Posts from the ‘cactus’ Category

Crazy Cacti: Saguaros & Sonoran Desert—Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 6

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Who doesn’t love Saguaro Cactus? Saguaros (“suh-WHAR-oh”) look amazingly like their cartoon counterparts. They are tall and very impressive. And how about those showy white flowers that are several inches across? And to top it off, when their fruits ripen, they attract a host of bird species that feed on the red flesh.

Saguaro cactus forest
[Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus forest
[Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Gila Woodpecker at nest hole in Saguaro Cactus
[Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona]

Gila Woodpecker at nest hole in Saguaro Cactus. It is very common for this woodpecker (and several others including Gilded Flicker) to nest in these cacti.
[Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

House Finch on Ocatillo stalk
[Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona]

House Finch on Ocatillo stalk
[Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona]

White-winged Dove feeding on Saguaro cactus fruits.
[Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

White-winged Dove feeding on Saguaro cactus fruits.
[Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]
Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Barrel Cactus and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]
Brilliant Jumper (jumping spider) (Phidippus clarus) on Saguaro cactus
[Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Brilliant Jumper (jumping spider) (Phidippus clarus) on Saguaro cactus

Brilliant Jumper (jumping spider) (Phidippus clarus) on Saguaro cactus
[Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Brilliant Jumper (jumping spider) (Phidippus clarus) on Saguaro cactus

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus offering me a bouquet!
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus fruit [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus fruit has red flesh.
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Dancing Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Swedes Forest: Lizards & Cactus—Minnesota River Valley July 2019

July 23, 2019

Did you know that within the border of Minnesota lives 3 lizard species and 4 species of cactus? On this quick trip down to the western portion of the Minnesota River valley I hoped to see several of these rare species.

Panorama of Swedes Forest in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota

My first stop was Swedes Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). This site was protected because of its unique rock outcrops, which were historically in a prairie setting. But over the years, Bur Oaks and other trees have grown up and shaded the rocks. The periodic fires of pre-White-Settlement times kept the landscape as mainly prairie, but with the fire suppression of the last 100 years, the forest has encroached. It is time to try and bring back the open grasslands here. On the day I arrived there was a crew cutting down these trees in order to restore the ecosystem.

A view from the exposed bedrock of Swedes Forest SNA.

I headed right to the most obvious rock outcrop south of the parking area. My main goal was to see the very rare Five-lined Skink, but I also knew there were Prairie Skinks here as well. After about 15 minutes I saw a couple-inch long skink start scurrying across the reddish rock. It stopped barely long enough for me to get a few shots. The first thing I noticed was its blue tail…but that doesn’t help identifying the critter since both the Prairie Skink and Five-lined Skink juveniles show this tail color. But by the head and back stripes and markings I could tell it was a young Prairie Skink. Still very exciting because I have never seen one before.

Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)
Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)

My only skink for the day (despite looking under many rocks) was this juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis). It’s blue tail is one clue but you really have to check out its back and head stripes to separate it from the similar, but much rarer, Five-lined Skink. This youngster was only a few inches long.

I nicknamed this jumping spider the “scary Halloween mask spider” for its unique abdomen pattern, and texted a photo to my kids. I thought I had a rare species at first, but later learned from Minnesota spider expert Chad Heins, that this was simply a young female Habronattus decorus, a jumping spider which I have photographed the very different looking male several times.

Have you ever seen a shiny green, red and blue beetle before? I hadn’t either…until I found this one foraging on a shrub. This is Calleida punctata, a species of ground beetle.

The Coral Hairstreak is a beautiful butterfly of mid summer. I rarely get to see them as they are never found in large numbers.

Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)
Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)

Shallow depressions in bedrock outcrops on the prairie create one of Minnesota’s rarest habitats. These low spots catch and hold rainwater since they have no outlet. One specialist in this microhabitat is Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink) as show in the 2 photos above. I was a bit late to see it in full bloom unfortunately, so I guess I’ll have to come back!

Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)

Some may be surprised to learn that cactus grows natively in Minnesota. The above four photos are of one of the smaller species called Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis). It is fragile as its Latin name implies, but it packs a painful prickly punch if you accidentally touch or kneel on one!

The tiny, but large for its family, Galgupha Ebony Bug is so shiny that you can see my reflection, and that of the sun, clouds and blue sky, on its smooth exoskeleton.

