Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Branched Pencil Cholla

The branched pencil cholla, also known as the diamond cholla (Cylindropuntia ramossisima), has many narrow branches made up of cylindrical segments that are green, but then dry to gray. 

The surface is made of diamond shaped patterns. The diamond shaped patterns either have no spines or one long straight spine. 
The flowers are small (about a 1/2 inch in diameter) and are variously described as orange, pink, salmon or brown.   

Finding the flowers is a challenge. The best time to find the flowers is in the late afternoon of the hotter months (May to July) when most people have stopped visiting the desert. That is why very few people ever see them flowering and one source says "many botanists confess they have never seen one." If you do see one, "consider yourself lucky." 

I have had a goal all spring/summer to see the flowers. Each week I look at the pencil cholla and try to decipher when they are going to bloom. I'd been noticing that the ends of many of the branches were growing bulbous and getting lots of tiny spines on the end. 
A photo on June 13th.
Photo on June 20th. The bulbous ends are getting larger. 

Then this last weekend, June 27th, the bulbous ends look like they are starting to dry out. 
I figured that is where the flowers would emerge. Then I started noticing remnants of what I assumed were dried flowers. I then read in a source that the best time to see them was later afternoon (I was always looking for them in the morning). So this past Monday I took a later afternoon visit to the area, having already visited Saturday morning. I was very disappointed to look at a number of the pencil cholla plants and find no flowers. Eventually I surveyed about 50 separate cacti and find exactly two with flowers, one with three flowers and one with one flower. I was excited to see those flowers, but now as I'm thinking about it and reviewing my photos, I'm realizing I've been wrong all along. My photos start showing dead flowers on May 23rd. 
Photo from May 23rd. In hindsight, these are clearly drying flowers. 
In hindsight, that is the beginning of the bloom. I believe the ends expanding are the fruit of the dead flower growing, just like the fruit of the hedgehog cactus that gets lots of spines on it. My later photos are showing the fruit drying up. So the flowers I saw on June 29th are probably some of the last of the season. I needed to do a late afternoon visit in late May or early June.   

Monday, June 29, 2020

Black-Tailed Jackrabbit

I have had a banner spring/summer for black-tailed jackrabbits. I am seeing lots of them and I am getting great photos. I am also falling in love with them. 

On Saturday, June 27, it was about 104 degrees when I was in the Hayfield Road vicinity, 11 degrees warmer than the hottest I'd been there previously. I noticed a huge change in the jackrabbits. Instead of flushing them from bushes, I visited two rock formations and flushed three of them from just those two. This is the first time in 11 weeks that I'd seen a jackrabbit near either of those sets of rocks. The first two rabbits were sheltering under large rocks. I investigated and found the depressions where they were resting and their tracks. The third was actually on a rock, sheltering on the shady side. Although it was some distance from where I've previously seen my jackrabbit friend, I think it was him/her again. It stayed in place until I got quite close, then walked forward and hid behind a small tree in front of the rock just a couple of feet from me. I got too close, just a foot or two, and spooked it, but got some great photos of  it running. 
Here is my rabbit buddy standing on a large boulder in the shade of an even larger boulder. 
Here it is running away.
Near Corn Springs I photographed five different jackrabbits and probably saw a few more. Several of them were just off the side of the road and I took many, many pictures from my car. 
Here is a rabbit near the palm tree oasis, sheltering in the shade of a tree. 
A different rabbit sheltering off the side of the road. 
This rabbit was under a tree off the side of the road and I took many photos of it, but I don't really love any of the photos. The rabbit appears tawnier, less gray, than the other rabbits, and a little fatter. I don't see any other species of jackrabbit within this range - I suppose it could be a separate subspecies? 
One more photo of it. 
This rabbit was fun. He was just off the side of the road and he was on alert.
I had some other photos that were blurry of it in positions I'd not photographed before. I love this photo showing the very long black tail. 
This is mega-alert, body taut, ears up high like radar. 

Finally, this last rabbit was near the edge of the road and I probably took 60 photos of it. I love the big eyes with a round white-goggle ring around the eye. 
Its ears were heavily notched. 
Its large tail from a sitting position. This photo does not give a hint as to how long the tail actually is. 
A better view of the eye.

