Category Archives: Nature

Life Histories: Whiptails

Life Histories:
Letters from Lizards to Lizards about Lizards

Cnemidophorus

Coy Cnemidophorus

Dear Troy,

It is not you but, me. I am leaving you for another female of our species. I have learned that female whiptails do not need male whiptails in order to reproduce. I do wish it could have been different. I am just so much more comfortable. Best of luck to you.

Much love. XO
~ Scarlett

Joshua Tree

Mojave Desert Plants: Trees Joshua Tree
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Yucca Brevifolia (Joshua Tree)

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION
Joshua tree is one of the most characteristic plants of the Mojave Desert and extends southward to the Mojave-Sonoran Desert ecotone. This species grows from southern California, Mexico, and western Arizona eastward into southern Nevada and southwestern Utah.Var. brevifolia reaches its greatest abundance in the vicinity of Joshua Tree National Park; California. var. jaegeriana grows primarily in the eastern portion of the Mojave; var. herbertii is restricted to parts of the western Mojave Desert in California.The Joshua tree was named after the biblical leader, Joshua, as it reminded the Mormon pioneers of the hero raising out-stretched arms toward the heavens.William Lewis Manly referred to them as “cabbage trees” in his book (Death Valley in ’49), about the rescue of the Bennett and Arcane families from Death Valley.Pedro Fages, in his expedition along the edge of the Mojave searching for deserters from the Spanish Army, called the ungainly trees “palm” trees.

Source: Joshua Tree

European Starlings — A Desert Invasion of the Worst Kind.

European Starling - US Fish and Wildlife Service

European Starling
Photo credit – Lee Karney, US Fish and Wildlife Service

The fleeting and dark aesthetic value of countless European starlings flocking through the air is quickly overridden by the realities of this highly invasive and destructive species.

Solar and wind farms certainly take their toll on our native and natural migratory avian wildlife, however, these damn birds will potentially eliminate weaker, less aggressive desert species as a vicious cancer would, silently eating its way through a once healthy body.

“The introduction of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in New York City in 1890 and 1891 resulted in their permanent establishment in North America. The successful occupation of North America (and most other continents as well) has earned the starling a nomination in the Top 100 list of ‘Worlds Worst’ invaders. Pimentel et al. (2000) estimated that starling damage to agriculture crops in the United States was $800 million yearly, based on $5/ha damage. Starlings may spread infectious diseases that sicken humans and livestock, costing nearly $800 million in health treatment costs. Lastly, starlings perhaps have contributed to the decline of native cavity-nesting birds by usurping their nesting sites. We describe the life history of starlings, their economic impact on agriculture, and their potential role as vectors in spreading diseases to livestock and humans. We recommend that the database on migratory and local movements of starlings be augmented and that improved baits and baiting strategies be developed to reduce nuisance populations.”

from ~ Managing Vertebrate Invasive Species: Proceedings of an International Symposium USDA/APHIS/WS, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO. 2007.

Awareness of the beauty of the desert is one thing, but awareness of the reality of circumstances is important too.

Aphid Loaf

Reeds along Big Bear Lake
I have heard the Indians would go to the reeds in the riparian areas where aphids fed in large numbers, brush away the tiny bugs and scrape their shiny-sticky waste from the blades. En masse the material would be shaped into a large, heavy loaf with a hardness and sweetness similar to rock candy. In Jedediah Smith’s first expedition across the Mojave his guides recovered a cache of the sweet bread to supplement their then meatless diet.

“But men accustomed to living on meat and at the same time travelling hard will Eat a surprising quantity of corn and Beans which at this time constituted our principal subsistence.”
~ J.Smith, 1826

Illustrator of Mojave Desert flora

Henry R. Mockle (1905-1981),
Illustrator of Mojave Desert flora

Rather than documenting the structure of each plant species in scientific detail, Henry Mockle intended to his illustrations would capture “the pleasurable feeling at coming up on one of these little creations”.

Henry Mockle painting of desert Indian paintbrush

Paintbrush

As did naturalist Edmund Jaeger, Mockle took pride in all his studies of desert plants being taken directly from life. This work often involves lying on the ground for hours, in conditions ranging from hot to cold, windy to wet. As some annual plants – like the Phacelia – per growing up and through the protective spread of woody shrubs. Mockle found he had to lay beneath creosote bushes and other scrub vegetation to depict these wildflowers in full.

