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So much for 2015 – now here’s something super and bloody!

Even with all the, errr…. stuff that’s come down the pipes in a bit over a year, I was shocked – SHOCKED – to see that it’s been just over a year since I’ve posted anything here in ThreeStarOwl.com.

The less said about all that the better (I’m looking at you ID thief, Hurricane Norbert, prankish and bullying 2015 Monsoon season, Volkswagen, and anything else I may have forgotten that’s sucked the energy, concentration, and joie-de-vivre – not to mention short-term memory – out of me in the past 16 months).

So here’s last night’s Superbloodharvestocotillomoon Eclipse, shot from my driveway through ocotillo canes just as it’s coming out of totality. I’m pretty sure this was a narrow escape for the moon from the serpent’s bite of the Ocotillo’s thorny jaws (a lot like my escape from the past year). Clickit to embiggit, it’s better bigger:

ocotillomoonhoriz web

 

Posted by Allison on Sep 28th 2015 | Filed in natural history,oddities,yard list | Comments (2)

Cap’n Coast Guard goes AWOL

The largish Six-Spotted Fishing Spider who took up residence in our swimming pool this summer has been missing for a couple of days. For the past two nights, I’ve gone out with a flashlight to look for him with no success, running the beam along the cracked tile edges and around the cement block angled on the top step for accidental swimmers to find a way out. I joked with E that maybe a lady fishing spider had found him to her liking.

But it turned out that was no joke. Tonight when I searched, there he was — lurking above the water on the side of the block ramp just like the last time I’d seen him. Then, looking more closely, I saw too many legs, and not in a good way. It seems the Cap’n had met his First Mate, who was also his last. His body was limp, hanging upside down from her grasp, or at least tangled in her limbs. I’m not an arachnid expert, it was dark and beginning to rain, and details were hard to make out. But here’s a photo (if you’re brave you can click on it to enlarge):

lastmate

>> Fishing spiders in our pool. One of them is enjoying a little post-date predation. (Photo A.Shock)

Certain species of Fishing spiders are known for their male’s “self-sacrificing” mating habits, and that’s how I’m interpreting this poolside homicide. I suppose it could have also been a territorial dispute — I’ll never know. But if the “last supper” theory is correct, the lady is now gravid, perhaps explaining the gleam in her eye. (Actually, the tiny reflective gleam that’s visible if you enlarge the photo is my flashlight reflecting back from one of her retinas, like a cat’s eye in the dark).

Here’s some colorful literature on the “obligate death” scene of a Nebraska cousin (Dolomedes tenebrosus).

More photographic evidence of a small gremlin

cranky owlet[Updated 6 July 2014: I understand the urge to point out that spiders don’t chase people in swimming pools — the scenario seems unlikely, I agree. But with a gremlin looking on, who knows what curious occult forces were at work? Better?]

The grainy photo below clearly shows a small gremlin in our pine tree (possibly the same one as here). It was making a soft tooting call that sounded exactly like the so-called “bouncing ball” call of the Western Screech-Owl.

WESO pine small

If I hadn’t captured the gremlin on camera, its clever vocal efforts to blend with the local avifauna would have been successful: in the dark, we would have assumed it was one of our local Screech-Owls, which are common in the yard, and which we’ve seen many times.

<< (Photo of Western Screech-Owl exhibiting HCQ — High Cranky Quotient — taken in ambient light with pinecone for scale, A.Shock 4 July 2014. You may click to enlarge, but it doesn’t get any better bigger.)

In this picture, the malevolent entity gazes down disapprovingly, caught in the act of watching the Six-Spotted Fishing Spider chasing me — deliberately, I’m positive, and E will back me up on that — around the shallow end of the pool by skittering energetically and leggily across the surface towards me, repeatedly. The gremlin’s impersonation of a Screech-Owl is nearly perfect down to the tiny fierce talons grasping the branch, although IMO it needs to work on the “ear” tufts, which are frankly weak.

Bonus quote:

“He only has one eye!” — Peter Lorre, Beat the Devil (John Huston, 1953), on seeing a portrait in profile

Posted by Allison on Jul 5th 2014 | Filed in birds,cranky owlet,natural history,owls,yard list | Comments (0)

The Coast Guard patrols the night waters

Swimming after dark in our pool is currently an adventure, because we’re not the only ones in the water. The local Coast Guard makes frequent forays across the shipping lanes, issuing from his snug berth in a cavity between the edge-tiles at the shallow end.  

Six-spotted fishing spider

Here is the Coast Guard himself:

He’s a sizable male Six-Spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton, photo A.Shock). We think he’s male because of his trim abdomen and long leg-to-body ratio. And sizable as in “would-sit-on-the-palm-of-your-hand-with-only-a-little-to-spare.”

We’ve always had these handsome but intimidating spiders living around our pool — one, sometimes two at a time, each at opposite ends — holed up during the day and visible only as hair-thin leg-ends curled subtly around the edge of a cracked tile inches above the water. At night, however, they hunt, either hanging by their back legs with their sensitive front legs spread across the water, waiting for a surface-trapped insect to struggle by, or by speedily skittering across the taut surface, gleaning the day’s “tar-pit” casualties.

Fishing spiders are intensely aquatic, and will catch and eat anything they can subdue, including small fish — an item not on the menu in our pool, but there’s plenty of small invertebrates to feast on. The Coast Guard clearly finds plenty of nourishment: he’s grown quickly since we first noticed him earlier in the warm season.

Six-spotted Fishing Spiders are common water-side natives of Arizona and much of the United States. And in case you’re wondering, his eponymous spots are on the underside of his cephalothorax, but I’m not flipping him over to count!

