Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Corn Springs

After six trips to Hayfield Road I decided to head further east into the desert to Corn Springs, in the Chuckwalla Mountains, part of the Colorado Desert. 

     May 23, 2020:     

I drove to Corn Springs to see if I could find some chuckwallas. Hayfield Road (exit 177) is followed, further east, by exits off the I-10 for Red Cloud Road (exit 182), Eagle Mountain Road (exit 189), Desert Center (exit 192), then Corn Springs (exit 201), a distance of 24.28 miles. The Corn Springs palm tree oasis is 8 miles from the exit down a dirt road into the aptly named Chuckwalla Mountains.
The center of the Corn Springs palm tree oasis from the south side, some distance from the road. 
More palm trees to the northeast of the trees above. 
From the palm tree oasis I traveled back very slowly by car, window down, looking for chuckwallas. I took note of the petroglyphs (Native American graffiti) and also of some much more recent graffiti.

Then I saw a white-tailed antelope ground squirrel, near the oasis, and got a great photo of it jumping. 

Then I saw three different chuckwallas, each sunning on rocks. 

Chuckwalla 2 after it had scampered for this crack and was looking back out. 
I first saw chuckwalla 3 basking on a rock, then it scrambled for this crack. 

I also saw a large fourth lizard which turned out to be a desert iguana, sunning on a rock. 
That was as productive a short drive as I can ever recall.

     May 30, 2020:

I drove out to Corn Springs again, after leaving Hayfield Road. I saw and photographed at least three jackrabbits on the way in.

On the way out I saw one chuckwalla on top of a high rock wall, got photos of a quail, 

photographed another white-tailed antelope squirrel 
and found several trees with approximately nine turkey vultures roosting. I slowly approached the turkey vultures and took about 160 photos.

     June 13, 2020:

I drove out to Corn Springs for the third time. 
I saw several rabbits but didn't get any good photos. I saw the first deer I've ever seen in the California desert. It was a subspecies of mule deer called a burro deer (O. h. eremicus). It ran across the road and my only photo is taken through the windshield of my car and is very poor (I did see bighorn sheep near here years ago). 
The desert willows were beginning to bloom - they have beautiful flowers. 

Then, in the wash right near the palm trees, all of the smoke trees were blooming. I spent quite a bit of time looking at them and taking photos. 

One had a large black and red insect I thought was a beetle and turned out to be a tarantula hawk. 

I noticed a desert ironwood tree.
I saw a large male spiny lizard sunning itself on a granite rock near the palm trees. 
I saw Gambel's quail running in the wash and got a couple of photos of some running up the rocky side of a hill. 

I got a photo of a white-tailed antelope squirrel standing still on a boulder. 

I saw at least four big beautiful chuckwallas. The first was high up on some rocks. I hiked up around the side and was able to see it on the level. They are very curious. If you walk up slowly, you can get some good photos. At the same time I was watching it, there was another one behind me sunning on a rock. The Chuckwalla Mountains were aptly named. 

I also saw a huge desert iguana sunning on a rock. I got out and walked up to it very slowly. I was within a couple of feet of it before it bolted.

     June 20, 2020:

I drove to Corn Springs for the fourth time, it was much hotter than last week, in the low 90s. 

I saw three chuckwallas sunning on the rocks near the palm tree oasis 

and saw some quail. 
The smoke tree bloom was history. The blue flowers have either fallen to the ground or dried up and shrunk. You could only see them by walking up closely and looking. The desert willow continues to bloom. One tree, in particular, was being swarmed by butterflies. 

I saw a roadrunner on the way out, but was not able to get a good photo.

     June 27, 2020:

My 5th visit. I arrived at 5:30 a.m. and it was 84 degrees (it had been in the low 70s at Hayfield Road). I saw three desert deer, all does, right where the road descends into the wash, relatively near Corn Springs. I pulled up and walked to the edge and never got another glimpse of the deer, they are fast (no photos). I drove up to the palm trees and saw brush rabbits and quail. The desert willows are still blooming, but the flowers are starting to deteriorate and are turning into pods, the fruit, full of seeds with wings. Still lots of butteflies and tarantula hawks buzzing the flowers.

The honey mesquite are in various stages of blooming. Some branches are just developing the bottle brush-like flowers and some branches are loaded with ripening bean pods. The smoke trees look like they are re-loading. Lots of the light green buds with orange on them. 

I walked part of the trail up into the rocks where I've seen the chuckwallas and I saw none. Probably too early for them. I walked north, on the other side of the wash, along the rocks. I photographed a red-tailed hawk, from a long distance, as well as sparrow hawk (American kestrel) with an insect in its mouth. 

There are more petroglyphs in these rocks. 
I saw barrel cactus, silver cholla, and some pencil cholla. Later, on the way out, I also noted lots of iron trees and a mourning dove in the limbs of one of them. 
I got quite a few views of black-tailed jackrabbits, some pretty good. This year has been, by far, the best for jackrabbits. 

