Little Lovely

A common side-blotched lizard warms itself in the sun on a rock along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I hope there are little things in your life that bring you as much joy as these tiny lizards bring to me. The common side-blotched lizard is the lizard I see most although they can be difficult to photograph because of their small size. Most of the time I just watch them sunning themselves or scurrying about and am thankful they are there, and I with them.

Who Am I?

A close-up view of the top of a double crested saguaro along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am not broccoli.

A close-up view of one of the crests of a double crested saguaro along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am tall, taller than you.

A close-up view a gap between the two crests of a double crested saguaro along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am rare, doubly so.

The two crests of a double crested saguaro along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am a double crested saguaro. While most saguaros have tips of the familiar shape, some grow into fan-like shapes know as crests. Crested saguaros are rare, this one has two crests. This is the only one I’ve seen so far, a reader pointed out its location near Granite Mountain where the Coyote Canyon Trail meets the Desperado Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

A double crested saguaro grows along the Coyote Canyon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Bringing Balance to the Universe

Balanced Rock with Brown's Mountain on the left and Cholla Mountain on the right, taken on the Balanced Rock Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Balanced Rock with Brown’s Mountain on the left and Cholla Mountain on the right. Brown’s Mountain and Cone Mountain (out-of-frame to the left) have a nice cone shape, while Cholla Mountain and Granite Mountain (behind me) look like someone piled up a bunch of granite boulders on top of each other. Balanced Rock sits between, a reminder of the strength and beauty in diversity.

Shrike One! Shrike Two!

A loggerhead shrike perches in a tree along an off-map trail near Granite Mountain in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

When I saw this loggerhead shrike on an off-map trail near Granite Mountain I assumed it was my first one in Arizona but not my first one ever, having seen them in Washington. Except I hadn’t, when I got home and checked my notes I realized the shrikes in Washington were northern shrikes so this was both my second shrike and a new species for me. In my defense I rarely saw shrikes there or here.

Calling Out

A rock squirrel calls out atop a large granite boulder near Granite Mountain in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

A rock squirrel calls out atop a large granite boulder near Granite Mountain. It had a piece of saguaro fruit but instead of eating it was sending out the alarm for much of the time I watched it during a food and water break. At first I thought it was complaining about me to the other nearby squirrels, even though I was far down the hill, but it kept looking in other directions and went quiet for a while before starting up again. It has lots of enemies in the desert, most of whom would not have been visible from my vantage point, but I haven’t spent much time with these squirrels yet to get a feel if it was sending out an alarm or claiming this spot as its own.

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.