Friday

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

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While walking in a wash along Lovell Canyon Road on 02/28/2011 with the rock hounds from the Heritage Park Senior Facility, we had a face to face encounter with a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.  I was walking just a few feet behind one of the ladies in our group when all of a sudden she turned around and started running by me screaming “rattlesnake”. After advancing a few steps forward, the loud buzzing sound of his rattler, coupled with a high rising and very threatening coil was an ample warning not to get any closer. By the time I got my camera focused on him, he had uncoiled, gotten down off the rock and started slithering in my direction, heading for the cover of a large bush. I estimated that he was about 3-1/2 feet in length.

Description: The Western Diamondback is the largest species of rattlesnake common to the Southwest United States. Sizes range from about 10 inches at birth to around 60 inches as an adult. From the sheer standpoint of size it ranks as one of the world's largest and most dangerous snakes; partly because of its wide distribution, this snake accounts for more serious and fatal snake bites than any other North American reptile. It has a plump body, a short tail, and a broad, triangular head that is very distinct from the body. It can be yellowish gray, pale blue, or pinkish brown and has dark diamond shape marks down its back. The diamondback has tubular fangs with which it injects its prey. It sometimes leaves its fangs within its prey however they are replaced 2-4 times a year by a reserve set. Because it is a ‘pit viper’, it  has a pit organ between its nostrils and its eyes. These organs detect temperature differences between the interior temperature of the snake and the ambient temperature. There is also a rattle at the end of its tail. This rattle is made up of the last scale that is left when it molts. With each molt, it gains a new layer to its rattle. At the same time, older layers fall off.


The Western Diamondback rattlesnake's habitat is varied, but the most likely areas where they can be found are among cactus, mesquite, in and about rocky terrain, limestone outcrops, thick brush and throughout dry, rocky, shrub covered terrain where they can conceal themselves in cracks in the rocks and in holes in the ground. The western diamondback can climb small trees and is an accomplished swimmer. They can be found in central and western Texas, through southern New Mexico and Arizona, southern Nevada and into southern California. The diamondback primarily feeds on small rodents, rabbits, birds, and almost anything alive that can be swallowed whole. It eats every two to three weeks and swallows its food whole. The food is digested as it passes through the body. Its annual water consumption is about its body weight.

Mating of the Western diamondback rattlesnake occurs in the spring after they hibernate. After a gestation period of about 167 days they can give birth to anywhere from 10 to 20 young. After only a few hours they leave the mother in search of food on their own, resulting in a very high mortality rate.

Monday

Chalcedon Checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona)

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Picture Notes: This picture was taken on 04/21/2011 off of the Late Night Trail in Cottonwood Valley inside Red Rock Canyon, NV. Trying to identify butterflies is like finding a needle in a hay stack. There are literally thousands of different species and varieties. As best I can determine this is a Chalcedon Checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona), or some variation thereof. Unfortunately, I had left my tripod behind on the hike, else I might have been able to obtain a sharper picture. Being relatively new at this photography thing, I find that it is quite difficult at best to get a well focused hand-held shot while one of the critters is flying from bush to bush.

Description: The Chalcedon Checkerspot is extremely variable with a narrow forewing. The upper side is black to dark orange-brown, sometimes with with yellow, red, or white spots; the underside with yellow and orange-red bands. (The picture on the right is of the same butterfly and shows the the yellow and white bands on the underside.) Males perch or patrol all day for females. Eggs are laid in large groups on underside of leaves of host plants. Their wingspan is between 1 1/4 - 2 1/4 inches. Their habitat is sagebrush flats, chaparral, desert hills, high prairie and open forest areas from the pacific coast through California and Arizona to Baja California and Mexico; east to Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico. It was interesting to read that one of the most popular hosts for caterpillars is the Indian paintbrush.

