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Cactus patterns

An evening walk for a change, with the sun casting a different light on many of my favorite cactuses. This one has many hidden stories to tell—what caused the change in growth, what governs the pattern of the ridges, what causes the discoloration, who’s been nibbling?

I saw a Mockingbird against the evening sky.

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West side of the wash

Took a bird walk this morning around 8:30 a.m. with a visiting colleague from the East coast. More birds are beginning to return to the wash for spring—the wash was alive with song. We heard the same call I heard a few days ago, which I am feeling more certain is a Bewick’s Wren. It was no longer just a solitary call, we heard a number of them as we walked up the wash. Also the Verdins are getting more numerous. I think one of the hummingbirds we saw was a Blackthroat; it looked to me as if the color did not cover the entire head, and my colleague reported the purplish color. We saw a small hawk fly over the was as well. We also saw Anna’s Hummingbirds, Phainopeplas, Gila Woodpeckers, Mournign Doves, House Finches and House Sparrows, and heard Gambel’s Quail.

The photo shows my favorite spot in the return walk down the western side of the wash, when you turn a corner and that beautiful many-branched cactus appears, down a cool corridor fringed with palo verdes and desert broom.

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Sunbathing hummingbird

The cloud cover has gone, and the hummingbirds (Anna’s) were out catching the morning sun. Saw another Verdin with the red shoulder patch towards the northern end of the walk (so not in the same location as the other sightings, which suggests this is a general feature of their winter foliage, not repeated sightings of one bird). The rest were still the standard winter crowd of doves, woodpeckers, finches, and phainopeplas. I didn’t hear the new call again.

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Persistent saguaro

Overcast morning, a little chilly. There was a new call in the wash this morning; a high note on a single pitch followed by a liquid trill at a lower pitch. Sometimes the pattern was reversed; starting low and ending high. My best guess is some sort of sparrow, possibly a Rufous-wing sparrow from listening to the calls when I got home. It was in the bushes on the west side near our house. I’ll have to try and spot it next time.

Despite being topped by fire or disease, this cactus is putting out a fresh new arm. It’s on the east side of the wash walking north.

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March of the barrel cactuses

An overcast morning, so the birds were subdued, except for the hummingbirds (Anna’s), which were out in force (4 or 5 sightings). The woodpeckers were content to stand guard on their saguaros, and the pigeons on their telephone wires. I saw one bright verdin with its red shoulder patch hopping around in a bush. That’s the second time this year I’ve seen the shoulder patch so clearly, I wonder if it is more prominent in the winter. My memory from last summer, when the wash was dominated by verdins, is that it mostly wasn’t visible.

The barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) , shown here on the east side of the wash as I was walking north, always leans to the south, apparently to cast a shadow on its south side and protect it from sunburn. The one at the back seems to be leaning more to the southwest.

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Creosote bush

Crisp morning. The east side of the wash was in shadow as I walked north along it, with a couple of Anna’s Hummingbirds perched at the top of mesquite trees, waiting for the sun to hit. Moving over to the sun on the western side for the return walk, I started to hear the songs of Verdins, Goldfinches, and Gila Woodpeckers, and saw the white wing flash of Phainopeplas in flight.

The fruit of the Creosote Bush (larrea tridentata) is a fuzzy white capsule that stays through winter. The bush gives off a tarry smell after rain, which will always be for me the smell of the desert.

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