Back to blogging and a brief catch up!

Wow, it is amazing how time flies in grad school. It is hard to believe that is has been over four months since the last time I blogged! The main reason for my lack of blogging these past several months has been my work load. I ended up biting off a little more than I could chew, work-wise, this semester, which kept me from dedicating time to blogging. Luckily, I can say with confidence that I now have much more time to dedicate to this blog and it will not just disappear! Plus, I have a lot of exciting prospects in the future to talk about, so there will be no shortage of material to write about!

While most of the work things that kept me from blogging were not to exciting, I still had some very exciting events occur during that time. Firstly, I was awarded the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for $20,085!!!!! This was an amazing and huge success that will go a long way towards some exciting new research ventures. I was also awarded a United States Agency for International Research and Innovation Fellowship and an Arizona State University Graduate College Completion Fellowship!! Combined these grants and fellowships are allowing me to expand my research to studying hummingbirds in Peru and conduct electron microscopy on hummingbird feathers (both scanning “SEM” and transmission “TEM” electron microscopy). The electron microscopy work will allow me to quantify the surface and internal structures of hummingbird feathers that are responsible for producing the amazing colors hummingbirds exhibit, while the trip to Peru will allow me to study several new species for my dissertation work, such as the Peruvian sheartail and oasis hummingbird. Below are a few photos of some scanning electron microscopy work I have done so far.

BCHU_whole_feather
A scanning electron microscopy image of a black-chinned hummingbird purple throat feather.
BTHU_13A_barb4_80deg
Another scanning electron microscopy image looking down some barbs of a broad-tailed hummingbird pink throat feather.

In addition to getting these grants and fellowships, I also gave my first set of public seminars on my hummingbird dissertation research. I first gave an hour long seminar to the Maricopa Audubon Society (link) and then gave another hour long seminar through the Audubon’s Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch’s Potluck and Presentations series (link). Both of these talks were great experiences, and they seemed to be met with enthusiasm from the audience, which was very encouraging.

Outside of grants and talks I did some fieldwork in March on Costa’s and Allen’s hummingbirds, visited the Grand Canyon and Sedona, went on some adventures in Michigan, and visited my undergraduate university (Trinity University). I will try to make a post out of each of these, but here are a few photos from each.

IMG_1790
A Costa’s hummingbird perched at Boyd Deep Canyon in California.
0313171031a.jpg
An Allen’s hummingbird I filmed and caught in Riverside, California.
IMG_2046
A view from the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
IMG_2170
The beautiful red rocks near Sedona, AZ.
IMG_2223
A sizable waterfall at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan.
IMG_2389
Looking out at Lake Michigan over the the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.
0521171201b_HDR
One of the newly remodeled and awesome science buildings at Trinity University.

 

I greatly appreciate everyone’s patients with my lack of posting, but I am very happy to be back and excited to start blogging again! I would also like to give a shout out to my old school friends from Houston – Gabe and Carl. Thank you for keeping up with my blog!!

Until next time!
Rick

Fall Colors in Arizona

img_1444
Looking up at the beautiful aspen trees in Flagstaff, AZ.

I have never really grown up somewhere with four seasons. In Houston and San Antonio, there were really only two seasons: hot + humid and less hot + humid. Now in Phoenix, we have seasons, but it is more of a wet/dry seasonality, with two monsoon seasons a year (summer, winter). And it does actually get consistently cold in Phoenix, unlike what I remember about growing up in Texas, where one week would be in the 40s and the next in the 90s.

dsc00511
The only “snow day” we had while I was at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. Look at all that snow…..

This is not to say I have never experienced seasons though. Summer I have nailed down quite well at this point…. Spring I have seen too, as every place I have lived does have a spring-like season, in that flowers bloom, animals start becoming active and breeding, and it starts to “warm up” (aka. go from warm to hot). Winter is tricky. Like I said, it does get cold and stay cold in Phoenix (cold for us at least!), but I’ve never had a true snowy winter. There were the occasional bouts of snow in Houston or San Antonio (see picture above), but it would only snow 1/4 inch and be gone the next day. Whenever I went skiing, I saw snow of course, and I have been to Flagstaff, AZ in the winter where I saw plenty of snow, but I have never lived in it. So I have some experiences but much.

dsc01475
My favorite picture of the San Francisco peaks with snow, near Flagstaff, AZ.
img_1969
Mormon Lake frozen over with snow, near Flagstaff, AZ
img_9894
Spring in the high elevation meadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, near Lake Tahoe.
img_7716
Palo Verde trees turn yellow in the spring, but not because of their leaves – they have yellow flowers.

