After watching a man stalk a hummingbird through the Tucson Botanical Gardens for an afternoon, I wrote a book about photographing a hummingbird. Around and around the man went. The bird appeared to be intentionally taunting him. The man’s tale is told in the humorous book I call How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird.
I have also spent a fair share of time trying to photograph hummers, but recently I expanded my chasing activity to another species. This bird flitted around the stalls where I board my horse. His bright colors contrasted with the tan ground and gray bars of the stalls. I whipped out my cell phone to get the shot. He flew off to another stall. I pursued. He flew. From stall to stall we went. The bird streaked away. No photograph obtained.
I was delighted when the bird returned the next day. The pursuit continued. Stall to stall without success. I gave up and haltered my horse for a walk. When we reached the turnout pen, there he was – posing at the top of a tree. Perhaps he felt this perch gave me the better shot, and he allowed me to complete my quest.
The magnificent bird pictured above is a male Vermillion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), perched on a mesquite tree.
I grew up in Central Illinois, in the hills of New Jersey and in the lake-effect snow region of Michigan. I am very familiar with snow . . . and moving snow out of the way . . . and being cold.
Consequently, I was delighted to be transferred to Tucson, AZ in the Southwest and nearly snow-free Sonoran Desert. Only once or twice a winter do snowflakes fall and then they disappear within a few hours. Even that is too much for me. There is something very wrong with snow on palm trees and cacti.
I have discovered that Tucson has another kind of snow – it’s called Tucson Snow. In the fall, the Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides)blooms. The female shrubs release massive amounts of fluffy white seeds in sufficient quantity to cover the ground with a layer of white. It looks like a layer of newly fallen water-based snow. The seeds germinate in disturbed areas. The male shrubs have small flowers that look nice and don’t disperse.
I, along with many others, start sneezing and wheezing when the Tucson snows begin. Even animals start sneezing and coughing. The eventual relief only comes when the seeds finally blow away.
This summer, the monsoons in the Tucson area failed to develop. In order to save our plants, we’ve been watering a lot. Despite the water, several of my trees have died. Watering by hose just isn’t the same as rain. Rain has many benefits that artificial watering can’t replicate. I noticed that, after the single rainstorm we had this monsoon season, the plants responded spectacularly even though it was only a few tenths of an inch of rain. I can give them a gallon of water and not get such an enthusiastic response.
What is it about rain that plants crave?
It’s what rainwater contains that isn’t found in tap water. Rainwater has more oxygen, which is carried down into the soil. More importantly, rainwater carries down carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is needed to produce the carbohydrates to fuel plant growth. Also, carbon dioxide makes the rainwater acidic. This reactive water helps release micronutrients (zinc, manganese, copper and iron) in the soil that plants need. Unfortunately, in some places, pollutants in the air make the rainwater too acidic, which damages plants.
Have you noticed how fresh and clean plants look after a rain? Another important purpose of rain is to wash the dirt off the leaves. Plants photosynthesize much more efficiently when sunshine isn’t filtered by a layer of dirt.
Hopefully, our watering will help the plants hang on long enough until the rain once again falls from the sky.
The monsoon rainsalso play a part in the blooming of the Night-blooming Cereus every year. These amazing Sonoran Desert cactus plants all bloom together on one night every summer. You can read about them in my book, Queen of the Night, The Night-blooming Cereus.
Lyric Power Publishing LLC invites Curtis Curly-tail Lizard to
announce his new YouTube video at Curtis Curly-tail Speaks!
“Hello, everyone! I’m Curtis Curly-tail and I am here at Lyric Power Publishing to announce my latest video! But first, let me tell you how much I love roadrunner birds. Did you know when they leave tracks behind, you can’t tell what direction they came from or where they went? I wish I could do that! And roadrunners are really, really fast. That makes me a little frightened of them, too, because they do love their lizard snacks. We lizards are pretty fast, ourselves. So far, so good.
In a previous blog on elaineapowers.com, I complained about the lack of bats during my evening swims. I hypothesized that the bats were afraid of the Great Horned Owls nesting in my yard. (Owls are natural predators of bats.)
A hypothesis is a proposed explanation based on limited information, a starting point for further investigation. My hypothesis, therefore, was that the lack of bats in my yard was the direct result of predatory behavior of Great Horned Owls.
The owls finished their nesting season, successfully fledging their owlets. With the departure of their young, the pair of owls left my yard. A few nights later, I realized that the bats had returned to my home. I took this as a positive datum that my hypothesis was correct. Of course, this is only one data point, but I feel it is somewhat conclusive.
I will be curious to see, should the owls return, if the bats leave again. I do have excellent owl habitat, along with bat habitat.
The fascinating world of science is always all around us, even in our own backyards.
