Winter in the Desert - 2013 travel blog

barn owl

feeding the hummingbird

feeding the hummingbird

egg in the nest

humming bird

in the nest



desert panorama

hawk and trainer

hawk on cactus




mountain goat


It got down to 17ยบ last night. So what did we do today? We left before the sun came out and spent most of the day outside at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. We arrived before it officially opened to see the hummingbird aviary which has one of the most successful breeding programs in the country. The little whirling mites are so happy here they crank out babies as fast as the staff here can find places for them to go in zoos and aviaries. Their nests were about the size of a walnut; the egg like a pea. We saw two babies in the nest. They looked like fuzzy raisins. The guide gave us containers of fruit flies which are prime rib for hummingbirds. Although they love flower nectar, flowers don't bloom year round and the body needs protein. It seemed like the cold kept down their activity levels, but it was a thrill to have them dive bombing us.

We knew the museum has a huge variety of desert flora, but did not realize how much animal life was on display in a beautiful natural way. Many of the cactus were covered with sheets or with coffee cups on the tops of the cactus spears because of the below freezing temperatures. The raptor show was especially thrilling. All manner of hawk, owls, and ravens swopped back and forth skimming over our heads, grabbing food from human feeders placing bits of meat in strategic spots. All the birds live in cages, but are free to fly wherever they wish. But after their tummies are full, they always return to their cages which feel safe and familiar. Because the staff keeps them healthy and well fed, their life spans are significantly longer than they would be on their own.

Four legged creatures such as coyote and bobcats were in large pens with very fine wire so they had lots of room to roam and we had good opportunities to photograph them in action. We had a nice break from the cold during the gila monster/rattlesnake demonstration which was inside. There are many people bitten by rattlesnakes in Arizona every year. If they get to the hospital anti-venom can prevent death, but this precious elixir is so difficult to make it costs $100,000 to recover from a single bite. The snakes are milked and the venom is given in small amounts to special British sheep whose blood forms antibodies against the venom. The antibodies are separated from the rest of the blood components and put in little vials. No wonder the therapy costs so much. Gila monster poison won't kill you, but their strategy is to make the experience so unpleasant, you won't ever mess with another gila again. Their poison is painful and when a gila bites it doesn't let go. People have come to the ER with a gila still hanging on their hand.

We really enjoyed the museum and hope we have chance to go there once more before we leave on a warmer day when the snakes and lizards will be above ground.

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