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Thursday, July 31, 2008


Again, on returning to COC from our field research, we found another avian friend hanging out on the front trellis. This funny bird is a Curve-billed Thrasher, a species common to the Southwest and Mexico. Here he is in his most dignified manner.
And here he is doing the Soft Shoe.

Yellow Flowers and Pollution

My ignorance is on display today in trying to identify two of the three plants in these first three photos. When I try to get Research Associate Becca involved in the discussion, she just shrugs her shoulders and goes to find a cool place to lie down. This first plant is, I believe, Rough Menodora.
This specimen I am unable to find in any of my resources, but it appears to be some type of daisy.
The third plant is Twinleaf Senna; notice the twin leaves?
This final photo looking south to El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, Mexico shows the "pass of the north," the opening between the Franklin Mountains (left) and the Sierra de Juarez (right). Although hard to see in this photo, the pollution in the Borderplex is pretty bad.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Not much to take note of on the trail around Tortugas Mountain this morning, but this striking yucca with its two sucker babies did catch our eyes. I should say "my" eyes because Research Associate Becca was too preoccupied by a Whiptail lizard hiding under a Prickly Pear pad.
When we got back to COC, though, this adult Roadrunner was sitting in the shade atop the trellis in front of the Big House. As pointed out previously, Roadrunners are members of the cuckoo family; if any of you have an old cuckoo clock, compare this baby to the one that pops out of your timepiece.
Here's a right profile shot of the handsome devil.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I had to post this photo of a barrel cactus flower which just bloomed here on the grounds at COC. Look at all the other buds just waiting to give birth.

Early to Rise

Research Associate Becca and I got an early start this morning on the sunrise side of Tortugas Mountain. This is a shot looking west at the mountain.
Beyond the parking lot, the trail is clearly visible.
This is the trail that circles the mountain on its flank, in this case heading clockwise around the monolith.
Looking south from the trail toward Bishop's Cap and El Paso's Franklin Mountains.

Becca and I saw some interesting plantlife, including this pincushion cactus; I say "pincushion" even though the longer spines look like fishhooks, thereby qualifying this plant as a fishhook cactus, perhaps.

And we stopped to photograph this beautiful White Horsenettle. All in all, a very satisfying outing today.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Alter Ego

The desert has had a whole other self in the past few days. It's been steamy here, and it reminds me very much of Augusts in Northeastern Ohio, where Packrat was born in a midden on Arch Street. In the photo at left, you can see the wet, compacted sand of the desert floor.
Arroyos are still saturated from the heavy rains.
This small sagebrush-like plant is beginning to bloom. At first I thought it was a White Sagebrush, but I'm pretty sure it's not.
Is it even a sage? The leaves look like some salvia I have seen, but I haven't been able to place the flowers yet.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hello Dolly--Goodbye?

Former Hurricane Dolly put a real whipping on us here in the Chihuahuan Desert, flogging southern New Mexico and West Texas with wind and lots of rain. And, apparently, she's still not done with us. As I write this, thunder rumbles and angry clouds hang over the Organ Mountains.
So a little photography here on the grounds at COC is the best the staff can offer. These pretty desert marigolds have literally multiplied over the past few days because of the precipitation.
The storm has hastened the demise of these mesquite bean pods, shaking them to the ground and then soaking them.
This growth on the side of a creosote bush is called a "Tootsie-Pop" gall and is caused by the gall midge.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Trickster

The remnants of Hurricane Dolly have prevented Research Associate Becca and me from venturing out onto the trail today; it's been raining all morning. Weatherpersons have predicted as much as 3" for today and tomorrow. Fortunately, we are able to post these photographs of two visitors to the grounds at COC from early evening yesterday. Two young female coyotes traveling together made a pit stop at the watering hole, drinking and then taking several leaks near the water bowl. Here they are.
I quickly ran for my camera, slapped the telephoto lens on, and took a few passable shots through the vegetation. Even though I was taking photos through a window, one of the pair was leery.
The second moved in for a quaff.
They took turns drinking.
Check out the tongue!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Blooming Desert

On the trail with Research Associate Becca and Dr. K, we saw many interesting sights. In the photo at left the yellow band in the center is a swath of acacia in bloom.
This is a closeup of the acacia swath, whose fragrant flowers perfume the air.
Here are two different types of hedgehog cactus, with a devil's head peeking over the shoulder of the cactus on the right.
The soft projections with leaves on the ends will eventually become hard thorns on this ocotillo.
This irresistibly beautiful flower on the hedgehog cactus demanded to be photographed.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfullness!

