Thursday, December 29, 2011

Twenty-four! Snowy Owls!

Snowy Owl at Boundary Bay, Canada (Photos by Narca)

Boundary Bay near Delta, Canada, is hosting a Snowy Owl fiesta this winter. Twenty-four of the superlative creatures were visible from one spot on the day that our friend Jim Shiflett asked me to grab my passport and head north.

The Dyke Trail at Boundary Bay is accessible from 72nd Street.

Boundary Bay is renowned as a migratory stopover along the Pacific Flyway and as an Important Bird Area. Extensive mudflats, beds of eelgrass, and salt marshes support a rich mix of wintering birds and as many as 100,000 migrants, including many Dunlin and Western Sandpipers. And Snowy Owls like a dinner of Dunlin just fine, thank you.

Snowy Owls' feet are feathered all the way to their toetips, unlike the feet of birds from more temperate climes. This owl grooms those all-important foraging tools.

Snowy Owls feed high on the food chain. They mostly feast on small rodents like lemmings and voles, but readily switch to birds like gulls, shorebirds, and even other owl species. They are vigilant, although very few predators bother them: Arctic Foxes, dogs, the occasional Golden Eagle or Peregrine Falcon.

This year Snowy Owls are staging an irruption from their northern haunts and are penetrating regions far south of their normal habitats. Why do owl invasions occur? Some speculate that weather patterns are involved. In some years, irruptions may be caused by a failure of their lemming prey base, but this year's invasion appears to have a different cause. The Arctic experienced a huge boom in the lemming population this past summer, and many more young Snowy Owls are thought to have fledged than is the norm. A pair of Snowy Owls may not nest at all when the prey base is poor, but in a good year a pair can raise up to a dozen nestlings!

The winter food supply up north apparently isn't sufficient to support those extra youngsters, so many owls have moved south. This year's owl invasion is exceptional by any standards. It is even being called a "once-in-a-lifetime" irruption. Nebraska's tally is up to 58 individual Snowy Owls, and Wisconsin's count has surpassed 100. They are appearing in states as far south as Texas!

Will Arizona and New Mexico be adding Snowy Owl to their state lists? This is the year it might be possible! So watch for a big white owl in open country, in agricultural fields, or even on the roof of your local Target, the preferred perch of one owl in Washington this year. I guess that big, flat roof was as close to tundra as the owl could find in its immediate environs. Along the coast, the owls frequent beaches. A few years ago, Jim and I even saw a group in a small clearcut in a montane forest north of Seattle.

Those owls overwintering at a mecca like Boundary Bay should be able to find plenty of food, but, unfortunately, at least some of the owls are very hungry and growing weak. A few are finding their way to raptor rehabilitation centers.

My 6-year-old grandson already knew all about Snowy Owls––thanks to Harry Potter's Hedwig.

Adult Snowy Owls are whiter than young birds, and males tend to be whiter than females.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Arizona Sycamore against an impossibly blue Arizona sky
(Photos by Narca)

Fall comes late to southern Arizona. Up north, trees are bare by now and shrouded in ice. Here Indian Summer has drifted into fall, and shifted bit by bit into chilly winter, yet any venture out-of-doors is still an immersion in color.

Richardson's Geranium in autumn dress

Consider Whitewater Draw in the Sulphur Springs Valley northwest of Douglas. Low afternoon light slants across the ponds where a Canvasback naps. Waves of Sandhill Cranes drift in, settling among thousands of their fellows in a dancing, clangorous multitude. Two dazzling Snow Geese catch the sun.

The land glows. We skirt the ponds with my brother. Suddenly a wheeling mass of Yellow-headed Blackbirds returns to their evening roost in the reeds. They announce their coming, loudly. A friend, Steve Laymon, once described the voice of a Yellow-headed Blackbird this way: imagine a Red-winged Blackbird being held under water.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds descend pell-mell to their evening roost.

These blackbirds are mostly males. The males and females tend to migrate separately. Once years ago, I saw a fallout of male Yellow-heads in the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, as night descended. They festooned every tree and telephone wire around us. Two weeks later I returned to Chihuahua, and that night a huge flock of female Yellow-heads descended on the city to roost. The males and females were following the same migratory path, but the males were going first, to set up their breeding territories in preparation for their mates' arrival.