However, Fall is the season I probably have the least amount of experience with. I’ve lived in places with the occasional tree that would change color, but mostly leaves went brown and did not look pretty. Here in Phoenix, there are not many deciduous trees, so nothing really changes color, but luckily there are plenty of places in Arizona where you can go to see fall colors! It may not be as colorful as New England, but it is still pretty amazing.

img_1447
More aspen trees with their beautiful yellow leaves, Flagstaff, AZ.

When Fall approaches, the first places to visit are the high elevation mountains of Arizona. Either Flagstaff or the White Mountains (especially around Greer) are particularly beautiful! You will only see one tree change color, the aspen tree, but it can range from a orangish-yellow to a neon yellow. Aspens are my favorite tree, because regardless of the color of their leaves, their leaves contrast so strikingly against their white bark, which I think is very beautiful. They also grow in strands, so you will get huge bursts of color dotting the landscape. Sometimes when you are hiking in the pine forests, you will find singular trees, which seem like torches lighting up the place. All if it is beautiful, but my favorite is when aspen strands take over large swaths of land and the bright yellow is everywhere.

img_6095
Torches amongst the pine trees!
img_1436
The color variation in the aspen trees – orangish to neon yellow.
img_6051
More beautiful aspens found in the White Mountains of Arizona.
thumb_dscn0460_1024
This is what it looks like when aspen trees take over a landscape – this photos is actually from a mountain range in Utah. Photo credit – Meghan Duell.
img_6043
This aspen strand took over a mountain side in the White Mountains of Arizona.

Another excellent place to visit is the riparian areas of the sky islands in Southeast Arizona. I visited Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains one Fall, and there I saw a great diversity of trees change color. My favorite was the Arizona sycamore, which would turn a bright orange that also contrasts beautifully against its white bark.

dsc02005
A bouquet of colorful trees in Ramsey Canyon (including the Arizona sycamore).

Later into Fall, the lower elevation riparian areas start changing as well. One of my favorite places to go is Oak Creek Canyon, however it is a lot of people’s favorite place, so it will be crowded. Sometimes it is enough to just drive through that canyon during fall, because you really get to see such a diversity of colors as you go from roughly 4000 ft to 7000 ft. You get the Arizona sycamores again, but also many other trees and many other colors. This might be the most color-diverse place I’ve been into Arizona so far.

dsc01647
The many different riparian trees changing color along Oak Creek.
dsc01664
Another view of Oak Creek fall colors.
dsc01690
Some of the color variation found within Oak Creek Canyon.
dsc01759
A view looking out of Oak Creek Canyon with the red rocks adding to the color variation.

 

I have heard of other places to visit to see fall colors, but I have yet to go there. Prescott is supposed to be a great place to see colors, and I still need to visit the Chiricahua Mountains and Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. The North Rim of the Grant Canyon is supposed to have some beautiful strands of aspen trees as well. If you know of any other good places to visit in Arizona to see Fall colors, please let me know!

Staying cool by getting high (elevation!)

Well, it is still hot in Tempe…. surprise surprise. So to cool off, I fled the mountains of Arizona and California over the past two weekends. First I went car camping in the White Mountains in Eastern Arizona, and got hailed on again. BUT, I was in my car the whole time so it was fine! The second trip was cabining near Big Bear Lake, CA with my long time friend Steve and his girlfriend Stacey. Both were great trips, where I was able to get nice and cool (especially while camping!) and enjoy some beautiful hikes and breath-taking views!

img_1273
A view across the Blue Range Primitive Area in the White Mountains

For those who are new to this blog, I adore the White Mountains in Arizona. The White Mountains are a large range along in central-eastern Arizona, full of high-elevation mixed coniferous forests and aspen trees. They also seem to get quite a bit more water than other high-elevation places in the state, like Flagstaff, because there is a lot of moss and lichen all around. The forests here have actually be called similar to those found in Washington and Oregon. And of course, since it was monsoon season, it was still raining quite a bit in the mountains, and I actually lost half a day of hiking because of  a storm (so I napped in my car). Another thing I like about the White Mountains is that they are so remote – a 4 to 5 hour drive from Phoenix – so that there are few people in the area. Yes, I am a slightly anti-social camper, mostly because whenever I seem to camp around other people they are loud or blaring music. #getoffmylawn

img_1226
One of my camping spots during the trip; it was in the middle of no where with no one around = quite and peaceful

