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Monday, June 30, 2008

Creepy Crawlies


At about 10:20 last night, when I let Research Associate Becca out into the backyard to relieve herself, I saw this nocturnal beauty by one of Dr. K's flower pots. Fortunately, Becca didn't see it or else she would have been poking her nosey nose right into the unsuspecting critter. I was able to get Becca back inside and grab my camera for a rare nighttime portrait.
This second tarantula I photographed in Soledad Canyon last year. Notice the difference in color between the two arachnids. Both were fairly large individuals, their bodies between 3 and 4 inches long.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How Green is Our Valley?

This is a photo of the green belt (riparian habitat and agricultural area) that runs along the Rio Grande River through the Mesilla Valley. The lush area is made more apparent on an overcast day when the sun breaks through and highlights the green color. The Portrillo Mountains are on the horizon at left.








A view across the Chihuahuan Desert to Bishop's Cap in the southern section of the rugged Organ Mountains.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Vistas and Critters


Research Associate Becca and I went on a hike this morning near Tortugas Mountain. We had quite a bit of rain last night, so parts of the desert were actually muddy. Some places had already dried, but you could see where the water coursed, taking the path of least resistence.
The vistas were spectacular due to the clouds that still lingered over the mountains.
Quite a few critters were out and about, including this millipede.
This particular critter found some shade where she could relax and enjoy her tongue sandwich.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Beautiful Birds


Here are three of the most beautiful--or handsome--birds here on the grounds at COC. The first is a Cactus Wren, one of the noisiest avian critters in the Southwest deserts.
Another noisy bird is the male Gambel's Quail. When frightened, quail will run at high speed before taking flight.
This is a teenage Roadrunner that was sitting on the trellis in front of the Big House.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mule Deer


When our fieldwork was nearly over this morning, Research Associate Becca and I came upon a small herd of mule deer on the trail above the westside parking lot at Tortugas Mountain. There were about twelve altogether, seven or eight does and four or five fawns. Can you see them in the photo at left? I count five in this shot.
Don't they blend in well with the desert colors?
This one was more curious about Becca and me than the others, and she came down to get a better look. Becca and I found two bowl-like hollows in some granite sheet rock and filled them with about a quart of water. Not much for that many deer, but it was better than nothing. We didn't hang around to see if they came for a drink.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Birds of a Feather


I first saw this bird bathing in one of the narrow canals here on the grounds at COC. Its brilliant yellow feathers contrasted greatly with its jet-black feathers. I had never seen this particular species, but a little internet research later revealed that it was a male Bullock's Oriole.
It was in the company of another of its species, which was either a young male or a female.
I got several good shots of the mature male as he hopped from branch to branch in the desert willow shaking and preening after its bath.
He displayed quite a few silly antics, including hanging upside down on several different occasions. The Bullock's Oriole summers here in New Mexico, breeding before migrating into Mexico for the winter.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Another Cool Morning


Last night's light rain left enough moisture in the air to create another cool morning here in the Chihuahuan Desert. The strong breeze--almost a wind, really--made the temperature even cooler. Add to that a slightly overcast sky, and it contributed to a near-perfect research session. The muted light gave the desert an impressionist-painting effect.


Some early-morning mountain biker beat us to this deserted road today.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cool Morning


Because we've had a little rain the last few days, this morning was delightfully cool. The moisture in the air and a stiff breeze provided natural evaporative cooling. Research Associate Becca and I enjoyed our time out on the trail; and she was remarkably well behaved, only once lurching at a jackrabbit who rocketed out of the brush to get away. The vistas were superb, and the outback seemingly unpopulated; though we did run into a jogger who was getting his exercise in early--always a good idea in the summertime here. About 2/3 of the way through our hike things began to heat up, and the humidity began to feel oppressive. We always make sure we carry enough water with us to stay hydrated on these excursions.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ravages of Fire


Last week's fire in the Organ Mountains left behind a partially-devasted high desert landscape. These normally pale-green prickly pear cacti have been toasted by searing flames.
The fire spread rapidly through this dry desert grassland, destroying yuccas, sotols, prickly pears and other cacti.
A desolate landscape in the foreground, with an ancient sotol--now charred into a statuesque ember--gives stark testament to the destructive force of fire; the untouched grassland in the background provides an interesting yardstick with which to measure the desert's recuperative power. How long will it take this area to regenerate?

