We saw these owls a couple of years ago. Owls may lay up to 14 eggs during years of rodent abundance, but fail to breed when rodent populations crash. Eggs are laid at intervals and incubation begins with the first egg, thus the hatchlings differ in size and the number raised to fledging depends on the food supply. Owls are smart. Like so many animals that are not given the credit they deserve.
Usually only the female incubates and the male brings food to her; both sexes feed the young. Incubation is relatively long, being 32-34 days in the Barn Owl. Owls reach maturity at one year.
Gray Hawks are not found anywhere in North America other than Arizona or southern Texas
These are magnificent birds and we were privileged to see them flying free in the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson.
I claim to be a flower child, but the truth is I love birds too. We stopped at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson on our way home this year. I try to go there every year. They have a show nearly every day where you can see raptors in flight. Free flight they call it. It is truly amazing to see them flying and perching so close. These photos however are from previous years. I like them better.
These birds are imprinted on their handlers but are free to fly away. Sometimes they do exactly that. Usually they come back because after living with humans who deliver food to them every day they realize they have it pretty good in the Museum so they come back. The “Museum” by the way is mainly outdoors so they are not captive in the sense of being in cages.
This hawk prefers thorn scrubs for its habitat. Like many hawks the female is larger than the male. The likely reason for this adaptation is that in this way they don’t compete as much for prey.
These are one of the few birds that cooperate in groups. As a result they hunt together. This is what we saw at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson. Cooperation is a very helpful technique in deserts where one Harris Hawk might chase a rabbit into some scrub and then flushes it out so others in the group can capture and kill it. This is the only hawk to hunt cooperatively. They also cooperate in the raising of the young, again, the only hawk species to do this. Nature is not just about competition. Cooperation is important too.
This hawk is rare in Manitoba. I have not seen it here but it is fairly common in the American south.
This hummingbird was a lifer for me. That means I had never seen it before. Though is was in an aviary at Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson. The word museum is really misplaced. Most of what can be found there is outside. These birds flew freely, made nests and did what birds do, but they were confined to this aviary.
This is one of the more colourful hummingbirds with its iridescent breast feathers and bright red bill. I kindly posed for me.
This stunning male hummingbird pose very close to me. In fact I took a large number of photos that appeared to be out of focus. I could not understand why, until I realized I was too close to it and had to step back a bit.
Another stunning bird that i had never seen before. This was a good day.
I think this is one of the most beautiful birds in the world. About 15 years ago I saw one near Mitchell. It is a fairly rare visitor to Manitoba. This was a great day for a bird brain brain like me.
This has been a strange year in the American Southwest. In January and February there was a lot rain (by Sonoran Desert Standards) and it was also very cool by those same standards. Of course in the world of wild flowers there is no such thing as “normal.”
The entire time we were there this year I worried that the cactuses would not bloom before we left.
That almost happened. They only started to bloom the last week of March just before we left. If I come back next year I must stay until mid April.
From this prickly pear cactus you can see the large number of buds. I would love to see a prickly pear cactus filled with blooms.
I think this is a pincushion cactus but am not sure. As a result of the cool weather we did not see many cactuses in bloom. But what we missed in quantity we gained I think in quality.
We went to Boyce Thompson Arboretum in search of cactuses in bloom. In that respect we were disappointed. Only 1 cactus in bloom. But it was a great day. When you don’t get what you want you look for something else. We found lovely wild flowers.
These are also called Bluedicks but they really aren’t blue or Dicks.
This is one of the most common wild flowers in the Sonoran Desert and comes in many colours: orange like this one, or lavender, or white, or reddish-maroon, pink, or red. All are lovely
Desert Marigold are often found along road sides. I like that when flowers make it easy to find them.
Lupines are also very common. I particularly like to see them mingling with yellow flowers.
I thought these were absolutely lovely. I hope you agree.
There are a number of different types of Verbena in Arizona and I am not sure what type this was. Does it matter? It was a pretty good day for flower photography as the skies were lightly overcast and wind was modest. Non-existent wind would have been better of course.
These are a mysterious (to me at least) flower that I am still trying to identify. I am not sure if it was a native wild flower or an escapee. Tell me if you know what it is. I was smitten by its beauty.
We drove to Picacho Peak State Park where we enjoyed the wild flowers. This is small gem of a state park. It is right off highway 10 on the way to Tucson. The prominent peak, which is visible from miles away, has been a landmark for centuries. The peak was also the site of the most western conflict of the Civil War. The park includes a fine small visitor center, store, campground, picnic areas, ramadas, playgrounds, grills, and hiking trails.
