Take the Gila monster for example. He lives underground for perhaps 90% of his life, coming out for short forays a few times a year for food and a mate. What are the chances of actually seeing one in the wild? Very low, and yet, just about every year, sometimes more than once, we have had the great pleasure of observing this beautiful creature. And on one very special occasion, we even had two. Gila monster babies we were hoping for. But, so far, no visits this year. My next door neighbor, however, recently had a Gila monster visit her patio as she was enjoying her morning coffee. Gila monsters are the only venomous lizard in the U.S., but their slow movement and their lack of aggression give humans little cause for fear. Other very occasional visitors include a beautiful king snake and Western diamondback rattlesnakes. Gopher snakes, too, sometimes make an appearance.
Since ridding the yard of the packrat houses, the snakes have fewer reasons to come calling. Packrats, or desert woodrats, a favorite meal for snakes, build a large, messy-looking mound out of cactus parts, sticks and other debris. They also collect shiny or interesting little objects that might be lying around the yard.
The night blooming cereus (Peniocereus greggii) which bloomed in June is now full of bulging, ripening fruit, turning from green to red.
I have yet to try starting a new plant from seed. This must be the year to do it. I'd better get to picking, however, before the animals beat me to the fruit. Anything edible in the desert doesn't last long.
A year or so ago, I planted a lovely group of Mexican fence post cactuses (Pachycereus marginatus) and they've been doing so well. Suddenly, I began to see large scars where obviously something or someone was chewing on them.
I had an idea who it might be, and, sure enough, soon I began to see the culprits feeding on other nearby cactus.
These handsome bugs are longhorn cactus beetles who have a taste for the finer things in life. The more you have paid for a cactus, the greater their enjoyment of it. Thanks a lot, guys.
The hummingbirds seem to have more than their share of competition for the nectar in the feeders these days. The little birds themselves are highly territorial and competitive for feeding spots, but now they also have to compete with the bats, bees, ants and woodpeckers. Nectar bats come every night to empty the feeders. As soon as I fill them in the morning, the bees arrive to get their fill. Soon a stream of tiny ants descends for some of the sweetness. As if that weren't enough, the Gila woodpecker sticks his beak and long tongue into the tiny holes for his share of the nectar.
Cooper's hawks are daily visitors to the yard, looking for an easy meal of dove or quail, often perching in an old dead tree before coming down for a drink from the water bowls, or resting on the patio furniture. Sometimes they will just stand in the water bowl, cooling off their feet. A rapid swoosh of wings as all the birds in the yard take off tells me that Coop is in the area.
But the really big thrill is when a bobcat strolls nonchalantly by the back door, only a foot or so from the floor-to-ceiling window, and stops for a drink of water. He drank from two bowls, walked slowly to the wall and effortlessly hopped up to the top and over.