#119: 55th Birthday Celebration, with friends and more

Rumor has it that I used to blog.

For some time, my "Kiss My Big Hairy Spider" was my blog, but that was retired when I retired. When I started living as a nomad at the beginning of 2017, I launched a new blog called "PIKEY: Shunpiking and Boondocking; the Gypsy Life." The title has a bit of irony now as "shunpiking" means avoiding main roads like interstates and turnpikes, and "boondocking" refers to living off the grid on public land. And of course "Pikey" is British slang for gypsies who live in recreational vehicles, which the Brits like to call "caravans." It's a good thing that blog evolved into this one on my website because I am not much of a nomad/gyppo/pikey anymore, even if I do live in my Wheelhouse. And I am not really "shunpiking" as my Wheelhouse is stationary. My truck is the thing that avoids paved roads in preference of rugged, primitive four-wheel-drive trails. Finally, I am not boondocking and never have, save for one week at Big Bend National Park, where I was not connected to electricity or water. I have been living for most of two years now at the U.S. Forest Service's Corral Admin Site, just above the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center (VIC) where I am caretaker. The Chiricahua Mountains have become my home.

Regardless of where my blog exists now, I have failed to keep it going. The year started well. I blogged about my third trip to Malaysia in January. There were ten entries about that adventure. Then, on March 4, I wrote about my February 23 return to the Portal, Arizona area. I became silent after that, just adding a May 17 entry that duplicated a "mini-blog" I posted to my Facebook page about it being "The Year of the Trogon." Since then, I have written nothing.

I'll make no promises about the frequency of my blogging moving forward, but I am inspired to write today to recount the fantastic time I had in celebration of my 55th birthday. With my best mate Mark Pennell visiting from Bristol, England and John Apple and Ashley Hesselink driving here from Michigan, I took eleven days off from my duties for Friends of Cave Creek Canyon. I type this now from my desk at the VIC, my first day back to "work."

When Mark planned his visit to Arizona, it became apparent that flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport would offer better flight selection and price than arriving at the much closer Tuscon Airport. Still, my original plan was that we would drive from Phoenix to Tucson and Mark's first day and night in the Southwest would be spent in Tucson. However, that plan changed when I realized that Brent Hendrixson would be completing the final field trip of his year-long sabbatical at the same time, and would be in the Phoenix area the same day Mark arrived. Therefore, I modified the plan so that the three of us would hunt for creatures together in the Phoenix area on Mark's first night. I booked a suite that all three of us would share and told Mark we would instead spend his last day and night in Arizona in Tucson.

On July 31, I left Cave Creek Canyon at dawn and drove the 4.5 hours or so to Phoenix. I made stops along the way, including visiting two Phoenix area liquor stores where I had special ordered some Tiger lager for Mark and I. I was waiting at Sky Harbor airport ahead of schedule, and Mark's plane arrived thirty minutes early. However, he had to sit on the plane until noon because his flight was the first international arrival of the day and U.S. Customs wasn't open yet. But soon he was coming through the doors, and we headed out towards the prominent eastern Phoenix suburb of Mesa where our hotel was located. It was selected because our evening plan with Brent was to visit the Superstition Mountain Wilderness Area around Tortilla Flat.

Mark and I first stopped at a bar/restaurant for some lunch and beer. We talked about how he had always dreamed of visiting the American Southwest. Ever since he became interested in tarantulas more than thirty years ago, he had wished to one day see the home of Aphonopelma chalcodes, the "Desert Blonde Tarantula" that was one of his early "pets." He visited me a few times in Chicagoland, but this was his first visit to the wild west.

After lunch, we checked into our lovely suite at the Courtyard by Marriott in Mesa and waited on Brent, who was driving to Mesa from Borrego Springs in southern California. Not long after Mark and I were settled in, there came a knock at the door, and we were soon catching up with Brent and checking out his bag of scorpions and tarantulas. Later we headed out to the Superstitions and Lost Dutchman State Park.

Brent and I wanted to do some golden hour and sunset photography at Lost Dutchman, but the trails there were all closed due to a fire sometime before. Mark marveled at the desert fauna and flora, including all of the big spiny and whiptail lizards that were darting about. Then we headed up the Apache Trail towards Tortilla Flat. Mark's first American tarantula encounters were the ten or so male Aphonopelma chalcodes that crossed the road as we drove up the paved road and on to the dirt road until a barricade prevented us from proceeding farther. The drive is fabulously scenic, even to desert rats like Brent and me, so Mark was blown away by the Sonoran Desert and the Superstition Mountains.

As darkness approached, we drove back down the road to park at Tortilla Flat. The weather was very unusual for Phoenix. The monsoon season had brought cooler temps and very muggy air. I'd never experienced humidity like this in Mesa, and my glasses kept fogging up. Brent wanted to walk the roadside rock cuts that I had searched with him and some of his students in the past two years. He was after the tailless whipscorpion (amblypigid), Paraphrynus carolynae, and the humidity made finding it likely. But our first find was a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, which was first spotted by a car that passed us. Unfortunately, I was ill-prepared to wrangle and photograph a snake just then, and when I ran back to my truck for proper gear, I had expected Mark to keep an eye on it. But I didn't verbalize that, and he got talking to the occupants of the car. By the time I returned, we had no idea where the snake had gone.

Brent walked up ahead and began to find his amblypigids and then spotted a Tiger Rattlesnake! Crotalus tigris is not found in my area and is one of my favorite buzztails, so it was a pleasant surprise. And for Mark seeing this elusive and beautiful rattlesnake was an unexpected thrill. It was his first night in Arizona, and he had already seen two rattlesnake species – the first wild rattlesnakes of his life! We also saw tarantulas on the rocks, scorpions, a big Sonoran Desert Toad, and more.

Crotalus tigris , Tiger Rattlesnake, Superstition Mountains, AZ - Mark’s second rattlesnake of his life was this beautiful and uncommon buzztail!

Crotalus tigris, Tiger Rattlesnake, Superstition Mountains, AZ - Mark’s second rattlesnake of his life was this beautiful and uncommon buzztail!

After we finished with the Tortilla Flat area, we drove back down the road a few miles to photograph the fading sun above Canyon Lake, a spectacular reservoir set in the Superstitions. Then we stopped to look for one small species of scorpion (unsuccessfully) before heading back into the Mesa area to visit a park where Mark would see the big Desert Hairy Scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis). Then it was back to the hotel and some rest for the guy who flew from London, and two guys who had put some miles on the American roads that day.

Day two in America would be spent at my home in the Chiricahuas, and Brent joined us as he began his drive back home to Mississippi. We took the scenic route from Mesa, heading east through the southern Superstition Mountains on Highway 60 and then down Highway 70 through the San Carlos Reservation towards Safford. We planned to visit an area to look for two other tarantula species, Aphonopelma gabeli, and A. vorhiesi. Brent has visited this site often, as have I now, and we met up at the Walmart in Safford for provisions before again meeting Brent at the tarantula location. We had no luck with A. vorhiesi during our short search but did get to show Mark female A. gabeli coming out of their burrows. His trip was already off to a fantastic start!

