Monday, November 30, 2015

Name that Fruit, too!

Photo by Matt Ball 11/18/2015

All together now: The fruit is the thing with the seed(s)!
You can easily find the fruit of Desert Vine (Cottsia (fka Janusia) gracilis). Each of the 'wings' contains a seed. Click on the link to see the distinctive (but small) flowers.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Chub is a Chub

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/19/2015 

We first thought these might be Gila Topminnows, a native fish recently reintroduced into the Sabino system. But it turns out these are Gila Chub, fine native fish in their own right.

Ichthyological updates from Josh Taiz, District Biologist:

These are all our hungry and curious little chubs. I have not had the opportunity to place a trap in the water in Sabino to determine if they topminnow have persisted since their reintroduction to the system. Perhaps I will get a chance this winter. 
[on distinguishing between the species] The basic idea to keep in mind is that topminnows are essentially guppies. But, since they are not bred for show, they don’t have extravagant fins or tails. The first thing to look for to distinguish between chub and topminnow is the tail: Chub tails are deeply forked; topminnow are somewhat rounded.
Second, the position of the mouth can be helpful. Chub are mid-water hunters so they have a terminal mouth (i.e. the margin of the mouth opens outward toward the front and is not slanted either upward or downward). Topminnow by contrast have a mouth that slopes upward and opens at the top of their skull (called “superior” in ichthyological terms) like a tarpon or arawana.

Your Daily Dose: Your Source for ichthyological news from Sabino Canyon!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Name that Fruit!

Photo by Matt Ball 11/18/2015
Anne Green Thumb 

I took my Honey-Matt out for a hike and made him stop for fruits. (Remember: the fruit is the thing with the seed(s). A fruit doesn't always look like an apple.)
This spiky ball in front is the fruit of Range Ratany (Krameria erecta). Those magenta 'petals' on the flower in back are actually the sepals (hold flower on stem); the flower itself is really small (as you can see by comparing it to my gigantic thumb). This plant is a hemi-parasite, i.e., it can photosynthesize, but it taps into the roots of other plants to siphon off water and nutrients. Very sneaky. Because it grows low and under other plants, look carefully for it. And check out those cool fruits.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friends of Sabino Canyon campaign

Guest post from Bob Wenrick, president of  Friends of Sabino Canyon 

Thanks to all you ‘Friends’ for the progress we have made in the Got Your Kid Covered campaign. We need continued support to complete greening this saguaro - our barometer for measuring progress.

As of November 15, we have raised $49,600 and are at 66% of our goal. You may recall the campaign is to raise $75,000 for three important projects that support nature education in the Canyon.

1. Build three new ramadas to provide shade over the tables in the elementary teaching area. We are pleased to report this phase is complete. 

2. Upgrade the elementary-area restroom to reduce wait time for the students during the field trips;

3. Build a new ramada for the puppet show and assist the Forest Service in upgrading the ramadas in the kindergarten teaching area.

If you have not yet contributed to this campaign, please consider doing so now. We prefer your check, but you can also visit our website at and make an online contribution. We hope to complete the campaign by the end of December.

Friends of Sabino Canyon
5700 N Sabino Canyon Rd
Tucson, AZ 85750-1392

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Lucky Luke

Photos by Marty Horowitz 11/19/2015

Back for the sixth season is the leucistic (or partially albino) Phainopepla affectionately known as Luke. See the other 5 posts about him here. Luke was first reported about a month ago by Jean and Mark (and seen by others in the weeks that followed), but these are the first photos for this year. Thanks, Marty!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Water dances

Photos by Marty Horowitz 11/19/2015

Always great to see (and hear) water flowing over the dam!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A real snipe hunt

On Wednesday 11/18/2015, Gayle and I saw Fred at the marsh by the Bear Bridge. He was looking intently through binoculars at the reeds. No fooling! He found a snipe!

Photo by Fred Heath 11/18/2015

Fred writes:

There was some confusion on my part as to the correct name of this bird. When I first started birding in NYC (way back when), it was called Wilson’s Snipe. Sometime maybe 20+ years ago, the experts decided it was conspecific [the same species] with the Common Snipe from Eurasia, and it became a Common Snipe. More recently, the splitters decided it was, in fact, a separate species and has been renamed Wilson’s Snipe.

