Thursday, February 28, 2013

Yellow Desert Primrose

Photo by Carol Tornow

Saw a bunch of these this week - Yellow Desert Primrose (Oenothera primiveris). They don't stay open much past 10am, so look low, early, and often.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hey, hey, we're the mustards!

Plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae) are reliable spring bloomers in Sabino Canyon. We have, among others:

Cross the Bear Canyon bridge and turn left (instead of right into Bear Canyon); and you'll see many of these mustards on both sides of that road. Mustards tend to have inordinately large (and/or unusual) fruits for their flower size. Look for flowers and then fruits, as the season progresses. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Photo by Honey-Matt Ball

Another reliable early spring bloomer is the Mexican Gold Poppy (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana). If you are interested in botanical names and their meaning (and who isn't?), check out this great site.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Forage for Borage

Photos by Matt Ball

These plants in the Borage Family (Boraginaceae) are reliable early-spring bloomers. Foliage abounds, and some tiny flowers have been sighted. Experts can tell the difference between the plants that have tiny white flowers by looking at the fruits. Since we have to wait on those, we can say that the whites pictured here are some species of Cryptantha. (Cryptantha = cryptic or hidden flower)
The orange-yellow in the canyon are usually Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia (Fiddleneck); but Amsinckia will do fine! (Named after 19th-century plant enthusiast Wilhelm Amsinck, who ponied up the money for a garden in Hamburg, Germany.)
The purple-blue flowers are some species of Phacelia, probably Phacelia distans (Wild Heliotrope).
Look low and look often.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Look low for Lupines

Photos by Matt Ball

Lots of Lupine foliage out, for both Desert Lupine (Lupinus sparsiflorus) (top photo) and Elegant Lupine (Lupinus concinnus). Should see some flowers in a week or so. Look low; along the roads for L. sparsiflorus and in the sand by the dam for L. concinnus.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Even if you don't like snakes, you'll want to check out these beautiful photos by Mark Laita, in his soon-to-be-released book Serpentine. Some of 'our' snakes are among them, including an albino Western Diamondback.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fern hunting

Photo by Alan Kearney 2/16/2013
If you're looking for ferns (and who isn't?), take a walk on the Bluff Trail. Three common varieties are out in force there, including the Fairy Swords (Cheilanthes lindheimeri) above.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Click for larger

Photo by Marty Horowitz 2/21/2013
Male Broad-billed Hummingbird on a snow-covered Foothill Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Impending bloom

The weather forecast calls for a few more cold days in the canyon; a good time to hang out in the visitor center and look at the newly-refurbished herbarium. If you say: "Herbarium? What herbarium?" -  it's time for a visit.
Joan Tedford, Plant Goddess, began work on the herbarium in 1994. She collected and mounted all - yes, all - of the samples. (There are at least 180!) The stand was constructed in 1999 and the herbarium went on display in the visitor center that year. Some samples were added later, but the bulk of the collection was due for a good cleaning and re-taping; many of the botanical names had also changed in the intervening decade. A committee of committed 'bot-heads' (composed of Peggy Wenrick, Debbie Bird, and me, with Joan Tedford as our mentor, teacher, and meeting hostess) was formed to take charge of the cleaning and general upkeep of the herbarium. I am pleased to report that we've finished this cleaning and re-taping. (Be sure to thank yourself for providing the tape - via the Forest Service.)
I urge you to go into the visitor center, take a left into the display area, and spend some time marveling at this incredible resource that Joan created. The samples in the Sabino Canyon Herbarium are works of art in their own right. Prepare for the impending spring bloom by taking a look!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Snow, thanks!

Photos by Phil Bentley  2/12/2013

Snow on the Catalinas. Looks great from a distance!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Turning heads every day

From our friends at Science Friday, how owls turn heads.
You'll be amazed!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

If you burn it, it will grow.