Back at my homestead, we got Mark settled into the pikey lifestyle. Brent, Mark and I cracked a beer and talked for a bit, but then we decided to drive up the canyon to look for vinegaroons. We found some and next we drove about 20 miles south to the entrance to Rucker Canyon to search that area for tarantulas. We were successful there, and I collected a couple of centipedes as well for John Apple, who would be arriving Sunday with his girlfriend, Ashley. We found two different and unusual tarantulas in the area, as well as some other exciting things. Later that night we went up to Vista Point at dark to photograph the Milky Way, but Brent wanted to return later in the night when it was positioned better. So he headed to a campground and Mark and I enjoyed the rest of the evening with another beer or two before turning in.

The following morning Brent came back to my homestead and hung out for a bit before hitting the road.

Mark and I knew John and Ashley would arrive on Sunday, but we weren't sure when. And I am afraid that now I will lose the chronology of the trip. I don't have the memory anymore – hey, I just turned 55! – to recall each day without taking notes. I endeavored to show Mark as much as possible and, in reflection, it becomes a blur. I know Sunday night we were sitting at dinner at Portal Cafe and John and Ashley had arrived at the Air BnB they were staying in in the Arizona Sky Village just north of town. This area is out in the desert past what we call the Big Thicket and is a community of astronomers mostly, all with their observatories attached to their homes. Just after I messaged John where we were and gave him directions to join us, I got a message from a resident asking me to do a rattlesnake relocation. So, shortly after greeting John and Ashley, I interrupted my meal to drive two minutes down the road. I pulled up to the house to find out they hadn't kept an eye on the snake, and it had moved into the brush. I jumped back in my truck, not disappointed at all, and headed back to join the gang.

Foursome_080719_NOWM.jpg

Monday, August 5, was my 55th birthday. When my bonus dad Joel visited me last year, we visited Bisbee and Tombstone, Arizona, and I decided that tradition would continue this year. We met John and Ashley at the Portal Cafe for breakfast and then all piled into my truck for the journey down to the border town of Douglas where I showed them the wall (not Trumps). From there it was on through Bisbee and to Tombstone. As with each of my visits, the first stop there was Doc Holliday's Saloon. After a beer there we toured the shops before having lunch at Big Nose Kate's Saloon. It was just like last year with Joel, except for the company. Food and beer were delicious, and the ambiance is what you expect from an Old West tourist trap. In other words, pretty damn cool.

After Tombstone, we stopped in Bisbee, which is the funkiest town in Arizona. A massive copper mine is what gave rise to Bisbee, and Old Bisbee is where the freaks of the desert congregate. It is Arizona's counter-culture, hipster, funky old hippie, LGBTQ XYZ place to be. My destination was Old Bisbee Brewing Company. John and Ashley don't drink so they wandered off to see the amazing street art and other curiosities of Old Bisbee, while Mark and I sidled up to a table to enjoy an Arizona pilsner straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. Then Mark and I walked around a bit and went to a Bisbee Coffee Company for an Americano. Later we met back up with John and Ashley and headed back to Douglas and up to Portal. My birthday dinner was hot & spicy brats and Italian sausage cooked on my little grill at my homestead: friends and beer.

Our evenings were spent road cruising for snakes and our days were spent touring the area or searching for the daytime-active Banded Rock Rattlesnake. On Friday before John and Ashley arrived, Mark and I met up with Dr. Chuck Smith, a herpetologist, and Ian McColl, an Australian who is volunteering at the Southwestern Research Station on a six-month visa. We planned to look for rock rattlesnakes together, and we found two that day – one that quickly disappeared into the rock slide and another that we all were able to spend time photographing. Mark and I would return a couple of days later by ourselves, and once again found two. And again the first one slithered away deep into the vast pile of lichen-covered large rocks, whereas the second one buzzed me from beneath a rock and was easy to photograph.

Crotalus lepidus klauberi , Banded Rock Rattlesnake, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains

Crotalus lepidus klauberi, Banded Rock Rattlesnake, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains

During his stay, Mark would see seven species of rattlesnake (and a handful of tarantula species). Sadly, his first encounter with my favorite snake – the Black-tailed Rattlesnake – was on our initial return to Portal. It was dead on the road, a large beautiful greenish specimen from the foothills north of my area. The next Black-tail he would see was right at the entrance to the canyon and, although still very alive, it had been struck by a car, and we had to watch it crawl into the desert scrub where it surely died that night. I took Mark to one of my favorite boulder outcroppings of the Peloncillo Mountains in New Mexico to search for Black-tails one evening, but incoming storms made our visit shorter than I had planned and we had no luck. But he would eventually see a very large and extremely beautiful Black-tail up the Trans-Mountain Forest Road at just above 6000 ft. elevation.

We were taking a sunset cruise before picking up John and Ashley for a planned night of road-cruising. I wanted to make my standard loop up the mountain road (FR42) to its junction with East Turkey Creek Road (FR42B) and back down 42B through Paradise and then via Portal-Paradise Road back to Portal. As we climbed over 6000 ft. I saw a Black-tail crossing the dirt road ahead. We were about to have an extraordinary encounter for several reasons. First, it is a gorgeous snake, and this was a prime example. Second, Mark would soon be amazed by its beauty. Third, although Black-tailed Rattlesnakes usually are very calm and even placid, this one turned out to be the most irascible Black-tail I have ever encountered. It did its best Diamondback imitation as I caught it and tried to put it in my snake bucket so we could move it to photograph it in a better location. I told Mark to capture some video, and he did both of me wrangling it and then releasing it. The release video was shot in the wrong orientation so I’ll just share the wrangling here.

Another thing that made this encounter enjoyable was that one reason I rushed to contain it in the bucket is that a truck approached coming down the mountain. I don't like spectators and quickly tried to secure the snake and hoped the vehicle would pass without pausing. Then I noticed it was a Border Patrol truck. As it approached, the agent rolled down the window, and we realized that it was a female agent we had encountered in New Mexico, south of Animas halfway to the Mexico border. And that story will follow here, out of chronological order but an amusing tale to tell. Small world. She was covering a lot of areas. She said, "This is the fourth time I've seen you guys!" and then asked what we had caught. We began chatting, and she started showing all of the photos she had been taking in the area, including some of rattlesnakes. It turned out that she is from Minnesota and is just here on a 30-day rotation. She usually works the Canadian border near Lake of the Woods, and I began telling her how I used to muskie fish up there. We shared more stories and photos before she drove on. Mark convinced me to photograph the snake there rather than driving somewhere else and then having to return to release it in the same spot (as I always do). We were pressed for time as I had told John we probably would be earlier than the agreed-upon time and it was now evident that we would be much later. So we found a little spot off the road in the woods, and I again struggled to wrangle the very agitated Black-tail into a pose for photography.

