Archive for the ‘News From the Wilds’ Category

  • News from the Wilds: December 2017

    Dec 1, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris The coldest season has come round again, and the wilds have entered the depth of their quiescence. But though the nights are at their longest now — the longest of the year is on Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice — the coldest (and, for many species, hardest) parts of the winter are still to come. December is slightly warmer and bears a bit less rain and snow than January, when the days will be already growing longer again. This lag between the darkest and the coldest times is a result of an interaction between the thermal qualities of the air masses in the atmosphere and the thermal mass of the landscape — the air holds its temperature long after incoming solar radiation has declined, but now begins to lose its heat to the rapidly cooling land. It is for this reason that the warmest parts of the summer are typically after the Summer Solstice, and that the coldest parts of the winter are after the Winter Solstice. As a result of low temperatures and lack of sunlight, plants and insects now enter the depth of their winter diapause, when almost no activity is to be found. These two groups are the primary food sources for almost all of our species, so their somnolence brings extreme hardship for birds and mammals, the two groups that remain most active

  • News from the Wilds: November 2017

    Nov 3, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris Highlands. The cold has crawled from the cracks of night into the light of day changing how all of the creatures of the region live. The coming season brings scarcity of food and water along with low, sometimes killing temperatures, and every species, plant and animal, has their set of adaptations to these challenges. These adaptations are sometimes physiological and sometimes behavioral, though for most species there is a little of both. Mammals (including humans) and some non-migratory birds begin to undergo cold acclimatization now, which includes redirection of blood flow away from skin, accumulation of insulative body fat and fur, and metabolic and chemical changes, all resulting in an overall increase in tolerance for low temperatures. Insects undergo a wide variety of changes — some, including bumblebees, generate propylene glycol (antifreeze) in their blood, which prevents them from freezing, while others develop the ability to raise their body temperatures far above that of the surrounding air, proving themselves anything but “cold-blooded.” Reptiles and amphibians are able to tolerate very low body temperatures without any injury, though some snakes, such as rattlesnakes, gather together in large numbers in caves to avoid killing frosts. Many birds, including the swallows and warblers, migrate south both for food and to avoid the cold, while mammals such as Black Bears, Rock Squirrels, and Beavers, create dens in which to shelter. The

  • News from the Wilds: October 2017

    Oct 6, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris October in the Mogollon Highlands is one of the great turning points of the year — the warmth and activity of summer drops into the lower deserts and valleys as the cold of the coming winter (borne by heavy, cold air) slithers down the creek beds from the uplands. The evening air carries a sliver of ice and brings smells of wood smoke and high mountains, while the days are filled with dried grasses and the last of the year’s butterflies, native bees, and flowers. The monsoon showers have finally passed, leaving a wave of activity in their wake — insects laying eggs, plants setting seed, birds migrating, and mammals preparing winter stores and putting on fat for the coming time of scarcity. In October, the second dry season of the year typically begins as the heat-driven summer monsoon pattern, which draws moist air masses north from the Gulf of California, shifts to the storm-driven winter pattern based in the Pacific Ocean, where massive storm systems catapult smaller, moist low-pressure troughs across our region, bringing snow and rain. And, during this changeover, the skies over the Mogollon Highlands tend to stay clear, though it is also during this time that the Pacific hurricane season is at its peak, and some of these hurricanes move through our region dropping sometimes large amounts of precipitation. October reliably brings our

  • News from the Wilds: September 2017

    Sep 1, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris September glows in golden light, rich with scents of late summer — its sunrises are heady with the fragrance of white Sacred Datura flowers, fading into the noontime butterscotch of sun-warmed Ponderosas, and then into the dusk sweetness of bricklebush. In much of North America, September marks the beginning of the colder part of the year, with last harvests and cold nights. But in the lower latitudes, such as the Mogollon Highlands of Arizona, September is still summer, though with hints and foreshadowings of autumn. The monsoon rains usually continue into the early part of the month, tapering off eventually into glorious sunny days, with extraordinary flowering of purple four-o-clocks, asters, and morning-glories, red penstemons and Scarlet Creeper, yellow sunflowers and daisies, and the tall, strange tree-like Wright’s Thelypody (Thelypodium wrightii), with its white flowers. Insect diversity, too, continues to grow and change, with some of the largest insects of the year making their debut. Look for the large brown Rhinoceros Beetle (Xyloryctes jamaicensis), the Great Ash Sphinx Moth (Sphinx chersis), and the gigantic leaf-mimic katydids of the genus Microcentrum, as well as the harmless (though somewhat alarming) Giant Crab Spider (Olios giganteus), which is often seen in houses as temperatures fall outside. It is in this time of extraordinary plenty that many creatures begin to prepare for the coming cold season. Most of our woody plants

  • News from the Wilds: August 2017

    Jul 25, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris August susurrates with storm and shower interwoven with the cacophony of resonant thunder and the assonance of cicada song. In the high heat of summer, the monsoon rains turn the land to emerald, and it seems as though living things are everywhere. Many mammals are teaching their young to forage in this time of plenty, while young birds are on longer and longer forays away from their parents. Ectothermic animals, such as lizards and snakes, whose body temperatures are tied closely to ambient temperatures, are at their most active now, chasing insect and rodent prey, while insects, from the minute leafhoppers to the massive saturn moths, enter their time of greatest abundance. The majority of woody plants bear their seeds during this season, including Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa), and all seven of our oak species. Many herbaceous (non-woody) plants are growing and flowering now, most of which are specialist monsoon plants and did not appear in the spring. This is the time of plenty for many birds and mammals, as insects of all types proliferate, from giant moths to enormous strange and beautiful beetles, to dragonflies, who reach their peak now, while alien-like cicadas measure the day’s heat with their shrill cries. This second flowering brings with it a glut of insect prey, which sends a wave of life through our

