Observations

Nature at the ranch: April Report

Post by Vincent Pinto

April is a unique time for nature at Circle Z Ranch. While the conventional notion is that Arizona is too hot to visit in late spring, this is certainly not the case at here! An elevation of 4,000 feet combined with lush and shady forests strewn along Sonoita Creek afford ample cooler retreats for guests.

The Varied Bunting brightens up the Arizona landscape; Zak Pohlen, Flickr

The Varied Bunting brightens up the Arizona landscape; Zak Pohlen, Flickr

The entire month of April is punctuated by a spike in the numbers of migrating birds, particularly those that travel later from their wintering grounds. Look for Varied Buntings, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Blue Grosbeaks making their first appearances. The Varied Bunting is a “Mexican Specialty” species, much sought after by birders flocking themselves to the ranch. Yellow-billed Cuckoos are riparian specialists, so keep an eye out for them amidst the towering Fremont Cottonwoods and other broadleafed trees lining Sonoita Creek. They often dine upon hairy caterpillars and require intact riparian zones. As such, they are rather rare and are now federally threatened.

The lushness of Circle Zʼs forests are in evidence this May given our ample rains last monsoon season and this Winter. Their cover affords quality foraging and sleeping areas for White-nosed Coatis – tropical members of the Raccoon family that barely enter the U.S. Many guests have been these seeing these special mammals of late, particularly on the old New Mexico and Arizona Railroad bed. Other mammals to look for in May include Coues Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, Collared Peccary, Arizona Gray Squirrel, and Mountain Lion. Yes, Mountain Lion! Some guests recently spied and photographed an adult Cougar while out on a ride. This is great evidence of a healthy, functioning ecosystem at Circle Z. The ongoing conservation work here has truly paid off with over 5,000 protected acres providing vital habitat for a broad spectrum of flora and fauna.

Gila Monster: look but don't touch! By Dave Govoni, Flickr

Gila Monster: look but don’t touch! By Dave Govoni, Flickr

Plenty of other wildlife abounds at the ranch in April. Many species of lizards can be seen, including Sonoran Spotted Whiptail, Ornate Tree Lizard, Clarkʼs Spiny Lizard, and the threatened Gila Monster. This venomous lizard is the largest in the U.S., but only poses a threat if you pick one up, which is never a good idea! Leave all of the plants and animals at Circle Z to their own devices, taking only photographs and leaving only tracks.

Cane Cholla, by Gem66 on Flickr

Cane Cholla, by Gem66 on Flickr

Despite the dryer weather in April, certain plants literally come into full bloom. Cacti and members of the Asparagus Family in particular have evolved to blossom now. Cane Cholla, several Prickly Pear species, Palmerʼs Agave, and Sotol fall into this warm season flower category, adding color to the landscape.

Truly with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in all of the U.S. the Sky Islands of southeast Arizona and Circle Z Ranch are perfect destinations to enjoy the beauty of Nature – including in April!

By |April 25th, 2015|Nature, Observations|Comments Off on Nature at the ranch: April Report

Nature at the Ranch: February Report

Post by Vincent Pinto

February is a special month at Circle Z. As the ranch’s Naturalist and Astronomer, I am excited to share a plethora of exciting natural history and celestial events that world-weary guests can enjoy while seeking the solace of Nature.

Arizona Cottonwoods, with fluffy flowers beginning to give way to leaves. Photo courtesy Verde Canyon RR-flickr

Arizona Cottonwoods, with fluffy flowers beginning to give way to leaves. Photo courtesy Verde Canyon RR-flickr

Just as you may flock to southeast Arizona for a well-deserved respite from Winter, so too do legions of birds. Our warm weather and nearly tropical latitudes add up to a veritable birder’s paradise! A short wander from Circle Z near the inlet of lovely Lake Patagonia is a well-known wintering haunt of rare Elegant Trogons. February holds the promise of many other birds as well. Bridled Titmice acrobatically frolic in towering Fremont Cottonwoods and winsome Sycamore trees, searching for a snack of insects. Lesser Goldfinches prefer seeds and are often spotted at the ranch’s feeders. Here today–then gone tomorrow–are sleek Cedar Waxwings questing for wild fruits such as Mistletoe and Netleaf Hackberry.

Hepatic Tanager, courtesy Melanie C. Underwood-flickr

Hepatic Tanager, photo courtesy Melanie C. Underwood-flickr

I’ve even sighted wintering male Hepatic Tanager – a species that breeds in local Pine forests in warmer seasons. Any visiting birder should well be able see 50+ species in a normal day of birding. Many of these species, such as Abert’s Towhee, Gila Woodpecker, and Rufous-winged Sparrow are local specialties, difficult or impossible to see outside of southeast Arizona! Finally, listen and look for Great Horned Owls, who may have eggs or even nestling during February.

Many mammals are also on the prowl during February at Circle Z. During my weekly Nature Walk guests often learn about fascinating tracks of Coyotes, Bobcats, Grey Fox, Mountain Lion, White-nosed Coati, and other mammalian delights.Less frequent, though worth the time spent outside of course, are direct sightings of these and other species. In fact, February is prime time for a glimpse of the otherwise reclusive Arizona Gray Squirrel. Nearly endemic to its namesake state, this species would rather quietly skulk away rather than chatter at you, a la other North American Tree Squirrels. Whether afoot or astride a horse, past guests have been lucky to glimpse Gray Fox, Coati, Virginia Opossum, Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, and even a Mountain Lion on rare occasion!

White nosed coati, photo courtesy Harvey Barrison-flickr

White nosed coati, photo courtesy Harvey Barrison-flickr

The Dainty Sulphur butterfly is delicate indeed. Photo courtesy of Anne Reeves-flickr

The Dainty Sulphur butterfly is delicate indeed. Photo courtesy of Anne Reeves-flickr

Although technically still Winter, February is truly the start of Spring at Circle Z. Witness the beautiful flowering Senecio shrubs along and near Sonoita Creek. These fragrant, yellow blooms attract Butterflies, about 330 of which have been recorded in Arizona. Small, slow-flying, and rather tame Texan Crescents can be common on warmer days, along with Queens ( a Monarch relative), Pipevine Swallowtail, Dainty Sulphur, and Tailed Orange.

 

 

Other plants are all over the place in their response to February. As I write, many Spring annual wildflowers are peeking their young leaves above the soil – a prelude to the many colors to come! Hairy Bowlesia, Popcorn Flower, Evening Primrose, and Prickly Poppy are just a few of the dozens of species that will grace us in Spring. Meanwhile, Mexican Elderberry is putting out leaves and will soon flower. Mock Buckthorn has ripening fruit and many plants are waiting for the last frost to leaf out. February is indeed a special time in Nature at circle Z!

By |February 11th, 2015|Nature, Observations|Comments Off on Nature at the Ranch: February Report