Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ice Art

Photos by Ned Harris 1/16/2013
Both taken on the dam bridge. Brrr.

Pretty as they are, I hope I don't see anything like them again this year!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mountain Lion Sighting 1/29/2013

Nancy and Jay spotted a mountain lion crossing the tram road on the morning of 1/29/2013. The lion made his or her way into the Cactus Picnic Area (where SCVN was setting up for the Kindergarten program).
Jay made this short video. (Lion is larger than s/he appears).
Nancy and Jay immediately alerted the naturalists and the Forest Service, of course; and no children were harmed. All bets are off for any nearby deer.
Pam Bridgmon deserves special mention. She was one of the naturalists on site; she immediately contacted the Santa Catalina Volunteer Patrol. By the time the kindergarten children arrived, 5 members of the patrol were on hand to make sure the children remained safe.

Remember: if you encounter a mountain lion, DO NOT RUN! Make yourself look bigger by opening your jacket or spreading your arms. Maintain visual contact. Back away slowly. Make noise. If the lion approaches, throw whatever you have to hand. If attacked, fight back with all you've got.

Still from video by Jay Carey 1/29/2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Both are best

Photos by Alan Kearney 1/6/13

Phainopepla males get most of the attention because they're black and shiny. The gray females are no less beautiful, though. Alan (one of the photographers from the CSI posts) captured this female from both of her best sides.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Marty captures the sun

All Photos by Marty Horowitz
Sunrise 1/24/2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What to do? Buffelgrass, part 2

Mark and several others attended an open house on Buffelgrass eradication at Saguaro National Park last year. Mark summarizes the discussion points that are important for Sabino Canyon, as the magnitude of the problem is similar: 

Saguaro National Park says the only way it can solve its Buffelgrass problem now is to treat and restore infested areas by helicopter. They have already sent herbicide teams on foot into every area they can get in and out of in a day. Areas remaining are too remote or too steep to treat on foot.
We learned aerial treatment using a helicopter is relatively precise. A copter’s main rotor blade is designed for maximum lift, so it sends the herbicide mist down instead of sideways. The helicopter would disperse it with a wide boom for large Buffelgrass sections or with a tethered ball sprayer that treats patches selectively.
The same type of herbicide used on Arundo donax in Sabino Canyon is used on Buffelgrass; it’s safe and inexpensive. This herbicide doesn't affect the cactus but collateral damage would happen to any intermingled native grasses and woody brush. But wherever they use the herbicide would already be a near-monoculure of Buffelgrass. Later, seed and mulch would be applied by helicopter to begin restoration of the Sonoran Desert habitat Buffelgrass has destroyed. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Healthy Sabino vs. Buffelgrass Sabino

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh

Text by Mark Hengesbaugh:

This typical, healthy canyon slope by Sabino Road supports 20-25 species of plants, like saguaros, prickly pear, palo verde, brittlebush and cholla.

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh
When buffelgrass takes over, as on this slope above Sabino Dam, the weed reduces plant variety to two species: buffelgrass and mature saguaros, no new saguaros grow. Buffelgrass infestations can double in size every two years.

Photo by Ned Harris
Mark is the red dot in the middle; pale yellow stuff is buffelgrass
That slope above Sabino Dam is now a wildfire to waiting to happen. If it burns it will kill the remaining saguaros and would likely bring the inferno down into the trees of Sabino Creek’s riparian area.
Let’s review: With healthy Sonoran Desert hillsides, a wide variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects thrive in Sabino Canyon. Where buffelgrass invades, it’s a dead-zone. When buffelgrass takes over a slope and burns, it will likely destroy everything in and around it. After that happens, healthy Sonoran Desert vegetation will not return until the buffelgrass is first prevented from re-growing.
Tomorrow: What to do?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ned's very own hawk

Photo by Ned Harris 1/17/2013

There have been reports of sightings of Harris's hawks in Sabino Canyon recently. (Alas, no photographic documentation yet.) This one is from the ASDM.

Do you have a question about life in Sabino Canyon? Are you willing to wait a month (or more) for the answer? Ask Anne (that's me)! I'll do my best to bring the answer to this blog. Eventually, that is.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Photos by Marty Horowitz 1/18/2013

Marty discovered these strange symbols in the creek by the dam bridge. Inquiring minds want to know: which civilization left these writings and what do they mean?

