Birdless joys of birding occur when a birding trip turns up other cool animals (see Featherless Joy of Birding). On a previous birding trip to the East Mojave Preserve we had 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 lives in 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 (25+ mph), Western Zebra-tailed Lizards curl their tails over their backs like a scorpion. Sometimes they use only their hind feet. They usually don’t allow close approach. I took this photo from a distance of about 40′. I used 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. This is an innovation in Kowa eyepieces which improves contrast and sharpness by further reducing chromatic aberration.
Desert Bighorn Sheep near Zzyzx.
The joy of birding doesn’t always include birds. We made a successful three hour drive to Baker, California to see a White Ibis. White-faced Ibis are the common species in California. Glossy Ibis is very rare. And this was the first White Ibis I’ve seen in the state in nearly 20 years of birding. We then decided to check some other local spots. We know of several in the area that can often be productive.
One of our favorite spots is the California State University Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx. Formerly a desert resort, this oasis has springs and accommodations that facilitate workshops of many kinds, and on a good day, can have lots of migrant birds refueling in the trees and ponds. Some desert residents even breed there. So, we drove in, parked, and walked around searching for some rare bird to tickle our fancy. We checked the ponds, the tamarisks, the palms, and the willows. We even scanned the rocky hillsides and the salt pan.
The place was virtually bird-less. But on our way out, we chanced upon this particular joy of birding, a flock of Desert Bighorn Sheep. These animals are very reclusive, so we stopped to get some photos and video. We shot some rewarding footage recording behavior that very few people get to see. I recorded the video with a Nikon CoolPix P6000 camera through a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope.
We used digiscoping so that we could keep our distance and avoid spooking the sheep. Through digiscoping, we were able to record Desert Bighorn Sheep doing things that are not often seen. Be sure to follow along with the narration in the video. We point out such behavior as the ram asserting his dominance and insisting on submission from one of the younger males.