Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chihuahuan Raven

I've previously done a post on the common raven, one of two species of raven in the U.S. The other species is the Chihuahuan raven, which used to be known as the American white-necked raven. It is smaller than the common raven and just a bit larger than the American crow. 
Chihuahuan raven on a saguaro cactus. 
It has all-black plumage with a rich purple-blue gloss that shows in good light. The base of the neck feathers are white-ish, but the white feathers can only be seen when they are ruffled in the wind. 
The whitish neck feathers show up here with the neck turned. 
The bill, legs and feet are also black. They are found in the southwestern and midwestern U.S. (southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, western Kansas, western Oklahoma and southern and western Texas) and northern Mexico. I saw this raven in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near the Mexico border. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

American Coot

The American coot is found in much of Canada to northern South America. It lives in the Pacific and southwestern U.S. and Mexico year-round. 
These coots appear to have a band around the lower part of the bill. 
It has a short white bill and white frontal shield which usually has a reddish-brown spot near the top of the bill between the eyes. It has red eyes and white under the tail. 
The red eyes and reddish-brown spot between the eyes are very visible. 
White under the tail.
They have broad, lobed scales on their lower legs and toes that fold back to facilitate walking on dry land. 
The bizarre looking feet are visible on this diving coot. 
They eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants. 
Munching on plants. The reddish-brown spot between the eyes is visible.
The chicks have orange-tipped ornamental plumes covering the front half of their body. Studies have shown that coot mothers will preferentially feed the chicks with the brightest plume feathers. This is a characteristic known as chick ornaments. The colorful feathers bleach out after about six days. 
A young coot with the colorful "chick ornament" plumage. 
I found these coots at Quitobaquito Spring in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, very near the Mexico border. 
I like the reflection in these photos. 
I visited Quitobaquito Spring in late July again and found the coots. A number of men clearing out reeds, trying to prevent them from taking over the pond. The coots were on that end near the reeds and I think that is probably where they nest. The young one lost its chick ornament plumage. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Organ Pipe Cactus Flowers and Fruit

In mid-June in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument I happened upon a ripe organ pipe fruit. It had burst open and revealed a dark red inside with lots of dark seeds. 
Organ pipe fruit that has busted open and revealed its red inside. Note the brown stems that were once flowers and the round bulbous fruit has developed at the base. 
A side view of the same fruit. 
A close-up of the same fruit. 
Because it was infested with bugs I did not taste it and I was unable to find any other ripe organ pipe fruit, although I made several attempts to do so. 
Here is a fruit cut from a cactus. Note all of the spines on it. 
It obviously is not ripe.
Here is another bulb, this one much further along, with the black seeds starting to develop. 
I asked a ranger if it was possible to tell when an organ pipe's fruit was ripe and she said no. However, a site that sells organ pipe fruit indicates that when ripe the fruit is round and about the size of a tennis ball. Some of the spines fall off and they start to turn a rosy hue and get splotches of pale yellow. It is described as having a sweet-tart flavor. 

I still found a lot of the organ pipes flowering. The flowers only open at night. The flower eventually dies and the bulb at the base of the flower grows and grows and turns into a fruit. 
A flowering organ pipe. Note the bulb at the lower right beginning to form. 

Multiple fruit beginning to grow. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Chain Fruit Cholla Flowers

I did a post on the chain fruit cholla, also known as the hanging chain or jumping cholla, in 2010 and as part of that post noted that they bloom from June to August, but that I had not seen the blooms before.
During a wet end of February this year.
Chain fruit cholla are one of the things that make OPCNM so great.
They almost look like little necklaces hanging from trees.
I went to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in mid-June this year and finally saw my first flowering chain fruit cholla, something I've wanted to see for a long time. 
All of these little balls are prior fruits. 

The skeleton of a dead chain fruit cholla.
Now, isn't that worth waiting for! 

With a different camera, lens and setting, I get a totally different color. Both are spectacular. 
They are beautiful. I only found them flowering in one area, near Quitobaquito Spring, very near the Mexico border. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Caribbean: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados

We typically prefer to avoid cruises unless we can find a cruise that is in port most every day. Even then, they usually leave so early in the late afternoon that you give up lots of precious time that could otherwise have been spent in that port. However, if you are trying to cover lots of ground, particularly different islands, as in the Caribbean, then cruising is the only way to go (it is much cheaper than taking multiple flights between islands). 

