Critter Cam program hosted by the Coalition For Sonoran Desert Protection, Catalina State Park
The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection conducts a citizen science project in which community members maintain wildlife cameras. This has helped us obtain important information about our wildlife using linkages between some of Tucson’s open spaces. Community school districts have become involved by incorporating our pictures into their curriculum, teaching their classes about how technology is used in wildlife management and field biology. Our critter cam day is a field trip in which we bring these school groups out into one of our open spaces, Catalina State Park, and they get to use what they have learned in class within one of our local state parks. Over 400 fourth graders participated in this year’s event held in early March.
Some of our fellow Master Naturalists from Cohort 3 volunteered for the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection (Peggy Ollerhead, Vicki Ettleman and Kathleen Sudano). For this event, our role was to conduct stations that students rotated through, teaching them about Sonoran Desert wildlife, our wildlife’s adaptions here in the desert, and ways to monitor or study them. I volunteered teaching identifying local fauna tracks and lessons on wildlife pheromones.
As part of the event, I helped with a fun nature hike. Our students made observations on the local fauna and flora while documenting their observations on a coordinate system. At the end of the hike we came across a critter cam and talked about how technology is important in field biology. We brain stormed ideas on how this might give a scientist an advantage with their research!
It was so much fun at such a beautiful location!”
Presenters: Cecil Schwalbe, retired Arizona State Herpetologist and Dr. Tom Biuso, physician at TMC spoke, who about snake bite treatments.
Attendees: Penny Miller(C2), Diana Holmes (C2), Dan Collins(C2), Vicki Ettelman(C3), Kathe Sudano (C3), Jenna Marvin(C3), Doug Hoerr(C3), Andrea Hoerr(C3), Carrie Barcom(C2), Sharon Overstreet(C2), Jessie Rack(C3), Jean Boris(C2), Josh Ruddick(C1), Peggy Ollerhead(C3), Kathy Carter McLin(C3), Meck Slagle(C3), Don Featherstone(C1), Marilyn Liss (C2)
Eighteen of us were gathered on the first Saturday in May (4th, 2019) to attend a class titled Master Naturalist Rattlesnake Handling. The setting was Penny Miller’s fabulous west side garage and we were all feeling a mix of excitement and curiosity. The presenter, Cecil Schwalbe, retired AZ state herpetologist, with a shock of wizardly white hair and eyes the color of the Arizona sky, told us outright that mistakes were made. We listened and leaned forward. He also told us that because of his experience (getting bit by a Gila Monster and being transported to the local ER) none of us today were going to make those same mistakes. I watched individuals sigh with relief and smile.
As per numerous press releases, Schwalbe, who is from Texas and studied mechanical engineering at Rice University, pursued ecology research at Washington State and the UA, earning a master’s degree and doctorate along the way. In 1984, he was appointed state herpetologist by Arizona Game and Fish.
For decades, Schwalbe has toured with his reptiles across Arizona. At his presentations, he lets kids pet his Gila monster which he has had since 1985, one of the world’s most dangerous lizards. In the wild, they spend up to 95 percent of their lives underground. While Schwalbe takes extra precautions, he tells us that the Gila monster bit him five times at a public show and his “finger was on fire.”
His passion for snakes, lizards and tortoises has led him to us. He’d rather train people to safely remove the critters rather than see them destroyed. He demonstrated with several of the animals that currently reside in his east side garage. To say he made it look easy would be a gross understatement. His calm demeanor and healthy respect for the critters (plus a close look at those blue eyes that are full of mischief!) had us transferring five-foot rattlers from one very large trash can using a 42-inch Pillstom metal tong. We were instructed to grab the snake gently but securely about one-third distance down from the head and walk about ten feet and deposit the confused snake into another trash can. Snakes can strike about one-half to two-thirds the distance of their body length so we learned to hold the tong with our arm extended. If we see a snake out hiking, give it the same clearance as its approximate body length.
During the four-hour training, we passed collared lizards to each other by gently holding their front foot, learned how to “tube” the head of a snake and hold its body safely. The Gila Monster, Pancho, got to use the glossy garage floor like a runway and show us his ears, mouth grip and how fat stored in his tail allows him to go long periods without food. We also got to safely handle his two tortoises, each about the size of his fist.
