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Elaine A. Powers, Author

MAKING SCIENCE BOOKS FUN!

Fast Food: Roadrunner Edition

After writing a couple of books about reptiles (Don’t Call Me Turtle! and Don’t Make Me Rattle!), I wrote a book about roadrunners. I’m not sure why I was so inspired, except for their impact on the reptiles, as significant predators. I delight in the variety and numbers of lizards (and snakes) that have chosen to live in my yard, so I worry when I see a feathered lizard predator running around. I want my backyard to be a reptile haven, not a roadrunner fast food stop! Find out what I mean. 

My Roadrunner Drive-thru

Roadrunners are interesting-looking birds running around with that long tail, heads stretched forward, intently looking for a reptilian meal. I often see them in my yard, but even if I don’t see them, I know they’ve been there. First, the lizard population seems reduced. I have my regulars that I see daily. Suddenly, they don’t come out to greet me. Has my socialization with them endangered them? Surely, they can tell the difference between me and a roadrunner, right?

After a roadrunner visit, many of the lizards in my backyard show damage from their avian encounters. Fortunately, my local lizards have an autotomic superpower. Autotomy is the ability to detach a body part, like a tail, to save the lizard’s life. Better to lose a tail instead of your life. When the tail is “dropped,” the blood vessels are clamped shut so the lizard won’t bleed to death. Now in the roadrunner’s mouth, the tail wiggles to distract the bird. The lizards that have their tails ripped off do suffer extreme injuries.

Would You Like a Tail with That?

Recently, a roadrunner came to my yard for lunch. Several of my favorite lizard friends appeared missing portions of their tails the next morning! As I watched, over the next few days, their tails began to regenerate. That’s the fantastic thing about autotomy. Not only can lizards drop their tails to thwart a predator, but then they regrow the tail! It’s not as lovely as the original tail, but relatively functional.

Below is one of my lizards a few days after the roadrunner encounter. His tail is already starting to regenerate.

A brown-toned desert lizard with a short, stubby tale that is gray.

A few days later, you can see his regeneration progressing well.  

The same lizard a few days later, it's tail is slightly longer and lighter in color.

Notice that the tail is solid brown. It doesn’t have the excellent scaling and color pattern as the original tail tissue. That’s because the new growth is primarily cartilaginous. Instead of bone with regular spacing, the unique vertebrae are produced as a single unsegmented tube. The blood vessels pass through pores in the cartilage tube. Some nerves from the natural tail extend into regenerated tissue. So, while reasonably functional, the new tail differs from the original.

I’m happy to report that the lizard in the photograph and the other tail-loss lizard victims are recovering and regenerating from their roadrunner encounters. I hope the roadrunner learned that the reptiles in my yard aren’t worth hunting since they will only get tail pieces to eat. Predators are welcome to visit, but I prefer they dine elsewhere. Maybe try a McDonalds?

How to Make a Monsoon

Here in the Sonoran Desert, changes in the weather occur before the monsoons arrive. Humidity and dew points increase. Replacing our comfortable dry heat – when sweat evaporates immediately. After all, in 100+ degree weather, the body needs to sweat. But sweat remained on my skin when I lived in the South, beading up and forming rivers flowing all over my body. We would say we were “glowing.” During this pre-monsoon period in the desert, I glow rivers. This misery is worth it if it causes the monsoon clouds to build.

How to Make a Monsoon

I search Pusch Ridge of the Santa Catalina Mountains daily, hoping to see clouds forming. Not the thin, wispy clouds, but mighty, towering clouds! Once clouds are spotted, I start communicating with these masses of water vapor.

A view from Elaine's backyard, clouds moving over the Catalina mountains.

With the first sign of the clouds behind Pusch Ridge, I start the conversation. I speak words of encouragement, cheering on the gathering. However, hours creep by, and the clouds build too slowly. The stimulating heat is lost if the rain doesn’t come before sunset, and the clouds must start again. Encouragement turns to complaints. Why aren’t you building faster? If you don’t develop more quickly, you won’t have enough energy to rain!

Early in the season, we have the danger of virga, when rain falls from the clouds but evaporates before it reaches the ground. No nonsense like that will be tolerated.

Wispy clouds emerge over the desert.

Patience and encouragement turn to impatience and cajoling. I stand in the yard, looking at the clouds with disgust and chastise, even ridicule, them! “You call yourself rain clouds? I’ve seen better rain clouds in a steamy bathroom!” I don’t know if the clouds care about my opinion, but I fool myself into thinking I was motivating them. Maybe they’d get riled up and rain on me in spite.

Sometimes, people get excited when they find clouds in the morning. But morning clouds actually inhibit the rain clouds. The monsoon storms need ground heating to build to their full potential.

Gray clouds converging over the desert.

Many people claim washing cars stimulates rainfall, but for me, the ultimate inducer is swimming in an outdoor pool. Yes, jump into the pool and wait for the thunder and lightning to appear. Lightning can travel 10 to 12 miles in a storm. Pusche Ridge is a lot closer than that! Don’t worry. I’m back inside my nice, grounded house when I see lightning or hear thunder.

I went into my pool for a swim as the clouds darkened, taunting them to strike me with lightning. But no lightning appeared, and I swam unimpacted in my 96-degree pool water.

As I took my post-swim shower, I heard some thunder, but certainly not sufficient to allow the chlorine to remain on my skin.

I returned to my laptop to work when I noticed the wind was increasing outside. The trees were undulating, then blown sideways as the gusts intensified. Was it coming? Was it indeed the beginning of the monsoon season?

The Real Reason for Monsoons

Okay, you’re probably wondering if talking to clouds doesn’t induce monsoon thunderstorms (the correct terminology for this atmospheric event); what does? During the summer, the winds across southern Arizona shift to a southern direction. This pushes moisture northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes near Baja, California, really excite me! They’re a great source of moisture, and here in land-locked Arizona, we don’t have to worry about the direct impact of these potentially destructive storms.

Combine this moisture with the extreme heating of the desert, producing rising air and surface low pressure, and you’ve got the events necessary for monsoon thunderstorms. The potential for development can be tracked with dew points above 50°F for several consecutive days and temperatures around 100°F. With the build-up in feel-able humidity and the high temperatures, people long for the relief of falling rain, which often drops the temps for a few hours.

It’s no wonder that people long for the rain. People in my neighborhood enjoy standing in the rain. It’s such a novelty in the desert.

It’s not only the people who long and count on the monsoon storms. All the Sonoran Desert plants and animals depend on them as well. The shriveled cacti plump up. The desert tortoises come running out and drink deeply. The life-giving water is welcomed by all the inhabitants of this dry landscape.

