Chiricahuas: Mountain Islands in the Desert

the following is a production of New Mexico State University from the award-winning nature series Southwest Horizons white sands of New Mexico the largest chips and dune fields of the world but they are more than just grains of sand venture to white sands white wilderness Episode one of Southwest Horizons it started 500 years ago when Columbus in search of Parton's gold and silk returned with new world treasures sea which spread around the globe forever changing civilizations and a human destiny today researchers are finding that the original genetic material from which these plants came are disappearing at an alarming rate follow the race against time as modern science meets the challenges of a rapidly decreasing gene pool the real treasure that longest took back to Europe and then gave to the rest of the world was the gift of the Indians the Thomas don't miss green gold from the Maya to the moon for these and other worthwhile videos from the archives of New Mexico State University's award-winning department of agricultural communications call toll-free 1-800 four one five six most titles are twenty four ninety five plus shipping major credit cards accepted and now for our feature presentation they have been called the sky islands a wonderland of rocks and by resident Apache natives the land of standing up rocks welcome to the Chiricahua mountains this in active volcanic range located in southeast Arizona borders the state of New Mexico to the east and the country of Mexico to the south the Chiricahua is our home to a wide range of unusual animals and an eclectic selection of plants why these varied species exist here is partially due to the mountains attracting the limited precipitation that passes over the surrounding desert this is the basic idea of the sky island concept but more on that a bit later perhaps it is best to reflect on the ancient past first and understand how these amazing mountains came to be what forces shaped this unique range why did the Chiricahua rise so rapidly from the desert basin and how did it come to be that there is such a variety of rock forms in this area probably the most striking feature of the range is in the northwest section here at the chiricahua national monument extraordinary rock pinnacles are found spires hoodoos balanced rocks towering columns these natural formations are what attract many here but long before they were formed there was a series of cataclysmic events that set the stage for these spectacular natural sculptures the geologic story of the Chiricahuas is one filled with violent fascinating events the first major occurrence that affected this area occurred six hundred miles to the west of here where North America meets the Pacific thirty million years ago the Pacific plate was forced under the westward moving North American plate Pacific plate was shoved down into the mantle where it was turned into magma or melted rock a gigantic magma chamber was formed right here under the Chiricahua region behind me on the high crests of the Chiricahua mountains are the remnants of the Turkey Creek caldera that erupted here 27 million years ago that eruption ejected vast amounts of volcanic ash cinders and bombs into the atmosphere accompanying that eruption were fast-moving clouds of incandescent gases that rushed down the hillside and speeds of more than 100 miles an hour building up this large volcano that eventually collapsed inward and has since eroded – the remnants that are left on the high crest of the Chiricahuas some of you may remember the 1980 eruption of Mount st.

Helens in Washington State this eruption here was 1,000 times greater producing a caldera 5,000 feet deep and 12 miles across this trail cut is an excellent exposure of the volcanic tuff that was exposed here 27 million years ago with the eruption of the Turkey Creek caldera the fragments that you see here are pumice soft rock permeated by gas bubbles the white streaks are pumice that has been crushed by the heat and the weight of the overlying ash in between the two are small crystals of silica and feldspar and volcanic glass that make up the bulk of the tuff the next big cataclysmic event that occurred here was during basin and range faulting during which some blocks of the Earth's crust were pushed up and others were dropped down uplifted blocks produced mountains such as the Chiricahuas blocks that drop down produced basins such as the san simone valley here on the Arizona New Mexico border it was during the cooler wetter periods of the last ice age that the maze of narrow canyons and awesome pinnacles were formed as frost and ice wedged into cracks the rhyolite tuff began to split water runoff between freeze and thaw also aided the process today the results of this relentless ice age erosion can be easily seen if you know what to look for I'm standing here at a slot canyon this is a perfect example of weathering that occurred during the last ice age repeated freezing and thawing of ice in joints such as this roughed out these large-scale features a process that was quite active during the last ice age but has since come to a virtual standstill it has been ten thousand years since the last ice age the climate has become increasingly warmer drier this has dramatically slowed down the erosion of the pinnacles here at the Chiricahua but it has not stopped completely what you see on much of the tough today are lichen these plant colonies consist of fungus and algae that contribute to the continued erosion of the spires lichens produce acids that etch minerals such as feldspar and silica in the rhyolite these acids