Photo by Bruce Taubert

Spring has sprung at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert (location #20 in the Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildlife guidebook).  The bad news is that most of the Northern migrants have left with the exception of some very photogenic ducks (green-winged teal, cinnamon teal, shovelers), dowitchers, and least sand pipers.  The good news is the black-necked stilts and American avocets are getting into their breeding garb and beginning to stake out territories.

Most years, the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is possibly the best place in Arizona to photograph breeding stilts and avocets.  From my trip to the ranch on March 19th, this year should be great. I observed in excess of 40 avocets and a like number of stilts. The avocets were about half way to their full breeding plumage and doing a little practice sexual behavior.

On the 19th, most of the birds were at ponds 1, 6, and 7.  The black-necked stilts at pond 6 were especially photogenic allowing me to approach within 30 feet.  The avocets were a little more shy but could be accessed with a 400 mm or greater lens.

During March, April, and May the stilts and avocets will be breeding, nesting, and beginning to take care of their young.  Mornings are best and the light is good until about 9 a. m.  Get there early for the best opportunities.  As the day progresses the wind picks up and chances for reflective water decreases.

–Bruce

Photo by Bruce Taubert

Photo by Bruce Taubert

Hesperaloe bloom. Photo by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry

Paul and I spent the past two weekends at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum teaching our annual “Wild about Wildflowers…and Macro Photography” workshops. A huge THANKS to all who attended and treated us to so much beauty through their own lenses. Lots of good laughs too!

At the arboretum, the Demonstration Garden has the best set of blooms so far, as the perennials like penstemon, coral aloe, Godding verbena, mescal bean (which you have to smell…smells like grape soda!), and a variety of barrel cactus are starting to show their beautiful colors. The Cactus Garden is also coming along, but will display a stronger cactus bloom in the next few weeks. There, we spotted desert marigolds, spiderwort, and even a couple of Mexican gold poppies, lupine, and globemallow.

It’s no surprise that we’re seeing a lack of annuals based on the lack of rain we’ve had this winter. Perennials, however, are showing how they are less affected by low precipitation and will likely continue to bloom over the next several weeks. Places like Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Desert Botanical Gardens, Tohono Chul, and Tucson Botanical Gardens will offer plenty of wildflower photography opportunities as spring turns into summer in the desert.

Near Gonsalez Pass to the west of Boyce Thompson Arboretum, the ocotillo are greening up, and small splashes of color from fairy duster, lupine, and brittlebush dot the desert landscape. Silly Mountain looks brown and burned out–not sure if even the normally reliable brittlebush bloom will happen here this year…

While Paul and I have been busy teaching, we’ve heard rumors of roadside flowers along Highway 60 south of Wickenburg and brittlebush off of Highway 17 north of Anthem. Also, there are reports of several locations in Tucson in bloom per this recently published article: http://tucson.com/thisistucson/5best/tucson-is-blooming-insta-worthy-spots-to-stop-and-smell/article_76700fd0-3132-11e8-b19c-9bd1681345bf.html.

Let us know what you’ve seen out in your wildflower explorations!

Earlier this week, while camping in northern Arizona in the Coconino National Forest, I had the fortunate chance to witness the birth of an evening primrose flower as it slowly unfurled from its green bud at dusk. We watched a first bloom for almost 45 minutes; a second one nearby took less than 7 minutes to open. It was one of the most beautiful natural events I’ve ever seen.

If you’d like to see it too, check out the video I just posted of the second bloom at 2x real time speed (so it’s about 3 minutes long) – enjoy!

The evening primrose were well past peak and at the end of their season. Only a few buds remained on Monday, and it’s likely those have already bloomed.

That said, we’ve heard reports that areas near Mormon Lake (location 12 in the Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers (2nd Ed.) guidebook) are fields of gold right now…

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Happy Earth Day, everyone!  As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Earth laughs in flowers.”  Based on what I saw up in Marble Canyon last week, the planet must be in hysterics!

Following a tip-off last from my good friends, Terry and Wendy Gunn of Cliff Dwellers Lodge, I visited the Marble Canyon area last Wednesday through Monday to chase what they had referred to as a “bloom of a decade.”  They were spot on!  Although the weather was a bit unsettled last week (stormy and windy), the flowers absolutely did not disappoint!

