Celebrating Treasures of the Tortolita Preserve

With the Wild Sonoran Women – Cohort 6 & Dave De Groot, March 7, 2023

Dave is a knowledgeable, humble guide.
long way in, short way out
easy 5.25 mile hike
filled with treasures.
Night blooming Arizona Queen of the Night.
We eye-hunt for this special Snake Lily “stick” among 
hundreds of scattered dead sticks.
Dana’s 35mm catches 
gilded flicker and a Battarreoides diguetii.
Francesca and Merlin App identify rufous winged sparrow song.
Fresh rabbit kill
crimson splattered on rocks
like a desert painting.
Jan’s Picture This App captures Blue Dicks near cholla
Cholla captures Jan
Francesca combs out cholla. 
Chris retrieves a golf ball
probably from the golf course that 
cut down saguaros that morning.
Francesca carries out a bullet-riddled muffler.
The Queen of the Night eludes us.
Years old mountain lion latrine;
Wait – Chris R finds fresher puma scat!
iNaturalist it with a ruler.
Dave tries to contain his excitement
but it is okay;
We are Pima County Master Naturalists 
we get excited and celebrate documenting 
tiny blooms
scat and tracks
and the beauty of friendship
in the Sonoran Desert.

Written By Chris Robie and Inspired by Dave DeGroot, Jan Schwartz, Dana Hook, Chris Murphy, Francesca Ziemba. Photos by Chris Robie and Dana Hook.

Please join Dave at the Tortolita Preserve BioBlitz on April 15th and be prepared to fall in love with this treasure!

SARSEF Awards, March 10, 2023

Post by Peggy Ollerhead C3

As an all-volunteer organization focused on the ecology and natural history of the Sonoran Desert, we have sponsored awards at the Regional SARSEF Science Fair for the past 3 years.  SARSEF strives to create AZ’s future critical thinkers and problem solvers through science and engineering and focuses on engaging student populations underrepresented in the field of STEM. This year’s Science Fair was a hybrid with projects available for on-line or in-person judging, as SARSEF (like so many organizations) attempts to adapt to a new post-Covid normal. 

This year, PCMN was asked to review and judge middle school (grades 6-8) projects. The team of volunteer judges selected approximately 45 projects to judge that pertained to Sonoran Desert topics. The first prize winner was a unanimous choice. Wade Olsson representing grade 8 of the Olsson Homeschool, demonstrated remarkable persistence and a passion for field work clocking more than 900 field hours over 4 years gathering data and generating hypotheses for his project, “The Invasion of Non-Native Green Sunfish in La Milagrosa Canyon in Pima County.” For his efforts, PCMN awarded a saguaro trophy and a $100 cash prize.

With such a large field, PCMN decided to also award two Honorable Mention Awards of smaller saguaro trophies. Angela Madrid, a sixth grader at Imago Dei Middle School, was recognized for her project “Man-Made Border Wall vs The Natural World.”  She gathered information from studies of how animal habits and migration have been impacted by the Border Wall. Greyson Weber, A seventh grader at Dodge Traditional Magnet school was recognized for His project “The AZ Water Crisis” and the website he developed to share sources of information and suggestions for actions that can be taken by the public. Links to winning projects are available on the SARSEF website, listed alphabetically by school. 

A special thank you to Franklin Lane, former president of PCMN, who initiated this relationship with SARSEF; to the judges, Marlene Shamis, Richard Linsenberg, Francesca Ziemba, and Peggy Ollerhead; and to Marlene Shamis for donating the cash award. 

Tucson Festival of Books, March 3-4, 2023

Location: U of A Mall
Post submitted by Kathe Sudano; Photos from Kathe Sudano and Peggy Ollerhead

The Pima County Master Naturalists (PCMN) have been watching folks take delight in a beautiful mesquite box full of scat for years. No matter where we are, people make a point of trying to figure out which animals call the places they are visiting in the Sonoran Desert home, based on what they leave behind. So when the opportunity to participate in the TFOB venue with over 180 local and national exhibitors, we were thrilled!
Everyone who chats with the master naturalists at an event has a story to tell and it most always delights. They reveal the name of their favorite 4th grade teacher who introduced them to owl pellets, the ‘gift of scat’ the bobcats leave on their patios and the enchanting call of the coyotes they hear but never see. This year at Science City, a part of the Festival of Books, all of us who volunteered, had a story of our own to tell about how folks are charmed by our wild spaces!
We were thrilled our PCMN Outreach Team, in partnership with Pima County Natural Resources Park and Recreation (PCNRPR), added a new twist to our tabling efforts by expanding the display to ‘Tracks and Scat’ and it was a big hit with all ages.