Peggy took this question to Carl 'Bugman' Olson:

I would say keep watching. Trails could be by dragonfly nymphs but also beetles, water boatmen and other aquatics that may get on substrate. I'd be hard-pressed to say for sure unless I watched them do it. Sorry.
 Anne predicts that the writings say: "Sure is cold down here."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Muley Mystery

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh 12/26/12
Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus)

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh 8/2010
Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Text also from Mark Hengesbaugh: 

At about 2,800 feet elevation, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is desert mule deer habitat but nearly every deer we see there is a whitetail. What gives? We came across a mule deer on the Esperero Trail at the Forest Service corral, so I did some research. … 

In most of the U.S. West, if both species are present, mule deer occupy higher elevations and whitetails occupy lower elevations. But the situation is reversed here in the Southwest, where desert mule deer occupy lower elevations and the whitetail subspecies Coues are found higher, typically above 3,500 ft. 

David Lazaroff, author of Sabino Canyon: The Life of a Southwestern Oasis, said desert mule deer possibly have difficulty moving in and out of the rec area because: 

connections to similar desert habitat has been partly severed by intervening urban and suburban development. Whitetails seem to have a larger elevational range and so can move vertically in and out of the recreation area.

Easiest way to tell the difference between muley and whitetail: A muley’s tail tip will be black, not brown. More scientific: the metatarsal gland on the outside of the lower leg of a muley is a 3-6 inch oblong patch covered in tan hair (look where the barbed wire intersects the outside of the rear leg of the mule deer in the top photo). A whitetail’s metatarsal is below the mid-point of the lower leg, much smaller and circled in white hair (see the small, faint white circle of fur above the black dot lowdown on the outside rear leg of the whitetail.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Photo by Ned Harris 12/30/2012

Photo by Ned Harris 1/2/2013

You've probably noticed mesquite branches whose leaves look brown and dead, like the leaves on the right in the top photo. Next time you're out and about, look for the tell-tale ring that is evidence for a Mesquite Girdler Beetle (NOT a Giant Mesquite Bug). The female girdler beetle chews a ring through the bark and the 'pipes' (vascular tissue) of the branch. She then lays her eggs 'down stream' of the ring, in tiny scratches (note 4 scratches in the photos above). Chewing through the 'pipes,' means that sap won't wash away her eggs. Instead, sap will pool up at the ring. (See this post.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Leucistic Hummingbird

Photos by Dr. Karen McWhirter 1/13/2013

Dr. Karen writes:
This hummer was first seen in my yard last year. According to Elissa Fazio [of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network], leucistic hummers are usually female, and this is most likely an Anna's. They apparently are not as strong as normal hummers, and are less likely to survive migration, so we were happy to see it at our feeder again a few days ago. She sat there long enough for us to get photos, and I realized it was probably because she was trying to nectar off of a popsicle!

Note from Anne:  Have photos of Sabino Canyon 'life' to share? Send them to me and I'll make every effort to post them here. I'm the only one who can post, as it's my blog : -)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

CSI Sabino Dam V: Which Skunk?

Ronnie writes:
There are four species of skunks in Sabino Canyon. The teeth are the final clue. Three of the four species of skunks, striped (Mephitis mephitis), hooded (Mephitis macroura), and western spotted (Spilogale gracilis), all have the same number and types of teeth. The fourth species, the white-backed hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus) has one less tooth in each quarter of the jaws, or four fewer teeth total. Luckily you found this species [hog-nosed] so we could confirm identification with the views from [yesterday's photos]. [Anne notes: Mark and Jean have seen this species in the canyon. Alive. Click.]
This skunk is listed in older books as C. mesoleucus, the western hog-nosed skunk, but that species has been combined with the eastern species. Skunks are no longer part of the weasel family either. They are isolated in the skunk family, Mephitidae. Hooded and hog-nosed skunks only occur in a limited area in the southwest, so they are very cool to see.
Skunks are wonderful carnivores, and much more viewable than many other mammals. I've gotten to see all four [species in Sabino Canyon]. Have you? If not, hike the road at night wearing a red light and keep talking to a minimum.
A word of caution: Never try to capture, handle, or startle one. Rather, when you first see one, immediately talk softly to it and continue a low-voiced monologue so they know where you are and that you are not making any threatening moves toward them. I have enjoyed live skunks up close many times and have never been sprayed. (If you have a dog with you, good luck.)
Anne asks: Anyone up for a skunk walk?
Thanks to Ronnie for her expertise; Mark and Alan for the photos; Mark for the initial text and impetus. Definitely up for the Oscar for Best Blog Series in 2013!!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

CSI Sabino Dam IV: Ronnie's Results

Photos by  Mark Hengesbaugh

Ronnie continues: [Note that Anne reordered a few paragraphs to keep the suspense going.]

