About Caleb

I'm an ecologist, environmental educator, sustainable landscape designer, and a naturalist. I work with to restore native pollinator habitat in and around the farms of Southern Arizona. My goal is to forge connections between people and the natural world.

Adios, CLM & SOS. Thanks for everything

I’m signing off from my fantastic adventure that was the SOS/CLM/CBG internship with much gratitude and appreciation to the people and systems that put time, energy and effort into making this program a possibility.

My time with the CLM was slightly different than the experience that most people had. Instead of working in a BLM Field Office, reporting directly to a natural resource specialist within the Bureau of Land Management, I was dispatched to Patagonia, Arizona to work for Borderlands Restoration, L3C. I still had duties that required me to collect seeds using the Seeds of Success protocol, but anything over the 10,000 seed accession that the BLM held on to came back to Patagonia to be used for restoration mother plant populations. Once these mother plant populations are established, we will be able to dramatically ramp up the source of readily available native seeds for use on public and private lands alike.

My favorite aspect of the CLM/SOS/CBG internship is that it connected me with people actively involved in restoration. I was afforded the opportunity to identify native plants in the field while strengthening relationships with conservationists from different federal agencies and private industries alike. I know that the connections I made will continue to develop, even though my funding source will change.

The funding that SOS provided allowed me to develop a seed collection protocol for Borderlands Restoration, passing on knowledge to another organization. I will in turn train future seed collectors with other funding sources to over time increase the available seed resources for future restoration activities. The SOS support also allowed me to set up a seed lab for Borderlands Restoration to clean, assess, and store wild seeds.

Now that I’m equipped as an experienced wild seed steward, I’m excited and honored to continue carrying the torch of seed love. I’m excited to continue developing as a seed scout, harvester, cleaner, hoarder and steward. Thanks for all of the knowledge, resources and support Bureau of Land Management, Seeds of Success, Conservation and Land Management and Chicago Botanical Garden! May this internship continue to bear many yields of delicious fruit

Agave Salvation


The two native agaves of the Patagonia area are critical nectar resources to the two species of migrating nectar-feeding bat that flies through the area biannually. The agaves and bats coevolved, timing major life-events with each other. As bats fly across the grasslands and desert of Southeastern Arizona in spring and fall, these two species of agaves are timed to shoot up their flowering stalks to lure the bats into moving pollen from one flowering stalk to another with the reward of nutritious and plentiful nectar. Therefore, maintaining healthy populations of these two species of native agaves is critical to maintaining healthy populations of these nectar feeding bats.

Last week, a whole crew of us descended upon a large population (400+ plants) of the Huachuca Agave, Agave parryi var. huachucensis. Many of these individuals were clonal pups, crowding each other out as they continued to grow.

Harvested pups were brought to the Borderlands Restoration greenhouse located on the Native Seeds/SEARCH Conservation Farm to be grown out by Francesca. Eventually these babies will be used to create new patches of Huachuca Agave throughout the landscape.

These special agaves flower themselves to death. As they age, sugars and nutrients are collected in the “heart” of this creatures rosette. With a final hurrah, the agave shoots up a stalk a dozen feet in the air that flourishes with hundreds of flowers dripping with delicious nectar. Many other pollinators are supported by the sugar-packed nectar the agave produces to entice support in its reproduction. Like many plants, the agave hedges its bets. It also produces clones, pups that oftentimes outlive the parent.

Spring Profusion

As snow melts throughout much of the American Northeast, Southeastern Arizona is experiencing its second wave of spring. The first wildflowers have come and gone. Cottonwoods flowered over a month ago and many weeks have passed since they first set fruit. Winter rainfall brought the first wave, the fabulous Arizona heat leads the way for the next wave of flowers and their associated pollinators.


Rains grace the Santa Rita Mountains


The added moisture allows plants to put energy into creating flowers to reproduce all along the elevational gradient.


Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plume)

More flowers means more nectar for pollinators. Pollinators become abundant in the profusion of food.


Oenothera spp. (Evening Primrose)

More pollinators (bees/butterflies/hummingbirds/moths/bats) means that there is a larger readily available food source for other creatures along the food web.


Calliandra eriophylla (Pink Fairy Duster)

More water = more pollinators = more life


Fouquieria splendens (Ocotillo)


This past weekend, I attended the Arizona Native Plant Annual Meeting at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. At the meeting, I met up with other native plant enthusiasts, walked around the beautifully landscaped grounds that were bursting with colors, and listened to enthralling lectures that spanned the spectrum of the plant realm.

As I listened to lecturers talking about their projects, I keyed into the patterns that emerged. It started with the obvious – 30 minute lectures where the speaker touched upon, always curiously followed by applause.

As I walked the grounds outside, I found patters abound. From the uniform growth of  spines and the spiraling pattern in cacti:


to the 90-degree angles that ash trees branch at:



patterns surround us.

