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Who’s standing tall and alone?

December 19, 2015

A striking sight in the Sonoran desert is a lone saguaro cactus.P1150608.jpeg

Saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea) provide food and shelter to a surprising number of creatures. This includes humans, who harvest their fruit, and use their skeletons for fences and construction.

These cacti have an amazing variety of adaptations to the desert.

First, check out the color of the stems, a pale green, indicating they contain chlorophyll. Since saguaros do not really have leaves, the stems have to do the work of photosynthesizing and producing food. The pale color keeps the plants from absorbing too much hot sunlight and getting burned.

If you look closely, you will see lines of defensive thorns on vertical accordion ridges. The whole plant can expand to hold more water after a good rain, then accordion back in as it uses the water

What you can’t see is the root structure. Instead of sending down a big tap root, like many plants, they send out numerous very long horizontal roots near the surface, to better gather any moisture nearby.

That’s why they’re lonesome looking—they need to grow far apart. And that’s why, in the old days before we realized it was unethical, (now it’s also illegal) people would dig them up in the desert, transplant them, and they would die, because the majority of  the root structure was left behind.

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Did You Hear a Droplet?

December 17, 2015

Sometimes in the desert, you may hear a loud and distinct sound like a very large droplet of water dropping into a pool.

The droplet-dropping sound is actually the call of a Curved-billed Thrasher, a brown bird with a distinguished down-curving bill and surprising orange eyes.

Curved billed thrasher

The Cornell bird labs characterize the call as a sharp, whistled “whit-weet”at their website www.allaboutbirds.org

Perhaps it only sounds like water to parched desert dwellers.

These birds, relatives of mockingbirds, live in the southwestern United States deserts and through much of Mexico.

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Wildlife Rescue Open House

November 13, 2015

If you are near the Phoenix, Arizona area next weekend, you have an opportunity to meet and learn about some of the cool creatures of the hot desert.

The open house is on November 21 and 22, 2015, at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center.

www.azwildlifecenter.net/events.asp

Because this is a wildlife rescue station, the population changes all the time. Depending on who is recovering there, you may see eagles, desert tortoises, bobcats, falcons, or ringtails.

Or maybe even the creative and industrious packrat!

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What kind of Rat?

November 9, 2015

A Pack Rat, that’s what!

More specifically, a White-throated Woodrat, Neotoma albigula.

There are several different kinds of related Woodrats, just to make things confusing for humans. And in addition, Woodrats are not the same as the rats we usually think of, when we think of rats–those are the Old World Rattus rats.

Woodrats or Pack Rats look more like giganto mice, with their big ears and big dark eyes. Their tails are also fuzzier than the bare Rattus tails.Packrat

These amazing creatures can survive on the moisture they get from the vegetation they eat, and do not need to drink water. How’s that for a desert adaptation!

Quite a while back we talked about Pack Rat middens, the amazing homes the White-throated Woodrats build in the desert.

These folks must have special skills, to build such large defensive structures without getting nasty stab wounds, since middens often include a lot of cactus branches.

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Desert clouds

September 28, 2015

The desert can produce some of the most amazing clouds.

Like this:

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Ocotillos and visitors

April 8, 2015

So, the original idea here was to talk about how Ocotillo plants (Fouquieria splendens) in bloom seem to host bird or pollinator visitors at almost any time of day.

It seemed like a good idea to do at least one random sample of observation before declaring this.

And sure enough, during a 3 minute segment one spring afternoon, a few days into full bloom for the ocotillo, there were two bird visitors and several pollinator insects. Now this was just one casual observation, but it indicates how often you see creatures near or on these plants.

ocoVerdin3698

As noted in an earlier post, Verdins, (Auriparus flaviceps) the very small birds with yellow heads, are frequent visitors, apparently looking for insects. Finches are also common. And hummingbirds can be seen throughout the year.

It is amazing that any birds can find a firm foothold on the thorny stems. Clever feet.

Remember that the ocotillo is not a cactus, although it may look like one during some parts of the year. It’s in a completely different group. In fact, for most of the year, it looks like a bundle of dead sticks, and if you first saw one for sale in a garden center, you might wonder what they were trying to sell.

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One example of right now…

March 13, 2015

…and right next to you, in the North American Sonoran Desert–quite a variety of flowers along the side of the Phoenix-Las Vegas highway, south of Wickenburg, on March 12: globe mallow, desert lupine, creosote bush, brittle bush, and many others. Amazing that there are so many natives right along the verge.

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Again, lower elevations, farther south, means earlier flowering time.

Interesting to watch the populations change even with slight elevation changes, going up and down hills.

Look for places that have not been bulldozed or grazed, so there are fewer weeds and more natives.

Wetlands, swales, ditches, creeks, or washes may have unusual species.

This is prime time for flowers. They change so quickly, it’s worth looking as often as you can.