Crotalus molossus ‘molossus’ , Western (or Northern) Black-tailed Rattlesnake, Chiricahua Mountains, AZ

Crotalus molossus ‘molossus’, Western (or Northern) Black-tailed Rattlesnake, Chiricahua Mountains, AZ

OK, so the story of our first encounter with this woman who is a Border Patrol agent based in Minnesota – It was Wednesday night, and John and Ashley were doing their own thing. The monsoon rains were threatening all around. Mark and I had just searched the rock formations for Black-tails without success. The threat of rain had us leave that area early, and I looked around and pointed my truck toward the clearest skies for road-cruising. We headed east to Animas and then south toward Cloverdale. We stopped to escort a Desert Box Turtle off the road. Then we continued marveling at the spectacular lightning show all around us. Mark had never seen skies like this. As it got darker, we were always in awe of the blinding light show, and then a drizzle began to fall.

I saw a snake up ahead in the road and accelerated. The humidity was high due to the weather, and as I got out of the truck, my glasses fogged up and became covered with rain droplets. My vision was obscured, but I saw approaching headlights as I quickly identified the snake. I just needed to ensure it wasn't a rattlesnake, and then I would scoop it up and wait for the oncoming vehicle to pass. It was about four-feet-long and dark, and I knew it was a Desert Kingsnake. They are most frequently seen when there is higher humidity and even light rain or after rains have fallen. I grabbed it, and it rewarded me by musking me in defense, as kingsnakes always do. I climbed into my truck out of the rain, and its scent quickly permeated my vehicle. My truck was in the middle of the road, so I grasped the stinky snake in my left hand while using my right to put the truck in gear and steer to the side of the road.

As I pulled over, the snake crawled between my knees and under my driver's seat. Its muscles prevented me from pulling it back as it found something to push against. I had no choice but to relax my grip and let it loose beneath me. As the headlights approached, I realized it was Border Patrol, which is usually the only other vehicles I see. The agent rolled down the window, and we saw that it was a woman by herself. We told her we were looking for snakes and had, in fact, just scooped a kingsnake off the road that was now somewhere inside the truck. That got an odd look and a laugh! She told us that she had just passed a young rattlesnake about two miles south that was off to one side of the road. So we quickly said our goodbyes, decided to leave the kingsnake as is and rushed ahead to look for the snake she had seen.

Sure enough, the young Western Diamondback Rattlesnake was still on the side of the road. In the dark drizzle, we photographed it and set it on its way. Then we searched my truck for the kingsnake to no avail. I could not figure out where it had gone. My back seat area was full of camera and snake catching gear and our packs, and we dug through everything, and the four-foot snake had vanished. I thought it had found its way inside my seat, but they are all sealed below. So we gave up and eventually turned around and headed north. Fifteen minutes later, Mark was startled when the snake cruised over his lap and up the door. I snatched it before it became too tightly wrapped in the door handle and we stopped to photograph and release it right where we were.

Lampropeltis splendida , Desert Kingsnake, Hidalgo County, New Mexico

Lampropeltis splendida, Desert Kingsnake, Hidalgo County, New Mexico

In between the monsoon rains, we had some excellent nights of road-cruising either just the two of us or with John and Ashley. The night all four of us cruised we found both a baby Mohave and baby Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, so that was a special treat for them. Unfortunately, that night we also found many dead snakes, including two beautiful adult Prairie Rattlesnakes. That was Mark's sixth species (of seven), but we never found him a live one as they are only found on the east side of the Peloncillos and this night we were unlucky and didn't find them before some oblivious or mean driver did.

Crotalus scutulatus , Mohave Rattlesnake, Hidalgo County, New Mexico

Crotalus scutulatus, Mohave Rattlesnake, Hidalgo County, New Mexico

Mark's last night here in the Portal area he and I cruised two beautiful adult Mohave Rattlesnakes and some others, and that made for a wonderful finale to his stay here. But one of the most special moments and biggest surprises occurred on Saturday, the day before my birthday. Mark and I were taking a scenic drive, and at 4:30 pm stumbled upon a baby Gila Monster. These beautiful beaded venomous lizards are elusive – actual needle in a haystack finds. And finding a baby is even rarer, and at 4:30 in the afternoon, it was very unusual. I had no expectations of Mark seeing a Gila, but I have been very lucky with them this year, already seeing more than I had in the previous two years in Arizona combined. It was a thrill neither of us would forget.

Heloderma suspectum , Gila Monster, baby, Portal, AZ

Heloderma suspectum, Gila Monster, baby, Portal, AZ

On Friday morning, the day before Mark would fly home, we were up early as usual and headed straight to Tucson. We would spend Mark's last full day and night in the Southwest, exploring Tucson. I knew I wanted to drive up the Santa Catalina Mountains and show him how spectacular that Sky Island range is. And, although he had seen many wandering male Aphonopelma chalcodes – the classic "Arizona Blonde" tarantula – and had also seen females on the rock faces at Tortilla Flat, I wanted to find him a female in its burrow that we could flood or tickle out. So as we drove up the paved highway that takes you over 30 miles up to the top of the mountain, we stopped at a trail where Brent Hendrixson and I had found Aphonopelma catalina last December, and Brent had said also was good for A. chalcodes. The best part was that only ten minutes up the trail it was Mark that spotted a burrow. It wasn't perfectly round, and the silk covering its entrance was sparser than I would have expected, but I poured some water into the hole, and I soon spotted the forelegs of the spider we were after. I drained both small water bottles without fully getting it out into the open, so I had to return to my truck for a gallon jug. Then, as photos and videos were taken, I flushed the spider out of its hole.

Aphonopelma chalcodes , Desert Blonde Tarantula, Catalina Mountains, AZ

Aphonopelma chalcodes, Desert Blonde Tarantula, Catalina Mountains, AZ

Our adventure was not over though. First, we needed a late lunch/early dinner, so I took Mark to Texas Roadhouse for some American over-eating excess. Our appetizers and steaks were delicious, as was the Dos Equis on tap. Then we checked into a lovely hotel room and talked about our evening's goal. When I visit Tucson overnight I look for Sidewinder Rattlesnakes northwest of the city, which does not occur anywhere near me. It is a unique snake, with horn-like scales above its eyes and an amazing form of locomotion where only two points of its body are ever in touch with the substrate. And I knew Mark wanted to see this snake perhaps more than any other. So before dark, we set out from our hotel in Marana to head up toward Red Rock, just before Picacho Peak State Park. There are two roads I search for sidewinders there, one that is paved and has traffic, the other that is a very rugged primitive road where I knew we would see nobody else. It took some time to get back into the desert, and we saw nothing but tarantulas for some time. Some areas of the road were very wet from recent rain. We continued, at times working our way across very rough terrain, and then finally I stopped when I had an adult sidewinder 25 yards ahead in the beams of my headlamps. This was something to celebrate! It was our only snake of the night, but it was a beautiful adult that Mark was able to capture video of and posed for numerous photographs before we let it slither into the darkness.

Crotalus cerastes , Sonoran Desert Sidewinder

Crotalus cerastes, Sonoran Desert Sidewinder

Mark and Saguaro

Mark and Saguaro

Mark and a big Texas Roadhouse beer!

Mark and a big Texas Roadhouse beer!