The foreclaws of a badger are very elongate, like the ones you see on the forefoot in [the photos above]. However, one species of skunk has the same characteristic foreclaws, just on a smaller body.
I don't think that is a badger burrow. That's a skunk den. Skunks dig dens into/under the ground often near other structures like bridges, culverts, river banks, tree trunks, etc.
The specimen is a skunk.
Which species of skunk? The teeth are the final clue....

Friday, January 18, 2013

CSI Sabino Dam III: Size matters

Photo and labels by Alan Kearney
Ronnie continues:

[This photo] gave me the dorsal view of the skull I needed to confirm the 6 incisors of a carnivore, the lack of unfused sutures that would have shown a juvenile, and importantly, the lack of prominent post-orbital processes (portion of the bone behind the eye socket that sticks out in a slight point into the space formed by the zygomatic arch/cheek bone); it is very obvious in a cat skull and ringtail, slightly obvious in a raccoon, fairly obvious in a badger, and almost not present in this specimen.
But this view of the the skull was misleading, so [tomorrow's photos] were invaluable.
By the way, while those are good robust digging claws, they are just the hind foot claws.
Tomorrow: Science gets the answer!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

CSI Sabino Dam II: Teeth, Eyes, Ribs

Photos by Mark Hengesbaugh

Ronnie writes: 
When I first looked at [the photo above], I thought I was looking at a lot of animal carcass, brownish fur, etc. I knew I was looking at a carnivore by the canine, zygomatic arch, and eye socket, but without size, I thought it might be a cat, raccoon, or ringtail.

Click on photos for larger view

With [this photo], I could see that the skull was a very small carnivore because of the finger for scale. But I worried that the finger might be closer to the camera and just look larger. The finger is touching ribs, and the hind foot above it does show 'good' mammal claws.
I could also see that there were teeth behind the canine lined up in a way that made me think of weasels, but the left and right tooth rows run together in the view that is presented.
Tomorrow's post: Size matters

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

CSI Sabino Dam: Discovery

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh 1/6/2013

Mark writes:
On Jan. 6, a group of us came across the carcass of a small mammal just outside a burrow in the Sabino Dam area. The skull had sharp teeth, [there were] proportionally large claws, and [the remains were] situated in the deep pile of loose tailings outside a sizable oblong burrow. We guessed it to be an immature badger. We asked Tucson mammologist Ronnie Sidner for an identification and sent her a series of six photos over three days. Each image turned out to be inconclusive in itself, but with all six, she puzzled out a conclusive identification. 
Ronnie said: 
I got to quiz myself over your specimen photographs using observation and questions, process of elimination, and then deciding what I thought the small mammal was. Then you gave me the privilege of definitely identifying it with a final bit of evidence. It was more fun (although time-consuming) to do it that way than if you'd given me [all the] photos to begin [with].
Tomorrow: The canine, zygomatic arch, eye socket ... a cat, raccoon, ringtail? Let's look at the evidence!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Foam Art

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/2/2012
Click photo for larger view!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Frost Flowers

Photo by Lyn Hart 1/1/2013

Lyn spotted this on a New Year's day nature walk with Debbie and Jerry Bird, Fred Heath and company. Fortunately for this blog, she also took a photo. You aren't likely to see this again!
The best info I could find about this very unusual phenomenon comes from Cal Tech (so you know it's good). Click on Guide to Frost and scroll down to Frost Flowers. Compare the photos there to the formation in the lowest right of the photo above. I think you'll agree to their similarity. Basically, water freezes as it comes out of the stem pores. A one-of-a-kind find!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Star Moss and friends

Photos by Fred Heath 1/1/2013
The rains have brought out the ferns and mosses. Debbie Bird discovered a 'new-to-us' moss along the Bluff Trail in mid-December, and Fred took the photo above on New Year's day. Star Moss (Tortula ruralis) really looks like its name! It's tiny, so get close and use a loupe to see the details.

