Sonoran Desert Experience…thru “lens & pen!”
Hi … I’m Cyndy Warnier, the Program & Development Director here at Spirit in the Desert. I am the shutter-bug of the photos you see on our website. I am also a lover of the desert, and along with my husband, Al who also works here and is an arborist, study the desert through my lens as well as through forums to learn about its unique flora and fauna. So, from my “lens & pen”–welcome to a “Sonoran Desert Experience!” Each month I will post an article, with pictures-of course, about life in this beautiful and diverse desert. Birds, mammals, reptiles…even an arachnid or two, plus a variety of plants whose botany is specific to Arizona’s portion of the Sonoran Desert–and all whose existence are endangered. Our registration lobby features many of my photos in a variety of matted sizes, as well as on 5×7 photo cards, complete with blank insides or nice mix of all-occasion prose. You can always “take away a bit of the desert” in my pictures to remind you of your stay at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center.
This winter-into-spring in 2020 has been quite a ying and yang! It ranks as one of our coldest-yep, many nights of frost, and wettest. Water, water – in fact as I write this, the water is coming down out of the sky in buckets! Up in the high country 1 to 2 feet of snow is expected—and yes, I am writing this from the Arizona desert! That’s what makes the Sonoran Desert one of the most unique and diverse places on earth.
So what is happening? Plants are being nourished, but too much water is getting our Saguaro cacti too fat and they can topple over, that’s not good. On the other hand, our reservoirs are filled, some dams are releasing water to other areas as need to protect from flooding. Who’d a thought it, right? But one thing I’ve learned over my 30 years in this area is extremes—the Sonoran Desert is filled with them from weather to all the creatures that inhabit this area!
One JOY we’ve had at Spirit is our 2 families of Peregrine Falcons! Upper left is an up close shot in early March. This falcon did not appreciate my camera-intrusion into their hunting time so I got one nasty look and then wings back for take-off. Several other pictures show you how they love high spots to land and watch, meaning our telephone poles in the back parking lot. Another pic is from one I took up in Prescott, AZ. Here’s a bit about this “one the brink extinction to alive and well” avian – who, by the way is the fastest animal in the world!
The Peregrine Falcon—in power-diving from great heights to strike prey—can reach speeds of 220 miles per hour! In fact, they normally fly at 40 – to MPH. Obviously, they do not pay attention to our speed zones! Peregrines are regarded and respected by falconers and biologists alike as one of the noblest and most spectacular of all birds of prey. Although it is found on six continents, the Peregrine is uncommon in most areas; it was seriously endangered in the mid-20th century because of the effects of DDT and other persistent pesticides. It is on the rebound thanks to bans on these pesticides and the efforts of conservationists.
Peregrines love open country, cliffs (mountains to coast); and lately more high-rise buildings in cities. Over its wide range, found in wide variety of open habitats, from tundra to desert mountains. Often near water, especially along coast, and migrants may fly far out to sea. Limited by availability of nest sites and prey; thus, it often moves into cities, nesting on building ledges and feeding on pigeons. Some cities encourage high rises to provide nesting areas. Why? It is the fastest and cheapest pigeon control out there, and it uses no chemicals!
I’ve seen our Spirit Peregrines take out a dove in mid-air, it is so crazy fast your eyes can barely track it. Unlike many other raptors, they like to hunt in mid-air where they catch their prey off-guard. However, we did watch one go after a ground critter up on the Kaibab Plateau, hovering above as it ran and when the critter hesitated the Peregrine never slowed-it swooped and before you could see it, was gone with its lunch. What gives them such great speed? The Peregrine has many features that set it apart from other birds, making it one of the deadliest predators out there. These features are its keel, pointed wings, stiff feathers, and incredibly efficient respiratory and circulatory systems. No other raptor is like this bird. One of our AZ Game and Fish biologists is an falconer, and he describes the Peregrine as a truly “one-of-a-kind” creation!
So, next time you visit Spirit, keep your eyes open for the tops of the electric poles, you just may see more than wires and nobs!