er my 22 years living in a home on the preserve in Ahwatukee, the wild critter population has changed.
In the early days, we saw a lot more reptiles. We called the Arizona Herpetological Association folks to come take rattlesnakes out of our backyards. Finally, one volunteer helpfully pointed out that our messy birdfeeder was the problem.
The seeds on the ground were attracting rodents, which were a beacon to snakes such as speckled, western diamondback and tiger rattlesnakes. We also encountered gopher snakes and one beautiful king snake that came right onto the back porch one evening.
We enjoyed seasonal visitations by chuckwallas. Big Chuck came every year to graze and hide out in the grapevine that grew profusely on the block wall. Chuck defended his territory from a younger chuckwalla in a memorable wildlife event, chasing the challenger off the wall and out of the yard. The grapevine died out some years ago and Big Chuck doesn’t come around anymore.
One morning a Sonoran Desert toad swam back and forth across the pool, faster than Michael Phelps. I scooped it out with the pool net and set it gently on the ground. It soon disappeared. I keep shallow dishes filled with water near the pool in hopes the wildlife will drink there instead.
In the early years, turkey vultures roosted on our block walls, turning their heads, so bald and red. I still see them soaring high overhead. A young great horned owl bathed in our fountain on a particularly hot June day, moving closer and closer to the trickling water until the stream was running right over his head.
Too drenched to fly, he huddled on the ground against the searing west wall for much of the day before finally taking wing.
A ringtail family had a home in the rocks on the preserve one year and we could hear them snarling and quarreling in the evenings when we sat out by the chiminea. In the moonlight their shadows scurried and chased on the boulders and ledges on the other side of the fence.
Cactus wrens pecked insects from the undersides of the patio furniture in the early years. A brazen wren came in an open door one fine morning and perched calmly on the sofa. I don’t see them around anymore. Instead, roadrunners canvas the block walls, and subsequently the number of whiptail lizards is down.
Lately I’ve seen jackrabbits while hiking on nearby desert trails. Perhaps that population has drawn the bobcats. Or maybe the bobcats have become hooked on the attraction of small pets left alone in backyards.
Walking early one morning, I saw a neighbor in her nightgown, standing drowsily inside her fenced yard with her little dog on a leash.
I feel compassion for the frightened humans, and sorrow for the small pets that have disappeared without a trace.
But for me, the rich diversity of wildlife is a big plus of living here.