in the life of the Olligs and a Fogarty. I'd have added all sorts of random links to this post, but my creative juices don't seem to be flowing tonight.

May 26, 2007

30 years ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Thirty years ago yesterday, actually, Episode IV: A New Hope was released in theaters across the country. I was three years old at the time, and I still vividly remember the experience. Well, not so much the movie itself, although it was my very first movie theater experience. Rather, the images that come to mind when I think of going to see Star Wars with my family are the things a three year old would find fascinating.

I remember waiting in line outside for the box office to open. I wasn't really sure what was going on, and I think I asked my mom and dad about thirty times what we were waiting for. But I do recall walking past all these cool posters with names I couldn't read and robots on them.

I also remember the theater's lobby. Or, more specifically, the oval shape to the room and the floor to ceiling, heavy, green curtains that covered non-existant windows. This really intrigued me, and I recall quite clearly running back and forth along the wall behind these curtains looking for the windows.

That's about it. My memory of seeing Star Wars for the very first time on the weekend of its initial release is limited to a line, a poster and a curtain. Of course, the fact that I would watch this movie at least 130 more times growing up (we taped it off of Showtime when I was 7) sort of makes up for it.

Ten years ago, when it was rereleased in theaters, I got to relive this experience while living in Washington, DC. Although this time was a tad different. I got in line at 2am to buy tickets for the first showing, only to find that 300 people had gotten there before me. By the time the box office opened at 9am over 4,000 people (and stormtroopers, and wookies, and jedi knights) were waiting for tickets (this was THE theater in DC to see the movie). I lucked out and got one of the last tickets for the first show of the day, 10am. This was movie-watching like it's supposed to be. People in costume roaming the isles, an impromptu light saber battle on the stage, and a DC newscaster reporting on the event while wearing a stormtrooper helmet.

Then the 20th Century Fox music began and everyone roared, then got earily silent as the words "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." appeared. Until the next second, when the main title appeared and the dramatic music began. Then the crowd erupted. Popcorn was flying and people were cheering. Everyone was so into the experience, it was fantastic! When Darth Vader made his first appearance on screen everyone spontaneously booed. And when the Death Star exploded, the whole theater was on their feet cheering and throwing popcorn. It was movie-watching heaven.

We'll just pretend what happened over the next eight years with the three new films never happened.

May 21, 2007

Greatest Music Video Ever...?

So, you tell me. Is this the greatest music video ever?

Long gone are any vestiges of coolness that Knight Rider gave him. Still, how can you not like David Hasselhoff after seeing something like that?

May 19, 2007

Hey look! An Ice Cream Truck!

Today, we salute you, Mr. Musical Ice Cream Truck Driver Guy.

Mr. Musical Ice Cream Truck Driver Guy!

On those hot, muggy summer days, nothing causes heads to turn quicker than the sound of your approaching magical musical truck. You are the one who always seems to be there right when we need you, even if we didn't really feel like having ice cream in the first place.

I don't want any...ok, yes I do!

Yours is the only vehicle that causes parents to encourage their children to run out into the middle of the street. Because they realize those frozen rainbow rocket pops waiting inside your freezer are the only things that will shut their screaming kids up for the next ten minutes.

Here's two bucks, go buy a rocket pop!

But it's not just kids that are drawn like rats to Peter Piper's Pipe by your hypnotically repetitive song. Even though we won't admit it, we've all pushed a snot-nosed brat out of the way to reach your magical window.

Out of my way, kid!

You also don't care that your Super-Deluxe-Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants-Popsicle with gumdrop eyeballs will send most of us either running guiltily for the scale to count calories or dashing to the toilet to relieve our lactose-intolerant bowels. Because you know we'll come back. We always come back.

I scream for ice cream!

So, thank you for driving slowly down the street today, oh peddler of overpriced push-pops. And, don't worry. That hat doesn't make you look silly.

Mr. Musical Ice Cream Truck Driver Guy!

Disclaimer: This post in no way endorses advertising for or drinking of Bud Light...because, frankly, it tastes like pee. And yes, the $2 ice cream sandwich Sonja and I shared was scrumptuous!

May 16, 2007

Creepy Crawler Carnival #3: Black Widow!

Few creatures conjure up more irrational fear in people all over the world than spiders. And few spiders are more feared (particularly in the United States) than the ominously named subject of this entry into our Creepy Crawler Carnival.

Creepy Crawler Carnival #3

Black Widow
Latrodectus hesperus

For the sake of relatives that will be visiting us soon, I won't mention where I found this spider. Suffice to say, she was not inside the house. I was actually wondering how long it would be before I saw my first Black Widow. Sonja first spotted it last night, but just stood back and pointed at it. It was pretty dark outside, and by the light of our headlamp I wasn't quite sure what kind it was until I got pretty close. Then I saw the red hourglass on her abdomen.