Extensive fields of full desert globemallow and prickly pear cactus are peaking right now south of Highway 89A near the Soap Creek and Badger Creek overlooks (several gates into BLM land provide access – 2WD high-clearance recommended for these roads).  New flowers like Prince’s plume, sego lilies, banana yuccas, and scorpionweed are starting to pop up as well in varying quantities.  With a little dab of rain, even more flowers will start to show in the next week or so.  Although I didn’t have time to scout, the locals suggested the bloom could extend as far west as House Rock Valley Road.

We also meandered upstream along the Paria River from the Lees Ferry area in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, where we spotted multiple species of prickly pear in full bloom (with ample buds still waiting to pop), globemallow, banana yucca, and more during our easy hike.

As we celebrate Earth Day, it’s a great time to remind everyone to practice “Leave No Trace” principles as you’re out enjoying the wildflowers.  Please watch you step out there so that others can enjoy the blooms as well.

Happy wildflower hunting!
Colleen

Albino white poppy at Bartlett Lake

Albino white poppy at Bartlett Lake on Sunday, March 15, 2015

I had heard mixed feedback on what was happening out at Bartlett Lake for wildflowers, so I decided to take a quick spin up there yesterday morning to see for myself and to form my own.

Brittlebush at Bartlett Lake on Sunday, March 15, 2015

Brittlebush at Bartlett Lake on Sunday, March 15, 2015

How good the bloom is up there depends on your perspective.  If you’ve never seen wildflowers before in the desert, you’ll likely be impressed. If you experience the 2005 or the 2009 bloom you might be slightly underwhelmed.  Regardless, enough flowers are blooming to make it worth a visit now and within the next two weeks.

Along Bartlett Dam Road, keep your eyes open for nice patches of smaller Mexican gold poppies dotting the hillsides starting around milepost 8 to milepost 11 on the north side of the street.  After milepost 10 (but before milepost 11, near the Tonto National Forest sign), a vibrant patch of sizable poppies is already peaking.  In this same area, the flanks of the cliffs are starting to show blankets of yellow.

Because a fair number of these poppy fields face east, you might not spot them as you drive in (but will be blatantly obvious on the drive out).  So either bring a driver to free you up to scout or glance over your shoulder occasionally as you come into this area so as to not miss some great photographic opportunities.

Perennials like brittlebush, chuparosa, and fairy duster are out in force, but it looks as if there’s even more to come in the weeks ahead.  A nice patch of lupine appears along Bartlett Dam Road near the turnoff for Forest Service Road 459 on the shoulder as well as along FSR 459 near the Rattlesnake Cove turnoff.  A handful of chia, cream cups, filaree, and desert marigolds round out the showing.

Multiple blooms on strawberry hedgehog cactus in South Mountain Park on Sunday

Multiple blooms on strawberry hedgehog cactus in South Mountain Park on Sunday

If poppies are what you seek, I’d recommend heading that way within the next week. Perennials making a good start and will look great (if not better) over the next two weeks. For more information about Bartlett Lake, check out page 96 in our first edition of the “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” book (the second edition should start shipping on Monday, March 23!).

I also hiked the Telegraph Pass Trail in South Mountain Park and Preserve on Sunday afternoon.  Overall the desert landscape presented few flowers on the ground, but on the lower elevations of this trail, the strawberry hedgehog and cholla cacti displayed impressive color.  Some strawberry hedgehog cacti showcased 8-12 beautiful blooms!  Probably have about a week left to see these splashes of color there.

Happy wildflower hunting,
Colleen

Closeup of Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus along Telegraph Pass Trail on Sunday

Closeup of Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus along Telegraph Pass Trail on Sunday

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Photographed on February 25, 2015, the Mexican gold poppies bloom in abundance on top of Peridot Mesa on the San Carlos Indian Reservation, Arizona

If Mexican gold poppies are what you seek, then drop everything this instant and RUN – don’t walk! – to Peridot Mesa on the San Carlos Indian Reservation.

Paul and I had heard substantiated rumors from a couple friends (thanks Ron and Lori!) of “fields and fields of poppies” in this location.  Based on when the flowers normally bloom here (mid-March), it seemed a little early, but the weather has been warm until recently.  I took my camera and curiosity out to Peridot Mesa yesterday.  And oh my!  The hillsides were covered with poppies!

Mainly poppies, but also some blue dicks, lupine, and budding globemallow, blanketed the basin in between Peridot Mesa and Peridot Hills.  With the cooler temperatures, the poppies began closing up quite early (about 2 hours before ‘sunset). As a couple walking the dirt road at sunset suggested, “The flowers have been sleeping [i.e., closing early] for three days in the cold.”