Not! For one thing, it's not Keats's temperate England, but the currently hot AND humid Chihuahuan Desert. And it's not autumn yet. The title line comes from Keats's lovely poem "To Autumn." But the fruits are beginning to ripen here in the desert, as this photo of the pears on a Prickly Pear Cactus will prove.
Close-up shot of the pears reddening on the pads of a Prickly Pear Cactus.
A Staghorn Cholla with its crop of yellow fruit.
Apparently this is a Staghorn rather than a Buckhorn cholla because there are only 7 to 10 spines per aerole. The Buckhorn Cholla has as many as 25 spines per areole.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


In the May 26, 2008 post titled "Poor Man's Georgia O'Keeffe" I posted this photo and wondered which plant it came from. For today's post, while researching the Devil's Claw, I discovered that the structure pictured here is, in fact, the devil's claw that gives name to the plant. When the seed pod of the Devil's Claw matures it splits in two to form this ingenious device for dispersing its seeds. The devil's claw gets caught in the fur of animals and is carried away from the mother plant for dispersal. I can attest to personally having these things caught on my shoes in the past.

A Slog Through the Desert

This morning had the type of weather that made it almost impossible to enjoy our outing. The sun was blazing already, the humidity was high, and there was almost no wind to speak of. I was wiping my face on my shirt sleeves every ten steps, and sweat was literally beading on my arms. Research Associate Becca doesn't have to worry about wiping off her arms. She's all legs. I must say she looks rather fetching in her new halter. I almost didn't want to stop for photo ops, but there were a few I couldn't pass up.

Take this beetle, for instance. It's all global body and very little head.

Then there was this Devil's Claw (aka Unicorn Plant) that had two pale yellow blooms.

Close-up shot of the Devil's Claw flowers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name

What's in a name, right? On the trail with Research Associate Becca this morning, we came upon some spectacular species of plants and animals. So far there are two that we can't identify--or, more correctly, I can't identify. Becca doesn't trouble herself with such trivialities. The first photo is of a lizard that looks like it could have descended from a spaceship near Roswell. I'd say it's an immature collared lizard, but where's the collar?
This second pic is of two unripe pears from the prickly pear cactus.
Photo #3 is of an unidentified plant that I thought, at first, was a feather dalea; but the leaves and feathers are different. It might be a type of dalea, but I'll have to consult a specialist on this one. * (See note below)
Two stout barrel cacti,
one about to blossom.
* Wynn Anderson, The Botanical Curator at the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens of the Centennial Museum at UTEP, informs me that the beautiful specimen in Photo #3 is Plume Coldenia (Tiquilla greggii), a member of the Borage family.

Monday, July 21, 2008

It's A Beautiful Morning . . .

Another beautiful morning on the trail with Research Associate Becca, who loves the smell of the Viscid Acacia bush. Here's a small one in full flower.
These are the wonderfully fragrant blossoms of the Viscid Acacia.
We came upon the rarest of plants--the RA stalk--while bushwhacking offtrail. I'm guessing that "RA" stands for "Research Area," but I'm not sure. More on this later.

We found quite a few of these unidentified plants near the RA stalk; we're guessing that they're some kind of wild onion. (Actually, Rain Lily and seed pods. See note in "Name That Wildflower.")

This oddly-shaped barrel cactus (twins?) caught our eye as we were hiking up the mountain flank. We named them Schwarzeneggar and DeVito.

First Workweek Hike

Wilster Saving grace out there this morning was a constant breeze; it kept the temperature from feeling as bad as it actually was. We altere...