Saturday morning we had a few hours before Mark needed to be back at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and I suggested we visit Saguaro National Park (West) so he could get photos with the giant iconic Sonoran Desert cactus. Then it was off to the airport, and our amazing adventure and fabulous ten days together came to an end. I had 4.5 hours back home, and responsibilities to attend to.

It would be impossible for me to cover the other time here since I last blogged. Hopefully, many of you follow my @jacobipix Instagram or are friends on Facebook and have seen my photos of the snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, and more that I spend my time chasing. Other than that, I keep busy with my volunteer host and paid caretaker duties for Friends of Cave Creek Canyon here at the Visitor Information Center and beyond. I love my homestead at the corral and plan to overwinter here this year. I have no trips scheduled that require a return to Chicago. I did ask for a little break and will be joining Brent and perhaps his friend and colleague Chris Hamilton for some tarantula fieldwork at the end of October and the beginning of November. We will start here in the Chiricahuas with a special project, but then I plan to hook up the Wheelhouse and live on the road for four weeks or so. It has been a long time since I was a proper Pikey. When Brent and Chris go back home, I will find a place to boondock and just read and play my guitar.

My next adventure is a trip to Las Vegas September 3-7, where I will meet my bonus dad Joel, my sister Lisa, and my brother-in-law Randy. They had a trip planned in June that I wanted to surprise them by joining, but due to Joel's health scare, things changed very much. That trip was canceled, and I ended up flying back to Chicago for a few days for Joel's surgery (thankfully, successful). So the trip was rescheduled, and I'm looking forward to seeing them there, playing poker, eating like a king, and seeing a couple of shows.

That's it for now. Until I blog again … MJ

Mark at Granite Gap, Peloncillo Mountains, with Highway 80 heading south and the Chiricahua Mountains in the background.

Mark at Granite Gap, Peloncillo Mountains, with Highway 80 heading south and the Chiricahua Mountains in the background.

#118: The Year of the Trogon

I posted this to my Facebook page this morning. I know I have been absent here and hope to rectify that very soon. Thanks for your patience. MJ

THE YEAR OF THE TROGON: A mini-blog for Facebook

5:45 a.m. at the corral. I'm making coffee when I hear the sound of an insane Chihuahua dog barking. Regardless of how you perceive or interpret the call of the male Elegant Trogon, it is unmistakable. The thing is though: I am about two miles from where you expect to hear it. A Mexican bird that breeds here in Cave Creek Canyon, the Elegant Trogon arrives in southern Arizona in April and May. Last year the first male was seen up South Fork Trail on April 17. This year it was three days earlier, and I saw one the following day. My first sighting of 2019 was where I expected, not only up South Fork Trail above The Bathtub but even farther - about 1/3 mile beyond the trail's first gate. But since then this season has been unusual. Birders and other visitors who are seeking to see this spectacular and gaudy "tropical" bird have had it easy. They've been seen at Sunny Flat Campground, which is the most popular of the three USFS campgrounds here in the canyon and the closest to South Fork Road (FR 42E). Instead of having to hike beautiful South Fork Trail in search of Trogons, people have observed them along the road into South Fork Canyon, near the summer cabins and even just in the parking lot at the road's end. While the females usually arrive a couple of weeks after the male, this year a female was seen the day after the first male. It certainly seems to be The Year of the Trogon.

I knew that in the past they had been seen as close to Portal as Cave Creek Ranch, presumably following the main creek down the canyon past the VIC (Visitor Information Center). So I guess I wasn't that surprised when Dawn, one of our new hosts at the VIC, messaged me a little over a week ago to notify me she had seen and heard one along the creek across from the VIC. I was at my corral camp and went down there, but I wasn't fortunate enough to see or hear a Trogon in that significant area. Then this morning I laid in bed hearing my first bird sounds of the day. The bright, high-pitched, metallic "Seep" of the Blue-throated Hummingbirds begins before the sun rises. At dawn, I hear Mexican Jays squawking, Scott's Orioles singing, and White-winged Doves cooing. But as I made coffee, I was startled to listen to the bark of an insane Chihuahua! It sounded as if it was in my corral homestead and I stormed out of my Wheelhouse, slipping on flip-flops and grabbing binoculars and camera. As I hastily untied the gate at the corral, I heard a male Elegant Trogon calling just across the road along the creek.

Then I saw his scarlet breast, dark head, and long tail as he flew not along the creek, but across the road towards me and a bit up the canyon. I stumbled along the way in my flip-flops as he moved towards the Silver Peak trailhead. He kept calling as he flew from tree to tree and I watched him at the trailhead parking lot. Then he flew again farther up the road toward Idlewilde campground. Trogons are such observable birds because they will perch in one place for ten or twenty minutes while a crowd of birders and photographers congregates around it. But this guy was on the move. He was very vocal and quickly moved from tree to tree. I managed only one inferior image that will be good enough for an eBird voucher, but not for sharing here. Instead, I will add one of last year's pictures for those unfamiliar with the amazing Elegant Trogon. 2019: The year Trogons have been everywhere in Cave Creek Canyon.

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By the way, I usually blog at my own website, http://www.mjacobi.com, but have been on hiatus. I hope to resume very soon, perhaps even tonight.

For those unfamiliar with the Elegant Trogon or who want to hear its very distinct call visit https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/elegant-trogon

trogon_05192018.jpg

#117: Cave Creek Canyon: The Return in Four Parts

Part I: The Beginning

First day of March. Almost a week since my return to the San Simon Valley and Chiricahua Mountains. Thursday, the 21st of February, I left Hoffman Estates, Illinois early saying goodbye to my bonus dad Joel and his miniature dachshund Buddy. It was Buddy’s first birthday, an occasion that I had celebrated the night before with Joel and my sister Lisa. The golden prince I had come to call everything from Butterscotch to Snickerdoodle received many gifts. The beginning of my trek was emotional as I enjoy Joel and Buddy and was already missing them. Joel puts Bud in doggy day care while he is at work so during my winter stay I watched Buddy all day instead. The playful and affectionate pooch and I were the masters of Netflix and chill.

After ten hours driving time, south through Illinois and across the Mississippi River at St. Louis, then west across Missouri into Oklahoma, I stopped for the night in Tulsa. I had driven 695 miles. After a restless night in a dingy motel room, I began another ten hour drive to Albuquerque, New Mexico. 663 miles. That left me only a 360 mile Saturday morning jaunt to Rusty’s RV Ranch north of Rodeo, NM where my Wheelhouse had again been stored for the winter. When I left the Interstate and headed down Highway 80 through Granite Gap and saw the Chiricahuas and the southern Peloncillos I was amazed by how beautiful and snow-covered they were.

I decided to spend the first night back in my swank pikey quarters at Rusty’s so I could de-winterize the plumbing and begin the task of unloading, unpacking and organizing everything. Sunday morning I was ready to move back into the mountains and my homestead at the US Forest Service corral where the mules and horses would greet me. I stopped at the VIC when I saw that Mike who runs the place and is Vice President of Friends of Cave Creek Canyon was parked in front. After a warm welcome and meeting two of the four new hosts who have staffed the VIC for the beginning of 2019, I walked up to inspect the corral. It was a mud bog. Recent rains and snow had left it wet and mucky. In retrospect, I wish I had waited another day for it to dry and arrived earlier when the morning freeze would have made it hard, but nevertheless I walked back down to my rig and proceeded to four-wheel it (eight, actually) into corral. Thus began a slippery and arduous process of shoe-horning 54 feet of rig into a soggy space. I never could get the Wheelhouse perfectly positioned and will likely move it a bit soon, but at some point I gave up and then spent a couple hours trying to rake the ruts I had created.

