10 April 2011

Greater Earless Lizard

It never fails - new visitors to Arizona usually have the same "take away" comments.  "It's Hot."  "Those Saguaros are amazing!" "I never saw so many lizards."

In Phoenix you might see Ornate Tree Lizards, Common Side-Blotched Lizards, Tiger Whiptails, some non-native geckos, and maybe a Chuckwala if you hike one of the parks.  

Get a few miles outside of town and you'll find all sorts of other interesting lizards.  In the foothills and mountains, the Greater Earless Lizard, Cophosaurus texanus, is one of the most spectacularly colored. 

Greater Earless Lizard
Greater Earless Lizard, female
The above photo is of a "dull" female.  The males will get a greenish-blue hue on their legs and tails, and even a bit of yellow.  Unfortunately, I do not have a decent male photograph in my collection (yet!) By the way, it is called an "earless" lizard because of the lack of an ear hole.

Greater Earless lizards can be seen from central and south Arizona into central Texas, and south in Mexico.  Like many lizards, it is a ground-dweller that eats insects (spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, etc).  As alluded to above, it is generally seen above the low desert, but usually not in high elevations.

If you're looking for an excellent (albeit large) field guide to lizards, I highly recommend Lizards of the American Southwest.

Argentine Giant - Echinopsis candicans

A few years ago I posted about a handful of desert plants in our yard, including the Argentine Giant - Echinopsis candicans. Well, this year has been an amazing year for several of our cactus, and I thought it was worth a revisit.

One unique aspect of these flowers is that the sepals are actually decorative, creating the pinkish-red border of the flower.  

The Argentine Giant (aka Easter Lily Cactus) is known for its sprawling stems that originate from a central point. But its better known for the giant flowers, measuring up to 8 inches across, that it gets:

Argentine Giant Easter Lily Cactus
Argentine Giant Snapshot

Unfortunately, these flowers only last about 1 day, opening at night. If the weather is hot, as it was the day I shot the above photo, they start to wilt by mid-morning. And the one-day duration really worked against me. With a new baby at the house I was not able to get out in time to take a photo while the morning light was nice, leaving me with the harshly lit snapshot above.

Argentine Giant Flower Bloom
Argentine Giant flowers

The above cactus has been planted for over three years and has grown maybe 3 inches. I understand that they will grow faster in the right conditions. This year's bloom of 6-8 simultaneous flowers was much more vigorous than any previous year, where two or three simultaneous flowers was the max. If we're lucky we'll get another handful of blooms sporadically through mid-May.

07 April 2011

American Avocet

The American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) has to be one of my favorite birds of Arizona. Its graceful wading and foraging, up-curved bill, and and contrasting colors are truly unique.

American Avocet

Both photos here were taken at the Gilbert Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ (metro Phoenix) in March a few years back. Most years you can locate a few pairs of Avocets at the GWR in the late winter and early spring, and some years we are lucky enough to see them raise young.
American Avocet Pair