OUR NEW YEAR
What lies ahead? Where turns the widening trail?
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On November 10, I went up the Canyon with Mac. to blast out some dirt that had caved into the Chaco wash. This had caused the water to back up over the road, making it impassible, and also making quite a pool of water. We saw a loon on the water, and the cowboy with us tried to rope him. When he tried this, the loon would give that mournful cry and dive under the water and ice, swimming in circles. Finally the two Navajos, who were shoveling, waded into the icy water after him. One stopped long enough to take off shoes and sox, and one left them on. They pinned the loon down with the back of a shovel, and finally caught him. He fought everyone in reach, and was rather hard to handle. The only band we had large enough to fit him was a size 8. Mac. bent this to fit his leg, because it was so wide and flat. We turned him loose on a stock lake near here. Several days later we made a trip to the lake and found him gone. Probably he decided the South a more hospitable place than the Chaco.
Birds Banded in November
One domestic cat was permanently removed from the monument during the month. Some of the neighbors have pet cats that range abroad during the hours of darkness, and it is thought that some of the cat tracks observed within our boundaries may belong to some of these neighborhood felines. Since, undoubtedly, they have not read the signs prohibiting them from entering the monument, it has been thought to give such pets one warning, and one only, before taking more drastic action. Accordingly, a machine has been designed to administer a stern rebuke to such cats. Constructed of some strong, springy lath, a trigger arrangement, a means for keeping the lath in a strongly-bowed position until time for its release, a can of salmon, and a few other items, it works to perfection. The weight of the victim on a small platform containing the can of salmon actuates the trigger mechanism, the bent lath are released, and the lath fly forward. Prompt action is obtained. Two methods of propelling the cat have been tried--vertically and horizontally. This latter method necessitates the construction of a guard around the bait, so the south end of the cat is toward the bent lath when the trigger is released. This results in a violent forward motion of the cat, and one such horizontal flight on the part of one medium-sized cat was measured and found to be a little in excess of five feet. The vertical propulsion method is not quite perfected, but surprising levitations have been obtained. No cats have been observed to return to the monument after once having experienced such stimulus, and any ill-feeling on the part of neighbors is therefore avoided. Perhaps this very worthwhile project should be listed under "Division of Education."
Of our 39 Scaled Quail liberated here last spring, 72 have been observed. They have spread some miles from the monument, but local farmers take great interest in them, and have volunteered to feed them during the winter.
Some of our wildlife is growing entirely too tame. Right now our trouble in this respect--named "Gertrude"--shows no slightest fear of humans. Gertrude even parks on our front doorstep, as I know from almost tragic experience, when I tripped over him one night. Recently, one dark night, I went down to throw some refuse into the garbage pit, and subsequent events proved that Gertrude was in it. We were both highly surprised. I just barely escaped. Gertrude is a skunk, and his strength is as the strength of ten. He is growing quite accustomed to being tripped over now, and to date we can report no catastrophics that can be laid to his door. Perhaps, however, in our next monthly report--who knows!
(Note: On November 12, Frank Fish and Bill Stevenson observed a pair of large, vividly colored birds in Rucker Canyon. Frank sent in a description of the birds and requested identification. The description fitted that of a Thick-billed Parrot which occasionally invades the mountains of southwestern Arizona from Mexico. The description was forwarded to a bird authority and a request for addition information sent to Frank Fish. His reply follows: Ed.)
The birds seen in Rucker Canyon on November 12 were about 16 inches in length, but I could not positively state that they were parrots. However, from the rear view or glimpse, they had the appearance of parrots and I distinctly saw that the outer tail feathers had a strip of white along the outer edge near the end. The call they made flying, or I should say fluttering, from one tree to another ahead of us down the canyon for about one half mile was quite distinctive and something I never heard before. The birds appeared quite put out because we had disturbed their roosting. They were also nervous and never allowed us to approach closer than 50 feet and as it was in the dusk of the evening any accurate observation could not be made.
