Saturday, June 29, 2019

Morning walk with too much excitement

Temps are in the triple digits, humidity is climbing too, so now we are going for our state land walks at 6 am. Our remaining 2 dogs, 2 weeks after we lost Mecki, need the exercise and the boost of morale. We humans too.

We walk pretty much diagonally across 500 acres directly adjacent to our own land. It's all creosote, cholla and saguaros, with ironwoods and palo verdes along the washes. We are in the slight slope of the bajada of the Tucson Mountains with sweeping wide views over the Avra Valley to Picatcho and Kitt Peak in the north and Boboquivari to the west.

Per agreement, our neighbor walks his group of foster dogs even before we get up, and then we have it all to ourselves.

Today, Kira walked up to a big black beetle and sniffed it. When it didn't go into the headstand of a Pinacate Beetle, I knew that it was a Giant Cactus Longhorn, a good mimic of the Pinacate but without its defensive smell.  Flightless, it has to walk to explore new cactus plants to place its eggs, and usually does so at night or the very early morning hours.

A bigger black shape loomed shortly after, but kept its distance. He is the bull of the small herd that is left to fend for itself on this very dry grazing lease.

Shortly after Kira and Bilbo had rounded up the herd but came back nicely and happily when called. Treats as rewards! The cows are neither afraid nor aggressive towards our 'cattle dogs'  and tend to follow us a little on our walks. 

Kira's greatest joy is to race around after lizards. She never catches any and usually gets outrun and loses sight of her game at the first creosote bush, but her chase is punctuated by excited high and wide hops and leaps that are great fun to watch and impossible to photograph.
But today she raced around a creosote bush to immediately rear back, and a faint rattle was heard. 

 A Sidewinder. Even though smaller than our more common Diamondback, it carries a very strong venom. It's cryptic, quiet, and rarely seen. In Picture Rocks, it is at the very border of its more western distribution. But lately I have seen the telltale parallel tracks on our dirt road and I also found a piece of a dead one along the path that our neighbor walks every day. Old fashioned folks here have no qualms killing rattlers. 

This one of course lives, after first scaring our dog and getting really aggravated, he even gets to strike at me while I'm trying to get photos and video through those dry grasses. I get close to and sometimes have to move a lot of rattlers, and I can't remember the last time one actually struck towards me. 

That puny little rattle produces a mere whisper compared to that of a Diamondback. 

Kira squeaks continuously during  photos and video, but she is subdued and shows no intention to get close to the snake again. In fact, even the next Zebratail Lizard sends her backward.  We keep watching her face - no sign of a bite.  On the way home, her tail droops and she, usually pulling ahead, has to be dragged along. I know exactly how she feels:  a while after a close encounter - and she had her nose right on the snake - the initial adrenaline rush fades away and you are left feeling weak and shaking. I've been there, last year at the San Pedro when I barged right into the biggest rattler I'd ever seen and we both, the rattler and I, threw ourselves sideways in different directions.
I hope this was good snake training for the little bitch who is usually too feisty for her own good.