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
ADAPTED FROM THE ARIZONA SONORA DESERT MUSEUM COLLECTION OF RECIPES FROM THE DESERT
Tepary beans (Phaeseolus acutifolius) grow wild in the deserts of the the Southwest. They are the most drought tolerant annual legume in the world and are capable of producing a harvest with only 1 or 2 rainfalls. They have been wild harvested, as well as cultivated for domestication for millennia.
Nutritionally, they are superior to more common beans. They are 23 to 30% higher in protein than kidney, pinto and navy beans. They are high in fiber, which makes them slow to digest, which makes them an excellent food, especially for those with diabetes.
Here is a warm winter recipe that is full of YUM!
VEGETARIAN TEPARY BEAN STEW
1 lb. dried brown tepary beans, rinsed
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp oil
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
2 carrots, sliced into coins
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cumin
1 10 oz can mild tomatoes and green chiles
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1-2 cups fresh pumpkin, as above
1/2 cup cut up greens (carrot tops, celery leaves, purslane, kale, spinach, etc)
salt and pepper to taste
1-Cook the beans until tender (soak overnight, or boil, or use instant pot pressure cooker)
2-Remove 1/2 cup beans with a little cooking liquid (save for thickening the stew later)
3-Saute onion and garlic in oil
4-Add rest of ingredients and simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked
5-To thicken stew, add the (blended till smooth)reserved liquid and the 1/2 cup beans
Enjoy with a crusty slice of Sonoran White Wheat Bread
Each year, about this time, those of us who have lived in southern Arizona start to look for totals of rainfall and to see if the numbers match up to what we have actually measured in our back yard. Or we have at least noticed about the fullness of water barrels placed strategically to harvest every bit of rain that falls.
Triggered by a tropical storm that came through our area and saturated much of Tucson, this year’s monsoon seemed to get off to a good start. However, going forward, patterns were less fulfilling with the afternoon clouds arriving but releasing little water, before moving on. In spite of the wonderful sunsets created by those clouds (which at least once appeared to be lit from above and sending shafts of bright light to the ground), the desired thunderstorms were mild during much of June and July.
Following the driest Spring ever (as recorded by KVOA news) and a severe drought condition over the Four Corners area of the state, the full-on storms held off until August. Some dazzling lightning bolts were recorded by AZ Daily Star photographers over the Santa Rita Mts forming a large loop and again near the downtown area where spectacularly long, vertical stabs were caught on film. After brief sprinkles rainbows appeared amidst the beautiful cloud formations.
On August 22 heavy rains and wind whipped the Menlo Park area on the west side of Tucson and caused flooding of surface streets in the northwest around Thornydale and Overton. Hail and the uprooting of trees by Cortaro Farms Road and Camino de Oeste also occurred. On August 24th lightening delayed a football game at Tucson Magnate H.S and caused a rescheduling of the same at Cholla HS. While these seem significant one friend called this a ‘baby monsoon’ with low frequency of downpours and high intensity of the few we’ve had.
KVOA had predicted an above average season total of inches of rainfall due to the drought in the Four Corners and temperature of sea surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico and on Mexico’s west coast. In order for us to be out of danger of drought it was thought that 12 inches were needed. As of 9/10/2018 there have been only 6.26 inches recorded officially at Tucson International Airport leaving the rest to fall hopefully before the season concludes at the end of the month. By Barbara Rose Gaynor, Cohort 2 Intern
The USA National Phenology Network (www.usanpn.org) is a national consortium of volunteer observers and many partners, including research scientists, resource managers, educators, and policy makers. The USA-NPN was established in 2007 to collect, store and share data and information about the life cycle events of plants and animals, or phenology. The primary way the data come into the National Phenology Database is through Nature’s Notebook, a plant and animal observation program. Many Master Naturalists are involved in programs run by the USA-NPN to collect data about Sonoran desert flora and fauna. Several Master Naturalists are also Certified Local Phenology Leaders who organize groups of volunteers to collect data for a special purpose. Visit www.naturesnotebook.org to find out how to can get involved!
— Posted by Erin Posthumus, Certified Master Naturalist, Cohort 1