26 November, 2009

A Mini Macro Post on Thanksgiving Day

Dennis found a set of close-up lenses for my Canon 18-55mm on eBay for a great price -- $15.00! There are 3 lenses, 1X, 2X, and 4X. I tested them out on my seasonally challenged Christmas cactus that was in full bloom several weeks ago; more of a Halloween cactus, I suppose. Below are some of the resulting photos.

I am very happy with the photos that I got in the end.  But it took me several hours and over 100 shots to begin to get proficient with the lenses.  On this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for digital cameras!  ;-)

I am also thankful for my fantastic family, dear friends, good food, the beauty of the natural world, and my fellow bloggers who capture that beauty for all to see. 

Cheers!  Wilma

19 November, 2009

Phoenix, Part 3

So first up, I need to correct a bird ID in the first 2 Phoenix posts.  I had photographed a female hummingbird and assumed she was a ruby-throated hummingbird because she looked so much like the ruby-throated ones in the eastern half of the US.  But they don't occur in Arizona. It is hard to ID the females, but in the second post I had photos of a male hummingbird, and from those I was able to positively indentify it as a Costa's hummingbird.  The Costa's have a more purple color to their throat and cap feathers than the ruby-throated, and a nice white stripe from the outer corner of their eyes.  And the Costa's live in the desert.

I took all of the photos below as Dennis and I enjoyed the remains of the day on our little patio.  The first 2 shots are of a very shy female Gila woodpecker.

This male and his mate spent a lot of time at this hole in a Saguaro cactus, possible a nest hole.  The sun was sinking quickly into the west, resulting in a long exposure.  But you can see the little red cap of the male.

The pair settled on the pergola as twilight came.

As the sun set, the gibbous moon rose.

The details of the moon's surface show up so clearly in the dry desert air.  What a gorgeous finish to our last day in Phoenix.

14 November, 2009

Phoenix: Part 2

I got up early on Halloween day to take a walk around the resort in a fruitless attempt to catch some bird activity.  At least I got some nice shots of the landscaping.
This lavendar-hued cactus must be a variety bred for landscaping.  We saw it in many places in Phoenix.  Looks kind off trippy to me, in a very cool way.

These next 2 shots are of the area around our patio.

After eating our leftovers from dinner for breakfast, Dennis and I headed out to South Mountain Park for a "short" hike.  We stopped at a produce stand that I had been to the last time we were in Phoenix to pick up some food to take with us (along with our waterbottles, sunscreen, hats, camera gear, binocculars, etc.) on our hike.  We got fresh, cold concord grapes, dates, and date bars for the hike.  (aside - Arizona is a major date-growing area.)  South Mountain Park is a city park, but is on the outskirts of Phoenix and covers a huge area.  We parked at one of 2 park entrances that is just off Baseline Road at the southern edge of Phoenix.  There is a large scale map posted at a kiosk, but no hardcopy maps to take with you as you hike (cue scary music).  At 10:15 am, we set off on the Javelina Trail, one of the shortest at only 1.7 miles, that connects with the Mormon trail for the return to the car.  We took our time, lollygagging actually, stopping to take in the views and take photos along the way.
This male Costa's hummingbird let me get pretty close for these first 2 shots.  See how he raises up his throat and head feathers to display his red throat in the second shot.  Be sure to click the photos to enlarge them.

Then he flew to the other side of the bush where he continued to flash his wealth.

Don't those ruby feathers look like sequins?

We continued on the Javelina Trail as it rose up to cross the RidgeLine Trail.

We crossed the Ridgeline Trail and headed down into the next canyon on what we thought was the Mormon Trail to head back to the car.

You can see the signs of water erosion on this rock formation; hard to envision that muchwater in this dry environment.

After walking another 1.5 miles, we realized that we were not heading in the right direction.  We decided to stay on the trail we were on (whatever it was) and take the next left to get us going the right way.  Since this was Saturday, there were many hikers out, so we weren't worried about getting hopelessly lost. 

As we walked along the rocky trail, this red-tailed hawk zoomed by us, doing a series of victory laps around the canyon while carrying its prize snake in its talons.  You will have to excuse the fuzziness of the photos - I was standing and turning in circles following the hawk through the view finder while hand-holding the camera with the long zoom lens at 300 mm.  It is a wonder I didn't tip over from dizziness and excitement.

By this time we realized that we still weren't getting closer to our car.  But there were no other trails to take to the left. 
The scenery had changed a bit because we were in an area with a lot of flash flood activity during heavy rains (not an issue while we were there!).  The photo below is of the Pima Wash, after the local Pima Indian Tribe.  Right now it is a river of sand, but when the rains come, it is a real river that can carry you away.

We could still see the city of Phoenix from various points.
We wound up going way too far east and ended up at a different parking lot miles away from where we started.  We took this opportunity to top off our water bottles.  
Fortunately, Dennis recognized the high tension power line from our hike in this park last year and we were able to get our bearings again.  We didn't have to backtrack at all.  We could see the trail that went toward the power lines, so we followed that. 
It was a steep hike over the ridge.  Check out the gray squirrel atop the rock formation on the left.

As we crossed the ridge, we saw this Gambel's quail.

We followed the powerline for a short distance.  It was eerie to walk under the powerline because it sang its wailing and humming sound overhead.  Finally we saw a trail that we recognized from last year that headed back toward our car.  It was a relief to be back in familiar territory.

