Monday, February 29, 2016

Owl be back...

As regular readers of this blog know, Ned Harris hasn't been sighted in Sabino for a while as he continues his recovery from back/hip/leg issues. But he hasn't been idle. As he's able, he's been getting out and about with his camera. Fortunately for us, he captured some amazing shots of birds in flight, including this gorgeous Great Horned Owl.

Photo by Ned Harris 2/13/2016

You'll want to spend a happy hour (or two) at his flickr site. Birds, planes, even some amazingly cute lambs! (You won't see the latter in Sabino!)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bird Break

Text and Photos by Mark Hengesbaugh

Chinned vs. Throated
This winter has been great for sparrows in Sabino Canyon. We are regularly seeing mixed flocks of 30 individuals or more. These seed-huskers are enjoying the bountiful grass that came with the big-time rain we received. My favorite Sabino sparrow this year is the Black-chinned Sparrow (top photo). The adult male's "chin" - below the beak - will turn black during breeding season (April-Aug.) The Black-chinned's name can be confused with the Black-throated Sparrow, another Sabino favorite (bottom photo). But take a look at the all-gray head of the Black-chinned vs. the white stripes on dark head of the Black-throated. No confusion there. The Black-chinned Sparrow is uncommon in Sabino while the Black-throated Sparrow is a year-round resident.

Black-chinned Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

Thanks, Mark!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Smallest last

This final forage for Borage is of two with tiny white flowers.

Photo credits: ©2008 Neal Kramer - ©2004 Aaron Schusteff

The human finger in the photo above is a normal-sized one. The fruits of this Borage family plant are tiny, just as you'd expect.

Photo credits: ©2012 Neal Kramer - ©2008 Neal Kramer

The foliage in this photo looks almost dangerous. Remember, though, that Borage family plants have hairy foliage - not spiny : -)

That wasn't so bad now, was it? Let's review what we learned about plants in the Borage Family. (Remember, you are now able to look at a plant in Sabino Canyon and say: "That's in the Borage family." Or: "That's not in the Borage Family." We're taking the first step with these tutorial days. You can learn more later, if you like.)

Looking at the 3 Fs, we want hairy foliage. If we find that, we look at flowers. They'll be small. If we can get close (don't pick!!) and can see five lobes/petals; five stamens (male parts); 5 'parts,' we'll say: Hooray! If we see tiny fruits (we probably won't), that's further evidence that we're looking at a Borage. Any questions?

Friday, February 26, 2016

More Borage

In the Borage family, you'll recall, plants have hairy foliage, small flowers with parts in fives (generally); and tiny fruits.

Photo credits: Matt Ball; ASDM

Phacelia campanularia is actually a non-native. (I haven't seen any in Sabino recently.) It remains to be seen if it will outcompete the natives in the wild; but it's going crazy in my yard.
As with all living things, both genetics and environment matter. The Desert Bells in a certain spot in my yard grow quite tall, have noticeably curved stems, and larger than 'normal' leaves.
In the photo on the left, you can count the 5 white 'dots' in the middle. Those are the male parts.

Photo credits: Matt Ball; T. Beth Kinsey

Sand Bells (aka Nama) Nama hispidum are often seen in Sabino in February and March. Look in the last wash on the main trail, just before you get to the paved road into Bear Canyon. There are (still) some rusted pipe pieces. Note the five lobes of the flower.
As my Honey-Matt notes, the foliage in these two photos looks quite different, even though they are the same species. Yes, indeed. You and I are the same species, too. There are variations in the plant world as well.
Tomorrow, the even smaller-flowered Borages!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Purple Borage

There are four native Phacelia species in Sabino with purple flowers. Like the Cryptantha species, they look so similar that we are going to be happy enough getting them in the correct family. 

Photo credits: AZWildflowers; ASDM

Photo: ASDM

You can't tell as well from these photos, but both have the curved stem that we saw on the Fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia). Note, of course, the hairy foliage.

The other two natives are Purple Bell Phacelia (Phacelia affinis) and Small-flowered Phacelia (Phacelia cryptantha).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


We continue our forage for Borage with Cryptantha species.

(The most fantastic botanical dictionary is the Botanary at Dave's Garden. I could spend hours here. Thanks, Dave.)

These Borage plants have tiny, white flowers. Their fruits are tiny, too. We are going to be enormously satisfied to put these in the Borage family and call it a day. (There are other species in this family with tiny white flowers. Stay tuned.)

Photo credits (clockwise, from left): Ned Harris; Gene Spesard; Matt Ball

Just because I can, I'll include two slides of positively identified Crytantha species! You can note the hairy foliage, tiny flowers, and tiny fruits.