A Merlin routs the panicked blackbirds, but soon they settle back in for the night. What form do their dreams take, I wonder? Spilt seed for foraging, safe harbor in the reeds, and––after the cold––the gurgling songs of spring?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Celebrating the Silver

Yesterday the Chiricahua Gallery in Rodeo, New Mexico, opened its holiday show. We've come to the 25th year––the silver anniversary––of our art guild's founding. We've been around for a quarter of the time that Arizona has been a state!

The gallery is a not-for-profit cooperative of local artists and our supporters within the community.

We interpret "art" broadly, as is fitting. The guild includes painters, sculptors, woodworkers, masters of needlecraft, workers in glass and ceramics, writers, poets, metalcrafters, jelly-makers, crafters of soaps and lotions and candles, photographers, jewelers, weavers, printmakers, a calligrapher.... The gallery nurtures the creative ferment of our Borderlands community, offers workshops, encourages art for kids, gives scholarships to aspiring artists who graduate from our two local (and tiny!) high schools.

The Chiricahua Gallery in Rodeo, New Mexico: Looking through into the craft room, beyond a wall showcasing Jean Bohlender's paintings, mosaic tables by Dan Reheurek, and a vase by Mike Garino. 
(Photos by Narca)

Yesterday's festivities were enhanced by good conversation over cake and punch. We heard a few tales of the early days, when a local lawyer insisted that a bunch of women opening a gallery in Rodeo wouldn't last the year. (Ah, the value of a challenge!)

One gorgeous cake!

The gallery building itself is a registered historic landmark, an old adobe with walls two feet thick and hardwood floors. It has enjoyed a long, colorful life as general store, bar-and-brothel, and church.

The historic Chiricahua Gallery in Rodeo

I've often thought of our local group of painters as the Borderlands School. We are constellated around the Chiricahua Gallery, this small outpost at the edge of the art galaxy, and I like to think that we are doing good work.

Once a very close friend remarked that she wanted to live in the Big City, "where all the important decisions are made." I disagreed. I believe that the important decisions are made in the quietest of places, in our hearts. Artists probe those quiet places.

It's an artist's job to explore the texture of our psyche, to grope for fresh symbols that can revitalize our lives and our culture. Art calls us back to ourselves. It can expose what is rotten and celebrate what is wondrous. Artists who dig deeply, tapping the core of human experience, can produce work that burns with potency, that inspires us all.

Our renewal is at stake.

A serene nicho, highlighting Dan's crosses and art bowl, Susan Hill's wonderful scarf (let's see––how many of these have I bought?!), and Doug Julian's exquisite calligraphy.

Next time you are roaming through Cave Creek Canyon to look for Elegant Trogons or Montezuma Quail, stop in at our little art outpost in Rodeo. See what the locals are up to!

Those silvery 25 years have clearly enriched our Borderlands heritage!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Steamin' Along

Ordinarily, if Alan and I chase something it has feathers. This morning we rose early and headed up to the Interstate to watch the Union Pacific's historic steam locomotive No. 844 chug from New Mexico into Arizona. At least "chug" was what I expected, but this train was moving out!

The 844 steam locomotive rolls into Arizona, with mighty billows of steam.
(Photo by Narca)

We chased it for a few miles, as far as San Simon. Drivers along I-10 were mightily impressed, judging by the swerving cars and people pulling over for a better look. We leap-frogged the train at various exits, and recorded the event in this video.

This venerable train is here in celebration of New Mexico's and Arizona's statehood centennials. Today it is headed for Tucson. You can check out its full route at this website. The 844 was the Union Pacific's last steam locomotive. It was designed for pulling passenger trains and today is considered the UP's goodwill ambassador, its 67-year-old "Living Legend."

And, just for Milo (whose interest in trains spurred us to get up before dawn for something without feathers): the UP 844 weighs 907,980 pounds and its engine and tender are 114 feet long. That's a grand old train!

My favorite attribute of a train has always been its whistle... heard at night, under a sky ablaze with stars, in a lonely, desolate sweep of land.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Autumn Comes

What builds, what informs our sense of a place?

Fresh from yesterday's late-season rain, South Fork in the Chiricahua Mountains is entering autumn. Today I hike up the road, now inhabited by winter birds: the chittering small flocks of Chipping Sparrows, kinglets and titmice. The woodpeckers and sapsuckers are hammering industriously.

