Sunday, July 9, 2017

But It's a Dry Heat. AZ/ NM- Day Three, July 3rd, 2017

Up and at 'em early again. To the foothills, AWAY!
Except, once again, our early morning cruising wasn't very fruitful. We eventually parked and walked for a while, once again in Gila habitat. Though it was cool in the early morning, it was still dry as hell so we, obviously, didn't see any animals.

Something had been nibbling on this Prickly Pear, most likely a bunny.

Time for a mountain shot.
Unfortunately, Andrea had the same idea, but I badly had to pee. I pulled up a cactus after she saw my face and gave me some privacy.

We drove along the forested mountain roads and saw many Mule Deer and Wild Turkeys flitting about.

Like the day before, we went to watch the bird feeders while we waited for the diner to open. On the way, I peeked under the cover of a fire-pit where we'd found an Alligator Lizard skin (shed) three years ago. Much to my surprise, there was one there! I put my hand on him, knowing I'd be a real hero to Andrea, and he snuck beneath the screen, out of sight. I'd touched him but failed. DRAT!

We saw a few new (to us) birds at the feeding area, though, like a Bridled Titmouse (#61 on the year, lifer #165).
#61 Bridled Titmouse (Lifer #165)

I had this Bronzed Cowbird in nice focus but he turned to admonish me as I snapped. Not a great shot but funny as hell, #62/ #166. Nice gams.
#62 Bronzed Cowbird (Lifer #166)

We headed back toward the diner, keeping an eye out for critters. Andrea saw this in the sand and said it looked like snake tracks.
It sure did... she surmised that a slender snake had crossed this path since we had last walked by, about 15 minutes before. Which way was it going? We poked around the leaves beneath a cluster of trees. I heard a skitter!!! It was a Clark's Spiny running through the leaves, our first (and only) one of the trip.

I walked into the middle of the tree-cluster and I swear I saw a face pull into a hole in the tree. Was it the Clark's? I saw a white chin. If that tree was hollow, who know what might be in there. I didn't have a headlamp and it was dark in the hole but I eventually did see a coil... looked like Racer skin. I was finally able to get the camera to focus inside the dark hole and we saw this...
I'll be damned.

There was a piece of seemingly loose bark to the side of that hole and I pulled it out and saw the snake. I was able to get a hold of it and extricate it. It kept coming... there was a lot more snake than I thought at first! About five feet of our lifer Sonoran Whipsnake!
That made our breakfast a happy one.

After eating, we stopped by the Research Center to consult the map. Our plans of going around the mountain to the National Monument wasn't as interesting to us as it had once been; we now wanted to find a creek that was "probably still running". The quest for Canyon Tree Frogs and Black-necked Garter Snakes was still in the front of my mind. We took a quick walk around the grounds and saw this Whiptail skitter under some cover.
No worries... nearby we saw another and I was only able to photograph the head.
I didn't know it at the time, but they were actually two different species, the second of which is a Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (A. sonorae).

We got into the car and headed up the mountain, hoping to find the proper place to park and enjoy the creek. Mexican Jays were abundant and, since I didn't get a good shot three years ago, decided to make good with our #63 bird on the year.
#63 Mexican Jay

It was a thin, bumpy, gravelly road. It kept going up. There was no guard-rail. It wasn't much to my liking. I turned to look at Andrea and she was white as a ghost, terrified. Yeah, fuck this. We found a spot to turn around and headed back to a small pull-off area high in the mountains. We figured we'd poke around a safe, if dry, spot. We were in the range for Banded Rock Rattlers and Mountian King Snakes, anyway.

We didn't see those but I finally nailed a shot of this cutie, a lifer Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail (A. exsanguis).
Chihuahuan Whiptail
This is the species that was the butt end of the two-Whiptail puzzle seen earlier. Like the Sonoran, this is a unisex species... all females. The clustering of spots at the base of the tail is the best field diagnostic.

This Striped Plateau Lizard was also enjoying the altitude.

We made our way safely down the side of the mountain, wondering if we'd missed a turn somewhere. It didn't appear that we had. It wasn't the creek that we were looking for but we saw a dribble in a stream along the road and decided to visit that instead. We were rewarded with a young Yarrow's Spiny right away.

