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.


  1. What a wonderful place to spend a Friday, or any day for that matter. As much as I like to interact with visitors, it is So nice to absorb nature alone. Thanks for taking us along.

  2. I think making Friday at the Museum a regular feature is an excellent idea. Your posts make me feel like I'm back in Arizona.

  3. Thanks for visiting my blog. You have some beautiful photos!

  4. I really enjoy all your posts! What a wonderful place & what a beautiful pictures!
    Thanks to share!

  5. This was my lunch-time reading. Thanks so much for sharing your Museum of Natural History with us.

    It's one of my favorite places on earth. The last time I was there, I think it took almost an hour to get out of the parking lot. The wildflowers were so beautiful, I couldn't stop taking pictures.

  6. I enjoyed this scenic desert walk with you. What a fabulous outdoor museum - I'll put it on my to-do list the next time I visit the area. That curve-billed thrasher looks a little grumpy!

  7. Great photos Carole! What a cool sighting of the Black-chinned Sparrow. My class and 4 other first grade classes will be there on the 19th. Looking forward to it!

  8. One day when we were hiking in Catalina State Park, I was SURPRISED to see 4 coati meandering along on the other side of a big gully - looked like a mom and 3 little ones. The all made clicking, chirping sounds, sort of keeping track of each other as they ranged, it appeared. I was surprised to learn that AZ is part of their range. VERY cool!

  9. Carole, we just returned to northern California from Tucson where we had camped a week at Catalina State park then New Mexico, only to be driven out by snow so we headed for a week at Gilbert Ray and joined the Museum. Spending a week in the Sonoran desert was such a treat and now I just found your blog, will read it regularly.

    We will return in late February to Tucson, having left our RV in storage in Tempe for a couple months and look forward to the museum again. might even be on one of your Friday's so will look for you if so. thanks for your interesting blog posts and wonderful photos.


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