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.


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.


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!


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.


Desert clouds

September 28, 2015

The desert can produce some of the most amazing clouds.

Like this:



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.


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.


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.

P1210868 - Version 2

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.


Right now!

March 11, 2015

If you want to see amazing flowers in the desert, early March is the peak time.

Brittle bush and chuparosaChuparosa, palo verde, brittle bush, globe mallow, and many more shrubs have been in full bloom for several weeks now. The agaves are starting to blossom. Annuals are flowering, the spectacular poppies and lupines, as are the interesting little “belly plants,”called that by the researchers and photographers, who have to crawl around on their bellies to study the small ground-hugging plants that sprout, flower, and die back in a matter of weeks.

In lower and hotter elevations, plants bloom sooner. As the season progresses, the active blossoming moves uphill and to the north. Generally, cacti are some of the last to blossom, even out into May.

To take photographs, most people tend to go on a sunny day for brilliant, crisp flower photos. If you can, try taking pictures on an overcast day, or early morning or evening twilight for smooth even light–good for catching details that might be obscured by shadows, and capturing subtle colors.

And if you are lucky enough to get a rainy day, you have a chance for amazing photos, saturated cool colors, and moist, dripping petals on plants which rarely see moist and dripping days.

Check this websigte for useful desert flower photography tips: http://azstateparks.com/rangercam2015/index-3.html

For a list of what is blooming and where in Arizona, check out the Arizona State Parks website: http://azstateparks.com/rangercam2015/index-2.html

And the Desert Botanical Gardens website: http://www.dbg.org/gardening-horticulture/wildflower-infosite