Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bridge 6 is gneiss

Bridge 6, Photos by Carol Tornow
In the middle the downstream ledge of bridge 6, you'll notice a big rock that sticks out and up. This is a very nice example of Catalina Gneiss (gneiss pronounced 'nice'). Here's some info. You can remember bridge 6 by remembering that gneiss has 6 letters and/or that at bridge six, the gneiss rock sticks (out). Six rhyming (more or less) with sticks.

View upstream from bridge 6

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

WPA bridges start with 5

W.P.A. Project G5-2-97, 1936

And again

Bridge 5, all photos by Carol Tornow
As you approach bridge five, look for the WPA plaque on the right 'post'. If you examine it, you'll see the project designation, the first number of which is 5. This is your clue that you are on bridge five. I realize that the WPA project designation is the same for bridges 5 and up, but you aren't going to look for any more WPA plaques on the bridges. (Well, you can look for them, but they aren't your helpful hints.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Creek Circles

Photo by Ned Harris, 3/23/11
Have you ever wondered about those lines in the creek? Do worms or snakes make 'creek circles'? Thanks to Ned Harris's investigative skills, I can blog with authority that these trails are made by dragonfly nymphs. Really. I'll give you this site for kids (which represents my current level of interest in dragonflies. You can google for more images and info if you want to learn more). Take a look in a shallow area in the creek (as you are peering over the side of a bridge, perhaps) and you are almost certain to find some trails. Now you can impress family, friends, and fellow canyon folks with your knowledge of dragonfly nymphs and what they do for fun.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Pipevine Swallowtail, male; photo by Ned Harris, male
Egg, larva, pupa, adult. That's the drill for complete metamorphosis; both types explained here very simply (just the way I like it). Pipevine swallowtail larva (caterpillars) look like this and eat the pipevine plant. Then they pupate and turn into these beauties. Wow. That's metamorphosis for you! Come on a nature walk and Fred can tell you more about this process, and Ned can let you know how he identified the one above as a male. (Alas, it's not stamped on the bottom as I hoped.) Wednesdays, 8.30am, meet in front of the visitor center. Only until the end of April, though (then Ned and co. will lead walks on Mount Lemmon. Details on those to follow).

Friday, March 25, 2011

Violet-Crowned Hummingbird causes stir!

Look closely! Photo by Elissa Fazio-Rhicard, 3/23/11
Fred Heath reported seeing a Violet-Crowned Hummingbird in Sabino Canyon on Tuesday, 3/22/11. Elissa (one of the very few hummingbird banders in the universe) headed out with camera in hand and captured this bird in a bush. (Okay, it looks like a willow.) She writes: I don't think there's ever been a Violet Crowned reported in Sabino before but I couldn't say for sure. It's really a beautiful bird - one of the only hummers that male and female look exactly alike. Even when we band them, unless a female is in breeding condition (swollen abdomen or egg present), we can't tell the sex. It's possible that this species could breed in Sabino but that would mean there would have to be another and odds don't seem good for that.
Anne says: Bandings in Sabino are at sunrise plus 5 hours every other Saturday, through and including October 15th. The next banding session is April 2nd, sunrise is 6:11. This is one of those MUST EXPERIENCE events. So set your alarm and get out there by 7:30 for you best chance of seeing hummingbirds up close and personal.  The easiest way to get to the banding site is to take the road to the Bluff trail, take the Bluff trail to the end, and walk on the wide path until you see Elissa's car and sign.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bridge four on the floor!

Bridge 4, photos by Carol Tornow
Walt Tornow remembers bridge four by the clear fork in the creek on the upstream side. Fork has - you guessed it - 4 letters. You can see the fork if you go a bit past the middle of the bridge and look upstream.

Middle of photo shows the first part of the two-pronged fork
I remember bridge four because I think standing there offers the best unobstructed view of the Acropolis wall. What's that, you ask? I don't have a good photo, so go to the middle of the bridge (where you are going to marvel again at how much the upstream side has silted in by comparing to the visible ledge on the downstream side) and look up (upstream side). That 40-story rock face is called the Acropolis (not sure why, as it doesn't look like the Acropolis to me, but let's go with it) and A-cro-po-lis has 4 syllables. (As a bonus, 'wall' conveniently has 4 letters.) A little bit past this bridge is the creek-side truck from this post, if you need a 'four-on-the-floor' mnemonic reminder!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rocky 17

Photos by Angie Perryman
Note the heart-shaped rock over the heart
The stone masons working on the surfaces of the new restrooms before bridge one have a great sense of style. They (and many pedestrians) continue to enhance 'Rocky' the current Canyon Curiosity. Note the bejeweled fingers and wrists, the chapeau, and the stunning ascot. He's a true gem.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A young hawk's thoughts...

