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
On January 11, 2018 eleven Pima County, Master Naturalists from cohorts (1) and (2) joined, noted humorist and part time ornithologist, Jeff Babson on a visit to the Sulphur Springs Valley to observe and appreciate Sandhill Cranes. The Sulphur Springs Valley is east of Tucson and extends from Wilcox to Douglas, Arizona. The cranes start showing up as early as September and may extend their winter vacation into March. The best time to appreciate them, however, is between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.
Jeff explained that there are several subspecies of Sandhills that visit the Wilcox Valley. One group is known as the Rocky Mountain population and come down from nesting areas in Idaho, Wyoming and Southern Canada. The other, Mid-Continent population, is from Northern Canada, Alaska and as far away as Siberia. Between 25,000 and 35,000 birds visit Southern Arizona each winter.
The cranes are grayish, with black feet and legs. They have a very distinctive red patch on their foreheads. Most of the ones we observed appeared to be about 4 feet tall and were VERY noisy, especially in flight! We observed flocks returning from feeding, in fallow fields of corn and alfalfa, of several hundred birds but also loners and couples. It was interesting to speculate on the dynamics going on. There were also many young among the cranes at the White Water Reserve, making their first visit to Arizona with their parents. Next year they’ll be on their own.
In addition to the Sandhill Cranes there were dozens of other bird species, both native and visitor, that Jeff was able to identify for us. A partial list, compiled by Deborah H., follows. The trip was rewarding and fun so we’ll probably try and arrange it again next February. Thanks to Pete Pfeiffer for the great photos.
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.
— Izaak Walton