By including animal footprints, otherwise known as tracks, the team created a pocket-sized take-home field guide. Peggy Ollerhead, C3, found an artist to design stamps of a variety of animal tracks of our most common desert critters and Melissa Mundt, PCNRPR, came up with the field guide design. We could not decide if the adults or kids enjoyed it more and several camps and schools want the master naturalists to share it with their students. The display also included books for kids, adults and information about the many classes, hikes and other opportunities offered by our partner and sponsoring organization, Pima County.

We distributed over 400+ field guides in two days to both Tucson residents and out of town visitors. Every individual left with a better appreciation of who else shares our trails, arroyos and wild spaces and the newfound knowledge of how they might identify even those critters they will not see.

As a multi-day event, the Tucson Festival of Books required a team of volunteers. Many thanks to the following folks: Kathe Sudano C3, Melissa Mundt C4, Summer Marshall C6, Chris Robie C5, Dana Hook C6, Linda Doughty C6,, Jan Schwartz C4, Carly Pierson C6, Elena Garcia Ansani C7, Diane Taylor C6, Izetta Feeny C6, Peggy Ollerhead C3, Dan Judkins C7, Linda Dugan C5, Francesca Ziemba C6, Andrea Hoerr C3.

Sandhill Cranes, A Cacophony of Sounds

Of the Fifteen species of Cranes found worldwide, two species inhabit the United States, the Whooping and Sandhill Cranes. Arizona is host to three different subspecies of Sandhill Cranes that spend the winter in Arizona. They consist of a smaller variety that migrates down from the Canadian Arctic and Siberia, medium-sized ones from the Yukon territory in northern Canada, and a large type that breeds and spends its summers in the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

Once you’ve witnessed the arrival of these large vocal birds you’ll be back again and again to marvel at the sheer number of Cranes that stay over October thru February, leaving for nesting territories farther north in Late February and early March. An estimated 20,000 over winter here.

Both Whitewater Draw in McNeal, Arizona and the Wilcox Playa area are great places for viewing these remarkable birds. A bonus is the number of other waterfowl that share space with the Cranes: ducks such as Green Winged Teal, Shovelors, Wigeons, ring-necked, redheaded and other dabbling Duck species.  Wading birds like Rails and Soras, Kildeer, Yellow-legs, dot the ponds edges looking for food.  Great Horned Owls, Northern Harriers, Red-tailed, Cooper’s, Sharp Shinned Hawks and Kestrels patrol the wetlands.   Loggerhead Shrikes, Western Meadowlarks, Ground Doves, Vermillion Flycatchers, Say’s and Black Phoebes are plentiful. Snow Geese flocks mingle amongst the Cranes. And, there appear from time to time Golden and Bald Eagles.

Whitewater Draw has a series of handicapped accessible walkways surrounding several field-flooded wetlands.  There are a couple of viewing stations but it’s best to bring your own chair if you need to sit as benches are limited.  Parking is available, and there is a bathroom facility at the site. 

Best viewing is just before dawn when the birds alight to fly to feeding grounds.  Trust me you’ll get an earful of sound.  The birds return around 11:00 am flying in wave after wave to rest before feeding again before sundown.  Don’t miss this unique opportunity to observe the thousands of Cranes who make Arizona a destination!

Exploring Southern Arizona: Destination Fort Bowie

Destination: Fort Bowie: 85 Miles and 150 Years from Tucson

Looking for a different weekend hike when Sabino Canyon, Mount Lemmon, Madera Canyon and other
local hikes are clogged with Winter visitors? A visit to Fort Bowie Historic Park may be a perfect day trip.
On a recent trip leaving Tucson around 11:00 a.m., we fit in a drive to the park, round trip hike to the
Fort, visit to the museum and visitor center, and a quick picnic and still managed to get home shortly
after dark.

