In the Wash

An environmental portrait of a desert cottontail sitting in Apache Wash in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

Most of the desert washes I cross when I hike are fairly small but not so Apache Wash, there are signs as you approach warning you not to enter when flooded and the large debris scattered around tells you why. It was damp on the morning I crossed on my first visit to Phoenix Sonoran Preserve but the rains and thus the danger had long since passed the day before, so I and a pair of desert cottontails enjoyed the quiet before the sun came up.

An close-up portrait of a desert cottontail sitting in Apache Wash in Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona

A Little Beauty

A close-up view of a common side-blotched lizard showing the dark blotch behind his front legs as he perches on a granite rock along the Bootlegger Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

One of the difficulties I had when learning to identify lizards after we moved here was getting a feel for the size of lizards based on pictures. Guide books have typical measurements but that isn’t as helpful until you can narrow down the search. I wish there was an app that would let you sort them first by geography and then by size. Over time I’ve gotten much better at identifying most of the common lizards including the one I see most often, the common side-blotched lizard.

I met this one in July on the Bootlegger Trail near Granite Mountain, he’s nicely showing off the dark blotch behind his front legs for which he is named as he perches on his own granite mountain. I’ve been getting a bit worn down the past few weeks and have only gone out hiking once each weekend so I’m going to take a couple of days off this week to hopefully recharge a bit. I saw a handful of these little lizards on the trail this morning but didn’t see any opportunities for pictures so I enjoyed my time with them instead.

As for their size, it can be hard to tell from a telephoto shot like this but thy are tiny, typically 1.5″ to 2.5″ SV (snout-to-vent, which goes from the tip of the nose to the vent near the base of the tail). They mostly eat insects and the like but lots of things eat them, including larger lizards. They are active throughout the year at my elevation (at least on warm winter days) so I’m happy they’ll keep me company when the other reptiles are hibernating.

Up & Up & Up

An American bittern stands with its next stretched out against a backdrop of green grasses at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

Bitterns can look like a football with a head attached so it always amazed me when they’d stand and stretch their necks up, and up, and up. Useful for seeing over tall grasses and also as a defensive pose, I saw them do it multiple times when bald eagles soared high overhead, although the subterfuge worked best when the grasses were brown instead of green. I was never quite sure how they distinguished the distant eagles from other birds of prey but I did a quick check of the skies if a bittern I had been watching suddenly struck a thin vertical pose.