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"You may smell a Peccary before you see it."
- from a description of the Collared Peccary AKA "Javelina"

I thought that description might get your attention!

The Javelina is one of the most unusual-looking animals I've ever seen, right up there with wild boars I encountered on remote trails in north Georgia in the 1990s when I trained up there. They're sort of ugly in a cute kind of way. The babies (Little Peckers??) really ARE cute. Although we didn't see any very young javelinas we saw photos of some of this year's adorable babies in the visitor's center.

Although they resemble pigs, javelinas aren't in the same family as pigs, feral hogs, or wild boars. They are members of the Tayassuidae Family, while true pigs are members of the Suidae Family in the grand order of species identification. I'm going to refer to them as javelinas (the "j" is pronounced like an "h" because it is Spanish) rather than their formal name of Collared Peccary.

You can clearly see the white "collar" in this photo Jim took:

While this is probably the most unusual mammal at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, it is one of many critters that inhabit this part of the Sonoran Desert. We consider ourselves fortunate to have seen some of the wildlife that calls this area home. This entry will focus on the mammals, birds, reptiles, rodents, and other creatures found at McDowell and other units in the Maricopa County park system around Phoenix.


Jim and I have seen pictures of javelinas before but haven't encountered one in person until this visit to the park. We were both outside the camper doing chores on our second afternoon in the campground when Jim motioned for me to look in the brush nearby. Oh, my goodness! There were three javelinas approaching us!!

My first responses weren't fear and loathing but surprise and delight. What a treat! I rushed inside to get the camera (you'd expect that, wouldn't you?) and handed it to Jim because I was busy feeding the dogs and wanted to keep them as quiet as possible. According to the park manager, it was probably the smell of dog food that drew the javelinas to our campsite -- beats eating the leaves of Prickly Pear Cactus, their main source of food, I'd bet!

The javelinas were very curious about the new interlopers in their territory: two new humans and two new dogs to inspect. And maybe a snack to be had! After a few minutes they gave up hope of scoring any people or dog food and ambled off, but not before a CLOSE inspection. That's me in the pants, standing next to Tater, wondering just how close the javelina intended to get:

As you can see from the photo of Tater's butt, she was more interested in dinner than the javenlina! Cody, however, was squirming and begging to get closer. Since javelinas are infamous for their powerful, musky odor, I wonder what Cody thought of our little visitors. I never noticed an odor but Cody is an excellent tracker with a sensitive nose. Another name for Collared Peccaries is Musk Pig.

The other two javelinas didn't come up as close to the camper as this one. Jim got photos of two of them together, but not all three in the same shot. It appeared that one was smaller than the other two. It may have been an offspring. Javelinas live and travel in small family groups, although herds may be as large as fifty animals. The largest male in the group tends to be dominant. Javelinas aren't real big, though. Males weigh 40-60 pounds, less than either of our Labrador retrievers.

The name "Javelina" comes from the Spanish for "javelin" and refers to the animal's razor-sharp tusks, which are used in defense against predators. They are not dangerous to humans but will defend themselves if attacked. They can become pests in campgrounds and residential areas near their desert habitat if people feed them (similar to many kinds of wildlife). Some javelinas are kept as pets.

Peccaries live in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts of southwestern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, southward through Central America to northern Argentina. They are most active foraging -- and likely to be seen -- in desert terrain like McDowell Park during the morning or evening when it is cooler. They aren't able to dissipate heat in their bodies through panting so they seek cool places to sleep in the shade during the day. They also tend to live near permanent sources of water and would be more easily spotted in that type of environment.

Javelinas are primarily herbivorous. Their favorite food is Prickly Pear Cactus, with its high water content. Now I know why we saw more of this type of cactus in residential and business areas than in the park -- the javelinas have probably eaten a lot of it at McDowell. (There is a photo of Prickly Pear "leaves" below; you can see other pictures of this type of cactus in the previous entry and the next one.) Javelinas supplement their diet with berries, fruits, bulbs, grasses, nuts, insects, worms, reptiles -- and apparently dog food when they can get it!

Colorful variety of Prickly Pear Cactus near Granite Tank

To my dismay that was the only day we saw any javelinas. If they paid any repeat visits to us at the campground, we were unaware of their presence. We never did see any of them out on the trails, either.

This is one of the websites I checked for information about javelinas. Just use a search engine if you want more information about them than you can find here: http://www.desertusa.com/magnov97/nov_pap/du_collpecc.html

I wonder if finishers of the Javelina Jundred still receive furry javelina puppets like Geri Kilgariff handed out when she directed the race? Very cute!


