Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Roadrunner, Two Amorous Lizards, and a Sunset Eclipse

Awww, I love it here.

Sometimes it feels like we’re living in one of those nature shows on Channel 22.

Not long ago a long dry spell ended with dramatic thunderstorms. Nearly an inch of rain one day. Next day, nearly an inch and a half in an hour or two. Then nearly a half inch in an hour, punctuated with pounding hailstones.

Then near silence: birds, chastened but pleased, calling somewhat tentatively; water (and pea-sized white stones) still falling from the canales into the rain barrels, and the pleasant sound of muddy water chortling down our normally dry arroyo.

Rainbow with ocotillo
We wandered around outside, musing that there’s nothing quite like the scent and sight and sound of the desert after a rainstorm, and waited for the rainbow – which appeared, moments later. A huge double rainbow.
[ At left, a closer look at the rainbow touching a foorhill of the Organ Mountains -- then a hailstone caught in a barrel cactus, looking rather like an abandoned egg in a nest. 
Don't think it'll hatch. ]

Earlier this year, we came home one afternoon from the Bosque del Apache at about sunset. (The sand-hill cranes and snow geese had put on an extraordinary show at sunset and sunrise, but that’s another story.) The clouds at sunset looked interesting, so I walked around back to shoot a few photographs. I leaned against the wall, its surface still warm from the late afternoon sun, and became aware of something unusual beside my shoulder – and I jumped when I recognized him.

Our local roadrunner was perched for the night on our electric meter. His tail and much of his body was against the wall, to enjoy the heat, and his beak was pointing toward the setting sun. I had stood just about touching him. Now I proceeded to shoot his portrait. He never budged, or even looked at me. Turns out that at night roadrunners go into near hibernation, their metabolism drops like a meditating Tibetan monk’s, and they’re vulnerable to predators until dawn. I wasn’t a predator.

I left him a vegetarian hot dog. It was gone in the morning, and so was he. He slept there several nights, but hasn’t since.

Of course I felt lucky. A lot of folks in the world never get to see a roadrunner. We get to see one moonlighting as an electrician.

We also see woodpeckers and Scott’s Orioles posing as hummingbirds, landing on the feeder and struggling to steal nectar.

Hummingbirds stage air battles like something out of a World War I film; and the clowns, the Scaled Quails and Gambel’s Quails, strut around out back several times a day. Meanwhile, doves and coyotes provide an evocative sound track we never tire of listening to.

Sunday night, when our neighbors called to remind me of the eclipse, I was looking over video I’d shot of a Texas Horned Lizard. I was puzzled by the fact that in some of the shots there appeared to be, above the lizard’s face, a smaller, similar face, like some sort of visual echo.

Our neighbors have a welder’s helmet, so we rushed out to gawk at the eclipse – but stopped short immediately.

The Texas Horned Lizard was now just outside the front gate, and in the late afternoon light there was no doubt that she had a hitchhiker: a smaller version of herself, riding on her back, like a kid getting a piggy-back ride.
Hope I didn't interrupt an amorous interlude !
I shot some video and a couple of stills. (Tex’s defense mechanism, freezing in place, is not only effective, since its body is a natural camouflage suit designed for its particular habitat, but convenient for still photographers – though kind of dull for video, ‘cause there ain’t a whole lot going on.)

Then suddenly the male got spooked and jumped off, paused a foot or so away from her, then returned, sort of nuzzled her, and climbed back on her back. Thanks guys. (I’d initially assumed they were offspring and momma or poppa; but checking with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department corrected that: the Texas Horned Lizard lays the eggs and splits – there ain’t no mother-offspring relationship beyond that. And males are noticeably smaller than females.)

It struck me that on the way to see such a rare and beautiful sight, the eclipse, we’d been stopped by one nearly as fine.

As we sat around not watching the sun, our neighbors pointed out the nest on their porch where a bird (Say’s Phoebe, we think) builds her nest every year. This year’s first crop of youngsters kept playing in the strange sunlight in front of us, or perching over our heads on a mobile. Our neighbor has his morning coffee out there, so they’re used to him.

Then the star of the show reasserted its claim on our attention. I’ve watched the sun set over those distant hills a bunch of times, but tonight it looked like a crescent moon on steroids: way too bright and oddly swollen, as it dropped below the horizon.

Aww, I love it here!


[The foregoing column (with just the road-runner) appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 27 May.]

1 comment:

  1. Love this -- thank you! Growing up in Texas, we knew the lizards as "horny toads". ;^)