Great and Small on the Preserve
Gambel’s quail have round bodies with a feather plume on their heads. These ground-hugging desert dwellers prefer to run than fly. Gathering in groups, called coveys, we see them strutting along bushy washes as they run between the cover of one bush to the next. Sometimes they will suddenly break into flight to hop up across a barrier or post a lookout on a low shrub. (allaboutbirds.org)
I’ve never been quick enough to get a picture of these guys before, until we heard their distinctive clucking/crowing calls while “streaming” (pulling tamarisk seedlings and pulicaria along the stream of the Coachella Valley Preserve), and I saw one fly up onto a nearby smoketree branch to assume a lookout position.
Gambel’s quail tend to live in washes and wetland areas where there are dense thickets of honey mesquite, cat’s claw, arrowweed, and four-wing saltbush. Their diet consists of plants, leaves, seeds of grasses, and seeds from coyote scat. Newly hatched chicks, however, only eat insects for the first few days of their lives.
Females build their nests on the ground, concealed and shielded beneath a shrub, clump of cactus, or other protective vegetation. Mom lays 5-15 eggs (clutch) and after 21-31 days the eggs hatch. Upon hatching, this brand new brood of baby quail are able to leave the nest and follow their parents. (allaboutbirds.org)
The male’s plumage is more vibrant and distinctive than the female’s plumage. After all, the females benefit from a more camouflaged appearance to protect her brood when laying her clutch of eggs and incubating them until the babies hatch.
I read this “Cool Fact” on Cornell University’s website, allaboutbirds.org:
Just before her eggs hatch, the female gambel’s quail calls to the chicks, who cheep to each other from inside the eggs. The eggs hatch in synchrony, with the chick cutting a neat hole in the largest part of the shell and leaving an intact piece of membrane to serve as a “hinge” — the chick pushes on the shell and opens the “door” that it has created.
Medium-sized with a small head and short, square-tipped tail, these doves are pale brown overall with a white stripe along their wing. In flight, this stripe becomes a large white patch on their inner wing. (allaboutbirds.org)
allaboutbirds.org, courtesy of Ted Bradford
I only recognize white-winged doves by their long hooting call, “whooOOO-oo, ooo-oo”, which sounds like, “who cooks for you?”
That’s why I know this is a white-winged dove sitting on this dead palm tree. I heard the distinct call and looked up and there he/she was…
One evening, when Jeff and I were walking through the palm grove toward Squaw Hill, we heard “who cooks for you?” to the right of us. A few seconds later a second dove to the left of us responded, “who cooks for you?”. This banter continued for several minutes without resolving the issue of who cooks for who, however…
Stevie Nicks introduced millions of Americans to the white-winged dove with her 1980s song, “Edge of Seventeen,” which hit #11 on the Billboard charts.
Plump, long-tail, short legs, small bill, and a head that looks small in comparison to the rest of its body… It’s the mourning dove.
I also recognize this dove from its call… “who-OOO-oo-oo-oo” and not by sight.
According to en.wikipedia.org, “This species’ call is a distinctive, plaintive CooOOOoo-woo-woo-woooo, uttered by males to attract females, and may be mistaken for the call of an owl.
The mourning dove is one of our most abundant birds with a U.S. estimated population of 350 million. Perhaps one reason these doves survive in the desert is that they can drink brackish spring water (up to almost half the salinity of sea water) without becoming dehydrated the way humans would. (allaboutbirds.org)
This relative of the mourning dove earns its name from the black half-collar at the nape of the neck. With a flash of white tail feathers and a flurry of dark-tipped wings, the collared-dove’s call is a shorter and more frequent who-OO-ooo.
Not native to North America, these doves were introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970s where a pet store burglary allowed several birds to escape, or so the story goes. The owner of the store then released the rest of the flock of approximately 50 more. Around the same time, flocks of collared-doves were set free on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe when a volcano threatened eruption. From these sites, the birds made their way to Florida and now live happily all over the continent. (allaboutbirds.org)
This picture is from my first sighting this year, back in late February or early March, when Ginny and I were pulling Sahara mustard in Moon Country.
Desert iguanas are native dwellers of the Sonoran Desert of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico and the Mojave Desert of the Western United States.
courtesy of James W. Cornett
They are terrestrial animals but are capable of climbing 3 feet above ground in creosote bushes, one of their favorite habitats, to find food. (animaldiversity.org)
James W. Cornett
(We have his book (Desert Lizards, 2006) as a reference resource in the Palm House Visitor Center. A professional naturalist and desert ecologist, James W. Cornett who lives in the Coachella Valley, is a prolific writer on a variety of desert subjects.)
Desert iguanas like it hot! Extremely heat tolerant, they are active midday in the spring, summer, and fall when temperatures average 104 degrees Fahrenheit/40 degrees Celsius. Most of the day they bask in the hot sun, less fearful of predators who are not able to withstand the high temperatures. (animaldiversity.org)
Desert iguanas are primarily folivores, leaf eaters. Over 90% of their diet consists of buds, leaves, and flowers, especially creosote bush flowers and leaves. They will occasionally eat insects such as ants and some beetles. (animaldiversity.org)
These medium-sized lizards seem to be attracted to the color yellow as evidenced by their spring diet of yellow flowers, especially those of the creosote bush.