A Red-naped Sapsucker is back in his favorite winter tree.
(Photos by Narca)

A Mexican Jay hopes that a picnic is in his future.

A mob of Mexican Jays shadows me, swooping silently through the streamside cypress trees. Across the creek, a large mammal shuffles unseen uphill. Bear? A clumsy deer?

Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii)

Sycamore leaves are rusting into a glorious orange against the deep blue Arizona sky, then dropping quietly into the creek.

The Lemonadeberry (Rhus trilobata) shades into coral and vermilion.

Silverleaf Oak (Quercus hypoleucoides)

A Silverleaf Oak's new leaves are red, too, but they still have a life of greening and photosynthesizing before they fall.

A late-blooming Red Columbine (Aquilegia triternata)

It is mid-day and the butterflies throng to the late-season flowers. Most are Variegated Fritillaries, but they are joined by a few blues, sulphurs, Arizona Sisters, ladies, Red-spotted Purples, one giant Two-tailed Swallowtail, and one of my favorites––a Red-bordered Satyr. Backlit in the sun, the oranges of the fritillaries and the sisters burn brilliantly in a visual echo of the autumn sycamore leaves.

An Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia) pauses on a sunlit cypress.

A Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) nectars on an autumn composite.

All these details––all these particulars––tie us to the canyon, with its lichen-coated rhyolitic cliffs. These specific encounters create and deepen our felt sense of this place, in this particular time of its own long life. Autumn comes, after the big fire, after the healing rains. And here we are. Rugged Chiricahua hoodoos. Gallery forest of sycamore and cypress, sheltering life, winding between the high cliffs.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Island of Streamertails

Are you thinking it's high time for an adventure? This next spring, after winter's deep snows and deeper thoughts, why not join me in Jamaica?

Jamaica: seabreezes, sun, misty forest, calypso––and those spectacular hummingbirds, the streamertails!

Red-billed Streamertails commonly visit Jamaican gardens.
(Photos by Peg Abbott)

We will base this week-long trip at two mountain eco-lodges, both surrounded by forest and shaded coffee plantations, and both sites lively with migrants and endemic Jamaican birds. Indeed, Jamaica has the greatest number of single-island avian endemics of any island in the West Indies––even more than its much larger neighbor, Cuba. According to World Wildlife Fund, Jamaica boasts more endemic birds than any other oceanic island in the world! That number is around 28, depending on just which splits are recognized. So, conjure up visions of Crested Quail-Doves, Jamaican Owls, Jamaican Euphonias, Jamaican Todies, Jamaican Spindalis and Yellow-billed Parrots––species found nowhere else on earth.

A delightful Jamaican Tody

World Wildlife Fund lists these endemics for Jamaica: 830 flowering plants and an additional 579 ferns; 27 reptiles; 20 amphibians; and 4 mammals including the hutia and 3 bats. Jamaica has over 500 species of endemic terrestrial snails! Of all the world's islands, Jamaica ranks 5th in the total number of endemic species it harbors.

It's a puzzle: why does Jamaica have such high levels of endemism?

Biologists have advanced several possible explanations. The island's habitats span a big elevational gradient, from sea-level coastal strand to elfin forest atop the main ridge of the Blue Mountains. Basic rock types range from limestone in the John Crow Mountains and the Cockpit Country, to igneous rocks and sedimentary shales in the Blue Mountains. Some plants are endemic to just a single limestone knoll! Conditions varied enough across the island that five distinct types of forest evolved. Complexity of soils and of vegetation supports, in turn, a more complex fauna.

Tree fern in the Hardwar Gap of the Blue Mountains

Location is also paramount. Jamaica was never connected to the mainland of Central America. But during the Ice Age when sea level was lower, three other large islands were exposed, and they provided stepping stones for island-hopping organisms. Just to the north of Jamaica, the very big island of Cuba also contributed to Jamaica's richness.

When we consider species richness, we often begin with impressive lists of the numbers of organisms for a particular place. But the true richness of a place transcends mere lists. It lies partly in the complex relationships between flora and fauna and soils, and partly in the lush, vivid sensory overload that tells us we are in the tropics.

Let's explore!

