September 4 is National Wildlife Day

This guy, Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus, and his species inspired my book, Don’t Make Me Fly!

September 4 is National Wildlife Day.  As a biologist, I love wildlife, whether it is in my backyard or at some distant exotic location. Wildlife Day was established to remind us about endangered animals, locally and around the world.

This is also the day to recognize the work being done on behalf of these animals, both in preservation and education about them. I do my part for conservation through my volunteering as a citizen scientist, talks I give, the books I write about animals, and supplemental, educational workbooks that teach about animals in a fun way.

photo Regal Horned Lizard Phrynosoma solare
Regal Horned Lizard Phrynosoma solare

I love to talk about and share my reptiles with people and I hope my tales that weave science into animal escapades and picture books educate children and adults alike. Sometimes my message is subtle, such as in stories featuring curly-tail lizards and their environments and plights, and sometimes it’s more direct, such as in Silent Rocks about the disappearing rock iguanas on Cayman Brac.

photo Desert Cottontail Sylvilagus audubonii
Desert Cottontail Sylvilagus audubonii

While you are contemplating how you can help the endangered animals of the world, get outside and enjoy the wildlife in your neighborhood. With habitat loss and climate change, some may be more endangered than you realize.

photograph of tarantula
Tarantula, Aphonpelma chalcodes
photo Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii

I hope you enjoy these pictures of some of my neighbors.

photo of two Great Horned Owl Bubo virginainus
A mating pair of Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginainus
photo Gopher Snake Pituophis melanoleucus
Gopher Snake Pituophis melanoleucus

If you want to read more about these Sonoran Desert critters, I suggest How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird, which is a fun story about the desert conspiring against a photographer—I just can’t help myself—I am, at heart, a murder-mystery writer. (It was a curly-tail lizard who started my career as a children’s science book writer.) I am still working on those murder-mysteries, however!

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants
and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit.
Maybe a permanent one.”
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.

There’s a glossary in the back of How Not to Photograph a Hummingbird with the scientific details about the mischievous conspirators. I love making science education fun!

It’s That Time of the Year–Weather is in the News! by Curtis Curly-tail Lizard

Illustration of Curtis on boat looking at a sneaker
Here’s me in Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers. This book started my career as a book-inspirer, writer and video performer. I must say that I have a lot to be thankful for! Illustration by Arthur Winstanley.  Book designed by Nora Miller.

Hello, everyone! I’m Curtis Curly-tail Lizard and every year, all of us in The Bahamas worry about hurricane season. I wrote here before about Hurricane Dorian, which hit the northern part of my country, causing a lot of damage. Of course, this the time of the year, weather is newsworthy in many places–like all the terrible fires now burning in California.  For my friend, Elaine, in Arizona, it’s the monsoon season. It amazes me that Elaine hopes for monsoon rains, while we Warderick Wellians hope the hurricanes will avoid us!

June 1 marked the official hurricane season start in the Atlantic Ocean, which includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, weather doesn’t always abide by the calendar, as Elaine has mentioned about Southern Arizona’s 2020 monsoon season. It never started. Everything is very dry there and the heat has been rather extreme. Elaine’s prickly pear cactus plants are drying up. It’s pretty bad when cactus dry up.

In the Sonoran Desert, the air rises upward due to the hot temperatures warming the ground. This creates a vacuum that can pull in moisture-containing winds from the west, including air from Baja California in the Pacific. Monsoon rains are powerful and can cause flash floods, lightning strikes can ignite fires, and winds can knock down trees and poles. They also create microbursts, which are like tiny tornadoes. But, after the heat of May and June, the refreshing rains allow the cacti to rehydrate, wildflowers to bloom, ocotillo to produce leaves. Animals, from insects to mammals, increase their activity. It is normally a time of fun and frolicking. The water is much needed by the plants and animals in the desert and much missed this year. Elaine and her friends are all still hoping the rains will come.

I hope you’ll stop by and visit me at my YouTube channel, Curtis Curly-tail Speaks. And I’m very excited to tell you that a new book will be added to the Curtis Curly-tail collection very soon. It’s about my experiences with the yiggies on Beach Cay. What’s a yiggie? You’ll soon find out in Curtis Curly-tail is Blown Away! I’m so excited and I’ll be sure to let you know when it goes on sale!

