Backyard Fur, Feathers, and Scales

By Dan Weisz

The Round-tailed Ground Squirrels are very cute even though they dig innumerable burrows under the soft dirt around many of the houses in my Foothills neighborhood.  This male was wandering around my back yard for a while. I can tell he is a male by the white bundle he is carrying between his hind legs.  Upon further inspection, it seems as if he has some scarring on his right arm and under his right eye.  Life can be tough out there.

That same Round-tailed Ground Squirrel stepped up to get a drink.  He looks like a tough guy at the bar. His facial injury is more apparent now.  He’s probably thinking “You should see the other guy!”

A female Round-tailed Ground Squirrel shares the same general neighborhood.  I do not know if the two of them are related.

The same rock that the squirrel was on is also used by many Gambel’s Quail, including this handsome male.

In my front yard, another Round-tailed Ground Squirrel was hanging out in a mesquite tree.  They are called ground squirrels because they are ground dwellers.  There just aren’t enough good trees in the Sonoran Desert to provide a good living environment, so local squirrels create burrows underground to survive in this harsh environment. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t climb trees in search of food.  (Many brittlebush plants are flowering in the background.)

The male Western Screech Owl is still present.  I hear him almost every night so I am happy that he considers this spot a good area to live in the spring!

I saw this male Phainopepla while on a walk in nearby Campbell Wash.  I did manage to center the image in front of the saguaro when I took it.  Once I got home to process it, I realized the Phainopepla had a Crane Fly in his bill.  At that time, I also noticed the unusual bush he was perched on.  This is a Graythorn, or lotebush, plant.

Here is another male Gambel’s Quail in my yard.

One afternoon a pair of Cooper’s Hawks were circling overhead.  The sky was overcast as the raptor patrolled the area but watching these birds soaring was very nice.  We have Cooper’s Hawks throughout the Foothills.

The local Peregrine Falcons continue to shop for groceries along Skyline Drive.  They usually dine close to sunrise and sunset and this one was seen early one morning last week.

And finally the “scales” part of this “Fur, Feathers and Scales” email.  This Empress Leila is a southwestern butterfly, common in our desert areas.  Males will often find a spot on the ground that they will defend from other butterflies.  The butterfly wing is layered with countless scales that provide color and protection to the wing surface.  This butterfly seems to have had something nipping at it as there are missing parts of each wing.

One morning the Northern Cardinal was exploring various plants.  I took this photo from the kitchen through a double-paned glass door.  He was nipping at the base of one flower after another before flying away.

That’s a look at some of the wildlife in my yard and neighborhood.

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