concentrate minerals on rock surfaces which then form a type of rock varnish the lichens also expand when they are wetted by rain these plants can exert enough pressure to dislodge minerals and chip off rock flakes and so the erosion process continues it would appear that these pinnacles could be easily toppled by earthquakes yet studies indicate that they could withstand 12 to 13 times their stress weight so you can be assured that these pinnacles will be here for many generations to enjoy the grandeur of this magnificent mountain range extends beyond the area of the pinnacles the Chiricahua stressed up almost 5,000 feet from the surrounding desert floor to its highest peak almost ninety eight hundred feet above sea level this dramatic relief is characteristic of some 40 neighbouring mountain groups that exist in southeast Arizona Southwest New Mexico and northern Mexico scientists label this complex the Madurai an archipelago an archipelago is a large group of islands which aptly describes these mountains rising above the surrounding desert landscape but there is perhaps a better term for the Chiricahua and it's isolated mountain ranges they make up what many simply call the sky islands the skyline concept is based on water these mountains behind me trap the limited precipitation from weather systems as they move across the arid plains here in the flats we might only get about eight inches of precipitation annually while the base of the chair house might get 15 inches and the tallest peaks might receive more than twice of that annually temperature also plays a critical role in the skyline story if I were to stay here at these low elevations on this August day temperatures will easily reach into the 100 degrees but here in the comfortable high peaks it will probably only get up into the 80s it's the height of these mountains relative to their surroundings that create this virtual oasis in the desert here's how it works as weather systems are forced up over the Chiricahuas the air masses are quickly cooled the moisture condenses into rain which is then released over the mountains it is the progression of the water-filled storms crossing the desert floors then being captured by the tall mountain peaks that create the sky islands because of the nourishing water plants and animals thrive in these mountain ecosystems the Chiricahuas are the most massive of the sky islands in the majori anar capella go and support a rich and varied forest the sky islands or biotic islands as well as climatic islands with the vast expanses of hot desert separating each mountain ecosystem a kind of island isolation exists the plants from the mountains simply stopped growing at the deserts edge isolation holds especially true for some reptiles and small animals they cannot survive the long trek over the parched desert in order to reach another sky island only birds and larger mobile animals who can quickly travel the distance between these mountain oasis have that choice for many animals here life is played out exclusively in the Chiricahua sky islands it is where they will remain their entire lifetime the summer monsoon rains bring most of the precipitation here from July through September more water flows as large storms develop waterfalls spring from the hillsides dry creek beds become a lie both plant and animal thrive summer storms are so frequent that they made a strong impression on the Chiricahua Apache residents of these mountains for centuries the chera cow is believed that the noise heard during the storms was created by the Thunder people and that lightning itself was considered the arrow of the Thunder people called lightnings or thunders arrow some Apaches believed that certain Flint's found in the mountains and later used for hunting were actually shot during a thunderstorm by the Thunder people the Chiricahua Apache also honored the child of water a character central to many ceremonies the relative abundance of water in these mountain Islands also explains why a certain original aquatic species still survives here today hidden along the banks of the Chiricahua streams is a colorful amphibian which got its name from this mountain range herpetologist phil rosen the cherokee a leopard frog is it's actually a fairly widespread species in the sierra madre and even in the white mountains of Arizona it happened to first be recognized as a distinct species here in the chair town mountains along this stream that's a great big pretty green frog it's kind of a neat frog you have any taste for frogs it's it's pretty much Kermit leopard frogs are a fairly ancient group and we know that a lot of the species all of which are very similar to each other are ancient so it looks like the chair cow leopard frog might be as old as a hundred thousand or even a million years this mountain range is a big one in southern Arizona the biggest and the best water and presumably was one of the best places in southern Arizona for the Chiricahua leopard frog at one time at this point there are very few left and we're actually trying to save them the Chiricahua leopard frog is is struggling in the Chiricahua today over the course of a number of years the introduced species seem to have eliminated the Chiricahua leopard frog from almost every perennial stream in the Chiricahua we're trying to preserve the genetic diversity of the species so it will be viable into the future the significance here specifically for this set of Chiricahua leopard frogs is that there's a lot of environmental diversity for the Frog there are lush environments spring Siena gives marshes and small streams on the valley floor that can support very