Our Mission is to inspire appreciation and understanding of the beauty, biodiversity and legacy of Cave Creek Canyon through volunteer work and outreach programs.

March 2021
Cave Creek Canyon from Vista Point
All Photos by Peg Abbott of Naturalist Journey's

Mason Bees
By Raymond A. Mendez
Having collected a large amount of lumber cut to about 22” in length, I delight in the sound of our log splitter as it snaps, pops and splits the logs. I can carefully control most splits so as to stop the unit in the event that a treasure appears. It is a joyful experience to see what each log offers in revealing the inner dwellings of insects from termites to ants to beetles to moth larva to bees and on and on. If I find a log splits to reveal a new world, I either explore right at the moment or set them aside to look at later. Joy sometimes looks at me when something special comes into view as she knows that may be it for log splitting for a time. Recently we were splitting a log when a nest of Mason Bees just popped into view. Mason Bees are often housed as pets in yards ware folks are looking to increase pollinators and save our native bees. They don’t dig a nest in wood but look for appropriate size abandoned burrows or cracks in the tree where they can raise their young. 
The nest was made in an old burrow that the female cleaned out and then packed with pollen and nectar where she layed her eggs. She does this over and over until the tunnel is full. She carefully separated the larva from each other with a cell cap that is made from mulched leaves.
Female Osmia ribifloris, getting ready to leave the system. Interesting to note that the last constructed cells emerge first. If the oldest emerged first they would have to dig through their younger siblings. A neat trick this. I thank my friend Ron McGinley for identifying the bee.
The larva spin lovely silk pupal cocoons where they overwinter. Notice the green vegetative material separating the chambers and little brown pellets. Many social insect larva will not defecate as they grow but hold the feces in their intestinal system. This keeps the nest clean and fee of bacteria. As they get ready to pupate they eject the accumulated feces and so make an immaculate, clean cocoon. Nice house keeping trick.
Female sitting on the edge of a leaf. The circular cut was probably made by a leaf-cutter bee, another common and lovely visitor to our backyard.
The male quickly ran up the branch and sat at its tip. Males have long antenna and the face is full of long white hairs that they probably use to sniff out the females who may be emitting pheromones to attract them. May be the other way around but they do get to meet for mating and that is what counts.

The Bucket Biologist

By Charles Smith, Ph.D.
Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC

The emergence and subsequent worldwide spread of COVID-19 has ushered in immense change for many, if not most, people in everything we do each day. From home life to how we work, it’s a new unfamiliar world that finds us continually making adjustments and, unfortunately, it is likely to remain the state of our lives for the near future. As a college professor, the changes brought on by COVID-19 have been profound. No longer am I in a crowded classroom interacting with my students, rather, like numerous other educators, my new daily routine involves Zoom class sessions and remote assignments. It has been a learning experience for myself, and certainly for my students as well. 
Not all is dark, however. Moving to remote learning has opened opportunities to explore how we as educators teach in a meaningful way. I’m a field biologist and ecologist by training, and I instruct advanced students on the fundamental concepts of ecology, hopefully guiding them to think with an ecologist’s mind, and to, as a close colleague of mine so eloquently states “[help students] look at the world through eyes of wonder.” With that in mind, there are few more wonderous places that I know of than the Sky Islands of Arizona, and the Chiricahua Mountains. 
As the change loomed from in-person instruction to remote-learning, I made the decision to temporarily relocate to Rodeo, New Mexico, and have the Chiricahua Desert Museum—with whom I’ve had a close association for a number of years—as my base. In the surrounding mountains, ecology is on full display, and I quickly redirected my teaching to take full advantage of it. For example, to encourage my students to better appreciate biological diversity, I created a series of short videos that I affectionately called “The Bucket Biologist,” named so because I sat on a small plastic bucket while being recorded.
Each video featured a particular plant or animal inhabiting the Sky Island region, and I asked students to ponder the various ways that organisms have adapted to the differing environments, from the desert floor to the high elevation peaks of the Chiricahuas. I then challenged my students back home, over 2,000 miles away, to create their own Bucket Biologist videos. To then illustrate plant adaptations to desert conditions, I, now newly minted in hosting my own biology reality show, created a second set of videos, leading the students on virtual hikes, describing for them the feel of the desert wind, the sight of waves heat rising off the desert floor, and the glare of intense sun. Along the way, on each virtual hike, I snipped leaves off here and there, gently saving them in small baggies and labeling each with plant names and locations. After accumulating a sizeable collection of leaves, and having recorded all of the necessary video, I shipped everything to colleagues in my college department back home. From there we developed a virtual lab module that we’ve come to be quite proud of—students examining microscope photos of plant leaf surfaces, taken from samples that I collected for them in my videos, and looking for hints of adaptations to the environments I had led them through virtually. Both of these exercises have proven quite popular with our students, and come the eventual relaxation of pressures from COVID, however long that may take, and the eventual return to a “normal” classroom, my colleagues and I still plan to use the materials developed out here. In one of the most wonderous places I know. 
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