Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

July 8, 2009

Gila Monster

Filed under: behavior, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, curiosities, favorite places, light, Non Birds — richditch @ 2:25 pm
Gila Monster at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Gila Monster at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

One of the very few compensations for the brutally high temperatures of the Arizona summer (we’re supposed to reach 114 degrees on Saturday and 115 on Sunday) is the chance to see a lot of snakes and lizards. My previous post here was of a Coachwhip snake that spent a short period in our back yard. Today’s post is something a lot easier to correctly identify, but also something less often seen: a Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum).

The Gila Monster is the only poisonous lizard in the United States. It is large, and its movements are lumbering (especially compared to the blazing movements of the smaller common lizards). They are plump and brightly colored – unmistakable when seen. But they spend most of their time in underground burrows, and when they are out it is often at night, so they are rarely seen. In my 15 years now in AZ this is my sixth, and it was a real treat to see on Sunday July 5, 2009 at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. By the way, all six of my sightings have been at Boyce.

After three weeks of other commitments that kept me away from any photography I forced myself out in the heat to have some exercise and rejuvenate my spirits. I chose Boyce as my destination, rather than the closer Gilbert Water Ranch, as I knew it would be a bit cooler and there’s be trees to block out a lot of the direct sun.

I had modest success in seeing some birds, but only took a few photos of a Yellow Warbler bathing in a puddle. And the setting was unphotogenic so I haven’t yet  bothered to transfer the shots from my camera to my Mac.

After a couple hours of walking and watching, I returned to my car in the parking lot and packed up my gear: the D200 with 300/2.8 and 2x into its traveling compartment; the large Gitzo tripod folded and stowed with the gimbal head removed; the waist pack of extra gear in the trunk. But I kept the D70 with 55-200 lens mounted on the front passenger seat “just in case” as I always do.

I was ready to back out of the parking spot when one of the garden staff rushed over and told me they’d just spotted a Gila Monster. So I shut off the car and grabbed the D70/55-200 and rushed over to see it. It had already moved into a covered trench where a motorized gate allows access to a lower parking area, so I didn’t have as clean of a view as I would have liked. But it certainly was worth rushing over to see. If I’d have needed more time to get camera gear ready I probably would have been too late to even see it.

D70, 55-200 @ 95mm, ISO 400, 1/250th at f/5, flash.

For more information about Gila Monsters (and better photos) see the Reptiles of Arizona web site entry.

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1 Comment »

  1. That looks just like the spot at the Arboretum where I’ve spotted one, twice. (I didn’t have a camera one of the times.) That accounts for two of my three sightings since moving to Arizona in 1986.

    Good shot here. Way to go getting out and about — I’ve got to make myself do the same. It’s easy to stay in and get cabin fever in AZ in the summer.

    Comment by AZ Writer (Kimberly Hosey) — July 8, 2009 @ 11:24 pm


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