After setting up the trailer as best as I could under the circumstances, trying to level it, putting down the stabilizers onto blocks that sank deep in the muck, and connecting power. I turned my efforts to the inside. Then my last task was to connect to the water supply, which is a series of hoses that connect to a spigot at the horse watering trough. That is when another unwanted adventure began. The old hose was leaking everywhere, brittle from the cold winter and trod by half-ton mules. I replaced the first section that was spraying water everywhere, reconnected, and then discovered more leaks downstream. So I had to go down to the VIC and borrow lengths of garden hose and replace the entire length that I assume has been there for years. I’ll have to buy a nice industrial strength 100 foot hose on my next trip to civilization.

That first night I had dinner with Mike and his wife Cecil in their lovely home with the most spectacular view of the canyon. The next two days I had a bit of a head cold and mostly worked around my camp, further organizing and cleaning everything. I did make my first drive down to Douglas to get groceries and supplies. I had bought a few provisions when I passed through Deming, NM on Saturday, but I couldn’t buy much as I had little space in my truck and didn’t want to leave my traveling companion Jesse in the cold truck.

That leads me to a sad part of this tale. Unfortunately, my now 28-1/2-year-old Dusky Pionus parrot Jesse is now showing her age and decline. She had had a couple of what I thought might be seizures back in September or so, but seemed no worse for the wear afterward or by the end of my 2018 stay other than being underweight. She had been tenderly cared for here in Portal for the week at the beginning of December while I was traveling with Brent Hendrixson by my friend Carol who has great experience with parrots, and she did her best to try to put some weight on her. Jesse seemed fine during our travel back to Chicagoland. Because I was staying with Joel and he now had a dog, I set Jesse up in the basement where I stay. She became less active and didn’t seem happy down there, but I didn’t really see anything wrong health-wise and she ate and chewed her toys. When I returned from the airport after my trip to Malaysia, however, Jesse was at death’s door. I found her lying on her side at the bottom of her cage with no balance/equilibrium. It was as if she had had a stroke and I thought back to what I thought had been seizures in August or September. She was very underweight. Feeling horrible from travel and jet-lag and two days with only sporadic airport and airplane sleep, I was crushed and unsuccessfully fought back tears as I looked on my phone for a vet who might put her to rest. It is only because I was in such bad shape that I didn’t have her euthanized, and after laying with her for hours I began to try to nurse her back to at least some peaceful state while I fought with the idea of giving her final peace. A 29-year-old Pionus must be like a 18-year-old dog or a 100-year-old human. Miraculously, she improved every day. Her balance was off and she would sleep with her beak holding the cage bars to keep her upright, but she moved about and continued to eat and play. That is where she is now. I have left her in her travel cage for now so she doesn’t have the big cage to fall in. She occasionally climbs out of the cage and onto the top of the travel cage, something she couldn’t easily do with the fancy playground on top of her regular cage. I have some “recovery formula” bird foods to try with her and she is eating a great deal. As with any pet, I evaluate quality of life. If she declines and seems unhappy or in pain I will make the difficult but correct choice.

But onto happier matters … tomorrow I will host the VIC for the first time since late November when the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon through me the wonderful surprise party attended by at least two dozen people and presented me with the “Volunteer of the Year” award. While I have been gone more improvements have been made to the VIC interior and I look forward to staffing it on Saturdays and Sundays during March. The past two days I have started what will be daily hikes, both for pleasure and much-needed exercise. After a sedentary Chicago area winter, which other than my trip to Malaysia was spent watching Buddy during the day while watching television, and eating fatty Chicago delicacies and sweets for three months, I am back to dieting and hiking. I hiked two miles each day and will work my way back up to longer and steeper trails. Yesterday the daytime temperature reached the mid-60s and I actually saw some active lizards and spiders and insects. Today I will hike again, although I am really anxious to move the Wheelhouse to a better position, wash the mud that is caked on the wheels off and really get everything organized and clean before my weekend at the VIC.

I am not sure that this blog will actually be posted today, March 1. Since before my arrival the VIC internet service has been down. A local gentleman has been working to improve the system and there are issues with reconnection. Our internet also operates a Verizon Wireless booster that allows me to use cell signal. So, am effectively off-grid and have been driving to wherever I can ‘borrow’ some WiFi or acquire cell signal. But the bigger problem is that my laptop screen doesn’t work and I now have to use an external monitor. Another of today’s projects may be moving computer and monitor into my truck and going to where I can get WiFi. Thankfully, I have an AC outlet in my truck so I can plug the monitor in. I have other things to do online such as submit a revised version of an article I have written for the next issue of the Journal of the British Tarantula Society. Watch for that article, "American Mountain Endemics Revisited: Field notes on Aphonopelma catalina with an update on A. chiricahua, A. marxi & A. peloncillo", in a few months.

Finally, I was contacted by a reader of this blog who has issues with vision about making an audio or Podcast version of this blog or perhaps even my published articles. I have long thought of doing a podcast, but always felt like I would need a partner to interact with, don't like the sound of my own voice, etc. However, I personally listen to podcasts and enjoy being able to take in content while I can't be reading, such as when driving, or doing housework/cooking, etc. The idea of creating audio files intrigues me. The same reader supplied me with links to a few free services that convert text to speech so I wouldn't even have to dictate or use my own voice, but perhaps I might try a different solution. As always, I welcome comments and feedback. Feel free to comment below or email me at m.a.jacobi@icloud.com about this subject or any other. I'd really like to know more about who is reading this and what is liked and disliked. Thanks.

Part II: Saturday, March 2, 2019

Snake chasing and spider wrangling. I imagine that’s what many readers are interested in. I realize that Part I of this entry is a bit “Dear Diary”, containing emotions and such. Have no fear. Please keep returning and reading. Yesterday my truck thermometer registered 76 and it won’t be long until creepy crawlies, birds, mammals and other fauna dominate my writings.

I did mention that my second day of hiking included seeing spiders, insects and lizards, in addition to various birds and mammals. The lizards were young Striped Plateau and Yarrow’s Spiny Lizards. I didn’t see any adults; just last autumn’s hatchlings. It is incredible how these tiny baby lizards can survive the winter’s cold, and I suppose not so surprising that they are among the first reptiles out seeking the warmth of the approaching spring. It won’t be long before I see my first snake.