As a National Historic Site established in 1972 to preserve the ruins of Fort Bowie, the park is billed as a
“Walk through History.” However, for Naturalists, the topography, geology, wildlife, and biotic
communities hold an equal or greater appeal and an explanation for this area’s appeal to a variety of
cultures throughout history. At 5000 feet in elevation the park is situated in the Upper Sonoran life zone
and contains desert grasslands, chaparall and riparian areas. Apache Spring which drew Indigenous
People, explorers, miners, ranchers, and the military still provides water that supports wildlife in the
area including deer, grey fox, coyote, javelina, cougars, bobcat, coati, snakes, lizards, and many bird
species. Visiting during the middle of the day, we did not see much wildlife, but saw scat and tracks, and
lots of birds in riparian areas and raptors roosting at dusk.

The park can be accessed from a trailhead on Apache Pass Road. There is a handicapped accessible
parking area closer to the fort, but it not a trip I would recommend for strollers or those with mobility
issues. The hike is a 3 mile round trip to the fort and visitor center, with an optional return loop on the
Overlook trail. The hike is listed as “moderately strenuous”, but for most regular hikers should be
relatively easy. The trail is well marked with lots of signage about historical sites you pass on the trail.
Much of the flora and fauna are also identified. The optional return on the Overlook trail contains
signage on the area’s geology and topography and amazing views of the surrounding area and Sulphur Springs Valley.

Be warned, the Overlook trail does contain some loose rock and several switchbacks with
tall steps, if you have bad knees you could avoid or take your time and enjoy some of the well placed
benches with shade and views. Bathrooms are available at the Trailhead and Visitor Center, but the only water available is at the Visitor Center. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, but you may want to check the visitor center’s hours with a call since it is manned by volunteers. For those who like swag, if the visitor center is open, the rangers will offer you a “Hike Through History” pin for your collection.

Peggy Ollerhead, PCMN
Certified AZ Master Naturalist
Cohort 3

AZMNA Annual Conference: January 27-28, 2023

Main Blog Written by Jessica Paul, Cohort 4 with design/layout by Deb Petrich, Cohort 1
Photos: Izetta Feeny, Chris Robie, Franklin Lane, Linda Doughty, Deb Petrich
, Peggy Ollerhead, Dana Hook

What does a naturalist have to look forward to when attending an annual conference in Arizona? If you said inspiration, community, and fun, you would be right! We enjoyed all of that and more at our 2023 Arizona Master Naturalist Conference held in January and hosted by the Pima County Chapter at the Donna R. Liggins Recreation Center in Tucson, AZ. Not only was this our largest attended conference (61 attendees) since the Arizona Master Naturalist program was created in Tucson, but we also had representatives from all 4 MN chapters!

We kicked off our event by attending a special pre-conference field trip through Mission Garden. If you haven’t visited this historic site, you should, and if you are lucky enough to be led through the garden by a Mission docent who is also a naturalist, you are in for a treat. Mission Garden is a place where archeologists have documented 4,100 years of continuous agriculture; it ‘is a living agricultural site of the Native American village of S-cuk Son, a place sacred to the Tohono O’odham.’  PCMNs provided docent-led tours of the gardens in three (3) groups and shared how to use Nature’s Notebook and the iNaturalist App in addition to other activities. Naturalist Chris Robie (C6) showed us how to dip net for macroinvertebrates in the acequia (canal), Linda Doughty (C6) led us on a tour of the grounds and provided us with information on timeline gardens and different plants, and Diane Taylor (C6) showed us the phenology trail she helps monitor.

What an incredible way to begin our weekend, connecting with the natural and cultural history of S-cuk Son and the folks who have been gardening this land for thousands of years. We were all thankful for the reminder and honoring of the folks whose land we inhabit. Learning about and honoring our land protectors is a huge part of what we do as naturalists, we strive to connect more deeply to the land and see the interconnectedness of all things throughout the cultures and nature that surround us.

A few of the naturalists further communed together at a dinner at the Coronet (see photo below). It was fun to share all the different projects and passions that keep us inspired to do this work.

Saturday was the big conference and long-haul day! We started early with coffee and getting to know some of our partners. Among the folks tabling to share their organizations were the Tucson Wildlife Center, Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation (PCNRPR), Wild Arizona, USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) and Nature’s Notebook, and the National Park Service.

