News From the Wilds: August

Jul 30, 13 • 5enses, News From the WildsNo Comments

A snail balances on riparian grasses. Photo by Ty Fitzmorris.

By Ty Fitzmorris

Many of our woody plant species bear seeds now — from delicious Chokecherries to the small, nutrition-packed acorns of our various oaks — while herbaceous plants grow and bloom, most of whom didn’t appear in the spring. This is the time of plenty for many birds and mammals as insects proliferate — from the moths and midges to the peak of the dragonflies and the first glimmerings of cicada song.

Our most water-dependent creatures, such as snails and mushrooms, appear now, species rarely associated with the desert Southwest.

Arizona is home to at least 200 species of native snail, most of whom are completely unstudied. You can see them consuming riverside vegetation during this wet season.

Our species of fungi number in the thousands (just in Arizona!) and, likewise, are substantially unstudied. From brittlegills to puffballs to earthstars, they present a bewildering diversity from now until fall. Their fruiting bodies are the only part of a mushroom we typically take note of, but this is a small part of the organism: The real fungus is a network of filamentous mycorrhizae who interlace (and often enrich) the soil. In fact, the largest organism on Earth is thought to be a single mushroom in Oregon who’s 2,400 acres in size.

Rubyspot-Damsel

A Rubyspot Damsel eyes up the camera. Photo by Ty Fitzmorris.

Butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies, and damselflies are prolific during this monsoonal season. Many of the butterfly species out now fly only during this time of year. The damsels and dragons, groups notably absent during the spring, are virtually everywhere now from parking lots to lakes. Our flagship post-monsoon butterfly is the Arizona Sister (Adelpha eulalia), who glides over riparian clearings near oak stands. Look also for Buckeyes, Queens, and the stray Monarch.

At night, leave your porch light on and look at the creatures it draws. You’ll see scarab, rhinoceros, and longhorn beetles; tiger, Saturn and silk moths; as well as the odd nocturnal wasp or mantid.
In all, the wild diversity of living creatures this month is dizzying.

 

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A very brief survey of what’s happening in the wilds …

 High mountains
• Golden Columbine (Aquilegia crysantha) flowers by cooler mountain streamsides.
• Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) continue nursing their young. Their roosts are often in caves or cavities in trees, but sometimes they roost communally in buildings. Amazingly, a nursing mother can eat up to 110 percent of her body weight every night in insects, many of which are pests to humans.
Visit: Spruce Mountain Loop Trail, No. 307.

Ponderosa Pine forests
• Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) bears its delicious black fruits, which have a sweet coffee flavor and a large coffee bean-like seed.*
• Scarlet Creeper (Ipomoea cristulata) begins growing. Look for vines growing with two different types of leave: One is horned and bi-lobed; the other is longer and trident-shaped. By fall, these vines cover large areas.
Visit: Schoolhouse Gulch Trail, No. 67.

Pine-Oak woodlands
• Arizona Walnut (Juglans major) seeds mature on these elegant, uncommon trees. These nuts have served as valuable food sources for many indigenous groups, and the husks were made into a deep black paint.
• Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) bears fruit. These fruits can be small and tart or
large and sweet depending on the year. When larger, they rival store-bought cherries for sweetness and outdo them in flavor.*
• Oaks of all species bear acorns providing the largest overall food crop of the year for mammals and birds — most notably the Acorn Woodpecker.
Visit: Little Granite Mountain Trail, No. 37.

Pinyon-Juniper woodlands
• Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) flower exuberantly in the evenings. These large white trumpet-flowers glow in the dusk attracting moths and bats. This species has been mistakenly described as having hallucinogenic properties, a piece of terrible misinformation that has resulted in many poisonings and some permanent blindness. Fruit and leaves of Datura should NEVER be ingested.
Visit: Tin Trough Trail, No. 308.

Grasslands
• Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) begin their great seasonal flowering here in the Southwest, their native home. Look for “longhorn” Melissodes bees and iridescent green Agapostemon and Augoclora bees foraging on their flowers.
Visit: Mint Wash Trail, No. 345.

Riparian areas
• Creeks run exuberantly often overspilling their banks.
• Many species of dragonflies and damselflies hawk over water patrolling territories. Look for bluet and rubyspot damsels as well as spiketail, saddlebag, and skimmer dragons — especially the massive Giant Darner (Anax walsinghami), who has up to a 5.5” wingspan and is the largest dragonfly in the U.S.
• Arizona Grape (Vitis arizonica) bears fruit. These small grapes are reminiscent of Concord grape though they have larger seeds.*
Visit: Lower Wolf Creek Falls Trail, No. 384.

Deserts/Chaparral
• As Coyote Gourd (Cucurbita palmata) and other squashes flower, native Xenoglossa and Peponapis bees begin pollinating them and sleeping in the flowers in the afternoon. The Coyote Gourd isn’t edible, although our cultivated squash are beginning to flower also. Look for the flowers of any squash or gourd once it has closed and pull them open gently to look for these bees. They are extremely gentle and will not sting unless harassed.
Visit: Agua Fria National Monument.

*Always consult with a trained professional before ingesting any part of a wild plant. This information is not intended to encourage the attempted use of any part of a plant, for either nutritive or medicinal purposes.

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Weather & Night skies

Average high temp: 86.1 F, +/-2.48
Average low temp: 56.3 F, +/-3.3
Record high temp: 102 F, 1905
Record low temp: 32 F, 1968
Average precip: 3.18”, +/-1.88”
Record high Aug. precip: 10.51”, 1971
Record low Aug. precip: 0.11”, 2002
Max daily precip: 3.15”, Aug. 22, 1960

Aug. 6: New moon at 1:51 p.m.
Aug. 11: Perseid meteor shower peak. This is typically one of the brightest showers of the year with up to a meteor per minute at the peak. The waxing crescent moon sets by midnight leaving perfect dark skies for viewing. The radiant point (where meteors appear to be radiating from) is Perseus to the northeast after midnight.
Aug. 20: Full moon at 5:45 p.m.
Highlight: The Summer Triangle is the dominant constellation above us. Made up of three bright stars — Altair, Vega, and Deneb — in nearly a right-triangle, this is an easy constellation to spot. Deneb is the tail of Cygnus the Swan, who flies along the Milky Way, while Aquila the Eagle (of which Altair is the eye), flies in a near collision in the opposite direction. Vega is the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and is the star that the brightness of all of stars is compared to. Its constellation, Lyra, is also a bird (a buzzard) making the trio an unusual congruence of avian asterisms.

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Ty Fitzmorris is an itinerant and often distractible naturalist who lives in Prescott and runs Peregrine Book Company and Raven Café as a sideline to his natural history pursuits. Contact him at Ty@PeregrineBookCompany.Com.

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