Friday, April 10, 2009


This post is for the Nature Notes meme at Rambling Woods - check it out.

After having written so much about all the flowers we saw on our trip to Anza Borrego I thought it was about time that I mentioned a few other classes that we encountered.
Much to my husbands dismay whenever we go to the desert I always ask him to find me a rattlesnake (I was his guide when he came to Africa and I found him all kinds of cool animals so I figure it is the least he can do to return the favour :) I just don't understand why he doesn't seem too enthusiastic!!!) My interest is not as crazy as it may first appear. I work with an endangered species of rattlesnake at the Museum but I have yet to see one in its natural environment. (OK maybe it does sound just a tiny bit crazy!) So as my husband failed to oblige with my request I had to settle for some other reptiles.

This little beauty is a Desert Iguana Dipsosaurus dorsalis. He very obligingly posed by the car window so we were able to just lean out and take this picture. How I wish that all animals would be so obliging. The Desert Iguana uses the Creosote Bushes both as sources of shade and as a food source, predominantly consuming the flowers. I think this particular individual must have lost his tail relatively recently because the colouring of the end two thirds is entirely different to the first third.

Another reptile that seemed to be much more common in the area was the Southern Sagebrush Lizard Sceloporus graciosus vandenburgianus. These were incredibly fast, and who can blame them as they are on the menu of a vast number of animals, and very difficult to photograph. The only reason we got this shot is, I was taking too long identifying a bird and my husband got bored and so he started stalking this poor lizard to photograph him! I am glad I spent too long on the bird because he got a great photo!

Those were the only reptiles we saw.
On the invertebrate front there was quite a lot of variety, largely I suspect, because of all the flowering plants. There were masses of Painted Lady and Orange Tip Butterflies but I have seen enough of those at work to last me a lifetime so I didn't chase after them for a picture. There were also a lot of bees around too and many of them were forming hives amongst the rocks so we had to pay close attention when hiking!

There were lots of these little chaps around and how could I resist with that smiley face design on their back? It is the nymph stage of a type of Stink Bug Chlorochroa spp. What I found a bit of a shame is that they don't keep that charming design when they reach their adult form, they are just a plain greyish black. The nymphs and adults feed on a variety of herbaceous plants and can be considered a pest on crops and fruit trees.

These are Master Blister Beetles Lytta magister and I went just about crazy trying to get a picture of them. They are incredibly fast, even when they are mating! The adults feed on the flowers and leaves of the Brittlebush. The female lays her eggs in holes in the soil.

I took this picture just because I thought it was such a lovely image of the bug smothered in pollen against the riotous colour of the Beavertail blossom. This is a red form of the Ornate Checkered Beetle Trichodes ornatus. They are predators of Wood Boring Beetles.

Spring was very clearly in the air as all the bugs were 'getting busy!' These Vivid Dancer Damselflies Argia vivida were making the most of the brief time that this small stream was running in Coyotte Canyon to mate and deposit their eggs. I know it is not the best of pictures but they were well embedded amongst the vegetation.

This robust character was a particular favorite of mine, it looked like a little tank rumbling along amongst the rocks. It has the slightly bizarre name of an Inflated Beetle (!) Cysteodemus armatus I have to say having looked at several other pictures of this species I think this particular individual looks rather deflated in comparison. The white which is clearly visible is actually a secretion, not part of the general markings.

And so on from bugs to birds! I have already done a post about our day at the Salton Sea which was a memorable birding trip but there were plenty of other special sightings on other days and also some more firsts for me.

Because of all the flowering plants there were hummingbirds everywhere but as we quickly learnt, the males were always so busy defending their territory and/or their mate that they never stayed still enough for us to get a picture. It was always the less exotically coloured females who would alight on a branch for a split second to give us a quick photo opportunity. And then of course they would select the most unlit spot they could find - don't they know we need light for a good photo? :)

As I mentioned in a previous post, the first time we visited Anza Borrego one bird that I didn't get to see was a Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus. Well this time I more than made up for it. These quirky characters were all around the motel we were staying in and this particular individual was calling on top of a dirt pile one morning and displaying the red skin patch on the back of its head quite beautifully.

