Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sabino Canyon Ecology Visit #6

This was my sixth trip to Sabino Canyon in December and I decided to take the 10 A.M. tram to the end of the road and walk back the 3.8 miles to the visitor center. When I started out it was cold in the low 40's and never warmed up all that much which made for comfortable walking.

Sabino Canyon is one of the most popular if not the most popular destination in Tucson. The trams were mostly filled and the roadway had more hiker's and runner's than I'm used to seeing on my early morning visits. On the ride up we were informed that another mountain lion had been spotted in the lower canyon around stop number one the previous day. This sighting brings the total number of sightings that I am aware of to four for December, all in the lower canyon.

As a wildlife enthusiast I love being close to nature and am constantly looking for signs of movement. Now that water has returned to Sabino Canyon you can see some unusual birds along the creek including the Belted Kingfisher that was spotted feeding at the pool in the above picture. The kingfisher is a winter resident and feeds almost entirely on aquatic life so I'm curious what was on the menu here in the canyon. You can learn more about Belted Kingfishers at:

It was also near this location that I saw, for the very first time, a Greater Roadrunner in flight. I have seen and photographed many roadrunners in the last seven years and just happened to get this roadrunner shot here in the canyon last week but only once in all that time have I witnessed one airborne. I would have to describe what I saw as a "glide from one high ridge to another lower one". There was no flapping and no attempt to gain altitude just a simple and quite beautiful glide from one place to another.

The Gila Chub is the only native fish that lives in the creek and it's story is one that I find immensely interesting. I am currently doing a little research on life in the canyon and what is really going on from  an ecological viewpoint. It's sometimes hard to understand that a place such as this with it's enormous beauty and abundance of wildlife can also have serious issues that effect the plant and animal populations in a very negative way. It is not only the impact of the thousands upon thousands of humans that trek through the canyon but also the non-native grasses, trees, shrubs, frogs, fish, and on and on. I am also curious about the effects of damming the stream at multiple points and the over use for recreation by the public. Here is a book preview by author David W. Lazaroff that I have only just begun to digest but so far it is extremely interesting so I thought I would share it.

Also spotted on this walk were a few Canyon Wrens, Black -throated Sparrows, and Phainopepla. I did not get into areas that I traditionally see more birds like above the dam because the stream in the upper and mid canyon was my focus so I could prepare for future visits once I understand the ecology of the canyon a little better

One of the dams currently referred to as " a bridge" which is a function they do provide but I see them more as dams based on the way that they limit the flow of the creek. It will be interesting to research how they effect the ecology of the canyon.

Saguaro's have a prominent place throughout the canyon perched precariously on the canyon walls. I have included a national Park Service link on how Saguaro's grow which is very informative.

There is allot to see and even more to learn about the canyon's and riparian areas here in the desert and I have chosen Sabino Canyon as my classroom for a couple of reasons. Number one is it's high usage as a recreation area and secondly it's diversity in the face of that human encroachment.

Keep an eye out for what I learn about Sabino Canyon and riparian areas here at Sonoran connection. I still am on the lookout for the ever elusive mountain lion also known as the "Puma"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sabino Creek Sabino Canyon

                                                                    SABINO DAM

On December 6th we traveled to Sabino Canyon and there was little evidence of water with the exception of a few stagnant pools here and there. No running water was found. After a mid month rain and snow in the Santa Catalina Mountains we returned on the 17th and the stream had regained it's vigor and was once again the beautiful bringer of life to the riparian area along it's banks.

                                                                       Behind the Dam

Just above the dam you can see the effects of the downward flow of the water carrying sediment over the years since the dam was built and depositing it behind the dam until it was completely full. It is my understanding that this was a popular swimming hole many years ago but it is barely a few inches deep today.

Rain and snow melt moving down from the Santa Catalina's provides the necessary moisture for a variety of plants along the creek banks including cottonwoods, willows, elderberries and ashes as well as a variety of native shrubs and grasses. You can read about the ecology of this important and unique environment at:

According to the Tucson Audubon Society less than 5% of the states riparian areas have survived due to a number of factors that include over development and groundwater pumping. Sabino Canyon is home to a variety of birds an animals including the recently observed Rufous-backed Robin and three Mountain Lions. I have to admit that for a long time I avoided coming to Sabino because of it's high visitation rate but I have been here three times in the last month and the beauty of this place far out weighs any reservations I might have had.

The road going into the canyon is not open to automobiles which really helps to keep a sense of serenity. There is a tram that runs from the base to the end of the road and back and I think lots of visitors are content to see the canyon in this fashion which in a way takes pressure off the trails. Allot of people who visit regularly walk or run up and down the road which crisscrosses the creek over a series of stone bridges that were built many years ago.

I plan on heading back to  the canyon on December 26th and going to the top on the tram and then spend a great deal of time walking the 3.8 miles back to  the visitor center. In the photo above it is easy to see the path of the creek often described as a ribbon snaking it's way through the desert. You can see how quickly the vegetation changes as you move away from the stream showcasing just how small and fragile a riparian habitat is. I'll let you know how my trip is on the 26th. Until then have a happy holiday and please support one of the many fine environmental organizations listed on this blog.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Stream Where There Was None....