Rain pours into Elaine's backyard.

The ground and plants are so dry that within minutes of the vigorous rainfall, all the water is gone from the earth – not a puddle to be found.
This summer, the monsoon storms have been disappointing at my house. The rain shown above has been the only good rainfall. The clouds looked encouraging for several afternoons, but only a few drops fell.

Consequently, my conversations with the clouds continue. I admit, My words have not been encouraging but more spoken in frustration and desperation. I eagerly await the storms that tell me to shut up and try to wash me away!

PS – You’ll want to avoid standing near me when lightning is about. There was a time when I thought Zeus was aiming directly for me. Many bolts came oh so close. But that’s a story for another blog.

What is the Color of a Snake’s Tongue?

Have you ever thought about the color of a snake’s tongue? I hadn’t until recently when a snake flicked its tongue at me. Let me tell you how it happened. 

Relaxing by the Pool

I have a net fence around my pool. It’s good to have a pool safely fenced off to prevent tragedies, such as children falling in and drowning. You’re probably thinking of human children and while it’s certainly true for them, it is just as true for my small family members, such as the tortoises. The fence is usually closed, even when I am swimming. I can’t be watching who is ambling through the opening while I am doing my laps. The opening is created by picking up one of the poles from its hole in the patio and moving the netting aside.

On this particular day, I left the gate open because I knew I wouldn’t be at the pool very long. I only wanted to check the water temperature and the pump operation. When I finished, I went to put the pole back in the hole and saw a little black tongue flicking up at me! From the hole! Whoa! How did they get in there?

I recognized the tongue as a snake tongue. Snakes always delight me. Even rattlesnakes delight me, which I wrote about in my illustrated book, Don’t Make Me Rattle! Along with wondering how and why a snake went down the hole, I was curious to find out what kind of snake was down there.

A snake head is barely visible peaking out from a hole.

I know the purpose of the flicking tongue. The snake was as curious about me as I was about them. The tongue was collecting chemical molecules, probably including some of mine, to take back to its Jacobson’s Organ for identification. 

Whose Tongue is it?

This black tongue could belong to any number of local snake species. Which was it?

I decided a squirt of water from the hose might cause the snake to flee the hole as well as provide me some safety in case it emerged angry. I was barefoot, after all.

As I anticipated, the snake leaped upwards, but the snake was too thick to get more than a foot of its body out of the hole! Fortunately, the snake was able to pull itself back down the hole and disappeared. I swapped out a flashlight for the hose and peered into the depths of the hole. Apparently, there is a passageway underneath my patio. The snake had come up from below, probably curious about where the hole led to. Curiosity is common in reptiles and mammals.

The plump snake was easily identified as a Sonoran Gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer affinis. This nonvenomous snake has adapted to living with people very nicely, which is beneficial to us.

Back to the tongue. I got to wondering if all snake tongues were black like this gopher snake. Actually, they come in a variety of colors! Along with black, they can be cream, blue, and red. Some snakes even have tongues with two colors! For instance, a garter snake has a red tongue except at the tip, where it is black. Sadly, like me, not too many scientists have wondered about the colors of snake tongues and this issue has not been extensively studied. Be assured, from now on I will examine the tongues of every snake I meet.

My other snake book, Bahamian Boas: A Tabby Tale, features the boa constrictors of The Bahamas. I couldn’t tell from the photographs what color tongues they have, so I asked my friend and scientist Scott Johnson. Of course, he knew! The boas have gray-black tongues, while the Bahama Trope, otherwise known as the pygmy or dwarf boa, has a reddish-pink tongue.

I encourage you to join me in looking at snake tongues. Let me know what colors you find. I’ll make a list. We need to look more carefully at our mates who share our environment. We need to get to know them a bit more intimately.

Excuse Me, is This Chair Taken?

I was outside recently and went to sit down in a cushioned chair as I often do, but this morning, I found the chair occupied! You’ll never guess who took it. 

A brown grasshopper clings to a chair cushion.

The surprisingly large insect, nearly 3 inches long, showed no interest in vacating the seat for me, so I thought we should get better acquainted. I know we have many grasshoppers or locusts in the Sonoran Desert, but I wasn’t certain which one this one was.

Getting Some Answers

I pulled out my iNaturalist app and snapped a photo. The answer came back as the species Schistocerca nitens – Gray Bird Grasshopper. Of course, I had to check with photos online and it does look like a gray bird grasshopper. I’m not familiar with gray bird grasshoppers, so had to do a bit of reading about them. I hope you don’t mind me sharing what I found. They are solitary insects and hang around the Sonoran Desert year-round.

Like many other Sonoran desert creatures. This grasshopper is colored in the tan colors of the desert environment. In addition to being camouflaged, they don’t move much, preventing detection by predators. Maybe this one thought I was a large mammalian predator and that is why they wouldn’t move.

Why is this insect named after a lower vertebrate, i.e. birds? They are strong fliers and can travel long distances, including over water. It’s a body style that has been consistently good. Their lineage goes back to the Triassic period, roughly 250 million years.

Gray birds are native to the southwest US and northern Mexico. I think of grasshoppers as being vegetarians, but gray birds eat insects along with seeds. Many of the insects they consume we consider pests. Awesome.

Around here, gray birds spend the winter as eggs in the ground. However, they hatch in two sessions. The first group hatches after the winter rains, maturing to adulthood around April and May. The larger second group emerges after the summer monsoon rains, becoming adults sometime around September. My visitor must have been in the first group.

I’m sure glad I took the time to get to know this individual. The lifespan of a gray bird grasshopper is usually only 4 months! Go ahead and use the chair, my insect friend. I’m glad you stopped by for a visit. 

Yellow is the Color of Spring!

Growing up in Illinois, I knew the blooming of the forsythia bushes meant spring had arrived. The bright yellow flowers of the large bushes added a bright color to the gray of winter. This memory came to me as I enjoyed the yellow flowers of spring here in the Sonoran Desert. We had good winter rains, so I wasn’t surprised by the proliferation of flowers this past spring. However, I was taken by how the entire desert landscape seemed to have turned yellow.

Yellow, Yellow Everywhere!

Most of the spring yellow in the Sonoran desert was due to palo verde trees and brittlebush shrubs. I suspect there were other yellow-flowered plants as well, even though I may not be as familiar with them.

What else struck me is the question as to why in both temperature and desert environments, the spring flowers are yellow. Coincidence or was there a scientific reason for the similarity in colors? I did some research.

