Blog Address Change
Please make note of a change in the AFOSA Wildlife Blog address. New articles on our native wildlife are appearing at GarryRogers.com. Please subscribe to that site to continue following local wildlife stories. You’ll get samples of my new ecofiction novel too!
This website will stay open for now.
Arizona Wildlife Update
Arizona’s native wildlife is disappearing. The state’s rapid population growth has eliminated habitats, spread toxic wastes, and introduced invasive species. The Arizona Game & Fish Department reports that more than half of Arizona’s native species have become imperiled. Adding to the problem, the drought gripping the state is combining with the human impacts to overwhelm wildlife, pushing many species toward extinction.
Over the next few months, I will post updates at GarryRogers.com on the status of Arizona native birds, mammals, turtles, and other species groups. There will also be more articles on the issues facing wildlife.
As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. Thank you.
Gambel’s Quail Visit Coldwater Farm
This winter a flock of Gambel’s Quail began making daily visits. Quail are abundant on the chaparral covered slopes around here, but during the past 15 years, I have seen very few on the floodplain near the river. The quail are coming for the birdseed I scatter for juncos, sparrows, finches, and dove. I like quail. They get along fine with the other birds, but they seem more stalwart than dove; more like robins.
More than 200 waterfowl spend January and February on the old stockponds at Coldwater Farm. Daily, I scatter six pounds of rolled corn on the causeway between two of the ponds. Most of the ducks in the photographs below are mallards, but a few coots, ruddy ducks, pintails, ringnecks, and widgeons are present. Wood ducks came earlier but moved on.
Wild ducks are not serene. Furious battles and outbursts of quacks occur day and night. When it is quiet down at the ponds I know the ducks have fled a predator or a two-legged marauder.
The ducks look forward to the daily corn delivery. If I miss a day, they come to the backyard where they mill around clucking, quacking, and gleaning songbird feed. When I come out, they lead the way back to the pond, confident that the corn is coming.
Climate Change Pushes Wolverine Toward Threatened Species List (via Environment News Service)
DENVER, Colorado, February 4, 2013 (ENS) – Under a court-ordered deadline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect the North American wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. In 2011 the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement…or
Open Space Meeting Invitation.
You are invited to attend the annual meeting of the board of directors of the Agua Fria Open Space Alliance (AFOSA). The meeting is on Saturday, January 19 at 10:00AM at the Agua Fria Health Center, 12150 E. Turquoise Circle, Dewey-Humboldt, AZ 86327.
There will be an open discussion of open space resources and issues. Take this opportunity to learn about open space and your organization, the Agua Fria Open Space Alliance.
Open Space Meeting Minutes
It is shocking to consider that even now there is no global, intergovernmental recognition of the importance of animal welfare legislation. IFAW believes this must change, which is why we support the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW). The adoption of this formal declaration at the UN General Assembly would establish animal welfare on the global political agenda.
The declaration process was originally launched by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) in 2000. IFAW is part of the UDAW steering committee and is collaborating with other animal organisations in support of the Declaration.
The Declaration is an important way for governments to express their commitment to protecting animal welfare and is a vital springboard to changes in international and national policies and animal legislation. It would help strengthen enforcement of animal welfare measures and promote humane treatment of animals in every corner of the world www.ifaw.org.
Last night, a Common Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) spent 30 minutes cleaning up spilled sunflower seeds beneath a bird feeder. Fantastic tail. This is the first fox seen here in 15 years. Tracks and scats began appearing this fall, and last night’s sighting confirmed the species. It was too dark for a photo, but there are plenty online. Go here for a complete list of Arizona mammals. Look under Canidae for the Gray Fox and its relatives, and click the link to go to the Smithsonian for more information.
After 3-month hiatus, refilled the songbird feeders and took a bucket of rolled corn to the ducks.
The duck population is up from a summer low of seven to about 70. Most of them were here last winter. When I called, the quacks exploded as if I had fed the day before.