large numbers of frogs and there are these refugia up in the mountains that can support frogs are very dry times so the diversity the landscape diversity created by the sky lenses is significant specifically here so this is the best water mountain range in southern Arizona it's got the most fish and most fish species and it has lots of good habitat therefore for this relatively aquatic frog among the fish species of the Chiricahuas several exists that are indigenous to these mountain islands native types that began here long ago this is Leslie Canyon through vigilant efforts of the US Fish and Wildlife Service introduced fish types have been kept out of these waters in the southern Chiricahuas the result to native fish species have been able to survive along with the Chiricahua leopard frog the yaki chub is a small minnow full-sized it'll be maybe four to six inches the yucky chub is an endangered species and it it's found only in the United States now on to wildlife refuges in near the ones in that in the cheery cows and then it's found in Western Creek and the Chiricahua Stu so there's three populations of the chub now most distinctive thing on the yaki chub is the triangular black spot at the base of the tail the long-finned ASIS is another native minnow to the cheer cows it's probably three inches long as an adult it has a black and gold colored stripe along the side of the body that goes the whole length of the body and it'll also have a it has a round spot at the tail the long-finned ace is a pretty abundant native fish although it has declined over the last twenty to thirty years it's still one of the few native fishes that's doing fairly well the native fishes of the chick Howser they have some unique adaptations the long thin days it can be found in streams that dry up there's some evidence that they dry up during the day that the fish will get under mats of algae or or leaves that are wet and then that's kind of one of it apt ations for drought with the yaki fishes the the isolation here is that they have small stretches of stream depending on the rainfall in the year they'll expand and contract but they very rarely ever get a big enough rainfall that they connect with the main streams down in Mexico so basically the fish and the chera calles are becoming isolated because they never connect they've been here an incredibly long time back when there was more connection of the different rivers in this area so they've been here hundreds of thousands of years as the desert expanded in the valleys the the sky islands in a lot of cases are the last refuge for these fishes so that even though they're small habitats and there's not much water they can survive through time here if you take a if you take the time to look at them and watch them there they're really fascinating fish and very beautiful fish and uniquely adapted to the Chiricahua zoo further down the slopes of the sky islands the role of water plays out in a very different way these are the surrounding foothills of the Chiricahuas elevation here is in the four to five thousand foot range rainfall is considerably less than at the peaks but the foothills do benefit from the precipitation gathering properties of the sky islands while the flow of surface water from the mountaintops can flow directly into the surrounding desert basins often the route is less direct much of it goes underground instead of traveling the entire length of the slopes lower elevations are not deprived of surface water however they receive substantial amounts of precipitation compared to the nearby basins just because of their proximity to the Geo mass of the major peaks a principle which scientists call the Miriam effect the result an amazing mixture of plant communities unique to this elevation these foothills surrounding the Chiricahua mountains exhibit different kinds of plants throughout the year right now it is autumn a time that the Chiricahua Apache referred to as the earth is reddish brown and in this reddish brown earth we find some surprising plants plants we wouldn't expect to find in a dry desert environment hiding out in the cracks and crevices of these rock outcrops are the deserts resurrection plants and what we have here is a desert moss now we normally expect to find mosses in wet moist areas along a stream a brook by a waterfall but these mosses live out their lives in a dormant state dry shriveled seemingly dead but with the summer rains they spring to life the moss lifecycle requires that the sperm swim in a film of water across the surface of the plant to the egg fertilization takes place and then the life cycle begins again another example of a desert resurrection plant is this desert cloak fern growing next to this barrel cactus and here we have the contrast of water and desert life the fern like the moss requires water for its lifecycle and so it waits for the rains the cactus stores its water in its tissue using it whenever it needs it these desert survivors are here throughout the year but in the spring when temperature and precipitation are just right these same Hills become covered in magnificent color while the Desert Bloom of the foothills is certainly a sight to behold it is not what necessarily separates the Chiricahua from other Southwest mountain ranges rather it is where these sky islands sit in relationship to four very different biomes or major ecosystems that make it so special because of its whereabouts this range is a meeting place for many of the living things that surround it there are about 20 sky island complexes around the world but the Chiricahua x' and other sky islands of the Megerian archipelago