Sonora Desert Visit

great horned owl Bubo virginianus

Traded forest for cacti over Thanksgiving for a chance to dry out a bit down in Tucson Arizona. When there, I always take time to visit here. The raptor flight demonstrations are amazing, and birds do get way up close and personal at times. Different birds species are featured, and the animals are getting plenty of much needed exercise in their native terrain.

Many of the animals found at the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum are rehabilitated and returned to the wild when possible, the rest are cared for and given a good quality of life as ambassadors for the bio-region, helping to educate people about the importance of desert ecosystems. Though I have strong opinions about zoos, this space caters to the indigenous species of the region where it is located, and works hard to integrate the natural environment into the enclosures.



The museum also has a completely recycled water system, utilizing up to 90% of its waste water in habitats around the zoo, including a full water treatment facility which cleans and redistributes water into irrigation for the native plants around the property for the animals and people to enjoy. For a desert, water conservation is crucial, and you can see great examples of water catchment, retention, and recycling at this museum.

Though the terrain of The Senora Desert is night and day compared with The Pacific Northwest, many of the same animals share these totally different habitats. Both the bobcat and cougar roam in these drastically different environments, demonstrating the impressive adaptation of  predator species of the feline family. It also speaks to the rich diversity of life that a desert can support; enough to allow large apex predators enough prey to survive.



Even though The Senora Desert is one of the driest placed on earth, it’s rainy season is call a monsoon, and when it does rain, it pours! The Senora Desert Toad is a surprising resident of this arid place, and only makes a public appearance during the wet months in winter. These toads are known to show up in houses right before the monsoons start, an indicator of the wet weather soon to arrive. They hibernate deep under ground during the hot, dry summers, and emerge only during the cooler months to enjoy a flash flood of mating and egg laying in the churning mud or an occasional lahar like flow of sediment and debris.

Deserts are often overlooked as thriving habitat, because of the lack of water, a life giving substance required for survival, but the water does not have to be present on the surface all the time, to cultivate biodiversity. The Sonora is a perfect example of this, and after spending some great naturalist exploration on the landscape, I can tell you, this arid climate still hosts a myriad of very special living things, maybe even more than Western Washington, with all its wet weather and towering trees. I’m glad to have spent time in this desert, and look forward to exploring it more in future family gatherings down in Arizona.


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