When I descended from the Interstate (I-10) at Road Forks, just short of the Arizona border and headed down towards Rusty’s RV Ranch one week ago today, one of the first familiar desert animals I encountered was the Greater Roadrunner. I have a great fondness for this speedy roadside bird, despite its love for eating lizards and snakes. I have seen a good number since. The next morning when I moved into Cave Creek Canyon, I visited Cave Creek Ranch to pick up packages waiting there for me and saw my first hummingbird of the season, a Rivoli’s (formerly known as Magnificent). This species and the only marginally larger Blue-throated Hummingbird are the United States largest hummers, bulky enough to be year-round residents. That evening when I had dinner with Mike & Cecil, I saw another Rivoli’s or “Mag”, and would finally see my a Blue-throat the following day. My second day here when I was driving south on Highway 80 towards the border town of Douglas, AZ to go shopping, three Pronghorn dashed out in front of me and evasive maneuvering was required. The fence on the other side of the road detained them briefly and I grabbed my camera, but they had by then moved into the distance enough to only permit a poor photograph.

Another mammal I encountered within the first two days was the Javelina or Collared Peccary. A group of about a half dozen slowly crossed Portal Road ahead of me. And, of course, our little Desert White-tailed or Coue’s Deer is common throughout the area and visit me and the mules and horses at the corral with regularity. As I sit here typing this during my first shift at the Visitor Center (VIC), Acorn Woodpeckers and both Rivoli’s and Blue-throated Hummingbirds keep visiting our feeders. Mexican Jays dash from tree to tree and hop across the lawn.

As you’ve guessed by now, this entry became a multi-part saga due to continuing lack of internet and cell service. After typing Part I yesterday, I did completely “break camp”, stowing everything inside my Wheelhouse, bringing the slide-outs back in, disconnecting power and water, lifting the stabilizers, and re-hitching to my truck. I wanted my home-on-wheels to be positioned more perfectly, in the exact footprint it had last year. Not in the haphazard slide-across-the-muck way it had been since my arrival. Then I reversed the process, spending the entire day organizing and cleaning everything again. I never made it out to the trails, and now have two days at the VIC before I will return. Maybe I’ll have internet soon …

Part III: Sunday Funday, March 3, 2019

Day 2 at the VIC. We are opening at 8 instead of 9 now, something I advocated all last season, at least during the busier times. I’m an early bird so I actually was ready to go at 7:30 and I had five visitors before 8. It’s now 8:20 and the temp is 44F. It will warm quickly as the sun gets higher. Yesterday the new fancy weather station that was installed at the VIC this winter while I was gone recorded a high temperature of 77F here at just under 5000 ft. elevation. Later in the afternoon the wind became gusty, with mostly southernly winds peaking around 22 mph.

The first hummingbird of the morning just arrived. A male Rivoli’s or “Mag” that perched on one of our mini saucer feeders. Just before him was an Acorn Woodpecker enjoying the same sugar-water nectar as the colibri, but from the larger saucer that can support the mass of a nine-inch woodpecker. In the last ten minutes the temperature climbed from 47F to 56F and more hummingbirds have visited the feeders including the first Broad-tailed I have seen this year. Another visit was from Wanda and Biggie. Wanda and her husband Dave are one of the two host couples that have staffed the VIC since the 1st of the year and will be here until the end of March. Biggie is their four-year-old, nine-pound “Chorkie” (Chihuahua x Yorkie or Yorkshire Terrier). Having him around has helped me with missing the ten pounds of terror that is Joel’s puppy Buddy. The couple staying at the Portal Bunkhouse, which is between the VIC and my camp at the corral, have two Labrador Retrievers, a golden puppy and a brown old boy. They came to meet me yesterday as well.

Part IV: March 4, 2019

I am pulled off in the desert, with a 20-inch monitor on the passenger seat, laptop on console and WiFi supplied by my iPhone's Personal Hotspot. This morning was my first drive to Willcox for a full grocery shop and I hauled my laundry with. I'm on my way back now, 45 minutes from camp. At 4 pm I am having chicken enchiladas at Dave and Wanda's camp with the other hosts Duanne and Ann and whomever else.

Finally this series comes to end. Cheers, MJ



#116 - Malaysia III - The Snapshots

The previous post showcased my wildlife photography from the trip, but I do take iPhone snapshots of just fun and leisure. Here you go …

#115 - Malaysia III Recap with Favorite Images

It’s been awhile, again. As promised, I wanted to do a little recap of my third trip to Malaysia, an adventure that was initially chronicled daily but quickly became less reliably documented. As bemoaned previously, typing the blog on my iPad and never figuring out the issue with Squarespace on iPad that prevented me from being able to add images to my text made me less motivated to blog. I’m not going to revisit the whole trip here, but instead will add some of my favorite wildlife images with some information on the animals depicted.

After visiting Malaysia in 2015 (Langkawi Island only) and 2017 (Sarawak, Borneo before Langkawi), my 2019 trip began on Penang Island. My primary photographic interest is macrophotography - taking photos of very small things like arachnids and insects at life-size (1:1) and sometimes employing a 2.5X magnifier (Raynox DCR-250) to enter the world of supermacrophotography. Although not truly macrophotography, I also broaden the scope of my primary imaging to include things as large as snakes. In other words, any images captured using my Tokina 100mm f/2.8 1:1 macro lens I lump into my world of macrophotography. This basically includes tiny jumping spiders to adult rattlesnakes.

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The item I needed most to take my macrophotography to the next level was a good flash diffuser. Harsh light is the bane of photography and photographers of all types are constantly looking to have the softest most even light in their images. Portrait photographers employ huge softboxes, etc. and macrophotographers and look for something that will surround their subjects with soft light. I have a number of units appropriate for my snake photos including a knock-off of the F-stoppers Flash Disc and other softbox diffusers that mount to my Nikon SB900 speedlight, but I needed something designed for close-up photography for smaller subjects. Every macrophotographer that I admire has some sort of DIY diffuser that is constantly evolving and I looked at what was being used by my favorite photographers. I contacted a few that had built amazing diffusers and then discovered that one of them actually was marketing his design and selling it through a local camera store. As luck would have it, he was from Penang, Malaysia and the camera store was in George Town, Penang just a taxi ride from the hotel where I spent the first four nights of this trip. So my Malaysia III images would benefit from an amazing diffuser I picked up for 180RM (about $43), saving me the frustration of buying the polypropylene plastic sheets and other stuff and trying to rebuild the wheel. Alex Goh’s design includes sturdy snaps so the diffuser can be quickly assembled/disassembled and stored flat for travel. And it is exactly what I needed.

Odontomantis  sp., Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Odontomantis sp., Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

The one-inch long little flower mantis seen above was photographed within the first hour of using my new Alex Goh Macro Diffuser. I spent the morning at Hotel Equatorial experimenting with subjects found on their little nature trail and found that I could reduce my flash output to 1/4-1/16 power for great results. Insects and leaves are both reflective and here you can see great detail without any bright flash hot spots that I would have had if I was using my old ring flash or some lesser diffuser.

The next two images were captured just after the flower mantis. All of these images were sent via Bluetooth directly from my camera body (Nikon D500) to the Nikon Snapbridge app on my iPhone and have no post-processing other than compositional cropping.