As fun and inspiring as it was to follow my nose to the patterns I found, this intense pattern-watch mindset that I found myself in made me delve more deeply into the pattern world. While our lives are so obviously influenced by daily routine – there seems to be so much chaos. So many random acts. I look forward to experiencing what patterns begin to emerge out of the noise.



IMG_3522IMG_3518 IMG_3513 IMG_3502 IMG_3496

Post-Burn in Soldier Basin

Months after the Soldier Basin Fire scorched the Patagonia Mountains of Southern Arizona in May 2013, I was lucky enough to pass through the aftermath while scouting out plants and collecting seeds with Steve, a skilled botanist and ecologist, and Gooch, a tracker and guide. While this mid-December walk was certainly a successful trip in terms of scouting and collecting from one of the major preserved canyons and intact drainages of the watershed, we also got to explore post-burn habitat.

As I peaked a ridge, the first observation that stunned me was the sea of crisp trees, covered with charcoal. They were in patchy patterns, with clumps of live trees, shrubs, grass and ground cover intermixed with armies of tombstones on bare soil.

Drainages were generally less scorched than mesas and open flats. While there were many plants that had been dislodged, namely succulents, many of the shrubs and trees were still rooted, holding back soil.

Most impressively to me, Manzanita shrubs were not only still rooted, but many were still alive when half of their branches had been burned off. Perennial grasses that had been burned down to the soil in the inferno were some of the most productive plants after a relative dry spell. Like the phoenix – out of death comes life.



Burnt Mesquite



Desert Spoon fire bomb



Steve and Gooch explore a burned landscape

A Celebration of the Grasslands

November 16, 2013 marked another Grasslands Fair at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) in southern Arizona.  BANWR was established in the 1980’s to protect the critically endangered masked bobwhite quail, a species that is no longer living in the wild within in the United States. Masked bobwhite quail are currently being bred in captivity within the refuge and then released into the wild. This captive breeding program has been underway for over a decade, yet not one reintroduced quail has survived.

Despite the frustrations of the captive breeding program, hundreds of visitors migrated to the refuge to celebrate the grasslands and the unique site that is BANWR. Somewhere between 20 and 30 organizations and vendors set up tables to sell ware or spread information to visitors. Other than Borderlands Restoration, organizations included Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, Tohono Chul Park, Friends of the Santa Cruz River, Avalon Organic Gardens and EcoVillage, Arizona Game and Fish, and many local vendors selling handcrafted ware. There were a few discussions about topics related to ecology including hummingbirds and jaguars.

While there was a fantastic showing of people and the promise of a festival highlighting grasslands, there was actually very little planned that was directly related to grasslands. When questioned, the reserve manager admitted as much. Altar Valley Conservation Alliance displayed information about erosion control (improving grasslands habitat by stopping the unzipping of landscapes). The Borderlands Restoration booth highlighted information about habitat restoration on the landscape scale – including grasslands. And two representatives from Borderlands Restoration got visitors involved by demonstrating how to make clay seed balls to eventually disintegrate with the rains, repopulating the landscape with local, native grasses for the endangered masked bobwhite quail.

While I was in attendance, helping to create clay seed balls with kids, introducing them to restoration activities, I decided that I wanted to pretend that I was leading a grasslands fair. What would I do to incorporate both a love of the grasslands and highlight the unique sense of place that is BANWR?


Driving around BANWR, there is an obvious need to repair the fractured, decaying habitat. Erosion has created gashes dozens of feet deep and growing. The habitat is so unbalanced that the species that the refuge was designed to protect is no longer able to live there, even when introduced. Therefore, I believe that an ethic of restoration and protection should be the focus of any future festivals. And since this fair is a celebration, achievement and accomplishment need to be the underlying factors for any future fairs. I think it would be useful in the future to create a list of topics that vendors/presenters/lecturers should focus on, including: ecological/cultural education, restoration activities, native foods/products sales, lectures on successes/failures of masked bobwhite quail reintroduction, lectures on habitat restoration, youth focus to instill sense of land stewardship to new generation, and newly created economic opportunities thanks to restoration activities. Additionally I think that outstanding individuals should be recognized and visitors should be encouraged to take ownership of the lands through encouragement to dream up the future of BANWR.

Sea of Grass

The monsoon rains provided the nourishment necessary to provide valuable nectar for pollinators in the little nook I call home. Patagonia spent the late summer burgeoning with life, all emanating from the life-giving moisture that blesses the earth over the warm summer months. I was enthralled by the kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes and colors that bounded through the landscape. However, just 15 miles away, the monsoon rains had a very different affect on the landscape.

Drought-dormant green blades shot up through crusty earth with the presence of this influx of moisture in what looks like a verdant sea. While pollinators don’t dominate this landscape, Bouteloua gracilis, the blue grama, is a larval host for skipper butterflies. And many other grasses provide food for caterpillars as they develop into butterflies, which can now be seen on the flowering Ericameria nauseosa, rabbitbrush. But right now, two months after the last rainfall, the grasses play a different role in the environment.

