Flagstaff, AZ – Bald eagles are a spectacular sight in Arizona's skies year round. Like the human population, they're more abundant in winter, when individuals from up north migrate south to take advantage of milder winter weather.
Come spring the state is also an important breeding ground for these emblematic birds - and since 1978 their success has hinged on a band of eagle-eyed human caretakers.
Flagstaff, AZ – Every year bull elk spend a lot of energy growing and hefting around antlers. These phenomenal structures, made purely of bone, have been known to grow at a rate of 1 inch per day during summer.
But is it worth it? Growing bony headgear that quickly requires enormous amounts of calcium. Some of it comes from plants, but most of it is provided by the bull elk's own rib bones. Only the healthiest of males can afford this diversion of minerals from their bodies so a big rack indicates an animal in good shape.
Flagstaff, AZ – It's tough to miss a century plant in full bloom. The plant's base of wide, pointed leaves sends up an enormously tall stalk that blooms brilliantly in spring. Also called agave or mescal, it's a plant that's common throughout the desert Southwest.
Native people once made use of agaves for fenceposts, needles and thread, soap, durable fibers and probably even paper. And wherever the plants grow, remains of pits used to cook them are sure to be found.
Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Valles Caldera Climate Study
As concerns mount about the world's and the region's climate, scientists have found a time machine in New Mexico that helps them better understand the past.
At the Valles Caldera National Preserve west of Los Alamos, researchers from Northern Arizona University and other institutions have been studying sediments laid down long ago in a now-dry lakebed. They have extracted a plug of materials from as deep as 260 feet underground.
Late spring is the time when Colorado Plateau gardeners begin to see among the least welcome and most frustrating of garden visitors: grasshoppers.
Across the west, agricultural damage from grasshoppers can reach $390 million a year. During some outbreaks they become the dominant herbivore or plant-eater. And the plateau is no stranger to such population surges.
Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Hummingbird Monitoring Network
Can you imagine a world without hummingbirds? That central question drives the work of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, a nonprofit group dedicated to conservation, education, research, and habitat restoration for these jeweled wonders of the bird world.
The monitoring program includes banding studies that generate information about hummingbird diversity and abundance, timing of the birds' movements, and population trends.
The seed catalog for "Native Seed Search," a Tucson-based seed source, plaintively allows that "farming in the Southwest is challenging."
Anyone who's ever tried to coax lush lettuce out of desert soils, or harvest a crimson tomato before the first frost, knows how true this is. In the upland Southwest, gardening challenges include short growing seasons, frosty nights, arid conditions, and blistering winds. But there's a one-size-fits-all solution: hoop houses.
For countless generations, Native Americans have used eagle feathers in sacred ceremonies. Those of bald eagles, in particular, play a prominent role.
But federal law closely protects all eagles, and distribution and possession of their feathers is carefully controlled. Except for the Hopi, it is also illegal to take eaglets from nests in order to raise them for their feathers.
Flagstaff, AZ – Each spring, common black hawks soar into Arizona skies from their wintering grounds in Mexico. These large, coal-black raptors, with distinctive white-banded tails, will spend six months here breeding, nesting, and raising young.
In courtship, black hawks put on spectacular aerial displays. They soar, twirl, and exchange sticks as they dive and issue their shrill call. Once mated, they construct their nests, almost always in the tallest cottonwood or sycamore alongside flowing water.