We’ve written before about the featherless joys of birding (Desert Bighorn Sheep, Western Zebra-tailed Lizard) – those occasions when being out birding puts us in the right place to see other animals doing what they do. So on a recent Sea & Sage Audubon trip to the eastern Sierra Nevada, we were treated to the spectacle of a garter snake that had just captured a vole.
During a recent visit from family, we took the famous Palm Springs Aerial Tram up to Mountain Station (see photo of Mountain Station here), the entrance to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The ride is quite dramatic, rising almost 6000 feet from a dry desert Chino Canyon bottom to an elevation of 8516 feet at Mountain Station, in less than 15 minutes. The Swiss-made aerial tram cars have a rotating floor so that passengers get the full panorama during their climb without jostling for position. Once you arrive at Mountain Station, you have a choice of activities. You can visit the gift shop, catch a snack or a meal at the Peaks Restaurant, or exit into Long Valley and take some of the hiking trails in the state park. We ended up doing all three of those. Continue reading
Birdless joys of birding occur when a birding trip turns up other cool animals. Another birding trip to the East Mojave Preserve produced an opportunity for photographing interesting non-avian critters. At the Baker Sewer Ponds, we encountered this male Western Zebra-tailed Lizard – females lack the black bands on the belly.
The Western Zebra-tailed Lizard is a denizen of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts and the Great Basin. It is diurnal and forages for insects and smaller lizards except during extreme heat. When not taking refuge in the shade, it maintains only minimal contact with the ground. As seen in this photo, only the vent and heels are touching the sand. Zebra-taileds will occasionally take this a step farther and stand on only two feet at a time.
When they are scurrying around (with top speeds over 25 mph), Western Zebra-tailed Lizards have their tails curled up over their backs like a scorpion and sometimes use only their hind feet. They usually don’t allow close approach. This photo was taken from a distance of about 40′ with a point and shoot camera through a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope with their new TE-11WZ 25-60x wide angle zoom eyepiece. The zoom features two elements of Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass, an innovation in Kowa eyepieces which improves contrast and sharpness by further reducing chromatic aberration.