Sunday, September 21, 2014

Kingsnake Attacks and Eats Rattlesnake

Snakes that eat other snakes are often called “kings;” for example, the King Cobra. The most common, widespread North American snake with this feeding habit is the beautiful common kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula. Readers of this blog know that the kingsnake is my favorite snake.

Juvenile kingsnake June 2012 6-28-2012 6-09-012Common kingsnake

Like all snakes, kingsnakes have several anatomical features that allow them to eat prey that is actually bigger than their heads. These features include a specialized jaw that allows the mouth to open nearly 180 degrees, very stretchable skin, and lack of a breastbone, which allows the ribs to expand as the meal moves down the gullet. If you had the same adaptations, you would be able to swallow a cantaloupe.

My fellow docent at Tohono Chul Park, Carlton King, was lucky enough to observe a common kingsnake attacking, subduing, and swallowing a fairly big Western diamondback rattlesnake in his neighborhood. With his permission, I am pleased to share these remarkable photos with you.

kingsnake head1The kingsnake is suffocating the rattlesnake and getting a grip on its head.

kingsnake head cuThe kingsnake has started to swallow the rattlesnake. Note that the kingsnake’s head is upside down in this photo.

kingsnake partway down 9-19-2014 8-23-01 AM 4608x3456The rattlesnake makes its way down the kingsnake’s gullet…

Kingsnake rattle 9-19-2014 10-47-16 AM 3901x1905…and now everything has been swallowed but the tail and rattle.

Kingsnake with rattler inside 9-21-2014 7-04-17 AM 630x297Here is the kingsnake with the rattlesnake complete inside it. See how small its head looks!

Thanks again, Carlton! 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tortoise Eating Tuna

Another hot, humid, and beautiful day at Tohono Chul Park.
This is a desert tortoise:
Desert Tortoise 3-18-2013 8-39-40 AM 2580x2148
These are the fruit of prickly pears. Around here they are called TUNAS. Most birds and animals love them:
This video shows a desert tortoise eating a tuna.  YUM!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Camouflage in the Desert

Three weeks ago, my roving buddy and I were walking the Saguaro Discovery Trail at Tohono Chul Park looking for a nighthawk nest we had heard about. Suddenly,  a lesser nighthawk erupted from the ground and flew several feet away.

Where it had been sitting—under a cholla on the bare desert floor—was an olive green speckled egg.nighthawk egg cu 6-23-2014 9-06-43 AM 705x760

We did some research and learned that nighthawks usually lay two eggs. The chicks are semi-precocial, meaning that they can move about after they are hatched, but depend on parental care till they fledge, 17 days later. How can almost-helpless baby birds survive 17 days on the hot desert floor? The answer is that they are invisible!

nighthawk chicksB

nighthawk chicksA

These two amazing photos were taken by photographer John Durham and are used with his permission. He took them in the Altar Valley, somewhat southwest of Tucson.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

‘Twas the Day after Bloom Night

A cloudy, hot, humid day with much beauty remaining from the previous night’s night-blooming cereus celebration. Most of these photos were taken in the new front part of Tohono Chul Park.

postbloom pathway 7-12-2014 8-10-39 AM 3264x2448                                                             claret cup 7-12-2014 8-43-41 AM 2448x3264 

pb vista 7-12-2014 8-12-38 AM 3264x2448 pb wallflowers 7-12-2014 8-11-22 AM 3264x2448                                               mammalaria crown 7-12-2014 8-58-20 AM 3264x2448pb wallflowers cu 7-12-2014 8-11-28 AM 3264x2448                                                              

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Eight Baby Quail Feeding

This very large quail family has been showing up daily since the babies first hatched, about ten days ago. They started with eight, and still have eight, which probably means that the parents are very experienced (and lucky). This morning I spilled some Nijer seed on the floor of my back porch. As soon as the quail discovered it, they were after it. The baby quail at the extreme right of the frame are pecking at the brick wall--they may think it is a quail block.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Amazing dove parenting

This morning, standing at the kitchen window at dawn, I saw a cluster of four white-winged doves on the wall. At first I thought it was two adults feeding two chicks, but then realized it was one extremely patient adult feeding THREE very demanding chicks. I finally sorted it out, and believe it was mama or papa, two recently-fledged chicks, and one nearly full-grown chick from the previous clutch. I’ve always known white-wingeds were good parents, but had no idea they would continue to feed a fledgling until it was nearly full grown!