are unique for a number of reasons it's mid latitude position on the globe placed it on the edge of the ice age while sky islands in more northern latitudes witnessed mass extinctions of species the Chiricahua x' and the other sky islands in the madurai and archipelago were relatively untouched the significance ancient species from that time still remain in the Chiricahua the madryn complex also has a north-south access which spans about 250 miles running through it east to west is the Deming gap of the Rocky Mountains the importance easier movement of animals from all directions making it a more diverse habitat than many sky island complexes and lastly the madryn is the only sky island group that straddles two major plant zones two major animal zones and elements of three major climates which include tropical subtropical and temperate zones the result a combination of plants and animals unsurpassed by any sky island complex on the planet that's what makes the Chiricahua mountains so unique you've heard the popular phrase location location location well the Chiricahua mountains are what I refer to as a biological crossroads where four major ecosystems come into contact and this results in a very unique plant and animal community that's found nowhere else on the earth what you have here are the biotic representatives of two of North America's greatest deserts the Chihuahuan from the east and the Sonoran from the west and then the life-forms of two major mountain ecosystems also join here the Rocky Mountains from the north and the Sierra Madre of Mexico from the South for a for scientists like myself the Chiricahuas offer an area unsurpassed in the variety of plant forms found in north america let me show you some distinct examples from the four ecosystems here we have a representative of the Rocky Mountain ecosystem Engelmann spruce these sky islands are the southernmost extension of the species angleman looks very similar to white fir which also grows here but if you look more closely you can identify the species by its sharp pointed needles Engelmann spruce is well adapted to the heavy snowfalls that can occur in the high peaks of the Chiricahuas its branches have a downward drooping look to them giving this tree the ability to shed snow more easily here we have an example of a tree from this era madre ecosystem the apache pine this is at the northern end of its natural range probably the most distinguishing feature of this tree is its extremely long needles which had a special look to the majora influence forests of the Chiricahua Apache pine with its distinctive red bark Grace's many of the lower canyons of these mountain islands the influence of the surrounding desert biomes is quite evident in the drive foothills of the Chiricahuas a distinctively Sonoran plant growing here is the cane Troya this cactus is quite small only about five to ten inches high but it has extremely long needles in relationship to its size like all Choya cacti it has the characteristic photosynthetic stem and reduced leaves and here representative of the Chihuahuan ecosystem is the soap tree yucca this soap tree derived its name from its root Native Americans would mash the root from this yucca into a usable substance that would serve as soap the soap tree like all yuccas is a member of the lily family this dry land relative shows its floral elegance in the late spring with plentiful white blooms they are so prolific in the Chihuahuan Desert that the state of New Mexico has proclaimed the soap tree yucca its state flower just like some of the plants in these mountains animals representing the four ecosystems that surround the Chiricahua are also found here but locating a distinct Rocky Mountain species one that exists in the cherica's but not predominantly in the other three ecosystems is difficult at best John Boren explains many of the animals here like the mule deer and black bear reside in the Rocky Mountains but they also occur in the surrounding ecosystems in about the same number therefore there's really no clear-cut Rocky Mountain animal representative an ecosystem that contributes a great number of interesting animals is a Sierra Madre in Mexico the species from that region does easily seen here in the Chiricahua is aku's deer coues deer desert white tails they're well adapted for hot and dry conditions the notice at coues deer aren't very large in fact they're seldom over 120 pounds in size in addition you'll notice that they have relatively large years compared to the rest of their body this species is very elusive and quite alert when the cooze deers alarm may see the tail lift upwards showing the light underside and on occasion you may even hear the deer snort to steer occur in a wide range of habitat types but generally you're going to find them up in the rough rushy country and the higher elevations of these desert mountains coues deer will prefer oak woodland and oak pine woodland communities like here near this area near sunny flat in spring these deer consume large amounts of new twig and leaf growth from a variety of woody species but they also eat forbs and grasses during this time by the end of the growing season their diet shifts primarily towards brows such as leaves from oak trees another Sierra Madre animal that sometimes chooses the chair cow was at its home is a quad a Monday more commonly called a quad II is in the canyon bottoms like here at Southfork that you might just have the opportunity to spot one kiwannis are mammals that are about seven to ten pounds the size of maybe a cocker spaniel or a really large house cat Pilates are really a tropical animal they get down