Three More Inches of Winter

Or 8 centimetres, whichever you prefer. The snow arrived last night and it was still falling this morning, turning our world white. Again. Yes, a sure sign of spring in Alberta.

A month ago we were hiking the Sonoran Desert, panting in the heat, searching for shade. The snakes and lizards were out — and a profusion of flowers. A much nicer view right now. 🙂

Blue palo verde
Blue palo verde
Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea
Evening primrose
Evening primrose
Chuparosa
Chuparosa
Brittlebush
Brittlebush
Strawberry hedgehog
Strawberry hedgehog
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Curve-billed Thrasher

CBTs are aptly named. Their bills are definitely curved and they really do thrash about on the ground

They flip over small rocks, scatter leaf litter, toss sticks out of the way, even pound their bills into the dirt like jack hammers — all in search of food. Insects, spiders, seeds and fruits are fair game and few escape the sharp eyes and even sharper beaks.

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One morning early this spring I heard the most beautiful music in a thick patch of desert brush. I discovered the sweet melody coming from a curve-billed thrasher. Quite at odds with the feeding frenzies I’ve witnessed. 🙂

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Curve-billed thrasher   Toxostoma curvirostre
Saguaro   Carnegiea gigantea
Ironwood   Olneya tesota

Mystery Solved

In an earlier post I pondered what lay within a silky tent strung between segments of chicken wire. A butterfly larva? Or as one reader opined, perhaps a paralyzed caterpillar, soon to be devoured by a spider?

While I wasn’t looking, the caterpillar — which was very much alive and not on anyone’s menu — continued to spin its magic and metamorphosed into a shiny cocoon.

A Lac of Interest

Because creosote is so common and grows literally everywhere here on the desert, I often tend to overlook it. My mistake.

The other day it surprised me. As I passed by yet another bush of same-old-same-old, I spotted several lumps on two of the branches. I was stumped. They were hard and dry and asymmetrical. What were they?

It took a chance encounter with a docent at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum to find the answer. This was the work of lac insects. (If shellac comes to mind, it’s because this insect is related to the one from which that varnish and sealant is produced.)

The work of lac insects

The tiny lac insects suck up sugary sap from the creosote, using some for food and eliminating the rest. As the sap hardens it forms a natural protection against predators and the weather.

Although I checked the two branches carefully I couldn’t see any live insects.  Nor could I see any ants, who sometimes protect lac colonies from predators, “milking” them like cows, just as they do with aphids.

The lesson for me? Don’t ignore what’s right under my nose. 🙂


Lac insect   Tachardiella larreae
Creosote   Larrea tridentata

Hang ‘Em High

On a trip to the desert yesterday with Jeff I found this speckled spider dangling in a clump of brittlebush. She was almost invisible among the flower stalks.

Using Jeff’s macro lens I was (sort of) able to capture her and parts of her web. A very shallow depth of field turned the clusters of sun-yellow flowers into a pale backdrop.

I handheld the big lens — it weighs more than the camera — so the focus is a tad off. But I’m pleased. Don’t know what the spider thought of it. 🙂