Readers’ wildlife photos

April 22, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from reader Teresa Vuoso, who sent a batch of pictures from Arizona. Teresa’s captions and narrative are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

In late February, my father, brother, and I met in southeastern Arizona to visit the Chiricahua National Monument and Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.  The weather was unusually cold, and a light snow actually closed the road the road to the top of Chiricahuan. Still, beauty was in abundance.  My brother, Mark McMillen, took some of these pictures and they are included with his consent.  I have no background in photography, biology or any other “ology”.  I am just a fan of Dr. Coyne since hearing him speak about Darwin on a cruise to Antarctica and who wants to help keep the readers’ wildlife photos coming.

JAC:  Yes, please follow Teresa’s lead and send in those photos!

Big Balanced Rock at Chiricahua National Monument.  It is 22′ in diameter, 25′ tall, and weighs about 1,000 tons.  Mark and I hiked almost 8 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1396′.  We got to Big Balanced Rock just in time to watch a storm roll in complete with sleet, wind, and rain. Got drenched walking back down, but would do it again:

Our first sighting of Big BalancedRock:

We hiked a trail along huge rock formations such as these:

A portion of the trail:

On the way to Faraway Ranch (a dude ranch established in 1917), we saw these cute raccoon-like critters, Coatimundi/Coati (Nasua narica).  They are native to South America, Mexico, and the southwest US.

Curious Coati trotted along with their bushy tails held high and then would stop to assess us:


We visited Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area on two occasions.  The first was terribly cold and windy.  While there we saw thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, American Coots, and Mallards.

Whitewater Draw is a very scenic, marshy area surrounded by mountains.

Whitewater Draw is the winter home of thousands of birds including flocks of Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) .  They form flocks of more than 10,000 as they fly down from northern Canada every year at altitudes averaging 6,000-7,000 feet (Photo by Mark McMillen):

Here you can see the red skin on the crown of adults (Photo credit Mark McMillen):

We were fortunate enough to watch several flocks descend, circling from very high altitudes before landing. (Photo by Mark McMillen):

These birds fly out in the morning to forage in other fields and marshes before returning in the afternoon.  (Photo credit Mark McMillen):

American Coot (Fulica americana):

Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens):

It’s a small world. Two groups of birdwatchers from Jamaica Bay, NYC (a favorite spot of mine) happened upon each other by sheer coincidence.  I mentioned I was from New York also, whereupon I heard someone, whom I presume was not a New Yorker, say, “You can’t swing a dead bird without hitting a New Yorker.”  🙂:

I’m including this because I found it unique.  A couple traveling from Switzerland brought their own camper.

17 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Thanks for an interesting and eclectic selection of pictures. Your comment has prompted me to go back look at what pictures I have, to compile a future entry. Any other readers up for the challenge?

  2. I am curious. Can someone comment on how these rock formations came about? Was this part of a shallow inland salt sea from millions of years ago or was that farther north? I agree this view was well worth the rugged and demanding hike! Thanks for bringing it to us.

    1. The color of the formations make them look like sandstone, doesn’t it? These rocks are not sedimentary, they’re volcanic. Not all volcanic materials are black, it depends on their mineral composition. This volcanic rock contains a lot of silica. Check out rhyolite on Wikipedia . Also the National Park Service webpage for Chiricahua National Monument.

