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
- Wild Arizona: Wildlife photo contest winners showcase diversity of Arizona’s wildlife
- Partner Projects: Endangered Mount Graham red squirrel population sees 4% growth
- AZGFD Biologists at Work: Veronica Corbett, lakes biologist
- Wild Arizona: Sandhill cranes center stage on HD live-streaming camera
- Walk on the Wild Side: Colorado River Nature Center and Wildlife Area
- Video of the Month: A Nose for Endangered Ferrets
The Arizona Game and Fish Department is excited to announce the winners of the 2019 wildlife photo contest.
Julie Curtis’s photo of Harris’s antelope squirrels was awarded best in show and is showcased on both the cover and in the calendar issue of Arizona Wildlife Views.
Curtis, of Golden Valley, was preparing to take a photo of a Harris’s antelope squirrel at the top of a rock when a second one popped up. The surprise addition, as she describes it, was a combination of luck and timing.
“Photos like this don’t come along very often for me,” Curtis says. “When I saw the photo, I just sat back in my chair staring at it and knew it was one of my best so far. Everyone who has a passion for photography knows what I’m talking about.”
More than 300 photographers entered this year’s wildlife photo contest. Twelve winning images are published in a full-size 2020 wildlife calendar in the November-December 2019 issue of Arizona Wildlife Views magazine, which is for sale for $3 at all Arizona Game and Fish Department offices.
In addition to Curtis, the other 11 winning photographers are:
- Dominic Ambrosino, Surprise: Bobcat
- Timothy Cota, Mesa: Northern leopard frog
- Joshua Esquivel, Sedona: Rufous hummingbirds
- Darin Guerena, Globe: Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep
- Tom Jones, Phoenix: Harris’s hawk
- Bryan Keil, Gilbert: Gadwall
- Kathleen Reeder, Peoria: Mountain lion
- Kathy Ritter, Happy Jack: Bison
- Bruce Taubert, Glendale: Coues white-tailed deer
- William Wells, Surprise: Eastern collared lizard
- Patrick Wundrock, Tucson: Pronghorn
Given the strength and diversity of this year’s nearly 750 entries, the judges singled out 20 images from talented photographers for honorable mention. These photos also are featured in Arizona Wildlife Views magazine. The names of honorable mention photographers are posted at azgfd.gov/photocontest.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department welcomes new subscribers to the state’s award-winning magazine about wildlife and outdoor recreation. The regular price is $8.50 for six issues (one year), but through Dec. 31, subscriptions are on sale for $7 for seven issues. Those who subscribe by Dec. 31 will receive the calendar issue showcasing this year’s winners and honorable mentions.
Arizona’s embattled Mount Graham red squirrel population grew 4% in 2019, providing proof that the endangered squirrel continues its fight back two years after nearly being wiped out by a devastating wildfire.
The stabilization of the population over the past year comes after much of the territorial squirrel’s habitat was severely damaged in 2017 by the Frye Fire in the Pinaleño Mountains in southeastern Arizona. In September, the annual survey found a minimum estimate of 78 squirrels, which is in line with the 75 squirrels found in 2018.
“Much work must be done to help conserve and protect this resilient, intrepid animal, but consistent estimates of the population since the fire are encouraging for the Mount Graham red squirrel’s overall recovery,” said Tim Snow, AZGFD terrestrial wildlife specialist. “This squirrel has faced significant, daunting challenges, but the Arizona Game and Fish Department and our partners will continue our work to give it a fighting shot at survival.”
The annual population estimate is made by monitoring all known midden locations for activity. The middens — areas where red squirrels store their spruce, fir and pinecone cache for the upcoming winter — are then surveyed every fall by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Coronado National Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Center for Nature Conservation – Phoenix Zoo, and the University of Arizona.
“We really appreciate the hard work that all of our partners are doing to ensure the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel continues to be a part of Arizona’s incredible diversity of wildlife,” said Marit Alanen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “Ensuring its recovery will take a lot of effort, but it’s through collaborations between multiple agencies and partners that will ultimately be able to recover the squirrel.”
The Mount Graham red squirrel is a subspecies that can only be found in the upper elevation conifer forests of the Pinaleño Mountains. The squirrel’s population peaked at about 550 in the late 1990s, but typically ranged between 200 and 300 before the Frye Fire.
The subspecies was thought to have been extinct in the 1950s, but was rediscovered decades later and granted protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1987.
Its diet consists primarily of conifer seeds, but also includes insects, mushrooms, bird eggs, nestlings and other items. Mount Graham red squirrels are highly territorial and will aggressively defend their middens or food cache. In addition, they have lower reproductive rates and a shorter average lifespan than other subspecies of red squirrels.
Further complicating its recovery are long-term impacts to squirrel habitat from high-intensity wildfires that can reduce food sources and cover from predators. There’s also increased competition for food with non-native Abert’s squirrels and poor cone crops caused by drought — all of which can influence population estimates.
“We place a high value on this partnership supporting the Mount Graham red squirrel,” said Coronado National Forest Supervisor Kerwin Dewberry. “This year we’ve improved habitat through anti-aggregation pheromone deployment, tree thinning, cone and seed collection for future plantings and surveys of squirrels and tree seedling survival. Each agency brings its unique talents to this effort. We’re proud to be a part of it.”