Fire's Aftermath


Yesterday, the Bureau of Land Management reopened Dripping Springs Natural Area and Soledad Canyon to the public. This morning Dr. K, Research Associate Becca and I went up to Soledad Canyon in the foothills of the Organ Mountains to see firsthand what damage last week's fire left behind. The first photo shows an interesting phenomenon: burned grassland to the left of the trail and intact grassland to the right. My guess is that firefighters backburned the area to the left to prevent fire from spreading to the right.

A large sotol completely destroyed by the flames.
A barrel cactus completely singed by the fire.

The area in the foreground of the photo shows a landscape that looks volcanic after the fire ravaged the grassland, while the grasses and trees on the mountain in the background were spared, undoubtedly through the valiant efforts of firefighters.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Long Hot Hike


Research Associate Becca and I did a long desert hike this morning in the vicinity of Tortugas Mountain. That's her (the mountain) in the photo at left. Becca was out of her mind today, chasing jackrabbits as if she'd never seen one before. There was no talking to her about pacing herself, and by the end of the hike she was nearly overheated.
At the midpoint of the hike we came across this partial carcass pinned to a fence. Whatever it was (I think a deer), it didn't make it over the obstacle and came to a painful end.

Friday, June 20, 2008

El Fuego


The wind suddenly started blowing from the East last night and we (residents in the West Texas/Southern New Mexico area) awoke to a smoky day. The smoke comes from a huge wildfire about 35 miles northwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico in far west Eddy County.
So far, the blaze has consumed about 20,000 acres. Because of the wind the smoke has traveled approximately 150 miles to the west. The haze in the sky today has nearly obscured the view of our mountains.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Alpha Omega


This is how a Century Plant looks at maturity, its flower stalk poking 18 to 25 feet into the air. Despite its name, the Century Plant actually matures at about age twenty; it uses so much energy forcing its stalk high into the sky and blossoming that it dies after its one-time showy display.

















These are what the flowers of the plant look like close-up; they are huge, dinner-plate-size blooms that attract both birds and bees.




This is what the remains of the once-vibrant plant look like after it has been battered and knocked over by the persistent desert wind.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lazy Day


It is just too hot to do any field research today, so a quick look around the grounds here at COC is in order. The first picture is the view across the large arroyo that runs through the property here.
A cholla grows by sprouting new segments with soft appendages that harden into needle-like thorns.
When bumped, these thorns often break off and stick into the bumper, causing sharp pain.
When a single flower adorns a spiny limb, it's like having Beauty and the Beast on the same plant.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Where in the World is Harry Hare?


If you carefully examine the photo at left, you'll see Harry in one of his favorite haunts. If this was a video you'd see how much he's panting because of the heatwave we're having. Yesterday was 106 degrees, and we're looking at something close to that today.
This is a close-up of the Century Plant under which Harry seeks his daily shade. The leaves are about six inches wide, and the split is due to the ultra-dry conditions.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cool Canals


Just a few shots of the local yokels here at COC, relaxing during the midday heat (105 degrees so far today). The dirt canals are moist inside, so they're cooler on the mammalian bodies. A male quail with its handsome painted face takes advantage of a shady spot.
A desert cottontail takes a mid-afternoon siesta.
And a jackrabbit lazes in the shadow of an agave.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Drought and Carelessness =


Fire! This blaze in the Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces was apparently manmade, and law enforcement is investigating. It started late afternoon yesterday and quickly consumed more than 400 acres.
It was still out of control this morning when Dr. K, Research Associate Becca and I went out to Tortugas Mountain for a hike. Later, we drove up Soledad Canyon Road to get a closer look at the fire from the parking lot at the Sierra Vista Trailhead.
We were stopped by a Dona Ana County Sheriff's deputy who let us pass when he heard we were going to turn around at the Sierra Vista Trail. On the way back we saw a slurry helicopter make several trips to and from the city to drop its payload on the mountains. With as hot, dry and windy as it is we can only hope that the conflagration won't spread too far.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cactus Gardens and Vistas


Two things we never tire of seeing here in the Chihuahuan Desert: the endless variety of cacti arrangements
and the spectacular vistas that define the seemingly boundless expanse of this arid land.
And, boy, has it been arid! The National Weather Service recently listed parts of West Texas and southern New Mexico as areas of severe drought. Nevertheless, the cacti still survive, and the vistas are superlative.

Arroyo Nuevo

Different perspectives from a new hike As soon as Willow, Frio and I exited the CR-V at the trailhead this morning I realized we wouldn'...