Wild+Life is a monthly e-newsletter with news about wildlife-watching activities, wildlife natural history, habitat and research projects benefiting wildlife, fun facts and upcoming events. Sign up to get Wild+Life delivered to your inbox every month.
In This Issue
- Walk on the Wild Side: Dead Horse Ranch State Park
- This Wild Life: Orphaned Mountain Lion Cub
- Wild Arizona: Wildlife Photo Contest Winners
- AZGFD Biologists at Work
- Partner Projects
- Video of the Month: Attracting Hummingbirds to Your Yard
Named by a family that came to Arizona in search of a ranch in the 1940s, Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located near Cottonwood and supports a diverse range of wildlife species. Visitors may see terrestrial gartersnakes, plateau lizards, lowland leopard frogs, mule deer, javelina and bobcats. And with the Verde River located at the heart of the park, it’s one of the few places in Arizona where you might observe river otters.
The park, which is part of the Tuzigoot Important Bird Area, is also a great destination for birders. The area supports bald eagles, Gambel’s quail, common black-hawk, osprey, yellow-billed cuckoo and numerous migratory bird species.
A diverse and well marked trail system — with options ranging from a one-fourth mile trek to a 15-mile hike — means there’s bound to be an outing that appeals to everyone. In addition, some trails feature universal accessibility and interpretive signage, and others allow mountain biking and equestrian use. Visitors also can fish, camp and go canoeing in the park.
To get there: From Cottonwood take Main Street and turn north on North 10th Street. Cross the Verde River Bridge to the park entrance. Photo courtesy of Arizona State Parks and Trails
In early November, the Arizona Game and Fish Department cared for an approximately 8-week-old mountain lion cub found in the Cornville area. The cub was spotted by Cornville residents and reported to AZGFD on three separate occasions. Each time, the reporting residents did the right thing, leaving the animal alone, because the mother of a young animal is typically nearby. In this case, the mother never returned after two weeks and AZGFD biologists determined that in this situation, it was best to intervene. The female cub was picked up from a nearby licensed wildlife rehabilitator and transferred to AZGFD on Nov. 3. The cub was given a full examination by veterinarians at the Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital and stayed with AZGFD until Nov. 17 when it was relocated to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde. Read more about the mountain lion cub and how you can help AZGFD care for sick, injured, orphaned and confiscated wildlife.
Sometimes things happen when you least expect them. “I came upon this brave cactus wren taking on the cholla cactus,” said Pamela Parker of Mesa, explaining how she got the winning shot of this year’s wildlife photo contest. “I loved how the wren was framed by all the needles and had to take the photo.” She kept a watchful eye, taking several shots and capturing the bird surrounded by the cactus. More than 250 photographers entered this year’s wildlife photo competition. Thirteen winning images are published in a full-size 2018 wildlife calendar in the November-December 2017 issue of Arizona Wildlife Views magazine, which is on sale for $3 at all AZGFD offices. Read more about the wildlife photo contest winners and a special sale price to subscribe to the magazine.
Native Gila Trout in Arizona’s Hatcheries
Sterling Springs Hatchery recently added a new species to its production — native Gila trout. Sixty-five thousand Gila trout eggs arrived at the hatchery in spring 2017 from Mora National Fish Hatchery in New Mexico. Staff at Sterling Springs have carefully been caring for the trout, which will be used to stock recreational Gila trout fisheries once they reach catchable size. Each spring hatchery biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mora National Fish Hatchery in Mora, N.M., carefully spawn five distinct lineages of Gila trout. The copper-toned trout dressed with a red band and peppered with black specks over its flanks is federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Read more about native Gila trout being added to Sterling Springs Hatchery.
California Quail Find New Home at Wenima Wildlife Area
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has a chapter in its game management history when it made efforts to establish exotic species of game birds across the landscape. In the 1940s through the ’60s, ring-necked pheasants, Afghan white-winged pheasants, chukars, black francolins and gray partridge were strategically liberated across Arizona in the hopes to establish huntable populations. Only the chukars and ring-necked pheasants still reside in the wild in our state. With similar interests in mind, a private landowner released California quail in 1960 onto lands that are now the Wenima Wildlife Area. The quail spread up and down the Little Colorado River, but decades later only persisted about five miles north of the initial release site.
In 1993 and 1995, the department purchased two land parcels near Springerville totaling 335 acres of river bottom along the Little Colorado River and renamed the parcels the Wenima Wildlife Area. Once the cattle were removed, habitat conditions improved greatly on this former working ranch. However, California quail were only periodically recorded as single males on the wildlife area.
Around 2015, it was decided to make efforts to release some of these local quail onto Wenima. The bulk of the known California quail population resided on a single property owner’s private land. He granted permission to capture 20 to 30 quail each winter for three years. An Environmental Assessment Checklist was written and approved, thanks to efforts from Small Game Supervisor Wade Zarlingo. The implementation phase was set into motion. A funnel trap was constructed using a 1956 Journal of Ornithological Investigation article as the blueprint. Quail blocks and trail cameras were set on the property to document quail presence, numbers and time of day visitation. Wildlife Manager Joel Weiss was instrumental in coordinating with the ranch manager to monitor cameras and bait sites. California quail were routinely recorded at one of the bait sites.