I had been told that Picacho Peak State Park was likely the best place for wild flowers in our region. It might be a little past prime but should still be good. We were not disappointed. Even though one woman I met said she had been here once when the entire mountain-side was filled with flowers, we thought this was pretty good. Of course, I would love to see that.
First the hillside was remarkably green as a result of recent rains. Then to see flowers sprinkled in the midst of the green was wonderful. We made many stops for photos.
This little park is beautiful. The flowers were like gems on a lovely garment. Many people think the desert is dull; many people are wrong.
This mountain is across highway 10 from park. I loved it with lovely Brittlebush flowers in the foreground. The desert with wild flowers can’t be beat.
There are many sky islands in Arizona. Madera Canyon was one of them. Madera Canyon is located on a sky island. We went there after the debacle of Tucson’s Festival of Books. Sky islands are incredible mountain ranges that rose up abruptly out of the desert lowlands without foothills. The mountains seemed to be emerging out of the earth as if by magic.
Later I learned more about this phenomenon. I learned that such mountains usually had an elevation of between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. I also learned that these mountains which looked like islands in a sea of grass or sea of desert scrub actually had an abundance of wild life. These islands include most of Arizona’s biotic communities. They are among the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet. They are often the meeting place between desert and forest and everything in between. It is precisely that diversity that attracts wild life, especially birds. That is why these sky islands contain well over half the bird species in all of North America. Not just Arizona. They also contain 29 bat species, more than 3,000 species of plants, and 104 species of mammals.
Sky Islands are havens of biodiversity. That is really their most important feature. When you move into these “islands” in the desert there is an astounding range of biodiversity. As Gary Paul Nabhan said, “In fact the “sky islands” of southeastern Arizona and adjacent Sonora are now recognized by the national Union for the Conservation of Nature as one of the great centers of plant diversity north of the tropics.”
The reason for that diversity is of course the great variety of topography in the state. That produces a wonderful variety of life, both flora and fauna. As Nabhan said, “When we compare our desert with others, the contrast is striking. Overall, the Sonoran Desert has the greatest diversity of plant growth forms–architectural strategies for dealing with heat and drought–of any desert in the world.”
The Sonoran Desert is certainly not the bleak and barren place that many expect–and sky islands are the apexes of diversity.
What makes Madera Canyon so special is the creek at the bottom. It traverses 4 life zones and many habitats between the desert floor and the mountain tops. It has become world famous for its diverse flora and fauna. According to the Friends of Madera Canyon, “the variety of climates within 10 miles is similar to that found in driving from Arizona to Canada!”
Southwestern Arizona and this canyon are spectacular places for people who love wildlife and wild plants. This area is ranked the third best birding area in the US! It contains some 400 birds species and especially 14 of Arizona’s 15 hummingbird species. That is more hummingbirds than any where else in the United States. But today we saw none at all.
It was interesting that the more we gained in altitude the more deciduous trees appeared and the less cactuses. I have learned that usually in Arizona the higher the altitude the higher the precipitation so the more diverse the vegetation. Trees need the added the moisture on the higher elevations. Of course, if the mountain is too high, as in the San Francisco Peaks then there are no trees at all. Just snow. Trees, like all life is finicky. Like Goldilocks, things have to be just right.
The landscape of southern Arizona seems dry—it is dry. But it does get rain. In fact this region gets about 11 inches (280 mm) of rain per years. This is enough rain to allow a surprising amount of vegetation to flourish. Even wild flowers abound. That seems impossible. It looks so dry and nearly barren. But the land is not barren—far from it.
On the day we were there an enthusiastic birder showed me a photograph of an Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans) one of the rarest birds in the United States. A couple of years ago my brother-in-law Harv and I went in search of it but did not find. He has seen it a few times. Me never. Darn! The birder showed me a photograph he had taken of it. I was really jealous. Later I went in search of it. I found another birder who had found it and he told me exactly where to go, but I missed it. I am an incompetent fledgling birder. We spent some time sitting on a bench with camera and binoculars in hand. We saw a lot of birds of different species, but surprisingly no hummingbirds. Usually in the past we saw a large variety of hummingbirds here. I was puzzled by their absence.
House Finches are interesting birds because they were released in the eastern part of North America by people who brought them from Europe in the 1940s and now they have spread over most of North America including Arizona and Manitoba.
Acorn Woodpeckers often drill small holes in trees in the autumn to insert their acorns. Often their “granary trees” are used over and over again and contain thousands of acorns. Aren’t birds weird?
Mexican jays have co-operative breeding where the young from previous years help the parents to raise the new young. Nature is not just competition, sometimes it involves cooperation.