You might think nature is rewarding us with a bright, cheery color after a dreary winter. But no, the yellow colors are not for us, they’re for the pollinators, of course. Yellow is easily visible to pollinators such as flies, bees, and butterflies. The whole point of the flower is to attract pollinators.

Another possible reason is that yellow pigments are more easily produced by plants. Pigments, such as carotenoids and anthocyanins, can produce yellow colorations. The synthesis of carotenoids is fairly simple and energy-efficient, both important for plants. 

Interestingly, anthocyanins can also provide protection against light exposure, acting like sunscreen. This could be very valuable in the bright sunlight found in the desert.

The Proof is in the Photos

In the photos below, the yellow-flowered trees are palo verde. These are probably Foothill Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla). The other commonly found species in the Tucson area is the Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum) which is usually close to water sources, like washes (although I question calling our usually dry washes water sources). The palo verde trees are known for their green trunks. A bit of trivia is that the palo verde was named the Arizona state tree in 1954.

A desert landscape bursting with yellow blooms.

The yellow-flowered bushes or shrubs are brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), a member of the sunflower family. These shrubs tend to be rounded in shape. The yellow flowers contrast with the silver-gray leaves. But there’s still more! 

The catkins of the mesquite Prosopis velutina.

Yellow mesquite catkins blooming on a tree.

Yellow desert marigold, Bailleya multiradiata

The whitethorn acacia, Vachellia (Acacia) constricta.

A yellow acacia bush in bloom.

The remaining fruit of the fishhook barrel cactus, Ferocactus wislizenii.

A barrel cactus topped with bright yellow fruits.

And many others, such as creosote bush, Larrea tridentata, and this Palo Verde tree. All bright yellow.

A blooming Palo Verde tree.

The season of yellow is fading, often leaving the ground covered with yellow petals.

Yellow pedals from a Palo Verde cover the ground.

Now the white of the saguaro flowers, the deep reds of the cholla, and the pink of the ironwood trees are coloring the landscape.

It’s been a lovely yellow spring! If you enjoy learning about plants as much as I do, take a look at some plant books at Lyric Power Publishing

Love is in the… Cactus?

Ah, the heart! ❤️ The symbol of romantic love. An appropriate topic for February 14th is Valentine’s Day. It was in the fifteenth century that today’s typical heart symbol was developed. With the establishment of Valentine’s Day, the use of the symbol exploded. Its popularity reached the ultimate pinnacle when the ❤️ became a verb! It’s used in marketing (I ❤️ NY) and even on television show titles (Bob ❤️ Abishola)! What a compliment for a noun to become a verb. Yes, you can find love almost anywhere, in the form of a ❤️. Even in nature…

The Natural Romantic

Many of us delight in finding “hearts” in nature. Stone beaches provide countless opportunities to find objects, such as this heart-shaped stone:

A gray stone naturally shaped into a heart.

There are rock enthusiasts who spend their time searching for these treasures around the globe. If you search for “heart-shaped rocks” on the internet, a lot of sites come up. We humans are fascinated by oddly shaped rocks. Heart-shaped rocks are particularly desired.

How did the rocks come to have a heart shape? Perhaps a vein of another rock type ran down the middle of it and erosion created the indentation. There must be a lot of veins running through the rocks to produce the enormous number of heart-shaped rocks found around the world; there must be a regular circulatory system running through the ground!

People are encouraged to place heart-shaped stones around their homes to bring love and peace into their domicile.

Desert Love

Walking around my neighborhood, here in the Sonoran Desert, I’ve noticed the prickly pear cacti have joined in heart production.

A prickly pear cactus with multiple cactus pads, one is distinctively heart-shaped.

Many of the clusters have a pad in the shape of a heart.This nicely shaped heart was in my neighbor’s yard.

A close-up of the heart-shaped prickly pear cactus pad.

You can see several heart-shaped pads in this grouping. Perhaps this prickly pear has an abundance of love to share. Or perhaps the pads’ heart shapes are the result of damage early in the growth of the pads. An insect may have enjoyed taking a bite out of each of the pads when they were young and tender. Not all of the cactus pads are perfectly shaped, but we can forgive the insects’ lack of artistic ability.

A wonky shaped prickly pear cactus pad, that resembles a mitten.

With the indentation off the side, this one looks more like a mitten or oven glove.

So, along with celebrating the loved ones in your life, be sure to celebrate our earth and the plants we share it with. They’re producing hearts for us and our enjoyment. And give us flowers every year. What more could you want? For more natural valentines, check out this website: https://eos.org/geofizz/heart-shaped-valentines-from-nature-to-you

 

My, What Big Leaves You Have!

When I need an ocean fix, I head to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But when I need a green fix, I head back to my hometown of Peoria, IL. I call it my writing retreat because I sit on my cousin’s back porch, where my muse refreshes and my writing output increases. Having his two dogs draped on the furniture around me helps with the inspiration. I often take his Goldendoodle for a walk around the tree-filled neighborhood, to get some exercise and increase blood flow to my brain. After living in the Sonoran Desert for over a decade, the trees strike me as so…green! The trees are tall with thick branches and really big leaves! Why such a big difference in the flora? I’m glad you asked.

Small vs. Big Leaves

I’ve become used to the small, thin leaves of the desert trees. Their short stature, their thin branches, and the sight of the landscape through the leafy sparseness are what I now expect. This is a mesquite tree, common in the Sonoran Desert.

The tiny leaves of a mesquite tree.

The significant differences between the leaves got me thinking about how the tree species have adapted to their environments. Desert tree leaves are small to reduce surface area thereby decreasing water loss. Access to water is limited in desert environments. In the Midwest, water conservation is less of an issue for the trees. They have leaves with lots of surface area. It’s interesting that leaves that grow in the shade (all those leaves produce a great deal of shade) are usually bigger. They need a greater surface area to increase their amount of photosynthesis. The leaves exposed to the sun can be smaller. No need for them to fight over the sunshine.

Some of the more common Midwest trees are the oaks. The average oak leaf can be up to eight inches in length. This is huge compared to the palo verde or mesquite leaves which have leaflets about an inch long. In addition, the oak leaves are present from spring until fall, since they are deciduous, drop off for winter. In comparison, the desert trees’ leaves tend to show up after rainfall.

The leaves are responsible for feeding the trees. Photosynthesis is where sunlight is used to synthesize carbon dioxide and water into food for plants. Oxygen is given off as a byproduct, fortunately for us oxygen breathers.

