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Circle Z Blog – Spring
Although spring officially begins later in March, it has arrived at Circle Z – owing to the warmer climes of southeast Arizona’s Sky Islands. Despite winter rains being down a bit, many hues of green are descending upon the ranch as various native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers send out foliage. Mexican Elderberry trees are fully leafed out and poised to proffer fragrant flowers soon. A nice variety of wildflowers are in bloom along Sonoita Creek and in the surrounding grasslands and desert scrub, adding color to Circle Z’s seemingly endless, wild expanses.

Perhaps most notable among the flowering plants is a medium-sized yellow shrub, sometimes called Willow-leafed Ragwort. You’ll know it when you encounter this stream-side shrub, as it has a veritable explosion of blooms that are often covered in beautiful butterflies, as well as other native pollinators. Rich Bailowitz, who coauthored the book Finding Butterflies in Arizona, recommends Sonoita Creek as the key location for finding them in February in all of the state! Look for Texan Crescents, Pipevine Swallowtails, Fatal Metalmarks, Tiny Checkerspots, and others at this fragrant shrub in the Aster family.

Meanwhile, 2 good years of rain have allowed wildlife populations to rebound nicely in and around the ranch. Guests this season have reported countless sightings of a wide range of species. White-nosed coatis are certainly on the prowl, searching for Netleaf Hackberries and other fruits as well as for any hapless invertebrate or small vertebrate. These fascinating tropical members of the Raccoon family have their main distribution in Latin America, but infiltrate our region as one of our so-called “Mexican specialties” – species who barely infiltrate into the U.S. Adult female and young male Coatis travel in groups, while adults males – the so-called Coatimundis – go it alone, save in breeding season. Sighting Coatis and other mostly tropical wildlife is truly a thrill. In fact, staying at circle Z is akin to traveling into Mexico without crossing the border – something special and exotic to be savored! Most guests come back repeatedly and the natural environments at the ranch are certainly a key reason for this.

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Gould’s Wild Turkeys – the largest subspecies – have made a remarkable recovery at Circle Z from the days when they were over-hunted in Arizona. Flocks of up to 30 birds have been seen this winter as close as the horse corrals. Mike, who helps run the ranch, even spied one in the jaws of a hungry Mountain Lion! Speaking of whom….. Ranch owner Diana Nash took several stunning photos of Cougars this winter from the ranch. One was of a Mountain Lion lounging in a tree, while a second (from a remote wildlife camera) shows a Cougar leaping spectacularly across Sonoita Creek! Seeing wildlife at the ranch is not just hypothetical, it’s a real possibility.

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Birders at the ranch have a treat waiting for them this spring as resident birds are joined by both returning neo-tropical migrants, as well as lingering wintering birds. My recent bird tours have unveiled an average of 40 – 50 species over the course of half a day. These including some Mexican specialties, including Hepatic Tanager, Painted Redstart, Montezuma Quail, Gray Hawks, and others All of these and other birds find safe haven on the extensive conservation easements at Circle Z.

Whether you are a non-birder, beginner, or advanced birder, know that when you come to the ranch and Sonoita Creek you’ll be at one North America’s birding Meccas! When you’re at the Ranch look for free the free, weekly Nature Walk by Naturalist and Wildlife Biologist Vincent Pinto – usually on Wednesday morning prior to your ride. He’ll introduce you to the flora, fauna, and geology of the region and help you to find local wildlife. Vincent is also an expert Wilderness Survival Instructor and will share some intriguing tips during the walk. Each week he also offers either an Astronomy Program or a Full Moon Walk, depending upon the Moon’s cycle. If you would like to go beyond your rides and these free programs, then he also can be hired as your private Nature Guide for exploring the region at large.

I can honestly say that despite traveling the world in search of wildlife and adventure (Africa, Asia, Europe, South America….) my favorite places to immerse in Nature are in southeast Arizona!

Written by Vincent Pinto, naturalist at Circle Z Ranch