Photo credits: Keir Morse

Photo credits: Flowers: Michael Charters;  Fruit - Steve Matson 

Tomorrow, we'll take a turn for the purple.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Orange Borage

Your favorite orange borage is Fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia)

Photo credits, clockwise, from left: ©2004 Carol W. Witham, T. Beth Kinsey, Ned Harris

Note the hairy foliage. Many of the borages also have this curved stem (like the neck of a fiddle, in this case). The stem rolls out to present  new flowers to the pollinators, usually insects.

Here's a fresh photo Sabino Canyon!

Photo by Marty Horowitz 2/3/2016
click photo for larger view

There are two Amsinckia species in Sabino, actually. Checker Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tessellate) looks very similar. (Click the link to see.) It's possible that the photo from Marty is this species, but as I wrote earlier, we'll leave that to the experts. We'll be happy to identify this plant as one in the Borage family!
(Join the Tuesday Plant and Bird walk for more plant-y goodness. Meet outside the visitor center at 8:30am, Tuesdays through April.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Spring tutorial

I've got a very busy work schedule in the coming months, so I decided to give myself a break and slip into teaching mode. For the next week, I'll bring you the first part of a presentation on plant families that I gave to the Sabino Canyon Volunteer Naturalists some years back. (You'll need to fill in the witty banter on your own.) We'll focus on two plant families blooming in February/March. You'll be an expert in identifying these two families this season - and will amaze family and friends with your knowledge.
One caveat here: Don't expect to be able to identify each plant in these families. The first step is figuring out the family and that's what I'll present.

For plants, the 3 Fs are important:

Foliage generally means leaves, but we'll consider stems as well. Foliage is (generally) green stuff. The green stuff appears first because green = energy factory. Green is where photosynthesis occurs; where the plant, using photons from the sun, splits water to push electrons around to create carbohydrates (and also proteins and fats).
Flowers are a plant's way of making more plants; in other words, flowers are for making fruits. And you know what fruits are :-)

Our first spring-blooming family is the Borage family.

Remember, this is Anne's first-step method to identifying plants by family. We'll look at all three Fs, of course, but the most important one for this family is 'hairy.'

Photo by Matt Ball

Click on this photo and you'll see three Borage family plants blooming now in Sabino Canyon. Note the hairy foliage.
Tune in tomorrow where we'll look closer at the orange Borage above : -)
(If you'd rather not be tutored, tune in again on 2/29.)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Outside over

This toppled barrel cactus looks like a deflated balloon. Arizona Barrels (Ferocactus wislizenii) - and other barrel species - have no internal skeleton. (See this post from 2014.) When they decay, they leave no woody remains.

Photo by Matt Ball 2/14/2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Inside Out: Prickly Pear

Photos by Matt Ball

You guessed it! These photos show the internal structure of prickly pear pads. Some species can grow quite tall. These photos are most likely of Engelmann Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii var. engelmannii), but the various Opuntia species look similar on the inside, too.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Inside Out: Cholla

Photos by Matt Ball

The internal structure of Chainfruit (Cylindropuntia fulgida var. fulgida) and Staghorn (Cylindropuntia versicolor) Chollas - Teddybear (Cylindropuntia bigelovii), too, for that matter - looks very similar. I'm sure these photos are not of Teddybear Cholla, but that's as far as I'll go! (My Honey-Matt took a lot of photos for me; I didn't keep notes.)

Again, their woody insides allow these chollas to grow relatively tall.

Still showing some skin!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Inside Out: Saguaro

Photos by Matt Ball

The 'skeleton' of a Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) is very strong - even the arms have this woody infrastructure. Even when dead, though, Saguaros are not to be taken, harvested, or otherwise molested.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Giant Reflections

Photo by Matt Ball December 2015

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/31/2016

Our signature cactus, the mighty Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), reflected in Sabino creek. Legend has it that Andrew Carnegie, after whom the Saguaro was named, was unimpressed when he saw one for the first time. What an ingrate!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Spring flyers

Photos by Marty Horowitz 1/31/2016

Why, yes! That is a plant in the Mustard family! Probably Rock Cress (Boechera perennans), but a mustard, in any case. And the butterfly is a Spring Azure, a female, no less.

Monday, February 15, 2016

For Sale or Rent

Photos by The Serpent Princess at Dancing Snake Nature Photography

Paper Wasp  nest

Suspended home located in quiet canyon! Spacious rooms for you and all your relatives! Move-in ready! View, views, views!