A Whole New Tree-preciation 

I must confess, living in the desert has made me appreciate trees more than I need, as a once native Midwesterner. Sure, I knew they were important and beautiful, but I usually appreciated it when they bloomed in the spring or changed colors in the fall. Now, I more fully realize how critical they are to life in any environment. Animals and other plants really depend on their presence to survive.

If you want to know more about the plants in the Sonoran Desert, I offer a bit of information in How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird.

Jellyfish in the… Desert?

The tram operators of Sabino Canyon in Tucson, AZ are offering nighttime tours this summer. It’s part of an overall upgrade to the beautiful park located in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest. Along with upgrading to electric vehicles, the tour narration now comes with personal earbuds. This reduces the noise of the tour and allows the guides to share more detailed facts. I enjoyed this more informative talk. But one fact in particular caught my attention. Jellyfish have been found in Sabino Creek! Jellyfish in the desert? I had to find out more, and I absolutely had to share what I learned. 

The Desert-dwelling Jelly

With my love of marine biology, I was excited by the thought of a native freshwater jellyfish being identified in this local creek. How did the jellyfish adapt to the inconsistent nature of desert bodies of water?

Once I returned home, I immediately searched online for the jellyfish of Sabino Canyon. Yes, this jellyfish was identified, but what I read saddened me. This wasn’t a native freshwater, desert-dwelling jellyfish. No, this was an invasive species.

The jellyfish in Sabino Canyon is Craspedacusta sowerbyi. This species was first found in 1908. Since then, it has spread to 43 states. C. sowerbyi, or the peach blossom jellyfish, is a hydrozoan cnidarian. Originally from the Yangtze basin in China, this jellyfish is now an invasive species found throughout the world, except for Antarctica.

More About the Invaders

This jellyfish has about 400 tentacles along the bell margin. The body is translucent with a whitish or greenish tint. The tentacles have nematocysts, which they use to capture prey. This jellyfish prefers calm and slow-moving freshwater bodies. C. sowerbyi is noted for showing up in new places.

C. sowerbyi consumes zooplankton caught with its tentacles. The venom injected by the nematocysts paralyzes the prey, the tentacle coils bringing the meal to its mouth. I am curious what zooplankton in Sabino creek it’s eating.

This jellyfish can reproduce both asexually and sexually. Interestingly, in the US, populations of C. sowerbyi are either all male or all female, suggesting no sexual reproduction is occurring.

During cold weather, the jellyfish polyps can become dormant as podocysts. Scientists believe that the jellyfish are transported as a podocyst in aquatic plants or animals to other locations. If they find the new environment suitable, they develop back into polyps.

I’m saddened that the jellyfish found in Sabino Canyon is an invasive species and doesn’t belong there. I don’t know if they plan to take action to eradicate the jellyfish or what damage it is inflicting upon the native environment. Being vigilant against intrusion by non-native plants and animals is a continual effort to protect our many environments.

My recent release, Guam: Return of the Songs, is all about how one invasive species can damage an entire ecosystem. But also, the hope to repair it. Introducing the brown tree snake to Guam destroyed many native animals in the island ecosystem. This book tells the story of that invasion and the return of Guam’s native birds, in both English and native CHamoru.

Reference: https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/specimenviewer.aspx?SpecimenID=168095

All About Bats: A Citizen Scientist Update

Last year, I wrote about the bat survey I’m taking part in. Researchers at Texas Christian University are studying the usage of pools by desert-dwelling bats. I live in Oro Valley, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert. And I have a pool in my backyard. Both make me a perfect candidate for this citizen scientist endeavor. It’s been one year since I signed up and here is what I have found.

A “Bat” of Info on the Survey

To identify the bats that stop by my pool I had to install a bit of technology. The scientists detect the bats through an ultrasonic microphone that records their calls. They use reference recordings of the different species expected in various areas. Once I have collected enough recordings, a student from the university identifies the bats heard on them.

I’ve been amazed and delighted with the number of recordings I’ve been obtaining at my pool. I find it interesting that when it rains, the bats are particularly talkative.

How Many Species?

Can you guess how many different species of bats were detected in my backyard this past year? I suspected I had at least 4 bat species around my pool, based on personal observations. Usually, I have small bats flitting about, frequently coming down to the pool surface. Once or twice, I’ve seen a few slightly bigger bats, but it was hard to precisely determine the size because they fly sooo fast. A special treat was when the BIG bats showed up. Recently, three of them even joined me in the pool. Their sharp triangular wings were incredible.

The researchers were busy analyzing all the recordings from the various locations around Tucson, so it wasn’t until recently that they were able to provide tentative results. They sent us a list of the bat species tentatively identified at each of our pools. I had 21 species of bats! 21!! I’m astounded. 

I don’t know how many times each of the species were at my house, so expect another update. Most of the locations around Tucson had the same species of bats. One of them had an extra one, a spotted bat. I hope this species wanders up to my house.

Of the seventy bat species found in the Sonoran Desert, eighteen have been found in the Tucson area. So, which of them flies above my house? 

Here is the tentative list:

  • Cave Myotis
  • Greater Mastiff Bat 
  • Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
  • Silver Haired Bat
  • Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat
  • Western Red Bat
  • Pallid Bat
  • Underwood’s bonneted Bat
  • Hoary Bat
  • Western Yellow Bat
  • Myotis California Bat
  • Western Small-footed Bat
  • Long-eared myotis Bat
  • Arizona Myotis Bat
  • Fringed Myotis Bat
  • Long-legged Myotis Bat
  • Yuma Myotis Bat
  • Pocketed free-tailed Bat
  • Big Free-tailed Bat
  • Canyon Bat

I’ve suspected the big bat I’ve seen is the greater mastiff bat, but that’s only my uneducated guess. However, this species is on the list, so maybe my guess was right. Or it might be a big brown bat.

Another of my guesses is that the little ones I see most often are canyon bats. They are the smallest bats in North America. They are known for coming out early in the evening, which makes them easier to see. I’ve even got photos of them…kind of.

An extremely grainy photo of a bat flying in the sky at dusk.

More Bat Questions!

Most of the bats found in this study are insectivores, but a few are nectar drinkers. This leads to the question of whether these bats are showing up for the hummingbird feeders or the water in the pool.

Knowing which species are present is wonderful, but there are so many more questions. How often did each species visit? Did they come at specific periods, such as only in July, or were they around for many months? What time of night were they active and for how long? The little bats seem to visit just at sunset and then fly off or is it that I just couldn’t see them anymore in the dark – they are small? How many of each species visited, one or many?

I hope to have this information for a future blog. However, I was so excited by the number of bat species that I had to share this early information.

