Alligator Juniper

One of the most distinctive trees of the Southwest is the Alligator Juniper, well-named for its platy, saurian-like bark. My natural history students had no trouble learning it by appearance, and, with the mnemonic clue, “Johnny Depp,” they quickly caught on to its scientific name, Juniperus deppeana. Of course, an organism is so much more than its name, and the Alligator Juniper is special in so many ways that it earns the limelight in this essay. As you will see, this amazing plant is one of my all-time favorites, very close to my heartwood.

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American Robin

Robins are the most widespread of all the American thrushes, breeding throughout nearly all of North America and wintering in most of the continental United States and Mexico.

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Goldeneye

Goldeneye! No, not the James Bond movie (though the original James Bond was an ornithologist). I mean the Common Goldeneye, a gorgeous duck very near to my heart (emotionally, not anatomically).

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Mullein

I’ve been mullein over just how to tell the story of a plant that brings out mixed feelings in people. Mulleins are not native to the United States, but the woolly one, at least, is visually familiar to many people who may not know its back story. Why don’t we take a closer look?

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January, The Nuthatch Suite

‘Tis the season to feature the Nuthatch Suite (no nutcrackers here, though plenty of nutcases). And what is sweeter than a sturdy little nuthatch, a bird that defies gravity on a tree trunk by often hitching its way downward, thus finding insects in the bark that those upright woodpeckers and creepers miss?

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December 2021. Redtails

Happy December! It’s a perfect time to get outside and watch for one of our most common and human-tolerant raptors, the magnificent Red-tailed Hawk.

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Northern Shoveler

Shovelers

I’m in a fowl mood today, so I want to feature one of my favorite waterfowl species, the Northern Shoveler. Many a casual observer has mistaken this bird for an odd Mallard with an exaggerated beak, so I want to give the shoveler a little love here, top billing if you prefer.

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Vitaceae

Two members of the Vitaceae (grape family) are widespread in Arizona riparian areas, including Arivaca Creek and Brown Canyon, and offer some of our choicest fall colors: deep red in the Woodbine (a close relative of the eastern Virginia Creeper) and yellow in Canyon Grape. Both are lianas (the proper name for a “woody vine”). Technically, vines are herbaceous, not woody (Tarzan would have had a short life if he had been swinging on vines!). Some beans, cucumbers, and squashes are good examples of vines. However, common usage says “vine” for the grape plant, and since you heard that on the grapevine, I probably cannot convert you to using “liana” for that plant.

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White-crowned Sparrow

Many of us look forward to the cheery songs of birds to remind us that spring is moving steadily toward summer, when most birds breed. However, here in Arizona, the arrival of White-crowned Sparrows in fall brings their melodies back to us after an absence of several months. From now until they leave in April and May, we can hear their lovely choruses, sometimes even while snow is on the ground. The songs always lift my spirits.

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Persistence & Vision

Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Remember the date. Prescott, Arizona City Council voted 7-0 to approve the annexation of thousands of acres of land owned by Arizona Eco Development into the city, with the prize being 474 acres of natural open space now under city protection. This culminates a five-year process in which a few caring citizens formed a political action committee, Save the Dells, to achieve this very goal. Save the Dells garnered enormous public support, and through long, sometimes very difficult, negotiations, this date turns out to be the win-win-win successful compromise for Prescott, the people, and the developer. And let’s not forget the thousands of animals that depend on that ecosystem!

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