Do you like wildlife? Do you like to photograph wildlife? If so, Arizona is one of the best places to find it.
You can even find wildlife within the city limits of Phoenix, if you know where to look. If you go hiking on South Mountain, which is a huge city park in the middle of Phoenix, you can see lizards and ground squirrels all over the place. I saw this little ground squirrel sitting on the edge of an arroyo, chittering loudly at anything and everything that happened to walk by. (He must have been king of the hill that day.)
If you’re lucky, though, you might see something bigger than a lizard or a ground squirrel. I once saw a fox…although at first, I have to admit, I thought it was a very short and very fluffy red dog. (Yeah, my eyes aren’t the best.)
Of course, if you do go hiking in the desert looking for wildlife, just be sure to watch out for rattlesnakes. They’re shy creatures, but you don’t want to surprise one if you can help it. One time, a group of friends and I were hiking in the desert around Tucson. We had just stopped for a little water break, when suddenly, we all heard rattling. Of course, being from the midwest, I didn’t realize it was rattling. To me, it sounded more like rustling…as in rustling leaves. I remember thinking – Hey, wait a minute…there are no leaves up here…there aren’t even any trees…where’s that noise coming from? And that’s when we all saw it at the same time.
(Boy, let me tell you, you never know how high and how fast you can jump until you come across a rattlesnake!)
Luckily, though, most of my encounters with wildlife have not been that exciting. Sometimes, they’re even kind of funny. For example, another time when I was hiking on South Mountain, I kept hearing this “mewing” noise. I thought for sure that a little kitten, or maybe even a little bobcat, must have gotten stranded on the trail, so I started looking high and low. But no matter how hard I looked, I just could’t find the source of the mewing.
Finally, I heard the mew again…and this time, it came from high above me, on a cliff top. I looked up and expected to see a cat of some kind perched up there, but the only thing that was perched up there was a very large bird, possibly a hawk. I looked at it again, thinking that surely this couldn’t be what had been mewing at me for the last half an hour… could it? And then it looked right into my eyes, mewed at me, and flew off. (I think it was laughing at me.)
I was feeling pretty stupid until I stopped and thought….Oh, wait a minute! That must have been a kitty hawk!
Waterfowl...in the middle of the desert
If desert landscapes aren’t your thing, and you’d rather hang out around the water, don’t worry, because there are quite a few parks around town with artificial lakes. There, you can see plenty of ducks, geese, herons, and even swans.
Here are a couple of swans that hang out on a little lake near where my parents live. They’re beautiful, but I call them them the “zombie swans,” because about 30 seconds after I took the photo, someone stopped and told me to be very careful. When I asked him why, he told me that the male swan was very aggressive and had just attacked a guy and almost eaten his face off the previous weekend! And that is when I dubbed them the zombie swans. Dangerous wildlife indeed.
Another one of my favorite places to watch the birds is along the “greenbelt” in Scottsdale. One day this happy group of geese just swam up to greet me at Indian Bend Park, which is one of the many parks along the greenbelt. All I can say is that I’m glad I had my camera with me, because I’ve heard of geese flying in formation…but I’ve never heard of them swimming in formation!
There’s also a Riparian Wetland Preserve in Gilbert (a suburb of Phoenix) where you can find tons of turtles and other wildlife. (Although, to be honest, I’m not sure if you can actually call turtles “wildlife.”) However, I did get this great photo of two turtles “kissing” in the middle of the pond, surrounded by a school of fish. (Who would have ever thought turtles could be so affectionate? Not me.)
A word of warning about hiking with small dogs …
If my stories about the rattlesnake and the zombie swans didn’t scare you away yet, let me give you one more quick little warning. If you take small dogs with you on your walks or hikes around South Mountain, be sure to watch for coyotes, especially early in the morning hours. Coyotes rarely ever approach humans, but they have been known to go after small dogs every now and then.
I know, I know, I never believed that, either, until one time I took my dog out for a really early morning walk, and I saw this large dog, scruffy dog coming out of a nearby wash. As he headed straight towards us, I remember thinking, Oh, great….a big dog off a leash. I hope he’s friendly. But then I realized that the large, scruffy dog was actually a coyote…and he was eyeing my little 15 pound dog like it was an appetizer. Uh, oh.
I wasn’t sure what to do, so I tried to scare it away by yelling and screaming, stomping my feet, and waving my arms around like a crazy woman. Well, let me tell you…that did’t work. The coyote pretty much ignored me, and kept slinking ever so slowly, closer and closer towards my dog. Not knowing what else to do, I finally just grabbed her and got ready run.
Luckily, a car drove by right then and there and scared the coyote away. Whew!
Wildlife in Tucson
The only other time I came close being around large wildlife in Arizona was also by accident, when I was living in the foothills of Tucson. I walked out of my apartment one morning and headed out towards my car – only to find a family of five javelinas had gotten there first. Now, if you don’t know what a javelina is, let me tell you, it looks a lot like a wild boar. So, needless to say, I was late to work that day.
In any case, the desert is full of wildlife, and if you like animals, but don’t feel like driving all the way out into the wilderness to see them, here are my favorite three places in Phoenix to find them:
- Pyramid Trail (on the south side of South Mountain) – in Ahwatukee / Phoenix. There is little parking lot on Chandler Ave Rd, around 10th Ave.
- The Riparian Preserve – in Gilbert, near Guadalupe and Greenfield Rd.
- Indian Bend Park along the greenbelt – in Scottsdale, at Hayden and Indian Bend Rd