The eyes set on the opposite sides of its head give it almost a 360 degree view. They do have a small blind spot immediately in front of them. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Desert Willow - Fruit

I saw the desert willow blooming last week at Corn Springs. As I read about the desert willow I wondered about the "fruit" which "is a linear pod up to 35 cm long, containing numerous winged seeds." This week when I visited Corn Springs again I got my answer. Many of the flowers were replaced with very long looking string bean type fruit. 35 cm is just under 14 inches, so they are very long. 
A monarch butterfly on a flower and a pod protrudes from an old flower to the right and extends beyond the photo. 
A portion of a desert willow with lots of long pods hanging down. 
More pods dangling. They are hard to photograph because they are so long. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Zebra-Tailed Lizard

On June 27, 2020, my 11th trip to the Colorado Desert this spring/summer, I saw my first zebra-tailed lizard. I've had this experience before, where an area I've gone previously reveals them in hotter weather. It was about 10:00 a.m. and approximately 104 degrees. It was north of the large rocks in the flat in a wash. I followed it for about five minutes. 
At first it looped forward its black and white (zebra-striped) tail, thought to be a sign to predators that they have been spotted. 
That scorpion-like tail is the most fun thing about the lizard. 
After I followed it for a minute or two it let it's tail down. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Etosha NP - Namibia

We visited Etosha National Park in north/central Namibia, Africa toward the end of May and early June 2018 and it confirmed what I'd read, that it is one of the premiere wildlife destinations in the world. 
We got to Etosha in the late-afternoon. We saw a large herd of elephants, just inside the park, and quite a few zebras. 
Photo borrowed from Judy
We got to Okaukuejo, where we were spending the night, and had enough time to drive out to Okondeka water hole, on the edge of the large Etosha Pan, about a 39 mile round trip and an hour driving at the maximum park speed of 60 km/hour (about 36 mph). On the way we had our best-sightings of springbok and wildebeest, and also saw some ostriches, black-faced impala, a giraffe, some vultures and some black-backed jackals. 
A giraffe near Okondeka waterhole and the desolate pan spread out behind it. 
The most beautiful impala we saw.
We checked into the government owned Okaukuejo Camp, where we had dinner, and spent some time at the water hole there. We had great sightings of black rhinos, giraffes and elephants.
Elephant and giraffes at Okaukuejo
Black rhino, zebra and giraffes
You cannot be inside Etosha after dark unless you are staying in one of the park-owned camps. The park camps have waterholes, which means that you can see wildlife at night in the camp. Further, in a park-owned camp, you can go outside of camp after dark into the park if you are on a park-sponsored night safari, which we did our second night in the park at Halili Camp. The gates to Etosha open at sunrise, which when we were there was about 6:15 a.m. Another advantage of staying in a park camp is that you are nearer the water holes at sunrise and get more prime animal observation time. 
The red line shows the roads we drove and the waterholes we visited in Etosha NP.
We drove to Nebrownii water hole, 9 kms (5.4 miles) east of Okaukuejo. We saw two greater kestrels feeding on small birds, some gemsbok and some springbok. 
Greater kestrel in early morning light.
Gemsbok and springbok at Nebrownii waterhole.
We set off again for Olifantsbad water hole, 16 kms (9.6 miles) to the southeast. Along the way we saw vehicles gathered together at Gemsbokviakte water hole and pulled in at Judy's insistence. Fortunately we did and saw a large male lion laying in the grass. 
Then off to Olifantsbad, which was my favorite of all the water holes from a beauty standpoint. We saw black-faced impala, lots of guinea fowl and some black-backed jackals. 
Black-backed jackals
On our way back to breakfast at Okaukuejo after a couple of hours of the best morning viewing (a strategy I'd read on-line), we stopped at Gemsbokviakte again for another view of the lion and saw another male lion, and the original lion we'd seen earlier get up and stroll over to it. 
These were the only lions we saw on our trip. We stopped at Nebrownii again as well, seeing the kestrels again and many more gemsbok, zebras and springbok. 

