Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear Cacti are members of the Opuntia genus. There are over 90 species of Opuntia in the United States. They are flat-stemmed spiny cacti with edible fruit.

Click on any photo to open Photo Gallery.

There is a large patch of Prickly Pears in the lot next to ours. Then one day, there was one tiny prickly pear in our yard. It was only an inch or two high. So I carefully outlined it with a ring of rocks and encouraged it to grow. In just a year, it had grown to a healthy 8 inch tall plant.

When a weed dared to grow next to my prickly pear, I carefully reached in (with leather gloves on) and as I plucked out the weed, I felt one ever so little prick on my finger. I took my glove off and there wasn’t any blood – not even a red mark.

Five minutes later, my finger started to hurt. I went into the house, washed the area well, and inspected it under a magnifying glass to make sure there was not a small prickle stuck in me. Nothing. Then my finger started to swell.

I’ve been gardening here in Arizona for 7 years. I’ve been ‘poked’ by all sorts of cactus. Agaves are the worst for drawing blood. But never before has a prickle caused as much discomfort as the prickly pear did.

There are no prickly pears in my yard any more…

What is the most dangerous plant in your yard?

Gambel’s Quail

You’ve got Mail… a Male Gambel’s Quail

The Feather Files
Name: Gambel’s Quail
Species: Callipepla gambelii
Native to and Migration: Nonmigratory; lives in the hot deserts of the Southwest—the Sonoran, Mohave, and Chihuahuan—below about 5,500 feet elevation.
Date Seen: March 2015, April 2019
Location: North of Fountain Hills, Arizona
Notes:  These birds walk or run along the ground in groups called coveys of a dozen or more birds. They scratch for food under shrubs and cacti and eat grasses and cactus fruits. Their flight is explosive, powerful, and short.

When you have Gambel’s Quail in your yard, which is pretty much most of the time, it is like watching clowns. They are just very funny birds that perch in the oddest places. They prefer walking and running to flying. Their little legs move incredibly fast when they are startled .

Empress Leilia Butterfly

The Flutter Files
Name: Empress Leilia Butterfly
Species: Asterocampa leilia
Native to: Central and southern Arizona (except for the southwest) as well as south Texas, Mexico and Baja
Date Seen: March 2014
Location: North of Fountain Hills, Arizona
Notes: Wing Span: 1 1/2 – 3 inches (3.8 – 7.6 cm). This butterfly was sitting on Lantana flowers. Apparently they do not normally feed on nectar, though. Either the butterfly wasn’t feeding, or it is a butterfly that isn’t what I think it is!

Snowy Egret


Sun Lakes Arizona

The Feather Files
Name: Snowy Egret
Species: Egretta thula
Native to and Migration: Breeding populations in the interior of North America and along the north Atlantic coast migrate. Many western birds winter in Mexico, while many eastern birds migrate to the Gulf Coast or fly across the ocean to the Caribbean islands and South America.
Date Seen: January 2017, April 2016
Location: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Sun Lakes Arizona
Notes: Medium-sized herons with long, thin legs and long, slender, bills. All white with a black bill, black legs, and yellow feet.

Spines, Scales and Rocks

Arizona in April – this is what is happening in my back yard:


I think this is a Claret Cup Cactus. If it isn’t, it should be because it seems like an appropriate name for it… Wicked thorns though…

How I like claret!…It fills one’s mouth with a gushing freshness, then goes down to cool and feverless; then, you do not feel it quarrelling with one’s liver. No; ’tis rather a peace-maker, and lies as quiet as it did in the grape. Then it is as fragrant as the Queen Bee, and the more ethereal part mounts into the brain, not assaulting the cerebral apartments, like a bully looking for his trull, and hurrying from door to door, bouncing against the wainscott, but rather walks like Aladdin about his enchanted palace, so gently that you do not feel his step.
– John Keats –


The Side-blotched Lizard: If you look just behind the top of the front leg, you’ll see a long dark splotch – that is how this lizard got it’s name. These little lizards (4-6 inches or 10-15 cm in length including tail) are numerous, but easily overlooked because of their small size. They blend in well with the rocks and gravel, but are actually quite colorful when seen up close.


The male Side-blotched lizard often has bright turquoise blue speckling on the tail, back, and upper surfaces of the hind limbs


My yard is covered in a layer of gravel. The previous owner was big on ‘dry-creek bed’ features, so I have a lot of rocks that range in size from ‘pick up and carry around in your pocket’ size to ‘too heavy for me to lift’ size. I’ve been picking out oval shape flat rocks to build a ‘bed of rock daisies’.

Be a little boulder.
– Author Unknown –

Are you a ‘rock hound’? If you have rocks in your yard, are they an important part of the landscape or an inconvenience?

Great Blue Heron

Sun Lakes Arizona
Take off
Sun Lakes Arizona
Landing gear down!