Bird banding at two of the stations was started on November 7 but, due to the great antiquity of natural feed, the birds are rather difficult to entice into the traps with a mere handful of grain. More of the varied species are noted this month especially the juncos, many bearing bands from last winter. Several of the Western Robins are in the Canyon, also a great number of Long Crested Jays, but neither can be seen near the trap locations. We'll probably have more success catching them after there is snow on the ground. One group of Western Tree Sparrows are noted to have come south already. Other birds noted on the monument are Lead Colored Bush Tit, Canyon Towhee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Rock Wren, Band-tailed Pigeon, Water Ouzel, Chestnut-backed Bluebird, Red-shafted Flicker, Pinyon Jay, and Rocky Mountain Sapsucker, Woodhouse Jay. Birds banded during the month:
The hunting season opened the first of November at an ideal time as far as the weather was concerned; light rains a few days previous to the season made the woods quiet and easy to determine the areas in which game is to be found. Notwithstanding the excellent weather, there were few deer and turkey taken from this region. One of the predominating factors preventing many hunters from getting their venison, I believe, was the new State law on bear hunting. The law provides for a person to hunt bear with a trained pack of dogs only, an entire month before the opening of other seasons. With the dogs running in the woods and the rifles firing, the deer and turkey naturally seek the refuge early. The Otowi Section was inspected twice weekly during the open season finding no poachers. Through the cooperation of the Range Guard on the Ramon Vigil Grant, who is under the employ of the Soil Conservation Service, a horse was borrowed and two patrols were made of the south end of the monument. I found no one hunting during these two days but tracks indicated that hunters had been on the monument both afoot and on horseback, however, the is no remedy until the monument is fenced or properly posted. A mixed bunch of deer were seen consisting of seven does and three bucks, numerous turkey sign, one cougar track, one bear den, and while I was walking up Frijoles on November 8, I saw a flock of 14 turkeys leisurely climb the slope ahead of me. After the Ranger Station and Hotel Utility areas have been planted, these turkey will stay in the canyon as they have in past years, there being any number of berry plants and acorn-producing oaks in these areas. The deer will probably come into the canyon by the old South Mesa trail to water as they now do in the upper part of the canyon at the west boundary.
Our museum is hosed in one room of the operator's building, in cases which were for the most part intended for book shelves. The glass fronts of these cases are in panels, and the woodwork cuts out considerable light. Re-location of shelves in one case helped exhibits considerable. In another case I put in a false back, making the case four inches deep instead of a foot, and took out most of the shelves. Exhibits re-arranged and placed in this shallow case show up about 150 percent better than they did before. Small objects were removed from a flat table case and put in this exhibit, while bulkier objects were put in the table case. All this helped considerably.
A new case made from parts of an old one and some scrap lumber, painted white inside and brown stain on the outside, was intended especially for our snake exhibit. A large stuffed rattlesnake occupies the bottom, and rests on an inch of so of the natural soil of his habitat. Above the snake, a false back brings the case from a foot deep to four inches. On this back are three sketches which make up the rest of the exhibit. The top is a rattlesnake's head enlarged until it is about ten inches long, with the different parts designated by labels. The next sketch, a shaded one, shows the greatly enlarge skull of a typical harmless snake, and its bristling rows of teeth. The sketch below this is on the same scale, showing a rattlesnake head with the flesh removed from one side to show the poison gland, tube, and fangs. This was colored by my wife, so as to look quite impressive. All these sketches are pantographic enlargements of drawings or photographs from authoritative text books on snakes, and the source is shown at the lower right of each sketch. Between the sketches and the snake, is the skull of a pit viper mounted on black velvet.
It remains to correctly caption the exhibits, and it will be complete. It is graphic enough, however, that we have a trouble explaining anything about pit vipers to the visitors.
During the month, Chester F. Allen of Clarksdale very kindly provided us with some live Black Widow spiders for the museum. At his suggestion I made a glass case for them. It was about a foot long, five inches high, and three and a half inches deep, with flat top. It was divided into three chambers of equal size by glass partitions. Sticks were planted in each chamber for the spiders to spin on, and the case was made very sturdy by simply gluing the edges of the glass together with household cement. All was lovely, except that terrific fumes arose from the cement. After airing it for nearly a month, I think at last the fumes have dissipated enough so the spiders will do all right. In the meantime, they have been on exhibit in a couple of glass jars.