Songbirds will be slower to return, but within a month there will be thousands of daily visits to the feeders. This year I am adding suet to the menu. Woodpeckers and flickers are always around. Let’s see if they would like a little extra fat.
Sightings today: House Finch, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, two Red-tailed Hawks, and several LBBs (grass sparrow).
Our wildlife blog was just added to the Regional Environment Information Network Portal (REIN). This a unique honor. Our project is the only one that REIN sponsors outside the states of Oregon and Washington.
The AFOSA Wildlife blog is generally defined as an educational project. Its conservation goals and success metrics serve as models for developing similar projects elsewhere.
Other national portals that include the blog:
View our Conservation Registry listing here.
Please visit my new website. It provides access to samples of my fiction and nonfiction work, and chronicles the progress of my writing projects. My fiction page was just published. Go to https://garryrogers.com and take a look. The theme for all my fiction is nature conservation. It’s in the background, but it is there. It’s the reason for the work.
Endangered Species Program | Map. Lots accomplished. More needed.
Rattlesnake Species in Arizona
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), lists 13 rattlesnake species on its website (www.azgfd.gov). Some species include two or three subspecies. Subspecies are separate populations that are often only slightly different from the other populations of the species. Including the accepted subspecies listed on the AZGFD website, there are 19 kinds of rattlesnakes in the state. Eighteen of them belong to the genus Crotalus. Desert Massasauga, belongs to the genus Sistrurus.
Counting species is tricky, because not everyone uses the same names. The scientific names, the genus, species, and subspecies are ‘Latinized’ terms that are the same everywhere. Common names are much more variable. For example, AZGFD lists Crotalus viridis viridis as the Green Prairie Rattlesnake, but the Arizona Herpetological Association lists the same species as the Prairie Rattlesnake. The AFOSA wildlife blog provides more information on species names.
Humans are affecting all of Arizona’s rattlesnakes. It is in this regard that subspecies are particularly important. The habitat of one subspecies may be more heavily damaged than the habitat of another subspecies. Thus, it is not helpful to list an entire species as needing protection when only one subspecies is in jeopardy. AZGFD lists six rattlesnake species and subspecies as the most affected by human impacts. They are the Arizona Ridge-Nose, Desert Massasauga, Green Prairie, Hopi, New Mexico Ridge-nose, and the Western Twin-spotted.
In 2011 the Center for Snake Conservation (CSC) began holding snake counts. Volunteers conduct two types of counts, by automobile and on foot. Everyone can take part. The CSC provides instructions, tool kits, and manages the counts. Learn more and sign up for the fall or spring count at the CSC website.
AZGFD maps show seven species and subspecies of rattlesnakes might occur in the Agua Fria River Basin. They are the Arizona Black, Black-tailed, Mojave, Sidewinder, Southwestern Speckled, Tiger, and Western Diamondback. The Western Diamondback is the most dangerous. It is the largest, and will stand its ground and defend itself when threatened. The AFOSA wildlife blog provides a checklist of all of Arizona’s snakes.
Wildlife conservation has become critical for all Arizona species groups such as amphibians, birds, bats, and turtles. Each article posted in this blog introduces a group, comments on conservation needs, and provides references and a species checklist. Emphasis is on the species found in Agua Fria River Basin of central Arizona, and the habitats near the Agua Fria River in the town of Dewey-Humboldt. Send questions or comments to the Agua Fria Open Space Alliance, Inc. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The chicks peering out of the nest in the photograph are Great Horned Owls. The nest is in a Cottonwood tree near the Agua Fria River.
Humans, and many other species, are born with a ready-made instinctive fear of snakes. All it takes to activate the instinct is seeing an adult being afraid of a snake. Many people overcome their fear after learning which snakes are dangerous, and which ones are harmless. This is a good thing for snakes, and it’s good for everybody else, because snakes are necessary for a balanced ecosystem. Snakes help regulate populations of rodents, frogs, and other small animals, and snakes serve as food for many birds, mammals, and reptiles. The references include field guides in print (Stebbins 1966) and online (Arizona Herpetological Association (AHA), Brennan, 2008). AHA and HerpDigest provide news and information.
