Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Living Close to Fauna

There is a lot of wildlife where I live.

The quail eggs have hatched and the babies are little puffballs waddling across the road with mom in the front and dad in the middle of the street watching for traffic. Seriously - he looks both ways and squawks at the last one to hurry up and waits until they are all on the other side of the road before he flies - low to the ground, it's more skipping than actual flight - over to join them on the sand. I've seen at least 2 families - one has 6 or 7 chicks and the other parents are just tending to 2 - in our front yard today. There are other families along the street; one stopped traffic in 2 directions at the intersection this morning. Shades of Make Way for Ducklings.

A coyote just walked across the street. He's one of two who travel through our neighborhood. I've never had a nodding acquaintance with a wild animal before. It's very strange. The first few nights we slept here we were aggravated by the teenage boys hooting and hollering in the wash behind our house. We mentioned them to the neighbors, who laughed and pointed the finger at the true culprits - the coyotes. We can see them bonding and roughhousing and courting under the acacia tree at the far end of the arroyo; that's quite close enough, thank you.

The hummingbirds are perched with their noses in the lilies and the crape myrtles outside my window. They love the blossoms and the berries and the seed pods with equal fervor. I have a hummingbird feeder but when I found out that I needed to sterilize it between each filling it became art on a stick. It's not necessary, anyway. What I've planted seems to suit them just fine. The funnel shaped red flowers on the tall yucca (hesperaloe parviflora) stalks are providing a fine dining experience. The finches and other little birds come through on their migration between Canada and southern Mexico, too. Living in an avian flight path is an added bonus here in the Sonoran desert.

I think there's a nest of bees in my saguaro, but since it would be illegal to remove them from this (rightly) protected species, I'm pretending to ignore them.

The bunnies are adorable, except that they have eaten my hibiscus. It's my own fault; I should have put chicken wire around its tenderness. Desert plants are amazingly resilient once they are established. But until then, they need supervision and protection and nurturing on a daily basis. There's not a lot of room for error when you get 2.4 inches of rain in a good month, and when there are only 2 of those months a year. This year spring and 100 degree temperatures came much earlier than usual, and the plants and animals are feeling it. How can I really begrudge the bunnies a hibiscus treat? Most of the wildflowers have died an early death and the heat has slowed or denied growth on almost everything else they depend upon at this time of the year. And there was my purple hibiscus, like a glazed donut just sending "eat me" vibes to four-legged passersby. It's not a native plant, and I probably shouldn't have bought it. Still, I mourn its passing.

There are 3 types of ground squirrels native to our Sonoran Desert, and all three have an extensive presence in our yard. Playing tag requires avoiding their holes and the cactus blooms they've picked off and discarded at the openings. They're adorable and quick and they make a mess but they don't seem to bother the flora so I try not to worry about them. Watching one delicately munching on a lanata bush, holding the flowers in his front paws while he chooses the petals he likes the most and then moving on to the next blossom can hold me spellbound for an hour.

The banded lizards, the king snakes, the tarantulas - they've all surprised me. Up close and personal appearances of reptiles and arachnids tend to send me heading for the nearest doorway. I've only seen two rattlesnakes - one on a hike in the Chiracahua's and the other in the front yard. Actually, my limbic brain heard that one, and sent me running before I could form the thought "Rattles - Rattlesnake - Move Away." I found myself gasping in the garage before I realized I had taken flight.

Watching the sunset brings the circle of life to our backyard. First, the lizards and squirrels go back underground as the day cools down, having had their fill of the beetles (for just a couple of weeks) and crickets and ants. The few mosquitos in the area are now free to come out and feast on TBG, but the bats take care of them as soon as the sun's below the mesquite trees. Then the larger birds begin to swoop in and the sun sets and the coyotes howl with glee as they dine.

I love the desert.





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