We got back to the car at 2:30, a mere 3 and 3/4 hours from when we started, no worse for the wear.  Dennis' bad knee did OK, too.  We even had food and water left over.  We looked at the map at the kiosk and figured we walked at least 6 miles instead of the 3 we had intended.  But if we hadn't gotten lost we wouldn't have seen the hawk with the snake or the Gambel's quail or heard the power lines sing.  Once again - here's to getting lost!

The next blog will have a few photos from our afternoon back at the resort, the 3rd and final part of our trip to Phoenix.

08 November, 2009

Where was Wilma?

The photo posted a few days ago shows rocky desert overlooking a city in a valley where Dennis and I had gone for a long weekend. So, let’s see – close enough to get to fairly quickly from Minnesota with desert and mountains. It must be somewhere in the US southwest. The valley is Sun Valley, the desert is the Sonoran desert, and the city is Phoenix, Arizona. Dennis had half a day of business to tend to, but the rest of the time was a little mini-holiday for us. We stayed a very posh resort at the outskirts of Phoenix (courtesy Dennis’ work) for 3 nights.

Phoenix is located at the northern edge of the Sonoran desert, and it can reach temps that rival those of Baghdad in the summer.  But the fall weather is nearly perfect. While we were there, the daytime highs were about 80F and the lows were in the 50s with no clouds in sight.  

While Dennis was working Friday morning, I went to the gym for an early workout and then cooled down in the refreshing morning air with a short walk to check out the beginning of a hiking path into the desert. It looked promising, so after my shower and breakfast, I grabbed my water bottle and sunscreen (essential here), camera bag and binoculars, and hat and sunglasses, then headed out on the short hiking path. I hiked a fairly rough, but short, trail that went partway up a rocky outcropping and got some pretty nice photos. There were perhaps 15 other people that were hiking there. 

The view shown below is the hillside which the trail ascends about 2/3rd way to the top.

Here is a view of the city of Phoenix.

I love how these chollas look with the sunlight scattered by their pale golden thorns.

And these fishhook barrel cacti have lovely pastel spines.

Previous hikers have left stacks of rocks along the trails.

As I sat still to wait for wildlife to resume activities, I saw a pair of black-throated sparrows busily gathering seeds.  They were only about 8 feet away from me, but were not deterred by my presence or the clicks of the camera.

After watching the sparrows for a bit I moved on to another vantage point and watched a Gila Woodpecker for a bit.  It never did get very close, but I managed to get a shot of perched in a thorny shrub.  You can just barely make out the red crown on the tawny head.

I also spotted a mockingbird just within range of my zoom lens.  I took a number of pictures of it and then suddenly it flew right me as I was looking through the viewfinder and landed a mere 15 feet away.  It posed for me like a pro!

I met up with Dennis back at our suite as he finished up his business. Our suite (not really sure what to call it) was a small efficiency apartment with a combined sitting/bedroom and a small patio outside the entrance. The entire resort was beautifully landscaped with native desert plants that looked quite lush compared to the surrounding desert simply because the resort used drip irrigation and kept plants trimmed for best blooming. Like many places around the world, this resort was far below capacity in number of guests, which made it nicer for us, although not so good for the resort. We ate our lunch at the poolside restaurant where the house sparrows and grackles quickly captured all errant crumbs.  Unfortunately, no photos because my camera was back in our room.  :-(

I did, however, go back out with camera to try to capture a female hummingbird.  Below is the bush of Mexican Bird of Paradise (not a true bird of paradise at all) that the humming bird had been in earlier.   Wait!!!  Can you see the hummer perched just above the seed pods?  Click to enlarge. 

She sat quite still as I moved in closer and closer.  You can tell she is a female bacause she lacks the colorful throat of the male.

Finally, when the camera was within inches of her, she decided to put a little more space between us, so I let her be after this last shot.

After lunch, we went back to our suite and spent some time on the patio where I took more bird photos.  All of the remaining photos were taken on our patio.

What could that be in the palm tree?  It really is a starling with its lovely speckled winter plumage.  Who knew they would perch in palms?

An entire flock of Gambel's quail came around from the back our suite and were very skittish.  I managed to get a couple of decent shots (out of 15 or so) by moving ever so cautiously around the corner to catch them unawares.  This first one seems to be saying "You don't see me.  You don't see me.  You don't see me" as it walked down the branch.

This lovely curved-bill thrush was scratching around on the ground underneath the orange tree.

But my favorite bird was the enchanting cactus wren.  They are not shy birds and will go about their business while letting you get within mere feet them.

This one is shuffling along in the fallen pink bougainvilla sepals.

And here is one getting dried material from a dead cactus for its nest material.

I love the white streak above its eyes and the brown spots on the pale cinnamon-colored underparts.  It is fairly large for a wren and has a very engaging manner.

Later on we made a foray for wine and cheese at a nearby wine shop so we could enjoy wine and cheese on the patio before going out to dinner later that evening. We ate at the Bonita Grill and had green corn tamales (incredibly delicious), azteca soup (fantastic), mahi mahi tacos (yum) , lamb with black beans and grilled veggies (great combination). Believe it or not, we had the leftovers for breakfast the next day! More on the rest of our holiday on the next post.