In the Caribbean, by starting out in Puerto Rico, as opposed to Miami, you save several travel days. The cruise we chose only had one travel day, the last day when we traveled from our furthest point back to where we started. 

We left LAX on a Thursday in March at 7:30 p.m. and arrived at JFK at 8:20 a.m. Friday morning. After a 3 hour and 40 minute layer over, where we had lunch and met up with Judy's brother and one of her sisters, and their spouses, who were joining us, we caught a noon flight for San Juan and arrived about 5:00 p.m. We rented a mini-van with Ace Rent A Car which was off-airport and then drove to Levittown, which required a drive around the Bay of San Juan to our Comfort Inn just across the street from Old Mouth Cove (Ensenada de Boca Vieja). It is about a 20 minute drive in non-rush hour traffic and is much cheaper than staying in San Juan. We walked several blocks from the hotel to El Kampestre for dinner and had a nice authentic Puerto Rican dinner, including the laid back and maddeningly long wait to get our food which we experienced at every meal in Puerto Rico. 

Saturday morning we drove to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. We hit a horrible traffic jam into the Visitor's Center which was slower than our wait the night before for dinner. We looked around briefly, took a short walk on a trail next to the Visitor's Center, then drove into the Forest. We stopped for pictures at La Coca Falls, then took the 1.6 mile round trip hike to La Mina Falls, from the top end, including a cold dip in the stream that feeds the falls. We made a brief stop at Yokahu Tower on the way back out and had a nice, but very slow, lunch at Mi Vida Cafe and Burgers in Palmer. We then drove to San Juan and walked into Old Town. Our most significant visit there was to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the second oldest cathedral in the Americas. We spent a second night at the same hotel. 
     Barred Anole  (Bob)
     Yellow-Chinned Anole  (Bob)

Sunday we went to a Sacrament Meeting service at the LDS Levittown Ward, which was all in Spanish, then drove about an hour south and east of San Juan to eat at Los Pinos in Guavate, along the Rutas de Lechon (the Pork Highway). Both Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain have featured Los Pinos in their shows and we had a very fun lunch of pork cooked on a spit. We made another brief stop at Lechonera Bruny's, for another pork sample, then headed back to Old Town San Juan where we spent another hour or two, before we dropped off our rental car and had a taxi takes us to the cruise port where we checked on to the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas, about 4:30 p.m., which became our floating hotel for the rest of the trip. 

Monday morning we arrived in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, about 8:00 a.m. We walked around the pier area in the morning and found numerous giant green iguanas basking on the rocks. At 10:30 a.m. we took a ship shore excursion to Trunk Bay on St. John Island, part of Virgin Islands National Park. It involved a long boat ride, both ways, a drive to Trunk Bay, and about 1 1/2 hours of snorkeling. I tried out my new underwater camera for the first time. After we got back, Judy and I took a taxi into Charlotte Amalie for about 45 minutes, then got back to the boat for our 5:00 p.m. on board time and 5:30 p.m. departure.
     U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Thomas and St. John  (Judy)
     Green Iguana  (Bob)
     Barracuda - Trunk Bay, St. John  (Bob)
     Stoplight Parrotfish  (Bob)
     Yellowtail Snapper  (Bob)
Tuesday morning we arrived in Basseterre, St. Kitts about 8:00 a.m. We walked to Avis, not far from the port, rented a small SUV, then walked to some nearby sights, including Independence Square, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, St. George's Anglican Church and the American Bakery near it. Then we walked back and picked up the vehicle and drove to Romney Manor. We walked the grounds and viewed the batik shop, then walked down to the Wingfield Estate where we visited an archaeological site for one of the oldest rum distilleries in the Caribbean. From there we drove up toward the Brimstone Hill Fortress, had lunch at King Snack, a small store front cafe, if you can call it that, then made the amazing drive up the mountain along a very narrow road to the Brimstone Hill Fortress. We got beautiful views of the mountains behind us and the ocean and coast before us and saw a troop of green vervet monkeys along side of the road on our way back down. We spent time in an unsuccessful search for Charles Fort, then headed back to Basseterre to the ship where our on board time was 4:30 p.m.
     Basseterre, St. Kitts: A Park, Two Churches, and a Bakery  (Judy)
     Church of Immaculate Conception - Basseterre, St. Kitts  (Bob)
     St. George's Anglican Church - Basseterre, St. Kitts  (Bob)
     American Bakery - Basseterre, St. Kitts  (Bob)
     St. Kitts: Romney Manor, Caribelle Batik, and Wingfield Estates  (Judy)
     King Snack, Sandy Point Town, St. Kitts  (Bob)
     St. Kitts: Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park  (Judy)
     Vervet Monkey - Caribbean  (Bob)

