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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Another Desert Diversion: Coyote Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert State Park

March 25 and 26, 2013: For many years I've been curious about what lies about 5 miles up Coyote Canyon and beyond, north of Borrego Springs. I had read and heard that there was a stream with water in it, and natural springs, but the descriptions of the road conditions with the big, jagged rocks, and all together too much sand scared me...until we got the new truck. So Gary and I braved the road and drove up 5.6 miles (to the REALLY intimidating steep rocky portion of the road, which still is too much for us, at least at the moment). But our visit to the lower portion of Lower Willows was amazingly rewarding, with Coyote Creek wet and flowing nicely, luxuriously leafed-out and flowering mesquite, and rich willow tree habitat resounding to the sounds of the Least Bell's Vireo, as well as many other bird species. Brittlebush, Chuparosa, Desert Lavender, Indigo Bush, Ocotillo and other desert species were also in bloom, despite the dry conditions overall. At night, the frogs filled the air with their mating calls -- one of my favorite sounds in nature!

This is just the lower end of the green strip, which was much richer to the north (beyond our reach without hiking in until we muster up courage to tackle the rocky road). A few native palm trees were visible in the sea of green willows beyond this point.

End of the line for what looks like a Mule Deer.

White-winged Dove in Ocotillo.

A RACCOON WAS HERE! Bobcat, deer (or Desert Bighorn Sheep) and coyote tracks were also abundant in the dried mud.

What I realized was a Chuckwalla, Sauromalus ater (a small individual) after looking at the photos later at home. Two were lounging on the rocks along the steeper section of rocky road.

Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis), in the dappled sunlight.

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana). There were quite a lot of these in the creek bed area.

A Bombyliid (bee fly) visiting Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).

Indigo Bush (a macro -- these are very small flowers).

Lush mesquite in flower. The other mesquites further from water have not even leafed out yet.

Mystery red blister beetle. To be determined. In Nemognathinae.

Lytta auriculata pair.

Trichodes ornatus (a checkered beetle).

Eurybunus sp., a harvestman. It was out after dark on the sand. 

Looks like Tomarus gibbosus

A small (and unhappy) solifuge which was under the tent when we took it down in the morning.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Diversion to Indian Gorge, Anza Borrego State Park

We took a little trip to the local desert for an overnight stay in Indian Gorge, one of the more remote little canyons in the southern region of the park. It was around 97 degrees F when we arrived in the late afternoon on Friday, and quickly reached that temperature again on Saturday, after a pleasant morning.

This locale has canyons and side canyons, and a great deal of pale, whitish granite scattered all around.


An Ocotillo (with its cholla friend) clinging to the rocky canyon wall.

Last light in Torote Canyon, just off Indian Gorge.

Many desert bird species were seen and/or heard, including Sage Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Rock Wren, Black-throated Sparrow, Verdin, White-winged Dove, Bullock's Oriole, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher...and a special view of a Great Horned Owl near dusk in Torote Canyon, just off Indian Gorge. It flew low several hundred yards, and then perched for a few minutes on a rock on the boulder-strewn hillside. It was barely photographable, but I tried anyway.


Not my best owl photo, but ALMOST recognizable, even down to the "ears".

Phainopeplas were also very common, in pairs. At least one nest was observed. Many Desert Mistletoe berries were present in the gorge, and masses of berries that looked either regurgitated (or passed through the bird's GI tract) were sticking to branches here and there. Apparently this is the typical mode of dispersal of Desert Mistletoe seeds, as Phainopeplas eat great quantities of them.


Desert Mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum) berries.

Torote Canyon does have a lot of Elephant Trees (AKA Torotes) scattered on its slopes, some just "babies".


Elephant Tree at dusk (Torote Canyon) .

An Elephant Tree with its barrel cactus companion.

Overall, flowering was fairly minimal compared to wet springs, but Desert Lavender, Chuparosa, Ocotillo, several cactus species and a variety of tiny flowering species were putting on a modest show. Cooler temps should make their lives easier in the next few days.