Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Nature Walk 12/7/2019

On Saturday, December 7th, Deb Petrich (C1) and Kathy Carter-McLin (C3) participated in a PCNRPR interpretative (?) hike, led by Sandy Reith, Program Specialist with the Environmental Education Team, on part of the Arizona Trail located in Colossal Cave Park.  Did you know that the Hohokam, primarily hunter/gatherers and occasional farmers, used this area from 800-1450 AD.  Eventually they moved towards advanced agriculture and began settling in more permanent, larger villages, or “Plazas”.  The actual cave was used as a seasonal shelter and storage facility.

December in the Park area is usually mild with an average high of 65 degrees, low of 39 degrees and average rainfall of almost 1″  We used the Seek app on our hike to identify such flora as Christmas Cholla, Berlandier’s Wolfberry, Wheeler Sotol, Mariola, Brownfoot, various types of Agaves plus much more.  In addition, we spotted and heard a mockingbird, curve-billed thrasher and cactus wren.  Kathy was inspired to compose this poem after our walk.    In addition, please see our photos after reading.

Come walk with me
Upon this land where ancients farmed and prayed for rain.
Where spirit gods kiss desert and plain
Whence from it springs the seeds of life.

That I can see this life and bathe in the sun’s warm blanket
To watch and record her mysteries
As they change from month to month
A pleasant task filled with beauty and unexpected surprises.

Rejoice that we are here
And now to see it and do what we can to protect
And nurture in ourselves and others
Such a love that we preserve it
For those yet to come for eternity.

Photos:  Deb Petrich (C1) and Kathleen Mclin-Carter (C3)

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Jessie Rack, President Elect

Hi all!  My name is Jessie Rack, and I’m excited to be the featured Master Naturalist for this newsletter! I am a relatively new transplant to Arizona. I grew up in New York and West Virginia and lived on the east coast until moving to Tucson in 2018. I have always been deeply interested in the natural world – the only family vacations we ever took were camping trips. I first studied music and creative writing, and then earned degree in biology from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania (yes, really). In 2016, I received a PhD in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut. For my dissertation, I studied larval spotted salamanders and their responses to predator chemical cues. I began working as a naturalist in the summers in New England, first at a nonprofit land trust in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, then for two summers at a family summer camp in Maine. Meanwhile, during the school year, I taught college freshmen writing in New Jersey. I moved to Arizona for a job with the University of Arizona – I am an environmental educator with the nonprofit outreach Community and School Garden Program. Each week, I travel to multiple schools around Tucson and teach science, using school gardens and outdoor spaces to get kids to do hands-on investigations.

When I’m not working, I’m usually found outside anyway. I love to run, hike, bike, and explore new areas in Arizona. My greatest interest is in herpetology – reptiles and amphibians – but I have been loving learning about mammals, insects, plants, and all other denizens of the desert.

I wanted to become a Master Naturalist to get myself up to speed on the ecology of the Sonoran Desert. The diversity of things here is incredible! I’ve been so delighted to learn to put names to the things I see. My favorite naturalists are naturalist-writers – Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, Berndt Heinrich, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey – anyone with the patience to sit quietly and observe and then to translate nature onto the page, with lyricism and poetry and wit.

My volunteering strategy is to help out with a lot of one-off projects; because my schedule is so packed, it’s hard to have a regular volunteering commitment. I have helped Pima County Parks and Rec with environmental education outreach events, have sent emails to schedule Buffelgrass talks for the Desert Museum, have helped out with a Sky Island Alliance spring survey, and have led my own BioBlitz team in Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. This fall, I have begun doing library talks, and my first program, “Sickening Superheroes of the Sonoran Desert: Gross Animal Adaptations and why they’re Actually Amazing” premiered in early October. To me, being a good Master Naturalist is all about being eager to learn, eager to collaborate, and eager to share what you know. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to share my newfound love and knowledge of the Sonoran Desert.

Congratulations to Jessie as she was voted the new PCMN Chapter President-Elect for 2020.

Tumamoc Hill Nature Writing Workshop Nov. 15-17, 2019

Olivia Carey (C3), Deb Huie (C1), Penny Miller (C2) and Michelle Kostuk (C1), attended the ‘Nature Journaling: Learn the art of seeing and recording the world around you’ workshop at the Desert Laboratory up on Tumamoc Hill, November 15-17, 2019.  The instructor was Roseann Hanson with guest instructor Paul Mirocha.  Deb and Olivia have providing writing samples from this workshop.  Please see their writings after Olivia’s  write-up on her experience.