I readily admit that my first reaction when I saw that was to flinch. My heart started racing and that irrational, primal fear started to emerge. I knew we would eventually find some of these around our house, but I was surprised how creeped out I was by it. All I could think of as I fell asleep that night was the fact that there was a "deadly spider" living outside our home. But I know better. I'm a biologist, for crying out loud. I know that the chances of getting bit by one are almost nonexistant...unless I go out and start poking it. I am concerned about our pets getting bitten, though. Particularly Annie, due to her small size and the fact that she likes to play with crawlie things. I think it was just because it was the first one I had ever seen. Cuz tonight, as I was taking these pictures, I was much more fascinated by her than repulsed. As you can see, she really is a stunningly beautiful creature (only the females of the genus look like this...the males are less than half this size).

So, black widow spiders (this one is a western black widow) are surprisingly common throughout the United States, and even into Canada. The genus (Latrodectus) is found worldwide, with all species possessing a powerful neurotoxin (the same type of venom found in cobras and coral snakes). Despite the potency of this venom, bites from these spiders rarely result in death, due primarily to the tiny fangs (less than 1mm long) and the miniscule amount of venom injected. The bite of a black widow results in the clinical syndrome known as latrodectism (named for the genus of which these spiders belong). As the name "neurotoxin" implies, it affects the nervous system, causing convulsions and intense pain. You can compare this to hemotoxin, such as that possessed by rattlesnakes and other pit vipers, that affects the blood.

Black widows tend to prefer living in the clutter that people often surround themselves with and as a result, out of all the venomous spiders in the world, more people are bitten by them than any of the more dangerous species. However, according to Wikipedia (and if it's on Wiki, it's gotta be true), there have only been 63 confirmed deaths from black widow bites in the U.S. between 1950 and 1989. That's well under 1% of reported bite victims.

I also thought this was interesting (taken from Wiki's black widow spider page):

Improvements in plumbing have greatly reduced the incidence of bites and fatalities in areas where outdoor privies have been replaced by flush toilets. Nearly ninety percent of the black widow bites reported in the medical literature of the first 4 decades of [the twentieth] century were inflicted on the male genitalia by spiders lurking underneath the seats of outdoor toilets.
Good thing there are no black widows living in Fairbanks, eh?

Black widows are surprisingly shy. When I tried taking a second picture of her she quickly disappeared under the eave, only emerging again after this moth flew into her messy web.

I really like this picture, since you can see her very characteristic body shape. I got to watch her wrap up this moth for a couple minutes, until she decided she wanted a bit more privacy and carried it back under the eave.

Finally, I thought I'd add a photo of our thermometer that Sonja took on Sunday. Since we moved here, we've broken 100 degrees three times, all within the last week. This is pretty unusual for early May, though. Normal highs this time of year are about 10 degrees cooler. It shouldn't be getting that hot until later in June and July. Even so, the temps really aren't as bad as I thought...unless you're stupid enough to stand out in the sun. Then it sucks. But as soon as you find some shade it's surprisingly comfortable.

May 14, 2007

Here's a Llama, There's a Llama

Because my creative juices have seemed to dry up lately (must be the 101 degree temps), I'm going to let Sonja tell you her llama story from a few days ago in her own words. However, I still reserve the right to elaborate on her writing by adding assorted links throughout her post. Anyway, here's Sonja:

So, I got to go shear a llama. Wait, I didn't actually get to shear a llama. I didn't even get to hold the scissors. Oh, wait...I held them for like ten seconds. So, I guess I watched a llama get sheared. But I held the llama! Or restrained. Whatever you wanna call it.

Here's a picture of a llama.

Here's a picture of an alpaca!

Here's the llama we sheared. Fuzzy. His name was Mochaccino.

This was us blowing all the dirt and crud off of his wool before we sheared it. We got really dusty.

This is Nancy, the llama-lady, shearing!

Me and Mochaccino! As you can see by his perterbedness, he's not all that cuddly.

This is not a llama. It is a really, really cute sheep! I can't wait till we can have some of our own.

May 09, 2007

A Day at the Well

Every couple weeks I get an opportunity to spend an entire day working at Montezuma Well. These are days I can forget about all of the deadlines (well...maybe not forget about them. How about ignore?) and just enjoy being a park ranger. Most of my time on these days is spent roving the trails, talking to visitors, and reminding myself why I have the best job in the world.

Yesterday was no different. There was nothing extraordinary about it. I didn't see any new birds. I didn't have an exciting wildlife encounter. It was, in every way, just a normal day. But that was what was so good about it. Spending six hours outside in the warm, clear desert air, sharing what I love about this place with the hundreds of visitors who stopped by to see what it was all refreshingly uneventful.

The Common Blackhawk that we suspect is nesting nearby showed up again after a couple weeks of no sightings. I didn't realize it was staring straight at me as I took these pictures until I downloaded them this morning. I also spotted a White-winged Dove fly overhead, surprised to see one this far north. Most of the summer residents have now arrived (like the Western and Summer Tanagers), including some that I wasn't expecting to see here, like the Phaenopepla, or silky flycatcher. There was also a cool lizard that I saw along one of the trails. I hadn't noticed this species before, and unfortunately have yet to find a really good reptile field guide. So, I'm not quite sure what it was. It had a really unique behavior. Instead of simply running away like most of the small lizards around here, it would run a bit, then stop and wiggle its black-and-white striped tail at me. Then run a bit more, stop, and wag its tail. I'm assuming it's either trying to mimic a rattlesnake or encourage me, the predator, to strike at its tail, rather than its head.