Sunday

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja angustifolia)

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Picture Notes: On 04/21/2011 I was hiking the Old Spanish Trail in Cottonwood Valley with the rock hounds from the Henderson Heritage Park Senior Facility. These paintbrushes were abundantly scattered along the sides of the trail and throughout the desert floor. Though these were the two largest clumps I observed, most appeared to be young sprouting's with only 3-4 stalks. Their bright color certainly adds a special beauty to a normally dull desert floor.

Description: Castilleja angustifolia is a species of wildflower most commonly called desert Indian paintbrush or the northwestern paintbrush. It is an herbaceous perennial native to the desert scrub and woodlands of western North America. This Indian paintbrush is usually less than 18 inches height and has bristly gray-green to purple-red herbage. It stands in a clump of erect stems, each topped with a cluster of somewhat tubular bright red flowers; though they can sometimes be kind of orange-red, tinted with purple, and usually fuzzy with a thin coat of white hairs (click on below right picture). The inch long capsule fruits contain honeycomb-patterned seeds. This plant can be red orange or yellow in color.

Though the flowers of Indian paintbrush are edible and sweet, the roots or green parts can very toxic if consumed. The flowers of the Indian paintbrush have similar health benefits to consuming garlic when eaten in small amounts and in moderation. The Ojibwe, or Chippewa, used a hairwash made from Indian Paintbrush to make their hair glossy and full bodied.  Nevada Indian tribes used the plant to treat sexually-transmitted diseases and to enhance the immune system.

Thursday

Checker Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tessellata)

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I found these somewhat dainty flowers on 04/21/2011 on a hike to the Mt. Potosi area, west of Las Vegas, Nevada. Because it was still fairly early in the morning and it was just barely starting to get some sun, its blossoms were not fully extended.
Description:Checker Fiddleneck (Amsinckia Tessellata) or sometimes called Devil’s Lettuce, is an erect, bristly annual plant can be from 8-24 inches in height. Its stiff leaf hairs have bulbous bases. Its five-parted, 1/3-2/3 inch long flowers are generally yellow (sometimes orange) and sit atop a 2-5 inch coiled stem. the petals of the flower are less and a 1/4 inch wide and the flower tubes are cylindrical. The lobes have white hairs on the margins. It grows in dry sandy or gravelly places up to  6000 feet around creosote bush, sagebrush scrub and joshua tree woodlands. It is most common throughout the Mojave and Sonoran Desert. Its flowering season is from March to May.
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Sunday

Ansel Adams Wannabe Series – B&W Photo No. 03

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I encountered this beautiful old ponderosa pine on 03/07/2011 while hiking along the Robber’s Roost Trail off NV State Road 158, also known as Deer Creek Road. Though it certainly appears dead, it was still firmly rooted in the ground stretching towards the heavens – holding on for dear life.


P1040500When I took the shot, I was trying to capture a silhouette of its beautiful branches against noontime sky. Unfortunately, the sky was so bright that the tree and branches ended up becoming quite dark and lacking desired detail. However, after ‘punching’ up some of the color channels, converting the shot to a black and white and increasing brightness and sharpness, I was able to bring out more of the detail and texture in its bark and barren branches, yet at the same time providing a nice silhouette.

Saturday

Ansel Adams Wannabe Series – B&W Photo No. 02

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This picture was taken on our first trip to Zion National Park on 08/20/2008. It is but one of a dozen beautiful views that were available from the switchbacks along UT-Route 9 that lead up to the tunnel near the top of  the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Ansel Adams, best known for his black-and-white photographs of the Yosemite National Park, is one of my all-time favorite photographers. Following in his tradition, I sometimes find myself trying  to view what a shot will look like in B&W, even before taking the picture. In many photographs, color distracts from the overall effect of the picture; whereas a black and white photo allows one to focus solely on key forms and details that are present within the image. Changing it to black and white tones down the distractions and makes the flowing shapes much more noticeable.

