Okay, I’ll say it. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny as a kid and loved the cartoons with the roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) and that bumbling Wile E. Coyote who tried endlessly to capture that speedy bird. I must say that I admired the coyote. He was a persistent fellow and never let failure deter him.
Up until last year, I had never observed a roadrunner and it was different than I expected (too many cartoons). It is in the cuckoo family living in open arid habitats in northern Mexico and in the southwestern United States.
The roadrunner is capable of flight but prefers the ground. We were able to photograph it in a tree which is apparently not common. As you can see, all of our ground pictures are still shots. I did not anticipate the speed of this bird, which can reach speeds of 30 km/h (20 mph). Wildlife encounters are often brief. I had my shutter speed at 1/200 of a second which proved much to slow for a speedster like a roadrunner.
The roadrunner nests in cactus or a thick shrub not far off the ground and will lay 3-5 eggs. These eggs will hatch in about 20 days and the chicks will be capable of running in another 18 days.
Because it lives in an arid environment the diet includes a wide variety of desert organisms including snakes, lizards, scorpions, spiders, and insects. An adult bird is capable of killing rodents and small birds. It can be seen holding larger prey in its bill and smashing it into the ground repeatedly until its victim dies.
Another freshwater turtle we found in the Las Vegas wetlands was the Red-Eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans). This turtle is not native to this area. It is bought as a pet but as with many pet owners, they irresponsibly release it into the wild when they don’t want it anymore. We counted as many as 15 turtles in this pond. The danger is that invasive species may out-compete native turtle species causing a decline or eradication of the native Spiny Softshell turtle.
When water temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celcius (50F) turtles are generally not active but brumate. Brumate is a form of hibernation. They will sleep on the bottom of the pond, awaken, swim to the surface, possibly drink water and then proceed back to the bottom. The process repeats itself periodically. During brumation, they do not eat.
Las Vegas had a cold spell with temperatures around freezing at night. There was some snow which is unusual here. This is why we were surprised to see these turtles sunning themselves on the rocks in the early morning. These turtles should not have been as active as they were considering the weather conditions.
Red-Eared Slider turtles can live for 20-30 years. The shell (carapace) averages between 15cm (6 inches) and 30cm (12 inches) in length. Females generally are larger than the males. A large female can lay up to 30 eggs and may lay up to 5 times (clutches) in a year.
It is interesting how your perspective for photography changes with subsequent trips to a game park. Our first trip in 2017 to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania was so overwhelming with all the animal life that our cameras never stopped shooting and we took over 6,000 photographs. In 2018, we took half that number and began to focus more on interesting situations. This lion cub entertained us for a long time.
There are many prides of lions scattered throughout the Serengeti. We were traveling in a more remote area of the park when we came across a very small pride. It was unusual in that there were two males (brothers) instead of one, just two females and only a single cub.
There are advantages to having two males as the head of the pride. If another male attempts to challenge the pride to become the dominant male then he would have to fight two males instead of one. Therefore, his chance of being successful would be severely reduced. However, according to our guide, only one male will mate with the females and the other brother is subordinate.
It is not uncommon for a new male or males, in this case, to kill cubs that they have not fathered. This causes the female to come back in heat and therefore he can mate with her. This female had only one cub. We assume that it was his offspring because why kill some cubs but leave one. Therefore, this female either had only one cub or some tragedy occurred that killed the other cubs if she had given birth to a few babies.
Having no brothers or sisters to play with meant that this little cub easily got bored and continuously harassed its mother. She was attempting to sleep but on numerous occasions when it would look to play with her she would growl at the pesky little cub. It would role in the grass, chew on sticks and feed. All this was very entertaining.
Our goal was to photograph the sunrise at Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas. We had photographed the canyon during the day just after a rare snowfall. The rocks in this canyon are multicolored and we thought it might make for some nice sunrise pictures. A coyote crossed our path as we drove in the night to reach our destination. As the sun began to rise Tricia decided to use her drone to capture a different perspective of a beautiful sunrise.