  • News from the Wilds: July 2017

    Jun 30, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris July in the Mogollon Highlands of Arizona growls with the rumbling of the afternoon clouds and rings with the first drops from the monsoon storms. After the high temperatures and low relative humidity of June, the plants and animals of the wild areas are at their most stressed and are at high risk of death from extreme temperatures and lack of water. But during this time, many species gave birth to their young, provisioned nests, and lay eggs in anticipation of a coming time of abundance and growth. Though this is a gamble, the first, massive raindrops near the beginning of the month, and the first flush of monsoon flowers that follow, prove it to be well-founded, and so the second grand flush of life begins. Though the climate of the Central Highlands can be harsh for part of the year — dry and fire-scorched in early summer, cold and snowy in the winter — these tough times are typically followed by some of our most exuberant seasons. So it is with the annual drought of June, which is followed by the coming of the monsoon rains in July. Especially in drier years, the July showers are a real cause for celebration. They are, however, something of a mixed blessing — they’ll bring a second wave of growth and flowering, but in the short term they bring

  • News From the Wilds: June 2017

    Jun 2, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris June can be a pretty tough time in the Mogollon Highlands of central Arizona. It is reliably the driest month of the year, with nearly 2 out of 5 years receiving no precipitation at all, and most others receiving only the most minute amounts. If there is any rain, it comes at the end of the month with the first of the monsoonal storms. In fact, the drought of June is critical in bringing about the rains of July, because as the hot, dry air in the Sonoran Desert and the Interior West rises it draws the moist, humid air from the Sea of Cortez northward into our region. Whenever these wet air masses enter our area from the south they bring the possibility of rain, but without the heat that accumulates this month the rain will not fall. But it is possible to observe this large-scale, regional climatic pattern evolve by watching the movement and development of the different cloud species as they move across our skies — a pursuit known as cloudspotting. June mornings tend to dawn clear and bright, but especially toward the end of the month, cumulus clouds appear and begin to build in the hot afternoons. These clouds may start as relatively small Cumulus humulis, wider than they are tall and uniformly white, and then turn to Cumulus mediocris, as tall as

  • News from the Wilds: May 2017

    Apr 28, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris May is the great turning of spring to summer in the Mogollon Highlands of Arizona. Winter is firmly past, and the seasonal creeks usually run with the very last percolating snowmelt while extraordinary flowers abound. But May is also the beginning of the dry season, as regional climate patterns shift, and the winter storms that had been flung off of large storm systems over the Pacific are replaced by northering warm, wet air masses from the Sea of Cortez. Eventually these air masses will mature into the titanic cumulonimbus and torrential rains of our summer monsoon, but they are fueled by heat, which will not build sufficiently until late June. We are lucky enough to have not one, but two distinct flowering seasons per year — our first great flowering happens this month, while the other great flowering is after the monsoon rains of mid-summer. Interestingly, many of our flowering plant species are unique to one or the other period. This bimodal flowering season is matched by peaks in activity in our animal species, as well. Insect activity follows flowering very closely, as insects either pollinate flowers or disperse the seeds that result from that pollination. The peak in bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian activity follows shortly after insects, as insects constitute much of the diets of these animals. Because of this, the diversity of species and

  • News from the Wilds: April 2017

    Mar 31, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris April arrives in a thunderous proliferation of life — a raucous, enlivening yawp in the Wilds after the long quiet of winter. Snowstorms are an increasingly remote possibility, and the majority of the month is sunny and warm, with butterflies, returning migratory birds, native bees, growing and flowering plants, and mammals in the thrall of mating and bearing young. There is more activity in the natural world than can be easily followed, and the flowering of plants, emergence of insects, return of migrant birds and bats, and the appearance of mammalian young all begin now. The verdant wave of spring swells up from the deserts along south and western facing slopes and riparian corridors, as the new leaves of riverside trees unfurl and the earliest flowers unclasp. These first flowers provide nectar and pollen for butterflies, solitary bees, flies and damselflies that are looking to find mates and lay eggs. Many species of mammals are giving birth, as are the Beavers and Porcupines, while the young of other species, such as the Black Bears, are emerging from their dens and beginning the long process of learning to forage and navigate their landscapes, preying on these early insects and plants. The wave of spring migration gains in volume through April, as the murmurs of the first swallows and bats trickling quietly northward along the creeks grows into a

  • News from the Wilds: March 2017

    Feb 27, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris March is an alluring month in the Mogollon Highlands, but ultimately a deceptive one. Glorious sunny days abound, glittering with butterflies and migrant songbirds, and highlighted with the earliest wildflowers and luminescent leaves. But March is also one of our wettest months of the year, and most of that moisture comes in the form of snow. Large storm systems over the Pacific Ocean throw off snow storms that sweep into our area from the north, dropping anywhere from inches to feet of snow, and bringing us firmly back into winter. Because of its trickster nature, March one of the more dangerous times for the creatures in the wilds. Many mammals are bearing young now, some insects are emerging from creeks and pupae as winged adults, and birds are making nests or migrating back into the area from the tropics. The dramatic cold snaps can therefore cause many of these species severe temperature and food stress and sometimes lead to their deaths. In spite of the warm temperatures and sunny days, most of the native plants of the Highlands — with the exception of the wind-pollinated trees — refrain from growing and flowering. They will wait until the days are reliably warm and frost-free, each species determining this through a unique combination of day-length, soil temperature, the number of accumulated days of cold, and other cues. Non-native plants,

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