Desert Delights

The past month has been eventful and full of learning. The outings I have been involved with have been varied and included some remarkable wildlife sightings. The desert keeps surprising and delighting me!

I have continued to be involved with native fish monitoring and non-native fish removal.    Several weeks ago, myself and 3 others from the office traversed the Gila Box National Riparian Conservation Area to complete annual monitoring. The river’s flows were very low, causing some difficulty in floating through the rockier areas. However, the monitoring was a success. We used an electrofisher along with dip-nets and a seine to sample the stream for fish. We saw Desert Bighorn Sheep atop several bluffs. At one point, a mother and baby came down to the water to drink. An adorable sight. I also saw my first rattlesnake! Camping out by the river was a feat, after long hours on the river, but the clear night sky made the hard work worth it.

Our work in Bonita Creek continues. We have been setting nets at least once a week and removing hundreds of non-natives. The native populations of Gila Chub and Sonora Sucker seem to be doing well. However, the Gila Chub we have been catching and measuring are frequently noted to have Lernaea, a barbed parasite. This coming week contract workers will be working on Bonita Creek alongside us.

I have also had the privilege to hike through Aravaipa Canyon twice over the past weeks. There are several side canyons off of Aravaipa, one of which harbors invasive green sunfish populations. The hope is to remove these populations and prevent their spread. The fish were removed using nets that were set overnight, along with seining and dip-netting. Aravaipa canyon is truly a gem. The bluffs and canyon walls are decorated with saguaro and unique rock formations. The canyon floor is lush. The stream is banked with abundant watercrest and horsetail. Willow, ash, and mesquite composed a majority of the trees. The canyon is full of vermillion flycatchers, white tailed deer, and leopard frogs. On our first adventure we were fortunate enough to glimpse a mother black bear and her two cubs. The mother escorted the two cubs to a tree, while keeping on eye on us, and the cubs climbed the tree to safety. The mother proceeded to “camp out” at the foot of the tree and watch us as we moved on. When our group was almost back to the car, we came upon an injured juvenile red-tail hawk. Fortunately, from my previous internships working in wildlife rehabilitation, I was able to use my raptor handling training to safely capture the hawk. The hawk was then transported to a wildlife rehabilitation center upon our return. And on our second trip back, a juvenile bobcat darted across the road. What eventful outings!

Another project that has been a priority over the last month has been creating a Junior Explorer Booklet to highlight the native desert fish in Arizona. The book will be for children age 8-12. Coming up with the educational activities and information for the book has been fun and challenging. Activities in the book include mazes, crossword puzzles, and matching. Each activity highlights a different habitat type or particular site in Arizona. Making the book both fun and educational for children has been a great way to understand the information I am working with, on a new level. I have been putting my artistic abilities to the test!

Life continues to be pretty great working at the Safford, AZ BLM office. My mentors are wonderful teachers and I learn something new every day at work. I’m enjoying the projects I am involved with, and looking forward to many upcoming adventures!

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