Twenty-two plant specimens were packed and sent off for identification during the month.
The greater part of our textile collection was packed and shipped to Dr. A. C. Whitford or Alfred, New York. As a research chemist, he will conduct a careful study of his material for us.
A paper containing points we have learned and collected on preparation of life-mount exhibits of insects was written and submitted to Headquarters. (This will appear in the January Supplement, Ed.)
After considerable search, some glass-capped fruit jars were found in which to place preserving formulae, and some mixtures which had been unsatisfactory in metal-capped jars were remixed and placed in the new ones. Our laboratory (a corner of our living room which also contains the office) is now becoming a bit crowded.
Some pamphlets on laboratory and field techniques were requested and received, and have been placed in our reference file.
The birds seen on the monument in November are as follows: Coot, Arizona Cardinal, Say Phoebe, Canyon Wren, Rock Wren, Mourning Dove, Gambel Quail, House Finch, American Raven, Red-shafted Flicker, Western Robin, Desert Sparrow Hawk, Williamson or Rocky Mt. Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus (nataliae?), Red-tailed Hawk, White-rumped Shrike, Oregon Junco, Gambel Sparrow, Pink-sided Junco, Bridled Titmouse, Red-backed Junco, Cactus Woodpecker, Ashy Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Gila Woodpecker, American Merganser, Baird-Bewick Wren, American Osprey.
We have two unusual records this month. The first is the American Osprey, which Earl and I saw from the entrance road to the monument. Each of us noted a few of the distinctive marks, and of course some of our observations overlapped. Together we scanned the bird books and easily agreed it was an Osprey. It seems remarkable that he should have been sailing over the monument so low, where there is none of the big water he is supposed to prefer.
The other is the Sapsucker. Wyman and Burnell in their "Field Book of Birds of the Southwestern United States" call Sphyrapicus thyroideus the Williamson Sapsucker. Bailey, in "Birds of New Mexico," calls it the Rocky Mt. Sapsucker, but she adds the subspecies name "nataliae". I infer from the title of one of her sources (H. S. Swarth, "Geographical Variation in Sphyrapicus thyroideus", the Condor, Vol. 19, pp. 62-62, 1917) that the name I should use depends on where I saw the bird. Not having access to that source, I have used both names.
I heard his harsh gutteral cry, and know it was woodpecker family, though the call was lower and stronger than any I had heard from the others around here. Finally I saw him on a dead sycamore limb above the Castle park bench. I also heard him give the characteristic pecks, which Jensen says the birds use in the nesting season, two blows, and then four. (Jens K. Jensen, "Notes on the Nesting Birds of Northern Santa Fe County, New Mexico", The Auk, Vol. 40, p. 33, 1923).
The first Oregon Juncos arrived on November 6 and by the 12th the Pink-sided and Red-backed had arrived. I haven't seen the Red-backed close enough to check on the bill color, but not having seen any Grey-headed ones here, I am hoping my identification to be correct.
The flock of Western Robins left us about November 10, after stripping our hackberries of most of their fruit.
The Coot is still alone. He fishes below the Castle, diving a lot to the bottom for his food. Near the tent he does almost no diving but swims around picking up insects form the surface, or from floating leaves, and from just under the water. He shakes the water off his head much the way a cat would, as if he dislikes it. He always swims away from me in a casual manner, as if he were going there anyhow, and then if I stand still a while he swims back, and goes right on feeding. He has a lovely way of striking out to right and left alternately with his bill, but occasionally he breaks the rhythm when there are two delicious morsels on one side.
I am glad to see a Say Phoebe again. I doubt if he was one of the old pair that nested above our door, because I have a notion they are dead now, but he was very friendly, allowing me to come within 25 feet of him without seeming at all disturbed. He was below the Castle, beyond the range of our old pair.
