Friday, May 31, 2013

Simpson Safari – Wildlife on the plains of Marana

By Matt Griffiths

You never can tell when a “normal” day will turn into a very special one.  Jonathan and I were lucky this week when Tucson Audubon’s habitat restoration sites in Avra Valley treated us to wildlife spectacles not seen very often. Certainly most of the people cruising by in their vehicles had no idea what lives out beyond the fences!

Our field day started with a quick visit to some known Burrowing Owl sites on the Simpson Farm. We were pretty certain one owl was occupying a burrow, but we wanted to see if there were more. Sure enough, we quickly found a pair utilizing the human-made mounds and burrows, soaking up the last of the cool air before the heat of the day set in. 

Jonathan was trying to determine if we had a male and female like we surmised, when all of a sudden, a fox appeared not more than a few feet away from one of the owls! A kit fox! Suddenly again, a second fox materialized, and we were super excited now to be documenting the first sighting of these animals at the Simpson Farm. Then, just like a scene out of a Nature documentary, three more foxes jumped out of the burrow one at a time and began to play in what can only be described as the cutest scene ever witnessed in Tucson Audubon habitat restoration history!

It looked like we had an adult (the mother?) who was on constant alert and four pups never more than 10 meters away from the two Burrowing Owls. Who says the two don’t mix? The scene of owls and foxes in one binocular view was too much for us; we couldn’t look away. At least for me it was too much, I was looking through the binoculars for so long I began to feel sick.

Next we were off to the Martin Farm to water the recently planted Tumamoc globeberries up in the creosote flats. Then Jonathan discovered more Gila monster tracks in the same place he found some last week. We have an active monster on site! The large belly drag and dimpled foot prints are unmistakable. We quickly found fresh tracks all over the place but couldn’t really trace them to a burrow. With just a bit of luck, someone will probably get to see this Gila monster soon!

Thoroughly excited with how this day was turning out, we then went back to Simpson to tackle some more tasks. On the way in we then spotted a Peregrine Falcon that looked like some sort of seabird, it was so fat and stocky. Rodd and I had seen one the previous week chasing down White-winged Doves. Maybe it was the same one returning for another snack?

Then, last, but certainly not least, on the way out of the site Jonathan yells at me to stop driving the Ranger. “Badger, badger!” What? It can’t be. Next thing I know he’s off crashing through the tamarisk and mesquite and has found the animal playing dead under the trees. We get great looks, photos and even video! It shows us its massive claws and beautiful coat, then waddles off the way only badgers do. 

Playing "dead"

When we get back to the office, Jonathan and I are both excitedly telling our story to different people, and everyone is amazed. What a day of great wildlife. And I’ve said nothing of the countless birds we saw and heard along the river, the giant iguanas, fish in the river, cottonwood and willow pole plantings doing well, but not one snake. How can that be?


  1. I love the Gila monster imprint in the sand!

  2. How lucky can you be?? What an amazing wildlife day! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Amazing!! You guys deserve to have experiences like this, considering the long hours you put in under intense field conditions.

  4. Wow! What an incredible wildlife adventure. Any one of those sightings would have made my day. Thanks for sharing!


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