Harbingers of Spring
The weather in southeastern Arizona has gotten much warmer recently and there are a lot of signs of spring everywhere. Cottonwood trees are beginning to put out leaves, Brittlebush is in bloom, and I even see a few buds on some cactus. It’s at least possible that our winter will end early this year.
One sign of spring is the sudden appearance and activity of Round-tailed Ground Squirrels. These little squirrels are common wherever one finds flat soil. They show up in among a gazillion other places, the agricultural flatlands of Arizona, in the desert at Sabino Canyon, and in the landscaped strips of suburban shopping malls. They sort of mimic prairie dogs in appearance although they are much smaller than prairie dogs. They also mimic prairie dogs in their tendency to dig burrows and to live in colonies, although they are not truly social animals like prairie dogs.
Round-tailed Ground Squirrels are dormant during periods of extreme heat and cold. One doesn’t see these animals during the hottest months or during the coldest part of the winter. But, temperate weather really brings them out and then, as if by magic, they seem to be everywhere. I photographed these two animals recently in the parking area at Sweetwater Wetlands.
One of these little squirrels could easily sit in the palm of your hand. I find them — with their enormous eyes — to be irresistibly cute. They kind of remind me of animals from a Disney cartoon.
As far as I know these animals are utterly harmless. They don’t do much damage to vegetation and their burrows are minor nuisances at most. They are, however, an important source of food for predators. Several species of raptor, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and bobcats all prey on these little squirrels.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture priority setting. The first image shot at ISO 200, f6.3 @ 1/1250, the second at ISO 640, f5 @ 1/6000.