Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Cochise County Lizards

May 18th, 2015 by Mike Hug

Cochise County Lizards – fun to watch while you sit on the patio.

cochise county lizards picture

Tree Lizard

Cochise County lizards start to come out after the weather warms up. You don’t see them in the winter unless you uncover one in the yard when you are moving rocks. Lizards are cold blooded so they need warmth to become active. We do find some lizards inside the house and usually they are easy to catch on the concrete floors. They don’t get much traction so we can reach down and pick them up easily. Sometimes it is just easier to catch them with the broom and the dust pan.

cochise county lizards picture

Great grandad in hand is a Regal Horned Lizard

Most of the lizards here in Cochise County are harmless, even though they may have a frightening appearance. The Horned Lizards, also known as Horny Toads have been used in old scifi 1950 films. The Regal Horned Lizard is the largest horned lizard in Arizona and can fill the palm of your hand. They can blend into the rocks and you can walk right by without seeing it. There is one Cochise County lizard that is dangerous but only if you try to pick it up. That is the Gila Monster or Mexican Beaded Lizard. This reptile is protected and bothering one can get you in trouble with the authorities. In the 10 ½ years I have been here, we have only seen one of these lizards on the property. By the time I got the camera it was gone into the brush and we didn’t see it again.

cochise County lizards

Arizona Striped Whiptail Lizard has an additional stripe down its back

cochise county lizard

Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard is missing the stripe in the center of its back

Many lizards look alike but there are subtle differences. We use a link for Arizona Lizards to help us ID Cochise County lizards. The Desert Grassland Whiptail and the Arizona Striped Whiptail look the same until you count the number of strips on the back. Lizards eat insects and ants but I spotted something that was a bit different. One lizard has some bumps on its back and so I took the picture to see what it was. The lizard had 3 riders. I have no idea why they were there but the lizard didn’t seem bothered by them at that location. Lizards also become prey to other animals such as snakes, birds, and mammals. We have seen Roadrunners with lizards and sometimes snakes in their beak running through the breezeway.

Cochise County Lizards

3 insects are riding this Desert Grassland Whiptail Lizard just over the back legs.

Cochise County lizards are fun to watch and there are a lot of them around the b and b during the warmer times of the year.

Greater Roadrunners

March 29th, 2015 by Mike Hug

Greater Roadrunners – Arizona’s rascal with feathers

Greater Roadrunner picture

The Greater Roadrunner sometime follows me to see what I scare up for dinner while I am walking through the brush.

Greater Roadrunners is a bird that lives in the southwest and was revered by the native peoples for its speed, bravery and endurance. The Hopi and Pueblo Peoples thought that the Roadrunner was a protection from evil spirits and would provide good medicine. They would look at the tracks of a Roadrunner and see an X shaped print. They believed that the tracks would confuse evil spirits because they wouldn’t know which way the Roadrunner was going. Some Indian tribes in Mexico consider Roadrunners sacred. The Apache also have a legend of how the Roadrunner was made the leader of the birds.

Greater Roadrunner Picture

As the Greater Roadrunner came out from behind the bush the birds all took flight into the top branches of the tree.

The Greater Roadrunner is a member of the cuckoo family and inhabits the northern Mexico and most of the Southwestern US. The Roadrunner ranges into Texas and up into Kansas. There is a lesser Roadrunner that lives in on the western Mexico mainland coast and down into Central America. It’s similar looking but smaller in size and their range overlaps slightly in northern Mexico with the Greater Roadrunner. Here is Southeastern Arizona, Roadrunners can be found in the many areas of Cochise County but especially near the San Pedro River. While driving on the roads you may see one dart across the road in front of the car. Very seldom will you see a Roadrunner leave the ground in flight. They will take flight in times of danger but prefers running on the ground.

Growing up we always watched the Roadrunner Coyote cartoons. It was always fun to see the coyote being bested by the Roadrunner. From those cartoons there was never any doubt in my mind that the Roadrunner ate seeds and could outrun a coyote. Alas the cartoon was a false image of true life. Coyotes are twice as fast as a Roadrunner and can easily catch them in an even race. As for the Roadrunners, their bill of fare of seeds are only about 10% of their diet.