into the tropical rainforests of South America up through Central America and they're found throughout Mexico and we're at the northern extreme of the range some of these sky islands down in southern Arizona John caprile ski has been doing research on qualities here in the chiricahua national monument by tracking animals with radio collars he and his team have discovered some interesting behavior quantities here in southern Arizona are much different in some of their behaviors than the species is in the tropics where they've been probably the best study we've had animals go as far as five or six miles in search of food throughout the course of a day and that's very unlike something you would see in really lush tropical habitats when you get a good look at a coati watch the nose it's probably the most unique aspect of of the animal the nose looks like a like another appendage they're often rooting around under leaf litter they roll over rocks rocks almost half their size they can roll them over find a variety of beetles lizards snakes they'll go after all those things and they're able to find them using that nose probably the most striking thing that that anyone would notice if you're if you're following these guys for very long is that there is that of their social behavior they travel in really large groups the groups can be 15 or 20 animals at times in the chair college there have been some reports of groups greater than 40 individuals you may think that the Klaudia be the most unusual animal from the Sierra Madre ecosystem that can be found here in the Chiricahua mountains but that's not the case what about a large spotted mammal one that we had generally picture in a steamy South American jungle well that's exactly what one local rancher Warner Glynn observed about twenty miles where we're standing big head that would not impress me right away the relation to the side of the head to the body and big shoulders big massive powerful chest and in shoulders what Werner encountered was the largest cat in the Americas a Jaguar in the last 150 years there have been only 54 confirmed sightings in Arizona fortunately Glenn had the presence of mind to photograph this historic encounter we're not looked at that jaguaron that rock it was just this big just a beautiful cat and it kind of a buff cinnamon type of orangish color with the black spots or rosette pattern I would think that his body was approximately five feet it was just absolute a thing of beauty sitting there just it it's a most well I've seen a lot of wildlife and it was beautiful the wild animal I'd ever seen where Glenn was hunting a mountain lion when his dog first saw this impressive cat when two of his dogs broke away Warner followed hoping to catch them before they would get entangled with the Jaguar he was on a Ledge and he was what I called made on the sled after the second time that the dogs obeyed him and I got in to take the close pictures that I took of him I were tart and try to get my dogs away a mountain lion what you can get in close to big old Tom mountain lion and they'll they might spit at jeune growl and then and maybe even jump forward and then back up but they won't just come right out there and get you now this Jaguar didn't do that he was locked on to my eyes when I got in close he looked at me and years I've never left mine and now he came out there Neath the only thing saved me with a two dog ran in and met him head on he pulled those two dogs right in there with him although Warner's dogs were bitten and clawed they both somehow managed to escape and survived the attack soon after the Jaguar sped off from the spot I saw the Jaguar to the edge of the chair town it would be approximately 20 miles not that far Jaguar could do that one night it was a wonderful experience for me the one that you you may dream of and then you it happened so rarely you finally quit dreaming of them and I'm glad I got the photographs of it so other people can just see what I saw that day few of us will ever have the rare opportunity to see a Jaguar like Warren or Glenn dead but you may have a little bit better luck spotting another elusive creature that lives here in the Chiricahua is a common resident of the snoring ecosystem it is the seldom seen Gila monster why is this reptile so difficult to observe because it wanders above-ground only about 5% of its entire life that's when this colorful lizard searches for food and the lower drier elevations of the Chiricahua the other 95 percent of the Gila monster's time is spent sheltered below ground in its dark cool burrows like all lizards the Gila monster skin is made up of scales but you can see here they actually look like a series of small bumps underneath each scale or bump is a separate bone plate giving the animal a tough outer hide that protects it from predators not only is a Gila monster America's largest and only poisonous lizard it is also our slowest moving lizard now gila monsters have a forked tongue that they use to sense out their prey while most other literature really rely on their vision rather than sensing with their tongue the jaws of the Gila monster extremely powerful and caution should be taken not to get too close to one their teeth have sharp cutting edges and are grooved when it attacks its prey the lizard clamps down and choose this action allows the venom to flow down the vertical grooves in its mouth and into the wound although their venom is used to kill small animals for food is rarely fatal to large mammals including humans gila monsters actively seek whatever foods are available they feed primarily on small animals such as desert cottontails