by Nancy Ferguson

Tom Orum, Jeannine Thomas and I spent three days camping near the Saguaro Juniper cattle herd in early October. While we were there we saw some new country and got acquainted with some of our neighbors on S-J land.

CHOLLAS: The cattle were just moving from summer pasture to range on the Cascabel Pasture -- Saguaro Juniper's newest leased land. This was my first chance to get to know it. Our first task was to find a campsite so we parked at the west gate on Gamez Road and hiked southeast. A couple of ridges over, we found two giant, multi-armed saguaros and decided to camp near them. As we walked up to the saguaros, a shiny gray patch of vegetation on the next hill caught my eye -- chollas!

I was thrilled. Years ago, shortly after Judith McBride moved to Tucson, she, Tom and I attended the Tucson Audubon Society's Desert Institute. The Institute is three days of lectures and field trips with experts on the Sonoran Desert. One of the experts studies birds both in Arizona and in South America. He is convinced that tree chollas provide crucial, protected nesting sites for a large variety of birds and that chollas are one of the best indicators of the Sonoran Desert. While I was happy to know this, I was also sad. I knew that Saguaro Juniper at that time had only a few scrawny staghorn chollas (Opuntia versicolor).

None of them were big enough to provide a nest for a bird. Now I was seeing a cholla forest of large individuals. When we got a chance to visit the cholla patch, they turned out to be chain-fruit cholla or jumping cholla (Opuntia fulgida). Without measuring it, I'd guess the patch covers more than an acre on that one ridge.

Not everybody likes cholla -- especially not jumping cholla. Pat Corbett does not remember the chollas on their Florence ranch fondly. Debbie Hawkins thinks of cholla joints stuck to calves when she thinks of cholla. Jeannine remembers being very careful to avoid this cholla patch when riding Canny to check the cows last winter. I know they have a point -- cholla joints really hurt when they stick you. In spite of that, I am delighted to know that Saguaro Juniper has such a beautiful stand of mature jumping cholla. To me the chollas mean that S-J is clearly on the edge of the Sonoran Desert and that our land is providing excellent hospitality to nesting birds -- year after year.

A SKELETON: The cows are watering at the North Drinker so Tom, Jeannine and I were spending time there making sure that all the cows were finding the water and getting good drinks. Tom found a skeleton of a small animal about 200 feet north of the drinker and called me in to investigate. It was surprisingly complete. There was the skull, the lower jaw, two paws and a long, long tail. Tom thought immediately that it was a coati (Nasua nasua). I photographed the bones as they lay and decided there was no harm I could think of in collecting them. As I assemble them back at home, there is the right shoulder blade, and the whole right front leg including the paw. The hip bones are still attached to the lower back and both leg bones. All of the right hind leg including the big right foot is present. All the tail bones are there and are mostly connected to each other. The last tail bone sticks out at an odd angle. The back bone above the hips is missing and so is the top of the skull. The teeth show very little wear. From these parts I imagine a full grown, young coati who broke the tip of his tail when he was young. Later this imaginary coati roamed around alone as a solitary male. He provided dinner for a hungry bobcat. And the dining room was right there by Saguaro Juniper's North Drinker.

A DRAGONFLY : Many of you know that dragonflies are a real source of joy for me. Nature was obliging this trip. There was a dragonfly at the North Drinker. He was spending time on a stick just south of the drinker and using that as a perch to hunt from. He would sit and wait and watch, then fly out and return to his perch. While he was waiting he was very calm and I was able to get some good photos. When the prints came back, I used the new book Dragonflies through Binoculars to identify him as a Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). The species is recognized by its clear wings with red veins, a pattern of red on the gray abdomen and a red face. They are found throughout the west and are said to be at home "in arid, barren country." He must have felt at home by the drinker which is both arid and barren even to my eyes.

So I can report that Saguaro Juniper's Cascabel Pasture is a good place to camp in October. I can only hope that the cows are also enjoying being at home on the range.

Postcript: We took the skeleton in to the Mammal collection at the U of A and we were wrong about the identification. It is a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Guess I'll modify my imaginings accordingly. Just wanted to keep you up to date.
Take care,

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