Archive for March, 2012

Poppies, poppies, poppies!

March 20, 2012

Our trip to Portal last week was filled with poppies! So much so, that I decided they deserved their own blog post. This may not be the best year for wildflowers in southern Arizona, but it’s a dramatic change from the past few years which were much drier with very little vegetation at all. Rainfall this past year has been pretty patchy across the state, but our site received adequate and continuous enough rain through the winter to produce fields of poppies (Escholtzia mexicana). We were probably lucky enough to arrive during the peak for poppies, and the San Simon valley was surrounded by orange-hillsides. I’m not sure how anyone could walk in these fields and not be possessed with an inexplicable happiness and an urge run around in the flowers!

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Portal rodent-plant extravaganza: Day 4

March 13, 2012

My lab mates, Glenda and Xiao, and I left early Saturday morning to drive from northern Utah to Portal Arizona. It’s about an 18 hour drive, but the scenery is beautiful, so it’s not that bad. We stopped at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park along the way, near the Utah-Arizona border. I’d highly recommend a stop!

Between Sunday and Tuesday night, we repaired our trap shed, trapped 127 rodents and counted plants on 13 of the 24 plots. We still have a lot of work to do… Here are a few photographic highlights from the data collection so far:

A desert pocket mouse sits near some very scenic poppies.

Xiao and Glenda count plants on a poppy-filled plot.

Bees really dig the Gordon’s bladderpod (Lesquerella gordoni).

February trapping

March 9, 2012

I traveled to Portal again Feb 18-20, this time meeting a crew of people from New Mexico State University.

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Chaetodipus pencillatus, desert pocket mouse.

Karen Mabry has been especially helpful for finding volunteers and keeping Portal going through our lower-funding times. She also studies rodents, with most of her work with Peromyscus¬†at the Quail Ridge Reserve in California. So she was excited to see that diversity at the site is returning quickly–we’re back up to 10 different species!–and that we caught several incredibly cute cactus mice (Peromyscus eremicus). We also continue to catch the harvest mice (Reithrodontomys megalotis and montanus),¬†which was fun for visiting grad student Katie Smith, who studies the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse in California.

Katie Smith holds a small harvest mouse. Photo by J. Smith.

With so many experienced rodent-trappers, we were able to get through all the captures pretty quickly and leave extra time in the afternoon for Jane Smith to take some measurements for her project. Also an NMSU grad student, she has been investigating the effects of small mammals on soil organic carbon, using the experimental manipulations at our site.

I’ve never captured so many birds before, but 11 of our 110 traps this month has birds in them rather than rodents! Pictured above is a white-crowned sparrow (photo by J. Smith). These were most common, along with black-throated sparrows and a canyon towhee.

Katie Smith, Kristin DaVannon, Sarah Supp, and Karen Mabry (left to right) process the rodents from the exclosure plots. Photo by J. Smith.

(Above) Kristen, an undergraduate student at NMSU, learns that handling rodents is fun! Photo by J. Smith.

The winter plant census is fast approaching, and many flowers were already beginning to bloom in February! I’m optimistic that it will be another beautiful spring. Keep posted for the plant update!

escholtzia mexciana

Poppies are already in bloom! Photo by J. Smith.

Lupinus coccinus.