Friday, November 26, 2010

Mexican Gray Wolf- canis lupus bailyi

Smaller than the wolves that now roam in Yellowstone the Mexican Gray Wolf has a wild population of only 50 individuals in Arizona and New Mexico. Hunted to near extinction throughout the southwest the Mexican Gray Wolf was finally listed as an endangered species 33 years ago. Efforts at reintroduction have not been wildly successful due to a number of factors including the efforts of some grazing interests and ranchers whose narrow self interests have resulted in the deaths of wolves that have taken livestock on public land.
Unfortunately there are those in our society who refuse to see the greater good that comes from the reintroduction of large predators into an ecosystem as has been successfully demonstrated in Yellowstone National Park and other areas of the country. Wolves help to return an ecosystem to it's more natural state by returning the balance to the food chain. Deer and elk populations are controlled naturally, native plant populations recover, erosion is abated. The benefits go on and on but so do the wolf haters.
Where wolves once roamed on public lands there should be no question that they should be allowed to re-establish and make a come back. The question should be why do we allow ranchers and grazing interests to dictate what happens on our public lands. If ranchers want the use of public lands then they need to become stewards of the land and participate in keeping these lands healthy and natural and that means finding a way to live with wolves.
When I read about the Yellowstone Wolves, or Wolves in Arizona and New Mexico or Idaho or Wyoming there is a constant theme that runs though every narrative and that narrative is that these magnificent animals must be destroyed to protect livestock. This issue has caused me to refrain from eating beef altogether, to send financial support when I can and to speak out against those who would drive another species to extinction for personal gain. This is especially disturbing on public lands, lands that belong to you and me.
Some in America have over the past two centuries attempted to eradicate large predators from the landscape out of fear and ignorance. Unfortunately that fear and ignorance is alive and well today in many areas of the country and efforts to eradicate wolves continue even in populations as small and fragile as the Mexican Gray Wolf.
As is the case with most wildlife issues there are dedicated individuals and groups fighting to keep endangered species across the spectrum alive and well. It is these individuals and groups who are the front lines in the efforts to save wolves and many other endangered species from extinction. You. however, are the last line of defense in the ongoing effort to save some of the most significant creatures to walk or fly above the earth today. When you stand up and let yourself be heard in support of Wolves or Bison or California Condors then there is hope. When you make donations to these worthy causes you take a major step towards survival of a species. Don't for a minute think that it's taken care of because every program, every effort depends on the voice and generosity that comes from the everyday man or woman who just wants to help. You can make a huge difference in the efforts of the following organizations whose mission is to save our planet. Won't you please consider helping one of these amazing organizations today?

Here is a list of Endangered Species so you can see how much work is being done and how much needs to be done.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Orange Crowned Warbler

We went to Sweetwater Wetlands Thanksgiving morning to do a little bird watching and take a few photos. This was one of several Orange Crowned Warblers that were hanging out at the stream near the footbridge. Check out the Orange Crowned Warbler at:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Leopard Frog

We visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to try out the new camera and this is one of my favorite pictures of the day. You can read about the desert Museum and Leopard frogs here:
We are headed to Willcox Arizona tomorrow to check out the Sandhill Cranes and hopefully get a few good pictures.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ramsey Canyon Preserve -Sierra Vista Arizona

We set out from the Nature Conservancy's visitor center at a little after 9 A.M. at a cool 43 degrees to hike the trail to the Overlook which winds along Ramsey Creek. After a while it turns upward and away from the stream and traverses through a series of switchbacks of varying difficulty.

As we walked along the easier lower section of the trail I could imagine a brisk autumn walk somewhere in the eastern part of the United States. There were sycamores and maples lining the path that were in various stages of fall attire that once again almost made me forget that we were in the desert.

The Nature Conservancy is a private non-profit conservation organization that preserves plants, animals, and natural communities by protecting the lands and waters that they need to survive. Here in Southeastern Arizona they manage the Ramsey Canyon Preserve as well as the Patagonia/Sonoita Creek Preserve and other properties owned by the conservancy.

This was my first outing using my new Canon 7D camera and I am still trying to learn it's in's and out's but I think once I get the hang of it I'm going to like the results just fine. It is substantially heavier that my old camera which almost seems like a toy now. However I got some great shots with that camera and I will keep it for use as a backup.

We didn't see much for wildlife on our journey up the trail in fact it was eerily quiet at times. I had hoped to see the wild turkey's and the magnificent and blue-throated hummingbirds that winter here but it was not to be on this day . We did see Acorn woodpeckers, kinglets, mexican jay's, Coues Deer which are a smaller version of white tailed deer and evidence of bears along the trail.

The view from the Overlook were quite spectacular and definitely worth the climb. While it was only an elevation change of 700 feet from 5,500 feet at the visitor's center to 6,200 ft above sea level at the Overlook we were on the trail for a little over 3 hours which included taking advantage of the two loop trails which were very nice. The trails do lead past the Overlook to other trails but we only walked about a quarter mile past and then headed down the mountain.

