Monday, October 27, 2008

Arizona Wildlife

No gardens here--I'm still processing photographs and (more time consuming) trying to identify at least SOME of the plants I saw in Sun City, Arizona and in Venice, California. But I haven't posted in almost a week and I had to break up the pics somehow, so here are some of the critters I encountered while I was looking for flowers.

This little tortoise has been adopted by my niece, Erin.

Box turtles and snappers are a common sight here in VA, but these desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) are more rare and are protected in Arizona (my sister Carrie, not Erin's mom, that would be Kelley--anyway, Carrie has a mated pair and finds homes every year for the babies). So it was a bit of a surprise when this little one just wandered into Kelley's yard. This is probably a female, though she's young and it's easier to tell when there's a male and a female together--but females have more dainty horns (what we'd see as a nose) and their shells are rounder. She'll get to be about a foot long and maybe 6 inches high, and if she survives predators and real estate development, she'll outlive most humans. Erin has made her a pen and feeds her gourmet meals:
We're not supposed to take these tortoises directly from the wild (there's an official adoption procedure), but this one is actually safer in controlled surroundings. Kelley lives in foothills, in a formerly remote area that is now being heavily developed--the combination of the human threat and the threat posed by natural predators whose terrain is being drastically reduced makes Erin's pen a safe haven: plenty of water, plenty of food, plenty of room to burrow. So don't tell.

I live with wildlife, as anyone who reads regularly knows--deer, turkeys, squirrels, and rabbits call my backyard home (and, unfortunately, sometimes my gardens). Still, I'm fascinated by some of my mom's wild "pets." These are desert quail (Callipepli gambellii--the species name means "beautiful robes")--they trek across her yard at the same time every morning. By fall, the covey is all adults. Here, they congregate under a rosebush--these quail fly only short distances, and so make their homes (and find their safety) in thorny shrubs. Their chief predators on the golf course behind my mom's house are coyotes, roadrunners, and hawks--but judging from the quails' numbers, the rose bushes are doing their jobs.

I want to say "here's a couple," but all I really know is that it's a male and a female--you can tell the male by the more intense coloration, including the black face, the little rust "helmet," and the topknot (I have these vague memories from childhood of a cartoon quail who kept blowing the topknot up out of its face--not too inaccurate as far as I can tell).

And here's a male close-up, posing on a boulder near a Cereus cactus:

My mom's backyard extends onto a golf course, and the other course mascot is one of the quail's natural enemies, the coyote.

Despite the cartoon, I have to say that given the choice between a roadrunner and a coyote, I'll take the coyote any day. I SO wish I could have captured a picture of a roadrunner, but sightings are rare (and often brutal--they show up when they're chasing prey) and ephemeral. But they are aggressive and, IMHO and oxymoronically, pretty ugly--the one "truth" of the Warner Brothers cartoon is that the roadrunner is in fact more ruthless than the coyote (I think of them as really fast buzzards after live prey).

On the other hand, I have an affection for coyotes (a dog lover to the core). I don't underestimate the potential danger--they pose the same threat as any wild or strange dog does. On the other hand, they've been weirdly domesticated on Sun City courses--sometimes you have to golf over them, and they're not perturbed by humans or golf bags or carts or flying balls. And so they're easy to capture on film. Here's one (could we say, posing?) on the course just outside a neighbor's yard:

And another sauntering away after my mom and I disturbed his sunbath (on the edge of a sandtrap)--notice the resentful look?

Arizona is lovely in October--it can hit 90, but as they say, it's a dry heat (which is true at 90--Arizona's low humidity 90 is pleasantly warm, as opposed to Virginia's 90, where the humidity renders the heat index in the 100's--however, at 120, it's another story--do you want some broth around you as you braise or do you prefer to be dry roasted?) Still, the coyotes seemed to relish the sprinklers:

I'm still learning how to shoot video on my camera, but this one was fun:

I'll be posting more on these trees in my next post--but for now, Mr. Coyote says it all:

Gotta go (for now).

More on Arizona and California VERY soon.


Les, Zone 8a said...

I am always up to see wildlife, and love the coyotes and the turtle (the quail were nice too). Did you know that coyotes have made it as far east as Isle of Wight Co.? I have read that they are opportunists, but that they are also filling a void in the food chain. I look forward to the flora photos.

