I got a cup with insects all over it today in the mail, and I am totally thrilled.
I should probably tell you that the cup in question is this really awesome cup by the even more awesome Dragonfly Woman, which I won by commenting on her blog, which I totally was going to do anyway because her blog is, well, awesome. Seriously, imagine all my pet interests, combine them, and have someone write about them with greater skill and consistency than I do, and you'd have her entomology blog. Go check it out.
I mention her for two reasons. First, the mug. LOVE it. Second, I told her last week that I was totally going to steal her "Friday 5" blog feature, and she didn't tell me to shove off and quit being an idea thief, so I will now appropriate it here. The idea: five things each Friday (duh). I quickly began to compile a list. Coming soon: Five really dumb/dangerous things I've done outdoors in Arizona, Five awesome Arizona places (that I hated as a kid), My five favorite field guides, and Five ways my cheapskate family survived the 123-degree summer with no air conditioning.
First, an easy one, and something I actually get asked quite often: My five top critter spotting spots or methods. In no particular order.
1. Boyce Thompson Arboretum
An easy choice. I've written about the arboretum before, and our family has been visiting regularly for years. I think one of my favorite things is how everyone shares what they've seen. Want to see a gray fox? A black widow eating a coral snake? A squirrel taking it to a Gila monster? Want to know where the nests are, where to spot a painted redstart, where a particular warbler hangs out and whether that hummingbird is an Anna's or a female broadbill? Find a worker or a member and ask what's new this week. People compare notes all the time.
2. Random spots on the side of the road/times I meant to find a different animal
OK, so I do plan trips to see specific animals. Eagles, rare warblers or ducks, even (especially) certain spiders or insects when I know they're "in season." But more than anything, I'm opportunistic. I almost never come back from a nature walk or hike with the shots I'd planned to get, but I always come back with something I like. On a slow day at the arboretum, I saw this Jerusalem cricket (one of only two times I spotted one).
Other times, it's literally on the side of the road. I was driving to an assignment and spotted a Harris's hawk pair hunting. I pulled over and stood at the edge of some guy's horse stable to get the shot. And sometimes, I stop for totally non-exciting animals, because I like to make them exciting by photographing them. This fly was along a walkway, on a garbage can. Exotic, huh?
3. Gilbert Riparian Preserve
In my Species a Day posts, I generally try to stick to animals that anyone else in Arizona can see. I have neither the time nor the money to really travel, but the point is, that's OK. There are a ton of exotic animals in our backyards. The Gilbert Riparian Preserve (or Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, or Gilbert Riparian Institute -- the name seems to change depending on who's talking about it) is great for making this point. I mean, you exit the library, walk across a bridge over a city pond, and right there you've got hundreds of animals. Almost 200 birds alone have been spotted at the preserve, and that's to say nothing of the dragonflies and damselflies (which are awesome right now), the spiders, the turtles and fish (urban fishermen love the place), and the snakes.
David and I took a walk the other morning, and at one point were surrounded by hidden, croaking/honking/whateveryoucallit herons. Like, really LOUD. It was like that scene in American Werewolf in London where the main character is surrounded by howls and yips, but he can't see anything. It was totally eerie and awesome. We felt secluded. And then, an hour later, we were in the car. Accessible nature at its best.
4. My backyard
Remember how I said we have tons of cool animals in our backyards? I mean it literally. Most of my mantis, spider, finch, sparrow, lizard, moth, hummingbird, and dove shots were taken within steps of my front or back door.
I grew up doing this. We had this big, flat piece of crappy wood in our side yard. It was junk. I don't know why it was there. I just know that I looked forward to each new evening, when I could lift it up by a corner and jump back to watch what scurried out. I guess I never grew out of it.
5. Other people
I'm the weird bug lady now. The critter girl. The mom who likes spiders. You get the idea. Point is, everyone knows I'm into this kind of thing. My husband caught a cicada and palo verde beetle for me, and brought home a centipede corpse another time. My mom gave me the giant crab spider and scorpion. Online friends helped me find and photograph bald eagles. I get at least one e-mail every few days entitled "What IS this thing?!?!" with an accompanying photo of a spider or insect. I know where to look (and what to look under) to find some really choice animals, and that's because people who know my predilections share. So keep letting me know. I have nets and jars with air holes on my person pretty much at all times.
So there you have it, my current top five, and you can apply the same ideas even if you're not in Arizona (definitely check out the preserve and arboretum if you are, though). Any suggestions for new places?