Strolling along a small arroyo in a light rain recently, I experienced my yearly monsoonal “fig beetle fakeout.” These comely insects flash iridescent green in their hard outer wing coverings, rendering them a welcome and attractive sight. It was the buzz of their inner flight wings, however, that got my attention. The sound was just like that of a gargantuan tarantula hawk, those giant wasps that purportedly can sting the &%$#@ out of you. I deftly ducked the would-be assassin. Within seconds I realized the folly of my knee-jerk identification, my naturalist skills superseded by an understandable instinct for self-preservation. Welcome to monsoon season, Vince!
This is by far my favorite time of the year in our Sky Islands region. The sometimes torrential and always welcome rains of summer bring countless changes to our otherwise sere southeastern sector.
July harbors many attractions. You may see your first tarantula or rattler, toads and frogs breed, and tiny ants fly. Truly, though, the amazing transformations wrought by monsoon moisture are best experienced in August. By then las aguas have had ample time to work their collective magic, and in the relative blink of an eye it starts to feel subtropical.
Instead of California poppies we have summer poppies. Never mind that the latter are actually placed in the Caltrop Family and thus are more closely related to Creosote Bush. Their unabashed orange petals complement the verdancy of August. Creeping up seemingly every mesquite and cat claw acacia in our parts are a fine array of morning glory species in pink, red, blue, violet , candy stripes and white. Did I miss any? Regardless, all are distinctly tubular and attract moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
High on the list of dramatic appearances are our nectar-feeding bats: Mexican long-tongued and lesser long-nosed bats. Rather than echo-locating like most bats, they apparently use scent to locate their nectar and occasional insect meals. Botteri’s and Cassin’s Sparrows are breeding, their artful songs spurred by the first serious rains. Botteri’s are a bit of a Sky Islands specialty, found only in this corner of the U.S.
A host of diverse and Invertebrates love it here in August. Click beetles, army ants, robber flies, an armada of grasshoppers, nozzleheaded termites, giant mesquite bugs, water scorpions….the list goes on. Throw in a few double rainbows and some serious bird migration and you may begin to understand why I think August is our best kept secret.
Many people bug out to latitudes where they think it will be “nicer.” “Adios,” I say. You’re not a real Arizonan unless you live here in all seasons. Too hot, too dry, too humid? No. Just right. In fact—no offense to any of us intended—fewer sightings of homosapiens are yet another reason to embrace monsoon season!
Vincent Pinto and his wife, Claudia, run RAVENS-WAY WILD JOURNEYS. They offer local tours dedicated to the preservation of the incredible biodiversity in the Sky Islands.