#121: Happy Autumn

I want to begin by thanking all who expressed condolences on the loss of my dear parrot Jesse, and indeed all who read my tribute here. Twenty-nine years is a long period of attachment. Jesse and I were together for more than twice the amount of time as my precious dog, Taylor. She was with me from age 26 to 55. Yesterday was a day of much grief as I started the morning burying her in the rain before the sun had even risen. Then there was removing her cage and playpen and travel carrier and everything else. I was an emotional mess as I opened the Visitor Center late. Returning home later that afternoon to the quiet emptiness was tough.

I felt guilty as I cleaned my Wheelhouse and put the dinette table where it is supposed to be, where Jesse’s cage had been for these past two and a half years as a full-time RV-er. For the first time, my RV is cleaner and better organized than 200 square feet you share with a seed and fruit scattering bird. I hated that I was thinking about how much more room there is and how I won’t have to sweep twice a day.

In one month I will be preparing to move the Wheelhouse. As I mentioned in yesterday’s tribute, I very much need a break from my routine here in Cave Creek Canyon and my work with the VIC (Visitor Information Center). I returned on February 23 and on October 25 will be free until December 1. Eight months is a long time for the Wheelhouse to sit still, and it has been a long stretch for me. But let me begin this start of autumn post with more about what is happening on October 25.

As most of you know, my friend and arachnologist Dr. Brent Hendrixson has visited the area often, and he and I have had many adventures in search of tarantulas and scorpions. One of his trips was when he and I found two pairs of tarantulas, here in the Chiricahua Mountains above 7000 feet elevation, on Halloween. Another found us chasing tarantulas at the beginning of December. The Sky Island tarantulas are our focus, and these species mature and breed in fall and are active at the end of the year. On October 25, Brent will fly into Arizona and be joined by his colleague, Dr. Chris Hamilton. I haven’t seen Chris in about thirteen years. They will be coming to me in the Chiricahuas the following morning. At the same time, two non-professional tarantula enthusiasts (arachnoculturists), my good friend Chad Campbell from Minnesota and Tom Patterson from New York, will be arriving in Tucson and heading straight to my camp. The five of us will begin our field trip searching for more high elevation specimens here in the Chiricahuas, and then intend to direct our hunt to the Pinaleño and Dragoon Mountains. We may be joined by others there, including Wyatt Mendez.

To be closer to the latter mountain ranges, I began thinking about boondocking (dry camping) somewhere between Willcox and Benson, Arizona. Tom and Chad will stay with me during our weekend adventures, but then Tom will depart for some time in the Phoenix area. I realized that living “off grid” would require some repairs and upgrades to my Wheelhouse that would be more expensive than one month at an RV Park, and began looking for one within striking distance of the Pinaleños and Dragoons. As I shop for groceries in Willcox, 72 miles from my homestead in Cave Creek Canyon, I had become aware of a park there that has some nice amenities. I figured if I am going to pay for a month at an RV Park it should be nice and afford me some relaxation after my spider hunting buddies head home. Lifestyles RV in Willcox fit the bill. It has an indoor pool and hot tub, a gym, and WiFi. It is just down the road from the Safeway where I shop, which has a Starbucks!

On or about October 28, Chad and I will move my rig to Lifestyles. After our field trip ends on Nov 2, I will have four weeks to just chill. I will write (begin my novel?), read, play guitar, (hopefully) work out, and enjoy a daily soak in the hot tub. It will be a much needed therapeutic and meditative time. Then I will be back to my homestead in Cave Creek Canyon from December through June. What adventures lie beyond are yet to be discovered.

Bombus sonorus

Bombus sonorus

The above image of a Sonoran Bumblebee (Bombus sonorus) is how I wished followers of my social media a Happy Autumn. The nights are cool, even crisp, here now, and yesterday the rainfall was heavy. The Southwestern Research Station three miles up canyon recorded two inches in twenty-four hours. Late summer and early fall mean bird migration, especially for the hummingbirds that are the avian wildlife on which I focus. In September, we have recorded thirteen species of “colibris” in the area, including the very uncommon for our area White-eared, Berylline, and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds. About fifteen hummers are swarming my three feeders as I type this, including Blue-throated Mountain Gems, Rivoli’s, Anna’s, Broad-tailed, Rufous, and Calliope. There are many immature birds, the males of which are just starting to form the gorgeous gorgets on their throats.