I took another hike through Sabino Canyon on Tuesday morning starting out at daybreak when there are fewer people walking, running or riding their bikes. My purpose was twofold including keeping an eye out for mountain lions which have been spotted in the lower canyon within the last couple of weeks  and mostly to photograph the newly filled stream that just days ago was as dry as a bone. The canyon takes on a whole different look and feel when there is water rushing down from the Santa Catalina Mountains from the recent rain and snow (above 5000 feet).
I concentrated on walking into the canyon along the main road about 2 1/2 to 3 miles taking mostly photos of the stream, bridges and vegetation. I will be heading back to the canyon to photograph the area around Sabino Dam tomorrow after which I will come back and add my best shots and talk more about my experiences in the canyon this month.
There is still a chance that I could see mountain lions but it is only a very small one and I can hope.

400 Yellowstone Buffalo Targeted for Execution

Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field
and in the policy arena to protect America's last wild bison.
Dear Ray ,

State and federal agencies plan to kill hundreds of wild bison near the Yellowstone border this winter.

Citing a "skewed sex ratio" resulting from their own slaughter operations, government agencies recently announced their desire to kill at least 400 female bison this winter alone. Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) plans to intervene, and needs your support to protect these bison and their right to migrate.

The wild buffalo you and I protect are the only in America to continuously occupy their native habitat. They are the only living link to the great herds of their ancestors that once covered most of the continent. Once 40 million strong, less than 4,500 wild bison survive, and Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group solely dedicated to their protection--and you are a crucial part of our team.

As BFC begins our 16th year of buffalo defense, your help continues to allow us to make progress. Our work in the courts, supported by evidence gathered on field patrols, has grounded the Department of Livestock (DOL) helicopter. When we showed evidence that the helicopter was harming threatened grizzly bears, a federal judge ordered the DOL not to use it last spring. Later, the DOL announced that the "helicopter hazing program has ended and no longer exists." A major victory for buffalo and the ecosystem!

BFC patrols are in the field with the buffalo at this very minute, as we have been every time buffalo have stepped out of the part since 1997--because this is where they are most vulnerable. Our patrols monitor the migrations, document every action against buffalo, take direct action to protect them, and inspire a wide range of buffalo protection efforts.

Because this "war" has so many fronts, we are also working in the courts to allow bison room to roam on their habitat outside of Yellowstone, to halt the commercialization of wild bison offspring, and to ensure that the DOL helicopter is permanently prohibited from harassing wild bison. On the legislative front, BFC employs a year-round policy coordinator in Washington, DC who works with members of Congress to change the underlying policies that have resulted in the killing of 4,000 buffalo since the late 1990s.

All of these efforts cost money. Although we are an efficient organization known for stretching every dollar to its fullest, our succes is dependent upon your generosity. BFC is counting on your contribution today so we can continue our battles for the buffalo's right to roam and our work to save the 400 buffalo mommas slated for slaughter.

With the agencies intent on killing buffalo by the hundreds this winter it is crucial that we organize the most energetic and effective advocacy effort. Your year-end gift will help ensure that we keep the pressure on in the courts, in the halls of government, and in the fields where the buffalo roam. No matter the size of your gift, your personal support is essential to the buffalo's future. Thank you for helping us to finish the year strong so we can keep our focus where it belongs: on defending the buffalo!

For the Buffalo,

Dan Brister
Executive Director
Buffalo Field Campaign

P.S. Please stand with us to protect the buffalo. With the killing season targeting the mothers and matriarchs of the herds, we hope you will send the most generous year-end gift you!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sent to Congressman Raul Grijalva

I sent the following message to Congressman Grijalva in regards to the plight of Yellowstone National Parks buffalo. Please feel free to copy it and send it to your congressperson.

Government agencies are planning to slaughter 400 female buffalo in Yellowstone under the misguided belief that they are balancing the herd which is absurd. For some reason the parties involved in the Interagency Bison Management Plan have concluded that killing as many bison as possible is protecting them. The treatment of the Yellowstone buffalo is a national disgrace and a moral failure of the Interior Department under Secretary Salazar. This outrageous plan is meant to appease grazing interests and is contrary to the mission of the National Parks. Please help save the Yellowstone bison, the last truly genetically wild herd in America.

Learn about the Yellowstone National Park buffalo here:

Ray Goodwin

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Letter From the President

The White House, Washington

December 5, 2012

Dear Ray:

Thank you for writing.  The Chimney Rock site in southwestern Colorado incorporates spiritual, historic, and scientific resources of great value and significance.  On September 21, 2012, I was proud to sign a Presidential Proclamation designating Chimney Rock as a National Monument.

