November 07, 2019

October extremes

October 2018 was the wettest in central Arizona history in about 150 years of records. October 2019 was tied for the driest. Zero precipitation. Nonetheless, life goes on. A number of plants are in flower now into November. One of the beneficiaries of last October's rains is turpentine bush. It flowered in profusion this year, while last fall - remember, the wettest recorded - it took the year off. There is a reason for this: flowering occurs on new growth from the previous spring. Spring 2018 was one of the driest on record and there was very little to no new growth that year. That was reflected in the absence of turpentine bush flowers in the fall of last year. Partially as a result of the tremendous moisture last fall, combined with a moderate spring rain regime, turpentine bushes produced a good crop of new growth in spring 2019, leading to a good flowering season this fall.

Turpentine bush is an important plant to two groups of animals: local and migratory winged insects, and seed-eating birds. The plant can cover wide swaths of ground in the Arizona Upland and interior chaparral communities. It's a productive nectar plant, and the flowers produce numerous small achenes - tiny sunflower seed-like fruit - that feed the local and migrating finches.

Posted on November 07, 2019 14:29 by stevejones stevejones | 50 observations | 6 comments | Leave a comment

August 28, 2019

Mountain fire revisited

I returned to a small wash area I visited twice earlier this summer, once about a week before the Mountain fire, and again about a week after. Some rain fell in the area in July and early August; not enough to wash the abundant ash back into the soil. Nonetheless there are many signs of recovery. Most of the chaparral shrubs are adapted to fire and showing excellent signs of recovery. No annual seedlings were present with a possible exception of these small sennas; they may also be sprouts from perennial roots, though. Hard to call. I suspect they are S. bauhinioides though S. covesii is also found in the area.

One interesting note: Aristolochia watsonii seemed positively abundant. More likely, it was just more visible due to the loss of all ground cover.

I specifically looked for this single individual Thelypodium wrightii, but there's no sign of it. It was growing within a dense copse of mixed chaparral species and not easy to get to for the photos. The copse is much easier to navigate now.

This wash area, though included within the perimeter of the 2005 Bart fire, did not burn at that time. The plants were quite mature prior to the Mountain fire.

List of chaparral perennial species showing good signs of recovery:

Amsonia palmeri
Cercocarpus montanus
Krameria erecta
Nolina microcarpa
Quercus turbinella
Rhamnus ilicifolia
Simmondsia chinensis
Tragia ramosa

Posted on August 28, 2019 01:51 by stevejones stevejones | 36 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 17, 2019

Failed insect husbandry

Curious about the critter(s) inhabiting this very common gall on Quercus turbinella, I brought a half-dozen back from my most recent visit to Rackensack Canyon. I placed them in a pint canning jar and covered it with cheesecloth. Within a couple of days, this wasp emerged; it's identical to an individual I photographed in the field. The next day it was joined by this adult wasp (presumably - jointed antennae).

I intended to return them to Rackensack the next morning, but it turns out that a single layer of cheesecloth is not an impermeable barrier to these guys. They took it on the wing and they or their remains are somewhere here in the house.

Posted on August 17, 2019 22:12 by stevejones stevejones | 4 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 11, 2019

Mountain fire

As noted in my profile one of my favorite places to hang out is in the Tonto National Forest near my home. Monday last week I walked down a wash west of Horseshoe Reservoir, one not visited often judging by the dense vegetation along the route. The week before that I walked an area along a branch of the same wash on the south side of the road. This week many of those observations are now ash. As are these from May 24. A human-caused fire burned over 7000 acres late last week, including all three routes. The only good news is that the blaze stopped short of the site where I found this imperiled critter.

Posted on June 11, 2019 02:05 by stevejones stevejones | 6 comments | Leave a comment

March 16, 2019

Field work break

I spent the week in the field in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve working on two studies. One is researching methods for removing Pennisetum setaceum from wash communties. The other is researching methods of restoring old wildcat trails. After today's work on the first project in Quartz Wash, I took advantage of an opportunity to compile some observations along that trail. As with so many places in central Arizona, the abundant fall rains have produced abundant vegetation.

Next week, more restoration study work (much of it spent on my knees, as in the avatar photo), then on to another study, evaluating of methods of removing Pennisetum ciliare from upland areas.

