I head straight across the street and enter the desert between the block walls of the neighborhood. The desert is lush and green from all the rains right now. With the wind still blowing steady from the southeast, I have to hold my hat on my head to keep it from blowing to Tucson!
I glance around me at the mesquite and saguaros. Not a bird in sight. Mid-morning is probably one of the worst times to go birding, but I am enjoying the desert. Since it is a holiday I am able to enjoy the sounds of nature without the ringing of hammers and the rumble of machines as they tear up the desert to put in more roads and more houses.
I decide to head down the wash today as I have never gone that way before. It amazes me how the wash seems to meander through deep ravines then level out with the desert, only to cut back deeply into the earth once again. Ahead of me I see a red clay cliff rising 15 feet above me. The bottom of the wash is all gray sand and gravel, but the cliff bank is orange with iron. On top of the cliff sentinel saguaros stand guard. Near the edges I see mesquite with exposed roots as thick as their branches and longer. I read that mesquite roots can go 250 feet deep in search of water. It is hard to believe but seeing these roots today has convinced me. I am careful as I walk, always on the lookout for rattlesnakes, for I have been told this is their mating season, and they are most active now. However, it is not a rattlesnake that I see ahead of me in the gravel, but another creature that I have wanted to see ever since I moved here.
Lumbering over the gravel and rocks is a black and tangerine lizard. Its thick head and thick tail lead me to believe it is a Gila Monster. I am not afraid, but excited about this rare glimpse of wildlife. I regret I do not have my camera with me, but then I remember my cell phone. I pull it from my pocket to take a picture but as I open it I realize the sun is too bright for me to see if the lizard is in the frame. I'm following the brightly colored animal across the wash. He is hurrying as fast as his fat legs will take him. He is almost to some thick brush. I take my chances that he is in the frame and shoot the picture before he disappears. He does not reappear. That was my only chance. Later, at home, I find I was unsuccessful in capturing his picture. Now I wish I had spent more time enjoying this rare sighting, instead of wasting the opportunity in trying to capture its image for good.
I continue down the wash to where the new bridge is going in. On the way back home I walk on one of the trails. I did not see any birds while down in the wash other than a turkey vulture riding the thermals above. Here on the trail I finally spot a cactus wren as it scolds me before disappearing into its nest in a spiny cholla. Farther ahead a canyon towhee alights on a nearby branch. His brownish crest is ruffled at my disturbance to his morning nap. I see a couple of house finches and I hear the lone call of a Gambel's quail. Other than that the only bird I see is a lark sparrow as it flies past me to perch on a distant tree. My birding expedition was mostly unsuccessful, but I can't help but feel that if I wasn't delayed by that phone call I would never have seen the Gila monster.
Tonight is a different story, however. Gus and I are taking Blossom for her evening constitutional. As we head down the hill on the sidewalk we see a dark shape on the gray sidewalk before us. It crawls slowly across the pavement and even from a distance we know what we are seeing. Gus takes the dog off the sidewalk, while I pull my trusty camera phone from my pocket. I creep up slowly to the tarantula and snap its picture before it crawls off the sidewalk. It is a soft fuzzy brown with some black shading. Though it is about the size of a mouse, it makes no threatening gestures with any of its eight legs and I pass by unmolested as it crawls beneath a weed.
I use to be afraid of spiders, but no longer. Tarantulas are also nocturnal and they eat scorpions, so I am quite glad to see this one. I only wish I had someway to bring it home and release it in my yard! I would name it Scorpion Slayer and call it my friend.