We caught the tail-end of breakfast, the buffet was slim-pickins by that time, showered, checked out, then went back to the Okaukuejo water hole where we got great views of massive numbers of black-faced impala, kudu, springbok and zebra.
Kudu at Okaukuejo

Zebra and springbok
Okaukuejo waterhole
A view of Okaukuejo from a different angle.
The massive tree near the waterhole.
We discovered a covered viewing area and on my way back out I mis-stepped and fell about three feet. I banged myself up, tweeking my right knee, but fortunately was not severely hurt. We headed southeast to Gemsbokviakte again, and saw at least four giraffes along the road. 
We got a great view of a secretary bird and watched it for about ten minutes. 
The lions were gone from Gemsbokviakte. We back-tracked just a bit, then headed northeast toward Ondongab, where we had a nice sighting of a lilac breasted roller, 
then were on the main route with a stop at Homob water hole (35 kms [21 miles] east of Okaukuejo). 
It was a beautiful water hole, but with no animals other than a couple of black-faced impala near the parking area. We traveled 12 kms (7.2 miles) to Salvadora water hole on the edge of the pan and saw no animals.  
At Rietfontein water hole, 6 kms (3.6 miles) further, we stopped quite a while and watched several male kudus interacting with their females, as well as some wildebeest and a pied crow. 

After leaving Rieftontein we saw several elephants along the road, 
a black rhino, 
and had a wonderful long view of a kori bustard. 
As we turned south toward Halili Camp, where we would spend the night, we got our best view of elephants on the trip. We were stopped about 30 minutes and had elephants pass right in front of our car and right behind it. It was quite a thrill. 
We also saw several giraffes. 
We checked in at Halili, where we watched a gray hornbill very close to our vehicle, and visited the water hole, seeing a number of female kudu. 

Then we got in the car again and drove 20 kms (12 miles) to Goas water hole and back. 
We saw several elephants there and had some great views of giraffe both to and from. 

At Halili we ate the buffet dinner, which included some made-to-order kudu steak, which was great. 
Afterwards we took a three hour night safari from hell (from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.). We'd been on a previous night safari in Tanzania which was an hour. I had no idea this was going to be three hours. It was in the 30s and despite the blankets and ponchos, we still froze. We saw quite a few animals, including giraffes, black rhinos, kudus, impala, lots of cape foxes, zebras and jackals, but it was way too long and we were relieved to have it over. I have no idea what water holes we visited, but I think it was most of them in that central part of the park. 

Saturday morning, June 2nd, our schedule got messed up by an airline change. We were going to spend most of the day in Etosha, then drive to Windhoek and spend the night, with a flight out early Sunday morning to Johannesburg, then a flight to Maun, Botswana. However, the airline changed our flight time to Maun about 1.5 hours earlier, which gave us insufficient layover time from our earlier flight. So I begrudgingly agreed to sacrifice time in Etosha on Saturday, to catch a flight to Johannesburg Saturday afternoon. It also meant we missed a meal I wanted to eat Saturday evening at Joe's Beer House, a wonderful pub that served wild game. On our more time-constrained schedule, we left Halali shortly after sunrise and headed northeast toward the eastern Von Lindquist Gate which was 85 kms (53 miles) going the fastest route with no detours. I went the speed limit (or truth be told, a little faster) and we saw little game earlier in the morning. Quite a ways into our drive I barely saw several red hartebeest in the trees to our left and got a few photos before they disappeared, the only hartebeest we saw on the trip. 

Then after not-too-long of a drive, Judy spotted several hyenas at some distance and we saw about three of them walk up and over a ridge. 
We took a 6 km (3.6 mile) round trip detour to Kalkheuwel water hole where we saw lots of zebras and lots of unidentified birds on the ground. 
Then 13 kms (7.8 miles) further we took an 8 km (4.8 mile) round trip detour to Chudob water hole. We saw another couple of hyenas on that drive, one on the way in and another on the way out, and at the water hole got great views of black-faced impalas, three large giraffes and some wildebeest. 

At Von Lindequist Gate I had a hard time finding my receipt for the purchase of our national park ticket at Anderson Gate, but finally found it after about 10 minutes of nerve-wracking searching. We had a long drive back to Windhoek, over five hours. Our gps was not working, but Judy did a good job of helping us navigate.