Cave Creek Ranch News June 29, 2014

Such a lot to cover since April!  The most noticeable change at the Ranch is the Frog Pond we put in on May 6th.  It’s in front of Creekside Cottage, in the dip in the ground by the old well, the round stone structure with the conical roof.  The pond is 40 feet long, 28 wide, about 3 feet deep, and partially shaded by a big sycamore.

The pond’s purpose is to be another refuge for the threatened Chiricahua Leopard Frog, which has been disappearing from its habitat for years.  We used to have two places on the Ranch where they lived, but both populations disappeared in the last ten years, as they were also vanishing from almost every else in the Chiricahuas.  Amphibians all over the world are vulnerable to a fungus called Chytrid or Bd, short for Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or the amphibian chytrid fungus, but it’s not known at this time if that is the cause for this species’ decline, or the drought we’ve been enduring recently, or those and other factors. Several of these frog ponds have been put in recently, including three at Ash Spring on the Basin Trail near the Herb Martyr picnic area, and one in nearby Whitetail Canyon.  The Southwestern Research Station is the driver behind this local reintroduction, and has several ponds.  Arizona Game and Fish provided a lot of help, and US Fish and Wildlife provided a grant to cover the construction cost!

We don’t have frogs yet; the authorities want the pond to “settle in” before adding frogs.  We may get an egg mass in August if enough are produced at the other ponds in the canyon; that would produce tadpoles, some of which would become frogs this year.  Once the monsoons begin in earnest (we’ve already had two 1/3 inch rains in the middle of June, and rain is forecast for this week), frogs from ponds farther up the canyon may travel and find us.  They are small but they can go at least three miles to find a place to live!  So that mosquitoes don’t become a problem, we’ve applied for permission to put 50 Speckled Dace, the common little minnow in the creek here, into the pond, and hope to get approval and the fish this week!

Meanwhile, we’ve put in lots of native plants around the pond, and it looks very natural.  It was placed in a dip which always seemed to be a natural place for a wetland, but I never thought of something this big and dramatic! It has become a magnet for wildlife, especially birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies.  The Violet Green Swallows drink from it, as do the White-throated Swifts, both of which are usually a thousand feet up in the air.  To have them at foot level is really something.  At twilight the nighthawks and poorwills drink, and one of the poorwills often lands beside it several times in between drinks. Then the bats begin, as many as one per second!   This canyon has 21 species of bats, and at least 17 kinds have been seen or heard at the Ranch.

It’s also become a magnet for people.  It is mesmerizing sitting beside it watching the darting dragonflies, the shimmering reflections of the sunlit cliffs and leaves, and the patient Black Phoebe, perching here and there on twigs, then rising to snap up an insect.  It’s equally magnetic at twilight, as the swallows and nighthawks come in at the same time, followed closely by the bats.  I had no idea it would be so much fun, and that’s without any frogs!  We’ve put a few unobtrusive benches around, and the low wall of the well is another place to sit.  We got that old hand-dug well going again to provide a trickle of water to keep the pond fresh.  We hadn’t used it since 2003, when we put in the new, very deep well that produces such good water.


On other fronts, we have been doing our summer “Deep Clean” of all the units, one by one, removing all the furniture, washing ceilings, walls, and carpet, and cleaning the furniture thoroughly before putting it back.  We do this twice a year in the slowest months, June and December.


We’re doing repairs, also.  The Ranch House porch just had a section of floor replaced, and four layers of new waterproof coating on the whole porch floor.


We’re repairing many of the screen doors, adding solid panels at the bottom where the screening doesn’t hold up to normal usage, and rescreening them at the same time.  I’ve been taking window screens out in groups to be repaired or rebuilt in Douglas.


We’ve planted what I hope will grow into a thicket of wolfberries and evergreen sumac (not at all like poison sumac!) near the feeding area, for cover for the birds to dive into if threatened, and also an embryonic salvia garden in a sunny area of the lawn.


Another project we’re starting is to fence the property to keep a neighbor’s cattle out, which became a severe nuisance last fall.  It’s over half a mile of fencing, some through a dense mesquite thicket, but it’ll be wonderful not to have the bovine visitors.  The fencing will be “wildlife friendly”, with the top and bottom strands of wire smooth, so bear and deer and mountain lion and javelinas can go over or under without getting snagged.  The middle two strands will be barbed, which is enough to keep the cattle out, US Fish and Wildlife says.  They are helping with the fencing to keep the frog pond safe from cattle hooves.  I am very grateful!


Last night at 10 pm I was awakened as my solid adobe house shook, and the glass in the light fixtures rattled!  Had I still been in Chicago, I would have thought it was a huge truck going by in the alley….  But it was a magnitude 5.2 earthquake, centered about 40 miles due north of here near Duncan, Arizona!


The next news will have an update on Willow Tank, as well as word on two big projects of the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon, but this is enough for now.


Hope to see you soon,