One of the best things about living in the wildland-urban interface of the Central Arizona Highlands is the opportunity for wildlife encounters. Whether we are hiking the trails or out in the yard, there is always the potential to meet one of our wild neighbors. By remembering that this was their home before it was ours, and by observing a few common-sense safety rules, these encounters can be exciting and rewarding.
The Central Highlands of Arizona is home to a variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. From the smallest lizard to the largest snake, from the smallest mouse to the magnificent mountain lion or black bear, from the tiniest hummingbird to the stately soaring raptors, each animal encounter can leave its human participant with a sense of wonder and good fortune.
The chances of meeting an animal on the trail can be increased in several ways. Remember that all animals, large or small, are afraid of humans. Move slowly and quietly. A baby horned lizard is no larger than a fingernail and can be easily mistaken for a bug or be unnoticed and stepped on! Lizards are small and move quickly. Snakes don’t move as fast, but they hide very well. It is exciting to see a six-foot gopher snake moving through the leaves beside the trail, but if you are not looking carefully, you’ll miss it. The only poisonous snake at the Highlands Center is the Arizona black rattlesnake, which is not particularly aggressive. If one is seen, just give it a wide berth. The babies look different from the adults. Enjoy them from a distance also. These animals are likely to be seen on the ground, but do not forget to look up from time to time.
Many species of birds are native to the Central Arizona Highlands, and others stop during migration. A good pair of binoculars will make birdwatching more enjoyable, although the easiest way to see a lot of birds is to attract them to the back yard with feeders, containing several different types of seed or suet, or both. Feeder -habituated birds tend to become used to the presence of humans and can be seen from a closer vantage. This activity is especially good for one who may have some physical challenges but still enjoys wildlife. And anyone can look to the sky at any time of day and usually see one or more of our iconic ravens soaring on the thermals. We might even see one of the native hawks, or even a bald eagle. What a thrill!
Living where we do, we may also see larger animals. It is not uncommon for people to report sightings of deer, javelina, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, rabbits, and bobcats in or around their yards. Most of these encounters will be in the early morning or evening as these animals are crepuscular or nocturnal. It is very important to be aware when driving or walking at night, because the likelihood of an encounter is increased. While we may never see a mountain lion or a bear, we can always hope—always keeping in mind safety precautions in case of the encounter. Enjoy our biodiversity!
Contributed by HCNH Naturalist Sandy Stoecker.