About half the snake species and recognized subspecies in the U. S. are present in Arizona. Many of them are present in the Agua Fria River Basin, but the only ones I see around Coldwater Farm are garter snakes, gopher snakes, and king snakes. It’s odd that over the past 50 years, no one has reported seeing a rattlesnake on the Farm. They are probably present, but most rattlesnakes are shy and rarely advertise their presence.
The photograph shows a California King Snake, a common species of the Agua Fria River Basin and Coldwater Farm. The photo is from the website of the Arizona Herpetological Association.
Almost half the lizard species found in the U. S. are present in Arizona. They are a colorful group with fascinating life histories. Lizards help control ants, termites, and other insects, and with only one exception, the Gila Monster, they are unable to seriously harm humans. Field guides are available online (Arizona Herpetological Association, Brennan, 2008), and in print (Jones and Lovich, 2009, and Stebbins, 1966).
The most common species seen around homes in the upper Agua Fria River Basin where I live are the Plateau Fence Lizard, the Ornate Tree Lizard, and several Whiptails and Horned Lizards (HLs–also called horny toads). Here they are active from March to November. In the Sonoran Desert at the south end of the Basin they are active all year. Lizard body temperature is controlled by surroundings rather than by internal systems. Without warm air, sunlight, or sun-warmed surfaces, they have to find shelter.
The photograph shows a Plateau Fence Lizard on a tree. These lizards do like fence posts, but they will sit on any convenient object that gives them an elevated view.
Barn Owl Near the Agua Fria River
A few days ago, I brushed by the spruce tree beside the house and a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) flapped out. It perched in a nearby Cottonwood tree and watched nervously while I took photographs. I have known for years that there was a Barn Owl living nearby. Seven years ago I found a brown and white Barn Owl feather lying in the front yard. Since then I’ve seen silhouettes in trees and sailing silently across the yard. Two years ago a second feather turned up.
More than 200 ducks are present on my two stock ponds today. The number is typical for January, but not March. Most have usually moved on by now. More on Agua Fria birds.
Invasive Species: Our Accidental Attack On Nature
The story of invasive species and their alteration of native habitats is one of the most disappointing tales to be told of human interaction with nature. It is full of surprises, unsolved mysteries, scientific research, and reactive management that too often exemplifies the adage, “too little too late.” This post summarizes the main elements of the plot and its conclusion. It begins about 500 years ago when people started crossing the oceans and taking boatloads of new species to North America and other parts of the world. Some of the new species invaded native habitats, replaced the natives, and became permanent residents. Of all the things people have done to the wildlife and wildlife habitat of the Agua Fria River Basin—road and building construction, ranching, logging, hunting, farming, fertilizing, recreation, burning, and water use—the most destructive has been the accidental introduction of invasive plants and animals.
The photo shows the dry seeds of Horehound (Marubium vulgare). The seeds have small hooks that catch on clothing and animal fur. Horehound is a small perennial shrub that forms pure stands when native vegetation is removed by livestock. The seeds often create persistent mats in animal fur, and they are irritating when they get in your socks. Cattle will eat a little Horehound when the plants are young, but they don’t eat enough to prevent the plant’s spread.
Singing Insects: Grasshoppers, Crickets, Katydids
Grasshoppers, Crickets, and Katydids are members of the Orthoptera, one of the most familiar insect orders. Orthoptera includes two suborders: Caelifera (grasshoppers and relatives) and Ensifera (crickets, katydids, and gryllacridoids). Cicadas (locusts) are also singing insects, and they are common in the Agua Fria River Basin. Cicada distribution maps and sound recordings are being placed on the Internet. I will post references to the information when it is available.