Henry Mockle painting of coyote melon

Coyote melon

 

Painting of desert mallow

Desert Mallow

 

Source: Riverside Metropolitan Museum

An Orchestral Landscape

desert landscape

An Orchestral Landscape


“The point of view is born of the desert herself. When you are there, face to face with the earth and the stars and time day after day, you cannot help feeling that your role, however gallant and precious, is a very small one. This conviction, instead of driving you to despair as it usually does when you have it inside the walls of houses, releases you very unexpectedly from all manner of anxieties. You are frightfully glad to have a role at all in so vast and splendid a drama and want to defend it as well as you can, but you do not trouble much over the outcome because the desert mixes up your ideas about what you call living and dying. You see the dreadful, dead country living in beauty, and feel that the silence pressing around it is alive.”

~ E. Bush-Perkins – The White Heart of Mojave
http://mojavedesert.net/white-heart/c07.html

Where are They Now?

 

white-tailed antelope squirrel, Joshua Tree National Park

Gary, the white-tailed antelope squirrel, succumbed to type II diabetes on July 29, 2011 after 4 years of surviving solely on corn chips provided by campers and tourists visiting his native national park habitat.

long-nosed leopard lizard

Ed Lizard – Long-nosed leopard lizard. Died at the pointed beak of an adult roadrunner, June 4, 2008.

Axl Squirrel (round-tailed ground squirrel) - b. unk. d October 12, 2013 Cause of death: eaten by hawk.

Axl Squirrel (round-tailed ground squirrel)
– b. unk. d October 12, 2013
Cause of death: eaten by red-tailed hawk.

Loving & Devoted Mother …

Geococcyx californianus, roadrunnner

Geococcyx californianus

The following was written and recorded by E.C. Jaeger in 1922. I believe, although dated over 80 years ago, this behavior is just as relevant today as it was then, however scaled down from our increasing intrusion into their ever-shrinking habitat.

If a female road-runner is approached when on the nest, she generally remains quiet until the intruder is right upon her; then she slips over the back of the nest and flies a short distance to safety, but where she can still see the unwelcome caller. At times she has been known to permit herself to be caught rather than forsake her young.

baby roadrunners

Baby roadrunners about one third grown

A member of the Cooper Ornithological Club (Mr. J. R. Pemberton) gives a most interesting report concerning the actions of a female roadrunner whose nest he found some ten feet above ground in a sycamore tree. As the observer began climbing up to the nest, the bird hopped to the ground.

“Immediately,” says Mr. Pemberton, “it began to squirm, scramble, and drag itself away across an open space and in full view. The bird was simulating a broken leg instead of a broken wing! The bird held its wings closed throughout the demonstration, though frequently falling over on its side in its enthusiasm. The whole performance was kept entirely in my view, the bird gradually working away from the tree until it was some thirty-five feet distant, when it immediately ran back to the base of the tree and repeated the whole show. I had been so interested up to now that I had failed to examine the nest, which, when looked into, contained five young probably a week old. When I got to the ground the bird continued its ‘stunt’ rather more frantically than before, and in order to encourage the bird I followed, and was pleased to see it remain highly consistent until I was decoyed to a point well outside the grove. Here the bird ran suddenly away at full speed and in a direction still away from the nest.”

 

Life in Harmony with Nature

Olive Oatman

Olive Oatman

Indians living in harmony with nature is an idealization to say the least. Life was hard and often got harder as evidenced by Olive Oatman’s observations of the Mojave Indians in the 1850s.

“One day I was out gathering. Chottatoe, when I was suddenly surprised and frightened by running upon one of the victims of this stupid, barbarous inhumanity. He was a tall, bony Indian of about thirty years. His eye was rather sunken, his visage marred, as if he had passed through extreme hardships. He was lying upon the ground, moaning and rolling from side to side in agony the most acute and intense. I looked upon him, and my heart was moved with pity. Little Mary said, ‘I will go up and find out what ails him.’ On inquiry we soon found that he had been for some time ill, but not so as to become utterly helpless. And not until one of their number is entirely disabled, do they seem to manifest any feeling or concern for him. The physician was called, and soon decided that he was not in the least diseased. He told Mary that nothing ailed him save the want of food ; said that he had been unable for some time to procure his food ; that his friends devoured any that was brought into camp without dividing it with him ; that he had been gradually running down, and now he wanted to die. O there was such dejection, such a forlorn, despairing look written upon his countenance as made an impression upon my mind which is yet vivid and mournful.”
~ Olive Oatman