Monday, February 10, 2020

2019 In Review – Baja California, Costa Rica, and Tucson

I arrived home in Tucson on February 25 after seven amazing and restorative weeks in southern Africa, and in three days I was off to lead my first tour of the year, Baja California. Even here, on such a short tour and with relatively low biodiversity compared to most of my tours, I have a hard time choosing just two photos. We ate amazing food, had a very good Gray Whale experience, saw some nice damselflies and dragonflies (for once I had a serious iNaturalist and dragonflier as a participant), and of course saw the three endemic birds we had a chance for, including several endemic subspecies. One of those endemic species is Xantus’s Hummingbird, but this mostly white leucistic one was a shocker.
leucistic Xantus’s Hummingbird

It was nice to have warm enough weather for some lizards and butterflies. Silver-banded Hairstreak is regular near La Paz, and the Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum) there was new for me. But the winner was this Baja California Rock Lizards, Petrosaurus thalassinus. This stunning male was re-growing its tail. Petrosaurus is in the same subfamily as our fence and spiny lizards.
Baja California Rock Lizards, Petrosaurus thalassinus

I had given myself just one full day at home before having to leave for my next tour, Costa Rica. Compared to Baja California, his was a huge jump in species count in every group thinkable other than whales (of which we saw none). So how do I choose just two photos among all the amazing things we saw? It’s a given that we saw some great birds – particularly memorable was a Great Tinamou that foraged along a trail at La Selva, walking within a foot of some of the members of my group as we stood still. We had a wonderful Baird’s Trogon at Bosque del Rio Tigre and a stunning Resplendent Quetzal in the Savegre Valley. We had 484 species of birds in total, including 41 hummingbirds. We also saw 25 species of mammals, 29 species of herps, and put names to nearly a hundred butterflies and moths. But my two favorite photos fall in the category of “miscellaneous invertebrates.”

This first is a thread-legged bug feeding on a spider, which we saw on a night walk at Bosque del Rio Tigre. These assassins are tiny, so it wasn’t clear what we were seeing until I took a macro photo and looked at the camera screen. The subfamily is Emesinae (of the assassin bug family Reduviidae), and their forelegs are held much like a praying mantis’s. Unlike a mantis, after grabbing their victim, they pierce it with their stylus, probably injecting a venom to subdue them. The spider, incidentally, is a longspinneret spider, family Hersiliidae.
Emesinae, Hersillidae

I’m cheating on this next photo by piecing two together, but I actually took these photos just 15 minutes apart, and they were within a few yards of each other. You might figure it out on your own by just looking at it, but this is a clear example of mimicry. On the left is an assassin bug (genus Apiomerus) and on the right is a weevil (Cactophagus sanguinolentus). They were both about the same height off the ground next to the trail, both about the same size, and both are exceedingly distinctive from other members of their respective genera. If the weevil can be determined to be numerically more abundant than the assassin, it would be pretty clear that the assassin is the mimic and the weevil the model. There has been quite a bit published about assassins that mimic bees, but I wasn’t able to find any citations that included weevils.
Apiomerus) and on the right is a weevil (Cactophagus sanguinolentus

At the end of the month I had six full days back in Tucson, and I’ll include a couple photos from the one outing took, to Puerto Canyon, with my friend Greg Corman. Puerto Canyon is a hidden gem in the northern end of the Tumacacori Mountains with at least a tiny bit of permanent water. It’s not far north of Tumacacori but west of the I-19 freeway. Here’s Greg in one of the wetter parts of the canyon.

I was pleased to find this moth Philtraea elegantaria, apparently uncommon and very local in southern Arizona (and apparently even rarer in southern California). It’s a geometrid, which surprised me, given that most of them hold their wings flat against the surface when at rest.
Philtraea elegantaria

This month also marked my first serious action towards moving back to Oregon. I’ve been wanting to move back to Oregon for several reasons (it’s never stopped feeling like home, basically) and for years have been telling friends this but haven’t really been able to do anything about it – money and time issues predominately. I’ve also have been loath to leave SE Arizona and my many friends there. I had an amazing living situation in Tucson as well – great landlords, rent I could afford, my own space in a free-standing guest house, a large yard full of birds and lizards, and within bicycling distance of nearly all my shopping needs. At one point I thought I should wait until my landlords’ daughter graduated from high school and moved away for college, as I moved in across the patio from them when she was three years old and watched her grow up. But her graduation year 2011 came and went. Even my friend Brian Gibbons remembers when he moved to Tucson in 2010 that I told him I was moving soon. I finally started planning, early in 2018, when seeing gaps in my 2019 tour schedule that would allow me to first look for a place and second to actually make the move.

So late this month I sent an email to over 50 friends and acquaintances in Oregon, asking them to please let me know if they come across any attractive places that become available. This got the ball rolling, even if slowly at first. I had a few more tours coming up to keep me from making much more progress on the move.

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