Arizona the beautiful

This is a post for those who may not have traveled extensively throughout Arizona. It will be a longer post, but its full of beautiful pictures! When most people think of Arizona, they either think of the Grand Canyon or that the entire state is a hot, miserable, desolate desert, like this picture.

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I had this view of Arizona at one point, as well. However, a fellow adventurer, Meghan Duell (check out her blog), showed me that Arizona is so much more than a desert, and that the deserts of this state are definitely not desolate and miserable. Sure certain places can reach temperatures of 120+ degrees, but the Sonoran desert offers so much life and beauty that should not be overlooked! Here are a few pictures of what the deserts of Arizona actually look like, at various times throughout the year.

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Now, like I said, Arizona is not only desert. In fact there are huge portions of the state that look nothing like desert. Arizona is full of mountains, mostly small isolated chains. For instance, the mountains in south-eastern Arizona form what are commonly referred to as the sky islands. They are named the sky islands, because these mountains seem to rise up out of a sea of desert or grassland – demonstrated by these pictures.

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And yes, I said grasslands – there are large areas of grasslands in the southern parts of this state, like this picture depicts:

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There are also some places in this state where you can go from a desert landscape to alpine forests in less than a 10 mile hike. That is an incredible transition! One of the most popular sky island chains is the Chiricahua Mountains. Here are some pictures of the Chiricahua National Monument and other places in the range.

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In the northern and eastern parts of Arizona, there are more mountains, which are not necessarily surrounded by deserts or grasslands, such as the San Francisco Peaks and the White Mountains, which are surrounded by conifer or aspen forests. These ranges are all north of another interesting geological phenomenon in Arizona called the Mogollon Rim. The Rim, as it is more commonly referred to, is a huge cliff line that runs about 200 miles through the middle of the state, and marks the edge of the Colorado Plateau. As you ascend the pathways or roadways that go up the Rim, you can have over a 2000 ft gain in elevation. One of the best places to not only view the Rim, but also witness some of the most beautiful landscapes in the state is called Oak Creek Canyon. This is a canyon that cuts into the Mogollon Rim, and there is a road (highway 89A), which follows the canyon as it moves up to the top of the Rim. For anyone who lives in or visits Arizona, I HIGHLY recommend this drive and exploring this canyon. And here is why:

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On either end of this spectacular drive, you have two other amazing places to visit. On the southern, lower end, you have red-rock country (around the city Sedona), where you can see magnificently colored rock formations and canyons, such as these:

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The northern, higher end leads to Flagstaff and the San Francisco peaks. This is one of my favorite places to visit in the state, and I will talk much more about them in future posts. Here are some pictures to illustrate why I love these places.

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Now I hope that you believe me when I say Arizona is much more than just a desert. This post is really only a small sampling of the spender that can be found in this state, and I will continue to post my own explorations here, especially as I start my quest to visit every wilderness area in the state. I also hope that you will find a way to explore many of these places and experience them for yourself!

Field Update #5: End of field work, part 1

Yesterday, I finished my field work in southern Arizona on black-chinned hummingbirds. While I may not have filmed/captured as many hummingbirds as I was originally hoping, I was able to get some great data and will hopefully be back next year to finish up my work on the species. Now I am at home, for a few days, before I travel to South Carolina to visit my mom and attend a family reunion! After that I will be doing more fieldwork in Flagstaff, on broad-tailed hummingbirds, which I had great success with last year. So, lots of fun and exciting things to talk about here in the future! For now, here are some interesting things I saw during my time in Southern Arizona.

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Here is a really cool stick insect I saw that blended in perfectly with the grass.

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I always love looking into flowers while I’m hiking, because I’m likely to find a bee, like this one, enjoying herself some pollen and/or nectar.

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This isn’t a hummingbird?? Gila woodpeckers were common visitors to hummingbird feeders, though they often become pests, because they would either tip over the feeder or destroy it by drilling their own holes.

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Here is a family of Coati, which was a really fun find. The baby was quite adorable, but its watchful parents never took their eyes off me.

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Pronghorn are, with help, making a great comeback in southern Arizona, especially in the area I was in.

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Roadrunners are always interesting birds to see, but this was a really cool find. This individual has a mouse it recently caught in its beak, which it stopped to show me before it ran way.