Click on photo for larger view
Click on photo for larger view
More amazing photos from Ned 'Raptor Man' Harris. Text also from Ned: Spring has arrived in S. E. Arizona and our local raptors are establishing their nesting territories. Yesterday, I was able to photograph a local pair of Cooper's Hawks during their courtship flights above their nesting territory. The lead bird is a one year old female still in her juvenile plumage. The trailing bird is an adult male. One year old females often nest with adult males. Watch for this same behavior above the nesting territories at Sabino. Anne says: Wow!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A tree for three (and ZZ)

Bridge three, photo by Carol Tornow
Curve to the right to cross bridge three. This is still one of the ERA-built bridges. Head to the middle and look downstream. You'll see the tree below.

Gnarly tree at Bridge three, Photo by Carol T
The roots of this tree are exposed quite a bit, very distinctive. Note, too, the ledge: Like the others, bridge three has a similarly deep ledge on the upstream side (if you dig down enough). If the tree doesn't help you remember three, see the photo below for another tip.

Bridge three crew, Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh
The huge patch of giant reed is - hooray - no longer at bridge three, thanks to this crew, which includes the bearded man on the left, who reminds me of the band ZZ Top. Three rhymes with Z. (What can I say? It's how my mind works.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Two-faced Two

Bridge 2, photo by Carol Tornow
Continuing our walk into Sabino Canyon on the road (and our series on the canyon bridges), we come to bridge two. (This is where several naturalists do 'show-and-tell-and-pan-for-garnets' during the week on the little beach under the sycamore on the upstream side. If you haven't already enjoyed this activity, I urge you to check the schedule for the days and times. It's great fun and, of course, the naturalists are knowledgeable and happy to answer any and all questions about the canyon.)  Again, you'll want to go to the middle of the bridge and note how much the upstream side has silted in compared to the downstream side. Another example of the awesome power of water. Look right and up and you'll see the two-faced rock - here's a better view - and that's how you'll know you are on bridge 2. Think: Two = Two-faced.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Bridges of Sabino Canyon

This series - in 9 parts - will help you remember which bridge you are on. After living in Tucson for almost 4 years, I finally have them straight, thanks in large part to a clever mnemonic from Walt Tornow (which I 'borrowed' and adapted. Thanks, Walt)!
First, a little history. The road beyond Rattlesnake Canyon was 'blasted out' in the fall of 1934 by workers from the Emergency Relief Administration (ERA). The first four bridges were built by the next year, also by the ERA. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) took over after that and finished bridges 5-9 by 1936. (See David Lazaroff's book "Sabino Canyon: The Life of a Southwestern Oasis", pp. 97-98). NB: The crossing of Rattlesnake - which is a bit past the mile 'stone', near the 2 newish restrooms -  is NOT a bridge.

Bridge 1, photo by Carol Tornow
Heading into the canyon on the road, you'll take a gentle turn to the right (after about 1.5 miles) and bridge one will look like the above (if you go on a cloudy day in late February). Stand in the middle and look over the side on the right. When built, all the bridges were (more or less; we won't quibble too much with inches) as deep (or better: as high over the water) on both sides.What happens with water runoff from Mt Lemmon (or anywhere) though? That's right, silt. The side upstream has silted in much more than the downstream side.
How will you know you are on bridge one? Well, it's the first. And, you can say: "Bridge one is fun!", if you like.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Get ready to howl!

I wanted to make you aware of the great howling opportunity available (extreme super moon) on the evening of Saturday, 19 March. I'm sure the view will be spectacular in the canyon. Send me your photos afterwards and I'll post them. Aaaawhooo!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Getting to know your lizards

Zebra-Tailed Lizard. 3/16/11
This beauty was spotted on the nature walk today (and photographed by Ned Harris. All photos are from Ned, but only the one above is from today). Small lizards are the first ones out, then the larger ones and (everyone's favorite) the snakes. The Zebra-Tailed lizard will turn up its tail and wag it back and forth to confuse predators. But so does the Greater Earless Lizard. How do you tell the difference? 

