2012 June – Nature’s Summer Banquet

(cont…)

Palo Verde Pods

Palo Verde Pods

A healthy number do make it through, and our populations of native birds and mammals remain strong. Mother Nature, in all her genius, powers this summertime flush of life with a prodigious production of protein-laden food sources from native trees and cacti. When the temperatures soar in June, the fruits of the saguaro cacti swell with moisture and split open their seeded flesh. Bats, bees, flies, hummingbirds, orioles and others have already found springtime salvation in the nectar of the saguaro blooms.

Now, the moisture and nutrients provided by the fruits can be a life-or-death matter to many such as the finch, dove, verdin, black-throated sparrow, gila woodpecker and curve-billed thrasher. Mesquite trees, palo verdes, ironwoods, acacias, sennas and fairy dusters produce seeded pods in summer that are eaten on the tree, and later, when they have dried and dropped to the ground. These legumes are another powerhouse of nutrition for the desert environment. Colonies of bacteria thrive on the roots of legumes and feed nitrogen to the plants. Since this element is essential to the development of proteins, nitrogen fixing allows the trees and shrubs to produce a profusion of seeds extremely high in protein.  The bounty feeds several species each of squirrels, mice and rats.

The canopies of the trees are abuzz in the mornings and evenings with insects seeking food and shelter. Tiny green-capped verdins hop branch to branch in pursuit, and gila woodpeckers drill for borers. Nitrogen in the soil from pod and leaf drop continues to work, enriching the earth for next spring’s wildflowers, which means more nectar, more seeds, more lizards, insects, birds and small mammals. This robust cycle creates great opportunity for the desert’s impressive predators.

Diurnal raptors, including red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, Harris’s hawks and kestrels hunt from perches and from the skies in the early morning and dusk, giving the feeding grounds over to the owls as night advances. Nocturnal critters active after dark provide meals for half a dozen different species of owls, each filling a unique niche. Coyotes, foxes, bobcats, rattlesnakes and gopher snakes benefit from the abundant food pyramid based on plant proteins. Nature is an engine that generates plenty, even in the desert, even in the summer.

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