Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Honey Mesquite

The honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)
is a member of the legume family found in Southern California,
southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah, most of Arizona and New Mexico, and bits of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Louisiana. It has three common forms: (1) a single stemmed tree with crooked, drooping branches reaching 20 to 40 feet in height; (2) an erect, mutliple-stemmed bush or small tree, 10 to 15 feet tall; and (3) a running bush found in deep sandy soils. The largest trees are found along water courses or floodplains where the deep root system has access to year-round water. In the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, rainfall is not sufficient to provide adequate surface soil mosture, so it typically occupies alkali sinks, outwash plains, dry lakes, oases, arroyos, or riverbanks, where plants have access to underground water. It has feathery foliage and straight,
paired spines on twigs.
I have found them prominently in a wash in southern Joshua Tree National Park and in the wash below Borrego Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. It flowers
from March to November
with pale,
elongated spikes
and bears straight, yellow seedpods. The seedpods, ripening in July and August, are an important food source for many wildlife species including kangaroo rats, woodrats, ground squirrels, quail, doves, ravens, blacktailed jackrabbits, coyote, and mule deer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eastern Fox Squirrel

The eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is found from the east coast through the midwest into Colorado. Last summer while visiting Colorado, Judy and I found this squirrel right on a telephone pole across the street from the Buckhorn Exchange,
an old restaurant near downtown Denver. It has a bushy tail with a pale yellow to orange belly.
My Peterson Field Guide to Mammals, published in 1980, does not show the distribution as far west as Denver, but I found a scientific article about the westward spread of the fox squirrel into Colorado and a picture on the internet of a fox squirrel in Boulder, and so I'm confident that it is identified correctly.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Richardson Ground Squirrel

The Richardson ground squirrel, also known as the Wyoming ground squirrel (Citellus richardsoni) is smoke-gray washed with cinnamon-buff. Its belly is pale buff or whitish. It is found in small portions of Utah, Nevada, Idaho and larger portions of Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, the Dakotas and up into Canada. I photographed this one
in the Henry's Fork River Basin near the Utah-Wyoming border on a trip to climb King's Peak.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


The opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) is an animal I first saw when we moved to California. They are found along the coast and a ways inland along the Pacific coast states of California, Oregon and Washington, in small portions of Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, and very extensively from the midwest to the east coast. They are about the size of a cat, but have  heavier, shorter legs, a pointed nose, paper-thin black ears, and a long rat-like tail. They are usually only active at night. The photo was taken of an opossum eating out of bowls of catfood on our back porch.
They are regularly found dead in the middle of our streets and I have seen many, many crossing the street at night in our neighborhood. Many years ago a church friend had a baby oppossum which I got to see, but I've never held one. They have a nasty set of teeth which could inflict damage if they ever decided to rip into you.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Striped Skunk

The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is found throughout the contiguous 48 states and large parts of Canada. It is about the size of a cat, has a black body, a narrow white stripe up the middle of its forehead, and a broad white area on the nape which divides into a V at about the shoulders and produces two white lines which continue to the base of the bushy tail, which may or may not have a white tip. There is great variation in the width and length of the white side stripes. It is a nocturnal hunter. We have seen many of them near our home and around Redlands. The photo was taken of a skunk in our garage, an event that has happened on a number of occasions.
We also had one living under our house for awhile, under the bathtub. Andrew could hear it scratching at night behind the wall where his bed was located. We ultimately were able to block of its entrance to beneath our home while it was out and prevent it from coming back. My grandfather, Horace Sorensen, gave us a descented skunk when I was three or four years old and living on 9th Avenue in Salt Lake. It had a pink collar and was named flower. It got loose and there was a joking newspaper article about it. My brother, Mike, served a mission in the Eastern States (Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia) and came home with a fox and a skunk hat. I was really jealous of them. A number of years ago, I purchased a skunk hat on the internet
which I have worn on a number of occasions,
including one youth conference where we were responsible for the food preparation. It makes for a quirky clothing add-on.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Western Gray Squirrel

The western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus)
is found in the Pacific coast states of California, Oregon and Washington and a small sliver of Nevada. It is a gray tree squirrel with a bushy tail, white belly and dusky feet.
It feeds on acorns and conifer seeds and nests in the cavities of trees or in tree nests made of sticks and shredded bark.
When we first moved to California we only saw them in the pine trees in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains.
I loved them because they were so different from the ground squirrels we found in Salt Lake. Over the years, they have moved into Redlands and we now have a bunch that reside on our street. I have seen as many as six of them while I have been driving down our street. Recently, I looked out our back bedroom screen door and two were on the ground munching what appeared to be leaves from our tomato plants. We also see them regularly scampering along the telephone wires and in our neighbors pine trees. All of the photos, except the one above, were taken in our next door neighbor's yard. The one above was taken in Idyllwiled in the San Jacinto Mountains.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blacktail Jackrabbit

