Monday, August 14, 2017

Gambel's Quail

Gambel's quail are found mainly in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico, but they extend into southern New Mexico, up and down the Rio Grande in east Texas, and along the Colorado River drainage in California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. 
A female.
Pictures of this covey show both male and female walking through a wash with some mesquite branches jutting into the photo. 
I like the photo blurred by vegetation as it kind of conveys the world of the quail from their level. 
They are pear-shaped with short legs and roundish wings. They are gray above and buff below (the male almost more of a white on some specimens) with chestnut flanks striped with white. Males have a black throat, face, patch on the chest and head plume (known as a top knot) and have a red cap and a white stripe above the eyes and going down the side of the face. Females have a less prominent plume and do not have the red cap or black coloration. 
This male and female together provide a good contrast for the difference in markings, particularly on the sides. 
This picture provides a contrast for the male and female from the front. The two at left are male and the two to the right are female. 
Two males from the back show the extent of the red cap. 
They are found in the hot deserts, particularly in desert mountain foothills, mesquite springs and mesquite lined drainages, and areas receiving slightly more rainfall than the surrounding area. The quail photographed above were in Cabeza Prieta NWR in southern Arizona in gravel drainages lined by mesquite trees. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Harris Hawk

I saw my first Harris Hawk in the wild and I've been excitedly using Lightroom to edit the pictures and lighten them up to confirm that it was, indeed, a Harris Hawk. 
The Harris Hawk is dark with a white rump and white undertail and a white tip on the tail. The shoulders and the thighs are chestnut.  It was spotting that white rump what got me excited. Its legs and the bare skin on its face are yellow. The tail is also crossed with dusky bars. 
In the U.S. they are only found in portions of southern Arizona, about a third of Texas and a small patch of New Mexico. However, they are fairly widespread in Mexico and portions of South America. 
I love how the early morning light is catching this saguaro. 
Its English name was given by Audubon after his friend Edward Harris. 

I saw this hawk in Cabeza Prieta NWR just north of Organ Pipe Cactus NM and west of Ajo, near the Charlie Bell Road. It was on a saguaro near a large wash and flew between several saguaro while I followed it around. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


I received some mangosteens from C.c. Claudia of Exotic Fruit Market in Grand Terrance. Mangosteens are one of the coolest looking of all fruits, particularly when the inner fruit is exposed while still partially encased in the outer rind. 
They are very rightfully included in 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die (2008, Quintessence). My daughter, Rachael, ranks it as her favorite fruit along with mango and pineapple. 
They originated in Indonesia and are now grown primarily in Southeast Asia. The vast majority of the mangosteens imported to the U.S. come from Thailand. 

The inner fruit looks much like an all-white peeled tangerine. It pulls apart into segments, like a tangerine, and has a sweet, slightly tangy, taste. The inedible rind is purple and relatively hard, but Rachael showed me how to squeeze the rind and break it open. It has almost a cardboard consistency. Some of the fruit segments contain an edible seed. I found one seed in each of the mangosteens I tried, but I did not try to eat the seed. 
There is a legend that Queen Victoria of England wanted fresh mangosteen so badly that she offered (a) 100 pounds Sterling [per Wikipedia], or (b) a knighthood [per 1001 Foods] to anyone who could provide it to her. This is probably why mangosteen is known as the "Queen of Fruit."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake - Redlands 2017

I got a call from a friend Saturday morning indicating they had a rattlesnake in their yard and asking if I wanted to come get it. I had my daughter and grandgirls visiting and thought the grandgirls would enjoy it, so I grabbed my snake sticks (a gift from my daughter many Christmases ago) and we went over. 

My friend directed us to a metal gate resting against a block wall and the snake was curled up under the gate. 
Southern Pacific rattlesnake
It was a Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, a subspecies of the western rattlesnake. They can be quite nasty and have a real toxic venom. But this particular snake was very mellow. When I grabbed it with the snake stick 

it made no effort to strike or to even get away. We placed it in a large plastic container and then transported it over to a local canyon and let it go. 
In the plastic container.
It is the first rattlesnake I've seen locally in a while and I think the first rattlesnake my grandgirls have seen in the wild. It made for a great start to our Saturday.
My grandgirls with the snake right before we released it. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