Goldback Spiny Ant ( Polyrhachis  sp.),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Goldback Spiny Ant (Polyrhachis sp.), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Orange Sharpshooter (Leafhopper) ( Bothrogonia addita ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Orange Sharpshooter (Leafhopper) (Bothrogonia addita), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

After shooting these small insects for some time I came across a much larger subject. African Giant Land Snails are invasive species in other parts of the world and they were among the landscaping of the hotel. As I didn’t need to get so close and the diffuser therefore wouldn’t surround my subject, it was the first time I unsnapped the bottom piece that hangs and circles below the lens and used just the primary diffuser area to ensure my flash didn’t bounce back too much off of the hard shiny shell of the four-inch long snail.

African Giant Land Snail ( Lissachatina fulica ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

African Giant Land Snail (Lissachatina fulica), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Hotel Equatorial Penang was a great hotel and it was a treat to have both the nature trail there where I took the above photos and great vistas overlooking the golf club with the sea in the background. The breakfast buffet was amazing and we spent a lot of time in full-on holiday mode, sipping cocktails poolside. Even when drinking and relaxing I like to have a camera nearby and thankfully I was able to capture an image of a Clouded Monitor Lizard that was foraging for earthworms in the grass beside the pool area.

Clouded Monitor ( Varanus nebulosus ), Hotel Equatorial Penang, Malaysia •  Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 120mm, ISO100, f/8, 1/160s

Clouded Monitor (Varanus nebulosus), Hotel Equatorial Penang, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 120mm, ISO100, f/8, 1/160s

Our first group outing on Penang was to have some fabulous street food and that is when I visited HIKE Enterprise to pick up the macro diffuser. Our driver then took us on some scenic tour of George Town, the population center of Penang, but I am one, a terrible passenger, and two, not much on history or urban areas. But the next day we all (14) had a different driver with a very large van to take us to Entopia, the butterfly park at the northwest end of the island. There I was able to put my new macrophotography set-up to more use.

Malayan Oakleaf Butterfly ( Kallima limborgii ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Malayan Oakleaf Butterfly (Kallima limborgii), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Dark Blue Tiger Butterfly ( Tirumala septentrionis ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Dark Blue Tiger Butterfly (Tirumala septentrionis), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Paper Kite or Large Tree Nymph Butterfly ( Idea leuconoe ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Paper Kite or Large Tree Nymph Butterfly (Idea leuconoe), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Southeast Asian Treefrog ( Polypedates leucomystax ), Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

Southeast Asian Treefrog (Polypedates leucomystax), Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

The following day the same driver took us back through George Town and on to the north for a trip to Penang Botanical Gardens followed by a trip up Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera).

At the Botanical Gardens I wandered off alone in hopes of finding snakes off the path, but instead found dragonflies and a land planarian to photograph. Land planarians are terrestrial flatworms often called “hammerhead or arrowhead worms”. They are hunters that attack their invertebrate prey using both brute force and a combination of the adhesive and digestive properties of their mucus.

From the entrance gate to the gardens we took “jeep” rides up Penang Hill. It’s about three miles of extremely steep and winding paved road and a fleet of small off-road pickup trucks ferry people to the top. There Mark Pennell and his brother-in-law Alan and I broke away from our group after an arrival beer and lunch to look for critters. The goal was to find tarantulas and we succeeded in locating the terrestrial species of Penang Hill, Coremiocnemis cunicularia, in embankment burrows.

Broadhead Planarian ( Bipalium  sp.),   Penang Botanical Gardens, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Broadhead Planarian (Bipalium sp.), Penang Botanical Gardens, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Black Stream Skimmer ( Trithemis festiva ),   Penang Botanical Gardens, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Black Stream Skimmer (Trithemis festiva), Penang Botanical Gardens, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Singapore (aka Malaysian Brown) Tarantula ( Coremiocnemis cunicularia ),   Penang Hill, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with F-Stoppers Flash Disc, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Singapore (aka Malaysian Brown) Tarantula (Coremiocnemis cunicularia), Penang Hill, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with F-Stoppers Flash Disc, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

After four days on Penang our group of fourteen, thirteen Bristolians from England’s west country and this intrepid American, boarded a very short flight north to Langkawi Island. We were later joined there by two more Bristolians to bring our party’s size to sixteen for two weeks at the amazing Berjaya Langkawi Beach Resort. It was my third visit, but Mark had been visiting Berjaya for more than 15 years and most of his family and friends had been there perhaps eight or ten times. We get treated very well, to say the least. Mark’s sister Chris celebrated her 60th birthday during our stay and we had an amazing sunset buffet dinner on the beach where the Tiger beer never stopped flowing and the catering staff outdid themselves and a three-piece band serenaded us.

But I’m not much on pool and beach and lobby cocktails. I’m after wildlife, I’m into hiking, I am looking for photographic subjects. Fortunately, you don’t have to go far as the lush tropical forest grounds of Berjaya are teaming with nature. The three most obvious mammals are the two monkey species - the gentle Dusky Leaf Monkey aka Spectacled Langur and the much less placid Long-tailed or Crab-eating Macaque - and the unique Sunda Colugo or Flying Lemur.

Sunda Colugo ( Galeopterus variegatus ),   Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 240mm, tripod, ISO400, f/9, 1/160s

Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus), Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 240mm, tripod, ISO400, f/9, 1/160s

Despite often being called a flying lemur, the Colugo (aka Cobego) is not a lemur and cannot fly. It is a very strong glider that leaps and glides from tree to tree at night to feed on tender leaves, shoots, flowers, tree sap and fruits. Walking after dark and seeing these 1-2 kg mammals glide down and bank onto a tree trunk is an amazing experience. Their wingspan is more than two feet and they can glide for over 200 feet without losing much altitude. During the day it clings to the tree bark using the camouflage of its fur to remain undetected by predators. The two species - Sunda and Philippine - belong to two different genera, and combined the two extant colugos are the only members of their family (Cynocephalidae) and even their order (Dermoptera).

It is fascinating just how many gliding animals there are in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia there are of course true flying mammals - bats including the colugo-sized flying foxes, but those that have evolved methods of gliding from tree to tree include squirrels, snakes, lizards and frogs. We were fortunate to see a Paradise Flying Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) at Berjaya plus a number of Draco sp. “flying” lizards, as well as the Red Flying Squirrel.

When it comes to monkeys on Langkawi there are two: one which is an evil shit and the other beautiful and lovely. Macaques live in matriarchal societies and males are shunned from their groups after reaching puberty. This results in lone males living in isolation and often becoming very territorial and aggressive. Macaques will eat just about anything and scavenge through trash making an enormous mess and will confront and attack humans to grab their food or drink. I have been charged my big male macaques. I may be ten times their weight, probably more like 15, but they don’t care. With teeth bared they will charge and unfortunately one of our party got hurt when he fell a good distance while running from them. I mentioned in another blog entry that one male that had been harassing people by the pool got in a confrontation with another monkey and left it with a bloody pulp of a foot. I love all animals, but - yeah - macaques are evil shits.