and squirrels they also eat eggs from ground nesting birds and reptiles this lizard stores fat in its tail so efficient is this storage system that the Gila monster can sustain itself for an entire year on only three to four meals the biological crossroads concept would not be complete unless we discussed some animals from the Chihuahuan Desert that do reside here in the Chiricahua mountains a number of Chihuahuan species make the sky island their home but perhaps when the more fascinating of these animals is the javelina also called the collared peccary this animal ranges into the Sonoran Desert but is widely distributed in the Chihuahuan ecosystem Havoline are generally two feet tall and weigh approximately 40 to 50 pounds they prefer brushy semi-desert habitats with cacti oaks chaparral and mesquite much like here in the lower elevations of the Chiricahua is here that they feed on a variety of foods including nuts berries fruits seeds grubs and bird eggs an important food source for this species is the prickly pear cactus in fact it supplies most of the water requirements for the javelina with its life-sustaining nourishment that it gets from cacti javelina can go days without any freestanding water the javelina is not the same as a wild boar or wild pig it is in the Tassie sua day family while the wild boar and domestic pig are in the sua day family what distinguishes these two animal groups is a location of their upper teeth or tusks javelinas are pointed downward while the upper canines of a wild boar are curved or flared upwards javelina are usually seen in groups of 2 to 25 animals in fact they are very social animals and will remain in the same group year-round obviously the Chiricahuas are a great place to visit if you'd like to see a wide variety of animals with a little bit of time and patience you'll have the opportunity to spot creatures from two deserts and two major mountain ranges the proximity of chair Kawas to these large unique ecosystems makes it a biological crossroads that just shouldn't be missed of all the animals that live in the Chiricahua none is more sought-after than those that fly bird watchers come from all over America and indeed the world to see the different species that reside here in these mountain islands and as with other animal types that meet here at this biological crossroads birds from all four of the surrounding biomes are also represented hummingbirds are a big draw several species can be found throughout the range a good place to see them are at the feeders at Spofford z– ranch or the Southwest Research Station the well-watered canyons of these sky islands provide a breeding ground for insects this attracts a number of fly catchers other insect-eating birds are also present the soft wood of pines and sycamores attract different woodpeckers feces these trees provide shelter they also often Harbor insects under the bark an ideal place to find the next meal there are finches Warblers can be found throughout the range ground feeders are also abundant in the Chiricahua but it is the sheer variety of colorful species that attract many bird watchers here over 300 bird species are found in the Chiricahua but perhaps the most colorful the most sought-after is one that resides here in the cave creek area it is called the elegant trogon this neotropical bird ranges from the rainforests of Costa Rica to its northernmost limit the sky islands of Arizona people come from all over to see this beautiful creature understandably so it is only here in these sky islands that Trojans nest in the US but it is the bird's rainbow of colors that makes this species highly prized by bird watchers it easily lives up to its name the elegant trogon males have eight distinct colors a brilliant red breast surrounded by a white breast bar and a white tail on its mostly black face a yellow bill stands out along with an orange eye ring depending on the light feathers on its back range from iridescent emerald green to a shimmering turquoise blue likewise the upper tail feathers appear olive green or metallic brown its wings are a dark smoky grey the female trogon while not as brilliant in color as the male has its own special beauty a white oval eye ring with a milky white tear spot to the side a more subtle rose-colored breast well-defined black bars on the under tail and a grey brown back her extraordinary metallic brown tail gives this species its former labeled the coppery tailed trogon while color makes the elegant Rogen's literally stand out in the Chiricahua they have other less noticeable characteristics ones that show just how highly adapted this bird is to its sky island environment the elegant row gun unlike all other species of TRO guns in the world and there are 34 other species in there in the family elegant row guns are the only species that don't create their own nest the elegant trogon lives primarily in cavities excavated by woodpeckers the primary cavity excavator in the Terkel mountains would be the Acorn woodpecker their cavities are slightly too small for elegant Rogen's but it turns out that the Northern Flicker the red shafted form it's the the subspecies that we have here enlarges these nest cavities to just the right dimensions for elegant Rogen's so that the trow guns are dependent on not just one woodpecker species but two for about 95% of all their cavities the other 5% are naturally occurring cavities and sycamores another adaptation of the elegant trogon is its foraging style armed with an effective serrated bill on superior aerial skills the trogon can get to food that its competitors cannot they're after a wide variety of plant and