By the way, the researchers at TCU are rather jealous. They only have four species of bats in their area. Maybe the diversity of bats in the Tucson area is why they are so popular. One of the famous activities here is going to the larger bridges over the washes and watching the Mexican free-tailed bats emerge at sunset. According to the list, I can do my own observations right in my backyard. I’ll also look a bit more carefully at those bats around my pool. Maybe I’ll be able to definitively identify these amazing animals who share my pool with me.

If you know any budding young bat scientists, I highly recommend My Book About Bats and Rats, a fun and educational workbook that focuses on the Caribbean Fruit Bat.

Why Don’t I Write That?

I’m so happy in-person book sales are returning. I love speaking to people about my books and about the importance of science education through children’s books. Many people are delighted to find my books and often suggest other topics for me to write about. I write them all down. 

My most popular books are my Don’t series, which features animals and plants found in the Sonoran Desert (and other places), are popular in the Tucson area. Often people will comment that they’ve bought one or seen it for sale in various gift shops. That makes my day. However, even though I’m delighted when people recognize my books, I often get credit for a book I didn’t write: Don’t Call Me Pig! But I do have a story about it.

Once Upon a Don’t

Book Cover: Don't Call Me Pig!

Don’t Call Me Pig!  is about the javelinas, or peccaries, of the Sonoran Desert. They are not pigs, although they look a lot like pigs. One clue is that javelinas don’t have tails! Another difference, which is important to my frequent topic of invasiveness of species, is that javelinas are native to the Americas (the New World), but domestic pigs (which become wild boars) are from the Old World (Africa, Asia and Europe).

Don’t Call Me Pig! was written by the very talented author, Conrad Storad. When I was planning on writing about the differences between turtles and tortoises, I wanted to emulate Storad’s book style. His books included many scientific facts and natural history, just like I wanted to do. When I bought my copy of Don’t Call Me Pig!, I discovered that his picture book rhymed. You may be familiar with my opinion that children’s pictures books should rhyme. Inspired, I created my rhyming picture book on behalf of my tortoise, Myrtle (not Myrtle the turtle!)

However, I was concerned about the title. I wanted to name my book, Don’t Call Me Turtle! Was this too close to Don’t Call Me Pig!? Even though, he didn’t have any other titles with Don’t Call Me, would people confuse us?

As I was contemplating my book’s name, I had the opportunity to sit next to Storad at a book festival in Tucson. This gave me a chance to speak with him. First, I learned that his book, Don’t Call Me Pig!, had just sold a million copies. Not bad for a rhyming picture book, published 1999. Modern traditional publishers have been wary of rhyming picture books, with some editors and agents refusing to even look at them. I doubt I will ever reach that sales level, but why not try?

I asked Storad if he minded if I titled my book so closely to his. He graciously told me to go ahead, that he didn’t mind at all. That was the start of my Don’t series about animals and plants that are found in the Sonoran Desert and other places. I am grateful to Storad for his kindness and encouragement. I doubt he remembers me, but I will always remember him.

For more information about my books and me, check out www.LyricPower.net. You’ll find tons of educational and entertaining books, downloadable workbooks, and puzzles.

A BIG Book Celebration in Tucson, AZ

The authors are coming! The authors are coming! Once again, we’ll be celebrating books and literacy in person in Tucson at the 2022 Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB)! Learn more about this Tucson book celebration staple and how you find me there. 

A Brief TFOB History

The first festival was held March 14-15, 2009 with 450 authors and 50,000 visitors. The number of visitors has grown to 135,000. Yes, little ole Tucson has the third-largest festival in the country! They have an amazing team of volunteers who keep everything moving smoothly.

One aspect that I particularly enjoy is the annual festival mascot. Each year’s mascot is a resident animal of the Sonoran Desert. Creatures included so far have been the Gila monster, hummingbird, tarantula, Sonoran green toad, butterfly, Gambel’s quail, bobcat, jackrabbit, roadrunner, javelina, and coyote. I’ve written books about many of them and others are my companions in our desert home. I’ve been trying to get a photograph of a jackrabbit for years. They’re HUGE! This year’s mascots are prairie dogs or rather (as I suspect), round-tailed ground squirrels. I’m partial to ground squirrels (Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert).

Elaine smiling from her booth at the 2019 TFOB

Here I am at a previous Festival with some of my books. I’ve published a bunch more since then. 

The 2022 Tucson Festival of Books!

This year’s festival will be on March 12-13, 2022, at the University of Arizona Mall. I’ll be in the children’s section at booth #322. Look for Grab an Adventure by the Tale! Author-illustrator Brad Peterson, aka Anderson Atlas, will be joining me. Don’t miss the opportunity to get your personally signed books by either or both of us! We’ll be there all day, both days.

My books are all published through Lyric Power Publishing, LLC. One of my fellow LPP authors, Gene Twaronite, will sell and sign his books at the festival. He will be moving around to different locations for his signings. He starts at the Indie Authors – Children’s Author Pavilion on Saturday, from 10 am to noon. Then at the AZ State Poetry Society booth (#410 from 1-3 pm). On Sunday, at the ASPS booth again from 10 am to noon. And finally, at Young Adult Author Rendezvous (booth 451) to display his two young adult fantasy novels. 

Something for Everyone

Even though the festival is an opportunity for authors to sell their books and readers to meet the authors in person, TFOB has much more to offer. There are talks, performances, the science pavilion, non-profit agencies, parks, and food vendors. Tucson has the best food trucks. However, the festival is a celebration of literature to increase literacy rates among children and adults. Any money left over after the expenses are contributed to local literacy programs. So far, they have donated over $2 million.

So, mark your calendar for March 12th and 13th. Here’s a chance to get out and restock your reading pile with autographed books after meeting them in person. And remember to stop by booth #322. You’ll be glad you did, and so will I!

For more information on this festival, check out their website: https://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/

 

Tucson Festival of Books Event Image courtesy of Digital Bookmobile

The Need to Feed

An author friend of mine recently wrote a blog for my publisher, Lyric Power Publishing. She described how she, a girl who grew up on the cement streets of Manhattan, became enamored of a couple of native Desert Spiny lizards. A local informed her that she could feed the lizards mealworms. So, every day she offers the lizards a couple of worms, which they eagerly eat. However, this tale has led to a discussion about whether people should be feeding wild animals.

To Feed or Not to Feed?

This is an interesting, but tricky, topic. Do we condemn my friend for offering an acceptable food item to a lizard, when many of us have bird feeders around our homes? I am pleased that migrating bats utilize my hummingbird feeders to support their flight south. One bat species has changed its behavior to come north to feed before heading south again for migration. How about offering floating turtle food pellets in park ponds, when many people, unfortunately, feed bread to ducks? Some people put out corn for the neighborhood squirrels. These are all examples of feeding wild animals. Why are some acceptable and others not? The answer isn’t always straightforward.