This photo gives you a better sense of scale. The dark green is regular ol' ordinary moss moss (which will remain so-named); the flat-looking rectangles are Liverworts, and the pale green is the Star Moss as above.  Get on the Bluff trail and check out these green things!

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Photo by Ned Harris 1/2/2013

Male Lesser Goldfinch on Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata).

Some people can identify all the birds in and around Sabino Canyon. The rest of us can modify this handy acronym. P = pretty; Y = yellow; B = bird. (P can be substituted with S for small, L for large; Y for another color.)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Herd seen in Sabino

Photo by Ned Harris 1/2/2013

On a recent nature walk with Ned and friends of Ned, we were pleasantly surprised to come upon a herd of javelinas near the 'circle' where SCVN usually does the elementary school programs by the dam. Ned captured this one before they all disappeared into the brush. I'd say there were 5 or 6 adults (likely females), maybe 2 young ones. Great to see!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Photo by Marty Horowitz 12/12/2012
Don't try this at home. Or on a ladder. This Ladder-backed Woodpecker was sighted by Marty last month in the riparian area above the dam.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Put this bud out of our misery!

Photo by Ned Harris 12/30/2012
Whenever I'm in the canyon, I am compelled to pick up trash. (Please join me in doing this.) And I can't help but notice that Bud Light cans and bottles, are, by an order of magnitude, the most (improperly) disposed of trash. Thus, I ask for your help in preventing this pollution. Please spay or neuter a Bud Light drinker today!
I am Anne Green and I approve this message.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Little Lemon Head

Photo by Ned Harris 12/30/2012
Little Lemon Head (Coreocarpus arizonicus) is one of many DYCs (damn yellow composites); but the only one blooming in the riparian area above the dam, in a shady area near the creek. See page 22 in Rose for more photos. And take your big (lemon) head to the canyon to check out the real thing.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Near the water

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh 12/16/2012
Mark writes:
On Sun., Dec. 16 we saw this Sonora Mud Turtle downstream from the dam, lumbering toward the creek. Air temp was about 55 degrees, but obviously not too cool for this ectotherm.
Anne says: Unlike the Sonoran Desert Tortoise, the Sonora Mud Turtle is a carnivore.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Rattlesnake water

Painting by Sandra VanderWall
Thanks to Sandra for sending this file of her painting of water in Rattlesnake canyon. Check out her other works here.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Water Color

Photo by Ned Harris 12/26/2012
Some nice color by the water on the Bluff Trail.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Even more water

Photo by Ned Harris 12/19/2012
And a video (turn on sound for even more beauty) made by my Honey Matt on the first day of winter, 12/21/2012.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What's that soapy stuff in the creek?

Photo by Ned Harris 12/30/2012

Photo by Marty Horowitz 12/17/2012

Photo by Ned Harris 12/26/2012

Inquiring minds want to know: What's that soapy foam in the creek? Actually, a better description is 'on the creek.' Basically, it's organic matter that's floating instead of sinking. Why isn't it sinking? Well, I'll give you Anne-Green's-good-enough-for-a-10-year-old explanation. If you want to read the specifics from the experts, click here and here.

Water normally sticks to itself. This allows tiny critters like Water Striders to 'walk' on water. As tiny particles - dissolved organic carbon, to be exact - get washed into the creek after it rains and get further churned up as they flow downstream, they reduce the stickiness of water to itself and allow air to be trapped as bubbles. The bubbles then congregate on the surface where the flow isn't as swift. You can sometimes see inches of thick foam around rocks and near the 'shore.'
The source for this organic carbon is - you guessed it - anything that was once living. Algae, plants, animals - we're all carbon-based life forms. Bottom line: harmless and 'natural' in Sabino Creek.
Yes, detergents, soaps, fertilizers, and other substances can cause foam; and that's not usually optimal. I'm reasonably certain that good ol' dissolved organic carbon is the source for the soapy foam on Sabino Creek.
(You might wonder what 'inorganic carbon' is. Best example: diamonds. Made of carbon, but not alive. If you find any when you're panning, be sure to let me know.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Yes, it's water! Part 2

All Photos by Marty Horowitz 12/17/2012

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Water: Part 1

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh 12/16/2012
It's always exciting to see water flowing over the dam in Sabino Canyon. I received a number of water photos in December; it's never too late to view them.