Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Most Beautiful Spot on Earth

Steens Mountain, Oregon. The highest road in the state ascending a spectacular fault-block mountain to a summit that peers down a mile to the desert below. This is looking north down the glacier-carved Kiger Gorge, with Pine Whites (Neophasia menapia) on Orange Sneezeweed, Dugaldia hoopesii. We also saw Black Rosy-Finches here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Malheur Again – This Time the National Forest

Highlights from the diverse coniferous forests north of Burns in Harney and Grant Counties:

White-headed Woodpeckers. Such a cool bird.

Rubber Boa – the northernmost member of the family that includes the famous Anaconda and Boa constrictor. And my dad's special research subject since before I was born.

An incredible Pine White outbreak. It looked like it was snowing.

Lots of butterflies at mountain wildflowers, this a California Hairstreak.

Malheur is Amazing

We had a great drive through Malheur National Wildlife Refuge yesterday. So many birds! We actually started with this Short-eared Owl just south of the town of Hines on Potter Swamp Road.

And we finished the day with Flammulated Owl at Idlewild Campground north of Burns. Malheur was in between the two.

On our way back from owling I pulled over to save this Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus, split from the Prairie Rattlesnake). We were too late for at least two others long the Devine Canyon section of Hwy 395.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Clouds and Clouds of Wilson's Phalaropes

A measurable percentage of Wilson's Phalaropes have gathered on Lake Abert in south-central Oregon. If only you could count that many. The north and south ends had dense groups of them that were uncountable.

And then scattered thinly across the entire surface of the huge lake were feeding phalaropes. A distant scope view:

So it seems silly to think that we had been thrilled to find this one Baird's Sandpiper at the Summer Lake Wildlife Area farther north.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Our Third Woodpecker – Red-breasted Sapsucker

Oregon has a surprisingly high woodpecker diversity, but we haven't been to the hottest spot yet – the central Oregon Cascades. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that we've only had three species so far: Northern Flicker, Acorn Woodpecker, and now Red-breasted Sapsucker. This isn't a rare species, but they are very quiet now and are quite hard to find. We caught up with this one, after my having practically already given up on the species, at one of my favorite places for it, Bellfountain Park in southern Benton County. Note that due to feather wear at the end of the breeding season, this normally intensely red nominate Sphyrapicus ruber ruber is approaching the appearance of a hybrid or a daggetti subspecies.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An Aggressive Little Gnome

This Northern Pygmy-Owl at Kilchis County Park (Tillamook County, Oregon) on the tour yesterday was perhaps the most agressive one I've ever encountered. In less than a minute after we first heard it responding to my whistle, it flew across the river and descended from the canopy to the mid-level branches of the old-growth trees overhead. It paid no attention to the mobbing American Robins.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More Mustelids in Oregon

Wow – Our second day on my Oregon in Summer tour, and we've seen a second species of mustelid! This time it was a Northern River Otter swimming around in the channels near the base of Bayocean Spit near Tillamook. I think there are 8 more species in the family in Oregon. We'd be lucky to see even one of them.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mink at Fernhill

See it in the right track? Seen on our first morning on the Oregon in Summer tour!

---sent with my iPhone---
Rich Hoyer
Tucson, AZ

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bird Mural at Portland Airport

This is at the international arrival hall, where I'm awaiting a participant for my Oregon tour, arriving from Amsterdam. Turns out they are commercial cut-outs pasted on the wall (turns out they ate from David Sibley; so few people can paint birds in flight so well), but they are all locally occurring species. Someone did his/her homework.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Babies All Over The Place

While riding my bike on errands this past week, I heard and saw three different juvenile Cooper's Hawks in one morning. I think they actually fledged a while ago, but after hanging out near the nest for some time, all of a sudden they're starting to wander, following the parents and constantly begging with their painful, raspy screech.

Then on Thursday, another harsher screech was just outside my door. This juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was on my neighbor's roof, begging from the adult perched in the big eucalyptus tree that shades half of the house. These are undoubtedly from the nest on the U of A agricultural station across Roger Road – the nest in a pine tree exactly 560 meters from here (thanks to Google Earth).

These Mourning Doves in a flower pot attached to the outside wall of my house fledged this past Saturday. They don't hang around at the nest at all. These birds are ridiculously prolific. We could have up to 5 or 6 active nests in the yard at once, and each pair will breed several times a summer. This could very well be this pair's 3rd brood this year.

Walking around the yard, I see baby Desert Spiny Lizards scamper behind potted plants and into agave clumps. On the Rillito River bike path I have to dodge the usual flashy adult Zebra-tailed Lizards, but now there are tiny hatchlings, though they are electron-fast, wispy darts that rarely get caught under the wheel.

Not so for some others. On my jog by the river just this morning there were two victims of bikes or pedestrians – an adult Desert Spiny Lizard and a Western Threadsnake. Both are quite common here, but the latter is so seldom seen.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ironwood Forest National Monument: Bugs and Plants

Earlier this week I went for a short morning out to Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest of Tucson with my friends Mary Elizabeth and Maribeth. (Those are their real names, and they grew up not all the far from each other in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma.)

The first bird to greet us was this Purple Martin. They breed in the giant Saguaro cacti, in cavities created by woodpeckers.

We had hoped to find some Saguaro fruit, a natural desert candy, but we were too late. Here's a pile of scat – probably from a Collared Peccary that beat us to the feast.

While wandering and poking around in the early desert morning, Beth spotted this black Coachwhip sunning, stretched out on the ground, and called me over. It shot off like a bolt of lightning when I got too close.

Here's a closeup of the snake.