Smoke Signals: The use of smoke signals is one of the oldest forms of communication in recorded history going as far back as the Chinese when soldiers stationed along the Great Wall would alert each other of impending enemy attack by signaling from tower to tower. In this way, they were able to transmit a message as far away as 500 miles in just a few hours. The North American Indians also communicated via smoke signal; a kind of Indian telegraphy. Each tribe had their own signaling system and understanding. For the most part the signals or code was pre-arranged between the sender and the receiver. There was no universal code for shapes, frequency or multiples of puffs. A signaler started a fire on an elevation typically using damp grass, which would cause a column of smoke to rise. The grass would be taken off as it dried and another bundle would be placed on the fire. Smoke could be made to curl in spirals, ascend in puffs or circles, even parallel lines. There were a few overall accepted meanings such as three puffs in rapid succession usually indicated danger. Reputedly the location of the smoke along the incline conveyed a meaning. If it came from half way up the hill, this would signify all was well, but from the top of the hill it would signify danger.

E-IMG_1535_2As you can tell by viewing the original photo on the right, I first cropped the image to help better concentrate one’s focus onto the two mountain peaks. When I captured this shot, I immediately noticed that the cloud formation just above the main peak resembled what looked like an Indian smoke signal rising from the top of the mountain. To further enhance this effect I cheated just a little by making the cloud more ‘wispy’ and then bringing it down to meet with the top edge of the peak.  Finally, converting it to a black and white and enhancing the contrast not only brought out the detail of the rocky cliffs, but also made the cloud look more like smoke. 

Ansel Adams Wannabe Series – B&W Photo No. 01

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This picture was taken on our first trip to Zion National Park on 08/20/2008. It is but one of a dozen beautiful views that were available from the switchbacks along UT-Route 9 that lead up to the tunnel near the top of the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Ansel Adams, best known for his black-and-white photographs of the Yosemite National Park, is one of my all-time favorite photographers. Following in his tradition, I sometimes find myself trying to view what a shot will look like in B&W, even before taking the picture. In many photographs, color distracts from the overall effect of the picture; whereas a black and white photo allows one to focus solely on key forms and details that are present within the image. Changing it to black and white tones down the distractions and makes the flowing shapes much more noticeable.

IMG_1550_2Even though the original color photo was quite nice in its own right, I especially like the conversion to B&W. With just a minimum amount of cropping, the enhanced contrast provided by black and whit definitely makes the interesting ‘arch-like’ section of the mountain much more the focus of the show by appearing to to add more detail.

Friday

Lava Man – Guardian of the Canyon

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I shot the original image for the creation above while on a hiking tour through the lower Antelope (slot) Canyon, located just outside of Page, AZ on 10/08/2009.

E-IMG_0782I know, I have a wild imagination. The ’alien-like’ image above was created from the photo on the right. When I began playing around with the image, I think it was the section in the rock face that looked somewhat like an ‘eye’ that first caught my attention. First I flipped it. Then I cut it in half, duplicated it and pasted the two halves together. Finally I  enhanced the color and saturation until I arrived at the fiery ‘molten-lava-like’ image above. Click to view more images from Antelope Canyon.

Wednesday

The Black-necked Swan (Cygnus melancoryphus)

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I photographed this beautiful Black-necked Swan on 03/09/2011 inside the Wildlife Habitat area while staying at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Because  the water is so clear and the reflection of the swan overshadows the rocks in the water, it appears that this one is actually ‘walking-on-water’.

Area Description: Amid the neon lights, slot machines and the hustle and bustle of the Strip less than 300 feet away, the Flamingo offers an oasis that will make you feel like you have been transported to a tropical island. Full of photo opportunities, the Wildlife Habitat is filled with lush foliage imported from around the world including many varieties of pines, palms and magnolia. As you stroll its winding walkways alongside streams and waterfalls, or on bridges over lagoons and ponds, you get to view more than 300 birds, including Impeyn and silver pheasants, Gambel's quail, a Crown crane, two ibis, various swans, ducks and parrots, Chilean flamingos, African penguins, turtles, Japanese koi, albino channel catfish, plus grackle birds, house sparrows, mallard ducks and hummingbirds in the menagerie.