Greater Earless
In the photo above, you'll note the two stripes by the groin. If you see those, you know you have a Greater Earless. Think: G for groin. G for Greater Earless. 

Zebra-Tailed Lizard
Note on the Zebra-tailed lizard above, the two stripes (not as prominent) are by the armpit. Think: Armpit = A through Zebra-tailed. Corny, but it works.

Which one is this? 
If you said: Groin = G = Greater Earless, you are a winner!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The truck stops here!

Truck bed frame
Engine and wheel hub
Heading into the canyon on the road, just after crossing bridge four, you'll see some metal sticking out near the creek on your right. (Thanks to Jim 'not that Jimmy' Connors for the tip.) It seems to me that more of these artifacts have been uncovered since the Forest service removed a trash can from this area, and since the construction workers are using stones from nearby to surface the new restrooms. When I first noticed parts of this, I thought it might be a ski lift. Jim pointed out that it's a 6-cylinder engine, though, and upon closer inspection, you can see how the tailgate would fit onto the frame. These parts have clearly been there for some time; the tree has roots around the tailgate, and the frame is more than half buried. If you know how this truck came to rest here, please share with me and we'll call this an official canyon curiosity!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Desert Spoon Rocks!

Photo by Carol Tornow
Look at the center of the photo for a desert spoon that is apparently growing right out of the rock. Pretty amazing plant.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mistletoe in the morning

Photo by Marge Kesler, 3/11/11
This buck brakes for mistletoe berries. Marge saw this handsome fellow along the road to Bear Canyon. I'll bet he gets all the babes (and the berries).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Canyon Curiosity 2: Not a fort

Photo by Carol Tornow, taken in the dam area
This constructed* artifact at the top of Dead Man's Hill** has been called many things: A fort, a Hohokam dwelling, a forest ranger's house. But it's never been any of those. (Although it may serve as a mountain lion perch on occasion.) It's a water tank, originally used like a water tower, i.e., to drop water into the restrooms in the dam area and other points below. It hasn't been used for many years, though. If you hear water sloshing around up there, that is from the new water lines; they run up over/under/through the hill.
Which brings us to the malodorous part of this Canyon Curiosity. That sulfur/sewer smell that occasionally sullies the air in this area. Carol Tornow wrote it best: The sewer smell as you approach the front side of Dead Mans Hill** occurs when the sewage from the restrooms at Rattlesnake Creek is pumped up over the hill through the sewer line.  Alas, there is no getting rid of this smell, but it does only occur when the pump is turned on.  If visitors ask, tell them it is only a problem for a few hours at a time, and only in that section of the road (thankfully).

*The ERA made bridges 1-4 (more on those later) and the dam; the WPA bridges 5-9. The CCC built recreation facilities. I'm guessing that the CCC built this water tower, but please correct this if you know better. See also David Lazaroff's book: 'Sabino Canyon: The Life of a Southwestern Oasis', pp: 95-100.
**Heading into the canyon on the road, not so bad; heading out, you can see why it's called that. About 3/4 of a mile in - and before mile marker 1, in any case.

Bonus post!

Anne says: Peggy added this as a comment on the 'Or is it a fly off?' post. I thought I'd give it a wider audience. Peggy writes: Great-horned owls do not build their own nest structure, but depend on those built by hawks. They begin nesting a month or more before hawks do, so can handily compete for last year's hawk nest. Thus the Cooper's hawk was rightly trying to drive the owl away and to protect its territory.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Or would it be a fly off?

Adult Cooper's Hawk
Great Horned Owl
Photos and text by Elaine Padovani: Yesterday's (3/9/11) plant and birding hike was highlighted by Kestrel romance on the wires (Anne says: not pictured. They were given a private moment.) and an incredible standoff between a great horned owl and an adult Cooper's Hawk just above the dam. We heard the hawk fussing and then saw the owl about 12 feet away. The poor owl was just trying to take a nap but the hawk wouldn't let it alone because of proximity to one of the active nests. The hawk finally drove the owl from its perch and both flew across the creek and landed about twenty feet apart. When we left, the hawk was still fussing and the owl was trying to go back to its nap.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wild thing!

