News From the Wilds: March

Osmia-lignaria----WEB

Osmia lignaria, the local manzanita pollinator, often emerges in March; photo by Ty Fitzmorris.

March is a deceptive month in the Central Highlands. Temperatures routinely reach 70 degrees, and the sunny, lengthening days seem to suggest that spring is finally here. But March is one of our wettest months, 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, bringing us firmly back into winter.

March is also one of the more dangerous times for creatures in the wilds. Many mammals are bearing young, some insects are emerging from creeks and pupae as winged adults, and the birds are making nests or migrating back into the area from the tropics. Dramatic cold snaps can cause severe temperature and food stress, sometimes leading to death.

Most of the native plants of the highlands don’t trust the warm times enough to begin growing or flowering just yet. They’ll wait until the days are reliably warm and frost-free, though exactly how they determine this is a mystery. In the lower deserts, such as the western slopes of the Sierra Prieta Mountains, the frosts have passed, and plants are emerging to greet their early hummingbird, butterfly, moth, fly, and native bee pollinators.

In our high desert landscape, water scarcity determines what happens more than anything else. But water scarcity takes different forms: too little precipitation or too little available for plants and animals at the right time of year. Water is most useful to plants as liquid and when air temperatures are high enough for photosynthesis. Plants (and animals) can’t use much of the precipitation that falls in the Central Highlands throughout the year because the water falls in torrents, as in the monsoon season of later summer, and washes through the landscape in erosive floods. Sometimes they can’t capitalize on precipitation because it falls as snow, when temperatures are too low for photosynthesis, too.

Snow, however, proves to be the more valuable source of water for our region. That’s because it melts slowly from north-facing slopes, saturating soils and filling rivers slowly but continuously. Long after the lowlands are warm enough for plant growth, patches of snow remain in the mountain shadows, providing this precious, scarce resource.

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Ty Fitzmorris is an itinerant and often distractible naturalist who lives in Prescott and runs the Peregrine Book Company and the Raven Café as a sideline to his natural history pursuits. He can be reached at Ty@PeregrineBookCompany.com.

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High mountains
• Black Bears give birth to young in their dens.
• Mountain Chickadees move upslope as temperatures rise, scrutinizing trees for insect larvae. As other bird species migrate through the region, they find the chickadee flocks, and forage before moving on.
Visit: Maverick Mountain Trail, No. 65.

Ponderosa Pine forests
• Peregrine Falcons have paired off, and now establish nests on high cliff faces. Look for them flying singly near their nests.
• House Finches form pairs and begin breeding and making nests.
Visit: Granite Mountain.

Pine-oak woodlands
• Manzanitas begin flowering, and iridescent native mason bees (Osmia) begin visiting flowers.
• Foxes begin bearing  cubs, but the young stay in dens for now.
Visit: Trails No. 326 & No. 392, north of Thumb Butte.

Pinyon-juniper woodlands
• Pregnant Badgers dig dens and line them with grasses in preparation for bearing young.
• Junipers in full flower. Very few celebrate.
Visit: Tin Trough Trail, No. 308.

Grasslands
• Pronghorn young are able to walk and run adeptly, though they stay in the center of the herds or hide in tall grasses.
• Harvester Ants become active and begin maintenance of their circular colonies, which are critical for soil oxygenation and seed dispersal.
• Some flowers, such as fleabanes, appear.
Visit: Mint Wash Trail, No. 345.
Riparian areas
• Creeks run strongly.
• Aquatic-stage dragonflies and damselflies forage for insect larvae and prepare for metamorphosis into winged adults.
• Waterfowl, such as Ruddy Ducks, Canvasbacks, Pintails and Shovelers, migrate north, leaving the Central Highlands lakes, where they’ve overwintered.
Visit: Granite Creek Trail, downtown Prescott.

Deserts/Chaparral
• Flowering starts in force, led by Brittlebush (Encelia).
• Some hummingbirds, including Black-chinned, Rufous, and Broad-tailed, return from southern overwintering. Anna’s Hummingbirds have remained through winter, but now move to higher elevations.
Example: Lower west Spruce Trial, No. 264.

*****

March weather

Average high temperature: 59.2 F, +/-4.54
Average low temperature: 28.45 F, +/-3.41
Record high temperature: 83 F, 2007
Record low temperature: 2 F, 1913
Average precipitation: 1.7”, +/-1.56”
Record high March precipitation: 7.11”, 1918
Record low March precipitation: 0”, 1933, 1956, 1959, 1972, & 1997
Maximum precipitation in one day: 3.21”, 1938-03-03
Maximum March snowfall: 34.2”, 1973

Source: Western Regional Climate Center

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March skies

March 12 & 13
A newly discovered comet, Comet Pan-STARRS, is most visible in the evening sky. Look for it in the twilight with the brand new moon, to the west just after sunset.

March 17
The waxing moon passes closely by Jupiter. Look overhead at sunset, or to the west near midnight, to see this rare sight.

High mountains
• Black Bears give birth to young in their dens.
• Mountain Chickadees move upslope as temperatures rise, scrutinizing trees for insect larvae. As other bird species migrate through the region, they find the chickadee flocks, and forage before moving on.
Visit: Maverick Mountain Trail, No. 65.

Ponderosa Pine forests
• Peregrine Falcons have paired off, and now establish nests on high cliff faces. Look for them flying singly near their nests.
• House Finches form pairs and begin breeding and making nests.
Visit: Granite Mountain.

Pine-oak woodlands
• Manzanitas begin flowering, and iridescent native mason bees (Osmia) begin visiting flowers.
• Foxes begin bearing  cubs, but the young stay in dens for now.
Visit: Trails No. 326 & No. 392, north of Thumb Butte.

Pinyon-juniper woodlands
• Pregnant Badgers dig dens and line them with grasses in preparation for bearing young.
• Junipers in full flower. Very few celebrate.
Visit: Tin Trough Trail, No. 308.

Grasslands
• Pronghorn young are able to walk and run adeptly, though they stay in the center of the herds or hide in tall grasses.
• Harvester Ants become active and begin maintenance of their circular colonies, which are critical for soil oxygenation and seed dispersal.
• Some flowers, such as fleabanes, appear.
Visit: Mint Wash Trail, No. 345.
Riparian areas
• Creeks run strongly.
• Aquatic-stage dragonflies and damselflies forage for insect larvae and prepare for metamorphosis into winged adults.
• Waterfowl, such as Ruddy Ducks, Canvasbacks, Pintails and Shovelers, migrate north, leaving the Central Highlands lakes, where they’ve overwintered.
Visit: Granite Creek Trail, downtown Prescott.

Deserts/Chaparral
• Flowering starts in force, led by Brittlebush (Encelia).
• Some hummingbirds, including Black-chinned, Rufous, and Broad-tailed, return from southern overwintering. Anna’s Hummingbirds have remained through winter, but now move to higher elevations.
Example: Lower west Spruce Trial, No. 264.

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