Earth Notes

Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed July 4, 2012

Earth Notes: The Look of Love, for Barn Swallows

Barn Swallow (H. r. erythrogaster) in Juanita, Washington, USA
JJ Cadiz, Cajay

Each year barn swallows dart and swoop in summer skies to catch insects. But these flashy blue and orange aerialists aren’t on the hunt for only food. As is true with our own species, barn swallows use athletics and appearance to show off to the opposite sex.

With their distinctive forked tails, barn swallows are widespread. On multiple continents they build mud cup nests under bridges and in barns and other human structures. But their choice of mates varies from place to place.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed June 20, 2012

Earth Notes: Flagstaff Plans for a Changing Climate

Sitting high and mainly dry, residents of the Colorado Plateau don’t have to worry about rising sea levels as the Earth’s climate warms. But in recent years parts of the plateau have experienced record warming and low moisture, damaging winter storms, and severe wildfires and flooding.

Whether these are short-term weather events, or signs of a longer-term change in climate, remains to be seen. But some in the region are already adapting to what they fear could be even greater impacts caused by an altered climate.

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Earth Notes
10:42 am
Wed June 13, 2012

Earth Notes: From the Ground Up: The West Sedona Elementary School’s Teaching Garden

Cecline LeBlanc

How do you start a garden? That’s a lesson students at the West Sedona Elementary School have recently learned. And they learned it so well that they received a 2011 Youth Garden Award from the National Gardening Association.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed June 6, 2012

Earth Notes: Bark Beetles in a Warming West

USDA Forest Service

For many residents of the mountain west, warmer temperatures may not sound too bad.

But small differences in temperature can make a big difference.

Consider bark beetles. They’re native to the region’s conifer forests. Normally, the insects emerge in summer. Females bore into the cambium layer of trees and sever vessels that contain resin, releasing a sticky flow that “pitches out” the beetles. But in weaker trees that lack sufficient resin swarms of beetles can quickly chew enough wood tunnels to kill their hosts.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed May 30, 2012

Earth Notes: Pueblo Riparian Alliance

For centuries, New Mexico’s Pueblo peoples have relied on the plants and animals of the Río Grande to sustain their lifestyles and traditions. But in recent times the river has been impacted by development, diversion, and flood control. That can make it difficult to maintain some key cultural practices. What is the purpose of a deer dance, for example, if there are no deer?

Not content to sit idly by, three pueblos near Española, in northern New Mexico, have formed an unprecedented alliance to mitigate damage along a dozen miles of river corridor.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed May 23, 2012

Earth Notes: The Arizona Watchable Wildlife Experience

As the weather gets warm, it’s an inviting time to get out and observe wildlife. In other seasons too there are creatures to see and hear—ducks nesting on summer lakes, elk bugling in the fall, and bald eagles overwintering.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed May 16, 2012

Earth Notes: Osprey

They’re sometimes called fish eagles, for good reason: their diet is almost all live fish. They’re big raptors, hard to miss soaring above the scattered rivers and lakes of the Southwest’s high country. They’re ospreys, birds that belong to the summer skies of the Colorado Plateau.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed May 2, 2012

Earth Notes: Solar Power, Thanks to the Crowd

The Murdoch Center, Flagstaff, AZ
Promotheus Solar

Flagstaff’s Southside Murdoch Community Center is about to get solar panels installed on its roof. That’s not innovative—but the way the panels are being paid for is. Thanks to 87 small-scale investors and a company named Solar Mosaic, the center will enjoy long-term energy savings without big upfront costs.

Solar Mosaic focuses on financing clean energy projects with help from what it calls the “power of the crowd.” So far the company has funded five solar projects in California and Arizona. 

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Earth Notes
8:46 am
Wed April 25, 2012

Earth Notes: Rattled on the Trail

Few sounds in nature are as instantly recognizable and terrifying as the sudden rattle of a pit viper. No matter how often you’ve heard it, it’s a sound that sends a jolt of adrenaline and raises the hair on the back of the neck.

But look closely, because maybe what you’re hearing isn’t a rattlesnake at all.

It might instead be a close mimic, a gopher snake. With their speckled, earth-tone appearance, these common snakes look something like rattlesnakes, but they aren’t dangerous. In fact, they are highly beneficial and eat large numbers of rodents.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed April 18, 2012

Earth Notes: Restoring a Watershed, One Russian Olive at a Time

Escalante River: Before

Those who have bloodied hands or arms on the inch-long thorns of a Russian olive, or dulled a chainsaw on its dense wood, know that it takes determination and brute force to clear away these tough nonnative trees. Since 2000, this formidable task has been underway along the Escalante River in southern Utah.

Introduced in the 1940s to combat soil erosion, Russian olives took to the Colorado Plateau with gusto. They have crowded out native willows and cottonwoods, forming virtually impenetrable thickets along hundreds of miles of washes and river bottoms.

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