Long-tailed Macaque ( Macaca fascicularis ),   Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 95mm, tripod, ISO400, f/7.1, 1/25s

Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis), Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 95mm, tripod, ISO400, f/7.1, 1/25s

The beautiful and lovely monkey is the Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus), which is also known as the Spectacled Langur. Technically, it is not a true langur but rather a lutung so I prefer referring to them as leaf monkeys, which is a reference to their preferred diet. They are peaceful monkeys that are usually found higher in the trees than the macaques, but around the resort they come to ground and accept fruit and nuts handed to them by tourists. Feeding wildlife is wrong and always a bad idea. In the case of the resort monkeys, it is too likely that someone will have a leaf monkey gently take an orange slice one day and think that is the coolest experience ever and then have disastrous results when it tries to hand something to an aggressive macaque.

Dusky Leaf Monkey ( Trachypithecus obscurus carbo ),   Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 92mm, handheld, ISO200, f/5, 1/250s

Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus carbo), Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 92mm, handheld, ISO200, f/5, 1/250s

Before the trip Mark told me of seeing a white Dusky Leaf Monkey during his June 2018 visit. We inquired about this monkey when we arrived but nobody had seen it in at least four months. Then one day while Mark, Alan and I were walking the grounds photographing the “flying” lizards or dragons (Draco sp.), one of the shuttle drivers stopped to tell us that the white “langur” had been seen near the guard gate at the resort’s entrance. We asked to jump in his shuttle and get a ride down there and were lucky to find the troop that included the female white monkey seeking midday shade and some tender leaves to snack on in a large tree near the large parking lot. I call this monkey “hypomelanistic”, meaning that it has reduced melanin or black pigment. It isn’t an albino or its feet, etc. would be pink, as would its eyes. Many people would call it leucistic, but that condition usually results in bluish eyes and this monkey definitely had normal dark eyes. Regardless of what obscure term you want to apply, it was a stunning monkey. Interestingly, it was noticeably the largest of the dozen or more in the group, and it didn’t like when other monkeys would come to close to it. It kept moving to where it could sit alone.

“Hypomelanistic” Dusky Leaf Monkey ( Trachypithecus obscurus carbo ),   Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 300mm, handheld, ISO400, f/9, 1/60s

“Hypomelanistic” Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus carbo), Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 300mm, handheld, ISO400, f/9, 1/60s

One of the outings I was looking most forward to on Langkawi Island was a return to the mangroves of Tanjung Rhu along the north coast of the island. Langkawi sits on the Andaman Sea (Strait of Malacca) off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia as close to Thailand as it is to Malaysia. When I visited two years ago we took a boat into these mangroves and were lucky enough to find a Mangrove Pitviper. This year we hoped to see one again. We were not disappointed - we observed three!

Mangrove Pitviper ( Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus ), Tanjung Rhu ,  Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 120mm, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper (Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 120mm, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper ( Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus ), Tanjung Rhu ,  Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/13, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper (Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/13, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper ( Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus ), Tanjung Rhu ,  Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 85mm, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper (Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 85mm, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

We also saw Common Water Monitors, White-bellied Sea Eagles, Brahminy Kites and drove out across the sea to a small island to see some roosting Flying Foxes, but besides the Mangrove Pitvipers the highlight of our boat adventure in Tanjung Rhu was Mark’s niece Emily spotting a female Hyllus diardi, one of the largest jumping spider species. It occurs in a variety of habitats but is most common in mangroves. I didn’t have my new macro diffuser with me and shooting from a rocking longboat isn’t easy, so the one-inch salticid was captured in a small jar and I photographed it back at Berjaya. Jumping Spiders are my favorite photographic subjects and these images are my trip favorites.

Heavy Jumping Spider ( Hyllus diardi ),   Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/16 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/250s

Heavy Jumping Spider (Hyllus diardi), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/16 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/250s

Heavy Jumping Spider ( Hyllus diardi ),   Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro with Raynox DCR-250, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/22, 1/60s

Heavy Jumping Spider (Hyllus diardi), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro with Raynox DCR-250, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/22, 1/60s

While staying at Berjaya I also took three evening hikes up through the nearby Oriental Village, into the forest and then up to Telaga Tujuh or Seven Wells Waterfall. The first two trips were with Mark and Alan and the last was alone on my last night in Malaysia. We observed a great deal of wildlife including Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills, monkeys, various bats, Tokay Geckos, etc., but for me the most interesting were the spiders and the scorpions. In addition to the local terrestrial tarantula (Chilobrachys sp.) we saw several times of huntsman spiders (Sparassidae) including two prize species - the Lichen Huntsman (Pandercetes sp.) and one of my favorite true spiders, Heteropoda lunula. Also photographed were a couple of Tokay Geckos. These huge geckos are often seen around the resort and I’d take voucher photos for iNaturalist with my iPhone, but I don’t really like photographing lizards on buildings, even if they are foot-long grey and rust-orange beasts with giant heads. So, it was also great to find Tokay Geckos on tree trunks during our night hikes and get some natural in situ photos.

Spotted Bark Scorpion ( Lychas scutilis , Buthidae),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with softbox ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Spotted Bark Scorpion (Lychas scutilis, Buthidae), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with softbox ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Lichen Huntsman Spider ( Pandercetes  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Lichen Huntsman Spider (Pandercetes sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Langkawi Brown Tarantula ( Chilobrachys  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Langkawi Brown Tarantula (Chilobrachys sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Lichen Huntsman Spider ( Pandercetes  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Lichen Huntsman Spider (Pandercetes sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Tokay Gecko ( Gekko gecko ),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

In situ  Purple-brown Huntsman Spider ( Heteropoda lunula ),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

In situ Purple-brown Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda lunula), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Purple-brown Huntsman Spider ( Heteropoda lunula ),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro with Raynox DCR-250, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/22, 1/60s

Purple-brown Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda lunula), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro with Raynox DCR-250, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/22, 1/60s

Purple-brown Huntsman Spider ( Heteropoda lunula ),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Purple-brown Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda lunula), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

This certainly has become a photo blog. I just want to leave you with a couple more images from Langkawi. One is from the incredible sighting of a Reticulated Python killing an Oriental Pied Hornbill. Our group was meeting for dinner and as one couple was walking from chalet to lobby Julie was snapping photos of the resort with her iPhone. Just then a hornbill landed on the ground and she aimed her phone at the huge bird while continuing to snap pictures. To her surprise/shock/horror about an eight-foot long python came out of the rocks and attacked the bird. I was still in my room so Mark texted me while Kim ran up to my chalet. By the time I arrived on the scene all the human commotion had caused the snake to release the dead hornbill and disappear back into the rocks. But before those images (captured by Mark and his niece Emily), how about a giant cockroach, cicada, tree crab and a young tarantula in its burrow mouth?

Epilamprinae roach ( Pseudophoraspis  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/18, 1/120s

Epilamprinae roach (Pseudophoraspis sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/18, 1/120s

Cicada (unidentified species),   Berjaya Langkawi Resort, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Cicada (unidentified species), Berjaya Langkawi Resort, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Tree Crab (Sesarmidae sp.),   Berjaya mangrove, Burau Bay, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Tree Crab (Sesarmidae sp.), Berjaya mangrove, Burau Bay, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

In situ  Langkawi Brown Tarantula ( Chilobrachys  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

In situ Langkawi Brown Tarantula (Chilobrachys sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s


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