Mojave Max, the desert tortoise, emerged from his burrow on March 29, so it must be spring. Granted that the spring arrival is a little late this year due to lingering cool temperatures, still it is welcomed with no less enthusiasm. Max’s girlfriends emerged a few weeks earlier, but Max has the official word. Mojave Max has been the Mojave Desert’s version of the groundhog for many years and lives at Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas. The incumbent is the second in a line of Mojave Maxes that will likely go on into the future.
This last week of March is the first week that temperatures have been consistently over 70 degrees F. The fierce ides of March have finally subsided as well, enticing humans and wildlife alike to get out and get active.
In the garden, honeysuckle is blooming and spring bulbs are developing flowerspikes for their spring show. It’s the time for planting annuals that will flower until the temperatures get really hot. The trees are leafing out and fruit trees have already bloomed. It’s definitely the time for allergies! The pollen of ash and mulberry trees, among others, causes many people misery throughout the spring. You can always go to your allergist and have a panel done to see exactly what you are allergic to. It won’t allow you to prevent the allergies, but at least you can plan for them. There’s a holistic treatment that contains the pollen of common Las Vegas irritants, called the Las Vegas Mix. It depends on the individual to decide if it builds immunity.
Meanwhile, bees are about, along with no-see-ums and aphids. Feeding on the aphids, which seem to have a variety for every plant, are the ladybug larvae that look like little dragons. With the insects come the lizards, seen in the daytime feeding on the fresh food source. They may slip back into cracks and crevices if the warmth is not prolonged. The snakes will be out a little later, when temperatures are warm enough for them to stay out at night and when larger food items are active. Rodents that hibernate come out when plants begin growing again, feeding on new growth and leftover seeds from the winter. Of course the larger mammals (foxes, bobcat, bighorn sheep, deer, cougar) are active year-round, but certainly spring is a time when they have more to feed on and are having young. Browsers like the bighorns and deer take advantage of new growth on wildflowers, sagebrush, ricegrass and even prickly pear cactus. Predators take advantage of the browsers! According to meteorologist Larry Jensen with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas, we haven’t had a lot of rain yet in 2011 – only 0.25” since January. A couple of light storms occurred – early spring rains that supply perennial, or woody desert plants with the moisture they need to bloom. But Jensen said we received 1.77” in December. Winter rains benefit the annual desert plants, including many wildflowers. It probably won’t be a banner year like 2010 for the bloom, but it’s still something to look forward to. Leading the display, brittlebush have begun showing and desert globemallows are just starting. Desert tortoises time their emergence from winter brumation with the blooming of the globemallows.
Birds are everywhere! It’s not uncommon to see an oriole (Bullock’s or hooded in southern Nevada) pass through yards on their way back to more northern climes, and what a brilliant sight they are – unmistakable in the still somewhat bare trees. Migratory house finches and goldfinches are back, also showing off a spot of color in the yard, and cheering us with their lilting songs. Mockingbirds, too, have returned. Hummingbirds are back and busy, getting ready for nesting season. Anna’s hummingbird is a year-long resident, and broad-tailed, black-chinned and Costa’s hummingbirds live here in the summer. The Calliope and Rufous hummingbirds are true migrants, and may be seen moving through the area. In Lincoln County, a true sign of spring is the return of the turkey vultures.
Spring can’t be taken for granted in the desert. Oftentimes it’s gone just as soon as it gets here. The transition from cold to hot is a pretty quick one. Sometimes you’ll see new leaves on the trees with the dead ones from fall still hanging on. There’s not much time for growing spring veggies. Some people say that there are really only two seasons in the desert – summer and winter. So it’s because of spring’s ephemerality that it’s such a joyous time of year – time to pack in all the activities you can do in the mild weather.