Since the Covid virus pandemic, I have been sheltering at home like everyone else. Fortunately the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve has re-opened and I go almost every day. I had been going since December, recording the spring changes of birds and plants but the Coronovirus put all of that on hold for a while. It has been a repetitive comfort to me to have a beautiful place to walk each morning with an ever changing cast of beautiful birds. One constant and always welcome bird companion has been the tiny Verdin who are resident at the bird preserve. The Verdin is a very small bird. At 4.5 in (11 cm) in length, it rivals the American bushtit as one of the smallest passerines in North America and it is smaller than many hummingbirds. At the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Verdin the most common bird, rarely seen but almost always heard. It is most easily detected by its surprisingly loud calls, which sound like “cheep” followed by a pause the another “cheep”. These tiny birds are difficult to photograph, rather like shooting skeet or pinball. The tiny birds are quick and athletic, jumping from branch to branch sideways, up and down. You need a hair-trigger on the shutter, shoot first and check your focus and framing later, you will not get a second chance. Since I have collected quite a number of photographs of my avian friends the Verdin, I decided to make a post of it.
Like many people interested in nature, I have a fairly large set of bird feeders in my back yard. Last year was quite eventful for the feeders, I had several clutches of Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii) born in the bushes scattered around the yard. Gambel’s Quail are skittish birds, living mostly on the ground, they run for cover at even the hint of a surprise. While they have nested in my yard off and on for several years, last year was the first time they visited the feeders. There is plenty of water, feed and shelter in my backyard and the quail apparently liked what they saw. We had at least 3 clutches and possibly as many as 5–6 with the result of many groups of adult, adolescent and baby quail pretty much all summer. Naturally I took photos, as if I was the proud grandfather. Many of the photos were taken in less than ideal light but gradually they grew more trusting and I managed a few flash captures. I thought the photos would make for a nice post so I organized the best ones to present here.
I like to celebrate the return of spring each year by writing about the beautiful flowers I find around me in Las Vegas. It might be surprising to some to know that Las Vegas and the surrounding desert are full of life, flowers and beauty, especially in spring. The wet El Niño winter this year has brought above average amounts of rain to California and Southern Nevada mostly in February. This has resulted in super blooms of poppies in California, a rare wildflower super-bloom in Joshua Tree National Forest and an unusual simultaneous blooming of Joshua trees and Mohave Yucca around Las Vegas. Joshua trees do not bloom every year. Like most desert plants, their blooming depends on rainfall at the proper time. They also need a winter freeze before they bloom and it was cold last winter with a little snow. The blooming cycle of the Joshua Tree is totally dependant on climatic conditions. Depending on the timing and intensity of winter rains, blossoming can occur any time from March to May, and can vary from very sparse to a rare abundance of blossoms in relative wet years as we see this year.
Most people who do not live in a desert environment consider cactus to be an unattractive species. Nothing could be farther from the truth, cactus are a beautiful species, similar to euphorbia in Africa. Euphorbia can be found all over the world. The forms range from annual plants laying on the ground, to well developed tall trees. In deserts in Madagascar and southern Africa, convergent evolution has led to cactus-like forms where the plants occupy the same ecological niche as cacti do in deserts of North America and South America. The genus is primarily found in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and the Americas, but also in temperate zones worldwide. The 1,500 to 1,800 species of cacti mostly fall into one of two groups of “core cacti”: opuntias (subfamily Opuntioideae) and “cactoids” (subfamily Cactoideae). Most members of these two groups are easily recognizable as cacti. They have fleshy succulent stems that are major organs of photosynthesis. They have absent, small, or transient leaves. They have flowers with ovaries that lie below the sepals and petals, often deeply sunken into a fleshy receptacle (the part of the stem from which the flower parts grow). All cacti have areoles highly specialized short shoots with extremely short internodes that produce spines, normal shoots, and flowers. In Las Vegas we have one of the best cactus gardens in the world at the Ethel M Botanic Garden.
Each year I write on the spring flowers in my home city, Las Vegas. This year I have decided to focus on plants used in public landscapes. Every city and town has a certain ambiance or sense of place. Often the ambiance is due to the people, sometimes the food, music or architecture but frequently it is the mix of plants and landscapes in the particular location. Although the plantings may reflect the surrounding area, sometimes plants are imported from elsewhere and over time become considered as a a native part of the environment. Even if two places are nearby, the landscapes can be completely different, based on water availability, affluence and even history. Las Vegas is not that far from Los Angeles yet the landscapes could not be more different. Not long ago I wrote about the succulents that are recently wildly popular in Los Angeles in part because of the mild climate. Las Vegas suffers from the same water shortages but it's landscapes are distinctly different, reflecting the deserts in the surrounding areas. This is not a complete list, but it will give you a sense of landscaping in Las Vegas and you will get to see some beautiful flowers.