Photo by Fred Heath 11/17/2015

In Arizona, this bird is a primarily a migrant and winter visitant. It breeds in wet mountain meadows, and, according to the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas, there have only been a handful of confirmed or probable breeding records for Arizona in the White Mountains.
In winter, it can be found in damp or shallow wet areas with soft muddy bottoms (ditches, lakesides, open marshes) with a little vegetation in which to hide. There, it probes for various arthropods. You normally wouldn’t expect this bird in Sabino even in a wet year, because most of Sabino Creek runs over rocky or sandy bottoms. However, the spot just below the first Bear Bridge is perfect habitat, as long as it stays somewhat moist.

Thanks, Fred, for a successful snipe hunt!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sabino Stewards tackle more grasses

Text and photos from Mark Hengesbaugh

A special thanks goes to Sabino Stewards Janis Findlay, Tim Ralph, Cindy Rupp, Wayne Klement, Jeffrey Hahn, Barbara Lacey, Tim Wernette, Brian Desautels, Dan Granger, Tom Skinner, and Paul Kriegshauser. Each one of these volunteers shouldered heavy, sloshing backpacks at dawn in order to hike up Sabino Creek and the main road identifying and spot-treating invasive grasses that threaten to overrun Sabino’s native vegetation.

Brian, chest deep in invasive Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum)

This fall Stewards spent 207.5 hours spray-treating perennial invasive grasses from Tram Stop 9 to the southern boundary of the recreation area and several infestations that are away from the road and creek, such as the new SARA trail. We have also treated African sumac (Rhus lancea) in the Sabino Dam area. It’s worth noting—because visitors sometimes ask—that we are using the herbicide Rodeo which has been tested by the EPA and approved for sensitive aquatic environments. Rodeo (or its generic equivalent) is preferred by land management agencies because it doesn’t persist in the soil long-term, doesn’t move from plant to plant, and doesn’t work its way into the water table. We use a solution diluted to 5 percent so the total amount of active ingredient is very low—ounces per acre.
In the bigger picture, USFS Invasive Species Coordinator Chrissy Pearson is managing contractors who are treating Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) and Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) on steep slopes and remote areas of the rec area and the district. So an active strategy is in place and functioning.

Those specks of color are Janis, Cindy, and Brian
treating Buffelgrass along the road to Bear Canyon

Anne says: 
In response to concerns about the use of herbicide, I pose the question: What's the alternative? 
Some have suggested that goats be brought in to eat these invasive grasses. Even if goats did find buffelgrass tasty, goats wouldn't be able to rid the canyon of these invasive grasses. Because grasses grow from the base (specifically, from the root and rhizome), goats can chomp all they want and not kill the plant. (That's why you can mow a lawn and still have one.) 
Some have suggested that we employ young people to climb to inaccessible places and dig out these grasses. In a world of infinite resources (and one in which we didn't put a high price on the well being of teenagers), I suppose we might find a way for this to work. Ensuring that every last bit of root and rhizome were completely bagged, brought down from the heights, and destroyed would make for a very long-term project. And in the meantime, the grasses would just keep on growing.
Some have suggested burning invasive grasses. Even if you could guarantee that root and rhizome were burned, there would be massive damage and destruction of native plants. (Not to mention the teenagers above.)
The reality is, the only viable option we currently have at our disposal is to use herbicide to kill the entire plant. 

Big thanks to Mark and Jean Hengesbaugh for getting people and things moving against the invasives. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Turpentine is very fine

Julie's back! All photos from Julie Miller 11/9/2015

Turpentine Bush (Ericameria laricifolia) in bloom on the Bluff Trail. Crushed leaves are said to smell like turpentine. Turpentine (the paint thinner, etc.) is distilled from certain pine trees, not from this plant.

Some bees were hard at work gathering pollen from the flowers.

Thanks, Julie! And welcome back!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Nest is best

Photo by Ned Harris 10/24/2015

Paper Wasp (Polistes major castaneicolor) at work on their nest in a cholla. And yes, they are adults!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Adults have wings!

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/6/2015

Friends tease me (I think) about this oft-repeated sentence: In the insect world, adults have wings. But it does help simplify understanding insects, the largest class in the animal kingdom.
This particular insect is an adult Spur-throated aka Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis).

And a bonus link from Mattie of close-up photos of insect eyes!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

One good fern...

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/6/2015

Fairy Swords (Cheilanthes lindheimeri) are common in Sabino Canyon and can be reliably found on the Bluff Trail (and many other shady spots). They look the most fern-like, too.
Fascinating information on the life cycle of ferns and their allies (e.g., spike mosses) from the American Fern Society.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sky Art

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/22/2015

Sky reflected in water flowing over the dam

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/29/2015

Clouds and sunlight

Photo by Matt Ball 10/15/2015

Double Rainbow

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Open and Shut

Both photos by Marty Horowitz 11/2/2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Damsels vs. Dragons

All photos from Marty Horowitz. No exceptions.

