After a busy winter season, things are beginning to slow down at the Desert Museum.The heat is ramping up, getting ready for summer's blast. Out-of-town visitors find somewhere cooler to go. Afternoon tours are eliminated. Winter visitors are leaving town. The docent corps, too, is thinning out. But, for those of us who brave the warmer temps, things are always exciting at the Museum.
Our Cactus Garden has undergone a transformation in recent months and is now a stunning showcase for all things spiny. Friday docents give a tour every week of the garden, and visitors are fascinated by the shapes, colors and adaptations of cactus from the Sonoran Desert as well as more tropical locales farther south. I love giving these tours and last Friday I had six enthusiastic visitors learning about what is, and what is not, a cactus.
The cactus blooms were sort of in a lull, but there was this lovely, mounding Notocactus.
And this Mexican night-blooming cereus, which was just starting to close after its nighttime shift. Interestingly, the one in my garden bloomed the same night, for the first time ever.
|Mexican Night-Blooming Cereus|
Not to forget our amazing saguaro cacti that are still blooming full blast.
Friday is a popular day for school groups to visit the Museum. A good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. As a docent, I love having the schoolkids come out, and I am especially happy when they are well-chaperoned and have been given learning assignments. After the Cactus Garden Tour, I was stationed in the Ethnobotany Garden and I had a group of high school girls who listened intently and asked great questions. First, I had to explain what ethnobotany is! Just a big word for how people use plants. They loved tasting the mesquite flower, and feeling the texture of the jojoba oil.
Near the People and Pollinators Garden is the Maze Garden where I found a gorgeous Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) covered in deep magenta flowers. This is not a true willow, but a member of the Bignonia family. Large, fragrant, orchid-like flowers cover the plants from April to August in a range of colors from white to this fuchsia color.
But my real mission was now down the path in the Big Horn Sheep area, where not one, but two, lambs have recently been born. There's no doubt that all babies are adorable, but these lambs take the cuteness factor to a whole new level. Within just days of birth they are scrambling up the steep cliff of the enclosure, bouncing and leaping all over.
The two ewes are mother and daughter. The lambs, one a ram and one a ewe, were born one month apart, first to the mother and then to the daughter. Playtime is followed by a crash - moms and babies find a spot in the shade to get some rest. Along with the visitors, I could watch these guys all day! We'll have the pleasure of watching them for another 8 months or so before the lambs are shipped off to another facility.
Time for lunch and our monthly potluck. There's always so many fun dishes to try, and oh! the desserts! This was a special one as we were honoring our day captains at the end of their tenure. Each docent day has two captains that serve for one or two years, doing the scheduling and keeping us docents in line. Sort of like herding cats. We are thankful that they are willing to do the job, which can be stressful and frustrating. I know. I've been there!
|Martha, Rae, Carole, Marsie|
Outgoing captains Rae and Marsie, with incoming captain Martha, and me
Animal handling is one of the great privileges and rewards of being a docent. Each year we choose the categories of animals we want to handle, and then go through training and certification on each. This year, my animals are snakes and middleweight raptors. Everybody loves the big birds, of course. But the snakes, not so much. So, it's especially important to educate visitors about snakes, and perhaps change their thinking a bit. On this day, I had a large common kingsnake. It's amazing how many people's first question is, "Is it poisonous?" Right. I'd be fool enough to stand here holding a venomous snake. Kingsnakes, which are constrictors, prey on a variety of small animals, including other snakes. Famously, even rattlesnakes are on their diet. Which leads people to classify kingsnakes as 'good' snakes. I gently inform them that there's no such thing as 'good' or 'bad' snakes. All snakes are just trying to make a living, using the tools they've been given.
There were still many more sights to see as the day went on. Passing a very large saguaro, I could hear baby birds calling. Just then this male Gila woodpecker poked his head out of the nest.
It is the male woodpecker who does the work of excavating the hole in preparation for nesting, and then he shares the duties of caring for the nestlings. Right after I snapped this photo, off he went, most likely in search of more food for those ravenous babies.
Baby animals are everywhere on the grounds. Black-tailed prairie dog pups have emerged from their burrows and are providing a never-ending source of entertainment.
One lucky pup was getting a serious grooming from mom.
Last stop of the day was in front of the mountain lion exhibit. Our young male, Cruz, was feeling frisky.
Have you ever heard a mountain lion meow like a housecat? Well they do, and it sounds so odd coming from this big cat. Mountain lions are the largest of the small cats - those that meow and purr. The big cats roar.
That was a perfect ending to a most excellent day!