Western Screech Owls

A few months ago I put up two screech owl nest boxes in my yard. Each box has a 3″ diameter hole which is within the size recommended to accommodate screech owls. Within a week an owl found both nest boxes and would randomly appear sitting in the entrance to one for a couple months. It wasn’t long before breeding season began and a second owl appeared. They paired up and chose the red nest box which was in a shady protected area in a false willow tree.

Female Western Screech Owl. Copyright: Greg Joder.

Both adults began hunting foray’s to feed hungry nestlings. It appeared that the male would catch prey and give it to the female who was, early on, incubating eggs, then later, feeding the nestlings.

A few days ago I decided to take a short video inside the nest box using a tiny borescope inspection camera. I wanted to see how old and how many owlets there were. I waited until after the female left the nest box in the early evening and was able to capture this video, confirming 3 downy nestlings:

Seeing the nestlings and their size made sense given how many prey items the adults were bringing into the nest box. The prey has varied from small moths and non-native geckos to a small passerine bird, a large Western blind snake (pencil-size diameter, maybe a foot long) which escaped, and a couple kangaroo rats. Here’s the video from last night’s action:

Black Bears

When I first started camera trapping, mountain lions were my ultimate goal. It took me a few years to learn to track them and identify the best spots to place a camera in order to catch them in action. When that happened I was ecstatic. By chance, I had no idea I’d also be capturing lot’s of black bear activity.

That said, here are a few clips of black bears in action as captured by my cameras so far this year:

Monarch Caterpillar Morphs into Chrysalis

In the last week or so I finally starting seeing Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed in my pollinator garden. I counted about twenty in different instar states. Since then all the leaves of the milkweed have been eaten and the caterpillars have slinked off to find a safe place to hang out and morph into a chrysalis and eventually a butterfly. I was lucky enough to find one of the caterpillars in the classic “J” pose, ready to morph. The first video is filmed at normal speed so you can watch in detail the moments leading up to the emergence of the chrysalis. The second video compresses about 1/2 hour into about a minute and a half. Which ever video you watch, I recommend watching in 4k, full screen.

Dry Monsoon

As many of us living in southern Arizona know, it’s been a comparatively dry monsoon.  Normally, in my neck of the desert, Bear Canyon creek is running from all the rain dropped in the Catalina Mountains by summer monsoon storms. As of today, it is dry as a bone from the trailhead crossing on up to the last remaining pools.

However, a storm system is moving our way from the south (remnants of Lorena) and the forecast is 70% rain Monday and 80% Monday night. I’m so hoping for a localized drenching where the washes flood and Bear Canyon creeks flows again. Here’s an aerial I took of upper Bear Canyon at Seven Cataracts after winter rains earlier this year:

Camera Trapping

Camera traps are one of the best ways to observe wildlife behavior that you’d likely not see because it’s either dark out or your presence would alter the animals behavior. I bought my first camera trap around 2005 and was instantly addicted. I had no idea there were such shenanigans happening when I wasn’t around.

Mountain lion in the Sonoran Desert. Copyright: Greg Joder.

Now, in 2019, I have about 10 personal cameras set up in the desert around my home town, Tucson, including my backyard. I also have another 10 cameras set up at Audubon’s Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch near Elgin, Arizona. We use these cameras for long-term wildlife monitoring, recording which animals and how often pass through the research ranch.

In this post I’d like to share some backyard wildlife action my cameras recently captured.

A bobcat:

A coopers hawk:

A bat catching a sphinx moth at a cactus flower:

And a cute little western screech owl:

Queen Butterfly Metamorphosis

The Queen and Monarch butterfly season in my pollinator garden was pretty subdued this summer. Not sure if it was the dismal monsoon season with very little rain or other factors. I did manage to catch a couple stages of metamorphosis of a queen butterfly.

First, watch a queen caterpillar turn into a chrysalis:

And the next step is the fully developed butterfly emerging from its chrysalis:

Hummingbird Nest in the Patio

For the third year and second time this summer a Broad-billed Hummingbird raised a new batch of hummingbirds in a re-used nest in my patio. Both the first clutch and the second (seen below) from this summer had two eggs, but only one from each clutch was viable and successfully fledged.

Female Broad-billed Hummingbird. Copyright: Greg Joder.

