Weird things found in the woods

I camped for a full two weeks in one spot about 10 miles south of Flagstaff, Arizona and walked quite a bit around that spot.

I’ve posted wildflower and bird pictures from that area. But I also found these dolls within a few hundred feet of my camp. They were not buried. One doll is ripped so the stuffing is visible. The original stuffing has been replaced with pretty rocks. The duct taped doll is also full of rocks. There must be a story but what it is????

The first doll I found

I heard reports that there were others.

Chipping sparrow

This bird is not really looking at me, more like thinking about where the next bug mouthful will come from.

Chipping sparrows have been my constant companions since I climbed up the Mogollon rim to the Colorado plateau in late April. At each of the the three places I’ve camped for long they have been the most common and conspicuous bird. They are conspicuous because they forage actively on the ground, and because of their loud unmusical song.

You can hear the song here.

I’m not looking at you, I’m looking and listening for bugs.
Chipping sparrows are handsome

Pioche city rv park

Pioche, Nevada. May, 2020

The tiny town of Pioche offers rv camping by donation. It was a lovely place to spend the night. Quiet, and the water was good. And there were kingbirds.

Western kingbird

I do have an rv. It’s just tiny.


Somebody in this town has a sense of humor.

What you see from a distance. House falling down the hill?
When you get closer. What?…

Small-headed flies

Kaibab plateau, May 2020

I’d never seen one of these before. It’s a jeweled spider fly. Family Acroceridae, genus Eulonchus. I saw this individual sitting on a dried rabbitbrush flower.

It’s a lousy picture of a very cool insect.

Here’s what bugguide has to say about the life history:

The first instar larva (‘planidium’) seeks out spiders. When a spider contacts a planidium, the larva grabs hold of the spider, crawls up the spider’s legs to its body, and forces its way through the body wall, often lodging near the book lung, where it may remain for years before completing its development.

Adult longevity is usually rather short (3 days to ~1 month). Mating usually takes place in flight; female begin to lay up to 5000 eggs soon after mating and may continue during the following 2-10 days. The tiny, pear-shaped, black, microtype eggs are deposited either in flight upon the ground (Eulonchus), upon dead branches (Ogcodes), upon tree trunks (Pterodontia), or upon grass stems (Acrocera). Eggs hatch in 3-6 weeks giving rise to small planidial larvae. Most 1st instar planidia must seek out their spider hosts and can crawl or jump with “inchworm-like” movements. There is only one generation per year with the acrocerines (Acrocera, Ogcodes, Turbopsebius) on their araneomorph hosts; but many panopines (Eulonchus, Lasia, Ocnaea, Pterodontia) seem to have only one generation every 5-10 years due to the longer immature stages of their mygalomorph hosts.(7)

On the Kaibab plateau

I was excited to come this way for the cool weather up on the plateau and because I’d never been this way. I’m in far northern Arizona north of the Grand Canyon camping up on the Kaibab plateau at about 7600 feet elevation. The weather is perfect and there are great walks here. It’s Ponderosa forest with some juniper and oak mixed in. Where I’m camping is towards the edge of the plateau and all my walks take me downhill where the plant community changes quite a bit. The ponderosa trees drop out and oak and juniper and pinyon become much more prominent.

I’m meeting up with piles of plants and animals I’ve never met before, or at least don’t know well, as well as some I know better.

Here are a few I’m looking at, with tentative IDs.

Grace’s warbler
Broad tailed hummingbird
Pale Agoseris
Fine-leafed woolywhite (Hymenopappus filifolius)
Western pine elfin
Crab spider (Mecaphesa)

Crossing the Colorado River

The Colorado River cuts across the northwest corner of Arizona, and if you want to go north or northwest from Flagstaff there are only two places to cross it.

I crossed at Navajo Bridge over Marble Canyon. Lees Ferry is there where many people put in to raft the Grand Canyon.

Here’s the mighty river which waters so much land and is nearly drained dry by the time it gets to Mexico and the Gulf of California.

Colorado River at The Navajo Bridge

I had forgotten that there are famously California condors nesting there. I saw them first in the air and it was obvious they were not turkey vultures. One individual (F1) sat on the bridge so I was able to get some pictures. The wind was ferocious that day. I had to tuck my hat in my pants to hold on to it.

And, I met up with a familiar rock formation, the Moenkopi. The Moenkopi is exposed in Capital Reef National Park which I visited in 2018. That is where I attended an excellent geology talk.

I learned this phrase which helps in remembering the order of the 5 formations exposed there.

From top to bottom:

No one (Navajo sandstone)

Knows (Kayenta mudstone and siltstone)

Why (Wingate sandstone)

Cats (Chinle) and

Meow (Moenkopi). The Moenkopi is distinctive because it’s a dark red crumbly sandstone with very flat bedding planes.

Here, only the Moenkopi is left. The others have eroded downstream and are currently on their way to the Gulf of California.

Traveling during Covid-19 restrictions

Note: I pulled this to add more detail on the closures. But I didn’t really add anything new, so I’m just republishing.

I needed to move north from the Sonoran desert to higher elevations and cooler temperatures. It’s not all that far from Ajo, Arizona to Flagstaff but it’s further than I really like to drive in a day, so I looked at camping options along the way. I was eager to see big riparian trees (like cottonwood and sycamore), flowing water and birds, and I had previously camped above Camp Verde near enough to walk to the two Beaver Creeks (Wet and Dry). I pulled up to the road I had previously camped on and found this sign.

No problem, I had passed RVs parked a half mile back so I figured I could pull in near them for a night and still walk to the creeks. I camped here at an easy walk to both creeks.

You can see the two creeks as ribbons of green flowing south off the Mogollon Rim. Dry Beaver Creek is to the west and clearly has less water (less green) than Wet Beaver Creek to the east. I think the Wet/Dry Beaver Creeks and the town of Camp Verde also has a Prohibition Era liquor smuggling connection but I haven’t tracked down the story yet.

That afternoon I walked over to Dry Beaver Creek to look for birds in the oaks and cottonwoods.

There was running water and cool pools. What a lovely spot. The creek is cutting down through the red rock (I think it’s the Coconino sandstone) so the creek bed is a mix of whatever rock is above the coconino sandstone and the red coconino sandstone.

Dry Beaver Creek

I spent a peaceful night and in the morning I walked over to Wet Beaver Creek to find this sign.

It was no problem. I birded from the road on my way back to camp.

Reptiles of the Colorado Plateau

I should follow the Sonoran desert lizard post with this one since I am no longer in the desert (too hot for the way I camp!). I’m up at 6,000 feet under the Ponderosa pines on the Mogollon Rim. But there are still lizards.

The spiny lizard (Sceloporus) here seems to be the Plateau Fence Lizard (Sceloporus tristichus). They seem very plain to me. I’ve yet to find a key to Sceloporus and I don’t know how to tell them apart. I rely on iNaturalist to identify them for me. I’ve seen a number of these here.

Plateau fence lizard

And how bout this soon to be well fed individual. I wish I’d stuck around to see how this plateau lizard consumed such large prey.