Our fearless leader and AZMNA Executive Director, LoriAnne Barnett-Warren, began our conference and welcomed us all to a day of learning and inspiring each other. 

LoriAnne Barnett-Warren

Dave DeGroot inspired us all with his presentation, Lessons Learned from a BioBlitz, and his continued efforts to have the community recognize and preserve the Tortolita Preserve. Everyone in attendance couldn’t help but be amazed by the amount of work Dave, his grandson, the Tortolita Alliance, and the Marana Town Council, along with 40 other naturalists who participated in the BioBlitz, perform to document the biodiversity of the area. These efforts will continue to show the public how important this space is and to help protect it for future generations.

Dave DeGroot

Our keynote speaker, Jeff Simms, from the Bureau of Land Management, shared with us the importance of the ecological relationships of flora and fauna in different aquatic environments. He taught us about the different measures that have been taken to restore and preserve these locations. 

Jeff Simms, BLM

Naturalists were able to choose from two breakout sessions after our presentations. Melissa Mundt (C5) and Peggy Ollerhead (C3) from PCMN gave a discussion and workshop on ‘How to Deliver Inspiring, Participatory Workshops- Form a Master Naturalist Speakers Bureau’. In addition, Patrina Pellett (C5) from the Maricopa Chapter gave a presentation on Social Media for Master Naturalists with the Basics and Best Practices. 

We all enjoyed chatting and having an amazing lunch from Tumerico. Afterwards, Leadership for all 4 Chapters (Borderlands, Central Highlands, Maricopa and Pima) provided details on their Chapter’s highlights and to recognize and award their volunteers for milestone service hours and yearly certifications. It was great to see all the impactful work our volunteers have done this year.

The Pima Chapter planned some really great field labs for the MNs to participate in after the awards ceremony. The field labs included a Bird Walk in Sweetwater Wetlands, Growing as a Naturalist in the Garden: Education and Stewardship in the Sonoran Desert, an Interpretive Hike to the Stone House on the Yetman Trail, a Tohono Chul Saguaro Census lab, an AZ State Museum Tour and a Tree Ring Lab Tour. Please view photo collage below of our Master Naturalists at their field sites.

What a momentous and memorable experience we all had! We would love to hear from the Naturalists and Partners who attended to find out what they learned or loved about this year’s conference!

Sonoran Musings: Colossal Cave, a Southeast Gem

Submitted by K. McLin, Cohort 3, February 2023

If you are looking for great views, interesting geological sites, evidence of early inhabitants and nature’s bounty, than a trip to Colossal Cave and it’s riding stable area is the perfect venue.  There is ample parking, along with picnic tables and restrooms. There is no charge to park, hike or bird in and around the horse riding stable area. Surrounding the parking lot is an area filled with trees where the wash holds a bit of water and attracts many birds. There were 23 species in all that were observed the day I spent the morning birding there. Please see the collage below for my photos of Sparrows, Bluebirds, Bewick’s Wrens, Hermit Thrush, Butter Butts, Townsend’s Solitaires, a Red-Naped Sapsucker, Cardinals, Cooper’s, Gray and Red-tailed Hawks, and Rufous-backed and American Robins. 

While many people come to just visit Colossal Cave, there is also a wealth of other activities to enjoy here. Hikers and bicyclists trek along the Arizona Trail, an 800-mile National Scenic Trail through the state of Arizona, running from the border with Mexico up to the Utah state line. Ancient rocks bear evidence of native Americans hewing grinding stones for use in crushing grains and nuts. And, of course, the wildlife you might encounter and the diversity of bird life, where the desert meets the mountains, is grand. A new bird added to my life list, the Rufous-backed Robin, a Mexico-Pacific resident, was a thrilling find! Moreover, you can find white-tailed deer, javelina, desert tortoises, coatimundi,  harris antelope squirrels, coyote, bobcats, turkey and black vultures, all of which call this mountain and desert landscape home. 

My Heart Belongs to the Wild Things

My Heart Belongs to the Wild Things
A Poem by Kathy Meitzer McLin

My heart belongs to the wild things.
From whom I have learned moderation, patience, resourcefulness and balance.

