Posts Tagged ‘Desert’

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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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New Desert Creatures Mysteries e-book

August 12, 2014

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Now you can get a great Desert Creatures Mysteries e-book.

It goes into detail about the strange animals of the desert, and some of the cool science about them.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/455225

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Packrat Middens

November 3, 2013

Packrats, Neotoma albigula, make interesting nests in which to store their treasures—and themselves.

When you are out in the desert, the trick is how to spot a packrat nest. It’s not always easy. I guess that’s the idea, when you are building a hideaway.  Basically, look for a crazy, almost random pile of sticks and leaves, and often cholla cactus stems. The nests can range from a foot to 8 feet wide, and are often at the base of a shrub or cactus.

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Apparently, If you went inside a packrat nest or midden, an activity the packrats vigorously discourage, you might find shiny bits of human treasures—foil, metal, or other bright objects, since packrats seem to like shiny things as much as we do.

Packrats do like cholla cacti, somehow managing to avoid their really nasty and determined thorns. There’s even one variety called the jumping cholla—I would stay away from those! The name comes from how easily a stem can get detached and glom onto you. A packrat favorite! Cholla stems are certainly a good defensive addition to a habitation—the dry stems are probably even nastier than green ones. According to the Desert Museum, packrats love to eat prickly pear fruit. So they are really cactus creatures.

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A Dry Heat

June 29, 2011

The joke is, in the Sonoran desert, even though it’s 114, it’s a dry heat.

The idea being that with very low humidity, amazingly, under 5 percent at times, the heat is easier to bear.

114, an average high for a few days each summer, is still bad enough, but given how few trees and other shelter there is in the desert, it’s almost always a sunny heat during the daytime, which adds another 7 to 10 degrees.

All plants and animals and people that live in the desert need to be built or adapt in some way to survive these extreme temperatures.

The hottest time of year is a few days before the summer Solstice on June 21, and a few weeks after that. Then the average daily temperature starts going down again, very very gradually.

A few weeks after the solstice is also the time when the summer monsoons really get going. The standard definition of monsoon season is the change in the wind, but in the desert, the important thing is that the monsoon usually brings moisture and finally rain from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico.

And of course, when the humidity goes up and the rains start, it’s still over 100 degrees in the desert. And it’s no longer a dry heat.

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Ocotillos in bloom

April 11, 2011

It is mid-April and the ocotillos are in bloom in the Sonoran desert, a great sight to see.

These plants can leaf out several times a year after rains, but they only bloom once a year, the blossoms providing food for a variety of insects and birds.

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Limiting factors in the desert

September 16, 2010

In some ways the term “limiting factor” is almost a definition of deserts, because deserts lack one or more essential ingredients for the survival of most kinds of plants and animals.

First, a desert is, by definition, a place with very little available water, either because there is little rainfall, or because it evaporates so fast. It may also be that most of the precipitation is unavailable because it is frozen most of the year, as in the far north or south, or in some high altitude regions.

Some areas may get bursts of moisture, even flooding, but it is episodic and not dependably available most of the year.

Temperature is another limiting factor. Many deserts get too hot for most organisms. Some deserts near the north and south poles are too cold. And yet others have wide swings in temperature.

Wind is another. There are few trees or shrubs to stop the wind. Desert mountains, river-courses or other sheltered areas may harbor small oases in their wind and sun shadows.

One unusual limiting factor is lack of sunlight. This can occur in deserts near the poles.

Especially interesting are the adaptations that plants and animals have developed to deal with these limiting factors. Many of them are what we talk about here.

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Leafing again: the strange case of the ocotillo

August 6, 2010

One of the odder native residents of the Sonoran desert is the ocotillo bush. It typically consists of several spindly branches, vertically striped and spiny, up to 20 feet tall, that are leafless for long periods, only to sprout thick lines of small leaves within a few days after a rain.

Ocotillo branches with few leaves

Ocotillo branches with few leaves

Its desert adaptation of dropping leaves and playing possum is so complete that ocotillo plants for sale, in their leafless phase, with their branches tied in a bundle and roots bare, look thoroughly dead.

Ocotillo branches with many leaves

Ocotillo branches with many leaves


In the spring, they produce numerous red tubular blossoms at the ends of the branches that attract insects and birds of many species. They make great landscape plants because of their sparse sculptural look, and extremely low water requirements, and striking seasonal changes.

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Choose native plants for your desert landscape

July 22, 2010

One way to figure out what plants will be suitable and attractive in your desert landscaping is to go to a nearby natural area and see what is growing wild.

Make sure you select a location that is similar to yours in exposure, dryness and altitude.

Take photos or make a list of plants you find attractive. Never dig up native plants! They are fragile and rare, and in most places it is illegal to do so.  Almost everything you will see is available in plant stores. Photos will also help you arrange your landscaping, showing which plants grow together, and how much space they need.

Then go to the web or in plant books to learn about the plants you have found, or take your photos to a local nursery that specializes in native plants, and decide which are for you.

The variety of desert plants is surprising: cacti, shrubs, vines, spring-flowering annuals, many kinds of perennials. A big virtue of native plants is that they  require little in the way of extra water and plant food, and are easy to maintain.

One thing to keep in mind about native plants–some of them grow very slowly, so it may take a while for your landscape to mature. But there is nothing to match their beauty, and their ability to attract native fauna.

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On little coot feet

July 21, 2010

The American coot looks like a little round black duck. With a white snoot. And mad red eyes.

But it is not, not a duck.

After you look for a while, it also looks like a young chicken, a pullet, with a football shape, but rounder than a football.

A chicken, getting warmer.

Coots are in fact related to chickens, and more closely, to mudhens. (Go Toledo!)

While we think of them as northern wetland animals,  you can actually find them in the Sonoran desert, on some of the occasional lakes in the desert. They swim around, most often in pairs, and dive to gather vegetation, and the, um, scum from the bottom that they eat.

But the most amazing thing about coots is their feet. They have very strange feet. Not just plain chicken feet. But not duck feet, webbed paddling feet either.

They have these strange little flaps on the sides of their toes, very clever flaps actually, that make their toes very wide when they step down, or when they push against the water, but fold up to slender claw-width when they lift their feet, or bring them forward in the water, or take off in flight.

They are not easy to spot– you have to be quite close, or have the coots pose just right, then you can see them.

So if you see a round black swimming chicken-duck-bird with a white bill-beak and crazy red eyes, make sure you look for their really crazy black and gray flapped coot feet.

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What are Desert Wetlands?

July 15, 2010

The definition of desert is a dry place. So what do you mean, desert wetlands? Like most things in nature, deserts are more complicated, and interesting, that you’d think at first.

For example, there are many kinds of wetlands found in or near deserts:
Ponds
Freshwater and Salt or Alkaline lakes, like the Great Salt Lake
Springs and Seeps
Creeks, Streams and Rivers
Intermittent Streams, like the Hassayampa River
Disappearing Streams, like the Hassayampa River
Canals, Impoundments and other built wetlands
Oceans

Because they are such a distinct change or edge, they often host a surprising variety to wildlife, including disjunct species, that is, organisms typically found in distant areas.

This also means that they are often good places to view wildlife.