Archive for the ‘News From the Wilds’ Category

  • News From the Wilds: May 2018

    May 4, 18 • 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 in most years the seasonal creeks run with the very last percolating snowmelt while extraordinary flowers abound — though this last winter was the ninth driest on record, so creeks are running well below average. But May is also the beginning of the dry season as regional climate patterns shift and the winter storms that had been flung our way from 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, though it will be muted by extremely dry conditions. 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

  • News From the Wilds: April 2018

    Mar 30, 18 • 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’s 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 westfacing 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, such as 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 roar of

  • News From the Wilds: March 2018

    Mar 2, 18 • 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, number of accumulated days of cold, and other cues. Non-native plants,

  • News From the Wilds: February 2018

    Feb 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris In most years, February in the Mogollon Highlands of Arizona is still a very quiet time when mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and plants remain quiescent, waiting for the combined cues of increased day-length and higher temperatures to end their winter diapause and begin searching for mates and food. But in all years, the first glimmerings of spring’s vivacity begin this month in the deserts and the chaparral of our region. Over the next several months, the activity in the lowlands will grow from a hum to a roar and gradually flow up the slopes and into the highest mountains, carpeting the whole of the Mogollon Highlands with flowers, warblers, and butterflies. But, for now, the uplands remain relatively quiet, leaving the naturalist to search for hints of Spring. Bird migrations begin to pick up steam now, as overwintering species such as Northern Goshawk and Townsend’s Solitaire begin the months-long journey that will ultimately end in their breeding grounds as far north as the Arctic Circle. Other species migrate through our region to points nearer to the north, while the last of the migrants will include the neotropical migrant warblers who have spent the winter in the rainforests and dry forests of Central America, and will breed and nest here. The overwintering waterfowl on Willow and Watson Lakes, as well as the many smaller bodies of water will

  • News from the Wilds: January 2018

    Dec 29, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, News From the WildsNo CommentsRead More »

    By Ty Fitzmorris January in the Mogollon Highlands is when the long quiet of winter reaches its coldest and snowiest, as storms bluster and howl, pushing plants and animals to the limits of their strength. The frigid days, however, are often interspersed with sunny, cold days that skitter with bursts of bird and mammal activity. Every plant and animal has a set of strategies for making it through this time of scant resources and dangerous temperatures — pregnant female Black Bears hibernate in underground dens; Bobcats, Coyotes, and deer grow thicker coats and subtly re-route blood flow away from their skin and extremities; and ground squirrels, chipmunks, and Beavers settle into the well-stocked dens that they’ve been provisioning for months. Insects and herbaceous plants have evolved so that only their eggs and seeds overwinter, while trees decrease photosynthesis either by dropping leaves or by insulating them with thicker coatings and alter their chemistry by increasing lipid content and membrane permeability to decrease risk of frost damage. In many cases these adaptations, both physiological and behavioral, are remarkably complex. But the glimmers of the coming spring continue as well. Some animals are “planting their seeds” for the coming year, including the Black Bears and River Otters, both of whom are giving birth. Many of our wind-pollinated trees are in flower, during this time when the broad leaves of deciduous trees have

  • 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

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