animal foods and they're competing with species such as the American Rob and the Mexican Jay which are both here in abundance in the same area but because they hover pluck fruit something that neither Robin nor a jay can do and because they're going for larvae further out on twigs because they're sit and wait predators looking for extremely slow-moving prey they're able to find plenty of food from every thing I've ever observed it is late May within the Chiricahua wilderness along upper reaches of South Fork Creek the elegant Rogen's have returned from spending their winter in the warmer climes of Mexico south of the border this is nest number one this trogon pair has chosen a tight fitting cavity in a dead ponderosa pine for the second consecutive year the choice is a bit unusual since two-thirds of elegant trogon nests are usually found in sycamore trees throughout the day the male and female will leave each other from caring for the edge they are extremely nest attentive with one of the two staying within the cavity about 90% of the time this female has been waiting for over an hour shift changes today have been occurring about every 45 minutes as the heat of the day rises temperatures within the nest can reach maximum levels for an adult trogon she calls repeatedly for her mate after another 10 minutes the male finally returns the two take turns at incubation throughout the day but it is the female who covers the eggs at night about three weeks after the first egg is laid the hatchlings will emerge several miles downstream near where the South Fork meets Cave Creek a different pair of Trojans are nesting this is nest number two located about 20 feet high in an abandoned cavity of a sycamore tree the elegant Rogen's here are also busy with incubation activities each taking turns with the duties there are only between 20 to 30 trow guns that reside in the cave Creek area of the Chiricahua in any given year with only about 5 to 7 miles of prime nesting habitat here nests can be as frequent as 3 to a mile on occasion they are as close as 200 yards from each other surface water is usually present in the prime trogon nesting habitat the stream environment allows for healthy tree growth which provides nesting opportunities it also creates a haven for other plants which Harbor insects that trow Gon's feed on some plants like this green vine II Canyon grape on the Left produce fruit a basic food for this neotropical bird elegant Rogen's reside in several other canyons in the Chiricahua as well as similar environments in other neighboring sky islands this special mix of water plants and food are rare however this bird is one of the rarest breeding species in the United States adult populations in these Arizona sky islands are estimated at around 100 it is early July at nest number one usually by now the nourishing monsoon summer rains have begun but this year they are late South Fork Creek is almost totally dry and the days heat begins early this morning there is no activity at nest number one by now the young should be chirping for food but only the sound of cicadas can be heard the Trojans have abandoned the pine tree here even after waiting hours there is no sign of life at nest number one there are a number of possibilities why the birds have left the eggs could have been eaten by a snake they have been known to climb to such Heights to reach trogon eggs one of the parents could have been attacked by a predator Cooper's hawks are TRO gangs chief threat and they often search the canyons of Cave Creek the incubation duties could then overwhelm a single bird or it is possible that there was too much human activity around the nest trojans have been known to abandon this where humans continually get too close whatever the reason nash number one will not contribute to the Chiricahua trogon population this year but there is good news at nest number 2 newborn fledglings can be heard from the sycamore above both parents are busy gathering insects to feed their young while Cave Creek is dry right now the area still hosts a number of different insects the male brings a moth caterpillar and on the next trip an adult moth the female captures an angle winged katydid and later a short horned grasshopper the mail returns minutes later with a cicada the environment around Cave Creek is producing insects well this year the Trojans bring a constant stream of fresh food for their young they arrive about every 5 to 15 minutes with another insect in less than a week this brood of young trojans will be leaving the nest it is now mid-august nests number two is quiet now the trogon family left a number of weeks ago but remain nearby on this day the juveniles favored a thick stand of madurai and oak both sexes of these young birds bear their mother's characteristic teardrop located just below the eye later the male juvenile will lose this marking it has been suggested that this mark helps diffuse aggression from the father toward the male juveniles in the first few months the parents are still supplying food to their young but the diet now is predominantly fruit chokecherry Canyon grape buckthorn berry some juveniles though are beginning to forage for themselves and as the August days roll on the juveniles become more confident with flight it is certainly time for the family we'll be departing the Chiricahua x' in just a few weeks heading for the warmer mexican climates for the winter while elegant Rogen's range from Central America to just over the United States border the elegance from this region are believed to winter somewhere in the northern Mexico States but for the juveniles who have just acquired