Wild cucumber, photo by Carol Tornow
This vine is all over the trees along the creek and is blooming (small, yellowish-green flowers). Thanks to Fred (and via Carol T), we now all know that it is wild cucumber, a native plant whose spiky fruits are eaten by various canyon critters.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Two female mallards, photo by Carol Tornow
Many sightings of the mallards since the beginning of the month. The males have the iridescent green heads. Females look like the above. If you see people feeding the ducks, please ask them to stop. The ducks' diet is composed of  insects and larvae, aquatic invertebrates, seeds, acorns, and aquatic vegetation. (NOT crackers, oranges, granola bars, and candy.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Canyon Curiosity 1

Rusted metal in lower right, photo by Carol Tornow
The first in a new series on the blog, this canyon curiosity is demystified by none other than David Lazaroff, author of Sabino Canyon: The Life of a Southwestern Oasis; as well as Amphibians, Reptiles, and their Habitats at Sabino Canyon, among others. If you don't already have the former, I urge you to stop in at the visitor center bookstore and pick up your very own copy. You can see how much the canyon has changed (and remained the same) since 1993. (I have it from a reliable source close to the author - okay, from David - that a history of Sabino Canyon is forthcoming. I'll be sure to alert you as soon as that is available.) If you like frogs and lizards and the like, do pick up a copy of the latter at the same place.
David writes: All the artifacts on the bluff here (including the bit of concrete also shown in your photo) are related to the water gaging station that once stood at this site. It measured stream flow continuously from 1932 to 1974. Oddly, the "Gaging Sta" is still shown on the Sabino Canyon Quadrangle (USGS topographic map), even though the gage is long gone. The gage has left us an invaluable scientific record of changes in Sabino Creek during the years it was operating.  I used the data from this gage (as well as data from the gage that now stands just upstream from the dam in  Lower Sabino - Anne says: See photo below) to create the graphs for the "Changing Flow Patterns in Sabino Creek" sheet. I also designated the old gaging station site as the boundary between Upper and Lower Sabino in the book on Sabino amphibians and reptiles.
Anne says: To see evidence of the former stream gage, hop on the Bluff trail from the road. About mid-way there is a large rock outcropping (on your left) that juts out over the creek. Look for the metal piece there. It's about as long as my foot. (So take me.) 

Still existing stream gage upstream from dam, photo by Carol Tornow
To see this stream gage, stand in front of the dam, facing toward it (upstream) and look up and to your right for the box-like shape. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Volunteers vs. The Giant Reed

Mark Hengesbaugh captivates 8th graders
On Friday 3/4/11, Mark Hengesbaugh took on the toughest crowd known to teachers everywhere - 8th graders. This middle school focuses on social justice and environmental sustainability, and these students are interested in a community activity. Jean and Mark were asked to talk to them about their work on giant reed.
Mark writes: Twenty-four 8th graders from Paulo Freire Freedom School sat in the Sabino Dam area on Friday and heard the saga of "The Volunteers vs. the Giant Reed." Kids viewed "before" photos asked good questions like, "How long did it take to get so bad?"

Friday, March 4, 2011


Photo by Carol Tornow
Last week by the creek. Looks like a small raccoon track. And a large whistle. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Desert Chicory, photo by Matt Ball
Spring wildflower season is underway and it's time (again) for me to make a correction. Get out your copy of "A Naturalist's Guide to Sabino Canyon" (if you don't have one, never fear! You can get the updated and expanded edition in 2012) and turn to page 52. Cross out, put a sticker over, or otherwise delete the photo on the upper left labeled 'DesertChicoryNH'. Cross out (etc.) the description below it (NOT next to it) for TACKSTEM. We don't have those in Sabino Canyon. Finally, re-label the photo 'TackstemAG' as 'DesertChicoryAG'. You will be left with a description for DESERT CHICORY on the upper right; and below it a re-labeled photo of that flower. Many thanks to Joan Tedford for this correction.
I am AG and I approve of this message!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Another nest

Hummingbird nest, Anne's finger tips above for scale.
Photo by Bob Wenrick 2/23/11
When I first saw this, I thought it was debris, as it's not more than 2 feet off the ground. But it's definitely a hummingbird nest. Go into the riparian area above the dam by the steps (and the orange fencing); as the trail curves to parallel the creek, look to the right. We saw it again on the nature walk today. Next time I'm in the area, I'll try to remember to tie a red bow nearby!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Can't believe I ate the whole thing!

Peregrine Falcon
The bulge in the center of the chest indicates a full crop. 
Ned took these great shots and writes: "Note this individual has a full crop. Raptors store their kill in the crop and digestive juices in the saliva break down the food in the crop prior to it being sent to the stomach." Anne says: "Don't try this at home."