A fledgling Jamaican Owl ponders a human being.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rustler Park after the Burn

Recently Armando ("Mando") called a meeting in Rustler Park of 21 professionals from the US Forest Service, Arizona Game & Fish, and other agencies to assess the condition of Rustler after the Horseshoe Two Fire and to decide on the best way of encouraging its recovery. Reed Peters represented the newly-formed Friends of Cave Creek Canyon.

What they saw at Rustler surprised everyone. Normally after an intense crown fire, such as the one that roared through Rustler Park, the soil is sterilized by the high heat, and almost no plants grow for a very long time, possibly years. Even the mycorrhizae––the fungi associated with plant roots which allow seedlings to germinate––need to be reintroduced to sterilized soils. ((Usually rodents perform that service!) No one was prepared for the lush growth of wildflowers and ground cover which greeted everyone at Rustler Park, especially around the old campsites and the start of the Crest Trail.

How can botanists account for the unexpected growth? After puzzling over the situation, they settled on this theory: the backburn done about two weeks before the crown fire blazed through must have removed enough fuel that temperatures at ground level never got high enough to sterilize the soil.

Whatever allowed the strong recovery to take hold (and their theory sounds good to me!), botanists are seeing post-fire plants that they've rarely seen here, and the burnt aspen groves are surging with new growth. Reed was impressed with the number of Arizona (Ponderosa) Pines that still show green on the knoll above the campsites. Keep in mind that we've all been expecting the worst at Rustler and Barfoot Parks!

The Forest Service will remove dead trees in the campground, but will leave standing any that show green. Some of the small dead trees will be cut and left as firewood at the campsites. Workers will chip some trees, but not so many that the mulch interferes with the growth of new plants. The goal is to finish removing dead hazard trees by March, when Spotted Owls begin their nesting season. (Yes––a recent census of Spotted Owls in the Chiricahuas showed that not only do adults survive, they managed to fledge young this year as well!)

Spotted Owl (Pen & Ink by Narca)

Visitors returning to Rustler Park will, in time, see other changes. Ramadas are planned to shade the picnic tables, since so many trees were burned in the crown fire. Barfoot Lookout will be rebuilt on the same footprint. The bunkhouse will also be rebuilt. The Forest Service still has the original plans for the campground, which were developed in about the 1950s. People reviewing those plans came away very impressed with the skillfully designed layout and will respect the original work, figuring that the basic design can't be improved. Bathrooms, however, will be improved, especially to make them more accessible. Even brick-and-mortar bathrooms which are still standing will need to be rebuilt because the mortar was so weakened by the heat that they are a danger to the public.

New gates have been installed along various Forest roads, so that the roads can be closed easily whenever driving conditions are dangerous. A new route (a small road) to the Long Park gate is being considered, so that hikers will be able to bypass Rustler to reach the Long Park road even when the campground is closed.

Centaurea on the hike to Long Park (Photo by Narca)

Reed left the meeting (actually, was chased out by a hailstorm) feeling that the agencies' concern for Rustler Park and the Chiricahuas is genuine and obvious, and that great care is being taken in fostering the area's recovery, post-fire.

When will we be able to return to Rustler Park? Rumor is that the road to the top will open on September 24. I'll head up as soon after that as I can, and will post photos here of Rustler and Barfoot after the burn and after the summer monsoon. This news is encouraging!

Friday, September 9, 2011


Our friend John Roser, in his nightly patrols to see what's happening in his yard, discovered that giant Five-spotted Hawkmoths are visiting his massive flowering Datura. Since that discovery, several folks have held nightly vigils in John's yard, starting at dusk, to witness the show.

Sacred Datura unfurls its flowers each night. (Photos by Narca)

The Five-spotteds are very large hawkmoths, impressively bigger than the White-lined Hawkmoths that we frequently see here in the Chiricahua Mountains. They appear at dusk or shortly after, zeroing in on the opening white trumpets of Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii). Datura flowers grow up to 8 inches long, of a size to match the huge hawkmoths that they attract.

A Five-spotted Hawkmoth approaches a Datura flower. If you look carefully, you can see its proboscis beginning to probe the lower flower.

As the moth approaches a flower, it extends its extremely long proboscis into the bloom, then dives right in, wriggling past the pollen-bearing stamens into the flower's interior. There it turns around after a few moments and emerges, no doubt well-dusted in new pollen, which it carries to another flower.

The hawkmoth maneuvers into position, its proboscis now deep inside the flower.