On March 10, 2017, Joel Weiss, Terrestrial Wildlife Program Manager Dave Cagle and Photographer George Andrejko set the trap. It wasn’t long until the ku-ka-kow calls of the quail were heard as they approached the bait site. Soon we had about a dozen birds in the trap, and we closed in to block the funnel and cover the trap to quiet down the birds. A total of 11 quail were sexed, banded, placed in a transport box and immediately released at the Wenima Wildlife Area. The next day another four birds were captured and released, for a total of eight males and seven females. Since the release, the wildlife area management staff have observed California quail on several occasions, and with some perseverance and luck this species of quail will offer new wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities. — Dave Cagle
Desert Bighorn Sheep Translocated to Goldfield Mountains
The next time you’re out hiking or just meandering in the Goldfield Mountains, take a good look around. If you’re lucky, maybe way up high on the crags, you’ll see one or more of the area’s newest residents taking a good look at you. The AZGFD translocated 14 adult desert bighorn sheep — four rams and 10 ewes — from a healthy population of the animals near Saguaro Lake in Game Management Unit 24B to the Goldfield Mountains, also in Unit 24B. All 14 of the animals were given an identification ear tag and complete health evaluation before being released. The project was a cooperative effort between the AZGFD and its partners: Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, Mogollon Sporting Association, Tonto National Forest, and the Arizona State Land Department. Read more about the desert big horn sheep translocation.
Habitat Improvement at the Buck Springs Allotment
In 2009, the Arizona Elk Society acquired the lease for the Buck Springs Allotment on the Coconino National Forest. Over 73,000 acres of ecologically sensitive wildlife habitat were retired from livestock grazing and waived to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for conservation purposes. Since then, volunteers from various groups have stepped up multiple times to complete many varied habitat improvement projects in the area.
In September, conservation agencies and hard-working volunteers cooperated on yet another habitat improvement project on the allotment. This time, six miles of unnecessary barbed wire fencing was removed from the area. The old pasture fences had four strands, so that equates to 24 miles worth of barbed wire that was removed from this forest habitat above the Mogollon Rim. The fences were in disrepair, having not been maintained for around 15 years; removing them improves the ability of big game species and other wildlife to move freely and safely across the landscape. It also eliminates a potential hazard to people who recreate in the area.
The USFS had American Conservation Experience volunteers begin the work, and the crew spent an entire week dropping fence wires and pulling posts out of the ground. Then on Sept. 9, a crew of volunteers from the Mule Deer Foundation and Boy Scout Troop 787 joined a few folks from AZGFD and USFS. The group split up into four crews, each with a gas-operated wire-rolling machine. The hard-working crews carried roll after roll of wire, along with hundreds of T-posts, to sites where the USFS could get a trailer to haul the materials away.
Although wildlife habitat improvement projects like this are a lot of work, they are also enjoyable. There were nice views from the top of the Mogollon Rim. The Mule Deer Foundation provided hearty meals to the volunteers who braved the rainy weather. Several volunteers saw elk, deer and turkeys, and one found an antler.
Like all the other projects completed since 2009, this project was a great benefit to wildlife. We thank all of the dedicated volunteers and organizations who made it possible. Another volunteer workday is being planned for next spring to remove three additional miles of unnecessary fencing from the area. — Troy Christensen
Long Valley Meadow Riparian Restoration
After a year and a half of planning, engineering and work to secure funding, the Arizona Elk Society (AES) began a project this past May to restore the degraded Long Valley Meadow near Buck Springs as part of a partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and U.S. Forest Service. Riparian areas are extremely important habitat for all wildlife, with the added benefits of flood dissipation and water storage, and Long Valley Meadow was no longer holding water as it should. Headcuts were moving upstream and flushing good meadow soil that stores water downstream.
On May 19-20, 120 volunteers from the Arizona Elk Society worked on the meadow restoration. Sawyers worked hard to cut and stack trees. The volunteers shoveled, shaped, seeded, covered and moved many tons of rocks into rock structures. The plan was to spread the slopes to slow the energy of the water and place the rock structures at predetermined places to further slow the water. This stopped the erosion and allowed the grasses and forbs to grow, especially in the channel where grass had not grown in years due to the velocity of the water. Three weeks after the initial work the new grasses were growing and the elk had found it.
In June, AES was able to bring a private sawyer company with a bobcat to finish the larger trees and properly stack the logs for burning. At the same time, they salvaged many of the larger logs for use in phase II.
In early September, the Forest Service called and communicated that they were amazed at the grass and forb production. The meadow had not seen this type of lush cover in 15 years. During the monsoons it was evident that the work had produced the results that the engineers had planned for.
In August and September, elk had torn up much of the cover that protected the grass until it got established. AES put down a stronger material and used large wooden stakes to secure the new material from the elk and wind. Before covering they replanted more of the native grasses.
In October, AES was able to get the new Keyline plow on site to finish the work. This new plow was specially made (imported from Australia) to cut narrow gouges in the topsoil and reach the shank 14 to 16 inches down and fracture the under layer so that water can drain in and disperse to the under layer. This will help in the future to rehydrate the ground to return it to natural conditions. AES produced a video that provides more information about the project. — Daniel Sturla
If you’ve got a green thumb and want to attract hummingbirds to your yard, our video highlights numerous desert-hardy plants that are perfectly suited to feed some of the smallest birds in the world. Hummingbirds don’t have a strong sense of smell, so they are seeking out brightly colored flowers that are the right shape for their beaks. And they don’t only eat nectar — small insects are a part of their diet and the video also outlines how you can contribute to that hummingbird food source. Watch the video.