Bell's Vireo nest

Rustic charmer nestled near babbling brook! Perfect for single parent with little ones on the way! This one won't last long!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Prickly and Pricklier

Photos by Marty Horowitz 2/3/2016

You may have noticed a few odd prickly pears that appear to be more-or-less spineless. There are a few along the road into Bear Canyon and a large one prominent on the Bluff trail. These are Smooth Prickly Pear (Opuntia laevis), but don't hug one. The pads, although less spiny than the others prickly pear varieties, are (like the fruits) covered with glochids; those unseen barbs that attach with a vengence. From this site

The good news is that there are just a few kinds of cacti that have glochids: prickly pears and cholla. The bad news is that there are a lot of prickly pears and cholla out there. The worse news is that even the most effective means of removing glochids from your skin are about 95 percent effective, meaning five percent of those glochids remain. And the damn things hurt a lot more than their size would indicate, causing pangs from annoying to excruciating when you rub that patch of skin the wrong way.
Much more on glochid removal at that link above!

This species is much more common in Sabino Canyon, Engelmann Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii var engelmannii). You don't want to hug this one, either!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lyn Hart's art (and some mustards : - )

Our very own Lyn Hart has a new tapestry in the upcoming show 'In Full Bloom' at Tohono Chul, February 19 - April 24, 2016 in the main gallery. Inspired by a watercolor painting she did in her first ASDM class, the tapestry is 24" x 14" and is titled 'cereusly?'

Photo and tapestry by Lyn Hart

Opening Reception: Friday, February 19, 5:30-7:30 pm. Meet the artist and get her autograph!

Photos by Marty Horowitz 2/3/2016

Also in full bloom (and fruit), Tansy Mustard (Descurainia pinnata var. ochroleuca)

And just starting to bud, Jewel Flower (Streptanthus carinatus ssp arizonicus

Friday, February 12, 2016

Foam Art, too

Photos by Marty Horowitz 2/3/2016
Foam Circle

Mixed Media

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Foam Art

On the same day as the icicles, we saw swirls and mounds of dissolved organic carbon (aka foam) in/on the creek by the dam and by the Bear Canyon bridge. Marty captured the beauty. Yes, there's a part two :-)

Photos by Marty Horowitz 2/3/2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Falcons, large and small

Photo by Bill Kaufman 1/30/2016

Peregrine Falcon, incoming
From this link:

Powerful and fast-flying, the Peregrine Falcon hunts medium-sized birds, dropping down on them from high above in a spectacular stoop. They were virtually eradicated from eastern North America by pesticide poisoning in the middle 20th century. After significant recovery efforts, Peregrine Falcons have made an incredible rebound and are now regularly seen in many large cities and coastal areas.

Photo by Bob Wenrick 1/27/2016

American Kestrel, male
From this link:

North America’s littlest falcon, the American Kestrel packs a predator’s fierce intensity into its small body. It's one of the most colorful of all raptors: the male’s slate-blue head and wings contrast elegantly with his rusty-red back and tail; the female has the same warm reddish on her wings, back, and tail. Hunting for insects and other small prey in open territory, kestrels perch on wires or poles, or hover facing into the wind, flapping and adjusting their long tails to stay in place.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Nice day for a spring weeding...

Photos and text by Mark Hengesbaugh

Mountain Lion (photo taken at the ASDM : -)

Now that I have your attention...

Feb. 22-25 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. Our many native Sonoran Desert plants are losing the battle for sun, water, and nutrients to a small number of invasive non-native plant species whose foothold is large and growing. If you love Sabino's wildlife, please support the effort to bring these habitat-destroying plants under control. Next opportunity to help is a Sabino Stewards manual removal event Sun., Feb. 21, 9-11 a.m. 

If you can attend, notify Jean at jeanheng10 at comcast dot net. (Anne says: remember to put in the appropriate symbols for at and dot.) For more information about invasive plants in Sabino Canyon, See:

Ferruginous Hawk (updated 2/10)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hard Water

Photos by Marty Horowitz 2/3/2016

The plant dangling at the top of the dam was sporting icicles, even as water rushed by.

And this one at the Bear Canyon bridge was the very definition of frozen! Brr....

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Walkin' on Sunshine

Photo by Marty Horowitz 1/26/2016

Not certain about the plant, but I am about the Verdin! From the link:

A tiny, active songbird of the arid southwestern United States and northern Mexico, the Verdin is the only North American member of the penduline-tit family (Remizidae). Vocal and often conspicuous despite its size, it builds a large enclosed nest in thorny scrub.

Photo by Marty Horowitz 2/3/2016

Arizona's State Bird, the Cactus Wren, taking a stroll on a Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea). Like the Verdin, the Cactus Wren is only found in the southwestern deserts.

[T]he Cactus Wren is the largest wren in North America. Although it can be found in urban backyards, it is a true bird of the desert and can survive without freestanding water.