Datura is in the plant family Solanaceae, and the big hawkmoth seems perfectly adapted to be its pollinator. The moth's larval food, likewise, is solanaceous plants. So here we have a good example of symbiosis or mutualism––the plant feeds the caterpillar, and when the caterpillar transforms into a giant adult, it insures the survival of the Datura by pollinating the flowers so that they can set seed.

In we go!

The Datura-diving moth quickly enters the flower and vanishes from sight.

The work of several major scientists has led to our better understanding the mutualism that binds flowers and their pollinators. Let's start with Darwin, who put forth the view that evolution (= change over time in the traits inherited by organisms) is driven by competition. However, in the view of Lynn Margulis, cooperation and mutual dependence play an even greater role. Dan Janzen focused closely on the theory of coevolution between flowering plants and their insect symbionts, based on the remarkable specializations shown by an Acacia and an ant, Pseudomyrmex ferruginea; he won the Crafoord Prize for his work in coevolutionary ecology. If the subject of pollination interests you, check out their work, as well as Gary Nabhan's book, The Forgotten Pollinators.

Yes, in the caterpillar stage these beasts are the infamous Tomato Hornworms. Since tomatoes and potatoes are also in the family Solanaceae, they fit the bill for caterpillar food quite nicely. Gardeners sometimes plant marigolds near their tomatoes to discourage the hornworms' interest.

Datura's common name, Sacred Datura, comes from its early ritual use by Native Americans. It is hallucinogenic, but a very dangerous hallucinogen. Adolescents who used the substance in initiation rites regularly died. The plant's compounds can take away vision, depress breathing, cause seizures, and bring on very high fever. Leave it to the hawkmoths!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Okay, this post departs from all my normal topics (unless we pull in Emily Dickinson's famous poem, "Hope is the thing with feathers..."). I've been thinking about hope, considering it, tasting it, turning it over.

For a long time I haven't let myself hope for anything. It seems an illusory, fraudulent wisp. It teases. It cheats. It doesn't look squarely at life. It rarely materializes. Better to stay with something solid. Better to stay centered on bedrock amidst the tumult of living, and let the daily tides wash past without hoping for any particular outcome. I tell myself, just breathe. Just stay with the flow of events, emotions, thoughts. Yes, the whole political scene in this country has gone to hell. Yes, species are winking out. Yes, close friends depart. Just breathe, just stay with it.

The downside: I'm feeling worn. Living without hope also erodes joy.

Today a powerful surge of hope welled up, and it didn't feel fraudulent. It felt charged with light and with healing.

My sister sent word of new research on MS (multiple sclerosis) which shows real promise of repairing the ravages of the disease by repairing the myelin sheath around the affected nerves. (My sister is among the many who are dealing with MS.) Click here for a link to that research.

Today's hope feels qualitatively different. It makes me think that we need to refine our language naming "hope." One name for the kind of hope at which we grasp––illusory, cruel, deceptive, fraudulent. And another name for the hope that surges up of its own volition and transforms us with an inner healing, coming as it does from the light at our core.

"Hope is the thing with feathers...."
(Acrylic of Sandhill Crane by Narca)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Fate of Sir Poopsalot

The greater Portal-Rodeo community will no doubt be delighted to learn that our famous tame Gambel's Quail, Sir Poopsalot, who lived the good life in Portal before hurling himself into someone's window, has been given to Gene Cardiff, a museum ornithologist. Gene is taking Sir Poopsalot to California, where he will become not just a specimen in a tray, but a full-fledged museum mount! That is a fitting conclusion to a short but celebrated life.

This Gambel's Quail is a stand-in for Sir Poopsalot. Think of him as an Elvis impersonator.

You should be able to visit Sir Poopsalot at the San Bernardino County Museum before too long (although they may not know him by that name!).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Huachuca Canyon with WFO

Our immersion in Huachuca Canyon, emerald-green and moist in this monsoon season, was a balm. One of the morning field trips at the Western Field Ornithologists' annual meeting explored this beautiful canyon, which is less often visited than neighboring Garden and Sawmill Canyons. Tony Battiste and Adam Searcy ably led the group.

At the mouth of Huachuca Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains
(All photos by Narca)

Some of the out-of-state folks had never seen an Elegant Trogon, so that species was a big highlight, as were a couple of juvenile Gray Hawks begging frequently and chasing after harried parents.

