P003314.jpg (29042 bytes)Roadrunners are a ubiquitous part of the Southwestern landscape. They are large (2' long) handsomely appointed birds that are about as swift as the Roadrunner-Coyote cartoon would lead you to believe. They are certainly not very common, so you should count yourself lucky if you see one.  They are clearly built for speed and when you see one, it is likely to be tearing down the road. Their coloration and marking make for excellent camouflage. Contrary to popular belief, they are able fliers. However, when you can do 30 mph and dinner is on the ground, why bother?

Find the roadrunner!

P003315.jpg (24820 bytes)Coyotes are also common to the southwest. There are a lot of them, but you rarely see them. They are very intelligent, are continually in conflict with man, and their range has spread throughout the US in recent years. In spite of the conflict, they have adapted very well to us. They look like smallish, mangy German Shepherds. They frequently hunt as a mating pair. A few years ago a woman in Sante Fe was washing her dishes while her two small dogs were in the back yard. As she watched a coyote leaped the wall, snatched one and disappeared. As she prepared to race to the door, a second coyote came over and snatched the second dog and was gone. I guess when new construction infringes on their territory, they just consider it stocking the pond. In some areas, it is impossible to keep outdoor cats.

In Los Alamos in 1995, there was apparently a coyote that lived near the post office and a bear near the public library. There have been coyote attacks on small children. When the coyotes would tune up at night, it would drive the dogs crazy and you could hear dogs all over the town.

P003367.jpg (41324 bytes)Chipmunks or  closely related ground squirrels are the beggars of the parks. You are not supposed to feed them, but into the tourists season, they are sleek, well feed and totally fearless. The pictures are of a Golden Manteled Ground Squirrel.

Ravens. The other creature you really notice in the West are the Ravens. In the Jemez Mountains around Los Alamos they are numerous, bold, huge, noisy, intelligent, and ugly up close. But not ugly in the air where they are kings of the sky. A beautiful sight is one or more ravens exploiting the air. They love to play off of the thermals rising from the cliffs. When I would go into work in the morning in Los Alamos, there was frequently a spiral of ravens rising on the thermal coming off of the canyon. A free ride to cruising altitude. As the thermal would drift across the city, the rising column would float with it. They are playful. They will roll and bank off the sides of the cliff. My wife once saw a cruising raven acting strangely. He had a brightly colored candy wrapper, would drop it, let it float down for a while, then go into a power dive, snap it out of the air, and catch a thermal to get up to altitude; then he would repeat the entire process. He would even do a roll and snap it out of the air as he went under it.

Their mastery of the air is breathtaking. To us air is clear and intangible. To them the sky is a substantial roadway filled with canyons, cliffs, ruts, and paths. I once saw a raven flying into about a 20-30 mph wind. You could watch him tracking the path of least resistance, diving, rising, cutting, turning. Always exploiting the air. In spite of the wind, he was making good time and only having to flap his wings occasionally --less so than most birds would do in still air!

humming.jpg (13571 bytes)Humming Birds are another staple at many places where they will put out many feeders to attract these aggressive, colorful, entertaining acrobats. In Georgetown, CO many of the stores have feeder and you have to practically  cut your way through the birds at times. In Mt Carmel Junction where these pictures were taken, the restaurant had several feeders and we were entertained throughout diner by their antics. As an aside, I have seen an irrate humming bird chase every squirrel and other bird out of our backyard!

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Lizards are very common and you will see them in all shapes and sized. A common type is New Mexico is the handsomely marked "Blue Tail" named after its long blue tail. They also have break-away tail that will continue to wiggle long after it is detached--very useful when it is grabbed by a predator. Don't even think about catching one, unless you are exceptionly quick. The are fast. Another common desert lizard is the "horney toad" which have sharp hard horns and serrated edges to make the less apealing dinner fare.

P003431.jpg (38308 bytes)Cougars (Mountain Lions) and Lynx are increasingly common, especially since the cougars became protected. Both are very secretive and you will be exceptionally lucky to see one--preferrably at a distance since cougars have been known to attack and kill humans (its rare since you don't look much like a deer). My wife saw a lynx outside Grand Canyon, and a cougar here in Virginia--long before the State acknowledged they actually existed. The cougar shown here was a huge 185 pound one mounted in the hotel in Ruby City, UT near Bryce Canyon.

Bears are common in some of the parks and they   generate the same problems out there as here. They raid the garbage and can damage cars if you leave food around. If you backpack, follow the rules scrupulously about the treatment of food or you could end up with a shredded tent or pack.

Deer, Elk, and Antelope are all over.  One of the Spring activities in Los Alamos was to go out and watch the Elk migrate to higher pasture. They are BIG and you will instantly recognize them by their light colored rumps. I once saw one saunter up to a barbed wire cattle fence and with no run jump over like it wasn't even there! They winter down around Los Alamos and a friend of mine would have elk in his front yard at night. The deer you will see are Mule deer. These fine looking animals are characterized by by huge, mule-like ears. I have never seen antelope in the Southwest, but they are apparenly common in some areas. If you visit Trinity Site near Soccorro, NM, you are warned to watch for these swift animals darting into the road--the middle of the desert, you can see for miles, and they will find the only car in 100 miles.