I spent my first day near the town of Greer in the northern part of the mountains. I hiked a local trail called Squirrel Spring Trail, which was nice forest hike. Then I camped at an established campground called Winn Campground, which is where I had stayed before. It is a fairly large campground on top of a forested hill that I have never seen close to full. Unfortunately I did not get to spend much time there the next day, because it started raining at 7:00 AM. I had luckily just finished packing up, so I left and headed south on Highway 191, which is just a gorgeous drive through the mountains. I ended up picking a random side road at some point in a gap of rain to cook breakfast, since I did not have time to eat before the rain. After a nice breakfast I then drove to a trailhead near the Blue Range Primitive area, where I napped until the rain and hail stopped. Then I started along the trail, but was immediately disappointed. This trail had been completely burned from the 2011 fire that ravaged this area, and the nice forested hike I read about was no longer there:

img_6114
The landscape around Greer, AZ.
img_6125
A hike through the forests around Greer, AZ.
img_1152
The recovering burned area in the Blue Range Primitive Area.
img_1160
An example of how extensive the 2011 Wallow Fire burned areas are in the White Mountains.

After 45 minutes of hiking along this trail, I turned around and decided to find another trail. Luckily, just down the road was another trial that had been mostly spared, so I got another lovely forested hike, but with a different tree make-up from the Squirrel Spring Trail. Then after hiking along that trail for a while – not as long as I wanted as my phone kept changing time zones because I was close to the New Mexico border – I found a random forest road and camped alongside of it. Here are my photos from the hike:

img_1167
The lush, green understory of the forests in the White Mountains
img_1179
Another view of the forest, showing some trees with mosses and lichen on them.
img_1189
A small strand of aspen trees through the forest.
img_1193
This was one of the burned areas, and hiking through this patch of thistles on the trail was definitely not fun.

Before I made the sad, long drive back to Phoenix, I explored the lower(ish) elevation part of the Blue Range Primitive Area, and was totally taken aback by what I found. As I was driving, I realized that I was actually descending the Mogollon Rim (very prominent geological feature that cuts across Arizona), and the area reminded me a lot of the Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon area, which was awesome. At the bottom of the road, I was met by Blue River and a lush mid-elevation riparian area with giant cotton woods. I always love going through the transition from this habitat to the high-elevation coniferous forests, and this forest road was a great example of that.

img_1223
A view across the Blue Range Primitive Area from the road that descended into it.
img_1230
The road from along the Blue River after descending the Mogollon Rim.
img_1234
The lush riparian areas around Blue River.
img_1255
A view from the road as I ascended back up the Mogollon Rim.

This past weekend – Labor Day weekend – I again escaped the heat and joined my friends in the San Bernardino Mountains near Los Angels. We went to this area/town called Big Bear Lake, which was around 6,500-7,000 ft. Instead of camping, we got a place in town for the weekend and explored the area by car and by hiking. The town was very nice, full of interesting shops and restaurants, and the surrounding area was very beautiful. There are so many activities in the area, much like Lake Tahoe, but smaller, and it seems like a four-season place. While we were visiting, we hiked several trails in the surrounding area, namely Castle Rock and Cougar Crest Trails, giving us great views of the lake. We also explored the many small shops, where we saw some pretty awesome looking woodcrafts. We also explored several of the local restaurants and breweries, so we ate very well!

img_1287
Myself, Stacey, and Steve a top Castle Rock.
img_1289
A view of Big Bear Lake from Castle Rock.
img_1293
A view of the San Bernardino Mountains from Castle Rock.
img_1305
The forst and ephemeral stream bed along the Cougar Crest Trail.
img_1315
Another view of Big Bear Lake, but from the Cougar Crest Trail, which is on the opposite side of the lake from Castle Rock.
img_1318
An example of the beautiful woodwork found in the town.
img_1321
Another example of some of the woodwork from Big Bear Lake.

Overall, both of these trips were excellent escapes from the heat and very fun times. I cannot wait to continue escaping the heat when I can and also visiting these two places again in the future to further explore them!

