A Summer Morning visit to the Desert Museum

By Dan Weisz

I visited the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum recently just to see how it looked on a summer morning. When we arrived, there were only four cars in the parking lot.  For the first hour on the grounds it felt like we had the place all to ourselves.  

As soon as we entered we heard the Coyote howling so we walked in that direction first.  When we arrived at the overlook to the Coyote habitat we saw a wild Gray Fox cutting through a wash. This is the first wild Gray Fox I’ve ever seen in the wild.  Look at that long tail, tipped in black and with the black stripe on the top.  This was a great way to begin our visit.  https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/Gray%20Fox.php 

The Coyote had stopped howling when we saw it but it was nice to see it greeting the morning sun.

Summer rains bring out various toads and frogs in the desert, including the Foothills.  At the Life on the Rocks area, there was a group of Chiricahuan Leopard Frogs.  We don’t have these in the Foothills, but they are nice looking frogs. https://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_leopard_frog.php

We arrived at Cat Canyon just as the Ocelot finished a morning snack and was retreating back to its den, licking its lips.  For more information on Ocelots and other Sonoran Desert “cats”, this fact sheets is helpful:  https://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_cats.php 

Many of us in the Foothills see Bobcats, or Wildcats, regularly.  One of the Museum’s Bobcats was also active, first looking towards us.

It looked up to the alcove that it often naps in, and then it leapt up to that area.

It turned around to survey its environment.

Northern Cardinals are present in the Foothills.  In the Desert Museum’s aviary, a Northern Cardinal was busy feeding on berries.

This appears to be an adult Cardinal going through its end of summer molt which is giving it that tattered look.

In the Hummingbird Aviary, there was a beautiful male Rufous Hummingbird.  This orange hummingbird is known for being one of the feistiest hummingbirds, aggressively protecting “its” feeders from any other hummingbirds.  Although this bird is in captivity at the Museum, we are seeing Rufous Hummingbirds in Arizona now as they migrate from their summer breeding grounds in Oregon, Washington, Idaho on north into Alaska and are heading down to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

And if you thought this bird’s back was beautiful, check out its fiery orange gorget!!

Finally, on our way out we saw an adult Spinytail Iguana.   These reptiles have a special place at the Museum. Originally from a few islands in Baja California, they were part of a collection in the Museum.  They either escaped or were released (the story is vague) and they have populated the Museum grounds.  They have not spread through the desert though.  It seems as if the thick foliage and permanent water on Museum grounds has created an “island” for these Iguanas. They are comfortable on grounds and have not invaded the desert surrounding the museum.  http://www.reptilesofaz.org/Lizards-Subpages/h-c-x-cross.html 

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is a fascinating and world famous institution.  It is open now and definitely worth visiting at any time of the year.

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