The cacti are still in full bloom, too, adding some surprising colors to the predominant browns and greens of the arid landscape around the Well.

I was particularly happy to have been able to spend yesterday outside after I heard the forecast for this coming weekend. By Saturday we're supposed to get very close to breaking 100 degrees. I hope I'm ready for this...

May 05, 2007

Birding the Huachucas

On Thursday, Sonja and I took our first trip to the Huachuca Mountains of extreme southeastern Arizona. These mountain ranges, in the heart of the deep Sonoran Desert, are often called “Sky Islands” for the incredible variety of temperate mixed forest habitats they provide. They tend to be refuges for a huge number of migratory birds and resident mammals that normally wouldn’t be able to survive in the arid desert ecosystem. In many cases, they are also hot-spots for Mexican species that, for one reason or another (range expansion due to global climate change, straying off course during migration, etc) can sometimes be surprisingly common in the lush canyons cutting into the mountains.

While this trip didn’t yield a tremendous list of total species seen (41), we both recorded a good number of lifers (Sonja: 13; me: 9). We saw six different species of hummingbirds, three of which were lifers for both of us, including a Magnificent and a Blue-throated Hummingbird, both of which were almost twice the size of the more common Anna’s and Black-chinned hummers that we normally get at our feeders.

The undisputed highlight of the whole day, however, took place in the afternoon (normally not a good time of day for birding) on Fort Huachuca, an army base in Sierra Vista, AZ. After getting our day-pass (and a dirty look from the guy giving it to us after he noticed the “No Nukes North 2003 Peace Camp” t-shirt), we proceeded to get lost twice before finding our way past all the grenade assault courses to Garden Canyon, one of these forested valleys I mentioned. We parked alongside several large vans, then noticed that everyone piling out of one of them were wearing binoculars and carrying field guides. I overheard one member of this group getting directions from another binocular-clad guy from the other van. So I butted in and asked what they had seen up the trail. The group that was just finishing their hike had seen a pair of Mexican Spotted Owls about a half-hour hike up the trail from where we were standing. They doubted whether or not we would be able to locate them, considering they were have a very difficult time trying to describe where to look, but we headed up the trail anyway.

Once we got to the area they had described, we also began doubting whether we would actually see the owls. Searching a 100 yard section of trail scanning incredibly dense, jungle-like vegetation for a pair of non-descript brown birds that could be perched pretty much anywhere was beginning to feel like an impossible mission. Particularly once Sonja discovered that I neglected to ask what side of the trail the birds were located, not to mention how high they were perched or on what kind of tree. But I got lucky. Sonja decided to head up the trail a bit and work her way back while I lagged behind. I nonchalantly turned my head to look back down the trail when I saw them. Two large, nondescript brown birds perched on a nondescript branch, next to a nondescript rock in a nondescript part of the forest.

“Oh, there they are,” is all I said, trying to sound as casual as possible. Couldn’t let Sonja think that I had agreed with her that there was no way in hell we were going to find them. The birds just sat there, preening themselves and each other, while we sat on a couple rocks not 30 feet away and watched them. We stayed for almost a half hour admiring their beautiful plumage and the meticulous way they went about cleaning their feathers one by one. They were in the perfect position to get some amazing “through the binoculars” photographs…if I had remembered to put the camera in my pocket before we left the car. But the image of those two owls will forever be etched in my memory, even without the pictures I might have taken.

We did fail to find any Elegant Trogons, a species that can ONLY be seen (outside of Mexico) in these tiny canyons in this out-of-the-way corner of Arizona. Oh well, next time.

Here’s our complete list for the day. Lifers are identified by an asterisk (*) and either a P if it was a lifer for me, an S for Sonja, or both.

Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk (on nest)
Red-tailed Hawk
Wild Turkey
Scaled Quail* (P, S)
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Spotted Owl* (P, S)
Whip-poor-will* (S)
White-throated Swift
Broad-billed Hummingbird* (P, S)
Blue-throated Hummingbird* (P, S)
Magnificent Hummingbird* (P, S)
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Gila Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker* (P, S)
Western Wood Peewee* (S)
Hammond's Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher* (P, S)
Cassin's Kingbird* (P, S)
Vireo sp. (probably a plumbeous, but not quite sure)
Mexican Jay* (P, S)
Common Raven
Bridled Titmouse
Bushtit* (S)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Cactus Wren
Curve-billed Trasher
Northern Parula* (S - a little outside of its normal range…say, about 1,000 miles outside)
Townsend's Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Painted Redstart
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Green-tailed Towhee
Great-tailed Grackle
Spotted Towhee
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch

Our next birding trip will probably be to Madera Canyon to finally see the trogons plus a Flame-colored Tanager that’s been spotted there the last couple years. But we might need a couple weeks for Sonja to build back up her birding bug.

Oh, and we also got to see the world's largest asparagus. Well, that's not what the sign called it, but we think it was mislabled.