Monday, October 15, 2012

Joshua Tree National Park Day 2 part 1

Last night was fairly interesting (in terms of trying to sleep!). Laying on my back and seeing the entire night sky was a little disorientating. On the bright side there was nearly no light pollution so the milky way and most constellations were easily visible. I also saw at least 3 shooting stars (I had no idea they were so bright and large) while trying to fall asleep. If I had my tripod perhaps I would have attempted some night sky photography but I could not hold the camera still enough without it.
I was up at 6:30am, took a few landscape shots (as seen above) and checked the local wildlife. I was the only person awake.
The quails were up and about. Brewer's Blackbird was around too. There was some very extensive flocks flying high overhead.
Brewer's Blackbirds
Near the campsite I managed to locate a few Black-tailed Jackrabbits. They were very skittish but I did manage to get a couple of fairly decent pictures. I never saw them again.

I started hearing California Thrasher nearby. Their song is a jumbled load of mimicry and starling-like notes (compare Common Myna), much like a Mockingbird. It was a new bird for me so I pursued them and eventually got some shots of them. They were not especially tame but I eventually managed to approach them quite closely. Thrashers are usually very hard to find as they lurk deep in the bushes but early in the morning like this they perch on exposed branches and sing.

Other than the bill they aren't much to look at I guess.
Gambel's Quail females
The sun was out by 7am. More birds were to be found around this time. The Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows were around and singing. The best part was hearing and seeing Cactus Wren in the northern part of the campground. There seemed to be at least 2 resident birds here but they only appeared from 7-8am. At other times of the day they completely vanished. This concluded the morning.

The first stop of the day was the Twentynine Palms Visitor Center at Mara Oasis. It was close to development so it didn't appear very birdy but I was quite surprised. The light at the visitor center had attracted two moths the night before.

Geometrid moth--one of the so-called "pugs"

A noctuid or "Owlet" moth.
The Mara Oasis hike was a little trail that ran through the desert and around a vacant oasis. There is no longer any water visible, but the palm trees show that water did indeed exist at the location.

My first interesting find was this Western Pygmy-blue, the world's smallest butterfly. It didn't seem much smaller than an average blue butterfly at first glance but there was certainly a miniature feeling to it.

Phainopepla, that unique cardinal-waxwing lookalike, was quite numerous here. Apart from one female all the bird here were males. I am still attempting to obtain some good flight shots of this bird and I suppose you could say I partially suceeded.

Butterflies here included Chequered White and a Sleepy Orange. Otherwise there was not too much at the location as I had expected, however there was still a surprise left to see. There was a dark butterfly that flew low over the Honey Mesquite on the return trail -- a Great Purple Hairstreak.

Hairstreaks are notoriously hard to find due to elusive nature. This is one of the most conspicuous but by no means commonly seen.
It landed in the tree about 2 metres above ground -- so close I had to step back to get photos. And to think it stayed still when 21 people walked under it. This butterfly defies all qualities that hairstreaks typically show. Shame I couldn't get an upperside shot though when it took off. They are not as purple as the european Purple Hairstreak on the upperside but still pleasing to look at.

Ms. McCartney's father located this White-lined Hawk (Sphinx) Moth in the bush just outside the car. I really don't know how I managed to miss this. I tried to capture it so I could spread the wings for a full shot but it flew off instantly -- quite unusual for a hawk moth. They usually are very docile and sleepy in the day and it takes a lot to get them going.

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