While much of the country experienced sub freezing temperatures and even snow, here in Central Florida it is in the 80’s. Some fall wildflowers are still in bloom including this Florida False Sunflower. It is a welcome sight, but even here, temperatures will take a dive close to freezing and most of the blossoms will succumb to the winter cold.
Anne and I did not spend enough time at Red Rock Canyon to find these hooved mammals, but there are petroglyphs of the sheep in the stone walls at the park proving their existence.
Bighorn sheep are well adapted to life in desert canyons. Though water is sparse, grazing on grasses, wildflowers and twigs provides some of the moisture these animals need to survive. They will visit watering holes every few days to drink. These sheep use their hooves and horns to pry the thorns of cacti away so they can eat the juicy insides. Bighorn sheep are diurnal (active during the day) and bed down at night. During extremely hot summer days, these animals rest during the heat of the day and eat at night.
We hope to return some time and “hunt” down these beautiful creatures and “shoot” them through the camera lens.
Many species of snakes live in the Mojave Desert in Red Rock Canyon, some are poisonous, many are harmless. A snake that you are most likely to come across during the day is the Great Basin gopher snake. This is because, unlike other species this snake is active during the day. And sure enough, I came across one during a recent trip to Red Rock.
It is a constrictor and hunts for rats, mice, rabbits and other small desert mammals and reptiles by foraging in the borrows. It often mimics a rattlesnake by shaking its tail against brush when threatened.
Despite scorching heat in the summer and sub-freezing bitter cold in the winter, there are many animals that call the Mojave Desert home. These creatures include reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds and mammals.
These animals are well adapted to this challenging ecosystem. Owls and bats become active at night when it is cooler; owls hunt for small mammals and bats eat insects or sip cacti nectar. Crepuscular wildlife, including snakes, lizards and rodents exit their day time borrows at sunrise and sunset when they are most active. Many birds leave the desert to avoid the harsh summer heat.
Noisy cactus wrens epitomize desert living. These birds rarely drink water. Insects provide nutrition and the liquid these birds need to survive. Cactus wrens forage early and late in the day when temperatures are cooler and roost in the shade of desert trees during the heat of the day.
Dark green shrubs dot the landscape at Red Rock Canyon on rocky slopes and in the canyon. These plants survive where many would die with the fierce winds, subfreezing winter temperatures, excessive summer heat and bone dry soils.
The Utah juniper is well adapted to the desert environment here. Its massive roots makes up 2/3 of the shrubs mass. Its tap-root reaches 25 feet below the surface with lateral roots that absorb what little precipitation falls.
Desert wildlife find shelter from the hot baking sun in the shade of this plant. And its berries are food for jack rabbits, foxes and birds.
If this plant looks familiar to you, it is because there are many species of juniper that grows around the world. One species is also shrub used in garden landscapes.
Several species of this cactus is common in the Mojave Desert at Red Rock Canyon. Its needle like leaves also reduces loss of moisture through transpiration and its roots are adept at collecting what little rain falls. It produces fruit eaten by big-horn sheep, chipmunks and rabbits. Birds like to nest in this shrub; it is not too spiny for birds but spiny enough to keep away predators.
It is autumn and the Mojave Desert at Red Rock Canyon is ablaze in yellow from the blooming of the Mojave Rabbitbrush shrub. When a plant has such showy flowers, it is trying to attract insects to pollinate it. Bees, flies and butterflies come to the flowers to sip nectar and in doing so the blossom’s pollen sticks to the insects. As the bugs travel from flower to flower pollen falls off and sticks on guaranteeing the seed production of the plant thus the survival of the species.