Hot winds batter the landscape, sucking whatever moisture they can coax from desiccated plants. Record-breaking temperatures challenge the survival skills of wildlife, as they and we wait for the merciful monsoonal rains, should they come in a month. We wait and watch, knowing that the first plume of smoke to rise skyward could create a blazing inferno defying our feeble but expensive efforts to limit the damage.
Arizona has endured droughts and heat waves before, but there are strong signs that human activities are exacerbating the challenges faced by the more-than-human world. The summer of 2011 saw huge tracts of forest burn up in the Southwest. I witnessed the dramatic Horseshoe Two Fire in the Chiricahuas, but in a summer of exceptional fires in both Arizona and New Mexico, that one was just the tip of the melting iceberg. That was the summer of the Wallow Fire in Arizona (largest in history), the Conchos Fire in New Mexico (also the largest recorded there), the Monument Fire in the Huachucas (which consumed the home and irreplaceable insect collections of one of my friends), and many fires in northern Mexico, where suppression was not even attempted. More than 2.1 million acres burned, over twice the previous record set in 2006 for these two states. Megafires. Unprecedented. Shocking. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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
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 →