Archive for the ‘Arizona WILDLIFE’ Category

A Bird’s Eye View … Part One.
June 9, 2009

The Ponies Shedding Moon

The photo above is the full moon of May, often called the Full Flower Moon by Native Americans, although my favorite name comes from the Sioux: the Ponies Shedding Moon.

And do they ever. There’s nothing quite like being outside at midnight brushing shedding winter coats under a moon so bright the horses throw shadows. It’s so relaxing; I have to keep reminding myself to stay alert so I don’t get stepped on. 

With the geldings munching hay, however, they barely notice my presence unless the bristles locate an especially itchy spot.  

When I’m done grooming, I’m covered in horse hair of all different colors, and left to chase little clouds of hair (stripped from the brush as I go along) around the corral. Those I miss, the birds will incorporate into their nests. Nothing in the desert gets wasted. 

 The Sky is A Painter.

The Spring sky.

Saguaros In Fruit.

Saguaros in silhouette (and throwing fruit. Seriously. One bonked me on the head while I was setting up the photographs. Roll your cursor over the photographs for captions).

Birds heart fruit!


Four servings of fruit a day, or is it five?


Ripened fruit.


Fruit close-up

I especially love Spring in the desert. Everything that flies, creeps or crawls appears with mini-carbon copies of themselves, the mothers showing off their babies like proud humans. Even the scorpion, usually an object of fear and aversion, looks sweet carrying her babies on her back. (Although she isn’t sweet at all, of course. Any babies that overstay their welcome are destined to be killed and eaten by the cantankerous female scorpion. And she’s quick; before I could snap her photo, she was gone. )

However, here’s a photo of another scorpion that climbs the rafters of our covered porch. Freak-out factor? A solid TEN.

 Equal to one thousand words on why we shake out our boots before putting them on.

From the porch, life that usually goes on behind the scenes is actively renewing itself — flowers blooming and fading, followed by the swell of fruit that feeds everything from insects to coyotes to birds. Lightening-fast lizards with speed-of-light babies scurry through the yuccas or cling to the garden walls, high up toward the top and quite out of reach of our overly-excited terriers, who find it high treason.

There are so many birds that I keep the radio off to listen to their songs and chatter, a world of their own going on above our heads until they touch down to peck at tiny hay seeds in the sand, steal kibbles from the dogs’ bowls, or share a drink at the horses’ water buckets. 

Camera in hand, and hot on the trail of interesting sights, I’ve come across birds’ nests in the most ingenious places:

Bird's nest.

This nest remains intact inside the skeleton of a saguaro. Usually, all you can see to indicate a nest are these holes:

Birds' nests inside each hole.


Old Saguaro.

 There was another interesting nest I found quite by accident, as I was preparing to open a new bale of hay. Nestled in the back and ringed with newborn, fuzzy feathers was a nest of:

Empty nest syndrome.

Gambel’s Quail eggs. (Callipepla gambelii)

The baby quail are the cutest things around. No larger than gumballs, they follow behind their mother in a single-file line, looking  like a string of pearls snaking left and right.  

And there are more nests — come join me for A Bird’s Eye View … Part Two, or, Cooped In The Hen House By A Thirsty Javelina.  

In the meantime, may the Muse of Creativity be kind to you.

(Photos by Emily Murdoch)

Dogs Doing Drugs.
September 7, 2008

 A few times in my blog entries, I’ve mentioned toads — poisonous toads — specifically, the Sonoran Desert toad, commonly known as the Colorado River toad.


Bufo alvarius

(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

When I was a girl, being a tomboy through and through, ants and toads and frogs and salamanders, even crayfish, were fascinating to me. Where I grew up, though, ants were black and didn’t bite, rattle snakes weren’t around every corner, and toads were cute and harmless. 

I knew you didn’t catch warts from touching toads or frogs. I always put them back where I’d found them after taking a closer look, and even when they peed on me (in what I now know to be a fear and stress-induced reaction) it was no big deal (the pee, that is).

(Which makes me shudder, because boy would I feel differently about it, today!)

