Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Friday at the Museum
I have the very great privilege of spending every Friday at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, talking to people from all over the world, and singing the praises of the Sonoran Desert. Say the word "museum" and the picture that jumps to mind is a stuffy, deathly quiet, and, to some, boring indoor experience. Throw that image out the window, and now picture a botanical garden, zoo, park, wildlife experience and art gallery all wrapped together. To my mind, it is by far Tucson's premier destination. There is never a shortage of photo opportunities or interesting experiences. I invite you come along with me for a day at the museum. I'll try to make this a more-or-less regular topic.
Friday, December 2nd dawned cold and overcast, with predicted rain and wind. Not exactly the kind of forecast to draw people to the Desert Museum. Arriving early, long before the museum opens at 8:30am, it's wonderful to walk the grounds and see what birds are about, what flowers are blooming, and anything new since last Friday.
There is a spot along the main path that offers a beautiful view of the early-morning sun as it filters through the clouds, the saguaros and ocotillos in the foreground. I often stop here on my Friday morning walk-abouts to admire the scene and get the camera warmed up. One of the zookeepers was just coming out of the large aviary, so I stopped to chat with her about hummingbirds. She not only takes care of our hummingbird collection, but also makes beautiful and interesting feeders from copper. An added feature is that this design is bee-proof, something very desirable after combating bees at my feeders all summer.
The red spines and yellow fruit of a barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) stood out against the greenery in the early morning sun, the dampness of an earlier rain intensifying the colors.
The museum opening came and went, and still there were no visitors. Who could blame them? It was cold out here! The animals didn't mind, however, and they were all busy and active. Having no visitors to talk to meant more time for photos. I stopped by the coati (Nasua narica) exhibit and was delighted to see one individual hanging out in a tree and another drinking from the pond.
These relatives of the racoon are great climbers and diggers. The long tail is not prehensile and is used mainly for communication among the troupe.
Up on the top of Cat Canyon a small bird drew the attention of my fellow docents and me as we watched it taking a bath in a small tinaja. Finally we determined that it was a black-chinned sparrow, somewhat immature. The first of this species we've seen at the museum this year.
Even in our fabulous hummingbird aviary, one of our most popular exhibits, I found myself alone with the tiny birds who were zipping around at crazy speeds, narrowly avoiding colliding with me. Cold weather makes it more important that they get lots of energy.
Back on the main path, the distinctive whit-wheet call of a curve-billed thrasher ((Toxostoma curvirostre) drew my attention to the top of a nearby cactus. What a feat (feet?) to be able to stand among all those spines!
The crowds picked up in the afternoon and I was surrounded by large groups as I introduced them to a beautiful female barn owl (Tyto alba).
The promised rain arrived, but lasted only briefly. The saguaro interpretation was my last of the day, and one of my favorite assignments. Who can come to the Sonoran Desert and not be interested in the unique and iconic saguaro cactus?
Across the museum grounds and out to the valley below, the sun once again sent its brilliant rays bursting through the clouds, creating a bookend to another magnificent day at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.