Wednesday morning we arrived at St. John's, Antigua about 8:00 a.m. We rented a van through Tropical Rentals and had to wait about 30 minutes for our contact to show up, but at least she came to us and we didn't have to go to her. We drove through downtown St. John's, then across a good portion of the island to Stingray City, near Seaton's Village. The drive out took less time than we were told and we waited for an hour and a half before our 11:00 a.m. start. We loaded up onto a large catamaran and were ferried out to a white sand bottom surrounded by reef. There the guides had buckets of squid which attracted southern stingrays. We had an opportunity to try and hold, feed and get close to stingrays which was really amazing. Afterwards, we drove another good distance to Nelson's Dock Yard, an old dock for the British Navy, turned into restored museums, shops and restaurants. There we had lunch, just off the boats docked in the harbor. We drove back to St. John's in time for our 4:30 p.m. on board time.
     Antigua  (Judy)
     Southern Stingray - Antigua  (Bob)
     Copper & Lumber and Dockyard Bakery - Antigua  (Bob)
     Lesser Antillean Bullfinch  (Bob)
     Zenaida Dove  (Bob)

On Thursday we landed in Castries, St. Lucia about 8:00 a.m. We lined up a tour with Real St. Lucia Tours which provided a vehicle and a guide for the day. We were picked up at 9:00 a.m. and then spent a good part of the rest of the day in the van. St. Lucia was lush, green and mountainous. I think all six of our group would say it was our favorite of all the islands we visited, which is not to say it was our favorite visit. We had issues with our guide who did not seem to know much about the island and did not speak much. We stopped to buy some roadside bananas, stopped to look at a red-tail boa that someone was holding off the side of the road, stopped at the Tet Paul Nature Trail where we got great views of the Pitons, the famous twin pointed mountains, stopped at the caldera of a volcano, and then had an authentic local lunch in Soufriere. By the time we got back to Castries we barely had time to visit the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the site that was at the top of our list that day, before our on board time of 4:30 p.m.
     St. Lucia, Part I: An old French Base, a Snake, the Tet Paul Nature Trail, the Pitons, and some Sulphur Springs  (Judy)
     Carib Grackle  (Bob)
     St. Lucia Boa  (Bob)
     St. Lucia Anole  (Bob)
     St. Lucia, Part II: Lunch, Castries Basilica, a Nobel Poet, and the Pitons  (Judy)
     Fedo's New Venture - Soufriere, St. Lucia  (Bob)
     Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception - Castries, St. Lucia  (Bob)

Friday we arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados around 8:00 a.m. We'd lined up our own excursion with Silver Moon Barbados for a five hour catamaran cruise. Our group of six took up half the guest space of twelve. This was probably the highlight of our Caribbean trip. We were on a beautiful sailboat with motor power for when the winds were not strong enough, we had a captain and two additional crew members and we were being fed and waited on constantly. We went snorkeling and saw green sea turtles, a stingray and quite a few fish. The water was very clear and nice and warm. We had a great lunch and a chance to swim off an exclusive resort. As we got back we took a taxi into Bridgetown where I found and tasted a flying fish sandwich and we walked around town and then back to the ship. Although this was our favorite activity, Bridgetown may have been my least favorite cruise port. Our on board time was 4:30 p.m.
     Barbados: Catamaran Sailing and a Flying Fish Sandwich  (Judy)
     Silver Moon Barbados  (Bob)
     Sergeant Major (fish)  (Bob)
     Green Sea Turtle  (Bob)
     Spanish Hogfish  (Bob)
     Houndfish  (Bob)
     Atlantic Tarpon (fish)  (Bob)
     Live Sharksucker (fish)  (Bob)
     Ballyhoo (fish)  (Bob)
     Flying Fish Sandwich - Bridgetown, Barbados  (Bob)
Saturday was a cruise day. We saw some islands at a distance. Nothing much to blog about.