During the pandemic, many people turned to the wild animals to maintain their sanity, using food to attract them, usually birds, to within viewing range. This enjoyment might lead to concern for the well-being of the animals and increase participation in conservation.

Many of our social activities involve the sharing of food. Humans seem to enjoy watching other animals eat and becoming part of their world by offering food items to other species. When companion animals eat heartily, we’re assured that they are healthy and happy. I admit, one of the pleasures I get from the Jurassic Park movies is watching the dinosaurs eat well.

It’s Not a New Discussion 

Many people are against bird feeders. Others think it will help the local birds, even if it won’t significantly enhance the general population. Sometimes, diseases are spread through bird feeders, but with our destruction of the natural habitat, humans have reduced the abundance of natural food. Providing food might help since mankind has reduced what’s available naturally, right? It’s a complex situation. And in reality, people won’t try to protect animals that aren’t important to them.

The advice that has been given is: do not feed wild animals when it might cause them harm.

When NOT to Feed

How do we know if we are harming them? Are we tempting them from natural food with tastier human food that has no nutritional value? Are we changing their behaviors? Are we affecting their health?

Human-wildlife interaction has become an important topic in The Bahamas, concerning their endemic rock iguanas and tour operators. How do you balance the needs of the iguanas with the need of Bahamians to earn a living? The tour operators take day-trippers out to see the magnificent lizards, but just looking at them and taking photos is not enough. The tourists want to interact, i.e., feed the iguanas. Early on, people would feed whatever leftover food they had onboard their boats, potato chips, etc. After discussions with the scientists, they agreed to offer food closer to natural food, often grapes. But throwing the grapes on the sand, led to the ingestion of sand and caused impaction, resulting in the death of the iguanas. After further discussion, it was agreed that the grapes would be put on sticks, like roasting marshmallows. An improvement. It’s true that grapes aren’t a natural food and have high sugar content, but it’s an improvement. Effects on iguana health have been noted, so more work is needed. Discussions are ongoing to develop protocols that allow the tour operators to conduct their tours with wild iguana feeding while minimizing the effects on the iguana populations.

Along with impacting the iguanas’ health, the tourist’s feeding has changed their behavior. When the boats arrive, the iguanas, mostly males, run down to the beach to get the handouts. This is another factor to be discussed. You might have seen the YouTube video about the woman doing yoga on a beach being bitten by an iguana. Her nail polish was grape-colored. It’s dangerous to wear fruit-colored toenail polish as well. Iguanas have color vision! In addition, they have razor-sharp teeth for biting through fibrous plant material.

The One Thing to Remember

In conclusion, it would be hypocritical of me to condemn all feeding of wild animals. My yard is filled with various bird feeders. I do ask that if you do feed your neighborhood wild animals, do it responsibly with knowledge of the possible risks.

A Squirrel is a Squirrel is a… Chipmunk?

Sometimes, stories are written to craft clarity from confusion. That’s certainly the case with my book Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert. I’ve lived in many places yet found myself perplexed by the local squirrels. In discussing them with other residents, it became clear that they were just as confused by the nature of these rodents. I was encouraged to write about them, and I’m very glad I did. 

The Regular Squirrels

Growing up in Illinois, I was used to “normal looking” squirrels, those with the bushy tails. They would scamper up and down trees, run across power and telephone lines, and gather acorns. Sometimes they would position themselves upside down on a tree trunk and chitter at people or other animals passing by. These were the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). In both Illinois and New Jersey, the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) is the resident species.

Squirrels are often viewed as pests: raiding bird feeders, utilizing human structures for their needs, or falling victim to electrical lines and causing power outages. However, while we may view many of their activities as amusing, they also demonstrate how clever squirrels really are. For instance, time and again they thwart humans’ best efforts to keep them out of bird feeders. This is natural for them; they didn’t evolve from the need to out-think people. 

Squirrels are problem solvers, and notoriously plan in advance by storing food for the winter. At my home in New Jersey, the squirrels stored their walnuts on my second story porch at the top of the stairs. Not only was it easily accessible yet safe from competitors; my constant lurking provided a bonus measure of protection for their stash. 

The Sonoran Squirrels

When I saw chipmunk-like rodents in my Tucson, Arizona yard, I was delighted. Chipmunk holes never bother me. In fact, I find the little critters’ white stripes along their brown fur quite attractive. So, why am I describing squirrels and chipmunks in other states, even though I live in Tucson? Because when I moved here, a black, fluffy-tailed squirrel lived in my mesquite tree and little chipmunks scampered about the landscaping rocks. Or were they something different?

In fact, the three squirrel species in the Sonoran Desert are all ground squirrels, no matter their appearance. The fluffy-tailed squirrel in my mesquite tree was a Rock Squirrel. Those cute chipmunks scurrying about are Harris’s Antelope Squirrels. And finally, the miniature prairie dogs who dig through the hard ground and road asphalt are Round-tailed Squirrels.

What are the differences between tree and ground squirrels? Ground squirrels use their tunnels for life activities: sleeping, food storage, family dens and protection from predators. In contrast, tree squirrels live in trees and either utilize tree cavities or create nests from leaves, sticks and bark. Even though ground squirrels may climb into trees for food, it’s not where they make their homes.

All of this, and more, I learned in researching my book. A few highlights:

  • Fluffy rock squirrel tails are for more than balance – they provide protection!
  • In a battle between a rattlesnake and a ground squirrel, who would win?
  • How do the three species co-exist in the same habitat?
  • What purpose do the holes in your yard serve? 

Find out all this and more in Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert!

A squirrel jumps over a prickly pear pad as a snake looms ahead in the cover of Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert, by Elaine A. Powers. Illustrated by Anderson Atlas.
Illustration of a ground squirrel biting a rattlesnake.
A squirrel bites a rattlesnake in a scene from Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert.

Iguanas and Tortoises are… Invasive Species?

 

Invasive species are a common topic in environmental discussions these days, and rightfully so. Often, these concepts seem to deal with invasive plants or animals that affect people and places far away. But if you’ve ever watched my Reptile-Side chats, or witnessed one of my school or community visits, you know my non-human housemates are reptiles, mostly iguanas and tortoises. What you may not realize is that some of them are invasive species.

It’s Raining Green Iguanas!