Arizona_Peridot Mesa_00001_cIn sampling a number of clusters, it appears there are just as many buds waiting to bloom as there are flowers in bloom.  Also, in surveying the ground, the lupine, blue dicks, globemallow, and other flowers are just starting to show.  With this in mind – even though it looks stunning now – I think this location has yet to officially peak.  Now, that said, forecasters are predicting 85-100% chance of rain in Phoenix starting Saturday and lasting through Tuesday.  A heavy rain could damage the delicate and dainty poppy blooms, but could encourage the other blooms to continue their progress.

We added Peridot Mesa to our expanded 2nd edition of our book, “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers.”  We are finishing the proofing process as we speak, but here’s a sneak peak of location #48: Peridot Mesa in case you wish to put it to good use immediately - please practice “Leave No Trace” principles and do not trample the flowers so that others may enjoy this beautiful site as well.

(Note: more wildflower updates after the sample)

48_Peridot Mesa_Sample

Click on photo to see the sample page full size (and save to your computer and/or print for reference).

In addition to Peridot Mesa, we are hearing consistent reports that wildflowers are showing off in Picacho Peak State Park (location #53 in 1st edition; #51 in 2nd edition).

En route to the San Carlos Indian Reservation, I noted that Silly Mountain (location #32 in 1st and 2nd editions) is staring to display some yellow on the brittlebush at higher elevations.  I’d check this spot out in a week or so.

We’ve heard things are just starting at Catalina State Park (#55/#53) and at Pipeline Canyon Trail/Lake Pleasant (#21/20) so keep an eye on those two spots in the weeks ahead via the 2015 Arizona State Parks Ranger Cam (which they did not turn on for 2014′s bloom) at azstateparks.com/RangerCam2015 and DesertUSA’s Wildflower reports at www.desertusa.com/wildflo/wildupdates.html.

Finally, while driving along Highway 93 last week, on Monday, I saw a healthy amount of Joshua tree blooms along the road.  On my way back through the area on Thursday afternoon, almost all the blooms had disappeared and were replaced by blackened, dead stalks.  We can’t explain the short-lasting bloom nor determine if additional blooms will appear, but from last week’s observations, the Joshua tree bloom might have happened and ended within a week’s time frame last week.

Happy wildflower hunting and shooting!

~Colleen

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With the monsoon in full swing, I took a spin through Flagstaff last Friday afternoon to check on the status of the wildflowers in a number of spots.  Sorry, I don’t have any notable photos to share (as I was racing to get home to Chandler – a mere 2.5-hour drive – after a 21-day road trip to the Pacific Northwest…), but I was eager to pass along what I saw nonetheless!

Bonito Park (Wild in Arizona book location # 7):  I spotted just a handful of sunflowers in bloom in the field, with some immature plants waiting to bud.  Although it didn’t seem like there were enough budding to create a wide spread bloom, it is a touch early in the season for this area to show.  Scattered wild geranium, yellow wall flower, and common mullein are currently adding a splash of color to the green. Arizona skyrockets are also starting to pop up on north side of street in forested area.

Along Highway 89 (near Copeland Lane specifically):  Fields of Rocky Mountain beeplant await those with a telephoto lens.  If you decide to stop to photograph in this area, though, please respect private property and fences.

Lower Lake Mary:  Swaths of calliopsis are blooming along the dry lake bed, particularly in the middle and southern sections.  Abundant budding plants along the implied shoreline indicated this spot is just getting warmed up too! I also saw a nice patch of butter and eggs in forest.

Upper Lake Mary:  Unlike Lower Lake Mary, it’s neighbor to the south is still holding water despite the warmer summer temperatures.  Like Lower Lake Mary, this area is already showcasing ribbons of calliopsis along east and west shoreline. Healthy blankets of yellow grace the Narrows nearby as well.  Stay north or far south of day use area to avoid getting swimmers in your shot.

Ashurst Lake (Wild in Arizona book location #13):  With the abundance of calliopsis on both Lake Mary’s, I had high expectations for wide spread bloom at nearby Ashurst Lake.  After enduring a more-than-normal washboardy ride along Forest Service Road 82E (which is still passable to passenger cars, just expect a massage en route), the meadows showed zippo.  Scattered water smartweed is blooming early along the lake’s southern shoreline, but the water level is a solid 5-10 feet away from the plants and I don’t know how big of a bloom these water-loving plants will do without sitting closer (in) water if the lake remains so low.

