The day held a treasure chest of wonders, left ajar.
Here, the Bighorn Sheep Society used the almost mythological curl of the second biggest set of desert bighorn sheep horns ever found to help promote its long, brilliantly successful effort to stave off extinction for the nimble desert sheep. Arriving settlers nearly exterminated the remarkable creatures, since they tended to pose for hunters on rocky pinnacles. Their habit of taking the high ground and scanning the landscape with binocular vision worked fine on mountain lions but not so well against rifles. The desert sheep can go without water for weeks or months and lose 30 percent of their body weight to dehydration without harm. They went from a single small herd in the Kofa Mountains to about 6,000 animals statewide, thanks to relocation efforts.
Just down the way, the nature browsers discovered a vulture, a peregrine falcon, a great horned owl, a night-crowned heron and a Harris hawk, all doing their PR stint as rehab birds brought up from the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Phoenix.
Turns out Harris hawks mate for life, hunt cooperatively and form extended family groups to raise their children.
Black-crowned night herons also willingly raise the chicks of other herons. Great horned owls sit in trees through the long nights hooting, a tactic intended to freak out mice and rabbits so the poor fools make a break for it, crashing through the brush so the owls can zero in. If that doesn’t work, those master predator can always eat a cat.
The peregrine falcons are the fastest creatures on the planet, reaching speeds in excess of 220 miles an hour in a dive. They hit their mostly feathered prey so hard with their shock-absorber legs that the impact is almost instantly fatal. One of the great wildlife success stories, the peregrines clawed their way back from extinction once we banned the eggshell thinning pesticide DDT.
Then, of course, you have the remarkably adaptable and remarkably repulsive turkey vulture, the bane of bird biologists. They migrate across two continents, wintering in the tropics and fanning out across the Southwest come summer, when we have enough dead things to sustain their dainty eating habits. They pee on their own legs to cool down and projectile vomit as a defense mechanism, which makes one suspicious of any wildlife biologists who would volunteer to study them.
It went on and on like that from one booth to the next. Here — feel — which patch of fur is fox — bobcat — coyote. Ah, here, cast a fishing lure and snag a plastic fish. No, wait, snug into a life vest and paddle out onto Green Valley Lake. Back already? Then come look at the fierce-eyed, hook-beaked red-tailed hawks or hear the story of the poacher who shot a giant elk over his backyard fence.
But don’t forget: If there’s a really, really cute girl you want to impress — don’t miss the alligator.