Friday, February 24, 2017

Springs Preserve, Las Vegas

One of our favorite places in Las Vegas is Springs Preserve. Unlike most people, we stay on the edge of town near Red Rocks (where we climb) and don't visit the strip or go shopping. If you're careful where you go and squint a little, Vegas can almost appear to be a "normal" city (as far as there is such a thing).

It seems a little artificial to go to Springs Preserve instead of just visiting the actual desert but the advantage is that there are a range of habitats and plants concentrated in a small area. And usually birds attracted by the water and flowers, although often just common ones like this House Finch.

House Finch

I was surprised to see this Great Egret out in the desert, usually they are by the water. Maybe he was hunting lizards.

Great Egret

Later we saw (the same?) one in a more expected spot by the water.

Great Egret

I didn't get any photos of them, but we saw a couple of cormorants fly in and land on the water. Later we saw them take off. They are not the most elegant fliers (better underwater) and they always struggle a bit to take off. But this time, one of them crashed into a bush just past the water! It reappeared and waddled down the beach and back into the water. If it had been me, I would have been hoping no one had seen it happen!

As usual, there were a few hummingbirds around, although not many flowers for them. I couldn't get very close so didn't get great photos.


The most common birds on this visit were Northern Mockingbirds. This one was singing up a storm and let us approach quite close.

Northern Mockingbird

Of course, I enjoy the plants as well as the birds. It's a treat to see spring so early in the year (relative to Saskatchewan). Some of the trees were flowering:

tree flowering

And some of the leaves were coming out. I always love the color of new leaves on the trees:

new leaves on trees

And tall grasses backlit by the sun:

backlit grass

I got frustrated because these ones kept blowing in the wind when I was trying to photograph them. So I switched to a longer exposure and embraced the blur :-)

grass blowing in wind

One of the reasons for the plants and animals here is the water. I'm always fascinated how the reflection of the sun traces lines as the water moves (with a long exposure, in this case 1/30 of a second).

sun glinting on water

Normally I wouldn't even attempt to photograph hovering insects but this one was surprisingly cooperative. Not sure what kind it is.

insect visiting flowers

flowering trees

Funny to see domestic flowers beside the ocotillo.

spring flowers


Some of the ocotillos had lots of leaves - must be getting water. (In the desert they are bare sticks most of the year.)

ocotiilo with leaves

See all 35 photos as a slideshow or overview

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Santa Barbara Zoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo is one of my favorite small zoos. I'm always happy to spend a few hours wandering there. Apart from the animals, the grounds are full of trees and plants.

I always appreciate opportunities to photograph the animals without bars or dirty windows in the way. Walk in aviaries are good. Sometimes the birds are too good at hiding, but not these flashy Mandarin ducks.

Mandarin duck

Most people probably wouldn't find turkey vultures attractive, but it's interesting to see them close up, rather than just soaring in the distance. This one was close to the fence where I could get some good photos.

Turkey vulture

The California condors are somewhat similar to the Turkey vultures, but much bigger.

California condor

I like to catch the animals showing "personality". This gorilla is looking thoughtful.


One of the elephants was happily eating, despite not having any teeth left to chew with.


Here's one of the teeth she lost:

elephant tooth

Most zoos have some unofficial residents, like this cottontail rabbit:


The keeper was cleaning their enclosures so the flamingoes had moved closer to us. There were several juveniles (the gray ones in the background).


More exotic birds in an aviary:


colorful bird

And a final closeup of the American alligator:

American alligator

See all 42 photos as a slideshow or overview

Monday, February 20, 2017

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

We loved the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. I'm surprised we hadn't made it here on previous visits. Some of the gardens were closed due to the torrential rain but there was still plenty to see.


Even the view through a rainy car window can be interesting :-)

through a rainy window

A small pond was inhabited by several turtles:


The creek was still strong and muddy from the recent rain:

rushing water

The garden even has a small grove of redwood trees. The wet bark made interesting patterns:

tree bark

We saw a few California poppies on the local hillsides but I suspect it's still early for them.

California poppy

I enjoyed just looking at the trees in the garden.

tree branches

Some of the trees had interesting lichens on them.


And there were some interesting flowers:


Even the agaves had some color:


If you're in the area and you like gardens, it's definitely worth a visit.

