Sunday, June 8, 2014

When everybody should become night active

On the east side of the Tucson Mountains, Saguaro fruit are ripe and the buffet is open! Photo by Doris Evans
June was always hot and dry in the Sonoran Desert, and climate change is making it noticeably more so. Most plants seem to take a break from blooming and growing, but the desert trees and bushes like Creosote, Palo Verde and Ironwood are all bearing fruit now.

On our side of the Tucsons, the Cactus Wren is determined to be the first in line when the green fruit finally pop open
Our Saguaros are still producing a few late flowers but by now a few fruits are ripe, breaking open to show their bright red insides. The birds that have been visiting the flowers for nectar are back to harvest the seeds in their sticky sweet matrix. All those plants are ready to have their seeds distributed just before the first monsoon rains in July (?)

We are enjoying June as a slow time with neither art shows nor entomological engagements. During the heat of the day we eat lunch and breakfast on the shady patio, but otherwise we hide indoors were cool air is blowing in from the swamp coolers on the roof.
 We take the dogs for walks in the state land close to sunset or sunrise. Twilight brings a pleasant, magical time with long shadows and warm colors. I would love to capture the running dark 'pups' against the light when they are outlined by gold. No such luck yet.

Day-active animals like squirrels, songbirds, kestrels, quail, zebra-tail lizards, tarantula hawks and dragonflies are still out, and of course the crepuscular dawn and dusk critters. Night active Great Horned Owls and tiny bats begin their activity when the sun has just set. Snake encounters are likely, but lately we've seen only their tracks.

This morning I carefully approached on some Lesser Night Hawks that had just landed. If I do not see them in flight first, I can rarely find them as they tuck themselves tightly along a branch that their feathers exactly match to spend the day.

I also love the warm summer nights. I walk around armed with a flashlight hoping to see Kangaroo Rats and night-crawling snakes. Much more regularly I find the miniature version of the K-rat, cute little pocket mice.

They love to chew on succulent agave leafs. When I taught renal physiology at the U of A I always tried to impress the students with the fact that the renal concentration  capacity of these guys is so great that they can live basically without access to free water even if their diet consists of seeds and dry grasses. I guess being able to live that way doesn't mean they would not rather eat juicy stuff.

Eleodes armatus and Moneilema gigas
Last night I was looking for cactus longhorn beetles  on a cholla where they feed and oviposit at night. The flightless beetles are good mimics of the smelly Pinacate Beetle (Eleodes sp,) whom they resemble in size, shape and behavior when they need to cross open ground.

While peering into the cholla  I nearly bumped into a couple of birds asleep in the relative safety of their prickly retreat. A Curve-billed Thrasher moved away from the glare of my light, but a male Gambel's Quail sat there like he was transfixed. Most birds cannot see well at night, so they are very reluctant to give up their perches. I had never been this close to a wild quail before!

Good night!


  1. That was a lovely treat. Seeing the night life in the desert!

  2. What wonderful shots Margarethe. The Quail and the Night Hawk are my favourites. Is that a Collared Dove on the first Cactus?

    1. No, it's a White Winged Dove, the main diurnal pollinator of Saguaros. Also 2 House Finches. Did you see them?

  3. Fantastic photos! Excellent bird images. Enjoy the quiet period...before the monsoon hits!!

  4. Great collection of photos that make we want to visit the American deserts even more. Loved the Little Pocket Mouse, the cactus-feeding birds and that stunning second photo of that Night Hawk!

  5. Love your story and photos, Margarethe! I need to get my flashlight out!