Out-running Monsoon Storms, and Getting Hailed on…

It is monsoon season in Arizona right now, which means frequent afternoon storms across a large portion of the state. Many parts of AZ get most of their annual rainfall from the annual summer monsoon season. However, sometimes this rain comes in the form of crazy and powerful storms. Some of you might remember what happened to me last year during monsoon, when a giant tree fell over just missing our house!

11953067_10153284323723019_4894544396761419498_n
For more information on this event, check out my post from last year!

While Phoenix and the surrounding valley may get the occasionally intense storm, monsoon for us is mostly sandstorms, also called haboobs, followed by a thunderstorm. If you are in the many mountainous places across Arizona, you might have a very different monsoon experience. High elevation places, such as Flagstaff, seem to get afternoon storms pretty much every day, which I have experienced. These storms sometimes involve a lot of lightning and/or hail. The temperature can also drop 20+ degrees very quickly, which is a nice way to avoid the summer heat…. sometimes. These rainstorms definitely shift people’s activity though. When I was doing fieldwork in Flagstaff this summer before my trip to England, I would have to make sure to finish everything by the afternoon or I would risk getting rained on – with near certainty.

IMG_3508
A distant storm from one of my field sites in Flagstaff.
IMG_3511
The aftermath of an intense hailstorm in Flagstaff.

 

You might be asking why I am randomly talking about monsoon storms. Well, being a mountain-lover and trying to avoid the heat of the desert, I typically try to hike in the mountains whenever I can, but monsoon adds certain complications to this. Last week, I went hiking in the Mazatzal Mountains, north-east of Phoenix, on a trail called Barnhardt trail. This is a very popular trail that climbs along a beautiful valley before getting into the heart of the Mazatzals. My problem was that I started my hike late – sometime after 12 PM. I knew that a storm was inevitable, so I figured I would only get to hike a short while before I had to turn around to avoid the storm. Well, I might have miscalculated my timing. When I started, storms were starting to close in all around me:

IMG_1104
This if a photo from the Barnhardt trailhead.

But the specific area I was in still have sunny clear skies overhead, so I started hiking. I eventually lost myself to the beauty of the hike, as you can hopefully see form these pictures:

IMG_1112IMG_1121IMG_1122IMG_1131

However, one I stopped to take a rest, I realized that the clouds had closed in much faster than I predicted:

IMG_1129IMG_1134

I immediately turned around and started hiking back at a fast past. It got dark very fast, but I was still hopeful that I could escape the storms. I looked out past the valley, across to the mountains on the other side of Highway 87, and saw this:

IMG_1128IMG_1130

With these fear-inspiring images, I managed to keep a good pace, and as the trail leveled out, I knew I was within half a mile or so to my car. Unfortunately, that is when the first few raindrops started to fall. At first I thought, well I have rain gear, so I can probably avoid getting too wet and will just have a less fun trek in the rain. That was true for a while, but things got worse. The sound of falling rain gradually got much louder, and I started seeing things bouncing on the ground. It was starting to hail!

IMG_1207
Hail on the ground; from my iPhone to avoid damaging my camera.

I knew I was very close to my car at this point, but once it started hailing hard, I could not have been close enough. The hail was not too big – around dime size – but it definitely still hurt has it fell on my head.

I finally found my car and quickly got in, started it, and tried to get the hell out of there. It was hailing and raining very hard at this point, and with a slight feeling of panic, I quickly drove a way – probably faster than I should have. I was afraid of the road flooding before I could get out, which would leave me stranded for a while, so I pushed my driving skills to the limit, hoping that the pounding hail would not break my windshield and that I would not fishtail off the road.

After what seemed like an eternity driving through hail and rain, I dropped quite a bit in elevation as I reached highway 87, and eventually the hail/rain turned into just rain, and then nothing. Along the highway, there was no rain at all. I looked back and could not even see the mountains I had just been hiking in.

IMG_1211
Looking back, from my iPhone.

Thankfully I had escaped the storm with no issues, but I think I got lucky. I knew monsoon storms were typically intense at high elevations, but this was the first time I had gotten caught in a hail storm. My advice to those who wish to hike in the mountains in the near future – keep a close eye on the clouds and play it ultra-safe!

