Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Late-August Rove

Except for occasional rain, this is a quiet time of year at Tohono Chul Park. Not many visitors, few migrating birds, most snakes keeping to the shade. But there is still beauty everywhere. And sometimes excitement (see this August post from 2011).

One of my favorite fountains in the Park, the Pot Wall, in the Riparian area.

Potwall 6 8-19-2013 9-43-14 AM 3616x2712

And throughout the Park, barrel cactus are blooming, each plant with a different color.

Red barrel 7-29-2013 8-38-15 AM 2567x2448

Yellow barrel 8-19-2013 9-48-56 AM 2595x2509

Pink barrel  8-19-2013 10-03-11 AM 2742x2656

Friday, August 16, 2013

Old-fashioned Monsoon Rain!

Everyone who grew up in Tucson knows that the best time of the year is the monsoon, from roughly the 4th of July to mid-September. Yes, it is hot, most days in the high nineties to 105 or so. But this is also the time of the blessed, lifegiving summer rains, which appear when the prevailing winds shift from westerly to southeasterly.

Hibiscus in the Rain
Monsoon rains are usually heavy, abrupt, often violent, and so welcome. A good monsoonal thunderstorm can drop the temperature by 20-30 degrees in just a few minutes. The air fills with the delicious aroma of Desert In The Rain, which is actually produced by the creosote bush, which releases volatile oils when it becomes wet. The sky sends forth sheets of rain, bolts of lightning, and rumbling thunder. Ah, monsoon. Something to look forward to every year.

My back yard in the rain

Most years, that is. Not this year. This has been a bad monsoon year. My neighborhood had received literally NO storms the entire summer. The most rain we got at one time was a tenth of an inch, in a puny storm that snuck in overnight. Much of the rest of Arizona has been repeatedly drenched. But not us.

Big Mesquite in the Rain
Till late yesterday afternoon. I heard thunder and saw a very small storm in the mountains to the northeast. "It won't rain here," I predicted. But it did. Hard. For over two hours. When it was all over, I had just shy of one inch of rain. I could hear my trees and other plants applauding.

Here's a link to a video of yesterday's storm. Please watch, and especially listen. This is why I and so many other people are lifelong Tucsonans.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sad Mama Dove

This is a brief followup to yesterday’s post about a gopher snake eating two nestling doves. This morning at the Park I told some fellow docents about what I had observed, and added that I felt very sorry for the mother dove, who seemed paralyzed with grief after the event. One of them assured me that doves don’t have a memory for such things, and that within a few minutes she had probably forgotten the whole thing.

I went back this morning to show a friend the tree and nest. There, sitting on the empty nest, was a mourning dove of the same size as the one I observed yesterday. I’m quite certain it was the same dove, and that she has not yet forgotten the loss of her babies.

Alone on nest 8-10-2013 9-00-24 AM 1636x1387

Lest you accuse me of anthropomorphism, I consider that a compliment. Please see my post “Is Anthropomorphism Really A Bad Thing?”

Friday, August 09, 2013

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

After Reptile Ramble at the Park this morning, I led a lizard walk. It was very hot and there weren’t too many lizards out. On the way to the Riparian Area, we did see something fascinating and horrifying: a large gopher snake in a tree, swallowing a nestling mourning dove. At first, all I saw was the mother dove, below the tree, calling and acting upset. Then I looked up to see a perfect example of a snake opening its mouth wide enough to receive prey bigger than its head. (See this post for a video of a nightsnake eating a large lizard.)
Gopher snake digesting baby dove 8-9-2013 11-00-49 AM 2448x2523   The snake has just swallowed the second baby; the first one can be seen here as a bulge in its body.

Once it had swallowed the baby dove, the snake returned to the nest, which was now empty, then began to slither out of the tree. I believe that it probably ate both of the babies in the nest (there are usually two in a dove nest). The poor mother dove continued to stand below the tree, now unmoving, and I’m sure doing the dove equivalent of weeping for her lost children.
Mother Mourning Dove 8-9-2013 11-10-34 AM 2042x2206
I am emotionally torn here. Anyone reading these posts knows how much I love snakes, and also how much I love birds. My heart breaks for the poor mother dove, who has poured all of her energy into raising these two little replicas of herself, and now they are both gone—in an instant—with nothing she can do.

When I left the area about fifteen minutes later, she was still standing there, looking as if she wouldn’t mind if the snake came back and ate her.

Here is a brief video of the gopher snake leaving the tree. Note the empty dove nest above it.

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