After the birds flew into the tree the Greater Roadrunner jumped up on the wall to see if it was possible to get to the birds.

After the birds flew into the tree the Greater Roadrunner jumped up on the wall to see if it was possible to get to the birds.

Roadrunners mainly eat insects, smaller birds, reptiles including snakes and lizards and smaller rodents. In the desert environment the live food provides the bulk of the water that the Roadrunner requires. The Greater Roadrunner is quick enough to snatch hummingbirds and dragonflies out of the air if they come too close. We have watched Roadrunners running through the breezeway with snakes and lizards in the beak. The Roadrunner is a clever bird. For example while hunting for prey such as rattlesnakes, they will team up with another Roadrunner. One will distract the snake the other will move up from behind to ambush and grab the snake at the back of the head. It will then beat the snake on a rock to kill it.

The other day we watched a Roadrunner hop over the patio fence and move slowly using the cover of the planters and furniture. It moved into bushes until it was close to the seed feeders. The birds were on the ground and all foraging for seeds that had fallen from the feeders. It wasn’t too long when the birds all took flight leaving the Roadrunner alone on the ground. The Roadrunner jumped up on the patio wall and surveyed the tree where the birds had flown to the top branches. Soon the birds flew off to other areas and the Roadrunner hopped down and started looking again for food. It was really interesting to watch the drama play out. I have also had the Greater Roadrunner follow me as I went to the well house. He stayed back a little waiting for me to scare up a lizard or bird. If I did he would dart out and grab it then go off to feed.

Roadrunner roosting picture

The Roadrunner roosting at Down By The River a Cochise County Birding Hotspot.

We have had the Greater Roadrunner roost for the night on the breezeway fireplace and on a beam near the ceiling of the breezeway. It took us a while to figure out what the bird did to get 8 feet up onto those roosts. That is when we found out that the Roadrunner could fly if need be. He flew up to the mantle from the furniture then to the beam from the mantle. By early in the morning he would launch himself off the beam and glide down to the floor. Then the bird would head out to find breakfast and to start a new day. This is a fascinating bird to watch. So if you want a good chance to see the Greater Roadrunner here in Southeastern Arizona, spend some time at Down By The River B and B here in St. David, AZ.

Migratory Bird Photography

March 22nd, 2015 by Mike Hug

Migratory Bird Photography Lots of Opportunity on the San Pedro River

Migratory bird photography picture

Wilson’s Snipe flew off as we were walking along the edge of the lake at White Water Draw.

Migratory bird photography is one of those simple pleasures that can be a thrill when you find out that you have the unexpected picture of a bird in flight. Or it can be one of those frustrating shots where the bird in out of focus because your automatic focus was on a branch and not the bird. Sometimes you get the shot just as the bird takes flight and if you are lucky an action shot has been caught or if not then you have the background and maybe the tail of the bird as a reminder of what you saw.

Migratory bird photography picture

Patience and a little luck will sometimes give you a great shot.

The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is renowned for the migratory bird photography that can be had with a little patience and some good luck. During the year up to 400 species of birds can be found in the area and I have been lucky enough to have been able to record around 100 in the ten years that I have been here at Down By The River B and B. Naturally I am not out every day taking photos or I would probably have more. Some birds are easier to photograph than others. The ones at the feeders are posing as you sit on the patio while others only appear when you don’t have your camera or dart in and out.

I have found that it is wise always to have your camera with you as you walk around the San Pedro River. There are times you need to just sit and wait in an area that you hear bird calls. After a while they come out. But there are

Cochise County Bird Photography example

Lady Luck allowed me to spot this Gray Hawk and take a photograph of him before he took flight.

things that will mess up your day. Two such problems are simple things that you do to yourself. They are not having your battery fully charged or not having a spare. The other is not checking to make sure your card too full with shots that you have taken and not saved to your computer. I have made both mistakes when I was in a hurry and regretted it later. The bird flew away while I did the Homer Simpson “DOH!”