I hope you enjoyed this post – it was a bit different than my typical travelogs, but this is also my 50th post, so I wanted to make it special! Thank you to everyone who has kept up with and supported this blog, and I hope you continue to follow me as I pave my way to the next milestone – 100 posts!

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness

Many of you have probably been to or at least heard of Oak Creek Canyon, which extends from Sedona into and up the Mogollon Rim. It is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Arizona, and it is also incredibly varied in habitat type. You start along Oak Creek in a mid elevation desert riparian area and then slowly transition into a high elevation mixed forest/riparian area. I’ve mentioned this place in previous blogs, and I highly recommend visiting it.

DSC00490
A view down Oak Creek Canyon in the Summer

However, I’ve always had one issue with this place, and that is it is full of people! Well I believe I’ve found a way to remedy that problem. To the west is another canyon that follows a similar trajectory, called Sycamore Canyon. This canyon also happens to be a wilderness area, which means much fewer people and no man-made structures (roads, buildings etc.). I’ve been very interested in visiting this large wilderness area, and finally did recently.

IMG_2807

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness area is beautiful and quite large and has a good network of trails running through it (check it out here). Because it was still quite cold and wintery in the upper portions of the canyon, I decided to stick to the lower portions of the wilderness area for this trip. Plus, I want to save the upper portion for when all the deciduous trees have regained their leaves. The trail I decided to do was the Dogie Trail. This trail and others in the lower portions of the canyon can be accessed through Sedona or Cottonwood, while the upper portion are accessed through Flagstaff.

This trail starts in the wilderness area, but not in the main part of the canyon. It winds through the lovely red-rock country as it makes it way towards Sycamore Canyon.

IMG_2834

Along the way, I was treated to the spectacular contrast between the green vegetation and orange-red rocks.

IMG_2829IMG_2817

I was also given some great views of the Sycamore Canyon/Mogollon Rim walls.

IMG_2847

This trail stuck to the arid mid-elevation deserts and pinyon-juniper forests found throughout much of central Arizona.

IMG_2862

I was not able to make it to the lush desert riparian areas (deep in the main canyon), though I was also able to find several side canyons that at the right times of year would be flowing with water.

IMG_2853

This was definitely a very beautiful and wonderful wilderness area. Now that I’ve seen the lower portion of Sycamore Canyon, which does look very similar to the dryer, lower portions of Oak Creek Canyon, I am very excited to check out the upper portions and riparian areas of this canyon. More to come in the future from this very special place!

Woodchute Wilderness

To continue escaping from the desert heat, I took another journey to the Arizona Central Highlands, but this time to a wilderness area in the western half of the state. I went hiking  in the Woodchute Wilderness area, which is just north-east of Prescott. This wilderness area is within the Black Hills, which is a mountain range that stretches across I-17 in-between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

IMG_2757

The trail I hiked, the Woodchute trail, started off in a fairly dense pine forest.

IMG_2759

The trail then followed along a fairly open ridgeline for quite some ways, which offered great views of the Mogollon Rim, the red-rock country around Sedona, and the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.

IMG_2748

There were also some great views of western Arizona as well.

IMG_2746

Eventually the trail lead into a forested valley, which still had some snow!

IMG_2753

Then I climbed back out of the valley through a mixed coniferous forest, filled with pinyon pines and junipers, before rounding out in a flat, high elevation area dense with pine trees, which blocked out much of the sun.

IMG_2791

At this point it started to get dark, so I decided to head back and got a great view of the sunset along the way.

IMG_2803

This was a great hike, where I was able to not only escape the heat, but also escape the crowds and noise of the city. I highly recommend this wilderness area since it was not hard to get to and was very beautiful. This was also my 12th wilderness area in the state – one closer to hitting all 90!

Hellsgate Trail

Since its gotten rather warm in Tempe of late, I decided to escape and take a few trips to some beautiful places in Arizona’s Central Highlands. The Central Highlands is the transitional zone between the lower elevation deserts and the Colorado Plateau. It can vary greatly in elevation, as it is made up of several basins/valleys, such as the Verde Valley and Tonto Basin, along with several mountain ranges, including the Bradshaw Mountains, Mazatzal Mountains, and the Superstition Mountains. To escape the heat, I mainly stuck to the mountains found within this region.