Mormon Lake (Wild in Arizona book location #12): The lake is dry, but calliopsis is abundant in the field along the southern shoreline.  A smatterings of Indian paintbrush starting to make an appearance near both formal overlooks.

Note that in the Lake Mary, Ashurst Lake, and Mormon Lake area, smoke from the Bar M fire filled the air on Friday.  Burnout activities continue, so the smoke will lessen as time passes.

In other news – and for additional guidance on some of these areas listed above - AAA Highroads magazine featured our article “Put the Petal to the Nettle:  Take a Drive on the Wildflower Side of Flagstaff” in their most recent issue (July/August 2014).  If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, visit http://highroads.az.aaa.com/magazine and click on View Full Issue.  We’re on magazine page 20-21 (digital edition page 22-23).  Enjoy!

Happy shooting!
~Colleen

A trychocereus hybrid blooms at Tohono Chul Park in Tucson last Thursday

With the somewhat unimpressive spring annual & perennial bloom essentially done in the low desert–save for the cactus blooms–wildflowers are still popping up around the state!  Here’s what we’ve seen within the last several days:

  • Another trychocereus bloom in Tohono Chul Park in Tuscon

    Tohono Chul Park:  Given the warm temperatures and lack of rain, I was quite impressed by the variety of healthy blooms in this Tucson park when I visited last Thursday.  It was a Mecca of macro opportunities!  A few poppies and owl clover are hanging on, while an abundance of yellow columbine, verbena, desert marigolds, yerba manza, and a variety of cacti blooms (including several species of night bloomers) are showing their colors.  While you won’t go wrong on any paved path (or even just in the parking lot), head to the Sonoran Seasons Garden, cactus/succulent ramada, and the Riparian Habitat for best photo ops but bring a telephoto lens (in addition to macro) as some of the blooms are tucked behind low fences.  Tohono Chul is home to the largest private collection of the famous Queen of the Night cactus, which blooms on one night sometime in May through July-sometimes with less than 12 hours notice!  The magical event – called “Bloom Night” – has yet to occur this year, but it may come early.  If you’re interested in catching this popular event, learn more and sign up for their email notification list at http://tohonochulpark.org/cereus.

  • Primrose and verbena tango in the parking lot at the Tucson Botanical Garden last Thursday

    Tucson Botanical Garden:  Although smaller in size than Tohono Chul, TBG offered a slightly different collection of flowers to photograph.  Head to the Cactus and Succulent Garden for strawberry hedgehog and a variety of night blooming cacti around the cafe.  Then visit the Wildflower Garden for primrose, blanketflower, and globemallow.

  • Saguaro National Park (West):  After observing several saguaro cacti in bloom while driving along Gates Pass Road, I popped into the Visitor Center to learn how the bloom was progressing.  The ranger suggested the saguaro bloom had just started and expected the bloom to crescendo to a peak in the next two to three weeks, which would be earlier than normal.  Best bet right now is along Hohokam Road.  Some palo verde, prickly pear cactus, and buckhorn cactus were still blooming, but certainly past peak.
  • Echinopsis hybrid bloom called “First Light” in the Tucson Botanical Garden in Tucson

    Sedona area:  Some scattered strawberry hedgehog cactus, prickly pear cactus, desert globemallow, and blackfoot daisies around the Huckaby Trailhead parking area (although little seems to be blooming along Schnebly Hill Road at this time) and at the Back-O-Beyond Trailhead.  Not much blooming in Slide Rock State Park…apple trees and myrtle bloomed in mid-March (yes, early!).

We eagerly awaiting the monsoon bloom, which typically occurs in late June through September (will it too be 1-2 months early?!).  Also, this month, NOAA officially declared an “El Nino Watch” status, which means the likelihood of an El Nino (read: wetter weather for Arizona) developing this summer or fall increased above 50%.

Happy flower hunting!

Blanketflower in Tucson Botanical Garden’s Wildflower Garden last Thursday

Lost Dutchman_01_c

Lost Dutchman looking green for this time of year. Of the limited number that did sprout flowers this year, brittle bush and other perennial shrubs have already passed their peak bloom.

Well, the year of the poppy, it ain’t.  Following ample rain in November and average precipitation in December, the Phoenix area went almost 70 days without a drop of rain during a critical time for the spring wildflower bloom in the desert.  On top of the lack of rain, the low deserts have experienced significantly higher temperatures than normal.  So 2014 isn’t going to go into the record books for our spring bloom.

