Saturday, May 25, 2013

Waiting For George L.

The Desert Museum has a new mountain lion.  This is a very big deal.  After our two longtime resident mountain lions were 'retired' to an off-exhibit facility to live out their old age, everyone (staff, volunteers, docents, visitors) have been waiting anxiously for a new mountain lion.  The mountain lion is the symbol, the mascot if you will, of the Desert Museum.  It just wouldn't do to be without one.
One of our now-retired mountain lions

 Although I am not privy to   all the details, I do know that acquiring an animal of this type for zoo exhibit is not an easy task. But, we got word a while back that a cub had been obtained in California and would soon be coming to the Desert Museum.  But, ssshhh!  We want to keep it a secret, make sure it all goes well.  There is a great deal of paperwork, quarantine, and watching his health.

Here's his story.  Someone discovered him in the backyard of a home in San Jose, California and called Fish and Wildlife.  He was dehydrated, undernourished, covered with fleas and ticks, and weighed only 15 pounds.  He was only 3 months of age and should have still been with his mother.  Two months later, he now weighs over 50 pounds.  He is one lucky cat.

Finally, we were told that the day had come when the cub was to be released in his new home.  To ease his transition, the exhibit would be blocked off to the public for the first week, giving the little guy time to acclimate.  By last Friday, staff and volunteers were allowed along the pathway to help him get used to seeing people staring at him.  A few of us saw him, but he spent most of his time inside, out of view.

On Monday, he was introduced to the press and to the public.  People began coming in droves to see him.  But, he remains shy and elusive, just as cats are supposed to be.  Friday is my regular day at the Museum, and I was anxious for some time to spend at the mountain lion exhibit.  Around 11 in the morning, I parked myself, along with another docent and many visitor, in front of the exhibit and waited for the cub to emerge.  A keeper went in the enclosure and disturbed a bat who began circling frantically above our heads.  A gorgeous Clark's spiny lizard in bright blue breeding duds climbed the rocks, a rock squirrel scrambled into view, the thick-billed parrots squawked from their nearby enclosure and a giant Sonoran desert toad sat patiently in the reeds.  We all waited.

The keeper put a big red ball out to entice the cub.  It worked.  Soon there he was, not venturing out of the cave, but clearly visible and oh! so incredibly adorable.  We are not supposed to anthropomorphize, but sometimes it just cannot be helped.  The visitors and the docents were thrilled that our wait had paid off.  Our view didn't last long, but allowed a few photos.

To increase interest and visitor participation, the Museum is having a naming contest.  Their first ever.  I heard that so far there are over 800 entries.  I'm glad I'm not on the committee making that decision!  The very first mountain lion at the Museum was named George L. Mountainlion, and every subsequent one has carried the same name.  So those of us who have been around the Museum for a while just naturally thought this one should be George L. also, following in the tradition.  This is the public relations age, however, and apparently George L. is passe.  So, sometime this summer, we will learn what the newest, and now famous, cat will be named.  Stay tuned .  .  .

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fairy Duster

Baja Fairy Duster
(Calliandra californica)

They like hot weather, are drought-tolerant, aren’t fussy about soil, and hummingbirds and butterflies love them!  Ah, the perfect desert plant.  You can see two  species of fairy duster on the Desert Museum grounds.  The red-flowered Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica), as its name implies, is native to the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, but grown widely here in Arizona as a landscape plant.  Calliandra eriophylla, called just Fairy Duster, or false mesquite, is the Arizona native, which has a pink flower. 

The puffy, exotic flowers of the fairy duster are what grab your attention.  The showy part is actually a collection of long, spiky stamens, forming a powder-puff ball 1-2” across.  Blooming can occur at any time during the year, but is most prolific in the late winter/early spring. Calliandra belong to the subfamily Mimosa of the family Fabaceae.  In this group, the petals are fused and so tiny as to be not noticeable.   Being in the family Fabaceae, the flowers are followed by small bean pods, which split open when ripe, expelling their seeds.  The seeds are sought by many small birds. 

Both species of fairy duster are small, semi-evergreen shrubs lacking spines.  The dark-green, feathery leaves are bi-pinnately compound.  The native C. eriophylla is more cold-tolerant than the Baja species, which may freeze to the ground in the coldest winters.  During times of drought or cold stress, many, if not most, of the leaves will fall, but will soon be replaced when conditions improve.  Growing low to the ground, Calliandra provide cover and protection for small animals and plants, and is also used as browse by deer and other mammals.  C. eriophylla ranges throughout the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, on open hillsides and sandy desert washes and slopes, mostly below 5000’.  Besides hummingbirds, other small birds such as verdins, finches, wrens and gnatcatchers will feed on the blooms of fairy duster.  Pollinators include bees, flies and butterflies.