I do not have pictures of the incident, but here are nestling doves in the carport from a previous year.

White-winged siblings 5-16-2012 3-12-04 PM 1929x1331

These homely little guys will grow up to look like this beauty:

White-winged dove CU 6-27-2011 8-31-41 AM 1901x2105

Monday, June 02, 2014


It is supposed to get to 109 today, but was only in the nineties when I did my weekly Rove at Tohono Chul Park. My roving partner and I had a great time. Even in the heat of summer, there is so much beauty. Here, for example, is the coral bean that greets visitors at the front gate:
coral bean 6-2-2014 8-05-32 AM 1958x1621
We saw other beautiful flowers, and a number of birds, including “the usual suspects” (Gambel’s quail, cactus wrens, white-winged doves, verdins, and Bell’s vireo, common here in the warm weather). We also saw, at the top of big nest high in an ash tree, the fuzzy white head of a baby Cooper’s hawk. We’d been wondering if the nest was active, and now we know! In addition we saw desert spiny, whiptail, and zebratail lizards, and one smallish diamondback that was waiting patiently near a mouse hole in the ground. 

At the back of the Riparian area, a trichocereus was in bloom:
June 2014 Trichos 6-2-2014 9-31-14 AM 2671x2168
In the same area we cooled off by watching one of my favorite fountains, the Pot Wall.

Friday, May 09, 2014

3 Reasons to love the Sonoran Desert in Spring

I love late spring in the Sonoran Desert. There is so much beauty now. Here are three things in particular that I look forward to from year to year, and cherish every second that they are here:

1. Palo Verde trees in bloom. Throughout the city of Tucson and in the surrounding desert, everywhere you look there is a sea of yellow blossoms.

Palo verde cropped

Rillito palo verdes crop

2. White-winged doves on saguaros. The beautiful white-winged dove spends the winter in Mexico, then flies up here in springtime to feed on saguaro blossoms and fruit. The most iconic image of the Sonoran desert is a white-winged dove atop a saguaro. (In this photo the dove is accompanied by a Gila woodpecker and a bee.)

Gila and White winged dove 5-7-2010 8-17-55 AM 855x908

3. Baby Gambel’s quail. These adorable little guys start showing up in April and provide continuing entertainment and beauty well into summer.

Baby Quail 5-16-2008 9-58-26 AM 514x357


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Trichocereus Mass Bloom

The trichocereus is in my opinion the most beautiful of all the cactus flowers. Usually, one or two cacti will bloom at a time, but yesterday  I saw a mass bloom of dozens of tricho’s in a garden at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It was so stunning it took my breath away. I’ve already posted these photos elsewhere, but thought I’d give everyone a chance to look at them.

 Tricho G 4-29-2014 9-52-50 AM 3264x1942

TrichoD 4-29-2014 9-53-06 AM 2253x1880

TrichoC 4-29-2014 9-53-21 AM 3264x1529

TrichoB 4-29-2014 9-53-27 AM 1769x915

TrichoA 4-29-2014 9-53-34 AM 1828x2018

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pipevine Life Cycle

I have told you before about the beautiful Pipevine swallowtail butterfly (see Butterfly Sex Notes) that lays its eggs on leaves of the pipevine.

pipevine flower 5-7-2010 8-10-35 AM 1000x1045

Soon the eggs hatch into a beautiful, though toxic caterpillar (it picks up toxins from the pipevine leaves).

Pipevine 3 9-3-2010 8-17-43 AM 868x935

Eventually, the caterpillar matures and creates a chrysalis in which to pupate. This is so cool! First, it places some silk on the twig (or in this case wall) as a base, then it spins the chrysalis, attaching the top part to the wall with a noose made out of silk!

