Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Monday, September 19, 2016


"900," An Adult Male

We were a couple of hours into our slow morning trek across the sonoran desert hillside, over boulders, through mesquite thickets and across washes.  I was feeling increasingly unlucky or unskilled at finding our quarry, or maybe both.  Whenever anyone else found a desert tortoise they’d yell for the scientists who (along with several others, including me) would head straight there.  

The photo opportunities were great.  Not only are the tortoises fascinating creatures, but they move rather slowly compared to many other species of Arizona wildlife, simplifying the photography. 

My husband met Cristina Jones, the Turtle Biologist with Arizona Game and Fish, in Las Vegas. They were on an airport shuttle headed for their respective conferences and he has never met a stranger.  When he learned what she does, he saw an opportunity for me to photograph and learn about the tortoises and he knew I’d love that.   In fact, volunteers are welcome at monthly surveys in the summer months at the research site.  I joined one last Friday.

Who knew?  There’s a desert tortoise study area northeast of Phoenix.  Apparently over 300 individuals have been identified in this relatively small area.

G & F keeps data on all the animals found
Cristina is enthusiastic and fun, and was endlessly patient with my questions.

72.  Unflappable.
The oldest individual we saw was particularly calm.  She was likely 50-60 years old.  After the measuring, weighing, and evaluating were done, I had 45 minutes or so alone with number 72.  I thought perhaps if I kept still she’d be relaxed and move around a bit more.  She did, in fact, get comfortable, and went right to sleep.  She never did stick her head out.

900, on the other hand, was looking for a shady spot under my legs and camera bag.  I’d back up so I could focus on him and he’d keep coming, but I found him particularly photogenic.  

The Juvenile
My luck did eventually change when I narrowly avoided stepping on a juvenile, about 5 years old.  He or she (too early to call) was energetic as youngsters often are.  Unscientific as it was, I couldn’t resist calling this one “cute,” though he or she was tough to photograph.

Other wildlife sightings are common out there.  Though we didn’t see a Gila Monster, there were several rattlesnakes.

More images from the Tortoise Survey (including the snake) are in the Wildlife Gallery on the website.

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