To complement Schwalbe’s presentation, we got to hear from Dr Tom Biuso, physician at TMC who spoke about snake bite treatments. We learned there is wisdom, if you are able, to call 911 before proceeding to any hospital. Not every facility has anti-venom on hand but if the individual is already nauseous, vomiting or losing consciousness- head straight to the closest ER. If others have a chance to attend this class, it is highly recommended! Thanks for organizing and hosting for us, Penny Miller!
Article written by Kathe Sudano, Cohort 3, Master Naturalist in Training
Photos below from Penny Miller (Cohort 2, certified Master Naturalist) and Kathy Carter McLin (Cohort 3, certified Master Naturlist)
You read the date correctly! Three and a half hours in the desert in the middle of what is referred to as Tucson’s “Pre-Summer.” This is normally one of the hottest and driest times of the year. Thanks to Sharon Overstreet for predicting a beautiful day and arranging this Advanced Training.
(16) Master Naturalists from all three cohorts met Sabino Canyon, volunteer naturalist Fred Heath at 0815. Fred provided laminated lizard identification cards and (as needed) binoculars. He then shared over three hours of incredible insight into both the flora and fauna of the bajada running from the visitor center to just above the Sabino dam.
Cohort 1: Deb Petrich, Don Eagle, Janel Feierband, Franklin Lane
Cohort 2: Sharon Overstreet, Carrie Barcom, Penny Miller, Joan Colcagno, Emily Bennett, Barbara Rose Gaynor
Cohort 3: Karen Vandergift, Vicki Ettleman, Monica Wnuk, Kathy Carter McLin, Hank Harlow, Josh Skattum
Within the first hundred meters or so we spotted our first Zebra-tailed Lizard: Callisaurus draconoides. In addition to the distinctive tail, often raised scorpion-like over the body to
distract predators, Fred pointed out that the males also have two, dark, stripe-like markings behind the fore-legs. They are from 2.5” to 4” long and measured, like all lizards, only from snout to vent.
Of the four common “whiptails” found in the area we saw several Tigers; Aspidoscelis tigris.
Our handout indicated that in addition to the tigris the habitat includes:
Gila Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis flagellicauda (all female)
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis sonorae (all female)
Canyon Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis burti
Several individuals were happy to pose for pictures and were seemingly undisturbed by our gawking. Penny Miller was able to capture a number of great pictures.
Desert Spiney; Sceloporous magister P. Miller
Greater Earless; Cophosaurus texanus P. Miller
The last two species that I personally saw were a Common Side-blotched; Uta stansburiana and an Ornate Tree Lizard; Urosaurus ornatus, which our venerable host pointed out is unique in that it does a four-legged pushup. No slacker there!
Finally, because they are almost gone for the year, I should mention that we saw several Iron Cross Blister Beetles; Tegrodera aloga. Perhaps one of the most easily recognizable beetles in the desert but usually only seen during late Spring (April) and pre-Summer (May). Their emergence roughly corresponding to the high bloom time of Palo Verdes.
While I have failed to completely collaborate their life cycle, as Fred described, with other sources, I am confident enough in it (and him) to share it here. After mating, the female deposits her eggs at the base of a Palo Verde flower. When the eggs hatch the larvae attach themselves to visiting bees who then transport them back to (normally) solitary, burrowed nests. Once in their new home the grubs feed on the stored nectar and pollen as well as the eggs of the bee; fattening and growing in order to emerge the following Spring. Please let me know if you have any more insight on this phenology or on Tegrodera aloga itself.
Article submitted by Franklin Lane, Cohort 1, Certified Master Naturalist
Photos below submitted from Penny Miller
A morning’s hike to set up a Wildlife Camera on Cienaga Creek
Hank Harlow, Pima County Master Naturalist student, Cohort 3
An element of the Pima County Master Naturalist program is to participate in an activity with one of the chapter’s partners in order to obtain experience as a volunteer. I was fortunate to have the opportunity of spending a morning in the field with Deb Petrich, Axhel Munoz and Michelle Kostuk on the Pima County Natural Resources, Park and Recreation camera monitoring project. Axhel is a Pima County Natural Resources Environmental Education Coordinator, Deb, the Pima County Master Naturalist Coordinator for this project and Team Leader for multiple cameras, and Michelle, a Cohort 1 Master Naturalist and Sky Island Alliance trained tracker.
