With the day safely in the hands of the sun, the moon prepares to dip below the hills of the Sonoran Desert.
While I believe mushrooms belong in the Mount Rushmore of Disgusting Foods along with green beans, quinoa, and brown rice, this mushroom I like! Weathered granite formations like Mushroom Rock are created by erosion, the granite pebbles that break away spread across the surface of the desert (my shins had an unpleasant introduction to these pebbles early on after we moved here when I slipped just a little on a hike).
Most of the time I see Harris’s antelope squirrels at a distance as they scurry about their desert home. Sometimes I get lucky and get to watch one up close for a while, it’s always a treat to earn their trust. This little fellow had just finished eating a cactus fruit, you can see some of the green rind he discarded at his feet. The antelopes are smaller than the other ground squirrels in our neck of the desert, the rock squirrel, and different in appearance as well.
I didn’t do any hiking on any of my three days off this weekend as my chronic bowel issues have been bothering me a bit of late and its too risky to take to the trails since I don’t have much warning when trouble is brewing. And while we don’t have any ground squirrels in our neighborhood I nevertheless did see an antelope yesterday as my wife and I attended a few open houses. One house literally had my favorite part of my favorite park behind its backyard and as we pulled up an antelope squirrel (not this one, but he was at the same preserve) ran out of the rocks of the house across the street.
We’re not ready to buy yet, just trying to get a feel for the neighborhoods, and I’m not sure I’d want that long of a commute to work even if it meant I could literally walk out the door to a nearby trail, or a trivial drive to the trailhead I visit most often. But it has me thinking.
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.
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.