As she continued with the drone I decided to hike into the interesting red sandstone rock formations. As daylight was beginning to wake the world, I came across a male mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides). What a colorful bird! Unfortunately, the light levels were low first thing in the morning so I had to increase my ISO substantially in order to capture him. Using a high ISO allows you to shoot in lower light conditions but makes the pictures more grainy (not as sharp). Considering the conditions, I was happy with the end result.
The pictures directly above and below have the red sandstone formations as a background and hence the red colored background. The mountain bluebird in the picture below is sitting next to desert mistletoe (the red plant). Mistletoe is a leafless parasitic plant that grows on other vegetation like desert trees and shrubs. It obtains some of its some of its nutrients from the plant it has embedded into.
This mountain bluebird was in its’ winter range in February. It eats insects and berries. During breeding season it will lay 5-6 eggs in a natural cavity. They line this hole with grass and the young hatch in about 14 days. The naked birds grow rapidly and then leave the nest approximately 21 days. The mountain bluebird is the state bird of Nevada.
Adding birds to our photography adds so many new subjects to what we can photograph when we travel to a new area. Along with the common gallinule, we got some pictures of the American coot (Fulica americana).
They make their home in marshes and wetlands. These water birds are not ducks and do not have webbed feet. They have extremely odd looking feet and their toes fold back enabling them to walk on land. Their feet look out of proportion to the rest of their body. However, they are commonly observed with ducks.
The American coot is common although this was our first encounter with this bird. The male and female are similar in appearance, unlike ducks where the male generally has brilliant plumage.
To find food it can walk on land, consume aquatic vegetation while swimming, and is also capable of diving. Consequently, it has a varied diet which includes snails and fish. Nests are made from marsh vegetation and the female will produce about 8-10 eggs. Incubation is shared by both parents and the eggs hatch about 21 days later.
We arrived at this dry riverbed at just the right time to see this small herd of elephants. The rains were late and had not arrived in the Serengeti yet. After a few minutes, it became apparent why they were here. In the photo below you will notice a small hole in the sand about the width of their foot. Inside there is water.
We assume that the elephants have dug this hole themselves into the dry riverbed. The Serengeti can be a tough place to live in and animals must be innovative to survive. The adults will pass these skills onto the young calves.
Elephants have a wonderful group dynamic. They work collectively for the survival of the herd. As large as they are they are amazing coordinated and use their feet and trunks to perform tasks that you would think they would be incapable of. However, if you are a young calf, drinking all that water can be exhausting and sometimes you just need to get off your feet.
Fortunately, we were able to spend about 20 minutes with this herd before they had all drank from the water hole and began moving on. This group of seven consisted of 2 calves, juveniles (male and female) and adults. We never get tired of seeing and photographing elephants.
We were looking for the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera), a native species, in the rivers around Las Vegas. Got some tips from a few local people on where we might find them and after 3 days of searching, we found this unusual turtle. Not sure we would find them as the temperatures had been near freezing which is often when turtles brumate (a type of hibernation for reptiles).
The turtle has an unusual tube-like protruding nose which makes it different from any other turtle we have photographed. It has a thin body and the shell (carapace) is somewhat flexible. Near the head, on the edge of the shell, there are some small spines and hence the name spiny softshell turtle.
We discovered them on some rocks on the far side of a fast-moving river. They were larger than we anticipated. The shell averages 40 cm (15 inches) but can be much larger, especially in females. Apparently, they can live for about 50 years.
At about 10 years of age, these turtles will begin to mate. This occurs mid to late spring as the temperatures warm. On average, the female deposits about 20 eggs on the sunny banks of the river generally in a sandy area or a gravel bed.
Like many turtles, they consume a wide variety of food. Insects and various types of vegetation make up a large portion of their diet as well as fish. They will often bury themselves in the river bottom and wait for a fish to pass by and then ambush their prey.