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh

Text by Mark Hengesbaugh
Buffelgrass Burns in a Fast, Ferocious Fire
On the Bear Creek side of the recreation area, Buffelgrass (buff-green color) has taken over this upper slope and is quickly spreading down into to the riparian area. When this Buffelgrass burns, the inferno may hit 1600F, hot enough to melt some metals, and will reach three stories high, moving at ten miles an hour. 
You don’t need to imagine what that firestorm looks like coming at you. Click here to watch a two-minute video of an experimental Buffelgrass burn done by Saguaro National Park, Tucson Water and U of A researcher Chris McDonald (fire in mild burn conditions first minute of video, moderate conditions second minute).
For an excellent 9-minute educational video (2008) specific to Tucson's Buffelgrass problem, click here

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The straight poop

There were some good guesses on the mysterious scat question from this post, including several in the same mammal family, namely the Procyonidae (Raccoon) family: Coatis, Raccoons, and - Mark guessed it - Ringtails.

Linda Harris took the photo to the Desert Museum on her docent day. She writes:

Just by chance George Carpenter who is in charge of the Interpretive Animal Collection (IAC) came at lunch time to talk to the docents. He looked at the photo and said the scat has a high probability of being that of a Ringtail. There are Ringtails in the IAC collection. He said it is too small for coyote and coyote scat would have more of a blob, blob look and not a smooth look like this. Also Julia Strom, a former IAC employee, stopped by today by chance and said she thought the scat is Ringtail.
Thanks to all who participated in this investigation!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Buds, blooms, and butterflies!

All Photos by Matt Ball 2/14/2013

Went hiking today on Blackett's Ridge with my Honey Matt. We saw loads of Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla) in bud and bloom and a number of different butterflies, including this Southern Dogface. Fairy Duster in bloom is the signal that spring has sprung. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How do you grow, Saguaro?

Photo by Ned Harris 1/17/2013

Great info of the mighty Saguaro (Carnegiea giganteahere from - you guessed it - Saguaro National Park. The answer to the question: why the 'extra' pleat (above) must have to do with early growth. Remember, the top of the saguaro is the growing tip. The saguaro pictured must have signaled the need for an additional pleat as the space between the two pleats (previously) next to each other became too big. I expect there's a nice equation for this. See the galleries at this site for math-y plant growth 'stuff' (phyllotaxis, for all you nerds out there).

Photo by Ned Harris 1/9/2013

Saguaro between a rock and a hard place.

Photo by Peggy Wenrick 1/26/2013

The Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina) was the 'nurse tree' for the saguaro; now the saguaro is returning the favor of shade to this Fishhook Pincushion (Mammillaria grahamii).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sky Shows

Photo by Linda Stelljes 1/28/2013

Photo by Linda Stelljes 1/28/2013

Rainbows seen by Forest Service volunteer Linda Stelljes (and everyone else) in the canyon. Wow!

Photo by Matt Ball 1/31/2013
And a great sunset on 1/31/2013.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Find the ducks

Photo by Marty Horowitz 2/2/2013
Two male and three female Mallards in this photo. The males are pretty easy to pick out; females are much more camouflaged. Why? As a first-grader informed me last week, the females 'have the eggs.' And they generally incubate them as well. For long-term survival, it's best to blend in if you'll be sitting for long periods. Why are the males so brightly colored? Perhaps to draw predators away from the next generation; perhaps because the females like 'em that way. I'm no bird, but it seems to me that if the colorful male has reached breeding age without being eaten, he must have strength and/or speed and thus good genetic materials. Or maybe he's just a lucky ducky.

Yesterday's plant is an Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), just starting to leaf out. Photo taken from above.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Yes, it's a plant!

Photo by Matt Ball 2/5/2013
The question is: which one? Answer in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Whose scat is that?

Photo by Ned Harris 1/25/2013

Linda Harris wants to know: Whose scat is that? (Quarter not part of output.) If you have the scoop about poop, please let me know what you think about the stink.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wild Cotton Art

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/31/2013

Wild Cotton (Gossypium thurberi)

"Weeds and Pods" 9x12 Oil on canvas by Sandra Vanderwall

And an update on more art from a photo posted on this blog. Sandra used Matt's photo (with permission) in her composition above. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Walk this way...

