Cienega Creek Wildlife Camera Trip 3/9/16

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

Birds
Robin
White breasted nuthatch
Vermillion flycatcher
Lesser goldfinch
Black phoebe
Bewick’s wren
Ruby crowned kinglet
Yellow-rumped warbler (Audubon’s)
Albert’s Towhee
Bells vireo
Bullocks oriole (?)

Butterflies
Great Blue Hairstreak
Pipe Vine butterfly
Morning Cloak

Fish
Longfin Dace

Scat
Skunk
Ring-tailed cat (?)
Canid (Fox (?)
Coyote
Domestic cow

Tracks
Mule deer
Javelina
Domestic cow/calf

Mummified carcass:  Hog-nosed skunk

UA Tree Ring Lab Tour

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!

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Santa Cruz River Walk

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.

 

 

 

Credits:
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, Field Trip 10/20/18

Tucson Wildlife Center
Advanced Training
October 2018

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!

Cooking with Tepary Beans

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

Elegant Trogan Bird Survey Experience

On the weekend of June 2-3rd I took part in my first ever bird survey with the Tucson Audubon Society.  Our survey was for the annual count of Elegant Trogans located in the Cave Creek area of the Chiricahua mountains in southeastern AZ.  Other surveys for Elegant Trogans were also taking place in the Huachuca’s, Madera Canyon, and Patagonia Lake.

I headed to the Huachuca’s solo and opted to take the scenic route over FS road 42 via Pinery Canyon, over Onion pass and down to Cave Creek.  The views of the Dragoons, Dos Cabezas and Chiracahuas from this dirt road were amazing. Approaching Cave Creek from this direction was stunning and provided breathtaking views of the south east flank of the Chiracahuas.

Feeling intimated as a novice birdwatcher, I met up with 12 other very experienced birders taking part in the survey Saturday afternoon at the Portal ranger station.  My initial fears about being inexperienced were allayed as the director patiently went over the protocol for documenting when, where and how frequently we see and or hear elegant trogans.  After listening to recordings of three different types of calls elegant trogans make and describing traditional habitat trogans prefer, our territories were assigned to us.  My territory was the South fork of Cave creek 4 miles up canyon by the rock formation called “the Nose”.  Did I mention this area is nicknamed the Yosemite of Arizona?  Very aptly named!

After our meeting was completed I set up camp at the Sunny Flat campground and had a stunning view of the sun setting on Cathedral rock.  Cave Creek area is also a “dark sky compliant” area which means stargazing was phenomenal!

Our survey started at 6:00 am Sunday morning and I was “late” to the trailhead and last one arriving at 5:30am.  Within the first 2 miles hiking in I heard 2 elegant trogan males calling in the canyon.  Arriving at my territory after hiking in 4 miles (and spending the next 2 hours there) I heard one more male trogan.  Unf., I wasn’t able to spot him but nonetheless it was very cool tracking him by sound as he flew up and down thru my territory.

Fortunately, on my way hiking out and with the help of another volunteer I saw my first elegant trogan!!  It was a male and was extremely exciting seeing one live in their natural habitat.  All told the early results of our survey counted @ 5 males and 2 pairs of trogans dwelling in South fork.  One other birder counted 32 different species of birds in her territory (there have been 375 avian species recorded here!).

The South fork of Cave Creek is a lovely shady riparian corridor at a higher elevation with many Arizona Sycamores and maple trees.  Water was plentiful higher up the canyon and a few small poolsDSC_0162r1remained lower down.  “The Bathtub” also had water in it and during monsoons it is a favorite watering hole for animals and people alike.

Overall, I had an excellent bird watching experience in Cave Creek.  The Chiracahuas are a magical place, have a fascinating history and are an incredibly biodiverse region.  I will definitely be back for more bird watching and exploring! By Deb Huie, Certified Pima MN, Cohort 1.

Here is a link with more of Deb’s photos from the trip.

PCMN Sonoita, Grasslands Field trip 4/22/18

IMG_4824Cohort (1) Carol Anderson, Don Featherstone, Julie Hallbach, Hank Verbais, Deb Huie, Franklin Lane. Cohort (2) Gael Cassidy, Mack Consigny

Presenter: Jim Koweek

At this final, coordinated, Advance Training opportunity for the Spring of 2018, Pima County Master Naturalists met at the General Store in Sonoita, Arizona. We caravanned from there about 20 miles south down Hwy 83 to the Lyle Canyon turn off. At the bottom of the hill we met our Grasslands Guide; Scientist/cowboy/author/range specialist/western singer, Jim Koweek!

For the next couple of hours we learned about the incredible biodiversity of this high elevation (+5,000’) grassland biome. The dirt road through the canyon is initially on private property but it is a legal easement to a section of the Coronado National Forest. We made several stops (get out, get back in!) as Jim spotted plants or a particular soil type from his truck.

At out final stop we hiked up a small hill that stood out prominently on the terrain. With some amazing views we discussed grassland ecology, history of ranching in the area and the impact of invasives.

Jim explained about the importation of African grasses to the area in the 1920s-30s as part of an effort to combat the devastation of severe drought conditions in Southern Arizona around that time. He has concluded that it takes about (40) years to really understand the effect an introduced species has on a native population. Therefore, many of those early decision makers never really lived to see the end result. When an invasive out competes a native species there is a cascading effect on other plants, animals and insects.

Everyone agreed that the experience was incredibly worthwhile and should be considered for part of the required curriculum for future PCMN cohorts.
“Grasslands are full of indicator species….a fascinating history of farming and development.” – Julie H.

Submitted by Franklin Lane, Certified Pima MN, Cohort 1. All Photos and the following partial list of plants encountered provided by Deborah Huie, Certified Pima MN Cohort 1.

List of Grasses Identified:

• Blue grama
• Side out grama
• Green sprangle top
• Seep willow
• AZ sycamore
• AZ ash
• Loco weed
• Border pinon pine
• White oak
• Alligator juniper
• Bull muhly
• Pinon rice grass
• Trailing flea bane
• Plains love grass
• Sacaton
• Three ons
• Canyon grapes
• AZ walnut

• Hairy grama
• Cochise lovegrass
• Creeping snake herb – dichereti
• Evolvulus arizonicus (blue eyed)
• Gumphrina
• Manzanita
• Spruce top grama
• Yellow disoida thymophyla
• Yerba de psomo
• Vevlvet pod mimosa
• Native flax – lineum pruberum
• Curly mesquite grass
• Rose heath
• Cliff rose
• Range spreading magenta rattney
• Mouse ears
• Louts (vetch)
• Milkweed
• Rubber rabbit bush

The Glorious Monsoon 2018

white lightning heating mountain
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Get Involved in Citizen Science with the USA National Phenology Network

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 1group by sahuaro