The friendliness of the birds is very gratifying. A Rock Wren now has become accustomed to seeing the baby and me sitting outdoors in the afternoons. He will come bobbing up to within ten feet of us, unless the baby is making sudden movements. I saw him catch a grasshopper off a mesquite twig on November 12. He looks so alert, jerking to attention with one ear cocked, then jerking his head to the other side with his eye glittering suspiciously.
During the month the house finches have been quite busy in the ramadas of the residences, the picnic ground, and the administration building. Jr. Naturalist Dodge has taken some photographs of netting and banding these birds. As this work must of necessity be done at night, a rather unusual accident occurred in the course of one such evening's efforts. Jimmy Rodgers, one of the guides, was helping Dodge, when he fell into a Bisnaga Cactus near the front of the bachelor quarters, filling both knees with the spines, and necessitating removal by the surgeon at SP-3-A.
On November 19, Jr. Naturalist Dodge found a tortoise calmly walking over the desert near the sewer exit. He brought it in for photographing, but before any pictures could be taken, several hours work was put in removing the date "Oct. 10, 1938" which someone had painted in large letters on its shell.
During the month the house cat problem has been settled, at least temporarily; Assistant Superintendent Miller accounted for one, and Ranger Egermayer disposed of two more. There still remain two large dogs which hunt on the monument periodically, and which leave at top speed when they see anyone approaching.
Evidence that the Casa Grande horned owls are varying their diet with quail has been found in the form of feathers of these birds in the ruins beneath the owl perches on several mornings.
On September 26, I put out my bird traps and have had good success in catching Gambel Sparrows and a few other species. I have the following to report since my annual report was sent in last June:
A new bird was added to the Casa Grande check list on December 3 when CCC enrollee V. Scholz captured an immature Audubon Warbler which had wandered into the camp educational building. Identification was substantiated by Gil. Philp.
Casa Grande Ruins bats have apparently gone into their winter hibernation as the usual evening bat flights ceased about the middle of November. Following very warm days, a few bats dribble from the ruins at sundown. On one occasion, as several bats left the shelter, one of the Horned Owls which spend the daylight hours perched on the superstructure supporting the roof was seen in close pursuit. With spread talons it attempted to clutch the bat which eluded its grasp. This is the first indication recorded at Casa Grande of anything but cordial relationships between the owls and bats which have for many years inhabited the structure together.
About sundown on November 16, several House Finches were perched on the back of a chair beneath the ramada of the Old House apparently preparing to seek roosts for the night among the reeds of the roof. From the west a larger bird came flying swiftly, flashed beneath the ramada and among the finches which scattered in a panic. Disappointed in missing its prey, it perched for a moment on the back of the chair; a White-rumped Shrike.
Several birds have been found dead and partially eaten in the bird traps. On one occasion a hawk was caught in the act of killing the trapped bird, and one two instances shrikes were found dismembering the victims. The name "butcher bird" sometimes applied to the Shrike apparently is well taken.
For some time CCC enrollees attending the bird traps were puzzled by the disappearance of the grain used to bait one of the bird traps. Then one of them observed a line of ants busily engaged in transporting bits of grain from the trap platform to an ant hill some distance away.
Bird-banding activities have been considerably curtailed as a result of an effort to concentrate on specific problems. Following are records as of December 1, 1938, accumulated since the annual report of June 30, 1938:
Banding records bear out observations that cactus wrens are decreasing in numbers on the monument, at least in portions around the buildings where they are seen. This decreased has been consistent during the past 18 months.
Among other things learned about the habits of house finches, it has been determined that individuals return to habitual roosting areas even when their normal travel routes are interrupted. On February 25, 1938, 50 house finches netted in Casa Grande picnic ramadas were transported to Tucson, Arizona, a highway distance of 67 miles, where they were released. On October 25, 1938, five of these birds were captured in the Casa Grande ramadas. As the finches were transferred at about the time of the spring migration, a similar experiment is planned for midwinter to learn if the birds will return immediately or if they will wait until after their summer trip to their nesting sites.
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