Readers’ wildlife photos

April 29, 2023 • 8:15 am

I’m resuming this feature, but I don’t have a big backlog of photos, so please send your good ones in.

Today we have some desert plants and animals from ecologist Susan Harrison. Her captions are indented, and click on the pictures to enlarge them (twice if you want them really big):

Pink Flowers, Yellow Birds, and Other Desert Wonders

California’s epic wet winter of 2023 brought wildflower displays to some of its southern deserts, including the marvelous Anza-Borrego State Park and its surroundings. On a late March visit, the park seemed especially rich in pink flowers and yellow-to-orange birds, as reflected in the photos below.  The birds shown here are mostly spring arrivals, but the winter residents seen during my January 2021 visit were present as well – Verdins, Phainopeplas, California Thrashers and others.

Turbulent clouds lay ahead as we approached the park, possibly related to the tornadoes in Southern California two days later:

Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa) carpeted the desert floor, while rain and snow fell frequently in the mountains west of the desert:

Sand Verbena closeup:

Bigelow’s Monkeyflower (Mimulus bigelovii) added splotches of maroon:

Desert Calico (Loeseliastrum matthewsi) was palely exquisite:

Hooded Orioles (Icterus cucullatus) were abundant, feeding on the nectar of Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) and other shrubs:

Bullock’s Orioles (Icterus bullocki) mingled with their hooded cousins:

Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum), an uncommon desert dweller, was my quest-bird on this trip; here is my first ever (a.k.a. “lifer”), building his nest in the skirts of a Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera):

Lawrence’s Goldfinch (Spinus lawrencei) is a southern coastal and desert bird, and this pair gathering nest material were only the second and third ones I’ve seen:

Orange-Crowned Warblers (Leiothlypis celata) were feeding even more plentifully than Hooded Orioles on flowers of Chuparosa (Justicia californica) and other shrubs:

Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) were singing by a desert spring, and this one seemed to be choosing a shrub to match his outfit (Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa):

Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) were passing through en route from Mexico to Oregon and beyond:

Moving on from orange and yellow birds to less colorful ones, and – perhaps not coincidentally* – from migratory to resident species, here’s a Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) singing his unmelodious song:

Black-Tailed Gnatcatchers (Polioptila melanura) sang only slightly more tunefully than Cactus Wrens:

Long-Eared Owls (Asio otus) residing in Tamarisk Campground are a major attraction for Anza-Borrego birdwatchers, and while I didn’t see them this time, one was observed in Davis a few weeks earlier:


* Is bright male coloration more common in migratory songbirds than non-migratory ones?   On a quick bit of post-trip internet searching, I learned that this is a well-known pattern, likely related to the shorter breeding seasons and more intense sexual selection experienced by migrants.

9 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Lovely sand verbenas. Here in the eastern US we are plagued with invasive plants. Has the desert had any problems with invasives?

      1. Ugh – sorry to hear that there’s a desert version of Garlic Mustard, which I battle every spring. I have a woodlot that was heavily infested, that I was making fairly good progress on, but lately a guy moved in who has chickens that free-range into it, and FWIW the GM has virtually vanished!

  2. Thanks for sharing your beautiful sights with us, Susan. Zooming in on each photo reveals even more surprises, such as the thorny armour of the Desert Calico plant!

  3. It’s amazing how abundant water can fundamentally change the landscape and bring to life an otherwise drab environment. I read that Yosemite is closing due to flood waters. California weather- never a dull moment nowadays.

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