Although the reptiles will soon head for their winter retreats, and I am beginning to think more about the autumn tarantulas, I will continue to chase snakes through October. Two weeks or so ago, I ventured to the Huachuca Mountains to meet my friend Brandon. We didn’t find the species we sought but did encounter the Banded Rock Rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus klauberi) and Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus). The Mohave was a beautiful greenish snake found at the highest elevation I have ever encountered the species. The photo below has, in a short time, become my most liked post on Instagram. The Rock Rattlesnake image that follows it is my favorite yet of the species.

Crotalus scutulatus

Crotalus scutulatus

Crotalus lepidus klauberi

Crotalus lepidus klauberi

At the end of August, I had a snake hunting adventure with my friend Tim. He lives in Mesa outside of Phoenix, and I overnighted in a hotel in Mesa to join him in the search for two species I had to observe in nature. The two “lifers” I was after were the Arizona Black Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus) and the Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus pyrrhus). We found both, with a couple of specimens of another favorite buzztail, the Tiger Rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris), and a few other things as well. The Arizona Black or “cerb” was my primary desire. I arrived in Mesa at midday and Tim and I drove northeast into the mountains to search for it. After having no luck on one rocky slope, we moved to higher elevation and hiked along a forested creek. We would find a Regal Ringneck Snake and a Large-blotched Ensantina (a beautiful black and orange salamander from California that is invasive in Arizona). We had no success finding anything else and were headed back to my truck when a perfect “cerb” slithered across the path in front of me. He had a massive bulge from a recent meal like a ground squirrel. His head was raised as he moved slowly and gracefully. I shouted to Tim that I had found my “lifer,” and soon we were photographing my prize.

Crotalus cerberus

Crotalus cerberus

After our incredible encounter with this snake, Tim and I decided to get an early dinner in preparation for doing some road-cruising. Our original plan had us starting at night, but I got up to Phoenix nice and early, and now we had my main objective on our memory cards. It was fortuitous as well, as that night our road-cruising would only yield a nice Desert Nightsnake. I would end up not finding my hotel until about 11:30 p.m., and we decided I would pick Tim up at 4:30 a.m. to begin our search for “specks.” I wouldn’t fall asleep until well after midnight and was in the shower by 3 a.m. This would be a whirlwind snake hunting trip!

The next morning Tim and I found our first snake before 5 a.m. as we hiked a wash in Phoenix in the pre-dawn dark. Just before and after 6 a.m., about twenty minutes apart, we would observe two Tiger Rattlesnakes. The first is shown below. I love how this species has a comparatively small head and large rattle. The little head is believed to aid it in poking itself into rock piles after its prey.

Crotalus tigris

Crotalus tigris

By 6:15 a.m. we had already encountered three rattlesnakes. In a climate as hot and dry as Phoenix, you have to start early before the oppressive heat. My lifer Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake would be found by Tim just before 7 a.m. The sun had risen, and we had progressed further into the wash. The species is perfectly adapted to the marbled rock where it lives, and it lies camouflaged at dusk and dawn in ambush of birds and other prey. But, as they say, a photograph is worth a thousand words.

Crotalus pyrrhus

Crotalus pyrrhus

Our second speck was found at 7:40 a.m. and would be the fifth and final buzztail of the morning. The temperature had climbed, and by the time we made it back to my truck before 9 a.m., it was already 95ºF. I drove Tim back to his Mesa apartment and then began the four-and-a-half-hour drive back to Portal. The collage below shows some of the other creatures we experienced.

Top: Desert Nightsnake -  Hyspiglena chlorophaea , Tiger Rattlesnake -  Crotalus tigris ; Middle: Large-blotched Ensatina -  Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi,  Regal Ringneck Snake -  Diadophis punctatus regalis ; Bottom: Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake -  Crotalus pyrrhu s, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake -  Crotalus atrox

Top: Desert Nightsnake - Hyspiglena chlorophaea, Tiger Rattlesnake - Crotalus tigris; Middle: Large-blotched Ensatina - Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi, Regal Ringneck Snake - Diadophis punctatus regalis; Bottom: Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake - Crotalus pyrrhus, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - Crotalus atrox

But now my thoughts turn back to spiders, and I will leave you with two recently photographed at my homestead at the corral. The first is Phidippus carneus, a jumping spider that has become numerous around the horse tack building at my camp. It was photographed on September 22. The second is the enormous Cat-faced or Jewel Orbweaver Spider that is living beneath my Wheelhouse.

Phidippus_carneus_Corral_092219.jpg
Araneus_gemmoides_3.jpg

Again, thanks for the sympathies on my loss of Jesse, and thanks for reading my blog. I haven’t written much this year, and I appreciate those who still visit this page. All the best, MJ