Posted by Allison on Jul 1st 2014 | Filed in close in,cool bug!,Invertebrata,natural history,yard list | Comments (0)

Photographic proof of a small gremlin….

…or perhaps merely a screech owl sitting on a sign in a neighbor’s yard.

You can’t see the little bird vibrating, but it was producing its distinctive whirring trill — that was how we found it.

WESOsign

Western Screech Owl in front of an Ocotillo, Scottsdale, AZ. (Photo A.Shock, April 2014)

It was newly dark, and well beyond the camera’s ability to shoot anything like a real photo, especially without a tripod. But dinking around with the pathetic pixels in photo-editing software produced surprising detail and a painterly, almost pastel-like quality in this image of a small owl and its background, an enormous blooming ocotillo lit from below by landscaping lights.

 

Posted by Allison on Apr 20th 2014 | Filed in birds,cranky owlet,owls,yard list | Comments (2)

Calypte “gloriosus”, moustachioed master of the desert

COHUboy

I needed a break from the damp studio and squeezing cold clay in cracked fingers. My need corresponded with weak winter sun breaking through gray clouds, so I wandered outside with my camera. I could hear a high, thin zszsszs like a small air leak, and followed the sound, knowing who was singing it.

adult male Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costæ) seeming to sternly glare from a creosote twiglet in Scottsdale, AZ, Dec 2013 (Photo A.Shock)  >>

After a bit of searching I spotted this little dude alternately feeding and roosting in creosote at the very back of the property. Capturing him on his natural twig perch instead of the feeder felt like a real triumph — his flaring purple mustaches aren’t overshadowed by bright red plastic.

Posted by Allison on Dec 7th 2013 | Filed in birds,close in,hummingbirds,yard list | Comments (0)

Rise up

Dinky dude big sky. The setting sun stained this first-year male Costa’s Hummingbird like a winged berry. Really, I missed the shot — a tiny bird preening on the very tip top of the spindly sumac’s crown — but by missing it, got a better one with his dramatic pre-launch wing-spread: his wings had begun to whir even before he let the branch go. 

COHUlaunch

Posting in WordPress seems to have had a peculiar effect on the image’s resolution — it looks oddly noise-reduced, giving his body a digitally brushed look that the original jpeg doesn’t show. Still, you can see his incipient Yosemite Sam moustaches and his bronze-green vest, and the spread flight feathers so thin they look dark only where they overlap. It gives me great joy to have these little guys in the yard.

Posted by Allison on Dec 2nd 2013 | Filed in birds,hummingbirds,natural history,yard list | Comments (0)

Hornworm. That is all.

Close-up of a Sphinx Moth caterpillar. Green. Giant. Loves chile plants. (photo A.Shock)

hornworm headcap

Posted by Allison on Oct 28th 2013 | Filed in close in,cool bug!,Invertebrata,natural history,yard list | Comments (0)

Always look for the Mockingbird

Big excitement around here yesterday! While looking for a Mockingbird that had been singing loudly all morning but was anomalously out of sight, I found a thrilling visitor in our yard: a Long-Eared Owl. It was perched in our back yard acacia tree, just about 9 or 10 feet up. It wasn’t hard to see, once my eyes had accidentally fallen upon it. Despite the thin screening of fine foliage it was relying on for coverage, the blue sky behind gave away its owliness (see photos below).LEOWedit

Long-Eared Owls are not something you see every day. It’s not because they’re rare in the Western U.S., people just don’t spot them very often.

>> Artsy edit of yesterday’s owl, keeping an eye on me keeping an eye on it. Very thankful for a long lens, so I didn’t have to get too close! (photo A.Shock)

This is because for the most part, they’re very hidey creatures, even for owls. Good camo — including spectacular “ear” tufts that are more centrally located and longer relative to its head than those of Screech Owls or Great Horned Owls, plus a bark-like bar-spotted belly pattern — is one reason Long-Eareds are seldom seen. They have great trust in this camo, and yesterday’s bird showed this confidence. It knew I was looking at it, but it held still and didn’t shift, except to open its eyes briefly. The same strategy of motionlessness worked on the local songbirds as well. They knew it was there — I saw lots of them come in to check it out, woodpeckers, hummers, finches, thrashers — but their behavior and vocalizations never became anything as frenzied as a “mob”. The owl sat quietly, and the scene didn’t escalate. I’ve seen Cactus Wrens and Verdins pitch bigger fits over an Elf Owl, a bird which is a fraction of the size of the Long-Eared.

It spent the afternoon dozing and swivelling its head occasionally — I could see it from the safe distance of the back porch, with binoculars — its magnificent cranial tufts wafting slightly in the breeze. At twilight, it spent some time preening, bending its head over its back to align long primaries and tail feathers. At full dark, it gave a raspy bark and flew out into the night.

Like many birders, I’m sometimes asked how to spot an owl.  This is one of the best ways: be sure you always look for the Mockingbird. Not literally always a Mockingbird, of course. But one of the biggest joys of birding (or any sort of getting outside activity) is that you may not find what you’re looking for, but there’s always something to see.

And, also: a dark owl shaped blob in a tree is pretty much a dead giveaway!

LEOWinsituLong-Eared Owls are considered a “medium-sized” owl: bigger than a Screech Owl, but smaller than a Great Horned Owl. If you want to read more about this species, click here.

For the record, here are a couple of less-tweaked images of the owl in situ. Be sure to click to enlarge! (All photos A.Shock)
LEOWshock

 

Posted by Allison on Oct 6th 2013 | Filed in birding,birds,close in,natural history,owls,yard list | Comments (1)

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