This what I would call the Dry-loving Big-headed Ant, from its scientific name, Pheidole xenophila.

If you're wondering why they call such a insignificant, little black ant "big headed," take a look at the major worker that came out of the hole. The smaller ones are of the caste called minor workers.

Ants are a huge part of any biotic community, and the hot, hot desert is no exception. These are red harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex sp.

One of the most heat-tolerant beetles in the world is Crytopglossa variolosa, a tenebrionid. Most beetles would be hiding in the cooler, moister shade of rocks or burrows at this time of day.

The taxonomy and field ID of our cicadas is still being worked out. This is either Diceroprocta arizona or D. knighti.

As long as you're in the area, you might as well head over to the Waterman Mountains to see one of the most range-restricted cacti in Arizona, Nichol's Devilshead, Echinocactus horizonthalonius var. nicholii. It's a handsome devil.

This might just be Mammillaria grahami, but without flowers it's hard to key out.  

Cryptogamic crusts are interesting here. This is a liverwort, green only because of recent monsoon rains, nestled amongst the other microbiota that definite this fascinating ecosystem.

This Desert Millipede, Orthoporus ornatus, supposedly feeds on detritus, but I'm convinced that it's actually a grazer on the live algae, blue-green algae, and lichen of the cryptogamic crusts.

Besides being famous for the the Devilshead cactus, this also the closest location for Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla, to Tucson. Obviously limited by climatic conditions, this one was hammered by the record-setting February 2-3, 2011 Freeze. The nighttime low dipped into the mid-teens Fahrenheit, stayed there for hours, and the high did not rise above 40°F on the 2nd. Temperatures were even lower the next night.

Here you can see the thick trunk that survived, giving rise to the new generation of branches. Perhaps with a good monsoon and some early winter rains there'll be a large enough food crop to host a wintering Gray Vireo.

The fern Astrolepis cochisensis and the barrel cactus Ferocactus cylindraceus are particularly adapted to the cherty limestone soils of this unique mountain range.

This is looking to the southeast from the Elephant Tree; Tucson might be visible in the distance were it not for the intervening Roskruge and Tucson Mountains.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Searching For Madera's Scarlet Tanager

On Sunday, June 17, Dave Quesenberry found a singing male Scarlet Tanager on a remote trail in SE Arizona's Madera Canyon. If you're not at all into birds, this is like spotting Paul McCartney in a Boise JC Penney. While that's apparently not such a big deal in a Tucson Circle K – nor would seeing a Scarlet Tanager in any old Tennessee forest patch – such an out-of-range discovery is quite spectacular. So this hugely unexpected sighting was followed by the birding paparazzi ascending the Kent Springs Trail in the next days, and every lister and photographer nailed this bird on their Arizona lists.

I would have been there as well, as I have never seen Scarlet Tanager in Arizona, but at that precise moment, I was enjoying an amazing mixed group of Brown Capuchins, White-nosed Bearded Saki and White-cheeked Spider Monkeys with my friend Doug Futuyma at Cristalino Jungle Lodge in Mato Grosso, Brazil. My friend and co-worker Gavin Bieber was guiding in Nome, Alaska.

Luckily for me and Gavin, this bird was totally delusional and had established a territory for the summer. So this past week, after both Gavin and I had had a chance to settle in at home and get immediate stuff done, we headed up to Madera Canyon. I had staked out a route from the Super Trail that saved us a mile of hiking. The scenery from the steep slope was stunning.

The bird didn't show for a while. So we busied ourselves with patrolling the section of trail where the bird was known to be and spotted some other cool things. Short-tailed Skippers (with the coolest scientific name, Zestusa doris) were seeking minerals in the shady ravine.

These moths were quite abundant, the apparently very little known Tetraclonia dyari, family Zygaenidae. The hind wing pattern is a good feature to see.

I don't know who's mimicking whom, but this net-winged beetle, Lycus arizonensis, is a pretty good match.

I was pretty thrilled to finally see flowers of a most bizarre woodsorrel, Oxalis decaphylla. The flowers are totally typical for the genus (and family), but the leaves are totally nonconformist.

After a couple of hours of pacing up and down the canyon, Gavin and I, joined by our friend Diane, decided to try staking out a little puddle where one birder had reported seeing the tanager.

Diane gave up eventually, wandered down the canyon, and found the bird. She came to get us, and after a few tense moments we refound it right where she had left it. Success!

Here are two happy birders, Gavin and Diane.

On our way out, Gavin and I were taken aback by these stunning green beetles flying near the trail. I recognized them as flower chafers in the subfamily Cetoniinae, family Scarabaeidae, but had to look  up the species – Emerald Euphoria, Euphoria fulgida.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Butterfly Bling from Belgium

If you find Europe's birds drab, check out its butterflies. My friend Stephen Boddington, who was a guide at Cristalino Jungle Lodge while I was also there, is blogging from Belgium where he lives and guides birders.

Belgian Birding

This Morning's Porch Light Booty

One of the great side effects of SE Arizona's monsoon is the emergence of all sorts of cool insects. Though it didn't rain last night, the downpour from a couple days ago is probably to blame for last night's activity at my porch light. Here's what I found on the screen door at dawn this morning:

Six of these cicadas – either Diceroprocta apache or D. semicincta. They maybe conspecific in any event. It's the deafening cicada all around Tucson right now.

This june-bug scarab (genus Phyllophaga?)

Another scarab?

The tiny twig-boring beetle Apatides fortis, family Bostrichidae. The family name contains the words for cow (bos) and hair (trichos).

A winged ant (carpenter ant family?)

And the monster Palo Verde Root Borer, Derobrachus geminatus