We arrived back where we had started, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sunday morning about 6:00 a.m. Our flight home did not leave until 12:40 p.m., a flight to Atlanta, then LAX, arriving about 9:15 p.m. So we arranged with a taxi to take us to the Sheraton near Old Town, which agreed to hold our bags for a fee, and we visited the territorial capitol building, Fort San Cristobal and El Morro before catching a taxi to the airport. An iron man competition pretty much closed off Old Town to traffic, so we had to walk through Old Town.
     Puerto Rico: Territorial Capitol Building in San Juan  (Judy)
     Puerto Rico: San Juan Fortresses and Street Art  (Bob)
     Greater Antillean Grackle  (Bob)
The Caribbean had not been high on our destination list, but it was much more fun than either of us anticipated. I would love to go back. The difficult part is finding another cruise that hits different islands and that minimizes cruise days. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

White-Winged Doves and Fruiting Saguaros

In June of 2017, while in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument looking for fruiting saguaros, I was impressed by the number of white-winged doves I was seeing. I'd seen a couple in my many previous visits, but here I was seeing them all over, and invariably, they were standing on the top of a saguaro and picking away at the saguaro fruit. 

White-winged dove standing on saguaro fruit, bathed in the glow of the setting sun. 
I have learned that the desert is a variable canvas that presents a new picture each time I visit. The introduction of these sweet saguaro fruit brought these white winged doves out by the hundreds as they stood on the galeri 
of these desert ascetics transformed into cardinals by their ripe fruit. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Saguaro Flowers and Fruit

I did a post on the saguaro cactus in 2010 and I noted that the saguaro has a ruby colored fruit that matures in late June (I just read a source that said late May to early July), but that I'd never been to the desert that late to see them. Well, Judy was out of town this past weekend, so I decided to brave the 108 degree heat of southern Arizona (Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument) for the primary purpose of finding and tasting some saguaro fruit. 

One thing that surprised me was how the fruit production process varied significantly from cactus to cactus. Some saguaro were still blooming (the flowers only open at night), which is the first stage;
The flowers come off the ends.
on some the flower had fizzled and the bulb beneath it was bulging, but still green, the second stage; 
The black ends are flowers that have stopped blooming and their green bases are swelling. The one stem in the middle is still flowering, but the flower is closed during the day. 
some had bulbs that were red and ripe, the third stage; 
Two bulbs, left of center that are ripe. The one to the left is the one I knocked off and ate. 
and some had bulbs that had split open and the inner seeds were falling out or had completely fallen out, the fourth stage; 
These over-ripe red bulbs have split open and the inner seeds are spilling out. 
The two red bulbs that look like flowers have opened up and completely lost their seeds. The other bulbs only look partially ripe. 
and on some, the remains of the fruit had fallen of the cactus and were lying on the ground around it. the fifth stage.
These fruit fragments and seeds were laying around the saguaro I got my fruit from. 
I went to the Tillotson Peak turnout and walked among the saguaros there and did not find any that had ripe fruit. Driving in I'd seen a number of saguaros with ripe fruit and decided that the best way to find ripe fruit would be to drive the main road slowly looking for them. I eventually spotted a saguaro with some beautiful red fruit on it and it looked relatively low to the ground. I got to the cactus and found red debris around it, left-overs from fruit that had ripened and spilled their contents of seeds. My hiking pole was way too short to reach the fruit, so I searched for a dead saguaro and pulled out some of the internal staves to use as poles. These were just long enough to touch the fruit, but not long enough to exert enough pressure to remove them. 
I pulled several staves off this dead saguaro. They weren't long enough, so I found a longer dead saguaro. 
So I searched and found a longer dead saguaro that had staves long enough to reach the fruit. The staves were long and wobbly and were not strong enough to push off the fruit. So I had to swing the staves back and forth and eventually dislodged the piece of fruit I was after, bit by bit, in a back-and-forth motion.
A piece of ripe fruit.
I was surprised that the fruit was mostly spine free and about the size of a large turkey egg. I used a knife to easily split it in half, lengthwise, and was a little taken back by how dark red the inner fruit was. It consisted of hundreds of seeds in a consistency almost like mushy watermelon with small fish eggs and a slightly sweet taste. 
The fruit cut in half.
The fruit roughed up a bit to reveal its texture.
One-half with the seeds removed.
An inside and outside picture.
I was not craving more, it was not worth the additional effort, but I was very happy I'd tried it. It was certainly not bad or gross. 
Fruit in various stages.
A more distant view of the saguaro I got my fruit from. 
Later, when I visited the Visitor's Center one of the rangers took me out back and showed me a saguaro fruit stick that they use to knock the fruit off a saguaro. It was a much more sturdy wood stick than the one I used, and had a wood cross bar at the top for wedging the fruit in and enabling a good push to knock off the fruit.