The first hike I did was called Hellsgate Trail, which is a few miles east of Payson, and I was accompanied by a fellow grad student Eric Moody (check out his website!). This trail heads south of highway 260 and eventually ends up in the Hellsgate Wilderness area. In the Hellsgate Wilderness is the Hellsgate, which is the point where Tonto Creek and Haigler Creek meet. It is supposed to be a very steep and difficult hike once you hit the creeks, but we did not end up going that far. To get to that point, you really need to backpack in, as it is several miles away. We ended up hiking along the trail for a few miles, enjoying the cool weather and shady pine trees.

IMG_2651

We also did a bit of birding along the way!

IMG_2701
A dark-eyed junco we met along the way

Much of the trail we did was through a mixed coniferous forest, with ponderosa pines, alligator junipers, and pinyon pines being most common. There were also white and emory oaks scattered throughout.

IMG_2683IMG_2725

Occasionally we would be on the sunny sides of some ridges, which would cut down on the forest vegetation, but then we could get some good views of the surrounding area.

IMG_2728

Spring has not fully hit this area yet, so the bird diversity wasn’t incredibly high, but we saw many woodpeckers and nuthatches. We also saw juniper and bridled titmice and mountain chickadees. The most interesting bird we saw was the red crossbill, which I had never seen before!

IMG_2712
Sorry for the super backlit image!

We also saw many bumblebees along the trail, and there was a stream that was somewhat continuous throughout as well.

IMG_2661

IMG_2668

All and all, it was a great hike, and it was very chill, as this squirrel we found demonstrates.

IMG_2730

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.

IMG_7230

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.

DSC01571

IMG_1891

IMG_1876

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.

DSCN9633

IMG_8190

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

IMG_8225

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.

DSC01001

IMG_5726

IMG_5770

IMG_5809

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:

DSC01662

DSC01743

DSC00490

DSC01759

IMG_1743

IMG_1759

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:

DSC00405

DSC00413

DSC00431

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.

DSC01475

IMG_2858

IMG_8039

IMG_2823

IMG_2978

IMG_3224

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!

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:

Flame-colored tanager

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.

Northern beardless-tyrannulet

Thick-billed kingbird

Scaled quail

Mexican jay

Botteri's sparrow

Montezuma quail

About me

As I mentioned, I am a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University. I am getting my Ph.D. in animal behavior, and I am finishing up my third year. I have been doing biological research for seven years at this point, as I started doing research my first summer at college (2009). Its been quite a journey for me, that has lead me from cancer research, to ecological modeling, and finally to studying behavior in the field.

DSCN9552
Me in Flagstaff during the Fall. Photo credit: Meghan Duell (https://meghanduell.wordpress.com)

I have always loved being outside and exploring the natural world. When I was young, my family traveled a lot, especially in the western half of the US, visiting a plethora of national and state parks. Two of my most memorable experiences were visiting Glacier National Park and a month-long trip we took to drive to Alaska, where I was able to see a huge variety of environments and wildlife. I have also spent considerable amounts of time in the South, such as in some of the beautiful old-growth forests and black-water swamps of South Carolina. As an adult, I continue to explore our natural world, both for fun and for my job! My research has taken me to many places around the world, including Canada, Panama, and Japan. I have worked with a reasonable diversity of animals, though most of my work has been on birds. I have also contacted some work on mice and rats, grasshoppers, and beetles.

IMG_7260As I am in my 3rd year of my Ph.D., I am in the midst of my work for my dissertation. I am studying hummingbirds, and specifically I am exploring the evolutionary relationships between their colorful plumage and display behaviors during courtship (see here for more information). The vast majority of my work is conducted in the field, which I very much so prefer. I love studying animals in their natural habitats. Through my field work, I not only learn a ton about the organisms I study, but I also learn a lot about the areas I conduct my work in and all the other life that inhabits it. Because I spend day after day for fairly long stretches of time at one field site, I am able to witness some of the rarer animal occurrences. For instance, while at some of my field sites in southern Arizona, I have seen rock and Arizona black rattlesnakes:

IMG_2268

DSC00943 - Version 2

Outside of my research, I enjoy hiking, camping, and various other outdoor activities, as you will see through this blog. My current goal for the duration of my tenure at ASU, is to visit every wilderness area in the state. There are 90 wilderness areas in Arizona (check them out here), which vary in size and remoteness. So far, I’ve only been two 9 of them, so I have a long way to go! I will make sure to write a post about each one as I visit them, and I will write about the ones I have already visited as well.