I have had some success with migratory bird photography because I did have my camera and a long range lens. In 10 years I have seen many Gray Hawks but only once was I able to get a photograph of one. I almost left my camera at home that morning but was persuaded to go back and get it before we left. The bird was on a pole 2 minutes into our drive and allowed me to shoot 4 shots before it decided to leave. Just a little preparation will help you more times than good luck.

migratory bird photography picture

By following the hawk with the camera as if flew,  I was able to catch its body. The wings were moving and the background is a blur to give the effect of movement.

There has been other times when I came into view of birds and they started flying off in all directions. I have had my camera at the ready and followed a bird in the viewfinder. I never know what I have and hoped that the shot would take. When I get it on the computer then I know if my shot was successful. With practice, if you follow the bird with the camera and take the shot, you get the bird perfectly frozen in flight while the background is blurry. This gives you the effect of motion. This is much better than not moving the camera and you see a clear background and a blurry bird. Try it out sometime and see what you get. You may surprise yourself with one of those shots that make you go Wahoo!

So prepare, be patient, be ready and improvise to see what works. Good luck. Oh and one last thing don’t watch the bird in your view finder for so long that you forget to take the picture while you have it. Been there and did that too many times to remember.

San Pedro River Bird Migration

March 8th, 2015 by Mike Hug

San Pedro River Bird Migration could be early this year?

The weather has been warm and the San Pedro River bird migration may be earlier this year than it has been in years past. Normally the birding opportunities for migrant birds won’t start until mid to late March or early April. This is because we usually are still experiencing freezing morning temps in Cochise County. This year has been an anomaly however. The freezing morning temperatures ended in late January and the trees along the river started to leaf out in February. In the 11 years I have been here at Down By The River B and B during Spring migration, the trees along the river have never leafed out in mid February. So does this mean we might be seeing the migratory birds earlier?

san pedro river bird migration

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds have been seen flocking here in St. David.

The warmer temperatures in 2012 signaled an early migratory pattern of birds and this year there is a similar warming of temperatures that may indicate that the birds will start moving earlier than normal. Cornell Lab of Ornithology seems to think that it might be the case with their forecast. We have seen the Yellow Headed Black birds here already and other bird activity seems to be picking up. So bird migration in Southeastern Arizona could be starting much earlier than normal.

With the trees leafing out and the insect levels higher, this will be a draw for the birds. The food and water sources will lure the birds north into our area. The temperatures have been in the 70s most of February and it appears that this will continue into March unabated. The San Hill Cranes are still here and haven’t started moving on yet but they still have a good feed in the fields around Willcox. They will start to move out earlier this year as the month heats up. They are normally leaving by the end of March.

We are still waiting to see our first hummingbirds. We start seeing them in later March and if they show up earlier it may be an indicator that the migration will also be early. Time will tell and we can only wait and see. Mother Nature will dictate what is to happen and we can only observe to find out if our guess is right.

Arizona Sunsets

February 28th, 2015 by Mike Hug

Arizona Sunsets – An Unforgettable Flash of Colors

Arizona sunset photograph

There are many opportunities to photograph sunrises and sunsets from the patios at Dwon By The River B and B.

Arizona sunsets are photographed and displayed all over the world. When I was growing up my mom received Arizona Highways Magazine. We loved looking at the photographs, especially the sunsets. I always thought that they were just too perfect and you might have to wait years to get those shots. That is not the case and I have taken some photos that I thought could be improved upon only to have something better a month later. Many people that look at these photos of Arizona Sunsets thought it was done with trick photography back in the day. Today photographers are accused of photoshopping the picture. While it may be true that some will do that, it really doesn’t need to be done with the opportunities we have here.

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Birding the San Pedro River

February 21st, 2015 by Mike Hug

Birding the San Pedro River – An Adventure Awaits You

San Pedro River Picture

The San Pedro River during most of the year is s slow moving river that allows the migratory birds to have food and water.

When Birding the San Pedro River you will find a different adventure no matter where you are. At the southern end of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area the waters flow and there is easy access. In the central portion is the San Pedro House which I wrote about in an earlier blog. Between the San Pedro House and Saint David there are only a couple of locations that you can reach the river. One is Charleston Road and the other is at Fairbank ghost town on Highway 82. As you go further north in the NCA near Saint David has only one place to the river. At this place that you can hang your hat, rest in a comfortable bed and enjoy access to the flowing San Pedro River. The name of the place is Down By The River B and B. It is in a secluded location at the northern end of the NCA on the western side of the river.

