Arizona Alligator

010 (1024x768)Alligator Juniper, that is! This fantastic tree, Juniperus deppeana, is common in the woods of southeastern Arizona. Take a closer look at that fantastic bark.

010Gorgeous. No other juniper species has bark like this, and I love it. Do you agree that it resembles alligator skin?

Leapin’ Lizards

I’m back in Wisconsin now, but I have a couple more Arizona posts to share with you. We had the opportunity to observe some interesting lizard behavior in Usery Mountain Regional Park in the Phoenix area when this little guy started running down the trail ahead of us, curling up its tail to display the black and white stripes on its underside.

023 027 (1024x768)This is a zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides), and the tail thing is a display to warn off predators.

We also did some sightseeing in the southeastern part of the state and found this group of lizards resting between some rocks in Madera Canyon.

007 (768x1024)This, I think, is Clark’s spiny lizard, Sceloporus clarkii. (If you know better please correct me in the comments.) I love the blue highlights, which so many male lizards have.

The Itsiest Bitsiest Butterfly

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Okay, there is really nothing in this photo to give you much of a sense of scale, but this is the Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exilis), also known as the smallest butterfly in North America, with a wingspan of about half an inch. They seem to be pretty common around here (“here” being the Phoenix area), but since they’re so small it would be easy to overlook them.

The Western Pygmy-Blue is really a great example of why it pays to take a second look at things that are small and inconspicuous. Yes, it’s tiny – but look at the beautiful detailed patterns on its wings. What a lovely creature!

Desert Wildflowers

When I left my house on Saturday morning it was snowing, but here I am in southern Arizona for my spring break, where at this time of year the daily high temperature is around ninety and the air smells of orange blossoms. This is also the time of year when all the desert wildflowers are in bloom – click on any tile below to bring up a slideshow with captions.

Valentine’s Day Lovebirds

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so here are some lovebirds. Get it? Lovebirds? Get it?

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My dad took this with his point-and-shoot camera. Rosy-faced Lovebirds are native to an arid part of Africa, but there’s an established population in the eastern suburbs of Phoenix now, and they were recently added to the official ABA checklist (woo-hoo armchair tick!). I know we’re all supposed to frown disapprovingly at non-native species, but these are just so darn cute – look at those pink faces and blue butts!

Winter Hummingbirds

Tomorrow I’m headed back to Wisconsin and it’ll be months before I lay eyes on another hummingbird, but on Wednesday we went back to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum one more time and I had fun admiring the hummers there. Most of them were Anna’s Hummingbirds, which are ubiquitous here year-round. There’s a female that hangs out in the orange tree in my parents’ backyard, but all the ones I saw guarding feeders at the arboretum were males.

Anna's Hummingbird 2 (1024x767) Anna's Hummingbird 3 (684x1024)Each feeder belonged to one specific hummingbird, who would stay perched near it and chase away any others who tried to approach. These birds are tiny, but fierce! And one feeder was being guarded not by an Anna’s, but by a beautiful male Broad-billed Hummingbird. Any range map you look at will tell you that these birds shouldn’t be in the Phoenix area in the winter, but really they hang out at the arboretum year-round. However, the Broad-billed was shyer than the Anna’s and kept choosing perches where he was hard to photograph. This is the best I could do (his bill’s not in focus, drat).

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Look at all that metallic blue and green! Such dashing, handsome little guys! I’m so sorry for those of you who live on continents with no hummingbirds.

Bird Photos!

My big Christmas present was a Nikon D3000 DSLR camera, which came with a 55-200 mm zoom lens as well as the standard kit lens. This means that, for the first time, I can take halfway-decent photos of birds. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing with it (Monday’s mystery goose was one example). Here are some more of my efforts so far, all of which I’m pretty sure I already posted on Twitter. Click on any thumbnail below to bring up a slide show of the full-size images.

My favorite is the mockingbird. Hopefully this means I’ll be adding more posts about birds to my usual repertoire of plants, insects, tracks etc. in the future!