Sky portrait by Ken Felsman

Phrynosoma solare



It was another twenty dollar sunset - gorgeous reds and oranges fading to blues and purples and black.  This sundown found us in the low desert northwest of Tucson.  Tonight's target: Sidewinders.

Even at dusk the low desert felt like a blast furnace.  We were off the tarmac, driving up and down several dirt roads.  Scorpions scuttled and kangaroo rats hopped past.  Small lizards skittered across in front of us.  A not so small lizard moved to one side - we stopped for a look.  It was a Regal Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma solare, a new species for us. The Regal is one of the larger species of horned lizards, and this one sported an impressive set of horns.

There's nothing like finding the animal you are looking for.  Out of the dark desert slithered a small pale form - a Sonoran Sidewinder.  Like a scene from a classic wildlife film, it 'jayed' across the loose sand and dirt, and moved quickly at that.  As we approached, we could hear the faint rasp of scales on sand.

Photography turned out to be a problem.  The hot little rattler wouldn't coil or stay still, and we lacked the plastic plant saucers that are useful as 'cover'.  Finally we tried pressing a small, light snake hook down on the serpent at midbody. This enabled us to get some head and upper body shots, at least.  To complicate things even further, the snake would work itself loose under the hook by wriggling its belly scutes and sinking into the sand!

The photo shoot over, we were content to watch the Sidewinder throw body loops forward, and hear the faint rasp of belly scutes on sand as it disappeared into the dark.


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