    2. I don’t know the geology of this area, and just from the pictures I’d have thought “sandstone” myself. I tried blowing up the picture with my prototype “Blade Runner picture enhancer”, but the laws of physics remain unchanged.
      Regardless – volcanic or sedimentary, the rocks are clearly stratified – laid down in more or less irregular sheets at more or less irregular intervals, and some of those layers have differing physical strength, or chemical susceptibility to weathering. Those small intrinsic differences are being picked out by the weather – everything from the freeze-thaw that comes with cycling the weather around freezing point (as the mention of sleet and snow suggests is routine here). In warmer areas, the difference between sunshine and night produces a small temperature difference, which itself will cause crystals of different compositions to move slightly against each other. Eventually, these forces, and the more patent forces of fungal hyphae and plant roots penetrating between the grains works the softer beds into loose dust and mud – the first step of soil formation.
      Clearly (to my eye), the base of BigBalancedRock is a relatively weak bed (if between sandstones, maybe a mud rock bed ; if volcanics, maybe a “palaeosol” of soil formed by weathering of the lava (tuff, whatever) between major eruptions.
      There was a thread here not long ago on a recent eruption on Hawaii – now that those lavas have cooled, they’ll already be acquiring a weatherd rind and building up a soil, in just a few years. The notorious “rich soils” of volcanic areas that attract people into the danger zones imply in themselves fairly rapid weathering, to release the minerals needed for a “rich” soil.
      Regardless of the nature of the rocks, those small strength differences are being picked out by weathering and the weaker beds are leading to undermining of the BigBalancedRock and it’s brethren.
      There’s an interesting (to me) wrinkle on such rocks which I discovered fairly recently – they form natural, long term seismometers.
      Very clearly, this is in an unstable equilibrium (I’d be surprised if this one didn’t appear in a physics or engineering text book as an example of an unstable equilibrium. Even casual inspection leads to the question “how hard would I have to push …? ” – it’s a perfectly natural response. (See the mountaineering literature on “trundling” for examples passim, starting with Whympers’ infamous episode on the Matterhorn, before the rope broke. But a few years ago people started to look at these questions numerically. When an earthquake shakes an area, it accelerates the ground in various directions both laterally and vertically. Those ground accelerations must be transmitted to the bulk of the rock by forces passing through the narrow “pedestal”, and with a modest amount of measurement of the balanced rock, the pedestal (be careful reaching under there!) and the strength of the closest lateral pieces of the weak bed which forms the pedestal, you can make reasonably accurate estimates of the force that would be needed to make one side of the pedestal crumble … and the thing collapses pretty rapidly once it starts to move. (There are very few natural materials that “work harden” ; off hand, I can’t think of any examples.)
      Now, the boulder hasn’t collapsed – clearly – so we can infer reasonably accurately that the boulder hasn’t been exposed to lateral forces greater than [a certain amount] while it has had it’s present dimensions. And that (indirectly) puts a maximum strength on any earthquakes that have occurred in that area, since the boulder became “balanced”.
      From the pictures – not a good basis, I know – I don’t think that boulder would survive a lateral acceleration of more than about 0.1m/s/s (so about 0.01g). That’s about a V on the I-XII earthquake intensity scale (there are various other scales – this isn’t high precision work), which you’d get in the surface near vicinity of a 4-5 moment magnitude earthquake. Or a stronger earthquake further away. The “ground shaking intensity map” at [Wiki : Seismic Intensity Scales : Ground Shaking, USA, IL, 1968 ] should suggest that distance-from-focus is far from the only factor involved.
      It’s not really high precision work, but for recently settled areas (e.g., the whole of the US SW, in terms of documentary records is “recently settled”) it can be one of the few quantifiable indicators of areas likelihood of suffering significant ground shaking.
      An obvious complication is that the pedestal weathers away over time, and the rate of weathering of rocks is a notoriously imprecise subject, and changing the size of the pedestal is certainly going to make the boulder more susceptible to toppling. But, if that’s the only evidence you’ve got … well, you try to wring as much data – with error bars – as you can from what you’ve got.

      Sorry – Roolz, monopolising.
      But I do find the subject fascinating. As I said at a job interview last week, when you learn about geology you very literally look at the landscape in a different way.

      1. Thank you gravel for this excellent and informative write-up. Especially reminding me about soil formation as I tend to forget that here in Tidewater Virginia, everything under my feet down to the basement rock is eroded, ancient Appalachian Mountain rock that has washed toward the Atlantic Ocean.

  3. Wonderful photos and a great description of your adventure. There is lot to see in Arizona. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I had a Yorkshire diving buddy and colleague who had a very similar vehicle … back in the mid-90s. I think his was a custom-build, but it may have been modelled on this. Or maybe they used a similar base chassis – there probably aren’t that many 4×4 flat bed chassis to choose from.
      The colour looks strategically chosen to mask the amount of rust.

  4. What a wonderful adventure you had, Susan. Thanks to you and your brother, Mark, for sharing these great sightings. I love the graceful way the cranes soar and come in to land.

  5. Terrific photos—I loved seeing the coatimundis. Apparently in some areas they’re called “snookum bears”!

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