When I arrived at the Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead on a cool, breezy morning in March, the number of mountain bikers getting on their riding gear as well as day walkers and backpackers took me by surprise. I started wondering if I misunderstood our meeting point and was relieved when Deb called out my name and waved me over to meet Axhel and Michael. We shouldered our daypacks and were on our way down the trail.
Amazingly, as we cut off the main wash and proceeded up Cienaga Creek, within half a mile all the people were gone and we started looking for a proper location to establish a new camera-monitoring site. One of the criteria for the site was to be far enough up the drainage to be away from casual hikers, so we bushwhacked our way through a very healthy and beautiful riparian habitat for an additional two miles.
I was in my element being with three seasoned naturalists who loved to stop every 50 or 60 steps when something would catch their eyes and interest. We sited 11 species of birds during our morning as well as three species of butterflies and two species of fish. Down on our hands and knees, we felt and identified scat from coyotes, skunk, fox and perhaps ring tailed cat, as well as tracks from javelina, deer and cattle which are supposed to be restricted from the area.
Our most exciting find was a mummified carcass of a mammal about a foot and a half long but all contorted with its head bent back and legs tucked into a hard leathery package with tuffs of brownish fur and some black hair imbedded in the hard dry hide. We removed the head and, after taking out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, placed it in the plastic bag for later identification.
At home that night, I placed the skull in an aqueous solution of Biz and left it for two days. The enzymes softened the hard leathery tissue to be picked away and the bleach whitened the skull into a beautiful sculpture. Using ‘A Key-Guide to Mammal Skulls and Lower Jaws’ by Aryan Roest, I noted that the skull had a hard palate that extended about 4mm beyond its 4 cheek teeth, which keyed it out as a Hog Nosed Skunk. The claws were impressively long and the black fur under the leathery mummified exterior was characteristically skunk-like, so the lighter fur we observed must have been bleached by long-time exposure to sun and water.
Onwards – our group wasn’t just out on a nature hike; we had work to do. Deb and Axhel discussed the criteria for identifying a proper camera site to include: a bend in the river bottom, a diversion, a branch drainage, some type of constriction such as cliff or bounders, but most importantly, a pool which is not ephemeral but a long-term source of water which will attract wildlife.
Axhel has historic knowledge of Cienaga Creek and remembers when the three-mile stretch of surface water we are walking through used to extend 12 miles into Tanque Verde Wash and was home to Desert Pupfish and Yellow Billed Cuckoos. Decreased water flow may be a result of drought, increased agriculture and real estate development. Another threat to this area is the pending expansions of the Rosemont copper mine, which will have a devastating effect on water availability and quality, not to mention the impact on the terrestrial habitat through road development and noise. This pending perturbation makes camera monitoring the area of special importance.
While camera traps are not a tool to determine population density of a particular species, they are very effective in establishing presence-absence of species and relative abundance of individuals. The purpose of this camera monitoring study is to increase our understanding of the animal biodiversity that reside in this drainage using it as a corridor and depending upon its resources for survival. In addition, this study may also be an important way to document the impact of future mining practices by the Rosemont copper mine by conducting a “before-and-after” comparison over years to come.
After walking through shallow water and jumping over deeper pools for a couple miles, we finally found a deep pond at a bend in the creek bed with steep rocks and trees on one side and a sandy bank with shrubby on the opposite side. Deb and Axhel selected one of the trees to place our camera. These are Black IR or infrared sensitive cameras, which are triggered by body heat and give off a low intensive flash that does not disturb the animal if caught at night. We placed the setting at “Power Saving” which limits its distance to about 20 meters but conserves battery life. This should work out great because our positioned angle and height of the camera secured to the tree trunk provides a full picture of the pond and surrounding bank. While we thought this is a secure area with only occasional hikers, we padlocked the camera to the tree. We then took a GPS waypoint and named the site CC01 DRW to be revisited in the future to down load pictures and replace batteries every few months over the next several years.
Our job was completed for the morning, we felt good about our selected location for the camera trap and we started our walk out once again being naturalists; talking, telling stories but observing what was at our feet and in the air.
Cienaga Creek Wildlife Camera Species list-9 March 2019
White breasted nuthatch
Ruby crowned kinglet
Yellow-rumped warbler (Audubon’s)
Bullocks oriole (?)
