Hawks and a year in the desert

The joys of living among
exotic wildlife

harris hawkI was headed down my sandy street when I spied them: two enormous hawks balanced precariously on the little Ranch Road street sign. One faced south, one faced north – at eye-level, just a few feet away from me. The white tail patches identified them as Harris’s hawks, a local bird with a four-foot wingspan that doesn’t share the solitary habits of most raptors. They often hunt cooperatively and I’ve seen them flying in pairs or trios in the skies over our land – but never before at such close hand.

They were a first anniversary present, since the duo appeared on the exact date of our move to Cave Creek one year earlier. That coincidence prompted me to tally up some of the more exotic gifts of wildlife we’ve had in these past 12 months.

One mountain lion. I’m fudging a bit here, since I spotted it while house hunting. But we wound up buying just a mile away so I feel justified in counting this sighting as the first and most amazing gift. In broad daylight, in a development just off Lone Mountain Road, a large tawny cat with a long tail (black tip) melted into the brush about 20 feet from where I stood. I learned later this was a very rare glimpse of a shy desert resident, despite the fact that Arizona has one of the largest populations of the cat.

Three coyotes. We hear the serenade every night and have seen dozens over the course of this year, but these three actually came right onto the back patio. A pair appeared about noon on our moving-in day, trotting up close to identify the new resident aromas: two humans, one dog. They’ve kept their distance since (except for a handsome adolescent in spring), but for a time I was anxious about the safety of our pet because our neighbors related dire tales (mostly hearsay) of attacks on small dogs. Library research confirmed that coyotes are opportunists rather than aggressors, so now we just make sure Scout isn’t out at night on his own. However, could the coyotes be stealing his toys? His favorite teddy bear has disappeared and another was discovered in the brush about six feet beyond our fence!

Two tarantulas. The first ignored me as it crept slowly across our driveway. When a second one appeared on our doorstep, I touched it gently on its furry, protruding posterior, expecting it to scurry away. However, when it spun around and reared up with waving legs, I was the one who took a big jump back! I now know male tarantulas are prowling for females on August nights and will almost never bite, but they can certainly put on a pretty impressive show.

great horned owlOne Great Horned owl. Against a pearly evening sky, I saw a huge bird land atop a saguaro next to our house. I cautiously inched my way to the base of the cactus, fearing any moment the bird would take fright and fly away. I needn’t have worried. Its perch was a few feet above my head now and I could plainly see the large ear tufts and white throat, and I even met the owl’s yellow gaze as it briefly glanced down and dismissed me and the dog as unworthy of serious interest.

Two rattlesnakes. The smaller reptile in May was efficiently whisked away by Rural/Metro. The larger September visitor was draped across our doorstep as Scout and I set out for our nightly stroll. Before I knew it, the dog was on one side of the snake and I was on the other – with the leash stretched tightly between. For a split second I considered the consequences of calling Scout back. Then I remembered that rattlesnakes are rarely aggressive (according to books), so I took a deep breath and stepped gingerly over the snake, which stayed still and watched this entire procedure. Safely on the other side, it dawned on me that this door was also the only way back into the house! We took an especially long walk that evening, as you can imagine, but when we reluctantly returned the rattler had obligingly moved a few feet to the side and simply observed us tiptoe past. Whew!

One bufo toad. I thought it was a crumpled green garden glove – until it hopped. I knew just enough about the Sonoran Desert Toad (Bufo alvarius) to be upset at finding this big, ugly specimen in our garage. Hitting the books once again, I discovered our neighbors’ pools probably attracted it, and that the nerve toxin exuded by its skin could be fatal to dogs. (Emergency action: rinse out the pet’s mouth and rush to the vet.) Luckily, I haven’t seen another.

Many other less dramatic but interesting visitors. The Gambel’s quail that chatter in the bushes beside the house, the desert cottontails who brazenly snack on my geraniums, the self-important cardinals and cheeky cactus wrens, the family of packrats (white-throated wood rats) that treats our car as a storage bin for mesquite pods, the chunky collared lizards who sunbathe on our rocks.

With all this abundance, there are still desert creatures I’m hoping to observe in the future: javelinas, bats, jackrabbits, ringtail cats, gila monsters. I’m also looking forward to learning more about the scorpions and lizards that share our acre. And I’m very eager to see what gift Cave Creek anniversary number two will bring!

Photos by Dave Mills

NOVEMBER 16, 2011

Arizona Foundation for Women donates $278,500 to 18 Valley Non-Profit Organizations

PHOENIX – Jodi Liggett, Chief Executive Officer of the Arizona Foundation for Women (AFW), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that invests in and promotes innovative solutions to fulfill the unmet needs of Arizona’s women and children, proudly announced today that 18 Valley organizations will receive $278,500 to carry out the mission of the organization. “We are absolutely thrilled to be able to contribute such a substantial amount in these difficult economic times to help these worthy organizations carry out their important work,” said Liggett.

There are a number of separate funds managed by the Arizona Foundation for Women that provided the grants this year. The Deborah G. Carstens Grant Fund and the AFW General Grant Fund support organizations that motivate and empower women and girls to take responsibility for their economic lives by developing skills, building self-esteem and identifying challenges that impede their success. The following organizations were awarded grants:
deborah carstens grant fund

In addition, the Kids Are Not for Sale in Arizona Grant Fund was created in response to the fact that the State of Arizona is the second “worst” state in the nation with respect to human trafficking, particularly the sexual trafficking of young girls. Arizona is a source, destination, and transit state for human traffickers, who’s “business” thrives in the cities, rural areas, and along interstate highways in Arizona. This fund supports efforts to end child prostitution in Arizona and help sex trafficking victims, was awarded to six groups that have programs that support this mission.

kids are not for sale grant fund

AFW General Grant Fund The Arizona Foundation for Women has made a $50,000 donation to the Parachute Fund, which is a program run by the Diane Halle Center for Family Justice at Arizona State University to provide critical emergency funds to victims of domestic violence.  These funds directly assist in providing food, shelter, medical and legal assistance to women and children in immediate crisis.

The Arizona Foundation for Women works to enhance the lives of women and children by investing in innovative solutions to society’s most critical challenges. The Foundation addresses three interrelated areas of strategic focus: Safety, Health, and Economic security (SHE). These priorities form the foundation of the SHE Counts!® movement, in which research, funding, convening, and advocacy are all aligned toward common goals. To fund its activities and grant-making, the Foundation hosts the Sandra Day O’Connor Awards Luncheon each year. For more information, visit