Sunday, September 30, 2012

Late September Morning Miscellany

The season is in transition. It’s still hot during the day, but mornings have been beautiful and cool. Today I had a lovely walk, just after moonset…

moonset 9-30-2012 6-13-15 AM 502x545

        Almost-full moon setting behind my bird garden

…during which I saw and/or heard phainopeplas. pyrrhuloxias, curved-billed thrashers, cactus wrens, a pair of verdins, Gambel’s quail, and several house finches.

A couple of days ago at Tohono Chul Park I followed a roadrunner for some distance, hoping to get a quick video. Unfortunately, every time I started the camera he stopped moving, as if he were deliberately trying to thwart me. Here are a couple of still shots he allowed me to take:

RoadrunnerA 9-22-2012 8-32-38 AM 1555x1204

                                                 Roadrunner back 9-22-2012 8-33-46 AM 762x1349 

And below is a really nice wolf spider hole, surrounded by its signature parapet: These holes (with parapets) can be seen to the sides of most trails these days. I have not been able to find out why wolf spiders construct parapets, but have heard that they sit on them to see prey coming down the trail. I doubt this, since I’ve never seen a spider on one. If anyone reading this knows the answer, please leave it in the comments.

Wolf Spider parapet 9-24-2012 9-42-58 AM 2039x2205

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Sonoran Desert Toad

I have written here several times about Reptile Ramble, the program at Tohono Chul Park in which two herpetologists and a handful of docents talk about and demonstrate live reptiles (snakes, lizards, and turtles mostly).

Yesterday was one of the days when I was privileged to participate in the show. As usual, I got to demonstrate my favorite snake, Leo the Common Kingsnake, whom I babysat for this summer. But I also got to demonstrate a different type of herp, an amphibian: the Sonoran Desert Toad. We don’t usually have a toad, and I had never even held one before.

Toad in Hand 9-21-2012 10-44-10 AM 1251x2015Sonoran Desert Toad

These toads are surprisingly large (the size of a bullfrog). They spend most of the year underground, waiting for the rainy season. From late May through the summer they emerge to mate in temporary rain pools or permanent streams. Their voices when mating are said to sound like a sheep being strangled.

I am wearing gloves in the above photo because the toads exude a toxin from their parotid glands (large, wart-like protruberances behind their mouths). This toxin has psychedelic properties, and was used by Native Americans to bring visions. It is dangerous and even fatal to dogs, however, and any dog that licks or mouths a toad must have its mouth washed out with a hose (from the side) and taken to a veterinarian for treatment.

                                  Sonoran Desert Toad Hopping 9-21-2012 10-43-33 AM 612x406

The most fun thing to me about the Sonoran Desert Toad is its exuberant hopping. We had a few dozen first-graders at the program yesterday, and they screamed and laughed in delight when I set the toad on the ground. It began hopping around, fast and high, no doubt trying to escape. I had a heck of a time re-catching it, but finally did. What an amazing creature it is!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My nectar bats

For the last several years, nectar bats have drained my hummingbird feeders at night from the end of August through mid-October. I usually leave two or three feeders up for them, then set out fresh feeders for the hummers in the early morning.

I don’t mind doing this, because the two species of nectar bats that work the Tucson valley, the Lesser Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris curasoae) and the Mexican Long-tongued Bat (Choeronycteris mexicana) are both imperiled. The “Choero” is threatened, while the “Lepto” is endangered. How could I deny either of them a little sugar water?


Lesser long-nosed bats (“Leptos”), photograph by Ted Fleming

Both species are important to our ecosystem, pollinating agaves and saguaros. Although I have yet to meet one in person, I’ve been assured that these bats, particularly the “lepto,” are very gentle. They are, as you can see above, amazing animals.

Last night, a very knowledgeable graduate student from Toronto set up a recording array on my back porch that will let him track the number of bats (and the species) during the night. Bat array 9-13-2012 6-32-01 AM 1978x2699  He specializes in bat communication—a bat linguist, if you will. He told me that these bats can see well enough to find food on a brightly moonlit night, but that most of their food-finding is done entirely through echolocation. Their “sonar” shows them exactly where the feeders are, down to the tiny feeding holes.

The bats also communicate with each other, which is important since they come to the feeders in large groups. It’s not known what their calls mean, of course, but they are probably something on the order of “Coming in, now!” “Watch out!” “I’m next!”

Lepto 5       lepto3

Lepto blob

Leptos feeding. Note the tiny droplets of nectar.

If you want to know more about these beautiful and important animals, check out the Marana Bat and Hummingbird Feeders Study. The stunning photos of Leptos in this post are by Ted Fleming, one of the coordinators of the Study.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Soggy Rove and Farewell to Leo

It rained gently for the start of my rove yesterday. There were a lot of birds out, including a beautiful, beautiful broad-billed hummingbird (he’s been there about a week). Not much else going on, except I saw an amazing pair of cactus wren nests on the North Trail.

fuzzy cactus wren nest 1 9-10-2012 9-34-41 AM 1797x1910  weird cactus wren nest entrance 9-10-2012 9-35-42 AM 2537x1715

They were amazing because they were covered with what appeared to be fiber-fill. Cactus wrens like to decorate their nests, and will use things like tinsel, yarn, cellophane, even Kleenex. So this wren must have found a pillow somewhere!

After the rove, the owner of Leo (The Snake in my Guest Room)  came over to pick him up. I will miss Leo, for sure. Here are a couple of pictures from his next-to-last day with me.

Leo, coiled 9-7-2012 1-07-20 PM 1497x1407         Leo, cave 9-7-2012 1-05-00 PM 1674x1517

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Monday Miscellany

I love the feeling of living close to nature, here in the foothills and at Tohono Chul Park. Even on days when nothing particularly noteworthy happens, there is always beauty nearby.

For instance, yesterday morning before dawn, I got to see what was left of the Blue Moon, shining very brightly down on our driveway.

Driveway AM blue moon 9-1-2012 6-00-49 AM 2467x2324

While I was on the way to my rove at the Park, I watched a thin, blond coyote carefully look both ways before crossing a busy street.

The Park itself was heavy with humidity and extremely lush, which made seeing birds problematic, though I did catch glimpses of Abert’s towhees, black-tailed gnatcatchers, and surprisingly a Bell’s vireo. While looking for birds, some visitors and I saw these odd tracks along the trail:

 Sticks and sand 9-3-2012 9-22-15 AM 3616x2712

At first we thought they must be termite tunnels—but why would they be on a rocky trail? I decided to open one, and found that it was just a stick—oddly covered with a thin film of sand. This was presumably some phenomenon of wind and rain, but I haven’t heard a good explanation yet. There were several other of these “tracks” on some of the other trails.

Finally, I got to see a Palo Verde tree near the Five Seasons Garden, decked out as if for Christmas…Gourds in palo verde tree 9-3-2012 8-42-41 AM 2418x1865

The hanging balls turned out to be coyote gourds, growing from a long vine. 

Coyote Gourd 9-3-2012 8-43-15 AM 1969x2333