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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Stormy Weather

Because of rainy weather this morning, Research Associate Becca and I had to postpone our hike around Tortugas Mountain. So I'm posting some older photos from the grounds here at COC just to amuse and entertain our many readers. First up, a comical confrontation that's about to happen.
After the battle for territory the hegemon takes his rightful place.
The heavens above give testament to the king's place in history.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rainy Saturday

We've had a lot of rain over the past few days, and the moisture that's hanging around has made for some pretty spectacular scenery. Research Associate Becca and I were hiking on the Tortugas Mountain trail early this morning, unsure if we'd get rained upon. We lucked out, though, completing a 90-minute hike without even a sprinkle. The views were outstanding.
After our hike we drove over to the midpoint between the Sunset parking lot and the Monte Vista parking lot to get the following two photos.
Both were of the same general area of the Organs, but with slightly different cloud cover.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rank and File

I saw these butterflies on the grounds here at COC and had to photograph them. At first there were three.
Then there were four. (Is that last one on the right looking our way?)
Then there were three again.

Baby Diamondback

Out on the Monte Vista side of Tortugas Mountain this morning, Research Associate Becca and I were enjoying the storm clouds forming over the Organ Mountains, the outflow winds that were cooling us down, and the outstanding vistas created by the cloud shadows.
At times, rained seemed imminent, but we never got wet.
On the way back from our field research, Becca practically touched her nose to the rattle of this baby Western Diamondback, that was just about 12" long.
The snake never reacted, surprising since Diamondbacks are kind of chippy. Closeup of the tiny rattle.
Closeup of the head.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Free Guillermo!

This morning was a special occasion--we got to watch a worker from Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Rescue release the little cottontail bunny we found here at COC over two weeks ago along with a companion cottontail that had been rehabilitated, too. Here's a photo of the two of them (still pretty small) in the carrying crate.
The wildlife rehabilitator releases the rabbits under a thick mesquite tree that has a lot of protective undergrowth.
The rabbits got along well together in rehab, and may stick with each other for awhile. Instinctively, they'll know what to eat. Let's hope they are able to survive

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tropical Depression

The remnants of Tropical Storm Julio (dowgraded to a tropical depression) dumped hours of rain on the Las Cruces/El Paso area last night, and a light rain continued this morning. That didn't stop Research Associate Becca and I from hitting the trail early on the Monte Vista side of Tortugas Mountain. The humidity and the dew point were high, as evidenced by the many low-hanging clouds around the Organ Mountains.
A light wind blew the clouds into various configurations.
I'm not completely certain about this plant (at left), but I think it's Agarito, a plant whose fruit is valued by both animals and humans.
Eureka! To find a devil's head blooming this late is quite a find, but to find one with two blossoms is surely a good omen.
The flowers are so pink they look almost psychedelic in this photo.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Exploring the sunset side of Tortugas Mountain this morning, Research Associate Becca and I came across this beautiful hawk (a Redtail, I think) that was sitting high and surveying its domain.
Turning its head left and right, it was obviously looking for breakfast.
Either seeing something to feast on or irritated by my picture-taking, it prepared to take flight.
Here's a terrible photo of the raptor on the move.
Soaptree Yucca in bloom.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Amazing Sights

We started off early on the Monte Vista side of Tortugas Mountain, and within a quarter mile we saw this collared lizard, who never moved from its precarious rock perch.
It didn't even blink while I took this closeup of its collar.
Further along the trail at the backside of the mountain, I photographed this hawk (a Redtail, I think) just as it took off.
In an arroyo south of the main trail, we came across this specimen of Buffalo Gourd, the largest and stinkiest I've ever seen.

The leaves were enormous and many of the gourds fully grown.

The flowers were covered with beetles.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Unicorn Plant

On this morning's hike I also took some photos of a plant I didn't recognize. Some research, however, revealed it to be another type of Devil's Claw or Unicorn Plant.
The leaves were huge, dwarfing the small, two-lipped flowers.
But the blossoms were delicately beautiful.
And their welcome mat was obvious to any pollinators.

Bloomers (Late)

This morning's hike was good and bad for Dr. K, Research Associate Becca and I. Becca lunged at a jogger and her dog, growling and barking like a common cur. We were quite disappointed in her. I was afraid Dr. K might want to fire her from COC, but Dr. K's a pretty forgiving type. Then we ran into two idiots in a dune buggy (or they almost ran into us); the grown man driving said dune buggy apparently had the IQ of a ten-year-old, and his ten-year-old son had the IQ of a two-year-old. They waved at us as they sped past, kicking up a cloud of dust that enveloped us.

On the good side, we discovered a late-blooming ocotillo that was being visited by a hummingbird. Here's a series of photos capturing the nectar-loving aviator.

We also came across this shedded snake skin. At first I thought it was from a rattler.

Closeup of what I thought was a rattle. Closer inspection reveals what looks like just the tip of the tail.
Closeup of the texture of the skin.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reptile Dysfunction

Research Associate Becca and I have gone most of the summer without seeing many rattlesnakes, but today was a two-snake day. The first, a small Western Diamondback, Becca stepped right over without seeing. I saw it at the last moment and was able to give it a little wider berth. When I stopped to photograph it, the young'un was unperturbed, never once rattling. I have heard that juvenile rattlers are the most dangerous because they have yet to learn how to judiciously budget the amount of venom they expend when striking. By the way, how's that for a camouflage outfit?

Further along the trail we encountered this adult rattler, a truly gorgeous specimen. It was about 3 1/2 feet long and quite stout in the middle. It may have just eaten something. It was slightly disturbed by our presence, but not overly so. It rattled half-heartedly as it made a fairly rapid retreat into the underbrush. I had to remind Becca that Ms. or Mr. Rattler was a creature we had to treat with great respect.
The last two photos are of barrel cactus flowers. Orangish-pink.

And yellow.

Friday, August 22, 2008

On The Trail

We talk a lot about being on the trail around Tortugas Mountain, but we haven't yet focused on the trail. So here are pictures of the trail on the sunset side of the mountain. This section bends around Tortugas high above the desert floor.
Here the trail drops steeply to the lower elevations.
A mountain biker glides along one of the biking trails.
Over hill and dale in the rugged desert beyond Tortugas.
I had to include this picture of a gorgeous pink flower that I haven't identified yet. Anybody know what it is?
(As it turns out, Wynn Anderson, Botanical Curator with the Centennial Museum's Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at UTEP knew this plant. It's Palafoxia sphacelata. A real beauty.)

Bushwhack or Not to Bushwhack

1st 2:  this morning's moon Another morning doing our regular hike, this time with added distance; we bushwhacked out of the left branch...