Getting High in Arizona

July 5, 2023 | 0 Comments

Non-residents who haven’t had the joy of visiting the state often have very narrow perceptions of Arizona, often starting with the Grand Canyon and Saguaros. “Desert” and “Phoenix” also rank high. Birders from around the world are aware that there are many “Mexican” species that cross the border, making this a must-see state for serious listers. Those who know about copper extraction may simply think that Arizona is just a state of mined. And then there are those who can only think about “the Wall” to keep out “illegal aliens,” as if we were under attack from outer space. While […]

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Turtle Talk

June 2, 2023 | 0 Comments

Turtle Talk, by Walt Anderson It’s time to talk turtle! There are about 360 living species of turtles in the world, about 3% of reptilian diversity. Arizona is a herpetologist’s paradise when it comes to reptiles (impressive lizard and rattlesnake diversity, for example), though only 6 of the 107 native reptiles in the state are turtles. General aridity, of course, doesn’t favor aquatic animals, and our half-dozen native turtles include two (Desert Tortoise and Ornate Box Turtle) that are terrestrial, though the latter will take a dip now and then. The turtles we see most often in Arizona are non-native, […]

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Monsoon Magic, by Walt Anderson

October 27, 2022 | 0 Comments

Arizona is a land of contrasts, and nothing illustrates that better than a generous monsoon season in the midst of a long-term drought. Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is a biodiversity hotspot, blessed with vast grasslands, rich riparian areas, and the unique mountain ecosystems in Brown Canyon in the Baboquivaris. Best of all, it is protected from development and thus one of the prime places to see the best of nature in a world becoming ever more dominated by the works of humans. Nature is resilient. When conditions are ideal like this summer, the landscape bursts with life. Hidden seedbanks […]

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Hairy Woodpecker

July 29, 2022 | 0 Comments

by Walt Anderson The Hairy Woodpecker has one of the largest ranges of any North American bird. In fact, it is found in forested areas from Alaska to Panama. This bird is striking in more ways than one, so let’s take a closer look at this common neighbor of ours. Almost anyone can recognize a woodpecker, the only good kind of chiseler. Their basic body plan is pretty similar within the family: 224 species found around the world. That powerful, chisel-like bill is the most distinctive feature, though there are plenty of anatomical similarities to clinch the deal. The Hairy […]

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National Pollinator Week

June 22, 2022 | 0 Comments

Today is World Camel Day, and though I admire the lanky beasts, I chose instead to call our attention to National Pollinator Week. Early plants relied on spores for reproduction, and some present ones (e.g., ferns) still do. Wind served to disperse the pollen of gymnosperms, and they had their heyday too, but it was the evolution of Angiosperms that relied on pollen transfer with the aid of animals that really caused a botanical revolution. Today, the great diversity of plants is dependent upon the even greater diversity of animals, particularly insects. Much of our food supply is dependent on pollinators of various kinds, yet our increasing reliance on industrial agriculture, along with its overuse of chemical fertilizers and “pesticides,” is threatening native biodiversity and sometimes even the future of the plants we depend on.

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June 13, 2022 | 0 Comments

Throughout our grasslands, oak woodlands, and pinyon-juniper stands in Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico grows Nolina microcarpa, commonly known as beargrass, sacahuista, or palmilla. “Beargrass” is an unfortunate name, as it is not a grass at all, nor is it related to the mountain plant called “beargrass” (Xerophyllum tenax). I prefer to call it simply nolina, a lovely name, though the Aztecderived name, sacahuista, is lovely too. It is impressively drought-tolerant, fire-resilient, and evergreen, so it makes a wonderful ornamental plant in our xeriscaped gardens.

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June 1, 2022 | 0 Comments

We are all familiar with the precocious nature of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performing the violin beautifully at the age of three and composing pieces of his own at five. Precocity is the development of skills considered very advanced for a given age. It comes from the Latin for “early ripening.” While Mozart was a prodigy with exceptional early talents, humans in general are altricial, born helpless and needing a long period of parental care until able to function independently. Mozart was certainly no less helpless as a newborn, but his musical abilities developed at an extraordinarily early age, thus being considered precocial compared to others in his age-class.

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Jay Walking.

May 18, 2022 | 0 Comments

Arizonans harbor myths about “our” jays. I often hear folks talking about the blue jays in their yards. Well, yes, they have jays, and they are basically blue, but the proper Blue Jay is an eastern US species that has only been recorded in SE Arizona a couple times. We have four species of “blue jays” in Arizona: the Steller’s, Mexican, Pinyon, and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. I’ll focus on the scrub-jay in this essay, but I’ll show examples of the others for comparison. It’s time to set the record straight, so let’s do some jay walking.

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May 18, 2022 | 0 Comments

While cacti often epitomize “desert” in North America, it’s the yuccas that are widespread and notable representatives of semiarid areas throughout much of the continent from Guatemala to southern Alberta, Baja California to Florida and up the coast to Maryland. There are almost 50 species, at least 14 in Arizona. They are completely dependent upon yucca moths for pollination, but the story is more complex than most of us realize. Let’s take a closer at look at these fascinating plants.

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April 6, 2022 | 0 Comments

Shrubs often fail to gather the respect they deserve. They lack the overbearing massiveness of a towering tree or the colorful brilliance of a showy wildflower. However, shrubs completely dominate the chaparral ecosystems in the West, and they create wonderful diversity in the understory of woodlands of oaks, pines, pinyons, and junipers. One of my favorites is Wright’s Silktassel, Garrya wrightii, found throughout Arizona from about 3000-8000 feet, the southern half of New Mexico, the western tip of Texas, and down to central Mexico. Let’s see what makes this shrub so likeable.

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