Here’s a photo of the two nestlings from last summer’s clutch:

A female Broad-billed hummingbird feeding her two nestlings. Copyright: Greg Joder.

Here’s a male Broad-billed hummingbird I photographed at one of my feeders, fully displaying his sexual dimorphism.

Male Broad-billed hummingbird at a feeder in Tucson, Arizona. Copyright: Greg Joder.

Finally, here’s a video of the female feeding her one nestling from the last clutch of this summer:

Hello again, it’s been a while (Topic: Ocean Plastics)

Dear old blog, I’m back. I’ve missed you! A lot has been going on since I last posted. Well, maybe not a lot, but at least some interesting things came and went since January. For this post I’ll start with the most notable and catch up with other tidbits in other entries.

This Summer Ocean Voyages Institute asked me to be their primary drone operator for their ghost net clean-up voyage in the North Pacific Gyre, also commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The mission took place aboard the Sailing Vessel Kwai. Please watch the video at the end of this post for a better visual description of the project and check out this link, Ocean Plastics for more technical details.

The S/V Kwai in Honolulu before departure. Photo by Greg Joder for Ocean Voyages Institute.

The Kwai is a motor sailor, which makes it perfect for such a project. Her sails would allow us to use much less fuel than a traditional diesel powered vessel thereby lessening our carbon footprint. The ghost net mission lasted 25 days and approximately 2800 nautical miles during which time we collected nearly 40 tons of ghost nets, plastics and other marine debris.

The S/V Kwai under sail. Photo by Greg Joder for Ocean Voyages Institute.

Contrary to popular belief, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not an actual “island” of plastics spinning in the middle of the gyre. The marine debris is widely dispersed within the gyre and can be affected by wind, current and localized storms. As we sailed through the gyre we would pass through areas where plastic bits and pieces passed by every few seconds. We would also find the large entangled masses of lines, nets and other debris which the waves had turned into floating conglomerates. The largest mass we pulled out weighed around 5 tons. We also traveled many miles without seeing any marine debris.

Crew of the S/V Kwai attach lines to a large ghost net bundle in order to haul it aboard. Photo by Greg Joder for Ocean Voyages Institute.

There were three primary ways in which we found marine debris. The first was locating trackers that were already attached to the nets. How did they get there? Ocean Voyages Institute (OVI) gave custom satellite trackers to various ships that were going to travel through the gyre with instructions to attach the trackers to any large masses of ghost nets. We tracked down and found around 18 of these. Since marine debris tends to congregate in currents, we would then send up the drones to search for more debris in the area, guiding the ship to other masses of debris. But, in all honesty, the crew of the Kwai were just as good if not better at times, of spotting debris while searching the sea from the crows nest.

Here is the video of the mission created by Ocean Voyages Institute:

Here is a fun aerial video I made of the Kwai under sail:

Crazy Birds

While out and about in Costa Rica I was able to spy some pretty interesting birds. The distinguishing features for my favorites are their plumage colors and unique tail feathers. My favorite sighting was a quetzal in the family Trogonidae. I spotted the bird above us, but it was my hiking partner who was able to capture the better image of the bird before it flew off. Diego said this was one of only a handful of sightings in several years in that location.

A male quetzal. Copyright: Diego Lobo.

The next bird with beautiful plumage and unique tail feathers is a motmot. I think this one is a Blue-crowned motmot. Look at those tail feathers!

Blue-crowned motmot. Family ‎Momotidae. Copyright: Greg Joder.

The last fascinating bird I spotted was near my room. This one is in the family Cuculidae and is a squirrel cuckoo. As you can see, its distinguishing feature are its extra-long tail feathers with notable white tips.

Squirrel cuckoo (Piaya cayana). Copyright: Greg Joder.

 

 

serenity now

There’s a peacefulness here, though its purposeful, intentional on my part,  finding beauty in the simple things. Every morning I wake to the call of a Rufous-tailed hummingbird outside the bungalow and melodious songs of distant cryptic birds. There are photogenic spiders to admire and unique plants to photograph. I left my DSLR at home so all the photos are from my cell phone or my Lumix point-and-shoot camera. Not the best, but fun.

Green vine cascade. Copyright: Greg Joder. Click on photo for more flora images.
Horned-butt spider. Copyright: Greg Joder. Click on image for more bug photos.
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Copyright: Greg Joder. Click on image for more bird photos.