Sun Lakes Arizona

Tonto Arizona
An immature bird
Greater Vancouver British Columbia
A skilled fisherman

Sun Lakes Arizona

Up on the roof top
Shaggy breeding feathers

The Feather Files
Name: Great Blue Heron
Species: Ardea herodias
Native to and Migration: Partial – birds leave the northern edge of their breeding range to fly as far south as the Caribbean. Birds in the Pacific Northwest and south Florida are present year-round.
Date Seen: April 2019; February 2019; August 2014
Location: Sun Lakes, Chandler, Arizona, USA; Tonto Golf Course, Arizona, USA; Vancouver British Columbia, Canada

Many thanks to our friends at Sun Lakes Arizona for a great week-end of laughing, bird watching, car shopping, apricot tree netting and interesting food experiences!


Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird
Male Red-winged Blackbird

The Feather Files
Name: Red-winged Blackbird
Species: Agelaius phoeniceus
Native to and Migration: Red-winged Blackbirds that breed through most of Canada spend the winter in the southern United States. The birds that breed in the United States and Mexico don’t migrate at all.
Date Seen: May 2018, February 2019
Location: Utah and Arizona

Notes: These birds spend the breeding season in wet places like fresh or saltwater marshes. Male Red-winged Blackbirds will sit on a high perch over their territories, which they defend vigorously. Females slink through reeds and grasses collecting food or nest material. This explains why I didn’t recognize the female until I saw a flock of them feeding beside a lake during non-breeding season.

Great-tailed Grackle

Female Great-tailed Grackle
Male Great-tailed Grackle

The Feather Files
Name Great-tailed Grackle
Species: Quiscalus mexicanus
Native to and Migration: Primarily resident throughout a North American range which includes the south-western United States and Mexico.
Date Seen: January 2013; February 2016; February 2019
Location: Fountain Hills Area, Arizona

Notes: Grackles thrive in human-altered landscapes. They are loud, social birds with a varied diet that includes both plant and animal material.
They are annoying at outdoor restaurants…

Turkey Vulture

San Jose del Cabo Mexico

These Turkey Vultures were perched on a palm tree overlooking the business district in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. We were on a roof top patio, having dinner. We watched the vultures. The vultures watched us.

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

These Turkey Vultures were perched on cactus near a restaurant near San Jose del Cabo. We had lunch and watched the vultures. The vultures watched us.

ArizonaThree Turkey Vultures often flew over our community north of Fountain Hills Arizona. Sometimes they would swoop down and fly over our golf cart as we drove down the street. Other times they would circle overhead when I was out walking.

The Feather Files
Name: Turkey Vulture
Species: Cathartes aura
Native to and Migration: Turkey Vultures in the southern United States are year-round residents. Birds in the northeast migrate short distances south. Western birds migrate through Central America and in some cases as far as Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador.
Date Seen: Mexico, January 3, 2019; Arizona April 24, 2018
Location: San José del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico; North of Fountain Hills, Arizona

Arizona Wild Flowers

Spring Wild Flowers in and near McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Arizona. The challenge in taking these photos was that I only had a camera with a zoom lens and it was a breezy day. In essence, I was trying to hold the camera still while zooming in on a moving target… while watching for snakes…

McDowell Mountain Regional Park – Mexican Gold Poppies

McDowell Mountain Park is located northeast of Phoenix, Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains.

Mexican Gold Poppy

Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana – California Poppy or Mexican Gold Poppy
Golden Yellow to Orange – four petal flowers with finely dissected bluish green leaves.

Coulter’s Lupine

Lupinus sparsiflorus – Coulter’s Lupine
An Annual with violet blue pea-like flowers that spiral – hairy, upright flower spikes. The leaves are green and narrow.

Indian Paintbrush or Purple Owl’s Clover


Castilleja exserta – Exserted Indian Paintbrush or Purple Owl’s Clover
An Annual with magenta flowers that have a narrow, hairy, beak-like upper lip and a broader lower lip with 3 yellow-tipped pouches.


Encelia farinosa – Brittlebush
A Perennial, Deciduous shrub with yellow flowers in branched clusters. The leaves are alternate, woolly, grayish in color, and oval to triangle-shaped. Brittlebush is valuable for rehabilitating low maintenance landscapes, critical stabilization areas, and disturbed areas such as those that have been burned.

Gordon’s Bladderpod

Lesquerella gordonii – Gordon’s Bladderpod
In rainy years, this spring wildflower can carpet the ground with yellow flowers. The flowers have 4 rounded petals. The leaves are grayish green and covered with fuzzy hair.

If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.
– Milton Friedman –

Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!
– Golda Meir –

I bought a cactus. A week later it died. And I got depressed, because I thought, Damn. I am less nurturing than a desert.
– Demetri Martin –