Spring is in full swing in our Sky Islands region, heralded not only by a slew of migrating birds, but also legions of lizards, slithers of snakes, and countless insinuations of insects. We are fairly writhing with life.
Carpe diem, I thought one fine April day. Thus, binoculars in tow, I set out with the aim of finding, identifying, and appreciating as many species as I could.
Some biologists, myself included, term this a bioblitz. Whether it’s for cataloging various species in a certain area or, as in my case, purely for the satisfaction of seeing and learning about local flora and fauna, it’s an intense and beautiful experience.
I slowly set forth along a local trail. Slow is the operative word here, as fast humans frequently equate to fleeing wildlife. Plants are a bit more forgiving. Soon I ditched the trail, preferring instead to meander along an ephemeral creek – itself lazily plying its course.
Suddenly, a white pelican caught my eye as it flew a course to destinations unknown. Surprises abound when you least expect them. Several diminutive least sandpipers probed for invertebrates along the creek, suspiciously eyeing me. Soon they relaxed and returned to their foraging, accepting me as part of the landscape. Slow.
Later I spied a male phainopepla feeding a female a mistletoe fruit as part of courtship. Black vultures soared effortlessly above, entering and departing my day with equal ease. Gray hawks shrieked their diagnostic whistle near and far. Eventually I encountered, watched, listened to, and otherwise reveled in 57 species of birds along my three-mile roundtrip bioblitz saunter.
Frequently zooming closer to the ground, I managed to find 21 species of native wildflowers. Seepspring monkeyflower not only added spice to my visual experience, but also to my palette. The greens are a delectable bitter that I savored along the creek. Red maids – a member of the purslane family – hugged the parched earth with its tiny succulent leaves that served as a backdrop for its namesake hot-pink flowers. Many other small blooms nearly eluded my eager gaze, as they too were among the “microflowers” that I chronicled. I also noted three types of wild fruits in a season generally depauperate of them – desert mistletoe, cane cholla, and fishhook barrel cactus.
The creek proffered aquatic invertebrates, including several winsome species, such as filagree skimmer (a dragonfly) and familiar bluet (a damselfly). Water boatmen oared the subsurface waters along with several species of diving beetles. The surface, however, belonged to the scavenging and predaceous water striders. Admittedly, I willingly surrendered the idea of recording every insect and other invertebrate seen this day – far too numerous and devious in escaping my efforts at seeing them all, let alone identifying them!
As the day heated up, eventually reaching the 90’s, lizards of several species made frequent cameo appearances. Elegant earless lizards watched in, I assume, fearful curiosity each time my behemoth form loomed above their lilliputian world. Most assumed their camouflaged body was protection enough, while a few scampered to a safer distance from this would-be predator. Ornate tree lizards did push ups from their arboreal perches in an effort to establish territories and procure mates.
Understandably, most self-respecting mammals were hidden in the shade, deep underground (think rodents), or otherwise sequestered in various nooks and crannies during this balmy spring day. Still, I managed to watch a pair of whitetail deer cross the trail ahead of me, as well as a wary rock squirrel eyeing me from a jumble of Fremont cottonwood logs. Meanwhile the tracks of gray fox and ringtail – the latter a catlike member of the raccoon family – alerted me that these crepuscular and nocturnal predators went on their own wanderings each day.
The crescendo of my bioblitz came unexpectedly, as the best gifts often do. About ready to call it a day and head back to my car, a sudden unusual movement caught my attention perhaps 50 yards to my left where a troop of about ten white-nosed coatis diligently foraged in a stand of netleaf hackberry trees. I spent perhaps 20 minutes with the troop which, despite detecting me, bravely and literally hung in there. They wolfed hackberries until a large coati – perhaps a male, given its size – grunted at me from the base of a trunk. They had had their fill of this naturalist! I too was whooped, and switched from sauntering to a deliberate march out of this spring wonderland.
For me, there are no more compelling reasons to protect our fragile Sky Islands than those gained by forming direct relationships with the wild species that lurk around us. If we are to save our planet, first we need to reconnect to it. So, go forth, go wild, be sensible (i.e. use your senses), and get to know your local slice of Earth while you and it are still here. Carpe diem.
Vincent Pinto and his wife, Claudia, run RAVENS-WAY WILD JOURNEYS LLC, their Nature Adventure & Conservation organization devoted to protecting and promoting the unique biodiversity of the Sky Islands region. RWWJ offers a wide variety of private, custom-made courses, birding & biodiversity tours. Visit: www.ravensnatureschool.org