Located in Eastern Arizona in the scenic Greenlee County, the Blue River has been the site of an Arizona Game and Fish Department Native Fish Restoration Project. The department has taken measures to eliminate Non-native Catfish and Green Sunfish above a fish barrier constructed in 2012 with the intentions to reestablish native Roundtable Chub and Spikedace species throughout the Blue.
Not too impressive as far as rivers go, but this short stretch of water still serves as critical habitat for a vast array of wildlife. We encountered Mallards, juvenile Sonora Mud Turtles, a Kingsnake and were able to mark and capture 17 Mexican Gartersnakes. We found signs of deer and mountain lion activity as well.
As stated above, a major threat to the survival of The Mexican Gartersnake in this site are Bullfrogs. We did not survey for their abundance but from my observations they could easily number in the thousands along our study site. Large Bullfrogs, like the one in hand below, could easily eat neonate and juvenile snakes. We removed any bullfrogs caught.
Three times a year Arizona Game and Fish holds a Sonoran Desert Tortoise survey, lead by Cristina Jones, in the Superstition Mountains. This population has a long history of being the focus of scientific studies and over 200 individuals have been recorded.
The Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) is a threatened species in Arizona. These tortoises are a long-lived species, not reaching sexual maturity until 15-20 years old and capable of living 80-100 years. Populations are monitored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. This species is threatened by habitat loss and degradation as well as an Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (URTD). Symptoms include a runny nose, labored breathing, swollen eyelids and sunken eyes. Tortoises use their olfactory senses to locate food. When infected with URTD it has been shown that individual are less capable of successfully foraging.
Another threatened species we surveyed are Narrow-headed Gartersnakes (Thamnophis rufipunctatus). These snakes are incredibly unique. They are highly aquatic with a diet consisting predominantly of fish. Loss of riparian habitat and introduction of non-native species are the main threats to this species survival.
The Narrow-headed Gartersnake.
As with the Mexican Gartersnake, our methods for the Narrow-head include a mark/recapture study to estimate abundance. Individuals captured were marked and measured in the field and then released. The goal is to get an estimate of how many snakes are in each area in order to establish sound management efforts.
Many introduced fish species have spiny fins which can get lodged in the digestive tracts of these snakes leading to obstruction and ultimately death. Healthy native fish populations and fast flowing streams are integral to their recovery.
Other Herpetofauna species encountered.
The Chiricahua Mountains are in the far south east corner of Arizona. The surrounding mesquite brush and grasslands are prime habitat for the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). Our team spent 3 days mostly doing road surveys for Box Turtles and then converged with a larger group to participate in the Charlie Painter Bio-Blitz taking place just over the state line in Rodeo New Mexico's Chiricahua Desert Museum.
Desert Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata)
You can see the extensive fire damage from the Horseshoe 2 fire in 2011. Petrane conifer forests are exceedingly at risk to wildfire damage due to wildfire suppression throughout the 20th century. It could take centuries for the forest to regenerate, if it does at all in the face of climate change. The second half of the Chiricahua trip took place during a Bioblitz, large scale biological inventory, within the surrounding areas.