Another species I missed on my previous visit was the delightful Gambel's Quail Callipepla gambelii. These birds were also a common site around our motel and, like most quail, they were very vocal, so hard to miss. We both spent ages trying to get a decent photo of this shy species but it was another case of constant motion, so my apologies for the somewhat blurry image.

Of course as a Midwest city dweller my birding highlight has to be the three Burrowing Owls Athene cunicularia that we saw. I never imagined I would get the opportunity to watch these cryptically coloured, elusive birds for so long. There is definitely some truth to the adage of the 'wise owl' - these birds collect animal dung and spread it around near their nest site. The dung attracts dung beetles which the owls use as a food source - its like having a convenience store next to your house!
I have already posted my bird list for the day at Salton Sea, so here is the rest for the remainder of the trip. Again the asterisked ones are personal firsts.
American Kestrel,
Western Scrub-Jay*,
Red-tailed Hawk
Anna's Hummingbird,
Gambel's Quail*,
Costa's Hummingbird,
Greater Roadrunner*,
White-crowned Sparrow,
White-winged Dove*,
Purple Finch,
Lesser Goldfinch*,
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher*,
Cactus Wren,
California Thrasher*,
Who says the desert is barren?

Of course it is a place were mammals tend to be less well represented and we have yet to see the elusive Bighorn Sheep that inhabit the area. There was a rabbit that crept out onto a little patch of grass next to our room each morning but do you really want to see a picture of a rabbit? On the mammal front this little guy was the definite star.

He is a White-tailed Antelope Ground Squirrel Amnospermophilis leucurus (both his common name and his scientific names are longer then he is!) These delightful little animals get their somewhat odd name from the white colour of the underside of their tails (like an antelope). The tail is used as a sunshade during the hottest parts of the day and so white is the obvious colour choice for the job. This individual was only the size of a gerbil but inside that tiny body beats the heart of a lion. He defended 'his' rock pile very loudly when I got too close and also followed after me when I moved away - just to make sure I really left!
How could you resist?

And so to the end of my desert trip.
If you are ever anywhere near this wonderful area of the country and you happen to drive through a town called Julian (famous for its DELICIOUS apple pies) be sure to stop at the best barbecue joint in the world.

The Bailey Wood Pit Barbecue defies description when it comes to good food, miss it at your peril!

Photo Credits - CJT & Dominick V


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this Celeste as I haven't been to the desert..yet!!! I had to laugh at your wanting to find a rattle snake because I don't know if my husband would be willing to walk anywhere where there might be snakes. I'm not sure what awful snake trauma my husband got growing up in NY City, but he doesn't like snakes...This was a great addition to Nature Notes and I thank you for participating... Michelle

Walker said...

Wonderful pictures and your stories always hold my attention. Terrific post, thanks.

Kelly said...

What wonderful pictures and stories! I'm not so much of a "bug" person, but your photos were lovely!

Jan said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog. I'm double glad, because I got to meet you, and read your great post about Anza. Wonderful photos, too. I was thinking, while I was reading, I wonder if Walker has read this, and I see he has!

MyMaracas said...

Terrific post! I love bugs. Well, most of them anyway. And it's amazing how many creatures live in what is, at first look, not a very promising landscape. Thanks for sharing!

Doug Taron said...

In all my visits to Anzza Borrego, I've only twice seen rattlesnakes. I've visited Julian many times and have never stopped at Bailey Eood Barbecue. I'll have to change that next time I'm out that way.

Kathiesbirds said...

Celeste, what a wonderful trip you had! Congrats on all the life birds! So many interesting beetles and that little ground squirrel looks like it is chuckling at you with its hand over its mouth!

Carletta said...

What a wonderful array of images and info you've shared with us!
I've never been to the desert so it was a great treat to share your experience.

Thanks for stopping by my Nature Notes post.

Anonymous said...

I must congratulate you on your Blog! What wonderful pictures and all so beautifully described. What a joy to see! Thank you!
I'm Polly from Newlyn, Cornwall.... only 10 weeks till I go to Zambia! may see you here at Christmas (?)

Polly :)