Take green iguanas, for instance. I have both green and rock iguanas, species involved in my conservation effort in the Caribbean area. However, green iguanas are well-known invasives. They can be entertaining, like when comatose green iguanas fall from the trees during cold snaps in Florida. “It’s raining reptiles!” people love to say. Knowing how fond I am of iguanas, folks assume I want to help these unfortunate frozen lizards. They’re surprised when I suggest that the local wildlife personnel and the public finish the job that nature began.

I am a fan of iguanas, but prefer them to be safe and protected in their natural environment. Green iguanas, who are unable to handle cold weather in south Florida, are native to much warmer Central America. These wonderful animals have been introduced around the world through the pet trade, as stowaways on ship containers, and from human negligence. As a result, they’ve become a very dangerous invasive species. They’re not aggressive or a danger to humans; rather, they’re dangerous because they destroy non-native environments.

Part of my volunteer work as a citizen scientist involves helping to identify invasive green iguanas throughout the world. Posters have been created and flyers produced to spread the word, but more needs to be done. My author skills came to the rescue, and I created identification booklets for the public. These little booklets enable the public to tell the difference between native and invasive iguanas. In addition, they educate folks on the importance of native lizards.

In Tucson, Arizona, where I live, green iguanas are not a problem. Iguanas need more humidity and better vegetation to survive in this harsh environment. It’s not a problem for their relatives, the chuckwalla, who do well here. An invasive species that also does well here and lives in my yard—the sulcata tortoise. Surely, you must be thinking ‘how dangerous can a tortoise be?’

Invasive Tortoises in the Desert

The reality is that sulcata tortoises can have devastating effects on native Sonoran desert tortoises. Sulcata tortoises are natives of southern Saharan Africa, not southern Arizona. Sulcatas are much larger than the desert tortoise, 100-200lbs versus 15lbs. Both species eat the same plants, which means competition for limited food sources and water supplies. They also compete for a territory that, thanks to humans, steadily decreases.

Why are sulcatas roaming the Sonoran desert in the first place? They’ve been dumped by humans. You see, sulcatas are a favorite pet choice. As hatchlings, they’re a nice size and are both friendly and calm. In contrast, desert tortoises are much smaller at hatching. They’re shy around humans (who are viewed as possible predators) and tend to explore.

People may enjoy having a pet tortoise when they’re small. However, as they grow (and grow and grow) their caretakers learn how just destructive sulcatas can be. Sulcatas can easily dig through doors and drywall. Furniture is moved and broken while gardens and plantings are destroyed. One of my sulcata tortoises digs outside quite a bit, and I wondered how close she’d gotten to my house foundation. Turns out she was undermining it.

Due to the harshness of desert life, both sulcata and desert tortoises dig tunnels to escape the intense heat. Obviously from their size, sulcatas dig much bigger holes than the smaller desert tortoises. Sulcata dens can easily be 30 feet long and 20 feet deep, while desert dens are far smaller. Either type of den can provide a habitat for other animals. When my female sulcata dug a burrow in my yard, the desert tortoise helped herself and moved right in. Consequently, the sulcata had to continue digging to make the burrow big enough for both of them. They are not happy den-mates.

The entrance to a large den is visible beneath the broken edge of a house foundation.
A large sulcata den.
The entrance to a small desert tortoise den is visible beneath a succulent plant.
A small Sonoran tortoise den.

In other households, many unwitting owners eventually decide their tortoise is too destructive and unmanageable. Instead of finding a new home or at least contacting a rescue group, they’re often just dumped in the desert. Once there, not only do they have to compete with desert tortoises, they can also introduce diseases.

At least dumped sulcatas can survive here in the Sonoran desert. When I lived in New Jersey, I read a report stating that a Sulcata tortoise was found in a Pennsylvania forest. Fortunately, the unlucky tortoise was found before winter set in. A long, slow death in cold weather is a fate no reptile deserves.

How Can You Help?

An inconvenient and abandoned pet can easily become invasive and have a devastating effect on native animals. When we bring animals into our homes, it’s our responsibility to ensure they have a good place to live for the rest of their lives—which is up to 150 years for a tortoise. Once they live with humans they can never be released or returned into the wild. And they should never, ever be left in someone else’s habitat. Before you decide to bring home a pet, like a tortoise or an iguana, it’s a good idea to learn everything you can about them and make sure they’re the right pet for you.

Mushrooms in the Desert? I Have Pictures!

Living in the Sonoran Desert, I don’t often see mushrooms.  Sometimes, fungus appears on the trunks of dying trees, but that’s not often. This year, Tucson has had a very wet monsoon season, which is wonderful after years of severe drought.

Along with the greening of the vegetation, the abundance of rain has brought forth some interesting mushrooms.

These interesting mushrooms are Podaxis pistillaris, the Desert Shaggy Mane mushroom. Possibly the most common mushroom in the Sonoran Desert, this genus of fungus, possibly this species, is found in deserts worldwide. The above ground portion, the fruiting body, appears after a soaking rain. The fibrous texture and closed cap are believed to protect the gills and spores from desiccation.

The mushroom starts out whitish, turns brown, eventually ends up as black powder.

Being unfamiliar with this type of mushroom, I was curious to see what happened to these specimens. Would they be consumed by rodents, rabbits or coyotes? Would the horses be interested in eating them?  No, these mushrooms were undisturbed. This made me think this fungus is toxic.  However, P. pistillaris, is eaten in many areas of the world and has high nutritional value.

In addition, this mushroom is used extensively in traditional medicines and cosmeceuticals throughout the world. Now, I’m intrigued to try this mushroom, but I’ll await instruction by an experienced mushroom hunter.

I’m always delighted when I discover new and different aspects of the Sonoran Desert.

Book Note: If you’d like to know more about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert, check out my Don’t series and the other Sonoran Desert-themed picture books.

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#desertmushrooms

#Podaxispistillaris

 

 

 

 

Mesquite Trees and Horses: Incompatible

photo mesquite treeWhen I moved to the Sonoran Desert, I learned about mesquite pods.  I knew about the mesquite wood used for barbequing, but not the seed pods of the tree. They’re used as food by both people and animals.  The mature pods, not just the seeds, are ground into flour, which is quite delicious. A five-gallon bucket will produce about a pound of flour.

Many animals eat the pods: doves, quail, ravens, bighorn sheep, rabbits, ground squirrels, rats, mice and coyotes. In fact, if you find canine droppings on your property and you wonder if it was left by an irresponsible neighbor, look for the pods. If pods are present, it was left by a coyote, not a dog.