The current Cromwell Casino has a long and interesting Las Vegas history. Bugsy Siegel opened The Flamingo Hotel & Casino at a total cost of $6 million on December 26, 1946 right next door. Billed as “The West's Greatest Resort Hotel,” the 105-room property and first luxury hotel on the Strip. He refused to buy the thin slice of land separating the Flamingo from the famous intersection of Flamingo and the strip. The Flamingo became the Flamingo Hilton in 1971 and the Flamingo Las Vegas in 1999. The thin slice of land was the site of Empey's Desert Villa from 1952. Over time, this property, along with others owned by Gaughan would become “The Barbary Coast”. In July 2005, the Barbary Coast was bought by Boyd Gaming and sold to Harrah's Entertainment in 2007, rebranded as Bill's Gamblin Hall and Saloon. Plans announced in late 2013 indicated that Giada De Laurentiis would open her first restaurant in the new hotel and that Caesars would run the hotel. The 260-seat restaurant, Giada, from De Laurentiis, her first such venture has taken over the second-floor space that once housed a hotel parking garage. Giada is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offer views of the Strip, the Bellagio fountains, Caesars Palace and Bally’s Grand Bazaar Shops. Along with the venerable after hours club Drai's, Giada forms the the nucleus of offerings at the Cromwell. It doesn't hurt that the second floor Giada has killer views of the Bellagio fountains with floor to ceiling windows.
Since Lisa’s sister was visiting, we decided on another trip, this time to Red Rock Canyon, which is next to the Mount Charleston, Humboldt Toyabe National Forest. Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada’s first National Conservation Area. Red Rock Canyon is located 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip on Charleston Boulevard/State Route 159. The area is 195,819 acres and is visited by more than one million people each year. In marked contrast to a town geared to entertainment and gaming, Red Rock offers enticements of a different nature including a 13-mile scenic drive, more than 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking, picnic areas, nature observing and visitor center with exhibit rooms and a book store. The BLM is the largest administrator of public lands in the West. It adheres to the policy of multiple use, by providing recreational opportunities, protection for cultural sites, and the management of natural resources, including wildlife.
It has started to get hot in Las Vegas, as it always does this time of year, and because we had a visitor, we decided on a trip to Mount Charleston. Fortunately for us, Mount Charleston is just 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas where you can find cool mountain breezes, fresh air and all-around scenic beauty. Part of the Spring Mountain Range and Toiyabe National Forest, Mount Charleston ranges from 3,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. It is Nevada’s eighth-highest mountain peak and one of the Top 10 most topographically prominent peaks in the United States. With trees like juniper, mountain mahogany, Aspen and Ponderosa pine and animals such as wild burros, songbirds, deer and desert tortoises, Mount Charleston feels like it is a million miles away from Las Vegas.
As I said in the last post, we decided to go up to Mount Charleston to get away from the heat. As we went up the mountain, the vegetation became thicker until we were in a pine forest mixed with Aspen. We were lucky enough to to see a family of mule deer halfway up the mountain and I thought I would share the pictures. Mule deer have large ears that move constantly and independently, from which they get their name, “Mule” or “Burro Deer.” During the summer, the coat on the mule deer’s upper body is yellow or reddish-brown, while in winter more gray. The throat patch, rump patch, inside ears and inside legs are white with lower portions running cream to tan. A dark V-shaped mark, extending from a point between the eyes upward and laterally is characteristic of all mule deer but is more conspicuous in males. Mule deer are social animals that typically stay in groups. They live in a multi-generation family of related femalIes and their offspring. Bucks older than yearlings often group together or remain solitary. In late summer and fall, mixed family groups form larger groups that stay together for protection throughout the winter. They break into smaller groups again by the next summer.
We decided to go to Bouchon at the Venetian in honor of Lisa's sister Tema visiting Las Vegas. The French Laundry is frequently honored by inclusion in the annual Restaurant Magazine list of the Top 50 Restaurants of the World (having been named “Best Restaurant in the World” in 2003 and 2004). Since 2006, it has been awarded three stars in the Michelin Guide to San Francisco. It received a favorable review in The New York Times and was called “the best restaurant in the world, period” by Anthony Bourdain. In 2005, Thomas Keller was awarded the three star rating in the inaugural Michelin Guide for New York for his restaurant Per Se, and in 2006, he was awarded three stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide to the Bay Area for The French Laundry. He is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group is made up of a family of restaurants that range from the gastronomic experiences of The French Laundry and Per Se to the relaxed and vibrant atmosphere of Bouchon, the family style dishes of Ad Hoc and the familiar sweets you'll discover at Bouchon Bakery. Like the original bouchons of Lyon after which it was modeled, Bouchon serves a menu of bistro classics and daily specials, featuring the best seasonal products available. There are delicious desserts, an extensive selection of raw seafoods, a full bar, and superb wine service in the warm and elegant main dining room or in the beautiful garden poolside setting. Two private rooms for dining available and outdoor patio and courtyard available for cocktail receptions. Even though Bouchon has two New York locations, the sumptuous elegance of Bouchon, Las Vegas in the Venetian has made it a treasured location for lunch, brunch and dinner but especially for Sunday brunch.