Defining Your Home said...

I just saw those quail at the North Carolina Zoo yesterday in the Sonoma Desert Exhibit! They are so lovely! The coyotes...well...I'll cheer for the roadrunner. :-)

How nice for you to get these great photos!


tina said...

Those coyotes sauntering around and posing even are surreal! Too weird! We very rarely see them here as they are shy critters, but hear them all the time. Couldn't imagine them in my neighborhood enjoying the sprinklers. That is so cool! Like the quail and tortoise too. I have never been to Arizona, though I might go someday as it looks quite neat. Have fun with your pictures:)

Rose said...

Wow, these are amazing photos of coyotes! I'm not too fond of them, though, because around here they can feast on smaller animals, including pets.
Love the quail photos; they're such interesting and attractive birds.

My daughter keeps telling me the same thing about temps in Arizona--90 to her is a pleasant day:)

Gail said...

I did like the video, too. I have wanted to see coyotes close thank you. They are in our neighborhood and folks are learning to keep their cats indoors now. More of our green spaces in Nashville are being developed so l we expect even more deer and coyotes to move into the suburbs!

Interesting info about the turtle and road runner! The description as a really fast buzzards is chilling! I will cheer for the coyote too!


Roses and Lilacs said...

I love this post. I'm not fond of coyotes because they are a threat to domestic pets. Still they are beautiful.

Jamie and Randy said...

That is a FANTASTIC picture of the coyote, sprinkler and the tree. I didn't like the one with the bad look, he gave me the willies.-Randy

Gail said...

Cosmo, There is a terrific post with a photo of a road runner up at Vert You might like to see her photos.


Cosmo said...

Les, I've heard that there are coyote out here, but I've never seen (or heard) one. They do seem to prosper from the very same conditions that have decimated the wolf population, even though both are hunted--they seem to be more adaptable.

Hi, Cameron--I have to get down to that zoo. The quail are adorable, and they're tamish (like ducks--they'll come get bread, that kind of thing). I don't know exactly why I prefer coyotes to roadrunners--but roadrunners are MUCH nastier than we imagine them--

Tina--Coyotes are supposed to be shy, but they've become really comfortable on the golf courses. But I should be more careful than I am (we get too comfortable, too . . .)Arizona is GREAT, but like Maine, there are better and worse seasons to be there--DON'T go midsummer!

Rose, have you been to Arizona before? You're going to love it in December (but even then, bring LOTS of moisturizer--I feel like my skin shrinks two sizes the minute I walk off the plane). You're right about coyotes being predators, and I need to be more careful--they are very dangerous to small pets (but we're used to it here with all the hawks and owls).

Cosmo said...

Marnie, they do prey on small animals and so pets--I'd have fits if Ranunculus had to deal with them (though he's as big as a coyote and so less prey than a big chicken who'd get beat up in a fight). I'm more fascinated than in love . . .

Jamie, you're so right, that look made me nervous--I was closer than I should have been, though Sun City has had no reports of coyote run-ins with humans. But I loved the sight of them basking in the sprinklers . . .

Gail, thanks so much for the link to Vert's blog and the roadrunner photo! It's a little hard to get scale, but I'd guess the ones at my mom's house are a little bigger? They're just slightly shorter than the coyote (so, they'd come about knee high if I ever got that close). It's funny that Vert worried about the dog hurting the roadrunner--everything I've seen or heard, it was probably the dog she'd need to worry about!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

What a cool post! I can't believe how almost domesticated those coyotes are there... does remind me of my dog, especially the whole needing-the-sprinkler-in-90-degrees part. lol.

But Kelley's turtle was the most fun. It definitely sounds like she's doing the right thing by her, official adoption process or no, so mum's the word here. :)

Layanee said...

That is a great wildlife post. Your pictures are wonderful. I love the one of coyote under the tree. Arizona is another world isn't it? I saw a coyote here last week! Did you golf?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing photos of wildlife that I don't see in my neck of the woods. I couldn't imagine having Coyotes in my backyard. We lived in Phoenix when I was a kid and I've seen the Roadrunner. Not an impressive bird, nothing like the cartoon. ;)

generic viagra said...

Hi this is an awesome and lovely place, I like the sunny and the hot weather, the animals, plants and leaves in the images are so beautiful. I would like to have some of these turtles.