They have even been observed eating yellow flagging tape! Captive desert iguanas will eat dandelion flowers and yellow mealworms, which are the larva of the mealworm beetle. (animaldiversity.org)
Quite possibly the fastest reptile in the desert, the zebra-tailed lizard raises the forepart of its body completely off the ground and only uses its back legs for running up to 35 miles per hour. (James W. Cornett, from his book Desert Lizards, 2006)
Here’s what they look like when they run…
The black-and-white bands, more pronounced on the underside of its tail, give this lizard its name. When lying on the ground with a flat tail, it is almost invisible, camouflaged with the desert sand and gravel.
This guy has a pointed snout and extremely long tail that breaks away when pulled by a predator. Sensing humans, whiptails will run beneath the nearest bush at speeds up to 15 miles per hour, making them extremely difficult to photograph. (James W. Cornett, from his book Desert Lizards, 2006)
I finally snapped a quick pic of this whiptail heading for cover beneath the skirt of the California Fan Palm Tree.
Here’s a better view of its long tail from a professional nature photographer.
abdnha.org, courtesy of Gary Nafis
Most lizards use a “sit and wait” hunting strategy, that is they rest with forelegs extended to observe a broad area and then rush in and snap up their prey. Whiptails, however, are active hunters, scampering from bush to bush, digging beneath leaf and frond litter, poking their snouts into crevices, and even climbing in shrubs. They constantly flick their tongues to smell prey they cannot see. (James W. Cornett, from his book Desert Lizards, 2006)
This little reptile is the desert’s most abundant lizard. Because of its small size, the side-blotched’s body heats up quickly so it can remain active during the warm fall, winter, and early spring temperatures in the Colorado Desert of the Preserve. (The Colorado is the hottest portion of the Sonoran Desert.) So while other lizards need to hibernate in these cooler temps, the side-blotched lizard can breed throughout the year in the southern desert.
Brownish in color, this lizard gets its name from the dark blotch on each side of its chest, just behind the front leg. (desertusa.com)
courtesy of James W. Cornett
I, however, have never caught a good glimpse of the side-blotched’s blotch. All I know is that if I see a lizard that is not a desert iguana, whiptail, zebra-tailed, spiny, leopard, or chuckwalla, it has to be a side-blotched. (And then, as I learned more about Uta stansburiana, I read on the National Park Service’s website, nps.gov, that this blotch is sometimes faint or absent.)
Male side-blotched lizards are very territorial. If another male enters its domain, the male whose territory is being violated approaches the intruder, puffs up its torso, and bobs up and down as if doing push-ups. If this behavior does not send the interloper away, a very short battle ensues, lasting only a few seconds. The loser is chased away, most likely with a missing tail.
Female side-blotched lizards can store sperm, enabling them to lay more than one clutch without having to mate again. Their high rate of reproduction (up to 6 clutches of 2-6 eggs per year) also accounts for the side-blotched lizard’s widespread presence in the southern desert. (James W. Cornett, from his book Desert Lizards, 2006)
Desert Spiny lizard
We see them scooting along the boardwalk across the oasis as we cut down overgrown reeds pushing through the slats and flanking the railings. Another one frequents the bushes near the front of our RV. I mean, with the naked eye you can see this bigger guy scoot across the parking lot or bask for awhile in the sun. With binoculars we have positively identified him. All of our efforts to take his picture, however, have failed.
So, all I can offer is this photo from the internet…
There are 7 species of spiny lizards in the deserts of the southwest. The spiny is covered from head to toe with spine-tipped, overlapping scales that often, but not always, serve as protection from predators. (James W. Cornett, from his book Desert Lizards, 2006)
californiaherps.com, courtesy of Gary Nafis
In addition to the sharp scales, a second defense mechanism has evolved among spiny lizards and other lizards as well. It’s a breakaway tail that wiggles violently after being pulled off. The predator becomes so focused on the wiggling appendage allowing the lizard to escape. (James W. Cornett, from his book Desert Lizards, 2006)
But wait! Last week I took this pic of a spiny lizard behind the Palm House Visitor Center. As I moved in closer, he took off… But at least I got the picture!
Jeff spotted, (pun intended) this leopard last year on the Preserve. The name, leopard, suits them physically from the dark spots on their scales, powerful jaws, and their voracious preying behavior. The leopard lizard sits and waits for another lizard or large insect to come into view and quickly rushes in to seize its prey. This lizard has been known to devour small mice and snakes as well. (James W. Cornett, from his book Desert Lizards, 2006)
californiaherps.com, courtesy of Gary Nafis
During breeding season, the female develops reddish-orange spots and bars on her body and the underside of her tail turns this terra-cotta color as well. After laying her eggs, the colors slowly disappear. (James W. Cornett, from his book Desert Lizards, 2006)
californiaherps.com, courtesy of Gary Nafis
This little guy/gal, playing “king of the rock”, was sunbathing and I just had to take its picture. When in doubt, just identify the lizard as a side-blotched and people will be impressed. 😉