Months ago, the green grass developed seedhead and turned brown as its chlorophyll desiccated. These seeds spent weeks developing into fertile seeds. And now, after months of dry, hot weather, they are some of the few accessible calories available. And grassland birds, specifically sparrows, are gorging themselves in this abundant resource now.

I now spend many of my days working in these lands to not only collect seed, but also to study the impact of invasive grasses on the vegetative makeup and the invasion’s affect on native grassland sparrow populations.

Prime Time for Seed Collection

It’s been weeks since monsoon clouds dominated the sky, carrying precious moisture to parched lands from far-away seas. The size and shape of the clouds has dramatically shifted, from vertically building clouds to the fluffy cumulus style that always seem to remind me of The Simpsons.

This summer season of abundance is the main driving factor for natural life in the Madrean Archipelago ecological province of North America. Even though shifting winds have carried away our monsoon clouds, the cycle of profusion is still very much alive in the landscape.

The sudden cessation of rain immediately affected the vegetation. Without moisture, plants have a hard time continuing to grow. Annuals quickly went to seed and shriveled up, returning their nutrients to the earth. More established perennials follow a similar cycle, many with a more pronounced lag period. Some perennials continue to flower more than a month after the last rains of the season graced the earth.

The fauna who seem to be most obviously impacted by the sudden dry period are the insects who proliferated during monsoon season. Butterflies and moths desperately search for nectar in a dry landscape. But resources are dwindling. And the impact can be felt throughout the food chain.

Migrating birds feed on the cornucopia of Lepidoptera that depend on the summer rains. It reminds me of a type of gas station along the migration corridor for these traveling species. I feel grateful to have a glimpse into the beautiful synchronicity that has evolved within this landscape over time. Being able to experience the natural order makes me wonder what role I play in this seasonal cycle. If I do at all.

Monsoon Abundance

It’s still raining. Monsoon clouds still build from the southeast. But the first winds of autumn can already be felt in the air. Even though it feels as though it just began, the summer is on its way out.

It was only two months ago that the soil was desiccated and powdered. Vegetation was a crispy and golden. The sun shone all day, drying the land and parching the lips.

A little over a week ago I woke up early to work with the community to help salvage some native Giant Sacaton grass. Our pants were soaked with morning dew as we moved through the grass. Views of cloudscapes clutching mountain peaks dramatically surrounded us as we trimmed a summer’s worth of growth off of the clumps of grass. As we dug up the bunch grass, children scanned the vegetation for caterpillars. Each caught caterpillar earned 5 cents to the captor. And these creatures were mowing down the swelling vegetation at a tremendous pace.

I have witnessed water beget vegetation and vegetation beget caterpillars and grasshoppers (which are now so abundant that I have to dodge them as I drive to work.) Migrating birds have just entered Patagonia to devour the cornucopia of insects. And it all begins with water.

While summer begins to dwindle, migration begins to take off. I am fortunate to be able to witness this changing of the seasons through annual ecological succession. What a fun job to be able to witness this shifting.


The Arid Sky Islands Come to Life

The winds have shifted and saturated skies swirl amongst the Madrean Archipelago of southeastern Arizona and northeastern Sonora. The onset of monsoon season has redefined life in the Sky Islands. The month of rain has nourished this corner of world with over 8 inches of rain – nearly half of the year’s precipitation. The monsoon season started with a bang, dumping 4.69” of rain in 24 hours after receiving 0.12” of rain in 4 months.  This incredible display of moisture has metamorphosed the crispy, golden grassland into soft, verdant rolling hills. But plants aren’t the only creatures responding to dampness.

As I travel around Santa Cruz County collecting seeds and restoring vegetative regimes, I encounter what this land is best known for – diversity. I find myself turning entering the mindset of a National Geographic photographer and recollecting factoids from college animal behavior courses. One day a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake slithered in front of my car, reminding me that when red stripes touch black you’re OK Jack but when red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow. Another time, I was hiking around the wilderness collecting seed and I encountered a mountain lion footprint. Seeing this evidence of this top predator reminded me of the grandeur of the natural world. The work that I am doing lays the groundwork for ecological restoration of the smallest species but will one day affect top predators such as the mountain lion.

Another time I was walking my dog along a rural road in Patagonia when I encountered a pool filled with swirling life. Upon a closer inspection, I realized that they were tadpoles numbering in hundreds if not thousands, swirling in spirals like schools of fish. I thought of the ephemeral nature of these creatures, how they must complete their aquatic stage of life before the puddle dried up. What adaptations to the seasonal abundance!

However, encountering the abundance of pollinators has been most exciting for me this season. I’ve been living and working in Patagonia for the past year, in an effort to increase the habitat for bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, bats, etc. Being able to witness the pollinators emerge and thrive has afforded me a fantastic opportunity to appreciate my work. I’m excited to continue documenting these creatures and their ecological niche on Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative’s Facebook page.