The blacktail jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) is the common jackrabbit of the American west. The one below was at an elevation below 2,000 feet in the Colorado Desert of southeastern California.
It is found through most of California, including this one below, at over 12,000 feet on White Mountain.
It is also found in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and portions of other states, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas and down into Mexico. It has a grayish-brown body, large black-tipped ears,
a black streak on top of the tail
and has reddish eyeshine (the one below found near Verbenia Avenue in the vicinity of Cabazon and Palm Springs).
They are found in open prairies and sparsely vegetated deserts. They can run 30 to 35 miles an hour
and are very difficult to get close to in the wild. The tail-end view tends to be the one that shows up most often on my camera.
I have seen a number of them recently in the Colorado Desert in southern Joshua Tree National Park. I actually had a pet jackrabbit as a young boy. I caught a young baby at Smith-Morehouse Reservoir outside of Oakley, Utah at a fathers and sons outing. I kept it for several weeks, but it never got tame. It got out inside our ranchouse in Oakley, Utah and was almost impossible to catch. I realized it was time to let it go. Several years ago I went with Nick Brown and Matt Carter down to Mata Ortiz in Mexico. While there, I purchased a wonderful standing jackrabbit pot,
one of my favorite decorations
in our living room.

On May 12, 2012, I was in the southeastern portion of Joshua Tree National Park near Eagle Mountain and saw about four blacktail jackrabbits. One in particular paused and allowed me to take some photos, an uncommon experience. 
I love their huge ears. 
I have to believe that their hearing is tremendous, although with such presumed good hearing, I don't understand why they allow humans to get so close if they can hear us coming from such a distance. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Paleface or Rock Hibiscus

The paleface or rock hibiscus (Hibiscus denudatus)
is one of my new favorite flowers. I saw it on May 29, 2010 on my fifth visit out to the Hayfield Road exit off the I-10 in the Colorado Deseret in the south part of Joshua Tree National Park. This was a trip I was experiencing some disappointment over as most of the beautiful spring flowers I had been seeing on my previous visits were gone. I saw one single, solitary flower,
on the side of a hill in an otherwise barren bush.
It was as pretty, or moreso, than any other flowers I've seen.
This flower was not listed on the on-line flower list I saw for Joshua Tree National Park
and so discovering it caught me by surprise.
The rock hibiscus is found only in the four southern counties of California (San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego and Imperial), Clark County, Nevada, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, west Texas and northern Mexico. The flower has five pale white (thus the name paleface)
to pale lavender or light pink petals, each with purple at the base.
The petals can be rice paper thin, sometimes nearly translucent. 
It can bloom starting in January to the end of late summer/fall in October, depending on seasonal temperatures. The form of the plant is somewhat straggly with vertical branches reaching one to three feet. The leaves are small, up to 1-1/2 inch
and about the same in width and are finely toothed and a medium yellow green with a hairy surface.  
Now that I know the vicinity of this plant, I'll have to check it out again and see if it blooms any later in the year.

I visited the area I found the paleface in several more times and was unable to find the plant. In April 2011, while visiting the Hayfield Road area again, I followed the edge of the Eagle Mountains from the road up a short distance and hiked up a little side canyon a short ways. While in the side canyon I found another paleface plant, again with only one solitary flower blooming.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Freckled Milkvetch

The freckled milkvetch,
also known as the spotted locoweed (Astragalus lentiginosus) is a species of legume. There are a great many wild varieties that vary in appearance (19 in California, 7 of which are in San Bernardino County). I narrowed down what I saw in the Mojave National Preserve, along Cima Road, in May 2010, to either the subspecies fremontii, also known as Fremont's milkvetch, or the subspecies variabilis, also known as the freckled milkvetch and dapplepod locoweed. The inflorescence holds up to 50 pealike flowers
which may be purplish
or whitish or a mix of both.
A unifying characteristic among most varieties is an inflated, beaked legume pod with a groove along the side. It pod appears to start out a light green
and then ultimately turn a mottled red.
The pod dries to a papery texture and dehisces (opens) starting at the beak to release the seeds.  Lentiginosus refers to the red mottling
commonly found on the pods which resemble freckles. A closer look at the leaves below.