I hope you’re enjoying the summer weather, wherever you are. Take care of yourselves and each other out there! I sure am on Warderick Wells!

“What’s a Nurse Tree?” you ask.

In the heat of the Sonoran Desert, many cacti use the shade of trees to help them survive. They also help in the cold winters. These are nurse trees.

Underneath a mesquite in my yard, I found this thriving Graham’s Nipple or Arizona Fishhook Cactus. The scientific name is Mammillaria grahamii. I wouldn’t have noticed it if not for the bright colors of the flowers.  The term fishhook refers to the one-three large spines in each spine grouping that are hooked and reddish to brown in color. This species are named after Colonel James Duncan Graham (1799-1851), who took part in a U.S.-Mexico border survey.

Arizona Fishhook Cactus under a mesquite ‘nurse tree’ in my yard

Indigenous people have eaten the fruit and pulp of this plant as food, as well using it as a medicine to treat earaches. I’m enjoying it for its natural beauty.

Even though I didn’t include this species in my fun science book that comes with a glossary of Sonoran Desert plants and animals, you can read about other desert treasures and have a good laugh in How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit. Maybe a permanent one.”
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him. Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.

Looking for More than Sky Rain

Growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t really think about rain. It rained all year long, although in the winter it could fall as ice, or if we were lucky, snow. The only time rain was newsworthy was during tornado season, when nature used it as a weapon, or mid-summer when the corn and soybean crops needed timely rains for optimum growth.

But then I moved to the diverse and complex Sonoran Desert, where rain is not only newsworthy but fascinating. Every time it rains, it’s like I’ve never seen it before. I run to the window to watch the water falling from the clouds. The Tucson area only gets about 12 inches of rain each year, most during the summer monsoons. In my hometown, we were used to around 37 inches a year.

When I first moved to Arizona, I worked on the second floor. One day, I was delighted to see raindrops on the windows. I ran downstairs to stand in the rain, only to discover the rain was not reaching the ground.  I looked up and could see the rain stopping about three feet above my head. Yes, sometimes the ground is so hot and the humidity so low that the raindrops evaporate before reaching the ground. Thus, I call it sky rain.

Sky Rain: Rain that doesn’t reach the ground

This year, in the weeks before monsoon, when it was very hot and rain clouds started to form, I watched sky rain right in front of me. If you look closely at the pictures, you will see that the rain is not reaching the ground. The ends even look slightly curved upward as the water is being warmed by the hot earth.

When it rains at your house, be glad when it reaches the ground, providing moisture to plants and animals. Sky rain, while fascinating, just doesn’t get that job done.

If you’d like to learn more about the Sonoran Desert, please see my Don’t Series books, which are vividly illustrated children’s book, where the science is written into rhyming stanzas, making learning science fun!

book covers Dont Series
These best sellers are colorful and written in rhyme, making learning science fun!

Pet Peeves

I love having animals in my life.  Over the years, they’ve mostly been reptiles and lately, if you’ve been following my story, there’s a horse tale in it. 

If we accept responsibility for an animal, we are responsible for its welfare, even if we have to sacrifice for it. This has come up in the care of my horse.  She developed chronic sinusitis as a result of an abscessed tooth. Every month, the equine dentist comes out to do the next step in her care.  Of course, this specialist’s care costs money. But I took responsibility for her life, so I owe Button the best care I can provide. Apparently, not all horse owners feel the same way, which is very sad to me. There are several famous quotes about judging a person by the way he cares for his fellow animals.

I owe her my best care.

The impetus for this post was a statement in a local neighborhood chat room.  The person posting had observed a bobcat enjoying its dinner.  A wonderful sight to see in the limited wilderness remaining in the Sonoran Desert. However, the poster concluded that the bobcat’s only purpose was as a threat to local dogs and cats. The bobcat was most likely eating a rabbit – it’s been a good year for rabbits. Of course, the danger from coyotes was included in the post.   