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The summer tanager, another colorful bird you can find in Arizona.

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Here is another flower-bee picture, but I was told this bee is a bumblebee worker (thank you Meghan!)

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When I sat down to rest during a hummingbird scouting trip, I noticed that I was sitting next to this web with two spiders in it. I sat there and watched them for a while, and tried to feed them some juicy flies that kept landing on me.

Field Update #4: Filming and capturing males

IMG_0439This will be a short update today, due to internet limitations, but much more to come once I’m done with my field work.

I’ve been filming and trapping male black-chinned hummingbirds lately with success! I will upload a black-chinned shuttle video to YouTube as soon as I can, similar to this one of a broad-tailed hummingbird shuttle from my work last year. I’ll also upload a video of a Costa’s hummingbird shuttle, and then you can see the evolution of my cage stand equipment from an opaque tripod to this:

Finally, I’ve managed to catch 1/3 of the males I’ve filmed. Here are a few pictures of some black-chinned males in the hand.

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Field Update #3: Capturing hummingbirds with my advisor

IMG_0444 - Version 2Last week, my advisor Kevin McGraw (link) came to visit and help out with my fieldwork. While the weather tried to ruin his visit (constant 15+ mph winds), we did get to trap some cool hummingbirds. Since my fieldwork here is focused on black-chinned hummingbirds we caught several of them, but we couldn’t resist capturing some of the other beautiful and interesting species that occur here. We managed to catch a broad-billed hummingbird and violet-crowned hummingbird (which was a lifer for me!). The violet-crowned was so much bigger than the hummingbirds I’m used to working with, which was a very interesting experience for me. We also plucked a few feathers from the extra species. They possess colors that none of my dissertation species have, which allows me to explore additional hummingbird plumage colors for a side project. Here are some of the pictures:

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My First First-Author Paper!

I just recently had my first first-author paper accepted for publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B! The paper was the result of work I started as an undergrad at Trinity University, where I worked with both Troy Murphy (link) and Michele Johnson (link) on my honors thesis. It is crazy to think that I started this work four years ago. Briefly, we were Pine warblertesting a novel hypothesis to explain the geographic patterns of sexual differences in coloration in wood-warblers. The geographic pattern is that prothonotary warbleras you move north away from the equator, birds (not just wood-warblers) seem to exhibit greater differences in coloration between the sexes (sexual dichromatism). We hypothesized that this pattern was driven by evolutionary increases in the distance species migrated. We thought that longer migration distances would be costly to individuals, which would select against being colorful, which is also costly. However, males gain great benefits by being colorful since they use their coloration to attract Wilson's warblermates (females do not do this), so we predicted that males would maintain their coloration while females would lose it – thus the observed geographic pattern. Through our work, we found that this hypothesis was indeed supported! Check out the paper here. Excitingly, this paper has been picked up by several science news outlets, such as Science, Nature, and IFL Science. Be sure to check them out as well!

Endemic and Rare birds of Southeastern Arizona

Southeastern Arizona is home to a unique geological phenomenon called the sky islands. Basically, there are several isolated mountain ranges throughout SE Arizona. The more notable ranges include the Chiricahua, Huachuca, and Santa Rita mountains. These ranges are also home to many unique birds of the United States that can only be found in SE Arizona. Some of these unique species can be found in SW New Mexico, and certain parts of Texas, as well, such as the varied bunting. Some are quite common here, while others are very rare and are not found every year. Through my travels and work here, I’ve been fortunate to see and even photograph some of the rare and endemic species. Most notable are two particularly rare birds that I saw at the Ramsey Canyon Preserve near Sierra Vista: the flame-colored tanager and tufted flycatcher. Birders from all over the country are traveling to see these two species, who both seem to be nesting in the canyon. Here are some ok pictures of them:

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Flame-colored tanager

In addition to those species, I was able to find several others, including many lifers for me, such as the elegant trogon, thick-billed kingbird, varied bunting, Arizona woodpecker, magnificent hummingbird, northern beardless-tyrannulet, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, Mexican jay, red-faced warbler, Botteri’s sparrow, Montezuma’s quail, and scaled quail. Here are some pictures of these birds I’ve seen.

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Thick-billed kingbird

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Mexican jay

Botteri's sparrow

Montezuma quail