Immature Gray Hawk in Huachuca Canyon

Mary Gustafson pointed out a field mark on the young Gray Hawk that I hadn't been aware of: look at the tail bands. Those bands become increasingly thicker toward the end of the tail. This mark, Mary says, is reliable for separating young Grays from young Broad-wings.

Elegant Trogon male in Huachuca Canyon

A charming Canyon Tree Frog swam across the stream where it crossed the road. I don't see this amphibian very often. Its eyelids gleamed with glints of gold and copper.

Canyon Tree Frog in Huachuca Canyon

Overall the migrants still seemed low in number, but we did see a number of the resident "trophy" species of southeast Arizona: Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Hepatic Tanager. I saw a Violet-crowned Hummingbird, which appeared to be mobbing something at the back of an oak tree. They will mob Northern Pygmy-Owls, but if an owl was present, it didn't show.

A fair-sized Black Bear in Huachuca Canyon

The decision of how far to walk upcanyon was made for us: a big cinnamon-shaded Black Bear was lapping up berries at the side of the road and was loathe to abandon his feasting spot.

Out on the grasslands, singing Cassin's and Botteri's Sparrows gave everyone great views; a Greater Roadrunner was sunning in a clump of yuccas; and a gorgeous Painted Grasshopper added a burst of color to the scene.

A sunning roadrunner exposes the black bases of its back feathers to soak up more sun.

A spectacularly-marked Painted Grasshopper

As always, the WFO meeting was great fun. About 180 people attended, and both field trips and the science sessions were excellent. The annual meetings are renowned for the appearances of great rarities, with so many skilled field biologists scouring an area, and this was no exception. An Aztec Thrush wowed Homer Hansen's group in Garden Canyon.

Next meeting: Petaluma, California. Go! You'll love it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Portal, Late Summer

We've had a full week! Many friends who know the Sky Islands choose the late monsoon season to visit, when hummingbirds are streaming south, nectar-feeding bats cluster around the feeders, and masses of clouds keep the temperatures just about perfect. (Of course the gnats find the temperature perfect too!)

South Fork, singed trees and all, has been the site of much trogon activity this week! (Photos by Narca)

Diminutive Buff-breasted Flycatcher along the Herb Martyr Road

Jon Dunn, our good friend of several decades (!––How can it have been so long?), is in town with his WINGS group, and yesterday I joined them for a fine day in the field. We wandered down Herb Martyr Road, where flash floods the day before had brought new debris across the road, and had also cut a new trench at the Crystal Cave wash, though it was manageable in the big van with its high clearance. After Herb Martyr and a stop at Southwest Research Station for the hummingbird show, we continued to the barricades at East Turkey Creek––the current site for anyone undertaking The Great Mexican Chickadee Quest. The higher Chiricahuas are still closed due to danger from the big Horseshoe Two burn and associated flash flooding.

The day brought many highlights:

We did find a Mexican Chickadee, albeit only one, and not terribly cooperative. Today Jon and friends will make a second try for better looks at The Chickadee. The Chiricahuas are the only accessible locale in the States to find this prize. They also live in a mountain range in the bootheel of New Mexico, but that is on private land and access is difficult, even on the very rare occasions when permission can be obtained.

One of the fledgling Northern Goshawks was broadcasting his wish for a meal. Jon spotted the bird in a pine not far away, and several enjoyed scope views of the youngster before he moved higher up the ridge.

Montezuma Quail covey (Detail from watercolor by Narca)

Returning, one of our folks spotted a male Montezuma Quail, standing stockstill on a rock, not 20 feet from the road. From inside the van, we scrutinized the place until several more of these cryptic birds revealed themselves. It was a family group––a gorgeous pair of adults with about six half-grown chicks in tow.

Acorn Woodpecker at Jackie's feeders in Paradise

After a stop at Jackie and Winston's feeders in Paradise (Juniper Titmouse––yes!), we headed back to Portal. Along the way, a richly-colored Blacktail Rattlesnake decided that the big white van was definitely suspect, and a shower of sound cascaded from its rattles as we photographed the beauty.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake decides that the van isn't trustworthy.

The evening finale brought great views of a little Western Screech Owl and the swooping mass of nectar-feeding bats that visit our hummingbird feeders each night at this time of year. The nearly full moon illumined drifts of cloud in the deep night sky.