Biologists continue their research to explore new methods to help conserve and protect the species and develop long-term forest management strategies across the fire-impacted landscape, such as re-seeding and planting coniferous trees and a managed care breeding program.
To learn more about how AZGFD works to conserve and protect the state’s wildlife, visit www.azgfd.gov. To provide a contribution to support the department’s on-the-ground conservation efforts, visit www.azwildlifehero.com.
In Veronica Corbett’s mind, there’s no place in Arizona that beats the White Mountains.
Luckily for her, she gets to spend most of her days doing fish surveys, water-quality surveying and checking aquatic plants in the lakes from the mountains over to the Mogollon Rim.
Corbett once had her heart set on being a veterinarian and working with cattle. After her college coursework proved to be less than enjoyable, she discovered the joy of wildlife and started working with birds at a raptor rehabilitation center.
“Then I got an opportunity to work in Alaska with Alaskan salmon, and that was like, mind blown,” Corbett said. “And that totally rerouted me into fish, and I’ve been with fish ever since.”
Corbett said one of her favorite memories occurred in the past year while she was pulling up nets during a recent fish survey at Lyman Lake.
“We hadn’t surveyed it in 10 years, and so pulling up the nets was like a surprise. Like opening a present,” Corbett said. “I knew we weren’t going to get trout, so we wondered, what are we going to get? It was walleye! Bass and channel (catfish) and walleye. It was like the craziest thing that ever happened. It’s so fun to be surprised.”
While out in the field, Corbett takes time to speak to the people she encounters and educate them on the hard work that goes into managing the state’s fisheries, beyond just stocking lakes and streams. She also loves hearing about the success of her work.
“I spend a lot of time talking to anglers,” she said. “And it’s great! It’s a blast talking to the guy who’s been out there all day and wants to come tell me about the fish he’s proud of catching.”
Sandhill cranes have returned to southeastern Arizona and the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s live-streaming camera is again trained on their wintering grounds at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.
The live stream, which can be viewed at www.azgfd.gov/sandhillcranes, offers viewers a glimpse into the wintering habits of up to 14,000 cranes roosting at the wildlife area. The live stream is offered through March or early April when the birds migrate to northern nesting grounds.
“Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area has again sprung to life with thousands of Sandhill cranes,” AZGFD Watchable Wildlife Program Manager Jeff Meyers said, noting that each year sandhill cranes come as far away as Siberia to winter in southern Arizona. “It’s a true pleasure to offer this high-definition camera to bring an unfiltered view of our state’s wildlife directly to the public.”
The best time to view the birds is a half-hour before and after sunrise, just before they leave to feed for the morning and when they return sometime before noon. The cranes will typically remain at the wildlife area for the remainder of the day, and with the inclusion of infrared technology, the camera now allows viewers to see the birds at night.
While the department will do its best to keep the camera focused on the cranes and other interesting wildlife subjects, there will be times it isn’t possible due to the unpredictability of wildlife. Viewers that don’t see activity when they try the camera are encouraged to routinely check back.
Worldwide there are 15 species of cranes scattered across the globe. Two species of cranes are found in North America: the endangered whooping crane and sandhill cranes, which are the most abundant crane species on the planet.
They are wary birds that shy away from areas of dense vegetation that may conceal predators. Cranes prefer to feed and roost in open areas where potential danger can be seen from a distance.
The sandhill crane live-stream is supported by the Wildlife Conservation Fund, which comes from tribal gaming and the Wildlife Viewing Program. The cameras are supported in part by public donations.
To view the live-streaming cameras or to find information on wildlife viewing and upcoming events visit www.azgfd.gov/wildlife and click on “Wildlife Viewing.”
From beach access to the Colorado River, a trail system and interpretive signage, to shade ramadas, benches, viewing decks and boardwalks, the Colorado River Nature Center and Wildlife Area has it all.
The 500-acre facility is located within the city limits of Bullhead City, Ariz., and is intended to provide a natural environment for low-impact recreational uses. It is maintained through a cooperative management agreement between the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Bullhead City (City) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
There are several hiking trails from which to choose. The parking lot is adjacent to a paved trail that goes around the backwater ponds at the nature center. This trail has educational signage that describes the local wildlife, sitting benches for casual strolls, and a covered picnic ramada with picnic tables for family outings.
Wildlife in the area is primarily limited to desert species — coyote, bobcat, desert cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, desert woodrat, Merriam’s kangaroo rat, and greater roadrunner. Other wildlife that can be seen here on occasion include mountain lion, striped skunk, badger, beaver and gray fox. The Colorado River is historically a travel corridor for many species of migratory birds, waterfowl and native songbirds.
Directions: Take Route 95 south out of Bullhead City about seven miles, then turn west on Richardo Avenue, which leads directly into the nature center.
AZGFD is partnering with Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) on a research project to find out how effective dogs are at sniffing-out endangered black-footed ferrets. Watch a video about how the dogs are being tested in Aubrey Valley, near Seligman, where the department has been trying to establish a self-sustaining population of black-footed ferrets since 1996.