May 25, 2008

Stinky Fingers and a Stream Stomp

The stink on my fingers won't go away. It's been about six hours and countless hand-cleansings since I misguidedly picked up an unusual ground beetle I spotted on the road this morning, and the stench it left behind on my fingers is still quite discernable. I believe the beetle I found is in the Genus Pasimachus, but I could be wrong. It looks pretty darn close, though. It could even be the species shown in that link, but I didn't bother to look it up while it was still in my hand. Now, while I normally refrain from picking up our local Pinacate Beetles (also known as "Darkling" beetles from the Genus Eleodes) due to their tendancy to live up to their other name (stink beetle), I didn't even consider that this one would have the same sort of defensive behavior.

Well, I'm paying the price for my curiosity. My finger smells like ass. So, naturally, everything that I bring near my mouth using my left hand also smells like ass.

Smelly fingers aside, Sonja and I took the dogs out to enjoy the spectacularly beautiful weather today. It's sunny and about 75 degrees, with a nice breeze to keep things cool. We walked up the ditch to one of the better dog swimming holes in Beaver Creek to let Harvey play around a bit (he's feeling much better now...all of his swelling and hives have gone).

It was really nice to just wade around in the pool and watch Harvey do his rock diving thing. He looked ecstatic as he dove for rock after rock after rock. It's nice to see him feeling so much better.

Luna, on the other hand, seemed very bored. She doesn't look it in this photo, but she kept staring up at us with this forlorn look on her face wondering why she couldn't run around off leash. She'll just have to stay bored, though. We're not going to take the chance of her running off and disappearing again. She did her best to make up for her apparent boredom, though, finding the only rotting piece of dead stuff in the area to roll around in. Luckily, it was only a little dead lizard, so it wasn't nearly as gross as some of the stuff she found on the beach in Seward (nothing like a dog that smells like rotting salmon). Still, it meant she earned herself a good washing off in the stream.

She definitely was not thrilled about that. Not sure how well it worked, but at least she doesn't smell like my finger.

May 24, 2008

Crazy Go Nuts

That's how I feel the weather has been lately, at least. Of course, I haven't really been around to experience it for the last week, but the last couple of days have been strange. For Arizona, anyway. While we should be having temps nearing or exceeding 100 degrees on a daily basis now, things have been quite different. I think the high temp today was around 65, with rain off and on the whole time. I think Flagstaff even got snow. Not that I'm complaining, of course. It just doesn't feel right. Can anyone say "Global Climate Change"?

Anyway, today feels like a cow near a mountain sort of day, so there's a cow near a mountain for you. I took that picture last weekend when Sonja and I went p-doggin'.

And continuing with the random disconnectednessocity of this post...

So my week in Harpers Ferry went quite well. Got to broadcast my mug all across the park service on Thursday, trying to teach interp-types how to do a ranger-led walk/hike/tour thingy. It was pretty fun, actually. I think we had something like 30 parks watching, including folks from the Everglades, Grand Canyon and Guilford Courthouse National Military Park (yeah, I'd never heard of that one, either). I have the entire four-hour broadcast on DVD now, so if anyone would like to see it, let me know.

May 18, 2008

A Prairie Afternoon

After spending most of the morning enjoying Sonja's urban p-dogs, we headed north of Flagstaff into the short-grass prairie of the San Fransisco Volcanic Field to find their country cousins (still the same species, just less apt to encounter humans). We found two. Two prairie dogs, that is. Not colonies. But even though we struck out on p-dogs, there was plenty of other stuff to keep our interest piqued.

Of course, no prairie afternoon is complete without a visit from a pair of Burrowing Owls. We watched these two for a while as they flew back and forth, called to each other, and occassionally disappeared into their burrow. This was particularly exciting for me, since my only other Burrowing Owl sighting was along I-25 in New Mexico at about 75 mph.

The Horned Larks were everywhere today. We didn't even bother trying to count how many we saw.

I enjoyed seeing the larks' creativity in finding any perch that gave them a bit of a view over the short grasses. This one choose a much more scenic perch than most. The most popular, by far, were the numerous cow patties.

And then there were the lizards. I'd been wanting to see a collared lizard for years, so I was super psyched to see this female Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) hanging out next to the dirt track we were driving down. She was amazingly tolerant of us approaching close to her as she clung to her little tuft of grass.

To give some perspective, you can see her standing in the grass in the far lower right hand corner of this picture (you might need to click on the image to see her better).

As we were leaving the area we spotted another collared lizard hang-out, with numerous individuals running around on the volcanic rocks. This male happened to be right next to the car...and once he got sick of me hovering over him, decided that being UNDER our car was the best place to sit. Sonja had to poke him with our window scraper a couple times to encourage him to get out from under there.

The last, and perhaps most exciting, lizard we saw was this Long-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii). We didn't get much time to enjoy him, though, as he very quickly dashed off into the grasses.

Yeah, today rocked. Tomorrow I'm leaving for Harpers Ferry, WV, to help out with an interpretive training broadcast. So I probably won't be posting again until next weekend. Not that it will be any different than my normal posting frequency, but I figured I'd at least mention it.

P-Doggin' in Flag

Sonja and I spent the morning up in Flagstaff so she could show me some of the prairie dog towns she'll be studying this summer. It was the closest I've ever been to p-dogs, and I must say they are quite charismatic. Sonja's going to have a blast this summer with her behavioral observations. She's beginning work on her thesis, "Behavioral Responses to Predator Stimuli in Urban vs. Rural Gunnison's Prairie Dog Colonies" (we call it the "Ninja Report" for short), this month and should be spending several days a week with these colonies throughout the summer.