I took both workshops – sketching in Nov and writing in Dec.  The Hansons are excellent instructors as well as amazing naturalists and authors.  For me the sketching was more fun, mainly because when I try to write, I tend to get impatient with all those words!  Drawing, on the other hand, is more natural and more relaxing, a meditation.  Both workshops really helped me with focusing on and seeing things deeply and how to practice “intentional curiosity”.  The sketching class included good info on materials and tools that are inexpensive and easy to use in the field.  RoseAnn explained about using archival paper and ink for journals that will endure.  Jonathan brought examples of “good” and “bad” nature writing that I found super helpful.  I came away inspired to use more words in my journals, and challenged to explore my ideas from multiple angles.  These workshops are great for anyone wanting to learn about nature journaling at any level – beginner or experienced.  (And they are approved for advanced skills training credit!)

The sketching class is being offered again in the spring at Tohono Chul.

https://tohonochul.org/event/nature-journaling-the-art-of-seeing-and-recording-the-world-around-you/

Please see below for my “dense prose” piece.  The blog post picture is an ink sketch from my journal.  PCMN has my permission to reproduce without restrictions.

Olivia Carey
Sunday, 15 December 2019
Workshop exercise: Writing the Lives of the Sonoran Desert at the UA Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill

Ocotillo.
The slender silver-grey line ends in a clean point, so delicate and fragile, almost innocent. It joins with dozens of its brothers and they surround the tough, flexible stem, creating a phalanx of spear points. For now, in the rainy season, each spine has a feathery garland of tiny leaves, so the menace is disguised, and the branch appears plush and inviting.

The unsuspecting visitor reaches out to stroke the soft foliage. He jerks back quickly. He cries out in pain. He curses. Muttering and nursing his wounded finger, he retreats down the trail, now thoroughly convinced that everything in this strange, arid land is hostile to human occupation.

The visitor is gone. The ocotillo remains, oblivious to the comings and goings of humans. Her long, elegant branches stretch up into the blue ocean of sky and out to the drifting breeze. Within days, she will encase her fingers in garnet and ruby blossoms.
If she were aware, would she note the visitor’s pain, his instant dismissal of her potential? Would she want him to stay a little longer? Would she plead with him to look again to see her at her finest?

Writing the Lives of the Sonoron Desert Workshop
Writing Assignment: Luminous Mother of Tumamoc
By: Deborah Huie

Anchoring souls like mooring vessels to a buoy, Luminous Mother is protector and patroness of Tumamoc Hill. Laden with rosaries she stands centered, sentinel to all things celestial and terrestrial.

She watches over her fellowship. Holding space and accepting the tokens, prayers, grief bestowed upon her. Their walk up the hill now a pilgrimage. Humans need places like this. Hills, shrines which exist in nature and allow us to unburden ourselves and move freely, unencumbered

Luminous Mother, divine guardian, is everyone’s mother. Earth Mother, Virgin of Guadalupe, Virgin Mary, Madonna, Black Madonna, Chomolungma. A creator of beings performing her duty as benevolent protector of her children. Taking on their suffering so they don’t have to bear the burden.

Her devotees amass receiving spiritual sustenance from her. They are fiercely attached to the gatekeeper of Tumamoc, mingling in sacred space sharing borders, knowing their need for her primordial.

Anchoring souls and gathering burdensr3

Bug Buzz: Green Fig Beetle

Green Fig BeetleCotinis mutabilis

By:  Meck Slagle

As the monsoon season brings rejoicing rain to the region, insects start to emerge in booming quantities with one goal: find a mate. One of the most easily recognized insects in our desert is the Green Fig Beetle, Cotinis mutabilis, which can be spotted from a distance as it clumsily buzzes around and bumps into trees, buildings, and often people. Many kids growing up in the southwest (California to Texas), have enjoyed keeping Fig Beetles as pets and even ‘flying them’ by tying a string around it as a little leash in order to keep it close.

green fig beetle

This large insect is part of the Scarab family, which means the larvae are white grubs that curl into a ‘c’ shape when disturbed – you can often find these grubs in your garden or compost. Luckily, the Green Fig Beetle larvae are not eating your plant’s living roots, but are there eating the decaying material like fallen leaves. The grubs eat and grow 2-3 months before making a small cell from dirt that it will use to pupate; these cells are a tad smaller than a ping-pong ball and will protect the metamorphosing creature from drying out, becoming deformed, and predation.