Great Blue Hairstreak
Pipe Vine butterfly
Ring-tailed cat (?)
Canid (Fox (?)
Mummified carcass: Hog-nosed skunk
Dendrochronology Lab Tour November 2018
Cameron Becker, Cohort 2
On Saturday November 17, seven Arizona Master Naturalists took a tour of the University of Arizona Bannister Tree Ring Laboratory organized by the Advanced Training Committee. The Naturalists gathered in front of the (relatively) new building at 10am and were met there by the Laboratories Lead Docent, Randall Smith. Before even entering the Lab Mr. Smith proved to be a wealth of knowledge on a wide variety of topics. For example he informed us that the Lab actually consists of two entities, the Laboratory itself and the Archive, which have both been in the new facility for five years now. Named after the former Director, Bryant Bannister, the exterior of the building is surrounded by steel tubes which are meant to move slightly and resemble quaking Aspen leaves. The tubes originally moved more than they do now but were restricted after finding out that the noise they created was so loud it caused people in the building to be sick. Mr. Smith also informed us that he is a bit of a naturalist himself as he makes observations for Natures Notebook of two plants in the Krutch Garden on campus (a Jojoba and Wolfberry if you were curious!)
As we entered the front room of the building we were greeted by a massive ‘tree cookie’ cut from a giant sequoia tree from Sequoia National Park in 1931. Dr. A. E. Douglass, who founded the Tree Ring Lab and the science of dendrochronology, was originally looking for a connection between solar activity, specifically sunspots, which have a 22-year cycle pattern to another natural cycle measurement on earth. Ponderosa Pine rings are the easiest tree rings to read and within 15 years of work Douglass had used 7,500 samples to create a master chronology. Many other fields of have made connections with the use of dendrochronology such as research in archaeology, fire ecology, as well as in the study of climate and precipitation trends. Geologists and physicist on the Universities campus use dendrochronology to calibrate their carbon 14 dating machines. Dendrochronology has also been used for less obvious fields including to help solve murder cases and determine the providence of musical instruments.
Mr. Smith gave us a presentation in their conference room passing around samples of tree rings ‘cookies’ and explaining some of the work that is done in the building. The last part of the tour was a visit to the labs on the third floor which smelled amazing from all the different sections of wood stored there. We were able to see the workspace of scientists actively working on a historic harbor site found in Istanbul called ‘Yenikapi harbor’ as well as samples from the site. Some of the wood piers found at the archaeological site were sent across the world to this lab for analysis. They have determined that some of the wood is from oaks outside of Turkey and the scientists are using the data collected to piece together ancient trade routes with connections to Northern Africa, Morocco and the Balkans.
The Bannister Tree Ring Laboratory is a truly unique gem that we have here in Tucson. It has widespread connections throughout our community and provides a wealth of knowledge about our world and a connection to our local history and sense of place. A big thank you to Randall Smith for the tour and the huge amount of knowledge he conveyed to our group. Looking forward to visiting again soon!
THE SANTA CRUZ RIVER WALK
Submitted by Diana Holmes, Pima County Certified Master Naturalist, Cohort 2: Nov 2018
Curious to learn more about the ambitious vision by a collaboration of partners to restore flow to the Santa Cruz River and its tributaries in Tucson, I recently participated in a river walk sponsored by the Watershed Management Group (WMG) River Run Network. We met at Paseo De Las Iglesias Park (Silverlake Road and Cottonwood Lane) and walked in the river bed south to Julian Wash and back. The walk was led by Joaquin Murrieta, WMG’s cultural historian/ecologist.
As a kid in the 1950’s, I can remember the river before it was transformed into a soil-cemented barren channel which typically only flows during storm events. People have thrived along this river bank for thousands of years, and the area is known as the oldest continuously cultivated agricultural area in the U.S. The word Tucson comes from the O’odham word S-cuk Son, literally meaning “at the base of the black mountain.” In 1691, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino made the first of about 40 expeditions into Arizona following along the Santa Cruz River, and Juan Bautista de Anza traveled near the west bank of the river on his 1775-1776 trek to establish San Francisco.
Riparian Ecosystems: In the western United States, riparian ecosystems occur on less than two percent of the total land area. In the arid southwest, riparian ecosystems are now designated as critically endangered. Originally comprising only one percent of the landscape historically, over 95 percent of that riparian habitat has been lost in Arizona.
