Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Killdeer Rescue. Sorry, no snakes in this post.

After a hail storm the other day, we witnessed a hopeless situation as 2 killdeer parents had attempted to move their chicks. For those that don't know, killdeers are really pretty birds that are closely related to plovers. They fly very well, but nest on the ground, relying heavily on camouflage. Killdeer eggs are even colored to match the rocks where they're laid. Anyway, the chicks were stuck on the road because of the high curbs on each side. It wouldn't be long before the chicks were either hit by a car or eaten by a cat or dog. They needed help. My wife looked at me and pleaded with me not to get involved because we were in a hurry as usual. She knows me better than that. I first helped the larger chick over the curb and it ran quickly to some tall grass. The smaller chick was wet and seemed very weak. While I began to help the

smaller chick over the curb, both of the killdeer parents would come close to me and fake an injury by flopping all over the ground as if their wings were broken. This is just their instinctive behavior to draw predators away and is entertaining to witness. The smaller chick didn't run to the tall grass and was almost too weak to stand. In the confusion, one of the parents flew to the smaller chick and started pecking at it. I intervened and walked up to the chick and picked it up. As I walked back, I could tell my wife was completely thrilled that we were now going to adopt another animal. I quickly did some research on raising killdeer chicks and found out that it is impossible to do. Besides being against the law, even killdeer experts cannot raise killdeer chicks. This is because killdeer parents never feed their chicks. From the moment they hatch, killdeer chicks have to find their own food. They must learn how to find food by watching and learning from their parents. After learning this, I dried off the smaller chick and quickly ran it back to the area thinking that I might have sealed this poor chick's fate. I was relieved to hear the chick calling loudly back to the parents and they flew up to me and faked injuries again. I set the chick at the edge of the tall grass where the larger chick had gone and then I withdrew. One of the killdeer parents then flew up to the chick and I feared that the parent would again peck the chick, but the parent led the chick into the tall grass to safety. That was really good to see. It was a good feeling to think we helped this bird family.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Snakes, lizards, and grasshoppers

On this warm morning I decided to head to a spot where gopher snakes and rattle snakes are sometimes found by the dozens. We started finding gopher snakes before we even got half way there. I'm not sure how many gopher snakes we found, but this was the first live gopher snake. It was calmer than most pet snakes and was a little over 4 feet long:
Another shot of the first snake since I had my camera out:
Snakes are so much easier to find when they are stretched out across the road:
This was the only snake found in the shade this morning:
Me in my preferred habitat and the snake from the shade:
This shot shows rattlesnake vs. road machinery. I actually waved to the guy that was operating the road grader as I drove past, but I wasn't thinking kind thoughts. He had gone out of his way and off the road to accomplish this:These are large grasshoppers that my kids asked me to catch. Try getting 2 grasshoppers to stay still for a photo.
This dark-colored fence lizard was found. This is about as big as a western fence lizard gets:
More shots of the same lizard as I chased it around the rock formations. The .22 shell in the background gives some perspective as to the size of this guy. Because of its size and color, I think it is the same lizard that I have caught here the last several years.
Pretty lichens and cool reptile:
I had to get a belly shot after putting the old lizard down for a nap:
This smaller adult gopher snake was found on the way back. We were late getting back, but I had to stop and get the snake out of the road and into another basking spot.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Snakes: Handling Racers

In an area near an abandoned town off HWY 89, there is a lot of short grass and some debris on a SW facing hillside. This is known good habitat for many different snakes, but so far this year only racers have been found there. Whenever you come upon a basking racer, they don't waste any time fleeing; hence the term racer. To get photos of a warm racer, you must be quick to grab the tail:
Be ready for the immediate backlash:
A racer bite isn't any worse than getting snagged on a thorn bush.After grabbing and releasing the tail several times, the racer will then stand its ground. This is when you can take pictures if you care to.
Considered to be trash snakes by some herpers, I find racers to be really good looking snakes and definitely better than finding nothing when I am looking during the day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Snakes and lizards in Kaibab

I had the opportunity to visit Kaibab National Forest for 2 days. Short-horned lizards were active and somewhat easy to find while hiking. There were tiny ones:

Small ones:

Medium sized:

Medium skinny:

And larger, handsome ones:

There were common tree lizards:
While photographing this common tree lizard, I accidentally chased it into another tree lizard's territory and they got into a fight right in front of me.
In a different area there were striped plateau lizards:
This was a pretty big one:
There were sage lizards:
There was spectacular terrain and scenery. A whiptail was seen, but it dashed into the briars before a good photo could be taken.
Kaibab is known habitat for the rarely seen Arizona mountain king snake, so that was the goal.
But no mountain kings were found on this trip, even with considerable effort. This wandering garter snake was found. It had just eaten what looked like a large short-horned lizard.
This is the garter, exactly as it was found:
When I moved the garter to the grass for a different shot, it did the usual defecating/musking.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Snakes in Dry Canyon

It rained most of the day but the sun came out in the afternoon and heated up the rocks. I was hoping to find a rubber boa, but found Mormon racers instead.

This racer was not happy about being disturbed. It flattened its head:
This is racer language for "free body piercing"This racer blew itself up like a balloon to try to look bigger:
Calm down girl!
This racer struck at me repeatedly, but I couldn't time the picture to catch its mouth open.
This canyon is pretty and easily accessible.