On the drive out I saw more quail, a couple of white-tailed antelope ground squirrels 
and a yellow-backed spiny lizard on the same rock I've previously seen a chuckwalla. 

I talked to an old man (that is, a little older than me) driving a truck who stopped to talk. He lives three miles west, further into the Chuckwalla mountains. He said he'd just seen a big buck in velvet and gets hundreds of quail at his spring. He pointed high up on a mountain and said a large bighorn ram often sits up there late in the afternoon. 

     June 29, 2020:

I'd gone out to Hayfield Road to find branched pencil cholla flowers late in the afternoon and couldn't go back without a perfunctory visit to Corn Springs. This was my sixth visit, but a sorry attempt. I didn't have much time. My hope was pinned on something said by the old man several days earlier, about a big ram that sits up on the mountain late in the afternoon. As it was, I didn't even really give much of an effort to look for it. I drove in, looked at the desert willow bloom and smoke trees and drove slowly out. I'm not sure the smoke trees are going to bloom again. I did see another tarantula hawk in a smoke tree. Looking on iNaturalist, it looks like it is Thisbe's tarantula-hawk wasp. 
I may just be viewing the deterioration of the last bloom. I saw some quail, a few jackrabbits and a white-tailed antelope ground squirrel, 
but no chuckwallas or other lizards.

     July 18, 2020:

I had a break in visiting the desert and really missed it. It was going to be about 114 degrees or so in Corn Springs, so I got up real early and left my home at 3:05 a.m. and drove the dirt road real slowly in the dark, arriving at the palm tree oasis about 5:00 a.m. for this, my seventh visit. At the edge of the trees around the oasis I spotted two owls that appeared to be fledglings, as their flight was in short bursts with lots of fluttering. I got out of my car and was able to photograph one of them before they flew away. I've subsequently determined that it was a fledgling western screech owl
The temperature was in the 80s, very comfortable. I took a walk to the south and found nothing of particular interest, 
but then on the way back I saw a game trail going up the side of the wash and followed it up over a hill to the east. I ultimately was shocked to find a senita cactus, a cactus I thought was only found in Organ Pipe Cactus NM in the U.S. 

The photos aren't great because sunlight was just beginning to shine on the tops of the mountains. I've subsequently found about five other sightings of senita cactus in southeastern California on iNaturalist, two of them in the Chuckwalla Mountains, one in the same canyon, perhaps a half mile or so away. I followed the trail back into the wash where the dirt road to Corn Springs passes and followed it up, then took the nature trail up and over the rock outcropping to the northeast of the oasis. The desert willows and smoketrees are done flowering and the honey mesquite is mostly done with bean pod production, although I did find some with dried bean pods. I found the beans inside in varying states, from dark and hard to kind of whitish and beyond green, but not dark. 
Honey mesquite bean pods.
Beans from the pods above. Not green, but not black.
More dried out honey mesquite bean pods. 
A dark and very hard bean from the pods above. 
I saw lots of quail, but per usual, had a hard time getting any good photos. 
A male Gambel's quail
One of the better photos I've gotten of a female running. 
One of my better photos of a running covey.

I saw at least three western kingbirds perched on branches looking for insects, a bird I've not identified or photographed before. 
Western kingbirds
I drove up and down the dirt road very slowly several times and saw several jackrabbits, one in the same place multiple times. 
I also saw a loggerhead shrike near where the dirt road crosses the wash. 
I saw one chuckwalla on the way out. 

     August 1, 2020

I got to Corn Spring about 5:45 and it was in the mid-80s when I arrived for my eighth visit. The quail were feeding near the edges of the road and were not as jumpy. I saw several rabbits. 

I decided to drive beyond the Corn Spring oasis several miles and found some beautiful country with concentrations of teddy bear cholla and barrel cacti. I'm going to have to spend some time in that area during spring. I saw a few black-tailed jackrabbits 

and quail. 

I drove back to the area near the oasis and saw quail standing high up in trees, something I've never seen before. 
I saw a California carpenter bee, a first. 
I also saw what I think was a western tanager. 

I drove up and down the road several times, spotting jackrabbits, 

Aside from the jackrabbit I regularly see at Hayfield Road, this is the only jackrabbit I've seen laying down in the shade. 

Gambel's quail and a couple of white-tailed antelope squirrels. 
The extreme heat and trips to northern California and southern Oregon curtailed further trips out to Corn Springs. I suspect as the weather cools, with continuation of Covid, I'll be back out to the desert in the fall. 

1 comment:

  1. When I think of mountains and jungles, I think of wildlife. When I think of the desert, I think of sand and heat. You have changed my perspective. There is an awful lot of life in the desert, and it is far more beautiful than I used to think it was. Now if it just weren't so HOT . . .