Later this summer I'll get to be a subject in Sonja's study as I walk Luna through some of the colonies so she can measure the p-dogs' responses to us. But for right now she's just trying to find enough colonies for her study. For such a prolific rodent, they seem particularly susceptible to dying. The badgers, coyotes and plague do enough damage for this deserves-to-be-listed-as-threatened species. Throw in the poisoning, bulldozing and target-practice that moronic rednecks inflict upon these guys (all quite legally, by the way) and it's a wonder any are left at all.

May 12, 2008

The Insatiable SUV

I heard this short bit on NPR's Day to Day this afternoon and wanted to share it with everyone. Follow the link and click on "Listen Now". And if you are one of the SUV owners that this story refers to, you have my sympathies...but not really.

May 07, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Monument Valley, Arizona
April 7, 2008

May 04, 2008

Madera Canyon: A Birder's Paradise

There are three birding meccas in North America that nearly every birder puts on their "someday I'll go there" list: the Pribilof Islands of Alaska, the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, and the "Sky Islands" of Southeastern Arizona. This weekend Sonja and I visited one of these for a birding experience that few other places on the continent can rival. Madera Canyon is tucked away in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, easily accessible to anyone who knows both where it is and why it's such a treasure, and for anyone interested in seeing cool birds it offers eye-candy that you can't find anywhere else north of the Mexican border. This is such an amazing place for birds that I was willing to make the 200+ mile trip down there twice in the last two weeks, just to give Sonja the opportunity to see what I saw. 64 species and many lifers later (4 for me and 13 for Sonja) both Sonja and I agreed that it was well worth it.

Remember how I had forgotten my camera battery last time I visited Madera Canyon? Well, I made no such mistake this time. The following photos depict the highlights from our morning exploring one of Arizona's most spectacular Sky Islands.

An early morning glimpse of a Magnificent Hummingbird (you really need to click on that photo to get a decent look at the bird).

A typical view of the Flame-colored Tanager that has been one of the highlights for many birders visiting Madera Canyon this spring.

This Hepatic Tanager was another lifer for Sonja. One of my goals for the day was to experience a "Four Tanager Day", something not possible anywhere else within the ABA boundaries of North America. We got three pretty quickly (these two and some Western Tanagers at our first stop), but the Summer Tanager eluded us...until we were on our way out of the canyon. I was a happy camper!

This turned into the day of the vireos for us. This Bell's Vireo was one of five species we saw today. The others we saw were Gray, Plumbeous, Hutton's and Warbling Vireos.

Mexican Jays could be found all over the place.

Same with the Acorn Woodpeckers, which were probably the most numerous species we saw today.

This was the only Arizona Woodpecker we spotted, though.

We scored four tyrant flycatchers today, too, including this Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

We almost missed the Northern Pygmy Owl that put on the show for me last time (eating a lizard and copulating in front of a crowd of onlookers). We were about to give up when someone spotted it. I didn't crop the picture to give you a better idea of the size of this tiny owl.

While we've got tons of Bridled Titmice around our place, this was the first time one of the buggers cooperated enough to get some decent photos of it.

Without a doubt, however, the highlight of the entire day was seeing Madera Canyon's most famous resident: the Elegant Trogon.

We chased this bird's dog-like bark up (go here and click on "Elegant Trogon Voice" to hear the bird) and down the canyon, spotting him several times throughout the hike. I was even able to draw him closer by mimicking a mutant saw-whet/pygmy owl hybrid. Seeing one of these obviously tropical birds in the wild is indescribable. Everything about them just screams "I don't belong here!" It's a testament to the importance of protecting Arizona's fragile Sky Islands that these birds of the tropics can still be found in the States.

We finished out the day by stopping by the Sonoran Desert Museum, a non-profit "zoo" that takes in non-releasable rehab animals, focusing on the unique species that inhabit the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona. Their bird aviaries were nothing short of spectacular:

We spotted five species of hummers in Madera Canyon this morning (including Broad-billed Hummingbirds like this one), but they proved to be much easier to photograph in the aviaries.

Another shot of the beautiful Broad-billed Hummingbird. I was disappointed that they didn't have a Magnificent Hummingbird on display. I guess I'll just have to go back to Madera Canyon to get a decent photo of one of them.

May 01, 2008

Change is Good?

Change. It's inevitable, right? Well, at least for this blog it is. I got ambitious this evening and decided to try for a new look. It took a few hours of experimenting and code-tweaking, but I think I finally found a new style that sorta works for me.

Of course, all I really ended up doing was changing the colors, the title graphic and the rearranged the stuff over on the right. But it does give the whole thing a much different feel. I'm still not convinced about the new title graphic. I sorta already miss that whole "liberal" definition thing. But I did stick in an Ed Abbey quote over to the right, so maybe that's all it needs for now. Anyway, what do you think? Of course, that question only applies if you've actually visited my blog before, so if you haven't feel free to pretend you have. Either way, I think I'm going to keep it this way for a little while at least. Not sure when I'll find the motivation to go through all that again.

On another note, I convinced Sonja that she really wants to go to Madera Canyon with me this weekend to see all the cool birds I saw last week. We'll be leaving Saturday and returning Sunday. A quick trip, but it should be long enough for both of us to add more lifers to our lists. I'm still hoping for a Red-faced Warbler. This time, at least, you can be damn sure I'll remember the battery for the camera. Of course, I'll probably forget our binocs instead...