Males usually emerge from underground pupal cells first; beginning their oafish flights in search of food and females. Once a good source of food is found, these beetles will congregate to it and it isn’t unusual to see dozens on one tree. The adults will eat a variety of fruits on trees and shrubs, while figs seem to be one of their favorites (hence the namesake). You can attract some of these harmless beetles to your yard by leaving a piece of fruit out overnight… cantaloupe seems to be another favorite.

These beetles are most notable for having iridescent green bodies with brown or yellow highlights, and closely related species can be brown or even jet black. We aren’t sure why these beetles have this coloration, but they are quite beautiful and are sometimes used in jewelry-making. Some folks may call these beetles “June bugs,” but that is a misnomer. ‘June bug’ is commonly used to describe a wide variety of insects across the globe and can be misleading, because a june bug in Ohio is a very different critter than a june bug in Wyoming. While it is always best to use scientific names, they are hard to remember, so for this insect, the common names that are most accurate are Green Fig beetle or Figeater beetle.

Southeastern Arizona Birding Festival, August 8-11, 2019

By Jean Boris

Pima Master Naturalists hosted a table at the 9th Annual SE Arizona Bird Festival, Nature Expo. on August 8 – 11th, 2019.  The Bird Festival is hosted by Tucson Audubon Society, with lots of great field trips through out SE Arizona, workshops and speakers as well as activities for kids.

It was awesome to see so many volunteers support the chapter and take an active role in educating the public about our mission, our training class and what is expected of a certified master naturalist  We had 19 volunteers staff the table over 4 days.  Special thanks to volunteers:  Emily Bennett, Janel Feierabend, Carol Anderson, Jane Williamson-Davenport, Franklin Lane, Josh Ruddick, Diana Holmes, Penny Miller Barbara Rose Gaynor, Carrie Barcom , Jean Boris, Suzanne Bott, Meck Slagle, Kathe Sudano, Peggy Ollerhead, Karen Vandergrift, Monica Wnuk, Gail Gault and Kathleen Mclin.  We had contact with over 300 individuals and 67 new emails.

You never know who you might meet at these events!

jane and bird

Special thanks to Carrie Barcom for creating the eye catching photo displays for our table.

carrie tabling

Kudos to Suzanne Bott who loaned us her nest collection and birds that the kids just love to touch.

nests-1.jpg

Meck and Janel engaging!

janel tabling

August 5-9, 2020 

Save the date for next year and celebrate 10 years of birding and festivals!

USGS/UofA Spotted Cat Monitoring Project

By Franklin Lane & Deborah Huie

On Saturday August 3rd, Deb Huie (cohort 1) and I made a trip into the wild, Huachucas to retrieve SD cards from our (4) cameras placed in support of the United States Geological Survey/University of Arizona Spotted Cat Monitoring Project.  The project (since 2013) is headed by Dr. Melanie Culver and has over (60) cameras in the various ranges along the Arizona border south of Interstate 10. We’ve worked this particular set of cameras since 2017. Access requires approval and coordination with Fort Huachuca Environmental and Natural Resources, Military Police and Weapons Range Control. The cameras are somewhat remote so require Deb’s off road driving skills to approach.

deb h Photo: Franklin Lane

The back country roads and subsequent trailheads are off Garden Canyon.  This recreational area of the Fort is open to the public but does require a day pass available at the Fort Huachuca Main Gate.  Garden Canyon is very popular with ‘birders’ and a regular venue of Southwest Wings, a non-profit educational organization which hosts Arizona’s oldest Birding Festivals. The main road into the canyon, while not paved, does not require x4 wheel drive or high clearance. There are picnic areas and a pretty rare pictograph site.

site fd
Photo: Deb Huie

Our first set of cameras is still on the Fort and so access requires not only approval to monitor but a renewable permit to install. They are near a perennial spring so there is a tremendous amount of animal traffic. Everything from Coatis to a dozen different bears.