However, mesquite pods are not good for all animals. Horses find their sweet taste irresistible but eating too many of them can lead to colic. The beans impact the stomach or intestines, which can lead to surgery or the death of the horse.

When the pods ripen, the trees fling them about, carpeting the ground.

mesquite tree seed pods in horse corralUnfortunately, some pods land in the areas designated for horses, like this round pen. My horses eagerly head for the round pen in the hopes of finding pods. My task before they arrive is to remove the pods not only within the pen but also within reach of those long necks and agile lips.

Is it fair for me to enjoy something I deprive my horses of?  Yup. I enjoy their company and want them with me for as long as possible. Mesquite pods, be gone!

Book Note: The Sonoran Desert is a wild and beautiful place. I have written several books set in this extraordinary place. Please visit my Sonoran Desert Books tab for more information.

collage of sonoran desert book covers

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#mesquitepods

#mesquitepodsandhorses

 

 

Scientists Love Their Scat! And I Am One!

Scientists have long been using scat as a valuable tool in figuring out what animals have eaten. The indigestible parts pass through and are excreted. Some items can be easily identified, but others require a bit of investigation.

photo of tortoise scat 2When the temperatures were warm enough, I let my sulcata, or spur-thigh, tortoise loose in my walled-in backyard. With the drought, my vegetation is rather sparse. I provide food for her, but she likes to forage on her own, too.  She’d eaten all the aloe, munched on the prickly pear cactus pads, and gobbled up Texas olives (many of which came through intact.).

However, she recently left this deposit for me which had me perplexed.

I searched my yard and I think I finally found what she had been eating that wasn’t digested fully.

image pricklypear cactusI suspect the fibrous material is from the main stem of this large prickly pear cactus! She really should stick with eating the soft, juicy young pads.

Book Note: My publisher, Lyric Power Publishing LLC, publishes workbooks and activity sheets to go with my rhyming stories and adventure tales. If your children love hands-on coloring pages and solving problems, cutting and pasting, labeling the animal parts, learning the life cycles, and so on, they would love LPP’s fun, 40+ pages, comprehensive, yet economical workbooks. Click on the tortoise covers below to see what is in these workbooks all about tortoises, at the different grade levels.

Check them all out here.

imagebook cover tortoises preK-1Book about tortoises gr 2-4

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#sulcatatortoise

#spurthightortoise

#pricklypearcactus

Ergot: A Fungus and a Tissue Protuberance–Geez!

My favorite bread flavor is rye. Given a choice, I will always choose rye.  So, growing up, I wondered why rye hadn’t been more popular historically. After all, rye is easier to grow than wheat and, in my humble opinion, much tastier.

The reason is Ergot.  Ergot is a fungal disease that killed and disabled people throughout Europe. Symptoms produced by the fungus Claviceps purpurea include gangrene, convulsions, headaches and hallucinations. Healthy grains are replaced with dark, hard ergots and get mixed into the flour during harvesting and milling.

Once the source of the ergot was identified, the infections were able to be controlled. An interesting story in history.

photo ergot protuberance on horse fetlockI love learning about words and, as a new horse owner, I got a word-surprise one day. I get lots of advice from more experienced horse people. One of the recommendations I’ve gotten is to keep the tissue protuberances on the legs trimmed. These natural calluses are made of keratin that can flake off. They are hidden in the long hairs just above a horse’s hooves. My gelding’s flake off nicely by themselves, but I need to soften the tissue on my mare so I can pull them off.

Why am I telling you this? Because these protuberances on the horse’s fetlocks are also called Ergots. (Their purpose is not known.) The fetlock is sort of the ankle of a horse. Ergot is derived from the French word for a rooster’s spur, which makes sense, since that is what it looks like.

Ergot: one word, two very different meanings: A fungal disease or a protuberance on a horse’s fetlock.

Bonus Word: Higher up the horse leg is a round callus that also flakes off or can be trimmed flat. This is called a chestnut. That’s a word with three meanings:

A tree that produces an edible nut;
A reddish-brown colored horse with a brown mane and tail;
A callus on the inner side of a horse’s leg.

Book Note: I’ve recently released a new book, Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert. Did you know that every squirrel in this desert is a ground squirrel? Neither did I until I did my research. There are lots of fun science facts in this book, written in rhyme. You can see it on the Sonoran Desert books page.

book cover for Squirrels of the Sonoran Desert
Despite their different appearances, all the squirrels native to the Sonoran Desert are ground squirrels! Burrow into this book to learn about their shared and unique features. This is a great family read for ages 5 and up. If your little ones are curious about those borrowing, furry squirrels in your backyard or at your favorite park this book is a great introduction. It’s full of insightful information and wonderful illustrations. Even if younger children won’t remember all of the scientific knowledge contained in this book, it’s important to start imprinting their brains with positive, educational, interesting information about the world around them.

An Unusual Visitor Stopped By

The Sonoran Desert is home to many species of hummingbirds. The first things I installed in my yard when I moved in were hummingbird feeders.  Whenever a hummer would stop for a drink, I’d pull out my bird book to identify it. I’ve had quite a few species stop by over the years.  Some were local residents, and some were passing through on their annual migrations. I even had an albino individual who frequented my yard for a couple of years.

Usually, I have no trouble identifying my feathered visitors, since they were all present in my Birds of the Southwest book. I find they often cooperate by sitting on a branch so I can examine them.  I’ve been honored to host Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costas, Rufous, Calliope and Lucifer Hummingbirds.

photo of blue hummingbirdRecently, when a hummer visited my yard, as usual, I went out for a look. However, I didn’t recognize this individual. I looked in the book, but I couldn’t find her. That seems to be a problem with identifying birds – lots of photos of the males, but not enough of the females.

I contacted a friend whose son is an expert on hummingbirds. He thought it looked like a female Blue-throated hummingbird or Blue-throated Mountaingem. Blue-throateds are unusual in Tucson, but they are known to be in the area. Maybe the drought brought her to my yard. She stayed a few days.

Whatever her reasons for visiting, she is welcome anytime.

This hummer posed very nicely for me, but not all hummingbirds are that accommodating. I recommend my humorous tale, How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird, about a bumbling visitor trying to photograph a hummer. Though the desert seems to conspire against him, it’s more that he doesn’t understand the environment he is in. So, the book also contains a lot of information about the animals, plants and minerals of the Sonoran Desert. Your kids will get a kick out of his ‘accidents.’ If they’d like to learn about the desert in a funny way, pick up a copy for them today. 

book cover about how NOT to photograph a hummingbird

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#bluethroatedhummingbird

#bluethroatedmountaingem

#hummingbird

#sonorandeserthummingbird