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Sonoran Desert Museum, Part 4

We start today's tour with a Desert Bighorn Sheep. They are recognized as a subspecies that has adapted to the Sonoran Desert and other nearby desert areas. They are much similar to their cousins except that they have adapted to the lack of water in desert areas — they can go for extended periods without drinking water. With the coming of the European Americans, their numbers declined dramatically due to hunting, diseases from domestic sheep, usurpation of watering areas and critical range by human activities; and human-induced habitat changes. Conservation efforts have rebuilt the population to an estimated 19,000 as of 1993.

As I was wandering about, someone was gesturing trying to get my attention — in order to point out the iguana that was only a few feet away. He may reside at the Sonoran Desert Museum but he is not confined in any way.

These lizards can withstand high temperatures and are out and about after other lizards have retreated into their burrows. They are primarily herbivorous, eating buds, fruits and leaves of many annual and perennial plants. They are especially attracted to the yellow flowers of the creosote bush. Predators of these iguanas and their eggs are birds of prey, foxes, rats, long-tailed weasels, some snakes, and humans.

Wow, a lovely stand of daisy-like flowers which I believe are Desert Marigolds. I love the mixture of these bright yellow flowers and the green prickly pear cactus behind them.

Oh look, a cute little ground squirrel. According to the Sonoran Desert Museum website, there are three varieties of ground squirrels here — this appears to be a Harris antelope squirrel. Because the Sonoran Desert lacks large trees, the squirrels here have adapted to life on the ground. They dig underground burrows to which they retreat when heat or predators threaten.

Next up is the prairie dog village. These are Black-tailed Prairie dogs which were once abundant in Arizona grasslands. Generally loved for their antics, prairie dogs are hated by some people and have been exterminated because they were thought to compete with livestock for food. This is the only place where one can still see them in Arizona.

Along the trail is an impressive sculpture of a bird of prey swooping in to perhaps catch one of those prairie dogs. And if you look off into the distance, you can see another magnificent desert vista.

There are some interior spaces with special exhibits. Here a group of leopard frogs which are, in fact, found in the Sonoran Desert — along permanent and intermittent streams from near sea level to 7900 feet (2410 m). These frogs inhabit permanent and intermittent streams, irrigation canals, and some ponds. They eat insects and small fish.

Oh this stinks! A skunk! I was surprised to learn that skunks inhabit this area. Mother Nature is very impressive. Skunks live in a variety of habitats from riparian canyons and wooded areas to Arizona uplands and suburbs. They prefer thick, brushy areas. None of the skunks are common in the low, dry flats. Skunks snuffle around or dig in the ground, turning over rocks, logs, and debris looking for insects, lizards, bird eggs, and so on.

This was a pleasant surprise — fossils bones — they appear to have once been a mammoth or mastodon. Pretty cool, living animals and long dead animals in the same zoo.

The museum's website touts the Roadrunner as the most famous bird in the Sonoran Desert — just ask Wile E. Coyote. Quoting from their website, "Even without such stretches or inventions, the real Roadrunner is impressive. Running in the open (and not just on roads), it reaches fifteen miles per hour. It can fly, but usually doesn't. Often it seems curiously unafraid of humans. Trotting up close to peer at us, raising and lowering its mop of a shaggy crest, flipping its long tail about expressively, it looks undeniably zany. It comes as no surprise to learn that the Roadrunner is a member of the cuckoo family."

I will end our visit to the Desert Botanical Garden with another shot of a saguaro cactus blossom together with several that have already been pollinated and are beginning to fruit. I hope you enjoyed the visit even with the camera problems I encountered. Probably worth another visit now that my camera has been repaired, perhaps during cooler months to see what other animals come out to play when the weather is nice.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com