Wild Wednesday, 16 June 2021. Titmice

by Walt Anderson Let’s face it. Most humans do not value all species equally, as honorable as that might be. We’re suckers for the cute and cuddly, critters that are boldly patterned or brightly colorful, big-eyed and not too bizarre by human standards. Giant Pandas fit those criteria, as do the charming little titmice that are the subjects of today’s photo essay. But even if we are naturally drawn to these confiding and bold little sprites, we should go beyond mere appearances and get to know them a bit more. The Bridled Titmouse resembles a crested chickadee. Indeed, it is […]

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Among Friends 11 June 2021. Reconnecting.

By Walt Anderson It is easy to get caught up inside on a digital device or running errands around town in our own vehicular bubbles. In our busy lives, we may not be able to head to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge on a whim, no matter how rewarding that trip would be. But sometimes the call of the wild overrides our sense of “responsibility” (really just service to our artificial environments). It becomes time to reconnect with nature, and usually we don’t have to go far to find peace and inspiration. Recently I set aside my “to do” […]

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Wild Wednesday. 2 June 2021. Cormorants

by Walt Anderson The featured wild neighbors this week are the two species of cormorants that occur in Arizona: Double-crested and Neotropic. The Double-crested breeds in the interior of the US and along the coasts from Mexico to Alaska. The Neotropic barely gets into the United States except in Texas and New Mexico, but that is changing. Arizona recorded its first in 1961, when two carcasses of the species were found on a ranch near the border. A few individuals were spotted now & then in the southern part of the state, but in the 1990s, population expansion really took […]

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Among Friends. 26 May 2021 Two Roses

by Walt Anderson In the chaparral and pinyon-juniper woodlands of much of Arizona grow two shrubby members of the rose family: Cliffrose (Purshia stansburyana) and Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa). When the plants are not in bloom, some folks confuse the two species, but there are many distinctions, some of which I will mention here. Apache Plume can form dense stands along dry washes, while Cliffrose tends to prefer uplands, but occasionally you can find them right next to each other. Both do well in disturbed sites along roadways and old railroad grades. They are drought-resistant and capable of blooming even […]

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Among Friends 19 May 2021 Peregrines

by Walt Anderson I recognize that I am a peregrinator—a wanderer—as I have led nature expeditions in many parts of the world. Everywhere I have gone, except Antarctica, hosts the Peregrine Falcon, the most widely distributed raptor in the world. The Peregrine is the epitome of speed and power in flight, capable of dives (stoops) of over 200 mph. It is the fastest member of the animal kingdom, though when it comes to velocity in relation to body size, a tiny mite that can zoom along at 322 body lengths per second takes the prize. The Peregrine is fast even […]

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Among Friends 12 May 2021. Maternity

by Walt Anderson Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and all of us alive owe a debt of gratitude to our mothers. May is a time of abundance in the Northern Hemisphere as warming temperatures and longer days increase diversity and productivity at all levels. We tend to “see” better if we are prepared to see, so I would like to provide a little evolutionary context to my celebration of motherhood and parenthood in general. Every organism is a product of the winnowing process of natural selection, so each species has a general life history that reflects the winning combination of […]

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Among Friends 5 May 2021. Spring is Galloping toward Summer

by Walt Anderson To truly develop a sense of place, you need to listen to the conversations going on out there. You can learn to read between the lines, to marvel at the very existence of these ancient rocks that formed deep beneath the ground and now stand revealed to experience the seasons of wind, sun, frost, raven claw, and hiking boot. There is also recent history, more comprehensible to us short-lived creatures: the long tenancy of Native Americans, the arrival of settlers that changed everything, the decades of cattle grazing, the establishment of the refuge to protect the endangered […]

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Among Friends 28 April 2021 White-faced Ibis

by Walt Anderson Today’s Among Friends features one of the most fascinating of the migrant birds to visit the area, the White-faced Ibis. It comes through the Buenos Aires Refuge on migration, stopping by standing water areas such as Aguirre Lake, Grebe Pond, and Arivaca Cienega. Of course, drought years greatly reduce suitable habitat on the refuge, but if you add water, they will come. There are 33 species of ibises worldwide, ranging from the flashy Scarlet Ibis to the endemic Madagascar Ibis and the highly endangered Crested Ibis of Japan. Their closest relatives are the spoonbills. This is the […]

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Among Friends. 21 April 2021. Rufous-crowned Sparrow

by Walt Anderson Beginning birders sometimes despair at the diversity and relatively subtle color patterns of sparrows, though some are obvious: White-crowned, Black-throated, and Lark Sparrows are strikingly marked and fairly easy to identify. Juncos are actually sparrows, but the racial variation among them can be tricky at first. Towhees are a group of large sparrows, but even they often throw off the novice. As you get more familiar with birds, you can begin to appreciate the subtle beauty of sparrows, and I want to feature one of the most interesting, if least known: the Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Birds of the […]

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Wild Wednesday 14 April 2021 Hedgehogs

by Walt Anderson I’ve always been fascinated by hedgehogs, but since the mammal is not native to Arizona, I can’t write a column on them. So I decided to get Cereus—Echinocereus, that is—the spiny hedgehog cacti that are found in various species all over the state. A rose by any name . . . well, cacti are indeed close relatives of roses, and that surely accounts for the gorgeous flowers. When outsiders (non-Arizonans) think of cacti, they often think of just four elements—the Grand Canyon, sand, sun, and cacti. Arizona promotes itself as the state of five C’s: Copper, Cattle, […]

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