flying skills the trip is quite arduous only about half of the young trojans will survive the first year of that group nearly 90 percent are lost to disease or predation elegant row guns are very watchful they're very nest attentive the adults invest a great deal of energy and bringing off the the two young it's the average for most nests so that a survivorship is fairly high but once again with a single nest and only two young in it you can see that trogon recruitment into any canyon ism is very slow I think that with present habitat management policies by the Forest Service and self governing policies exhibited by this generation of bird watchers that were not apt to see the TRO guns disappear and any time in the near future it is now fall the trogon family from nests number two flew south weeks ago with luck all of them will return again next year to the Chiricahuas but it won't be until next spring that they're familiar call will be heard again then the process of producing another generation will begin the elegant rogen is symbolic of one of the richest breeding bird communities in the United States the rhythms of nature in Cave Creek and South Fork are special the continuity here assures the continuance of this wonderful bird from the south travelling through the forest trails of these mountain islands one can witness different vegetation Alone's as the elevation changes but like so many things in the Chiricahuas the vegetation here doesn't quite resemble other Western forests one of the roles that scientists feel they have is to try and bring order to the apparent disorder that Mother Nature often presents us one way we try to do that is to classify plants into different zones these so-called zones are often well defined in many of our Western forests with specific trees growing at specific elevations in these forests however here in the sky islands of the Chiricahua all bets are off the plants do not lay out in neat ecological zones like we might expect in fact some people have referred to this area as ecological confusion zones we've got the intersection of the two deserts the Chihuahua and the Sonoran Desert plus we have the forests of the Sierra Madre coming in and the force of the Rocky Mountains coming in here so we have a tremendous diversity of plants in this area alone we've got Arizona Sycamore we have Arizona Cypress we've got an oak here Apache pine we even have a yucca here now today we're going to climb to the top of the Chiricahua Mountains along to Forest Service trails and along the way we'll stop at different areas in the forest and try to make some botanical sense of what we find there so let's get started one of the fascinating things about the forest during the rainy season is a tremendous bloom of mushrooms that will find on the forest floor this particular fungus that we have here appears to be a wood rotting Gill type fungus yes it's got the gills these fungi are very important food sources for all sorts of wildlife during this time of year let's head on up the trail and see what else we can find we've only come a few hundred yards from where we looked at the mushrooms along the stream there but already you can see the tremendous change in the ecosystem here we're in a much drier site according to my altimeter we're at 5,500 feet and we're in what might be characterized as traditional oak woodland but there's still a fair amount of confusion in this particular site here we've got Arizona cypress that's normally found in much wetter sites and over here we've got several species of Oaks from the Sierra Madre region and we even have the chihuahua pine which is very characteristic of the Sierra Madres now let's go on to the high country you we're on the north side of the Chiricahua mountains now and we're at an elevation of 8,000 140 feet so we're at a much moister site it's a lot cooler here and we see differences in the species composition for example the tree on my right this is Douglas fir it's a major timber species in the northwest and it's fairly important here as well but this tree will occupy the site shade the ground make it a little moister yet and then white fir this tree here will come in underneath it and soon overtop it now let's take a walk over to the south side of this mountain and see what species we have occupying the same sites at the same elevation we've now come around the Chiricahua mountains to a south southeast facing slope and you can see we're in a much more open stand and is predominantly ponderosa pine we have some very nice old-growth trees here and underneath them we have southwestern white pine coming in and also some Douglas fir as we've seen here in the Chiricahua there is a tremendous diversity of plants as we increase in elevation and even though these zones don't lay out as neatly as the textbooks describe we've still seen some wonderful micro environments here in the Chiricahua mountains truly the diversity of the Chiricahua is outstanding its geology its abundance of water its animals its plants they all contribute to making this one of the more unique environments in North America if not the world the extremes of this region defined both its borders and character the Chiricahua x' mark a blending of its surrounding biomes a biological crossroads between the Sonoran and the Chihuahuan the Rockies and the Sierra Madre they are indeed distinct mountain islands in the desert you the preceding was a production of New Mexico State University the views and opinions in this program are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the NMSU Board of Regents

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