Thursday, March 27, 2014

Diamondback Rattlesnake

                                      We have rattlesnakes in Wisconsin…not many…a few…none where I live.

I was kind of excited when I finally saw a rattlesnake here in Arizona.  I was hoping I would see him first, but this encounter happened the other way around.  I don’t know when he spotted me coming, but when I first heard him, I was already one step past his comfort zone. Neither the snake nor I wanted to be this intimate.

I was walking the Big Wash in Arizona’s, Oro Valley, near our winter home looking for birds. I was mainly finding the year-round resident birds, as the spring bird migration out of Mexico and Central America has not reached here yet.  It’s still too cold for the birds to consider moving north, but the rattlesnakes are active.                 

      (Click any picture to enlarge.)

I found this Gambel’s Quail calling out in all directions.  Perched on a high branch for good visibility, he was proclaiming quail dominance to this spot. After hearing no replies, challenges or invitations, he left…mission accomplished. 

It had been a very quiet day.  Truthfully, the Gambel’s Quail gave me a few good profiles, but for a day’s work, I had little to show. I gave up. I was leaving, too.

Dodging the barbs of acacia trees and cactus, I wove my way out, when I stepped on a pile of brittle branches making a dry, crackling sound.  But layered on top of that dry crackling sound came another dry, crackling sound.

For a half-second I thought it could be a birdcall…wrong! I cannot identify many birds by calls, but it didn’t take me long to figure out this bird could bite me in the leg.

This was either going to be my lucky day or a day in the hospital. 

I stopped and reversed course abruptly...all in one motion.

Coiled up and looking seriously disturbed, this Diamondback Rattlesnake was insisting I stay away.  I was happy to oblige, but honestly, I was happy to see him, too. I don’t mind snakes.  Snakes don’t bother me. Spiders creep me out though. 

Actually this is the second rattlesnake I’ve seen in Arizona.  My sister-in-law, Linda, spotted one on a previous trip into the Big Wash.  That one slithered away so quickly however, I had no chance for pictures.

This one posed for me…well, sort of.  Whenever I moved towards him he would coil up and rattle.  When I backed off he would relax again, but he never ran.  His head followed me around as I photographed his changing defensive posture, but he gave no indication of wanting to back down or escape.  He had lots of good cover to retreat into, but that was not his game.  He was here, he was staying and I would have to go around him.

That, too, made me happy.  I got to spend some time with an unfamiliar animal for which I have a lot of respect.  In some way he won this encounter, as I had to walk around him to leave, but I left with 150 pictures of my first Diamondback Rattlesnake.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Curve-billed Thrasher

Three weeks old and just starting to learn about life, this plump and fuzzy Curve-billed Thrasher rests ever so lightly on a cholla cactus.

chol-la: (Spanish) ‘skull, head’, pronounced: choy-ya)

Having fledged recently from his prickly birthplace, he’s probably learned one thorny life lesson already…thorns.

An ability to navigate a prickly environment should serve him well though. He'll probably spend his entire life in the Sonoran Desert where most things poke, scratch or bite.

Raptors and snakes are ever present threats to him, so for now, he’s sticking close to a parent.

Curve-billed Thrashers are common desert birds...well-suited in their dusty dun feathers. He's part of the desert's color palette.  Only bright yellow eyes give him away.

At ten to twelve inches in length, he is a large songbird. With a long down-curved bill, projecting a fierceness he may not deserve, he thrashes the ground for insects, invertebrates, seeds and berries.  

Males and females look alike and share incubating duties together.

This Curve-billed Thrasher was incubating eggs when I stumbled upon her well-hidden nest (lower left). She flew to a nearby cactus and tried to hide.  Normally a very vocal bird…she was silent.  I knew she was hiding something of value when she stayed nearby, but kept quiet.  

The sun shone on three pale blue eggs deep inside a cholla cactus' vicious needles.

Not wanting to stress her, I left quickly after making a picture.

The Curve-billed Thrasher returned immediately, diving through the prickly patch of thorns without hesitation to check on her eggs.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

I'll guess here, but there is a perfect home for everyone somewhere.  The Curve-billed Thrasher has chosen one, also...the most inhospitable of homes, the cholla cactus, as its perfect home.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley Guide to Bird

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Costa's Hummingbird

A Costa’s Hummingbird has to be cautious.  At 3.5” long and 0.1 oz. most everything threatens him.
Nevertheless, he is not shy or retiring.

Proudly projecting brilliant blues and violets, he takes comfort in his ability to escape enemies with lighting speed and aerial acrobatics.

With a resting heartbeat of 900 beats per minute, this mighty, but tiny bird deserves admiration for more than just his good looks.

Perched in plain sight at the end of a twig he knows few predators will mess with him, as pursuing him would be futile and the reward would be negligible. His biggest annoyance seems to be other hummingbirds.

Costa’s Hummingbirds live in desert and semi-desert areas of Arizona and Mexico. Surviving on flower nectar or the sugar water provided by people who enjoy having them around, they are listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN* as to their survival. Habitat loss is their most threatening problem as more and more people move into the desert.

People may be their salvation though, if people enjoy them enough to provide nectar and replant the natural desert flowers they depend upon.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
*International Union Conservation of Nature