You might not think tortoises are very smart, but I have one who proved she is. I have a young native tortoise as a foster. Her name is Flipper. Last summer she was big enough to roam outside and it was relatively cool for Tucson. When it came time for her to brumate as winter approached, she was not making good den choices. (She thought a bucket on its side would be sufficient protection from the winter cold.) I brought her inside until spring. Several weeks ago, once the nighttime temperatures came up, I put Flipper back out into the yard.
It has not been cool this year. May 6th it was 105 degrees. (It was 111 at my house today.) Though I love hot weather, in the early afternoon, even I thought it was a bit much.
I supplement the tortoises’ grazing with the vegetables and fruits I feed the indoor tortoises. Flipper would come over every now and then but seemed to be doing well outside. Recently, as I put out the plate of greens, Flipper came running over. She must be really hungry! Nope, she ran right over the plate, up to the door sill, and tried to climb inside. It was too high for her short legs, so I helped her up and over. I soaked her in the bathtub in case she had been dehydrated in the hot, dry weather (nine percent humidity).
After her bath, I gave her a plate of greens, which she “wolfed” down. Apparently, she needs to work on her transition to wild tortoise a bit more. I planned to have her go back outside when it cooled down to the mid-90s, but she beat me to it. A few days later, she somehow knew the temps were back in the 90s, and she rushed out the door.
As we humans expand our footprint into the natural environment, the wildlife often suffer—but some do adjust. Usually, the presence of people and their structures, poisons, etc., is detrimental to the populations of owls. But in my neighborhood, one species has found a way to co-exist: the Great Horned Owl. Being generalists (having many food prey), Great Horned Owls can live in a variety of habitats, including urban areas.
The owls pictured here live on top of a cellular telephone tower. They have a nest on it where they have raised several broods of young. During the rest of the year, they use it a convenient observation post. The owls don’t seem to mind the activities of the humans below. Maybe we are their entertainment, and they’re enjoying watching us as much as we enjoy watching them.
It’s wonderful to share our lives with local wildlife.
To see Lyric Power Publishing’s books about birds, go to Our Books. You’ll see such fun, science-based books like this one:
My sidekick, Elaine A. Powers, introduced me to Zoe, a Sonoran Desert tortoise, who lives with Elaine. Zoe is a female who knows her territory and stands her ground. You can see her here, chasing Duke out of her yard!
I’m always trying to get an interesting view of the animals and plants I write about in my books and blog post. Roadrunners move very quickly, so I was having trouble getting a good photo. Then I came across this roadie at the Sabino Canyon Visitors Center near Tucson, Az. The roadie was hurrying along the sidewalk when I joined the bird. Roadie tucked behind some rocks and an agave cactus, but I was still in sight.
Finally, the roadie decided it was safe behind a grouping of boulders and a large prickly pear cactus. Conveniently, the cactus left a window where I could observe the roadie as it spread its wings to expose its dark back to bask in the sun. I was honored by this opportunity to observe and share the bird’s behavior. I think the roadie got nice and warm.
You can read about this behavior and many others in the rhyming book I wrote, Don’t Make Me Fly!
I think squirrels are often maligned unjustly. People spend a lot of time and money trying to thwart them, but have you ever stopped to consider their ingenuity at overcoming the obstacles we put in their way? After all, they are just doing what they need to do to survive.
Squirrels are small to medium-sized rodents. They are native to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa. They live in almost every habitat, from tropical rain forests to semiarid deserts. They are predominantly herbivores, eating seeds and nuts, but many will eat insects and even small vertebrates, as well.
Many of us interact with local tree squirrels, trying to prevent them from getting into our bird feeders. It’s amazing how much effort we put into attempting to out think these rodents—and then failing. The industry producing supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeders in quite sizable.
Here in the Sonoran Desert, I enjoy my ground squirrels, as well as tree squirrels. I think of their extensive digging as aerating my soil. I often head into my yard when I take breaks from writing. The little ones sitting up on their hind legs to greet me always makes me smile. I don’t discourage them from sharing in the feeders’ contents. I simply add a bit more for them.
I’ve written books about turtles and fish and tortoises and lizards and snakes and birds and plants—and even a fairy!—but not any mammals. No, wait! There is a mammal, a hutia, in Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia, but I can’t think of any others. (A hutia is an endangered rodent native to the Bahamas that has endangered the local ecosystem. Readers of this Curtis-tale tag along on his adventure and then must decide how to solve this conundrum.)
Tomorrow, please join me in appreciating squirrels, those adorable, ingenious rodents. And consider picking up a copy of Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia for the budding scientist in your family.
To learn about our latest science-based children’s books and workbooks, to read our latest blog posts about reptiles, birds, cats, and gardening, in a variety of locations, and about how the books come to be, what inspires an author to write, and many more interesting aspects of the publishing business, fill in the box below and we will add you to our email list.
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