All Photos by Marty Horowitz 2/2/2013

Walk like a duck...

'Cause if you slip like a dork...

Then you walk alone...

Bye-bye, birdie

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Who made this?

Photo by Peggy Wenrick 1/26/2013

Peggy sends this photo of a mud construction (about the size of a child's fist) in a tree branch and writes: 

thought it might be a high water deposit, but pretty high (my eye level) and a bit too far back from the stream...any ideas?
Mud experts, please slime...I mean, chime in.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Other birds seen and heard

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/31/2013

Photo by Ned Harris 1/30/2013

Photo by Elaine Padovani 12/06/2012

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/18/2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Recent Raptors

Photo by Elaine Padovani 12/06/2012
Elaine captured this juvenile Cooper's Hawk on the bird walk on 12/6/12.

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/18/2013

Marty noticed this adult Cooper's Hawk doing a flamingo imitation. 

Terry responded to the post about Harris's Hawks

I live right on Sabino Creek just south of the bridge one crosses to begin the Phone Line Trail, where the creek hits private land. For decades, we have had a large family of Harris Hawks in the cottonwoods surrounding our back yard right on the Sabin Creek, only one hundred meters from the National Forest line.

Photo by Terry DeWald
Here is a shot of 3 of the gregarious family members in the Mesquites on Sabino Creek, the one on the lower left with a speckled breast being a juvenile.

And finally...
Seen by Carol and Walt Tornow 1/26/2013

Golden Eagles were seen by Carol and Walt as they (the eagles) soared in Sabino Canyon on 1/26/2013.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Teeth de résistance!

The pièce de résistance Check out the tiny molars!!!!
(Anne says: look a bit left of center in the photo above.)
The skull was about 1 inch in length and the molars only a couple mm in size. Never could see a bottom jaw, my guess is that it was pulverized in the owl's gullet.

Comin' straight on for you! Look closely at this one (above) and the previous skull image... lots of the soft nose tissue is still intact!

Photo of the pellet artist! Here she or he is, the same morning the pellet was discovered, happily resting after a long night of owl activities...
Anne says: This is the kind of hacking we like. Thanks to Lyn and company!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lyn digs in!

Photos and text from Lyn Hart

Photo above: Pellet pulled apart & long bones exposed. They were approximately 1 inch long.

Above: Vertebrae? (Hole was ~5mm or so)

Lots of curious bits here... in the center are some very pink and shriveled parts-- the tail? Above those are two round structures which appear to be bone. I didn't dig around too much since everything was so small and fresh, I didn't want to crush anything.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pellet for your thoughts...

Lyn Hart writes: 
Found a very fresh owl pellet here at home (1/19/2013), from our resident Great Horned hooter. I took photos of the pellet both intact and pulled apart to show its contents (luckily before I had lunch!). I know this wasn't at Sabino, of course, but I figured most people have never been lucky enough to come across one so freshly, um, hacked out. I can send you photos of it and its creator, if you think its something you would like for the blog.
I said: Whoo hoo hoot! First up, pellet intact. Photos and text by Lyn Hart.

The pellet was about 4.5 inches long and about 1.25 inches in diameter and fresh enough that it was quite soft, as were the undigested tissues. I am estimating that the owl produced it during the night and we (dogs and husband) found it the next morning. We have a Great Horned owl who spends the day in a large mesquite very near the house and the pellet was found under a fence post at the far SW corner of our property (we own about 5 acres of mostly natural desert).

Closer view of exposed bones (shoulder or pelvic girdle?)

Tomorrow: Lyn digs in for science!

Friday, February 1, 2013


Photo by Ned Harris 1/23/13

These Leafcutter Ants were very busy on this January day.
(Click on Margarathe's photo for a close up.)
They cultivate a fungus underground using the leaves they collect and chew. How cool is that?!