California Barrel Cactus

The California barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) is also known as the desert barrel cactus and miner's compass, and is found in the eastern Mojave and western Sonoran Deserts of Southern California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona in the U.S. and Baja California and Sonora States in Mexico. 
California barrel cactus on the outskirts of Joshua Tree NP. 
It is the only large barrel cactus in most of its range in the U.S., only overlapping with two other large barrel cacti in central and southern Arizona. It has a bunch of long curved central spines that point out and downward, covered by small ridges. Nearby each central spine are three shorter outward pointing spines and between eight and 28 smaller and lighter colored radial spines that nearly obscure the stem and its ribs. The spines are more straight and red when new, then curve and gray as they age. The spines can be red, whitish, yellow and combinations. The flowers grow at the top of the cactus and are bright yellow inside, sometimes with a greenish tint, and reddish on the outside.  
Buds, precursors to flowers.

The Indians would take young flowers and boil them and eat them like cabbage. They boiled and mashed older flowers to make a drink. The fruit is bright yellow and is generally not eaten. I've cut them open to find the inside hollow except for black seeds. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Edible Cactus Fruits

I've now eaten four kinds of cactus fruit, three for the first time this year. Having visited the desert multiple times over a period of time, from spring to mid-summer, I'm starting to get a feel for the flower/fruit cycle. I've decided to put the cycles of these four cacti together in one post. 

The first cactus fruit I tried was hedgehog cactus on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park seven years ago. The hedgehog is one of the more common cacti in that area and has some of the more beautiful of any of the spring/early summer flowers. I found the hedgehog fruiting in late May. 
Hedgehog cactus in the San Felipe Valley, California.  Some of the individual cacti have no flowers, several are just budding and have not yet flowered, and one is flowering. 
Hedgehog blooming in the San Felipe Valley.
A hedgehog flower.
Red round fruit on these hedgehogs near Joshua Tree National Park.

A fruit cut in half. The black seeds are very tiny and the taste is very much like dragon fruit. 
The outside cut away to reveal the inner fruit. 
The second cactus fruit I tried was saguaro. I'd seen the saguaro flowers previously, they only bloom at night, but it took going later to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument ("OCPNM") in mid-June, later in the summer than I'd ever visited, to see the fruit. 
A saguaro in OPCNM.
Flowers on saguaro arms.
Buds and flowers.
The flowers turn into fruit. The fruit is initially green and then turns red. The open red fruit to the right is fruit that has burst and lost its contents. 
Several ripe fruit on this arm. In fact I ate the one to the top left. It is a trick getting them off. I used dead saguaro spines to knock it off. 
The saguaro fruit.
Inside the saguaro fruit. The seeds are larger than hedgehog seeds, but still edible. It was quite moist and slightly sweet. 
I went back to OPCNM in late July this year for the purpose of finding the organ pipe cactus in fruit. Like the saguaro, I'd seen the organ pipe flower previously, which also only blooms at night, but I really wanted to taste the fruit.The saguaro fruit was basically over, so at least in OPCNM this year, the organ pipe fruit come on later than the saguaro fruit. 
Organ pipe cactus in OPCNM in southern Arizona.
Flowering organ pipe.
The flower dies and a round ball begins to develop at its base. These individual arms all have rounded fruits in various stages of ripeness hanging on them. 
A ripe organ pipe fruit that has been breached and the contents eaten by birds. I saw white-winged doves feeding on it. Other fruit are growing around it. 
An organ pipe fruit that I've cut off the cactus and then cut in half. The little black seeds are very similar to those in the hedgehog fruit. It is lightly sweet and has the texture of water melon. 
In late July I also found the Engelmann's prickly pear cactus in bloom. The ripe fruit is easy to identify and easy to obtain, unlike both the saguaro and organ pipe, part of the reason I'm sure that the desert Indians made the prickly pear fruit a part of their diet. 
Engelmann's prickly pear cactus in OPCNM. 
It has a beautiful yellow flower. I believe this particular prickly pear was photographed near Havasupai in northern Arizona.
The fruit growing after the flower has died. 
Reddish/purple fruit.
Fruit detached from the cactus.
Cut in half. I ate several of them. They were slightly sour when not as ripe, and lost the sourness when fully ripe and they became more moist. This one was not as ripe as some others. 
Unlike the other cactus fruit, the seeds were very large and very hard. I made no attempt to try and eat them.
For texture I really loved the hedgehog fruit. I found it on a very warm day and the cool slightly sweet fruit was a perfect complement to the day. In larger quantities, for an add-in in ice cream or similar, I think I would go with saguaro fruit. It has a little bit stronger flavor.