The Paseo de las Iglesias Environment Restoration Feasibility Study: The study by the US Army Corps of Engineers and Pima County, completed in 2005, evaluated ecosystem restoration, flood control improvements, and river park development along a seven-mile reach of the Santa Cruz River upstream from Congress Street. Planning objectives included increasing riparian wildlife habitat acreage and diversity, providing erosion protection where necessary, and providing passive recreation opportunities. The project was completed in mid-2015 and included gabion bank protection, rip rap and terracing. The river park features five miles of pathways and interpretive signage throughout the site.
This summer, WMG staff crafted their 50-year internal strategic plan for the River Run Network. They state: “The typical three-year strategic plan won’t cut it; so we’re defining goals, strategies and metrics for 5, 10, 25, and 50-year timelines. Intermediary goals and measurable metrics will ensure we reach our long-term goal of restoring Tucson’s heritage of flowing rivers.”
Walking in the riverbed among healthy thickets of young mesquite, native grasses, arrow weed and wolfberry, and with a red tail hawk soaring over head, I was encouraged that a flowing Santa Cruz River would one day be a reality.
US Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement; Pima County Restoration Feasibility Study re Paseo de las Iglesias Park, July 2005
USDA Forest Service, Threats to Western US Riparian Ecosystems, Gen. Tech. Report, 2012
Watershed Management Group Action Bulletin, Nov 2018
Tucson Wildlife Center
If you have ever come across an injured animal on the road, or a baby animal with no mother in sight, you know the range of emotions and questions that flood through your head! Thankfully we have the Tucson Wildlife Center here to help us navigate these problems, and to help us decide how or even if we should intervene. This impressive 5103C nonprofit organization is celebrating a 20 year history of caring for wildlife received from 8 Arizona counties! Its annual operating budget is $500,000, raised from grants, donations and an annual fundraiser gala.
To learn more, 14 Master Naturalists toured the facility on October 20, led by Suzanne Benedict and Lou Rae Whitehead. The 5 acre facility receives 20,000 phone calls a year, takes in more than 3,400 animals treated by 2 full time vets, staff and volunteers. We were privileged to a behind the scenes tour which included indoor and outdoor holding areas, 3 huge flight cages, and a well-equipped hospital with an ICU and surgical suite.
Animal caretakers exercise great care not to imprint wildlife on humans. Handlers hide in ghillie suites while feeding baby animals, and use shift doors that let the animal in or outdoors without a person in view. Imprinted, or tame animals cannot be released. Some animals that have arrived at the center, unfortunately tamed by well-meaning citizens, are used as education animals and surrogates. We met Wilbur, the 13 year old bobcat and center mascot. His fellow bobcat companions, Rubie and Bisbee, serve as excellent surrogate parents to bobcat kittens brought in, teaching them natural bobcat behaviors and reducing the need for human contact. Young coyotes and javelinas also benefit from surrogate resident animals.
The center takes in almost all species except deer, bears, mountain lions, dogs, cats and rattlesnakes. Gila monsters and non-venomous snakes are accepted. Their busiest season is April through September and they are always in need of volunteers to assist with animal care, public education, and school and scout tours. The center’s wish list includes paper towels, white sheets and towels, unscented kitty litter, chicken thighs, Dawn dish liquid, baggies and trash bags, copier paper, fruits, vegetables, and turkey or banana baby food.
What can you do to help wildlife in your own backyard? Keep bird baths and feeders clean, empty hummingbird feeders that have black mold, or cloudy nectar; put baby birds back up in the nest or create an artificial nest with drainage holes for rain. Keep pet cats indoors at all times, trim hedges in the fall, not spring; don’t use glue traps; turn outdoor ceiling fans off at night to protect bats and don’t interfere with any wildlife without calling the center for advice first!
Learn more at tucsonwildlife.com or by calling 520-290-WILD (9453) which answers 24/7. Master Naturalists attending were Barbara Gaynor, Cameron Becker, Carrie Barcom, Deb Huie, Don Featherstone, Jane Davenport, Jean Boris, Julie Hallbach, Mack Consigney, Marilyn Liss, Penny Miller, Sharon Overstreet and Franklin Lane.
Our featured image has Master Naturalist, Carrie Barcom, dressed in one of TWC’s camouflage ghillie suit!