You wouldn't think the harsh Sonoran Desert environment would support a lot of mammals, but you'd be surprised how adaptable various species can be. Take white-tailed and mule deer, for instance. They live in a wide variety of climates and terrain, including this arid desert. So do coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, kit and gray foxes, cottontail and jack rabbits, raccoons, badgers, gophers, ringtails, and several kinds of skunks, squirrels, bats, and mice. There are even some bighorn sheep and exotic burros in one of more of the Maricopa County parks. Even though there aren't a lot of water sources at McDowell Mountain Park, there is a wide enough variety of flora and other fauna below each animal on the food chain to allow them to survive here.

From the list above the only other animals either one of us has seen are jack rabbits and a curious coyote (below) that visited our camper several different days, usually late afternoons. He was probably hoping for a handout, too!

Curious coyote

This coyote, or perhaps more than one, visited us several times. I took these photos from inside the camper because I was afraid he/they would run away if I opened the door and walked outside.



Sue just (accidentally) learned a new trick with PhotoShop!

Then there are the "wild horses" at McDowell Park -- not. There are horses on the northern side, but they've simply wandered in from nearby unfenced ranches to dine on the grasses in the park. Then they go back home.

I was happy to find a group of five or six horses munching away inside the Pemberton Trail loop near Cedar Tank and the158th Street Spur a few days ago when I was doing a long run with Cody. He's cool with horses and cows, and they never seem bothered by him, so I didn't put him on his leash as we went by. I took several photos of the horses, then continued up the trail toward Granite Tank.

Oops! About five minutes later I realized I'd taken all the previous photos on the wrong camera setting (sports composite, which puts 16 sequential frames into one picture). AAARGH!  I really wanted some good horse shots, so I ran back down to Cedar Tank to get more pictures. The horses had moved into and past the "tank" by then (closer to their ranch home):

Fortunately, when I downloaded the original shots to the computer I was able to select parts of some of the composites that were OK, just small.

This is a good view of most of the McDowell Mountain Range.



Let's be honest. Jim and I are not big fans of most reptiles, particularly poisonous snakes. (See our 2006 journal for one good reason!) So we were real glad we didn't see any rattlesnakes at McDowell Mountain Park. They are there, of course, we just didn't see any live ones except the ones held captive in glass thanks in the visitors' center. Fine with us!

There are twenty-two different kinds of snakes found in the Maricopa County Regional Park system, including the McDowell Mountain unit. Some sound like they are regional varieties (such as the Sonoran coral, gopher, and whip snakes), while others are commonly found in other areas of the country, too (e.g., sidewinders and western diamondbacks).

It would have been more fun to see some of the sixteen kinds of lizards (like geckos, iquanas, and gila monsters), ten kinds of frogs, three kinds of turtles, or a tiger salamandar. There are some of these species in the visitors' center but all we saw out in the desert were their tracks. Nor did we see any of the numerous kinds of insects and spiders that call McDowell their home.


We had a bit more luck seeing (and hearing) birds. I don't know what kind of birds lived in the shrubs and trees near our camper, but they were quite verbal some mornings and evenings. We saw roadrunners skittering near the trail, and various hawks and vultures flying overhead. The Maricopa County Parks and Rec brochure lists about 150 kinds of birds in the park system; it's a birder's paradise all year long because many of the birds are as far south as they need to be during the winter.

We've learned from other RVers that it's a good idea to carry our hummingbird feeders with us when we go camping because the little guys frequent so many different places in the U.S. The Sonoran Desert is no exception. Four varieties pass through or live in the Phoenix area: Anna'a, Broad-billed, Crista's, and Rufous. Anna's don't fly to Central or South America in the winter -- they are perfectly happy to remain all year in the U.S. and Canada.

The first hummer found our feeder a few hours after Jim hung it up. Unfortunately, the feeder was next to a window that was 1) screened (i.e., not so great for taking pictures) and 2) on the windy west side of the camper. It kept banging on the side of the camper until Jim moved it.

Here are two of the photos I took of an Anna's hummingbird through the screen and glass:


However, those photos are more clear than the ones I got of another hummer several days later after Jim moved the feeder to the less windy but shaded side of the camper - no window screen but the bird was in silhouette and now I don't remember what color it was to identify the species! It was not the Anna's hummingbird. But I like the silhouette effect in the photos, which show the blurred movement of the bird's wings:


This website has good photos and identifying information about hummingbirds: http://www.hummingbirds.net/

It's such a joy to quietly watch wildlife, whether it's out on the trails somewhere, at our campsite, or on our wooded property in Virginia. Enjoy those moments, wherever you are!

Next entry: Saguaros and Creosote and Chollas, oh, my -- the variety of flora in the park

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil