Another Adventure at Willcox Playa
Greetings from Tucson. I arrived Friday night. Saturday I headed on down to Willcox Playa, but not before a very pleasant breakfast with Adam and Andy at the B Line. The weather was interesting- a mix of clouds and sun. I dodged thunderstorms all the way out to Willcox. Although I spent much of the afternoon wondering if my time would be cut short by rain, it wasn't and the weather ended up helping the photography.
I've never seen the playa so full of water. Numbers of tiger beetles were not overly impressive. As is often the case there, most of the individuals that I saw were the Aridlands Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera marutha). I've already got some reasonably good images, but I spent the first 45 minutes or so wandering around and snapping a few photos. As I have gained more experience with these beetles, I've come to realize that this is a pretty skittish species. The really gooshy mud that they like to land on also makes my typical technique- crawling on my belly to approach them- highly undesirable.
Shortly thereafter, clouds began covering the sun with a bit greater frequency. A beautiful Arizona monsoon thunderstorm was crossing the desert a couple of miles west of me. I quickly discovered that the softer light was extremely conducive to photography. The diminished glare rendered it easier to avoid harsh reflections from the metallic elytra of the beetles. The tiger beetles were easier to approach than they would be in full sun. I quickly got a pretty good shot of a Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetle (Cicindelidia sedecimpunctata).
As the clouds thickened a bit, a pretty green tiger beetle landed rather close to me. I was able to crouch down without scaring it. The mud in that area was not quite as wet and squishy as elsewhere on the playa, so I was able to try my technique of laying flat and inching my way closer to the beetle with my camera extended at arms length in front of me. The stars must have been aligned, because I was able to bring my camera within a foot of the beetle and get a nice series of photos. So intent was I on the approach and the composition of the pictures that I didn't even realize until got up to review them on my camera that my subject was not E. marutha.
The Glittering Tiger Beetle (Habroscelimorpha fulgoris) lives in wet, salty mud in the arid Southwest. Subspecies erronea is found at Willcox Playa and nowhere else in the world. I had gotten the front of my tee shirt crusted with salty mud, but it was worth it.
I capped off my day cooling off in Cobban's pool with a glass of wine. This may have been my best visit ever to Willcox Playa.