The katydid in the photo is probably Greater Angle-wing Katydid (Microcentrum Rhombifolium), or Gawk. The California Angle-wing (Microcentrum californicum) also occurs in the Agua Fria River Basin, and according to the BugGuide website the two are distinguished chiefly by their songs. The songs are quite distinctive. Next time I see this Katydid I will try to catch a few notes to compare to the MusicOfNature recordings.Song of the Gawk
Loggerhead Shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus) are fairly common in the Agua Fria River Basin, but the one shown here is the first one I have photographed. This fellow was quite curious about me, and while I stood talking to him, fluttered to within about ten feet, then perched nearby while I tried for a good camera angle.
Male and female shrikes share the same white, gray, and black plumage, and both parents feed their young. This big-headed little bird hunts insects and small lizards, mammals, and birds from fences, trees, and shrubs. Shrikes have strong beaks but relatively weak talons. When they make a catch they carry their prey to a thorny tree or shrub, impale it, and tear it asunder with their powerful beaks. If prey is plentiful, some will be left impaled for later use. These ‘left overs’ are perhaps used to mark territory and attract females.
Loggerhead Shrikes have declined throughout the United States, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Breeding bird surveyors (Corman and Wise-Gervais 2005) found the bird nesting throughout Arizona, but according to Sauer et al. (1995), there has been a measurable decline. Roads, pesticides, and other threats are discussed by Julie Craves (2007). Shrikes prefer open woodland and shrubland with abundant perches and thorny plants. As these habitat types fade away due to the spread of invasive weeds and the increase in wildfires, shrikes will become scarce. But until the chaparral is burnt out and the megapolitans arrive with their bulldozers, you can see these unusual little birds just about anywhere in the upper Agua Fria River Basin.
References (Look for additional references in the earlier post on Arizona Birds)
Corman, T.E., and C. Wise-Gervais. 2005. Arizona breeding bird atlas. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM. 636 p.
Craves, J. 2007. Species profile: Masked predator, Loggerhead Shrike. Birdwatching. August 22, 2007. Online in the bird profiles section at: http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com. (On the BirdWatchingDaily website go to ‘getting started–bird profiles–August 2007 edition.)
Sauer, J.R., S. Orsillo, and B.G. Peterjohn. 1995. Geographic patterns and population trends of breeding and wintering Loggerhead Shrikes in North America. Proceedings of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology 6: 128-141.
Ants are a critical component of the earth’s terrestrial ecosystems. They consume and break down large amounts of material, they control the populations of numerous species, and they provide food for many others. For instance, ants make up 40% of the diet of the Northern Flicker, a common Arizona bird. Despite being small and not so visible, ants account for 15% to 25% of all animal biomass on our planet’s land surface—far more than any other animal group.
So how much do the ants weigh? Using guesstimates from the references I made assumptions that the average ant weighs .004 grams, and that there are 1,000,000 ants per human. Thus, the earth’s ants weigh around 21 billion tons (I didn’t try to use dry weight).
Not to be beaten by little bugs, however, humanity is increasing its weight at a rapid rate. Issac Asimov once estimated that if our numbers continued to grow at the 1970′s rate of 2% (doubling in 35 years), the mass of humanity would match that of the whole planet in about 1500 years (Asimov 1975). Probably no ants (or any other animal) could survive that. Of course, our birth rate is declining, and even though our life expectancy is increasing, doubling our numbers will take longer and longer. If we assume that the average person weighs 120 pounds, our species currently weighs 420 million tons. If we double every 100 years, and if we do not destroy any ant habitat (OK, that is not a reasonable assumption. Nevertheless…), it will take 600 years for us to become heavier than the ants. After that, we get ahead and stay ahead.
The photo shows Myrmecocystus navajo, a member of the Formicinae subfamily. This one was collected in Yavapai County, Arizona. The photo may be by Barry Bolton, but it could be by Stefan Cover or Bob Johnson. It is from the AntWeb website.