Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bits of August

August skies in Tucson are often dramatic and wild, colorful and ever-changing.  I try to get out on my walk early enough to catch the sunrise.  On the days I succeed, I am usually rewarded.

This morning the cloud cover was just a bit heavier, and I was a little later, which I blame on the nectar bats who emptied the hummingbird feeders.  Of course I had to fill all the feeders before I could go walking.  So, there was little color in the sky, but these beautiful rays shone through the clouds.

As you can see by those four saguaros, this is one of my favorite spots to shoot the sunrise.  On the next block is an amazing crested saguaro, perhaps the most unique I've ever seen.  Not only is the main trunk crested, but three of the arms are now making crests also.  Scientists do not know the reason for the cristate formation, although there are a number of theories. Generally, it has to do with some disturbance of the growing tip.

From big things to little things.  I'm usually on the lookout for trash as I'm walking, and all that looking down sometimes rewards me with tiny sights like this little creature.  This is a red velvet mite, Dinothrombium sp., in the arachnid family.  While most mites are tiny, microscopic even, the red velvet is a relative giant.  They
emerge from their underground homes during the rainy season and are occasionally seen in large numbers.  

A guy walking his dog thought it was hilarious that I was taking a photo of this little creature.  Another day I saw a desert millipede crossing the street, so naturally I had to take his photo too.  A passing driver gave me an odd stare.

August is the month of blooming barrel cacti and deep red prickly pear fruits.

Tiny pink flowers of the chain fruit cholla throw their color into the mix as well.

A young male Costa's hummingbird has found a very appropriate perch in my yard where he can sit in the shade and keep a close eye on 'his' feeder.

It's the birthday month, which always means lots of FOOD!  Fun and delicious lunches and dinners with friends and my husband.  At the Stables restaurant in Tubac, I shared lunch with my friend, Beryl, and of course we had to have a choclaty dessert.  

And those beautiful skies just keep on coming!

Now, if those clouds would only do their real job and bring us some rain!  Here's wishing you many glorious skies!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sonoran Desert Toad

The monsoon is in full swing and one of the interesting creatures who makes an appearance during this season is the Sonoran Desert Toad..   If you live in the Sonoran Desert,  you may be hearing them, especially on rainy nights.  The Sonoran Desert toad is Arizona’s largest toad, growing to 7.5” or more in length and is a common, nocturnal visitor to yards near water or natural desert vegetation.  They emerge after the summer rains to feed and breed in large, temporary rain pools.  During the rest of the year, the toads hibernate underground. 

Sonoran Desert Toads are olive green to brown in color and have lumpy skin, large glandular lumps on their hind legs, golden eyes with horizontally elliptical pupils, large, poison-filled parotoid glands behind their eye and tympanum, and one or more distinctive white tubercles at the corners of their mouth.  The diet consists of just about anything that moves and will fit into their mouths, including insects, centipedes, spiders, lizards, mice and other amphibians. 

Occurring across southern Arizona, this toad is absent from the higher mountains and from the arid, western desert valleys.  Although also known as the Colorado River Toad, its populations are declining around the Colorado River, and it is believed that they no longer exist on the California side of the river.  The habitat of the Sonoran Desert toad includes semi-desert grasslands, oak woodlands, creosote bush desertscrub, valley bottoms and lower elevations hills.  In the western portion of its range, the species becomes increasingly tied to permanent water, such as rivers or the edges of agriculture. 

Most Sonoran Desert toads are found at night during the monsoon season, but they may emerge a month or more before the summer rains begin, particularly in areas of permanent water (such as the mountain lion enclosure!).  Breeding generally occurs on one night within a couple of days of a rainfall event of more than one inch.  At permanent water areas, breeding may be independent of rainfall.  They may breed in cattle tanks, reservoirs, backwaters and ponds.  Males may call for females from the water or actively search for females.  Sonoran Desert Toad (Incilius alvarius) Call   Females deposit long stringers of up to 8000 eggs in shallow water.  Tadpoles typically metamorphose in a month or two.  The toads live at least 10 years, and possibly as long as 20 years. 

The defensive toxins released from several glands in the skin are extremely potent.   Animals that harass the toad are intoxicated through the mouth, nose or eyes.  The toxin is strong enough to kill full-grown dogs that pick or mouth the toads.  Symptoms include excessive salivation, head shaking, irregular heartbeat and gait, and pawing at the mouth.  The toxins are also hallucinogenic and poisonous to humans.