With the continuous (and heavenly) monsoon rains still upon us, the Colorado River toads have been coming out in earnest on the ranch. On the one hand, they’re great to have around; eating bugs, including scorpions, they make it safer outside for my terriers. On the other hand, the larger rescue dogs are obsessed with everything that moves — butterflies, birds, rabbits, toads — and would like nothing more than to catch them all.   

Essentially, the male toad finds a puddle (left from misters, rain water, or even your dog’s water bowl) and uses it like a hot tub, serenading the females with his best mating call.

Even when you can’t see them, you can hear them singing. Their arrival on our porch is heralded by the sound of rattling chain-link fence as they (astonishingly) squeeze themselves in and out of small spaces. In the photo below, this big, squat toad is making its way out of our dog kennels after finding the water bowls dumped and turned over.

A toad soaking in a dog’s water bowl can leave behind enough poison to kill a dog.  

The toads’ weapon is a milky venom housed in glands on their neck and thighs secreted when threatened, but even their skin is poisonous. It’s very clever, actually, as the toads parade around without fear under the visage of owl, hawk, coyote, bobcat and javelina. 

Some people actually “lick” these psychoactive toads for the high, although this method can be lethal to the person doing the licking. More so, the toads are milked (illegally) and their venom dried into “chips” which are then smoked.

The most likely scenario, however, is your dog being poisoned from either catching a toad in its mouth and absorbing the venom, or eating the toad, along with the poison glands.

Such was the nightmare last weekend when two of our rescue dogs, Clementine and Blue, caught a toad that hopped fearlessly into their midst, and, like a game of hot potato, passed it back and forth. I ran after them in a frenzy, yelling and slipping in the kennel until my legs were bruised and bleeding. My husband, hearing the ruckus, tore out of the house and between the two of us, pried the toad out of Clementine’s mouth.

Blue and Clementine

I was soon to see the symptoms I’d been telling my husband about only the day before, coincidentally having come across a local toad avoidance class advertised online and reading about the treatment for poisoning. It saved the dogs’ lives that night.

First of all, don’t panic. (I know — easier said than done.) If your dog has eaten all or part of the toad, bring the dog to the vet IMMEDIATELY. Many sources cite a thirty minute window before the poisoning can prove deadly, acting upon the heart and causing cardiac arrhythmias and arrest. 

If your dog had the toad in its mouth only, remove the toad and immediately rinse your dog’s mouth with water, from the corners of the mouth outward to avoid the dog swallowing the poison. Use your fingers to swish water between the gums and cheeks where poison could pocket. Rinse for fifteen minutes with a hose.

Signs of poisoning include:

— “Saw horse”, stiff-legged gait

— Dilated pupils (alarmingly so)

— Bright red gums

— Hallucinations, with the dog seeing things not there, whining, pacing, scratching

— Frothy mouth

The signs indicating the worst cases of poisoning:

— Convulsions

— Whining and crying in extreme pain

— Loss of bowel and bladder control

— Cardiac arrhythmias and arrest

— Paralysis

After rinsing our dogs’ mouths, the saw-horse gait, dilated pupils and hallucinations stopped, and the dogs were back to normal after fifteen minutes. We called our vet, who told us to keep an eye on the dogs for the next hour, during which no symptoms reappeared.

The best treatment, of course, is avoiding these toads altogether, with supervised outings at dawn and dusk during monsoon season, (the toads hibernate the rest of the year), along with bringing any outside dogs inside at dusk and keeping your dogs inside until sun-up.

What surprises me the most about these toads is their fearlessness — going where other small animals fear to tread. Unfortunately, prior poisoning doesn’t usually keep dogs away from the toads; our vet spoke of seeing the same dogs multiple times for toad poisoning.

Other things you can do?

— Rid the area of whatever pools of water you can (which will also discourage the breeding of mosquitos)

— Dump out and turn over dogs’ water bowls when not in use.


Bufo alvarius United States range map (the toad also lives in northwest Mexico).

Bufo alvarius United States range map (the toad also lives in northwest Mexico).

Coutesy of Wikipedia.

Having lost my beloved cat, dog and horse last summer, my greatest wish this summer was for all the animals to come through it alive and intact, including the toads. So far, so good.