July 1979 was the first time we visited the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum. We took a short hike in the 110º+ heat and I said to myself, "Now I truly understand why people die in the desert." Last winter we visited again and I struggled to take photographs in the 17º cold while I was wearing mittens. Today we went back and it was a perfect day. The warm sunshine is especially sweet when we watch the weather forecasts from other parts of the country, especially in the southeast where ice and snow are rare.
This outdoor museum focuses on all the plants and animals that live in the desert. It is a special place for photographers; armies of them arrived loaded with huge lenses, tripods and all matter of photo gear. A special photo opportunity is the raptor show. These birds are totally free and participate because the food they get when they arrive makes it worth their while. Trainers put bits of meat here and there and the birds swoop in to grab it and put on a show. At times they swoop so low they ruffle the hair on your hear. When they are full, they leave. A group of five hawks was especially amazing, as they worked together, pretending to herd their prey. They had a pecking order and those at the bottom would move out of the way to let the leaders feast first. The leaders would fluff out their feathers in a movement called mantling, hiding the food from the others who might reach in a claw and grab it. Another soared so high in the sky, we couldn't see it and dropped like a bomb when it sighted the prey.
A humming bird aviary was a challenge to the photographers. These little birds move so quickly; I focused on the one sitting on a nest. The hummers are so happy here, they breed like crazy and their eggs and fledglings are sold to other museums, parks, and facilities that do not have hummer nurseries.
In other nooks and crannies of the museum, exhibits highlighted animals that were confined and in need of protection. It was especially strange to see about fifty frogs, some looking newly hatched. There are some spots where even the desert has enough water for these creatures. Animals such as skunks and rattle snakes were housed in facilities that made it easy for us to see them, but prevented our encounters from being too up close and personal.
The museum is well staffed by volunteer docents. They kept us from getting lost as we wandered the paths and had exhibits explaining the life of the plants and animals. All of this activity flourishes between April and October. After that everyone who can leaves, and the plants and animals who remain are on their own in the incredible heat. Don't come in July!