On the way down we tok a break and could hear Mexican Jays calling in the distance so we decided to use our Droid I-Bird Application to see if we could call them in closer. Sure enough after a few calls from the Droid the Mexican Jays swarmed our location.

On the Bledsoe Loop we stopped at the frog ponds even though there was little chance that we would see the Chiracahua Leopard Frogs because it was still quite cool in the canyon. Chiracahua Leopard Frogs are an endangered species that can be found only in a few places here in S. Arizona.

There are several cabins of varying size and age in the canyon that for the most part are in disrepair and left to the animals to inhabit. It was illuminating to see them and the locations that were chosen to build on, mostly because of the views or proximity to the stream.

Views of the canyon walls and the magnificent trees were the highlight of the day especially the sycamores including the Arizona Sycamore just before the Bledsoe Loop that is 250 years old.

This is one of the cabins on the Grand View Loop that is home to resident creatures. I must say they have a great view from the veranda!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sandhill Crane Watch Willcox Arizona 11/26/10

On our way to check up on the Sandhill Cranes we decided to stop at the Cochise Lakes which are actually reclaimed water ponds that the City of Willcox uses to water it's public golf course. I always chuckle at what passes for a lake in these parts but non the less it's always nice to be near water, any water and we had heard that this was an exceptional place to see birds.

As you will see in the these photos the wind was blowing hard and steadily and kicking up dust from the playa which is the dry lake bed that we usually hike when we come here. We decided that under these conditions we should skip walking out onto the lake bed and instead head to Kansas Settlement Road after hiking around the pond to see what wildlife this place has to offer.

Shovelers and Widgeons in the hundreds and about a dozen or so Kildeers, Horned Larks and meadow larks as well as many sparrows which were very difficult to spot until they flew away because of all the movement of the grasses from the high winds. We also saw two Northern Harriers which seem to be everywhere we go in the southern tier of Arizona along the border.

There are two blinds that have been built on the shore and the walk around the pond was longer than it looked at the beginning but even with the wind it was very pleasant.

As we headed to Kansas Settlement Road to check out the farms the wind continued to blow and sometimes blocked out the sun. Dust storms are not uncommon here in Arizona but it is unusual to have them last all day long.

We searched the farms along Kansas Settlement Road and saw no evidence of Sandhill's anywhere. Not a single crane was seen flying or feeding, they just weren't in this area. We speculated that perhaps the high winds had keep them on the ground at their roosting spots but it was unclear where they actually were.

There were lots of other birds along the road including hundreds of sparrows,black birds and dozens of hawks. Our last hope to see Sandhill Cranes was Apache Station which is owned by the local utility that has provided a viewing area that is open weekends. We headed over there and finally found what we were looking for!

Between the dust, the wind, the distance and not being very familiar with my new Canon 7D camera getting good shots was a challenge but it surely was worth trying. There were thousands of Sandhill's visible and they all seemed to be eating and riding out the wind storm. There were also untold thousands of birds that were not visible except for further up to our left as we could occasionally hear them calling.

There were a couple of Snow Geese, A couple of hawks and at least one kildeer mixed in with the Cranes and thousands of blackbirds putting on an absolutely exquisite aerial display.

Most but not all of the Blackbirds were Yellow Headed Blackbirds

We had pretty much concluded that the cranes had settled in for the night when a few birds rose up and headed in the direction of the farms or Whitewater Draw beyond. This was the beginning of an absolutely spectacular hour or more of Sandhill Cranes taking flight in various sized groups.

At first they all pretty much headed in the same direction. As time went on more and more birds took to the skies and they were now headed in multiple directions. It was quite an amazing sight to see and we stayed until the sun had set and the full moon was high in the sky.

Information on Sandhill Cranes can be found in the following places:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mt. Lemmon on a Clear Day

We began our trip to Mt Lemmon with the idea that we would do a little bird watching and get some foliage pictures for this blog. As it turned out there was very little bird activity and the foliage was past peak and allot of the leaves had already been shed due to a couple of days of strong winds here in the Tucson area.
That being the case it was a beautiful day in the upper 80's at the base of the mountain where it is classic Sonoran Desert and in the upper 50's at the top of the mountain where mixed conifer forest and high elevation riparian areas are prevalent.

On the way to the top of the mountain you pass through oak woodlands and ponderosa pine forest as well. The 25 mile journey is biologically comparable to the traveling from Mexico to the Canadian border.
Not only is the change in vegetation remarkable but the views are incredible. Everywhere you look there is an amazing vista or an incredible peak.

While the foliage was on the weak side it was still quite enjoyable for this former New England boy to be among deciduous trees with a splash of color.

Most of the color that was still around was on the Quaking Aspens which in full color are very impressive trees.

At the top of the mountain above 10,000 feet above sea level is the Steward Observatory and the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center that offers unique experiences in astronomy and nature. I have purchased two tickets to the Total Lunar Eclipse and Winter Solstice Event at the Sky Center on December 21st 2010 as a Christmas present to myself and Nancy.