cam franklin
Now, how does this work?                                               Photo: Deb Huie

mtn liondeerbear

The second set of cameras is a little more challenging.to service and require a (6) mile roundtrip hike.  They are actually off Fort Huachuca in the Coronado National Forest. We exit the Fort boundary through Wilderness Gate 2 along the Crest Trail

sign
Photo: Deb Huie

While a difficult climb from 6300’ to over 8400’ the trail is beautiful and offers some stunning views

trail

mtn top

In addition to wildlife these remote, higher cameras also capture a great deal of human foot traffic from heavily armed Border Patrol agents to recreational and non-recreational hikers. In March 2017 we retrieved snaps of a male jaguar from this set of cameras.  Unfortunately he eventually returned to Mexico and was subsequently poached.  The Project’s big cat experts identified the animal from its spotted coat; as unique as our fingerprints.

bobcatusgs 2

The Huachuca Mountains are a beautiful range.  They can also be accessed from the south and west without going through the Fort. Good information can be found at the Coronado National Monument Visitor Center. These mountains are, however, a lot “wilder’ in many respects than our local Santa Catalinas. Plan carefully!

plantfeather

Both Photos: Deb Huie

Spring Assessment with Franklin Lane

PCMN Spring Assessment – 31 July 2019
By Franklin Lane &  Jessie Rack

            Taking advantage of a beautiful (cloudy) morning, a team of Pima County Master Naturalists met at the Douglas Spring trail head to complete a ‘Monsoon’ cycle spring assessment for Sky Island Alliance (SIA).  The team was joined by an SIA intern; University of Utah graduate student Taylor Cunningham.  Taylor is involved in an exciting new field of study called Environmental Humanities.

             The target was Rock Spring, located about a 2+ mile hike into the foothills of the Rincon Mountains.  The spring is behind (and once fed) the cattle tank at the intersection of Three Tank Trail and Carrillo Trail.  Old timers might remember the tank when it contained up to a meter of water and dozens of Koi (a colored variety of Amur Carp) to control mosquitos.  The tank was drained sometime after 2004.

PCMN participants:  Franklin Lane (Cohort 1), Jean Boris (2), Jessie Rack (3), Peggy Ollerhead (3), Dre Hoerr (3).

Photos by Jessie Rack unless as noted.

spring 1
The hike in was even more deliberate than last year when Cameron (Cohort 2) and Hank Verbais (1) assisted in the assessment. There were so many interesting things to examine along the trail plus we had our collective expertise to truly appreciate and discuss. Among the insects were a Cactus Longhorn Beetle (Moneilema gigas) and a Leaf Footed Bug (probably Mozena lunata).  The Longhorn is a pretty large, flightless beetle that feeds on both cholla and prickly pear.

 

We also spotted several Graham’s fishhook cacti (Mammillaria grahamii) in bloom. Including this one with a visiting honey bee!

spring 3

Once at the spring it took the team less than an hour to sample water quality, measure the three distinct pools, capture flow data and record the saturation levels for each section of the 62m run. Another task was to record any new flora and fauna.  Everyone in cohort 3 already knows how passionate and enthusiastic PCMN resident herpetologist Dr. Jessie Rack can be. But all Tucson probably heard her whoop when she spotted the biggest Sonoran desert toad (Incilius alvarius – also known as the Colorado River toad) any of us had ever seen!

spring 4
I. alvarius
is the largest native toad in the United States. It can get up to 7.5”. This guy had to be close to that. They have paratoid (skin) glands that produce 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin.  These are both toxic entheogens that can kill even large dogs.  Interestingly, raccoons have developed a cool method to flip them on their back and eat them from the belly side to avoid the glands.  Humans have been known to capture and dry the toxin for burning and inhalation.  Supposedly providing a “warm sensation”, euphoria and hallucinations.

The team also spotted some Spikemoss, (Selaginella sp.) not previously seen and reconfirmed a large stand of Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis) seen for the first time during the ‘pre-summer’ assessment in June.

 

                            Spikemoss                                                      Cattails
spring 6 Photo:  Jean Boris

Thanks Peggy for expert record keeping and observations.

spring 7 Photo:  Jean Boris

Jessie and Taylor use a field expedient depth gauge.

The sun caught us for the hike out so it did warm up. We still managed to spot some Arizona Blue-eyes (Evolvulus arizonicus) and Coues’ Senna (Senna covesii).