America’s natural resources and landscapes are among our Nation’s most precious treasures, and we have an obligation to protect them for future generations.  That is why my Administration is taking action to preserve and restore our land, water, and air.  Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, I increased funding for hazardous waste cleanup, wastewater and drinking water infrastructure construction, and projects that improve our Nation’s parks and wildlife refuges.  I also signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act—the most extensive expansion of land and water conservation in more than a generation.

To further safeguard our natural heritage and historic landmarks, I was proud to launch the America’s Great Outdoors initiative.  Building on input from tens of thousands of people across our country, my Administration is joining with communities, landowners, sportsmen, businesses, and partners at every level of government to reconnect Americans with the natural world and lay the foundation for a more sustainable planet.

We all share the responsibility to help protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that supports and sustains us, and my Administration remains committed to tackling these and other tough problems.  I encourage you to learn more about our efforts  You can also read about the America’s Great Outdoors initiative at

Thank you, again, for writing.


Barack Obama

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Raptor Free Flight Photography Practice

The Desert Museum is really very close to my house and when I want to practice my photography skills or try out different settings it's an ideal spot. I decided to go to the afternoon Raptor Free Flight to see what results I would get setting the camera at ISO 160, Shutter Speed 1000 and Aperature 6.3.

This Barn Owl is the most wide spread owl worldwide. I was happy with the results even though this is a cropped photo shot at 70 mm.

 Only 100 pairs of Gray Hawk breed in Arizona. They use riparian areas with cottonwoods as nesting sites and I have been lucky enough to see over a dozen of them over the last few years mostly in Arivaca and Buenos Aires National WIldlife Refuge.

I plan on returning to RFF sometime soon and shortening the shutter speed to 1250 or faster to see if I can get better results with the wing movement.

Raul Grijalva for Secretary of the Interior

I believe that the appointment of Secretary of the Interior for the next four years is one of the most consequential. I also believe that Congressman Raul Grijalva who is currently my Congressman would be the best choice. This man who exhibits a deep understanding of environmental issues and concern for the planet should be our next Secretary of the Interior. Please sign the Whitehouse petition and move America towards saner public policy.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Attack on America's Wilderness

These guys never get tired of trying to undo the good that has been done in the name of the environment and wildlife in America. The most effective way to deal with this is to elect people to represent us that believe that America's greatness includes it's wilderness. Help stop the most serious attack on America's wilderness in history.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM II Review

                                               ISO 640 Aperture F11 Shutter Speed 1/500

I recently rented a Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM II and a Canon EF 2X Extender and spent a week taking photographs of anything that flew. My first impression was how heavy the lens and extender were but by the third day I was used to it and it didn't seem so bad. The auto focus was slow compared to my usual telephoto and sometimes would not focus at all before the shot dissipated.
These were my only complaints and I was very happy with the results considering almost all of my shooting for the week was hand held. This Black Phoebe shows the detail achieved at 400mm which is the maximum for this set up. Frankly I wish I had more time with this package but at $172 for the week it wouldn't take too many weeks to put a good down payment on a new one. It is nice to know that you can rent lenses when you want to do a special project because you would have to spend a fortune to own all that I want.
My next rental will probably be a super wide angle so that I can do landscapes for a week perhaps at the Grand Canyon which is only 350 miles from here..

Advocacy Makes a Difference

You can make a difference. I receive many e-mails this time of year from organizations that I have supported, some with money others by simply speaking out. Nothing is more rewarding than knowing that you did in fact make a difference for the planet, it's wildlife and wild places. So please when you receive those e-mails asking you to speak out, essentially to take a stand consider the good you can do by just getting involved. It only takes a minute to speak up and it can make a world of difference.
Thank you to all those who have visited my website over the past year. I hope you have enjoyed your visits and will return often in the coming year.

Check out Earthjustice here at:

Dear Ray,
I want to say thank you.
This Thanksgiving, as we consider all that we are thankful for, our supporters are at the top of our list. We deeply appreciate your decision to stand with us as we use the power of law to protect the environment and our communities.
Your active engagement in our work inspires us to continue fighting to preserve our natural heritage, protect our health and promote a clean energy future. Thank you for believing in us—we won’t let you down.
Together, we have accomplished so much during the past 12 months...
  • You helped secure protection for more than 45 million acres of roadless national forests from destructive logging and development
  • You helped force the retirement of dirty, coal-burning power plants, which generate more than a third of the nation’s global warming pollution
  • Your advocacy helped save communities from the toxic practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas
  • You helped defeat attacks on the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and preserved pollution standards for new power plants
  • Your support prevented destructive oil and gas development in iconic regions such as the Alaskan Arctic
We couldn’t have won these victories without you—thank you.
We know that the coming year will bring new challenges and new opportunities, but some things will remain unchanged. Our legal team will continue to take on big-impact litigation to secure the health of the earth. And our staff on Capitol Hill will continue fighting to protect our courtroom victories from an anti-environment Congress.
We continue to be grateful for your crucial partnership in this work.
From all of us at Earthjustice, thank you.
Trip Van Noppen PictureTrip Van Noppen Signature
Trip Van Noppen
President, Earthjustice