Where do Toe-biters go when it Rains?

Where Do Toe-biters Go When It Rains?

Floodbug

Curiosity is a well-known field mark of a naturalist, and I have learned to indulge my curiosity when an opportunity arises.  Some years ago, I stayed with friends in the Chiricahua Mountains of SE Arizona, one of the dramatic “sky islands” of the Southwest.  Back in the cooler, wetter Pleistocene, the forests marched across the valleys, allowing free commerce for animals and plants among the ranges.  As conditions warmed and dried, the forests retreated to higher elevations, trapping survivors on habitat islands.  Continue reading

March Madness

Anna's Hummingbird in flight

No, I am not going to pontificate on the NCAA basketball tournament in progress, though the testosterone-driven excitement around the games certainly parallels the changes that I see in the hummingbirds in my yard.  Anna’s Hummingbirds have been chasing each other around like ballistic missiles with hyperdrive all month.  When a surprising snowstorm raged through Arizona in the final two days before the vernal equinox, it was shocking to see zipping flashes of hot pink though the snowflakes.  When I would replace a feeder of frozen nectar with fresh liquid, the feisty little birds buzzed my head as if annoyed that I was not out there at the crack of dawn with sugary elixir.   Patience is not a hummingbird virtue. Continue reading

I’m a Beaver Believer

Verde River Beaver Dam

Beaver dam on Upper Verde River

So often we hear horror stories of environmental degradation.  Once in awhile we need to hear the good news, the reversal of misfortune, and I’m here to tell you one such story.  The Upper Verde River in Arizona has risen from its deathbed, and the main reason is the return of the beaver after the removal of the cows.  Join me along the banks of Granite Creek as I tell my friend Joe about my impressions of the value of beavers in restoring an ecosystem.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTlSKffiSPw&feature=youtu.be. 

Aerial Assassin

Cooper's Hawk taking flight, snowy day

Dining has its dangers.  And I don’t mean indigestion or choking on a bone.  I’m talking hazards for the local seed-eating birds—the doves, quail, sparrows, juncos, and finches that check out the seeds that I scatter on the ground each morning.

Winter’s icy chill has descended on this part of Arizona, and recent snow has frozen into a crunchy crust.  Little soil is exposed, and even the shrubs continue to bear heavy blobs of snow.  These are lean times for seed-eating birds; there is no dietary margin for error.   Find enough to eat or die. Continue reading

When Resignation Means Renewal

Autumn light, Granite Creek

A blustery stranger arrived unannounced on Friday.  The day dawned clear like so many others.  By 11 as I drove home from the college for a quick lunch, the unexpected guest had arrived, leaving the door open so that its forceful breath whipped up whitecaps on Watson Lake.  Dust and leaves swirled in its powerful exhalations.  Low clouds streamed over the rounded crests of the Bradshaw Mountains.  Winter had suddenly returned to Arizona.    Continue reading

The Call of the Wild: Are We Listening?

Deep within us we carry the genetic legacy of our distant ancestors.  When we hear the mournful howl of a wolf, there is a shiver down our spine, a surge of adrenalin that we cannot control.  We respond automatically and positively when we view a cute and cuddly creature or one of the “charismatic megafauna.”  For some people, the call of the wild has become more of a whisper, but it’s there.

Recently I gave the keynote address for the 2011 Regional Urban Wildlife Symposium sponsored by the Open Space Alliance of Yavapai County, Arizona.  Joe Phillips videotaped it and posted it on You Tube, so here it is if you want to hear and see my take on THE CALL OF THE WILD: ARE WE LISTENING?

Harris's Hawk is responding to climate warming in Arizona

Megadiversity of Moths

Oculea Moth up close. Photo by Quill Anderson

The scene:  The Madrean Sky Islands, an archipelago of dozens of mountain ranges that unify the spirits of the Rockies and the Sierra Madre, the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.  This is a land of astonishing diversity by almost any measure.  The following story is based on a visit more than a decade ago to the Ash Canyon property of Noel McFarland in the SE part of the Huachucas, a range noted for abundant and varied birds, mammals, and reptiles.

But birds, mammals, and herps are not why I came to see Noel McFarland.  He is a collector of diversity with a twist all his own.  McFarland knows moths.  I follow him through several rooms where he works.  Noel collects more than moths, it seems, and twenty years’ accumulation of boxes, books, papers, and other memorabilia fills his spaces the way floral diversity fills a rainforest.  Continue reading

Autumnal Equinox

Migrating Black-necked Stilts

Another summer has slipped over its equinoctial belt—its pride hath gone before the fall.   And so it is for me, veteran of many celestial cycles.  Basted over the coals of another Arizona summer, I am, at the very least, well-seasoned by now.  Continue reading

Deepening the Time Scale: A Puzzle in Sycamore Canyon

Though each organism is inherently a time traveler, its genes a partial chronicle of its evolutionary history, we may be the sole species to be able to reflect on that deeper history.  People with deep imaginations can visualize the ape in our behaviors, the prototypical vertebrate in our embryos, the symbiotic merger reflected in our mitochondria.  Some can look at a hillside and envision it as a product of tectonic upheavals, erosional incisions and depositions, the lithification that turned sediment into rock that has weathered into a substrate supporting juniper, cactus, and spiny lizard.  With some training, there is hope for those of us who don’t normally see so well.  Our temporal blinders may be lifted, our spirits uplifted by the joys of discovery and insight.  Informed imagination – that greatest of time machines – can take us further toward understanding the Sky Islands than mere physical descriptions ever will.  Join me, then, for a little time travel, not to see it all (who has time?), but for a sample of how informed imagination works.            Continue reading

Bats, Cuckoos, and Happiness

Granite Dome at sunset

After a day spent mostly at the computer screen, I need to stretch.  Granite Dells stretches me, pulls me irresistibly into the mazes of outcrops and canyons, especially appealing when thunderheads have finished their rumbling and are sailing away across the heavens, mission accomplished.

I head toward Granite Creek, its cottonwoods pulsing with the choruses of strident cicadas.  Though monsoon storms have been modest at best in this neighborhood, the weeds, native and otherwise, are dense and lush.  Fortunately, mosquito populations here are lower than last year, and as long as I keep moving, I avoid serious blood-letting.

There are signs here indicating that this is a restoration area, and the twenty-foot cottonwoods and shorter velvet ash and hackberry trees are evidence that recovery is occurring.  A developer had grand plans for this area, and he drained a small recreational lake that had been used by residents and tourists alike in the “good old days” of early Prescott.  He also cut out the willows and cottonwoods that framed the pond and leveled the whole works for his development.  There were plans for a bridge across Granite Creek where now there is a fair-weather ford—a  bridge that might have impeded Wood Ducks and Black-Hawks as they flew up and downstream searching for food.  With money pouring from his deep pockets and machines moving the earth with seeming impunity, he didn’t take one thing into account: his development was right next to the property of one of the Dells’ most colorful characters, Happy Heavenly Oasis (no, this is not a pseudonym).  Continue reading