Plains Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus externus)

Dickcissels are only irregular visitors to my home territory of northern Minnesota, making summer irruptions every 4 years or so. But they are abundant breeders in the scrubby grasslands of Southern Minnesota.

**All photos taken with Canon 7D and either Canon 70-200mm f4 lens or Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. Macro photos with Canon 500D attached to Canon 70-200mm lens. Panorama photos taken with iPhone 7+.

Chihuahuan Desert Bonanza: Barren? No way! —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 2

June 6-8 near Portal, Arizona.

During my brief stay in Portal, I birded multiple biomes….from mountain pine forest (at elevation 8,400 feet!) to low elevation Chihuahuan Desert scrub. The desert was most alien to this Minnesota boy, and maybe that was its strong appeal. It was also easier to see and photograph the critters than in the wooded habitats.

Foothills Road is very near Portal and a great place to explore at dawn and dusk. Midday is quiet due to the heat. On this road I had great looks at Scott’s Oriole, Cactus Wren, Gambel’s Quail, Scaled Quail, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Lesser Nighthawk (dusk), Desert Cottontail and Black-tailed Jackrabbit.

Stateline Road is another great birding road. New Mexico will be on the east and Arizona on the west side of the road. Stop at Willow Tank and bird this water feature as well. I saw Loggerhead Shrike, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Curve-billed Thrasher, Greater Roadrunner, Chihuahuan Raven and possibly a Kit Fox (just a long-tailed blur running across the road).

Chihuahuan Desert vistas look bleak and lifeless…but they are anything but. Birds, mammals, insects and reptiles thrive in this desert.
Yellow Bird of Paradise shrub (Caesalpinia gilliesii) has a stunning flower with 3-4 inch long red stamens.
Yellow Bird of Paradise shrub (Caesalpinia gilliesii) is a native of South America but naturalized in Arizona where it can be found growing wild along roads and in other disturbed areas. It is also grown in gardens.
Verdin is a tiny, yellow-faced bird of desert scrub.
Scott’s Oriole in Ocotillo. We don’t think of orioles in the desert, but the Scott’s is right at home in arid Chihuahuan scrub desert.
The male Scott’s Oriole is one of our only yellow orioles. No orange for this guy!
The Scaled Quail is encountered far less often than its Gambel’s cousin. It is also found at lower elevations in the shrub scrub.
I was extremely excited to find this Round-tailed Horned Lizard along the Foothills Road after dark. These little guys are only about 3 inches long.
It was a lifer and is my third species of Horned Lizard that I’ve seen (joining Texas Horned Lizard and Northern Horned Lizard on my life list).
Ocotillo at sunset
Ocotillo at sunset
My first non-feeder Lucifer Hummingbird! I have seen Lucifers at hummingbird feeders several times before but this was the only one I’ve seen out in “the wild.” This is a female (note her white chin and yellow throat).
Greater Roadrunner on the hunt for lizards at dawn.
For some reason it seems like I’m always shooting into the sun when I take Roadrunner photos. But it gives the birds a neat rim light (also see photo below).
Greater Roadrunner getting ready to make good on its name and run on a road.
Along Foothills Road at dawn I found this male Gambel’s Quail greeting the morning by singing his heart out from the top of an Agave.
Unlike many birds who live only in one habitat, the Gambel’s Quail can be found from Chihuahuan Desert scrub up to higher elevations in wooded forests.
Gambel’s Quail calling
Foothills Road near Portal, Arizona passes through prime Chihuahuan Desert and is great birding. Best to bird it at dawn and dusk, and park the car and walk.
Prickly Pear cactus was in full bloom. This cactus was over 7 feet tall! A related species grows in southwest Minnesota but rarely even reaches 18 inches tall.
Yuccas are a characteristic plant of Chihuahuan Desert scrub. This is in New Mexico just north-northeast of Portal, Arizona.
Black-tailed Jackrabbits are most active in early morning and towards dusk (when this photo was taken).
Can you find the Black-tailed Jackrabbit?
This little bundle of energy is the Black-tailed Gnatchatcher. It is a tiny sprite of a bird that lives in open desert scrub.
At 103 degrees, everybody needs to drink! Greater Roadrunner at Willow Tank.
Don’t overlook the Chiricahua Desert Museum just N of Rodeo, New Mexico and east of Portal. It is an eclectic reptile-themed museum with world class snake exhibits and an outdoor plant and reptile exhibit.
The exhibits of the live Rattlesnakes (many species!) are impressive. They were made by a professional Hollywood set designer for Michael Jackson (yes, that Michael Jackson). But Michael changed his mind and the museum benefited.
The outdoor exhibit at the Chiricahua Desert Museum. Lizards run free here….if you can find them. Native plants are labeled as well.

Cactus in Minnesota?—Blue Mounds State Park: Part 2

Prickly Pear Cactus 3 1024x
CACTUS IN MINNESOTA?
Yes, actually two species of Prickly Pear Cactus occur in southwest Minnesota…Opuntia fragilis and Opuntia macrorhiza. And Blue Mounds State Park is a great place to see them for yourself. No, not giant cartoon-type cactus but a low-growing cactus with GORGEOUS and HUGE yellow blossoms. They should be blooming now! To make sure, call the park office in advance.
Purple Prairie Clover? 234_3452 copyIf you squint, you can almost imagine a time when tallgrass prairie covered the endless landscapes of southern and western Minnesota. And Purple Prairie-Clover (Dalea purpurea) was part of that rich mosaic of prairie wildflowers.
This species is a legume with a taproot that may reach down 6 feet into the soil! This root system helps prevent soil erosion. It is a true prairie plant that has evolved with fire, and does not tolerate shade. Pronghorns are even known to eat it.

Bison foursome Blue Mounds 153_5345 copyA looming thunderstorm provides a dramatic backdrop to these grazing Bison. Don’t let me mislead you…There is a fence around the entire herd, and they are not always visible to park visitors.

Bison run blur Blue Mounds State Park Luverne MN _MG_5157 copyIn 1961, the park added three bison from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska to start the present bison herd. Today, the Blue Mounds’ herd is maintained at more than 100 bison.

Coneflower Blue Mounds Rock Co MNNotice the deeply cut leaves and extemely reflexed ray petals of the Pinnate Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) (sometimes called Gray-headed Coneflower). To emphasize the incredible five-foot height of this prairie native, I crouched down with my wide angle lens and put the flowering heads “in the clouds” so to speak. This photo would not have had much impact if taken at “eye-level” with the flowers.

Gray Partridge near Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNGray Partridge, the bird formerly known as Hungarian Partridge, are not easy to find…anywhere. So I was very fortunate to run into this breeding-plumaged male near the park. They are one of the few birds that utilize seemingly barren crop fields that surround the park. I lost the original of this image when I dropped a hard drive years ago, but fortunately I printed a 4×6. This is a scan of that 4×6 print.

Turkey Vulture Blue Mounds State Park landscape Rock Co MN IMG_9978A Turkey Vulture soars over the prairie at Blue Mounds State Park. This is the same tree and Sioux Quartzite outcrop as in another photo in this post.

Great Horned Owl cliff, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5237Cliffs can be habitat too. This Great Horned Owl has made a home of the Quartzite cliffs on the east side of the park. Hiking trails parallel the cliffs along the base and also on top of the bluff.

GHOW-SS in flight, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5240We rarely see Great Horned Owls in flight during the day. So when this guy took off, I held down the shutter. He/she then obligingly banked to reveal the full spread of its large wings and a full tail fan. The fact that he/she peeked over his/her shoulder at me was a bonus.

Rock Wren BlueMoundsSP-Stensaas (1)RARE FIND
I found this singing Rock Wren at the top of a cliff several Junes ago. The closest this western bird regularly breeds to Minnesota would be the Black Hills of South Dakota, over 300 miles away! Unfortunately, this guy did not find a mate here and likely moved on.

Tree and Sioux Quartzite Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNSome outcrops of Sioux Quartzite are more red than others, and this one also has excellent patterning with crusted green lichens. This scene is near the drive up to the Interpretive Center. The Box Elder (I think it’s a Box Elder) adds to the composition that might be a little boring without it.

Bison Rainbow Blue Mounds-Stensaas copyA dawn rainstorm spawned a sunrise rainbow. The clouds, 180 degrees from the rising sun, lit up a beautiful pink color. In order to get the entire arc of the rainbow, I used my 10mm lens (equivalent of a 16mm lens as it was on my camera with a 1.6 crop factor) and placed the Bison underneath. I tried everything I could think of to get him to lift his head, but to no avail. I still like this unique image.