Sunday, February 19, 2017

Animals in their habitat: Acorn Woodpeckers in Madera Canyon

 Acorn Woodpeckers in Madera Canyon. The creek was running underground at the time, as it does during longer and longer periods each year now. When water is a limiting factor, artificial water sources become a big draw for wildlife.
Acorn Woodpeckers don't just look like clowns. As the only social woodpecker species (that I am aware of) they are given to a lot of very entertaining antics from the human point of view. And they are smart. I'm sure these two were discussing the idiot who had closed the valve so tightly
The old little drinking fountain at the Lodge fell victim to the parking lot extensions years ago. The dated Tucson-insider title was 'CAP' Water?' An engineer from Tucson Water bought the painting

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Desert Animals in their habitat: Backyard Hummingbirds

Costa's Hummers stay year round in our backyard and the males fiercly defend their territories, often in form of a particular feeder and pearch nearby. February is already mating time and nest-building time for the females. The male accompanies his flight display with a long, piercing whistle. In our backyard, Aloes introduced from South Africa are blooming. While they are mainly ignored by local insects, Hummingbirds, Orioles (and Honey Bees) are less fussy and enjoy the early nectar board.

 Anna's hummers are also in their nuptial best right now. Gorget and forehead are shimmering in metallic colors from purple to orange and green. depending on the light refraction.  Much of their mating song is produced while sitting on the highest point of a Mesquite tree. Anna's only lately became year-round residents of Arizona. Garden flowers, feeders and decorative water features enabled them to do so - one of the species that benefited from the transformation of pristine desert into suburbia.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Desert Animals in their habitat: Urban Doves

 Mourning Doves are so adaptable. They breed on top of sun exposed cacti in the pristine desert, but I also had a pair in the tiny patio area of my very first Tucson apartment. They raised their 2 chicks in a flower pot and afterwards started right over - up to 5 times a year. I called the painting originally ' Keeping an eye on the alien'. At the time my I was on a J -Visa and and frequent questioning by border patrol agents was still upsetting to me. But when I entered the painting in a show, it was rejected. Later it won an award in a different setting. Go figure. I had changed the title, but that may not have been the reason.
As an afterthought: Today, but not in the early nineties when I painted this, our local doves, Mourning and White-winged, really have to compete with alien invaders. The Eurasian Collared Doves are pushing them out of several prime nesting sites in our backyard as we speak.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Desert animals in their habitat: The Owls of Sabino Canyon

To me, this is also a painting of wildlife in its habitat. If you can't see it, close your eyes and listen. There: the hooting call of Great Horned Owls. I have never hiked the area at dusk without hearing them calling to each other. In fact, a Native American friend who was often with me felt their presence so keenly that they made him uncomfortable (I did talk him out of it). Why is it that owl...s have such a bad reputation in many traditional cultures? When I was a kid in Germany, my mother thought that owls might have been drawn to windows that were illuminated at night and in the old times that often happened when someone lay sick or dying. So they were thought of as harbingers of death. Anyway - I'm glad we moved away from those superstitions and can enjoy our owl sightings now. Not all old traditions are to be cherished.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Painting of desert animals in their habitat: Racoons

 'At Night at Sabino Creek'. Often I just find the left-over shells of crayfish in the morning, but lots of five-fingered prints tell the story. The clear, cool water shows the gold-brown color of tannins from decaying oak leaves: this creek originates high in the Catalina mountains and can tell of snow melt and towering Ponderosa Pines, rare Arizona Cypress, Live oaks  and Aligator Juniper, and finally Saguaro Cactus and lush Cottonwoods. 

Paintings of Desert Animals in their habitat: Jack Rabbit

In an effort to brighten up social Media with art postings, I will regularly post some of my watercolor paintings here and on my Facebook page.  Hopefully they'll all have some appeal to the naturalists among us as well 

We ( Jack Rabbit and I) live in the Sonoran Desert. It's not bare like the Sahara, but not usually covered in grass, either. Except after really good summer monsoon storms. A carpet of little Cheat Grass plants covers the creosote flats. But the life cycle is short and soon they are producing awfully sticky seeds.  By then the grass itself is bleached and golden until the wind blows away every trace of it. The painting was mainly about this: the short golden grass in the sun. But the Jack rabbit was there and made a great center of interest for viewers who are less intrigued by temporary Cheat Grass lawns.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Santa Rita Mountains, February 2017

Yesterday morning I finished my 'Coyote Prowls' and then headed south for the Santa Rita Mountains. More about the painting in my watercolor blog.

After a rainy January, the weather has turned sunny and gorgeous. With all the early precipitation, we don't even have to feel bad about it. The mountains, covered in last years dead grasses reflected the sun like fields of gold, nicely set off by the blue shapes of Mount Whrightston  and Mount Baldy.

I could see snow on the higher elevations, but down in Box Canyon the temperature reached the high eighties. I met a naturalist friend and we looked for insects: He found interesting syrphids. The antennae of the males were shaped like bundles of feathers. Copestylum (Hiatomyia) plumosa? I got no photos, too bad. I hope to go back for them.

The creeks were gurgling with clear fresh water. No bugs except some Water Striders.  Bonewhite Sycamores rose ghostly in the early evening shade of the canyons.

Several dark butterflies were flying around: Mourning Cloaks, Bordered Patches and Pipevine Swallowtails. Does their dark coloration give them enough thermoregulatory advantage for an early start? 

 Already, Desert Broom was attracting scores of wasps.  These are potential queens of Paper Wasp species that overwintered, I assume. Like every year in spring, I'm confused - their coloration differs from that of the workers I'm used to seeing in summer and autumn.

 At Madera Canyon Lodge, a Coatimundi visited the bird-feeder area. He seemed well-fed, content and rather tame. Probably not a great situation, but I did enjoy watching him for a while. 

White-nosed Coatis in SE Arizona are the northernmost ambassadors of the south and central American genus Nasua (in German Nasenbaer). They are Racoon-related omnivores but more day-active than those (less hunting pressure, historically?. They feed on insects, lizards, roots, fruits, nuts and eggs. They are very fond of fruit, especially the manzanita berry, and obviosly don't dislike easy-picking bird seed.

  On the way home, the grasslands glowed even more and mountain shadows undulated. It's hard to decide which photo to choose.

P.S. In the meantime I found several Flickr posts of the little group of  Coaties at the Madera Canyon Lodge. I was quite dismayed to see how very obese at least one of the three regulars is.  Feeding wild animals is illegal in Arizona. But feeding birds is exempt from this law. In fact most birdlovers still believe that they are doing a commendable service to the birds. As a biologist the only value that I can see is that people might get interested and feel protective about more than just hummingbirds. Also,  for the lodge and several B and Bs in Madera Canyon the bird feeders are an intrinsic part of a lucrative business and beloved by so many visitors that it would probably be impossible to end this practice. But the feeding and overfeeding of the coaties is problematic. The feeders are alraedy positioned pretty much out of reach of even good climbers.  I hope there is a way (and I will raise the issue) to keep the spilled birdseed from reaching the ground.