Over a ten year period, we have seen and identified 99 different species of birds. We haven’t been able to photograph them all but we do have a nice selection now that we have a decent digital camera. Click on our “Bird Page” tab and go to the bottom of the page to see the different photos that we do have on our site. We also have a list of the birds that have been seen along the river at the back of the property and from the patio. Now if we included the species that we have seen and identified within an hours drive, we would probably be over 150 species.

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Birding At White Water Draw

January 28th, 2015 by Mike Hug

Birding at White Water Draw more than just Sandhill Cranes

Sign Picture

The sign at the entry to White Water Draw tells you about the property

Birding at White Water Draw is best done during the winter and early spring months. That is when the lake is full and the birds that winter in Southeast Arizona are in residence. The birding at White Water Draw isn’t as well known as the Willcox Playa where “Wings Over Willcox” is highlighted. In my opinion, the birding at White Water Draw, near McNeal, is better for close up photography of the cranes. Down By The River B and B is north west of White Water Draw and easily accessible by good roads. After you have a scrumptious breakfast at the b and b, you can be in White Water Draw to view the birds to your heart’s content for the rest of the day.

Birding white water draw picture

The Sandhill Cranes come in to White Water Draw after feeding in the morning. Large numbers winter here in Cochise County.

birding at White Water Draw picture

Sandhill Cranes flying in from feeding north of White Water Draw.

Angie and I took a day trip to White Water Draw, about an hour’s travel time.

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Our Lady Of The Sierras Shrine

January 10th, 2015 by Mike Hug

Our Lady Of The Sierras Shrine A Short History

Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine picture

Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine is located at the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains.

Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine is located in Cochise County almost to the Mexican border on the side of the picturesque Huachuca Mountains. It is located near the Coronado National Memorial which I wrote about in a blog on September of 2013. This part of Cochise County is known for its beauty with the canyons and great vistas.

Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine picture

The driveway to the shrine has this rock with the name at the entrance.

The history of the Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine started in 1987 when the Chouinards visited family members and decided to hike into Ash Canyon. There they found a for sale sign and later bought the 8 acre property in 1988. This was to be the site for their retirement home which they built in 1991 then retiring to the area. Prior to building the home they had taken a pilgrimage to a church in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia where spiritual events had been occurring. After they had finished their home they decided to erect a cross and Patricia stated that she would like a statue of Mary next to it. This appeared to be a relatively simple task that should be easy to accomplish.

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St. David Cienega

January 5th, 2015 by Mike Hug

St. David Cienega

St. David cienega picture

The map of the St. David Cienega is shown on the large map of the San Pedro Riparian NCA.

St. David Cienega picture

The road and the old railroad bed both lead to the St. David Cienega.

I talked about the history of the St. David Cienega, a remnant of the massive marsh system that was around the San Pedro River in my last blog. To reach St. David Cienega you must make a right turn onto Cary road from Escalante Rd. You can drive in all the way to the parking lot or park at this intersection and walk in about a mile. Cary Road ends at the old corrals. Alongside Cary road is the old rail bed of the Southern Pacific line that ran down to Douglas. The tracks have been pulled up in the last 4 years. You can walk on the rail bed and look for spikes that were left behind when the crews pulled up the rails and ties. You are elevated above the road using this route so it allows for a view that is not as obstructed as the one on the road. There are also some photo opportunities of old abandoned houses and ruins that can be seen along the way.

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Saint David Cienega

December 30th, 2014 by Mike Hug

St David Cienega picture

The Saint David Cienega is a remnant of what was once a large system of marshes located here along the San Pedro River.

The Saint David Cienega the way this area was before settlers

The Saint David Cienega is probably comparable to what Coronado would have experienced as he advanced along the San Pedro River during his search for Cibola, the lost cities of gold. The Saint David Cienega is a marshy wetland encompassing about 100 acres. The marsh is fed by springs and seeps that flow into the wetlands. Cienega is a Spanish word for a marsh and may be a corruption of cien aguas – hundred waters. The Saint David Cienega is isolated and doesn’t connect into the San Pedro River but ends at a depression near the river.

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