Almost every rule has an exception, and the rule "damselfly wings are parallel when perched" is no exception. But take a closer look at their abdomens. Dragonflies generally have thicker abdomens. And the dragonfly photographed here is no exception.

Great Spreadwing Damselfly
Click the link for more amazing photos!

Plateau Dragonlet Dragonfly

This concludes Anne's tips for identifying dragons and damsels on the fly. Thanks to Marty for all the examples!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dragons vs. Damsels

All photos by Marty Horowitz.

Dragonflies and damselflies are insects (3 body parts, 6 jointed legs, adults have wings); and both undergo 'incomplete' metamorphosis (i.e., hatch from egg looking like miniature, wingless adults. Eat, grow, shed; final shed reveals wings (which, in my opinion, is an amazing metamorphosis and shouldn't be called 'incomplete.' If I were queen...)

Flame Skimmer Dragonfly

You can usually tell dragonflies and damselflies adults apart by looking at their wings when perched. Dragonflies hold their wings perpendicular to their bodies; damselflies hold theirs parallel. If you get the chance, you can also tell by comparing abdomen size (that's the 'tail' end). Dragonflies generally have a thicker abdomen.

Desert Firetail Damselfly

American Rubyspot Damselfly

Whether dragon or damsel, though, Arizona Dragonfly is a great site with fantastic photos of these flyers.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Who named these butterflies?

(Question is rhetorical.)
All butterflies on Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides).

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/26/2015

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/29/2015

Texan Crescent (and bonus Bee)

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/29/2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Two Blues and a Buckeye

All photos by Marty Horowitz 10/22/2015

Marine Blue on Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides

Reakirt's Blue on Wright Bee Flower (Hymenothrix wrightii

Common Buckeye on a plant, probably a grass : -) 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reptile Smiles

Photo by Ned Harris 10/26/2015

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/26/2015

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/6/2015

Photo by Ned Harris 10/24/ 2015

Give a reptile a smile today!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Flower power

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/22/2015

This is Anoda (Anoda abutiloides) (i.e., Anoda that looks like Abutilon). There are two Anoda species in Sabino; and four Abutilon species (aka Indian Mallow). All of these are in the Mallow family. The flower here is typical of Mallow family flowers; 5 separate petals, sticking-out stamens. Anoda (and other Mallow family plants) have really taken off in the area above the dam. Hooray!

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/2/2015

We saw more Desert Thorn Apple plants (Datura discolor) than we usually do on the first plant (and bird) walk of the season on 11/3/2015. This plant looks a lot like Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii). Click here to see both flowers, fully opened. Both are in the Nightshade family.

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/2/2015

Note the still-green fruit [fruit = the thing with the seed(s)] of the Desert Thorn Apple in the lower left of the photo above. Contrast with the Sacred Datura fruits at the bottom of this post. Don't eat any part of these Datura species!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Deer-ly beloved

Photos by Marty Horowitz 10/22/2015

White-tailed Deer munching on Arizona Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) fruits.


What's that you say?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Birds seen and heard

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/2/2015

Photos by Marty Horowitz 11/6/2015

Phainopepla, female

Our special Phainopepla's been seen, too!  Our pal Luke has been spotted several times, including by me. He's been spotted (and photographed) every year since the first time (at least as far as this blog is concerned) in 2010. No photo evidence yet for this year, but it's only a matter of time! (Click on the link for more about Luke.)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Just takin' my time

Photos by Marty Horowitz 11/2/2015

Say: "Prickly pear fruit!"

On one of the warmer days this month, Marty saw this Sonoran Desert Tortoise out and about.

From the link above by Thomas C. Brennan:

BEHAVIOR: Primarily diurnal and crepuscular but occasionally active into the night. The Sonoran Desert Tortoise is entirely terrestrial. It shelters and hibernates in self constructed burrows that are often excavated under large rocks. It uses its strong, paddle-like forelimbs to dig. Also shelters in naturally occurring cavities under rocks or in the banks of washes. When threatened it pulls the body and head into the shell and covers the opening with its thick, armored forelimbs. 
DIET: This herbivore feeds on grasses, herbs, cacti, tree shoots, and other plant material. 
PROTECTED throughout Arizona
It is against Arizona State law to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect this animal in any part of the state. It is also illegal to attempt to engage in any such conduct.