Pipevine chrysalis 8-17-2013 2-26-38 PM 866x1191

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Jackrabbit encounter

Yesterday my roving partner, Sue, and I had a special treat. While walking on the Desert View Trail, we saw a jackrabbit that didn’t see us, and were able to watch it for about five minutes. It was eating creosote—first standing on its hind legs, and then crouched on the ground. As always when I see a jackrabbit, I was astounded by how big it is and how HUGE those ears are. Jackrabbits (which are technically hares, not rabbits), are among a very few animals that can eat creosote, because their kidneys are adapted to handle the poisonous oxalic acid in the plant.

jackrabbit ears 1 8-10-2013 1-04-46 PM 1798x2070

Later on, we saw an unusual, double-decker verdin nest—one nest built on top of an old one. These are great times to be in the Park!

verdin nest double decker 8-10-2013 2-14-52 PM 1597x1828  verdin nest double decker side 8-10-2013 2-15-07 PM 3070x2306

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Wood Duck

For a few years the only item on my bucket list was to see a male wood duck in person. A couple of weeks ago I fulfilled my dream and saw and photographed a very calm wood duck on a pond in a nearby park. I have no idea what he was doing there, but I’m so glad to have met him! I can’t imagine a more beautiful bird, even though he is not native to the Sonoran Desert. Here are four views of my wood duck, including the rear view below that shows off his beautiful purple mullet.

Wood duck mullet

Wood Duck Head 1 7-15-2013 2-08-36 PM 4608x3456 7-15-2013 2-08-36 PM 1944x2182

Wood duck Sit 1 7-15-2013 2-06-31 PM 4608x3456 7-15-2013 2-06-31 PM 1974x1179

Wood duck whole 7-15-2013 2-09-11 PM 2575x1716

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring Changes in the Park

The whole front of Tohono Chul Park is being re-done. I previously wrote about the new Palm Canyon habitat on the left side; here’s a look in-progress at changes on the left (south) side, where the old entrance used to be.

It is a little hard for me to picture what it will look like when it is finished, but so far, though I miss some of the desert vegetation that has been removed, the new walls and walkways seem to open things up, and somehow the front of the Park is now looking much bigger than it used to.

bucket in wall 7-27-2013 12-55-30 PM 2545x2559

Buckets with drip lines have been placed in many of the walls; presumably beautiful plants will grow in them.





Below are a new curvy wall and the old path, both west of the Overlook:

New curvy walls 7-27-2013 12-56-02 PM 4608x3456

old path 7-27-2013 12-56-19 PM 4608x3456

Other new things in the Park:

tricho in greenhouse 7-20-2013 12-51-14 PM 2362x2377

The first trichocereus of spring, in the Greenhouse






First whitewing of 2014 7-27-2013 1-45-32 PM 1333x1650

The first white-winged dove of spring; so happy to see my beloved white-wings are returning!







And finally, a sweet mama hummer in the nest she built underneath a lamp on the Bistro patio!

hummer in lamp 7-27-2013 2-48-58 PM 1698x1745

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Saguaro Globe and Those Crazy Finches

The beautiful large saguaro at the end of our driveway has sprouted a perfectly round globe on the top of one of its arms. It will be interesting to see if it becomes oblong, and if it flowers.

globe1 3-23-2014 8-28-59 AM 1057x2018

In the meantime, perhaps knowing that I am fascinated by nests, a pair of house finches has been spending the last two days trying to build a nest on the rear spoiler of my car. No matter how often I remove their nesting materials, they replace them. They are using mostly creosote and Texas ranger. Here is what it looked like this morning:

nesting material 3-23-2014 8-25-52 AM 3222x1370

This afternoon, they had amassed the pile into a much more nestlike structure:

More nestlike 3-23-2014 2-20-49 PM 2642x2189

I will of course remove this as well, and I do need the car to go to Tohono Chul Park tomorrow. I wonder when they will give up? Or will I have to give up driving?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sandhill Cranes

The magnificent sandhill cranes return to southern Arizona every winter. They mostly hang out in the area around Willcox, including Whitewater Draw, an artificial wetlands that also attracts other water birds.

Standing cranes large 5-29-2013 4-14-46 PM 4561x1964

This is the second time I have seen the cranes as they fly back from gleaning the Willcox fields for a daily siesta. They come in great numbers, wave after wave, from a few to several dozen at a time. The air fills with their insistent calls. There is something primal and spiritual about them, something I feel through my whole body as I watch their eerie alien beauty.

SandhillCrowd4Garrwald[2]This beautiful photo of Sandhill Cranes landing was taken by Bob Garrett..