There were plenty of small sculpin-looking fish in the water and we saw Toebiters swimming to shaded areas as we stepped by. Flipping stones got us a look at quite a few Toebiters with eggs all over their backs.
Toebiter with eggs
Evidently, it is a male... eggs are laid on a male's back. Cool.

While driving back towards the Lodge, we decided to see if our friend Mike was home. Since Andrea had no phone service, it would have to be unannounced. Luckily, he was home. He had family visiting so I think our presence might have given him a chance to get away for a short bit. We sat and talked with him for a half hour or so, enjoyed his company and some goat cheese made from his goats. He gave us a tip about a place a couple of miles down the road that has a man-made pond that is pretty cool so when we left, that's where we went.

This self-proclaimed oasis had a fairly low water level but there were loads of Bullfrogs skimming across the water in a very comical way, as well as a bunch of American Coots. Again, we heard Red-winged Blackbirds and got a whiff of home. Bunnies were seeking shade to cool off.

Andrea got a cool shot of some Blue Mud Daubers enjoying some sap with other insects.
Blue Mud Dauber

A field next to this pond was full of cows and bulls. Water dribbles into a channel where the properties meet so the cows have plenty to drink out there.
I wonder if there was anything hiding under that debris that would have been worth raising the ire of the bulls. Probably not.

We went back to the hotel for a few hours of napping. Our goal was to be back up in the mountains by the time the sun went behind them. We hoped for Green Rat Snakes. We didn't see them but we got out and hiked a little more, getting photos of some cool caves.

While getting ready to hit the road for the night's road cruising, we both decided to pull over and see if the Alligator Lizard was back in his fire-pit spot. Andrea went with me this time. I wanted her to at least get a look at it if he was there. I lifted the top and she said "There he is!" I was able to get him in hand this time.
Finally, our lifer Madrean Alligator Lizard.
Darn beautiful, but lizards really hate to be held. Though he calmed down enough for a few photos, he really wanted to kill me.
We didn't detain him for long.

We scoured the foothills in the waning sunlight. No reptiles but a good sized tarantula was walking along and took exception to Andrea getting in front of it.

We saw no more critters until we crossed back into New Mexico and got on the lizardy-gas-station road. We saw a light Mojave stretched out on the pavement.
The road wasn't super busy but we'd seen more than a few cars so we figured it was a good idea to get him to safety. He wanted no part of that, however, and started acting like the piss and vinegar Mojaves we know and love. He buzzed his tail, struck at the walking stick I was trying to corral him off of the road with... a completely disagreeable little snake.
I finally got him off the road and he buzzed his tail at me until we'd driven out of sight. He might still be buzzing for all I know.

We went up by the gas station to poke around in the dark. Andrea flipped a Black Widow and got this keen shot of it.

We headed back and were admittedly getting pretty tired. We saw one DOR Mojave but overall, there hadn't been much red asphalt this trip. We were going slowly up the road when we saw the unmistakable sight that we'd hoped for... a Desert King.
A Desert King had been the highlight of our last trip out here and sure enough, it was again. They sure grow them gorgeous out here!
We were off the road enjoying and photographing this snake when a truck sped past. It stopped and turned around. Uh-oh... But it was a local guy who had some of his family out "Road huntin' snakes"... when he asked "splendida?", we knew he was OK (though I still thought he was going to take off when we handed it to him). He and his two kids all had cowboy hats on. I'll be we looked weird to him, too. He gave Andrea the King back and we wished each other good luck. OK... more King pics.
Andrea took it across the road (where it was heading) and watched it crawl off into the night.

That was the end of a pretty good day. We saw a DOR on the way back... got out to inspect it... a Gopher again... then it's tail moved! But it was a goner. It must have been recently hit, maybe accidently by the Cowbot Hat crew. Sad. I moved it off the road to die in dignity.

That was our last night of vacation. Would the daytime bring us more memories?


  1. who is banding those jays? that jay had two bands on it's legs?
    whoever it is maybe would like to know the local of the bird

    1. It was probably banded at the Southwestern Research Station nearby.

  2. so it probably was raised there