Description: The Black-necked Swan (Cygnus melancoryphus) is the largest waterfowl native to South America. Males are 45–55 inches and weigh between 10 and 15 lbs. Slightly smaller, females range between 40–49 inches and weigh between 7–9 lbs. Their wingspan is about 70 inches. The body plumage is pure white with a black neck, head and greyish bill. It has a red knob near the base of the bill and white stripe behind eye. The sexes are similar, with the female slightly smaller. The cygnet has a light grey plumage with black bill and feet.
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Thursday

Ponderosa Pine - Dying, But not Gone

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E-P1040509I encountered this beautiful old ponderosa pine on 03/07/2011 along the Robber’s Roost Trail off NV State Road 158, also known as Deer Creek Road.

Though it certainly appears dead, you can see from the picture on the right that it was still firmly rooted in the ground stretching towards the heavens - clinging onto life. Surely a once majestic tree, one can only wonder what caused its early demise. Was it struck by lightening, caught in a fire or did it catch a form of blight or disease. “The oaks and the pines, and their brethren of the wood, have seen so many suns rise and set, so many seasons come and go, and so many generations pass into silence, that we may well wonder what "the story of the trees" would be to us if they had tongues to tell it, or we ears fine enough to understand.”  ~ Author Unknown



To see yet another shot of the tree converted to a black & white photo, check out my 

Ansel Adams Wannabe Series – B&W Photo No. 03 

Crustose Lichens, Mt. Charleston Loop

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On 04/07/2011, I found these brilliantly colored lichen covered rocks in a wash area on a hike along Robber’s Roost Trail off NV State Road 158, also known as Deer Creek Road. Some of the least known forms of life, lichens are among the most fascinating living organisms on this planet. Their very structure is unique: a symbioses of two organisms -- a fungus and algae -- so complete that they behave and look like an entirely new being. A lichen can literally eat stones, survive severe cold, and remain dormant for long periods without harm. Those that cover a substrate like a crust are called Crustose lichens. Lichens need sunlight, but because of their small size and slow growth, they thrive in places where higher plants have difficulty growing. They often settle in places lacking soil, constituting the sole vegetation in some extreme environments such as those found at high mountain elevations and at high latitudes.

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Saturday

View of Kyle Canyon

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This view of Kyle Canyon was taken from the Mt. Charleston Village on a morning hike in and around Mt. Charleston on 04/02/2011.  It was converted to a “Tilt-Shift” picture using http://tiltshiftmaker.com/.

Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)

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Picture Notes: On 04/02/2011, on a recent trip to the Techatticup Mine in Eldorado Canyon, NV, I was able to capture these pictures of one of my favorite cacti when in bloom, the Beavertail Cactus. Notice that the one above actually has a bumble bee nestled in the center, gathering pollen from its stamen (click the picture to enlarge full size). As can be seen in the bottom picture, only a small portion of the hundreds of buds were actually in bloom due to the relatively cold spring we have been experiencing.

Description: Opuntia basilaris, or more commonly called, the Beavertail Cactus. This low, spreading cactus with short bristles grows 6 to 12 inches high and up to 6 feet wide. The gray-green, jointed stems are wide and flat resembling the tail of a beaver. Oval in shape, the stems are 1 to 6 inches wide and 2 to 13 inches long. The stems grow in clumps with flowers from the top edge of the joints. When in bloom from March to June, it has brilliant red-to-lavender flowers 2 to 3 inches wide with many petals. Flowers are followed by a brownish-gray, oval fruit more than an inch long with many seeds. It is found in southwest USA, mostly in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, and also in northwest Mexico. The Beavertail Cactus is a smaller prickly pear cactus with hundreds of fleshy, blue-gray, flattened pads. They are usually spineless, but have instead small barbed bristles, called glochids, that easily penetrate the skin.

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