I disagree that local wildlife is the threat to domestic companion animals. The problem is people not taking proper care of their pets. When I let my reptiles out in the backyard, I stay with them. We have birds of prey in the area that could carry off an iguana. The bobcats could enjoy a nice turtle or tortoise meal—but it’s not on them. It’s my job as their human companion to ensure their safety in the environment I place them.

Along with watching out for our dogs and pets, I also feel it is our duty to ensure that our pets don’t harm the local wildlife. Billions of birds are killed each year by cats. Please keep your cats inside, where they are safe and healthy, or use a leash. Many people love to feed the birds in their yards but are unable to enjoy them due to a cat(s). I run into cat predation in my iguana conservation work. Too many are the years we don’t see any juvenile iguanas because they’ve all been killed by domestic pets that the iguanas didn’t recognize as predators. Dogs are equally dangerous when not properly supervised.

People, please protect and control your furry family members. We can all thrive together in this world.

Remember, if the local bobcat or coyote gets your family member, it is not the predator’s fault.  It’s yours.  Protect your pet!

Ground Squirrels: These Cute Little Burrowers Soon to Have Their Own Book!

When I lived in the Midwest and Northeast, I knew it was Spring when the crocus and daffodils raised their heads from the ground.  Here in the Sonoran Desert, I know it is Spring when the round-tailed ground squirrels, Xerospermophilus tereticaudus, which dwell in the desert of the US Southwest and northwestern Mexico, raise their heads from the ground.

The common name for these small mammals is derived from their long round tail and long fluffy hind feet. I think they look like small prairie dogs due to their uniform sandy color.

Instead of running up and down large, lush trees found in the more temperate areas of the country, these squirrels burrow into ground beneath mesquite trees and creosote bushes, plants tough enough to survive the harsh desert clime. They are active during hot summer days and stay underground during the winter, but they don’t hibernate.

Some people find the squirrels a bother because they are always digging holes in their yards, driveways and even streets. I think they make a new tunnel each day. I like to think of their efforts as aerating the soil and loosening the rock-hard ground. Going underground, they are able to evade their many predators: coyotes, badgers, hawks and snakes.

These cute little mammals do love their burrows!

Even though they live in colonies, ground squirrels like their space. Males like to be in charge during mating season, but the mothers dominate when they have young!

Why am I writing about these delightful squirrels? I am starting to work on a picture book about the local ground squirrels. This book was requested by an educator at a local park. There are no books about area ground squirrels. Another fun, science book waiting to be written in rhyme! Gosh, I love my work!

I’ve got to get back now to my burrowing into the world of ground squirrels.

Thanks for visiting!

I’ve written many books about reptiles, and am excited about adding mammals to my book collection. Here is a workbook on mammals from my publisher, Lyric Power Publishing, LLC, focused on making science fun. Their activity sheets and workbooks really help to pass the time in a fun way.

There’s Cuckoo Birds Everywhere! By Curtis Curly-tail

My friend Elaine lives in the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona in the US, while I live on Warderick Wells Cay in the Bahamas. Even though we’re over two thousand miles apart, we share a family of birds. I like to have an occasional adventure and when I was visiting the Leon Levy Preserve on Eleuthera recently, I saw a magnificent bird, the Great-Lizard Cuckoo, in a tree. PHEW! I usually see these birds on the ground running. When you’re a lizard, seeing a running cuckoo can be terrifying!  They eat lizards, you know.

Watching the cuckoo run, I realized I had seen something similar in a video my friend Elaine sent me. In the Sonoran Desert and many other places, there’s a bird that runs just like my Great-Lizard Cuckoo.  That’s because the Roadrunner is a member of the Cuckoo family.

photo of Greater Roadrunner in the Sonoran Desert
Photo by Elaine Powers
illustration of a desert roadrunner
Strong. Fast and Courageous, Roadrunner Doesn’t Need To Fly

Cuckoos are found on all the continents except Antarctica and they’re all magnificent. I’m so glad my friend and I can both enjoy these wonderful birds. If you want to learn more about Elaine’s Roadrunner, check out her book Don’t Make Me Fly! It’s all about the roadrunner and it’s lots of fun because it’s written in rhyme.