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In This Issue
- Citizen Science Opportunity: Counting for a cause
- AZGFD Biologists at Work: John Hervert, terrestrial wildlife program manager
- Walk on the Wild Side: Quigley-Achee Wildlife Area
- Upcoming Events: Virtual speaker wildlife series
- Fun Facts: Abert’s squirrel
- Video of the Month: New River Nature Reserve
Circles of friends. Circles of care. Circles of volunteers counting birds.
Yes, it’s true! Each winter since 1985, the annual Christmas Bird Count takes place in Arizona (and across the country) — in circles — to monitor bird population numbers and species in their expected locations.
Circles are “drawn” over regions of the state to divide land in segments small enough to manage counting. In early December — counts take place Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 — Arizona volunteers are offered a free bird counting orientation (courtesy of the Arizona Field Ornithologists) so they know what to expect and what to do when at their assigned location.
Volunteers of all skill levels can participate in one or more circles and choose the amount of time they want to spend in nature. “Some volunteers choose to count birds in remote destinations, their neighborhood park or in their own backyard — every little bit helps,” said Chrissy Kondrat, a biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The Christmas Bird Count helps wildlife managers and biologists look for patterns and find differences from previous counts — some species may not be seen in their usual habitat or numbers may be low compared to prior years. The noted changes help biologists assess bird populations that drive conservation actions.
By the end of October each year, Christmas Bird Count circle locations and registration information is posted to the azfo.org website where volunteers are encouraged to sign-up. They can attend counts with registered family and friends and will learn from experienced bird count coordinators and volunteers.
— Anna Johnson, associate editor, Arizona Wildlife Views
John Hervert, terrestrial wildlife program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, believes it takes many people cooperating with each other to achieve conservation goals.
He should know — he’s worked more than 37 years for the department.
“I worked as a biologist for the University of Arizona for five years prior, and I worked one year in Yuma — in my opinion, working in Yuma should count as two years due to the extreme heat,” Hervert said.
His weekly responsibilities change frequently and include monitoring southern Arizona water catchments after a storm to see if they’re operating properly, and surveying units for pronghorn by airplane, reporting what was seen and documenting the results afterward. Most of the catchments he monitors provide water for deer and bighorn sheep, and a few provide hydration to Sonoran pronghorn.
“I became interested in this work at the age of 8 after my first encounter with an Arizona game ranger on a hunting trip with my father and brother. I asked my dad, ‘What do they do?’ I thought they were cool and looked like cowboys,” Hervert said. “Since then, I have wanted to work in this capacity.”
Hervert said the public would be surprised at just how much wildlife managers learn every day from their work in the field. He likes to try new approaches and experiment as much as possible. “My favorite part of the job is seeing wildlife use a waterhole in the Sonoran Desert, knowing the role we play makes this possible.”
When asked how he would advise someone wanting to work in the same profession, Hervert said that finding a mentor is key.
“I had mentors who guided me to where I am today. It’s crucial. Arizona Game and Fish is eager to work with new people who are interested in wildlife conservation.” He suggests volunteering first and then focusing on animal physiology studies to learn “what makes animals ‘tick,’ how they adapt, and why they exist where they do.”
One of Hervert’s greatest memories on the job includes “capturing Sonoran pronghorn from a helicopter, placing radio collars on them and letting them go.” He said handling live wildlife “is always a treat,” even though on occasion the animals cause minor injuries to the team. “Laughter always reduces the pain.”
Spoken like a special kind of cowboy — one who’s home on the range to help wildlife.
— Anna Johnson, associate editor, Arizona Wildlife Views
The Quigley-Achee Wildlife Area was acquired to protect Tacna Marsh, an important wetland along the Gila River near Yuma.
While there are no hiking trails, this area provides a number of watchable wildlife and wildlife education opportunities, especially for birdwatchers. A few of the species documented include the American bittern, red-tailed hawk, mourning dove, white-winged dove, greater roadrunner, Gambel’s quail and snowy egret.
Other wildlife that can be viewed from time to time include mule deer, coyote, bobcat, kit fox and Harris’s antelope squirrel.
This area historically has been a wetland habitat consisting of open water and marshlands associated with a series of ponds located in an old oxbow channel of the Gila River. At this time, only a small percentage of open-water area remains in the marshlands due to a significant drop in the water table and is characterized by emergent vegetation such as cattail and bulrush.
Directions: The area is located in Yuma County, about 1.5 miles north of Tacna and 40 miles east of Yuma. Follow Avenue 40E north to County 6th St. and continue west along the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District (WMIDD) salinity canal.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has partnered with the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center (SWCC) and Boyce Thompson Arboretum (BTA) to host virtual wildlife lectures. In addition to partnering with SWCC and BTA, the department’s Wildlife Viewing Program will conduct its own critter-based lectures twice each month.
- The Interesting Lives of Black Bears — 6:30-8 p.m. Nov. 9 (AZGFD). Description: Learn about the natural history and modern biology of the black bear. These animals are opportunistic feeders and have complex and interesting lives. Register
- Keeping a Journal — 6:30-8 p.m. Nov. 18 (SWCC). Description: Learn about scientific journals and their importance in the naturalist’s world over the centuries.The lecture also will cover materials needed for field journaling, and how sketches and figures play a role in creating a timeless keepsake and potentially important document. Register
- Water Birds of Arizona — 6:30-8 p.m. Dec. 9 (AZGFD). Description: Just add water, and the birds are sure to follow. Arizona, believe it or not, is home to several species of water birds. The best-known place might be Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near Willcox, where more than 20,000 sandhill cranes come to spend the winter. Register
And don’t miss this virtual event from AZGFD’s Wildlife Education Program:
- Breakfast with a Fox — 10-10:30 a.m. Nov. 21. Description: Meet and learn about AZGFD’s non-releasable ambassador gray fox while enjoying Sunday breakfast from your own home. Register
Did you know Arizona has more different species of tree squirrels than any other state in the U.S.? Four species of two different genera inhabit Arizona’s woodlands, including the Abert’s squirrel (Arizona gray, Apache fox and red are the others).
Some fun facts about the Abert’s squirrel:
- Like all tree squirrels, which are rodents, Abert’s have large incisors that grow throughout the animal’s life. Growth of these teeth is kept in check by stripping bark from trees, peeling conifer cones and clipping vegetation.
- Dr. S.W. Woodhouse, a naturalist, is responsible for describing this species from specimens collected in 1853 in the San Francisco Peaks area near Flagstaff. This squirrel was originally dubbed Sciurus dorsalis, but this name already had been given to another species. Woodhouse quickly renamed the squirrel after Col. J.W. Abert, a topographic engineer.
- Abert’s squirrels feed primarily on the cones, seeds, inner bark, buds and flowers of the ponderosa pine tree. These animals do not store food to any great extent and must remain active throughout the winter.
- Mating typically occurs in April and May. Not all females reproduce each year. Two to five young are born in June or July. Young emerge from the nest in August and are weaned by mid- to late September.
- These squirrels can be wide-ranging. Home ranges of up to 18 acres have been recorded.
Source: “An Introduction to Hunting Arizona’s Small Game,” by Randall D. Babb
An oasis in the desert, the New River Nature Reserve provides lush green landscape with opportunities to see a variety of birds, fish and other wildlife about 35 miles north of Phoenix.