Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Bloomy, Herpy, Birdy Day

The monsoon downpours have mostly avoided the Desert Museum, but the bit of rain that has been received has made a transformative difference.  The flowers have burst into bloom, the ocotillos are covered in green leaves, strange insects have emerged, and everything seems so ALIVE!

Fishhook Mammilaria with Bee

Grabbing my attention immediately were the tiny Mammilaria cacti (Mammilaria microcarpa) often hidden under vegetation which have now burst into bloom everywhere.  Delighting the eye like finding a hidden treasure.  A wreath of pink flowers encircles top of the stalks, which may only reach 6" in height.
Also called Pincushion Cactus
The somewhat nondescript Little Leaf Cordia shrub is also suddenly covered in blossoms - clusters of delicate white flowers that seem to float in the air.  Each afternoon the flowers fall off and the next morning the bush is covered with them once again.
Little Leaf Cordia (Cordia parvifolia)
Little Leaf Cordia Blossom
Hanging bunches of lemon-yellow trumpet-shaped flowers are brightening the Tecoma stans bushes, which both please and aggravate me - why can't MY Tecoma stans ever look this good?!

Yellow Trumpet Bush (Tecoma stans)
The normally-barren stalks of the ocotillo are now fully-leafed-out waving green wands.
Ocotillo in Leaf (Fouquieria splendens)
The leaves will remain until dry conditions return, eventually turning orange-brown and then falling off.  This cycle can be repeated many times during the warmer months.  The canes are covered with spines, but this plant is not a cactus.  With its relative the Boojum, it is a member of the Ocotillo family.

More yellow!  This is the Senna polyantha, whose large shrubs produce a mass of small, yellow, five-petaled flowers followed by bean pods containing the fruit.  As so many of our desert plants, this is a member of the Fabaceae family (lugumes).
Senna polyantha
Everywhere I went on the grounds, something was blooming.  I passed this attractive bouquet on my way to see what the Trichocereus garden was doing.

I wasn't disappointed.  Big, bright flowers greeted me as I came around the corner.

From the splashy to the more subtle, but no less beautiful.

Another docent had reported seeing Western tanagers in the Desert Garden earlier in the morning, so I thought I would try my luck at finding them.  I caught just a blur of red as one of the males flew by, but I hung around to watch a Northern Cardinal family.  I believe this is the juvenile getting a drink from the fountain.
And who's that in the background? Photobombed by a juvie brown-headed cowbird.  There are a lot of young birds everywhere at the Museum.  Just outside the Desert Garden in a pine tree was this Gila woodpecker family.  The parents working hard to feed the demanding youngster.
Gila Woodpecker Family (Melanerpes uropygialis)
I apologize for the quality of this photo.  The lighting was very difficult.  Very near here, in the fan palms, I saw a young male Hooded Oriole, one of so many species that nest here on the grounds.  Heading back around to the Pollination Garden, I was greeted by this mix of Mexican Bird of Paradise and Tecoma stans, framed by ocotillos.

The butterflies love the bird of paradise.  A pipevine swallowtail sat still just long enough for me to grab a quick photo.
Pipevine Swallowtail on Mexican Bird of Paradise
The lizards were out in force. I particularly like this zebra-tailed lizard who often carries his tail curled over his back, and waves it back and forth in the manner of a scorpion.
Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides)
It was about this time of day that I got a call on the radio that there was a Gila monster in the dry cave.  It's always a thrill to see a Gila monster in the wild, and I headed off across the grounds, getting stopped several times by visitors who had questions.  By the time I got to the cave, the docent there told me that the lizard had gone behind a large sign and was no longer visible.  By squeezing into a small space beside the sign and shining the light from the flashlight app on my phone, I was able to spot the fellow.  He had wedged himself as far as possible into a hiding space.

Although I felt bad about it, I had to call the herpetology folks to come and remove him.  The cave is quite dark and we didn't need the visitors stumbling into him if he went out roaming.  This is the only venomous lizard in the U.S., and while they are neither fast or aggressive, they can be dangerous if people get too curious.  (People do some really DUMB things!)  So, a few minutes later he was loaded in a crate, to be pit-tagged and then released off grounds.

Leaving the cave and making our way back to the docent office for lunch, a crowd had gathered to watch one of the botanists try to capture a coachwhip snake who had moved into the lizard enclosure.  To avoid the big human, the snake had climbed high into the large ironwood tree that is the centerpiece of the enclosure.
Coachwhip in Desert Ironwood
Can you see him up there?  These snakes are very fast! I never would have believed that the botany guy would be able to catch up to and grab the snake, especially without getting bitten.  Although they are not venomous, the word on coachwhips is that they are very bitey.  But I would have been wrong!  Down came Eric, snake in hand, having survived his encounter with that very prickly tree and with the snake.

Generally, the policy is to let non-venomous snakes alone unless they are in a place where they would threaten our exhibit animals (the lizards in this case).

In the afternoon, we got some more cheap entertainment watching the black-tailed prairie dogs and their ever amusing antics.

And, if that weren't enough fun for one day, there was one more snake on the schedule.  Some visitors spotted a snake sticking its head up out of a tree bowl in front of the hummingbird aviary.  Some fellow docents and I were just a few feet away so we got a lot of laughs watching the snake, another coachwhip, play hide and seek among the rocks and holes.  It reminded us of a game of whack-a-mole.  He would pop up one place, disappear, pop up a few feet away, then we'd just see a portion of the body slither by.  After ten minutes or so of this, out jumped a very tiny mouse and raced across the patio and up onto the roof of the aviary.  The snake looked out as in bewilderment.
Coachwhip looking for the Mouse

Eventually he emerged and crossed the patio looking for the darned mouse.
Mouse 1, Snake 0.

And with that, the day came to a close.  Back at home, a glass of wine in hand, I got another gift.  A magnificent sunset.
Sunset on Agave Drive
May all your days be filled with laughs and may they all have beautiful endings!


  1. Rain in the desert is such a special gift showing off all those beautiful blooms. But I really could do without the snakes.

  2. thanks for sharing your wonderful day in the desert with us...

  3. The plants are amazing the way the flowers pop out of the cacti. I'm not sure I would like poisonous lizards and bitey snakes.

  4. Carole, that was a lot of excitement for one day. I am glad you were able to unwind in such beauty! I haven't been to the desert museum in awhile. Your photos and story make me want to come back. It is only the heat that keeps me away! but I may decide to brave it after all! Love the pictures!

  5. A nice typical day in the desert...if I have just enough time and stamina to brave the heat...As I'm writing this it's down to 93 degree and feel sooo comfortable. My temperature sense must be way off

  6. My goodness what an action packed day! You got all the basis covered except fish I think :)I hope the Gila Monster was happily relocated somewhere, they are such beautiful creatures.

  7. What a fantastic day you had! I enjoyed seeing all those beautiful blossoms and reptiles. I've only seen four snakes so far this year, all coachwhips. Usually I see kingsnakes and rattlers, this year is so different.

  8. I am going to love the desert flora and fauna when we finally get out that way husband is going to hate those snakes! He's going to have to adapt somehow, we'll worry about it later. Your photo of the snake in the tree made him appear rather large, I was glad to see he was a manageable size next to a human!

  9. Well, that was quite a day!!

  10. Taking time to note the little things gives you magnificent days. Thanks for sharing.


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