See all 25 photos as a slideshow or overview

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tucson Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of our favorite spots in Tucson. Although it does have some indoor exhibits, most of it is spread out over a large outdoor natural area. It is popular but because there are miles of trails people get spread out and it doesn't seem crowded. (They even have a small aquarium, which seems incongruous at a "desert" museum!)

Many of the animals are in large natural looking areas with no obvious bars or fences, like the coyotes.


A bit later they were sleeping in the sun. (The fence is just visible in the background.)


It wasn't the best time for bird watching, but I always enjoy the common cactus wrens.

Cactus wren

The hummingbirds in the aviary were a little easier to photograph.


People here are always surprised that we have desert-like areas in Canada with some of the same wildlife, like Burrowing Owls and Prairie Dogs.

Burrowing owls

Prairie dog


There were enough flowers out for the bees to be busy.

bee on flowers

bee on flowers


Of course, they have a lot more kinds of cactus here than we do in Canada.



And unlike most zoos, which only have crappy fast food, there is a nice restaurant where you can take a break from walking the trails.

See all 38 photos as a slideshow or overview

(Also photos from a previous visit)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Paragliding Marshall

Coming in to land at Marshall after my longest flight yet - over two hours in the air.

Marshall / Crestline is a hang gliding and paragliding site near San Bernardino, California (near Los Angeles). One of the pilots we flew with in El Paso had recommended it.

I don't think locals realize how awkward it can be for visiting pilots. At Marshall we were told to just go out to the hill and "someone" would give us a site briefing, and there would be lots of rides up to launch. The first day when we arrived at the landing zone (LZ) there was no one around. We'd been told conditions might be flyable around 2pm. A van load of hang glider pilots headed up but didn't fly. After hanging around for two hours we gave up and left. Later we heard that people had had great flights after we left. Argh! I was pretty frustrated.

The next day conditions looked dubious since there was bad weather arriving. At least this time an instructor and student were there. We managed to get a bit of a site briefing from the instructor, and after discussions about how we might get up to launch the student offered to go up with us and drive our car down (thanks Raoul!)

The instructor had suggested going up to the high Crestline launch but when we got there it seemed very windy. Sure enough when I got out my wind meter it showed over 20 mph, too strong for us. Luckily it was reasonable at the lower Marshall launch.

I managed to get up high over launch quite quickly. I'm always tempted to go somewhere when I get up, but not knowing the site or the conditions I stuck around. I did explore up and down the ridge a bit. Eventually I started to sink out. I ended up down low near the LZ struggling to stretch my flight out to an hour. Shelley had already landed by this point. I found a few small thermals that allowed me to stay up a bit longer, and then amazingly found a stronger one that I managed to ride back up above launch! In paragliding terms, that would be known as a "low save". It was a first for me.

I enjoyed flying around the top ridge for a while but it wasn't long before I ended up low again. And again I managed another low save and returned to the ridge.

After two hours, a record for me, I headed down, in a much better mood than the day before!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Portal, Arizona

From El Paso we headed west. We took Highway 9 along the Mexican border, the same quiet road we did our high tows from. We stopped in to visit some acquaintances that I met at their summer home in Clearwater, BC. They live in Portal, Arizona - a tiny town on the edge of the Chiricahua National Monument. I like the idea of heading somewhere warmer for the winter, but the usual snowbird destinations like Phoenix don't interest me at all. Somewhere like Portal, on the other hand, would be great. It doesn't hurt that it's one of the top spots for biodiversity and especially bird watching. If you visit, don't miss the Chiricahua Desert Museum in Rodeo, NM. Among other things they have an amazing collection of (live) snakes.

Knowing that it's still winter at home in Saskatchewan, it's a treat to see the willow catkins out already here, and being visited by the bees.

bee on willow catkins

Of course, I can't resist the water. It especially stands out surrounded by the desert.

plant under water


The area around Portal has great mountain scenery.

sunlit trees


I was taking a picture of the detail of this plant, when I noticed it had an interesting occupant.

plant detail

interesting insect

At first I thought it was a spider, but looking at the photographs I think it only has six legs (and long antennae) which makes it an insect instead.

We saw lots of hawks along the roads. Eventually I got out my long lens and kept the camera on my lap while Shelley was driving. When we spotted a hawk, we'd try to stop (if there was a shoulder). Half the time just stopping was enough to make the hawk fly away. But occasionally they would stay to be photographed.


I think we were seeing at least two different kinds of hawks. I haven't got around to identifying them.


See all 23 photos as a slideshow or overview