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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Among Friends 7 April 2021, Great Horned Owls

by Walt Anderson The Great Horned Owl, justifiably called the “Tiger of the Night,” is found throughout North America and more than half of South America. In Arizona, it occurs from as low as 27’ near Yuma to 9800’ in the White Mountains, avoiding only the densest of forests and the most open of habitats. Buenos Aires NWR has a heathy population of these dramatic birds. Most members of the genus Bubo occur in the Old World, especially Africa, where they are called eagle-owls. Its closest North American relative is the Snowy Owl; both are apparently derived from a common […]

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Wild Wednesday 31 March 2021, Bunnies

by Walt Anderson As Easter approaches, the abundant purveyors of consumption have been targeting buyers with all sorts of items, many of them associated with the Easter Bunny. How this mythical creature got associated with the Biblical Easter holiday seems like a stretch to me. And I hate to burst any balloons, but the Easter Bunny does not lay eggs! He also doesn’t lay down, as those fluffy feathers would be uncomfortably ticklish, but sometimes he does lie down. All right, I just had to put out my lie-lay pet peeve. The domestic rabbit, often caricatured as the Easter Bunny, […]

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Wild Wednesday 24 March 2021, Rallids

by Walt Anderson My recent post on Wood Ducks featured one of the most beautiful of the waterfowl, though the entire family has many devoted fans, except perhaps the golfers who hate geese on the fairways. In contrast to the popular Anatidae, the Rallidae (rails, coots, gallinules) may be the Rodney Dangerfields of the water birds, not getting much respect. We shouldn’t deride the rails! I hope to improve their reputations a bit with this Wild Wednesday. There are 143 species of rallids worldwide, but only 9 native species in North America and a half dozen in Arizona, not counting […]

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Among Friends 17 March 2021 Wood Ducks

by Walt Anderson OK, I admit it. I’m a Duck Fan (Go Oregon!). But when it comes down to choosing favorites, the colorful, extravagant Wood Duck ranks right up there. These beautiful birds are not common in Arizona; in fact, the Breeding Bird Atlas published in 2005 only had nesting records from Yavapai County, specifically in Prescott and the Verde Valley. In the last couple years, they have nested at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge at Honnas Pond, which is good news, but climate change is predicted to impact them severely as Arizona’s few wetlands may not have enough […]

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ENDANGERED SPECIES: Pima pineapple cactus

by Ricardo Small Several transplanted Pima pineapple cacti are in the cactus garden at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center. This species was classified “endangered” almost 30 years ago (September 23, 1993). The yellow flowers are beautiful. Distribution in Arizona is limited to portions of Pima & Santa Cruz Counties. Its habitat is shrinking due to land development, climate change, invasive species (Lehman’s lovegrass) and reduced pollinator populations.  A couple of months ago in January of 2021, I photographed the fifth of a five-day field survey looking for this endangered cactus that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service […]

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