Sunday, March 31, 2013

What were those rabbits doing? And other interesting tidbits from the natural world.

A couple of evenings ago I was staring through our front picture window, as I often do, watching the birds and critters, when I saw something I’d never seen before. A cottontail rabbit was lying stretched out on its stomach in a shallow depression the length of its body. It was unmoving, and though it occasionally opened its eyes, its ears were down, and I thought it must be sick or dying.

details_rabbit(Photo courtesy of azgfd)

Another rabbit crouched next to the one that was stretched out. It seemed to be licking the face of the one lying down. It licked the right side of the face, then the nose-end, then the left side. Then it circled to the back, and licked the back part of the seemingly sick rabbit. I wondered if I were witnessing some kind of bunny funeral ritual. But then, something happened—a hawk or other predator must have appeared, because the rabbit that was stretched out suddenly opened its eyes, straightened its ears, and sat up. Suddenly it, the other rabbit, and one I hadn’t seen before took off running for the neighbor’s yard.

I have since done some reading, and believe that the stretched-out rabbit may have been a female, and that she was being groomed by a male interested in sex. But who knows? If anyone reading this has witnessed this behavior and knows what it means, please let us know in the comments.

This morning I looked out at the yard just as the sun was rising, and saw a pair of javelinas crossing the yard. Though they are big and rather awkward looking, it was amazing to see how delicately they walked on their relatively tiny hooves.

urban_javelinaPhoto from azgfd

Despite their appearance, by the way, javelinas are not closely related to pigs, which come from the Old World. Javelinas, which originated in South America, resemble their European cousins through convergent evolution.  

Finally, something else I had never previously seen: a friend and I went birding yesterday at a nearby artificial wetlands. The air was thick with the mating cries of red-winged blackbirds, which could be seen in every bush and tree. While trying to attract a mate, these beautiful males actually erect the red feather patches on their wings!

Red-winged blackbird display 3-30-2013 8-40-38 AM 3616x2712Red-winged blackbird display 2 3-30-2013 8-40-41 AM 1059x1545I don’t know about you, but if I were a female blackbird, I would definitely be interested!

Monday, March 18, 2013

My first day of Spring

I have had to be away from Tohono Chul Park for nine days. In my absence, spring arrived. The flowers are flowering, and the birds are nesting. The desert tortoises have emerged from their dens.  It is beautiful and thrilling. Best of all, the first white-winged dove of the year  arrived today, though I did not get a photo.

PenstemonMystery penstemon 3-18-2013 8-44-53 AM 1789x847

Mexican honeysuckle                                   Texas Mountain Laurel

Mexican honeysuckle 3-18-2013 8-31-50 AM 1660x1338             TX Mountain Laurel 3-18-2013 8-50-28 AM 2437x1652

Bluebells and gold poppies in the Cactus CircleBluebells and Gold poppies in the cactus circle 3-18-2013 8-34-10 AM 3616x2212

Desert Tortoise                                            Cooper’s Hawk Nest

Desert Tortoise 3-18-2013 8-39-40 AM 2580x2148             2013 hawk nest 3-18-2013 8-54-59 AM 3375x2666Genius MODO 2013 3-18-2013 8-51-28 AM 2057x2693

Mourning dove nest in a yucca, and, below, a verdin building a nest

Verdin working on a nest


Friday, March 01, 2013

A thrilling bird concert

Curve-billed Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds are two of my favorite birds. They are actually closely related—both members of the bird family Mimidae. Their bodies are nearly identical, but the slightly-smaller mockingbird is grey, white, and black, while the thrasher is mostly grayish brown. Mockingbirds have yellow eyes and a short straight beak, while the thrasher’s eyes are orange and its bill  long and distinctly curved. Both birds eat insects, seeds, and berries, though the thrasher is more of a desert dweller than the mockingbird, which is often found in urban environments.

Mockers new backyard 007          CU curve-billed thrasher 11-12-2012 12-22-40 PM 497x855

Mockingbird                                    Curve-billed thrasher (Sue Feyrer)

Both birds excel at singing. Nearly everyone has heard the beautiful, ever-changing trills of a mockingbird in the spring, but not everyone knows that thrashers can sing nearly as well. The thrasher’s ordinary call is a piercing upside-down wolf whistle (whit-WHEET!), but their song is beautiful and very melodious.

This morning at Tohono Chul Park I heard beautiful birdsong on one of the desert trails. As I approached, a mockingbird flew into a tree above me, but it was not singing. I followed its gaze to see this beautiful thrasher singing its heart out.

Curve-billed thrasher singing on a saguaro