With the chance of a wide-spread display diminishing each day as fast as our much needed rains did this year, shutterbugs with a careful eye can pick out single blooms to practice their macro techniques out there!  Here’s what we’ve been seeing out there…

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Healthy globe mallow from the parking lot of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum:  Ample globemallow and desert marigolds in the parking area.  Ice plants along entry walkway showing off pinks and purples while the aloe have sprouted their orange flowers.  The Demonstration Garden has some penstemon, blanket flower, and cactii in bloom, but it’s a smaller scale bloom than what we’re used to at this time of year.

Lost Dutchman:   Ocotillo and hedgehog cactus in bloom near the Saguaro Day Use area.  Brittlebush burned out.  (The ranger suggested some small flowers existed along the Jacob’s Crosscut Trail but I was leading a private workshop and wasn’t able to scout.)

San Tan Regional Mountain:  Ocotillo and a variety of cactus currently in bloom across the park.  Brittle bush past peak.

South Mountain: Specifically along the Pima Canyon & Bajada Trails, the brittle bush bloom is done while the ocotillo and hedgehog cacti are blooming now.

Gonzales Pass:  Palo verde trees showing off brilliant yellows in the median among ocotillo, globemallow, desert marigolds, and some brittle bush.

Silly Mountain:  Brittle bush not looking real promising…

Bartlett Lake:  Scattered brittle bush and globemallow hanging on, but looking pretty burned out otherwise.

Sun City area:  Thanks to the recent construction activities, a nice disturbance bloom of poppies and scorpionweed intermingling is currently happening near the intersection of the new 303 Expressway and Grand Avenue.

Let us know if you’ve seen anything great out there!

We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the upcoming monsoon season (will it start early, given the shift in seasons??) will bring additional moisture to the entire state.  In addition, we’re watching the development of a possible El Nino closely.  The last Climate Prediction Center report suggested a 50% chance of an El Nino developing this summer or fall, so the verdict for this summer’s bloom is still out.  Stay tuned!

Happy shooting!

~Colleen & Paul

Celebration of Summer

Prairie sunflowers (Helianthus petiolaris) bloom at sunset along Mormon Lake near Flagstaff, Arizona

Hi everyone! Paul and I have been away from Arizona for almost all of the spring and summer seasons, so we apologize that we haven’t posted in awhile…

However, last weekend, we both were back in the Grand Canyon State to lead the “Wild About Wildflowers in the High Country” Arizona Highways Photography Workshop in the Flagstaff area.  Generally, everything looks really green because of the recent monsoon rains, but the wildflowers we normally see at this time have yet to burst onto the scene.  Mother Nature seems to be running about one to two weeks late…and that’s if the grasses haven’t choked the flowers out.

Awesome wildflower photo ops still exist out there though!  Here’s what we found:

In Bloom Now:

  • Arizona Snowbowl, at the top near the ski lifts.  Predominantly lupine, larkspur, and Indian paintbrush.  Some sneezeweed, but past peak.
  • The Arboretum at Flagstaff (location #6 in our “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers” book).  Excellent bloom of columbine – yellow and Rocky Mountain.  Penstamon generally past peak, but lots of other flowers in bloom.
  • Lower Lake Mary, north of the dam.  Gorgeous fields of calliopsis.  Forest covering a good collection of butter and eggs (toadflax).
  • Mormon Lake (location #12), at the far southern end.  Entire south side is covered in calliopsis.  The overlooks have a few sunflowers growing out of disturbed soil along the roadway and a handful of small Indian paintbrush.
  • Hart Prairie (location #4).  Near the Nature Conservancy turnoff, wild rose and a smattering of sneezeweed.
Summer Bouquet

Pink lupine bloom among purple lupine and Indian paintbrush near the Arizona Snowbowl outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Not Happening (Yet???  Would keep an eye on in next two weeks):

  • Bonito Park (location #7)
  • Ashurst Lake (location #13)

Have you been photographing wildflowers in Arizona?  If so, let us know what you’ve seen out there in the Comments section below!

P.S. If you’re on Facebook, be sure to “friend” Arizona Highways Photography Workshops at www.facebook.com/azhighwaysphotoworkshops and submit your best wildflower photo for their September Facebook cover contest!  The winner will not only be showcased for the month of September on their Facebook page, but you’ll also receive a FREE copy of our book, “Wild in Arizona:  Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers!

Happy shooting!
Colleen & Paul

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