Posted on March 16, 2019 03:33 by stevejones stevejones | 55 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 03, 2018

White-lined Sphinx Moth invasion

I saw millions (well, I saw hundreds, maybe over a thousand, but can extrapolate that there were millions) of Hyles lineata larvae consuming just about everything in sight between Camp Creek and Seven Springs on Friday. Here's the list of what I witnessed them consuming:

Funastrum cynanchoides hartwegii
Ayenia filiformis
Mentzelia multiflora (with fatal results)
Quercus turbinella - new growth only
Rhus aromatica
Portulaca oleracea (tons of this non-native in the area, all stripped bare - an ice cream plant for Hyles lineata)
Portulaca suffrutescens (also a host of Euscirrhopterus gloveri)
Boerhavia intermedia
Ipomoea cristulata
Krameria erecta
Eriogonum wrightii
Mimosa aculeaticarpa biuncifera

In looking into the dietary habits of the species I ran into a database of Lepidopteran hostplants, a new tool in my arsenal of links. A search of food plants for Hyles lineata results in 41 taxa, to which can be added many of those listed above. Voracious little critters.

Posted on September 03, 2018 03:18 by stevejones stevejones | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 13, 2018

Signs of change

Summer rains have been occurring regularly in the area, and there are signs of recovery from the very warm and dry spring. But there are also signs of change. Numerous foothill palo verde trees in the area are dying or dropping significant numbers of branches. Jojobas and scrub oaks are suffering as well.

In higher-elevation Arizona Upland areas where the dominant small shrub is turpentine bush, most appear dead. It may not be clear how many have died until spring, which is the season for vegetative growth for the species. Provided it rains next spring, that is. There was very little new vegetative growth last spring. New spring growth is where fall flowers arise. In a normal year, whole landscapes turn yellow with their nectar-providing flowers. This year, as also happened last year, that crop has failed. This is bad news for migrating butterflies. Also bad news for finches - the tiny achenes usually produced in profusion provide food for migrating and wintering flocks.

But right now, things are looking good. I've made a few visits to my usual stomping grounds on the nearby Tonto NF recently. My observations recently are a bit redundant, but so be it. This visit had some surprises, though. I traced a little wash south of Seven Springs and found tiny grasshoppers in profusion. Some stood still long enough for portraits. I found a small cluster of Asclepias nyctaginifolia, and checked on a previously-known population, finding it in full flower.

There is rain still in the near forecast, so maybe things will continue to improve. In the meantime, I'm signed up for the Petrified Forest National Park bioblitz at the end of August. I visited the park in late June and it was as dry there as it was here. Rains have been falling there as well, and I've seen some nice observations from the park recently.

Posted on August 13, 2018 03:49 by stevejones stevejones | 69 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 04, 2018

Lower Camp Creek

I had a free early morning and thought Id see how lower Camp Creek was responding to the recent rains. It appears that not much rain has fallen there recently. I tagged a few perennials and four creosote bush galls - one accidentally. I didn't see the A. silicula on the underside of a leaf near the A. discalis gall.

Posted on August 04, 2018 04:17 by stevejones stevejones | 31 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 02, 2018

Not so anomalous anymore

Early last year I wrote about the differences between the two sides of the road to the Verde River recreation area on the Tonto NF. The fenced area to the east was completely horse-beat and chewed up, not to mention trashed. The west side was relatively pristine, mature Arizona Upland with ironwood, palo verde and mesquite trees along with a dense population of large buckhorn chollas. The cryptobiotic crust was well-developed.

I returned this morning and found that the horses have learned to use the step-over gate on the east side of the road. Now they are converting that relatively pristine area into yet more horse-beat land. About 1/4 of the cryptobiotic crust has been turned into bare dirt. And to top it off, idiots dumped broken concrete, landscape debris and empty containers of god-knows-what off the single dirt road in the area.

[Expletive deleted].

Posted on June 02, 2018 21:36 by stevejones stevejones | 22 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

March 31, 2018

Sonoran Desert Spring

(Which is the title of one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors.)

In a post last summer I noted that we were having a nice monsoon. Well, that post put the jinx on the rest of the season. The monsoon took August and September off in central Arizona. Fall and winter rains were nearly non-existent as well. Spring, the same. It's as dry as I've known it to be in my time here.

Nonetheless there has been field work galore with a trail restoration project survey and a Pennisetum removal baseline survey in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to keep me busy. It's been challenging, trying to ID the bonsai annuals, poking around inch-tall pectocaryas hoping to find a fruit. The company of a rotating crew of MSC stewards and that of a new friend and fellow botanist made the work a pleasure, though, even on the rocky 35° slopes of Brown's Mountain.

Those slopes and their sharp basaltic rocks spelled the death of my hiking boots, so I invested in a new pair today. Just in time - I have four hikes scheduled for next week. I hope I break in the boots before they break in my feet.

If you're planning to attend this hike don't expect much in the way of wildflowers. We'll do our best to make it interesting, though.

Posted on March 31, 2018 03:25 by stevejones stevejones | 0 comments | Leave a comment