Where caring for their children means preparing them for life on their own and when they find their mates begin the cycle of life anew.

I’ve seen unlikely friendships formed and acceptance unquestioned.

I’ve learned there is a time for silence and time for singing.  A time for unfettered joy and a time of restraint.  A time of unity and time to be alone.

I have seen strength, tenderness, self sacrifice, endurance  and times when one must simply stand their ground.

But above all I’ve been blessed by the Perfection of their Love.

PCMN Annual Meeting December 2022

Submitted By Kathy McLin Cohort 3

The PCMN Chapter held their 2022 annual membership meeting on Sunday, December 4th, but unfortunately without one of our most beloved Master Naturalist members, Josh Skattum. In his spirit, a memorial hike was planned that morning to honor Josh. This same hike in Saguaro National Park East, led again by one of our favorite group hike leaders Franklin Lane (C1), was enjoyed last year by Josh and a few others before last year’s annual meeting. Moreover, this hike and time spent in nature provided fourteen (14) of the PCMNs and their friends a way to celebrate his memory and feel as one with him. Our destination, Pink Hill! Also, it didn’t matter that it was raining, everyone scheduled showed up and Franklin had inspected the trail beforehand and identified 5 landmarks where we’d stop and review the uniqueness of our surroundings.

Stop 1: A Barrel cactus orientates in a southern direction to soak up the sun’s rays. The outer flesh grows thicker on this side. If transplanted the cactus must be placed in the same orientation to survive. The little seed pods on top are edible, seeds and all!

Stop 2: Nurse tree: A symbiotic relationship between the Green Palo Verde tree and the Saguaro exists in which the nurse plant provides the young Saguaro with protection against both sun and frost. As the Saguaro gradually grows, it takes more and more of the water and nutrients from the soil and in the process the nurse plant or tree gradually dies. Organic material that collects under the tree provides fertilization that attracts other plants a favorable environment in which to grow.

Stop 3: Crested or Cristate Saguaro are a rare occurrence without a precisely known cause. Viral or genetic mutations are speculations but whatever the reason the cactus grows without any harm to the plant. It is estimated that 250 saguaro in the Sonoran Desert are Crested.

Stop 4: Atop Pink Hill the Rincons stretched out before us, we could see for miles in all directions. We knew that Josh was with us. The warm rain a mere light mist around us, the brilliant greens and colors more intense for it’s/his kisses.

This prickly pear nopale was shaped like a drinking cup and held rain water at the top of Pink Hill. Rain is the ultimate gift of Love to a desert community and we know that Josh was reciprocating by being within us and all around us on this walk. Thank you Josh for preparing this Loving Cup of precious water at the final destination of our hike. Nature can speak volumes with nary a word.

Josh’s Saguaro – We stopped before ending our hike at the fallen Saguaro that Josh had been pictured at the previous year. It seemed fitting to gather here where life and death meet to show us that good does not die, and change is inevitable. How grateful we are for having Josh in our lives. The diverse group of master naturalists that gathered for his memorial hike showed how great an impact he made to our world. Some never met him but his contributions, conversations and dedication endeared him to them. For four of us who are Cohort 3 alumni with Josh the bond is unbreakable as it is for those who had the opportunity to share projects with him. Thanks go to all participants and to Josh ❤️

Kathy’s Reflection on Josh: What was but a moment in time Josh transcended beyond the here and now. A jaw dropping reality for family, friends and acquaintances. Josh cast a wide shadow, he was fierce, a force field of energy, hungry for knowledge, passionate about helping, sharing, contributing. You had to like him, for he was harmony itself. If you didn’t know him personally you had likely heard of him. He knew when and how to contribute, and was a natural leader and inclusive of everyone. Josh had a passion for Nature and all that it encompassed. He loved nothing more than being outdoors, friends in tow, hiking, studying the environment, it’s animal, plant life and geology. And he shared what he learned as any good naturalist does.

Participants: LoriAnne Barnett, Kathleen McLin C3, Kathe Sudano C3, Peggy Ollerhead C3, Dave DeGroot C2, Izetta Feeny C6, Melissa Fratello C5 plus friend, Dre Hoerr C3, Diane Taylor C6 plus friend, Jessica Paul C4, Carly Pierson C6, Franklin Lane C1