More Critters

The yard was overfull of birds the other morning: quail, mom, dad, and five chicks, almost grown up, towhee, male and female pyrrhuloxia, a hummingbird at the yellow flowers on the creosote, a pair of goldfinches not at the birdfeeder, but flittering around in the sweet acacia, a flycatcher, a very fat white-winged dove at the birdbath, not bathing in it, only drinking, and a flash of orange, a hooded oriole or a black-headed grosbeak?

Today saw my first phainopepla (silky flycatcher) at this house. (Had a regular when I lived at my first house, next door.) Beyond my fence – too far for a good photo with my little camera; this photo is from the internet.


Silky-flycatchers, found mainly in Central America, are not at all related to the true flycatchers; and the main items in their diet are not flies, but berries. In the southwestern United States, the silky-flycatcher known as the Phainopepla is a specialist on the berries of desert mistletoe. Few other birds in North America have such an intimate relationship with a single plant species.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant, of course, growing on the branches of trees, and it is “planted” there through the actions of birds. When birds eat its berries, the seeds often pass unharmed through their digestive systems; if the birds’ droppings happen to land on a suitable branch, the seeds may stick long enough to germinate. The Phainopepla, by specializing on the berries of desert mistletoe, is unwittingly planting its own future food supply.

A towhee actually took a bath in my birdbath this morning; most birds just drink from it.

Big storm last week, but mostly a tale of thunder and wind, no significant precipitation. Just a shadow of the previous week’s sound and fury; those winds broke a large branch off one of my acacias, and, in an attempt to tear the large painting off the wall of my deck, managed to break its frame! (Luckily the canvas was not hurt.) The outdoor dining table usually gets no rain, but the table runner was soaked. My basil, tombstone rose, and petunias got terrible wind burn – each leaf was half browned.

Damn! A young coyote just walked through the fence into my yard, and I didn’t have the camera on my bedside table. A very handsome one. Last week I saw him licking something outside the fence and thought that’s odd, coyotes chew, they don’t lick, and then I realized that he had pulled the drip line from my newly planted palo verde through the fence and was lapping from it.

Well, the cat saw him in the yard, so even thought the bobcats haven’t been around for a month or so, she’ll know to be cautious of him.

When I was sifting my compost today a large centipede jumped out. I herded it back to the compost pile, but was interested to look it up.

Sonoran Desert Centipede

Centipedes are arthropods that have elongated bodies with one pair of legs per segment.  The common desert centipede is 4 to 5 inches long.  While painful, the bite is not especially dangerous to humans.

Centipedes use structures called gnathosomes or gnathopods to inject venom into their prey. These are paired pincer-like appendages in front of the legs. The “bite” is actually a pinch. Centipedes are fast-moving predators that feed on any small creatures they can catch — mostly insects, but occasionally other arthropods, lizards, and even small rodents. Centipedes in the desert are strictly nocturnal and spend their days underground or concealed from the sun. They lack the waxy layer in their cuticle that other arthropods have, and are therefore more prone to desiccation than are other terrestrial arthropods.

Also thought I’d look up the gold scorpion that I see so frequently. (As I pulled the mail out of the mailbox the other day I noticed a scorpion on the ads. I shook him out.)

Bark Scorpion

DESCRIPTION: body (not “tail”) up to 2.75″ long. Distinguished from other local scorpions by its long, thin pincers (when you’re this toxic you don’t need strong pincers).

NATURAL HISTORY: Most venomous local scorpion (potentially fatal). Often the most common scorpion found in and around houses in Tucson. Prefers resting/ambushing from head-down position and is often seen climbing or sitting high above the ground.

But the most fun was a week ago, Sunday night. After my daughter’s family had gone, the cat wanted to go out. I felt so sorry for her – I’d kept her shut in my master bed/ and bathroom for the weekend so that the dog could use the dog door and have the run of the house – that I let her out. I closed the drapes, and left the door open to the garden closet with the dog door, so I wouldn’t have to get up again to let her in.

Not too much later I heard the thump thump of the dog door, and then I saw the cat in the bathroom, staring into the shower. I knew that she had brought in her catch. I limped over there with my walker, and sure enough, there was a terrified pocket mouse huddled in the corner, unhurt. I picked it up, but on the way to the door, tripped, probably because I only had one hand on the walker. I crawled the last few inches to the door, pulled open the screen, put the mouse out, and hobbled to the garden storage to shut that door so that the cat wouldn’t get out again. Whew!  Too much excitement for a night of healing.

Usually she eats the mice on the deck above, leaving me a tail, or a tail and those darling little pink feet, or those and the head. Why she had to bring in the whole creature, I have no idea. Such a present!

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One Response to “More Critters”

  1. Jim Says:

    Fascinating wildlife; we know so little of their lives. Mutual trust is the key to getting to know them.

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