Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Archive for October, 2011

Vegging Out

Salgoo. Progla. Bacemo. Parflo. Pluser. No, these are not the characters and places of a recently discovered Dr. Suess book- though I would love to see how Salgoo manifests from the imagination to paper! These six letter codes represent just a few of the plants that prickled and prodded their way into our hearts this season. Six weeks of intimate involvement generally allows one to nickname, in friendly terms, those they come to know. We do it with people and we do it with plants. Therefore not only do these codes help in shortening lengthy Latin from Baccharis sarothroides to Bacsar, but they add a playful element to otherwise quite tedious work!

Each plant plays a role in the ecosystem and potentially in the lives of our surveyed birds of interest. Tiny Bell’s Vireos bury themselves deep within the safe thorny branches of Propub and Progla. Bright Yellow Warblers glean insects from the slender twigs of Bacsar. Laughing Gila Woodpeckers nest in the excavated remains of Salgoo. Flashy Summer Tanagers sing out from the tops of Popfre, towering above the riparian corridor filled with Sciame and Typdom.

On the left: Propub, Prosopis pubescens, or Screwbean mesquite. On the right: Progla, Prosopis glandulosa, or Honey mesquite


Tiny Pluser and towering Popfre.


Although I was not gleaning, nesting or singing (well maybe occasionally singing), I found my favorite plant of the bunch to be the Acagre (Acacia greggii or Cat’s Claw Acacia). We came across very little of it, but when we did it insisted that we “wait a minute” and take a look, as it grabbed our clothing and skin with its hooked cat-claw like thorns.  Nicknamed the “Wait-a-minute Tree,” it doesn’t greet in the most polite manner, but it certainly does demand attention and I found its little trick kind of interesting. Its presence in lowland habitat also indicates dramatic yet natural changes in the area. In order to germinate this small tree needs scouring flash floods to scarify and saturate the ground. With the dammed and controlled flows along the Colorado, huge floods rarely make such an impact on the land anymore. Therefore when one finds an Acagre it’s a sign that some natural processes are still sneaking their way into the heavily managed landscape.

Vegetation surveying is difficult and monotonous work. But when all is said and done, discovering how much my personal understanding of this amazing ecosystem has improved, makes all the prickles, heat and discomfort a little more worthwhile!

Acagre, Acacia greggi, or Cat’s claw acacia


An abridged version of our 2011 plant list:

Progla-  Prosopis glandulosa-  Honey mesquite

Propub-  Prosopis pubescens-  Screwbean mesquite

Anecal-  Anemopsis californica-  Yerba Mansa

Typdom-  Typha domingensis-  Southern Cattail

Salexi-  Salix exigua-  Coyote Willow

Bacemo-  Baccharis emoryi-  Emory’s Baccharis

Bacsar-  Baccharis sarothroides-  Desert Broom

Pluser-  Pluchea sericea-   Arrowweed

Cyndac-  Cynodon dactylon-  Bermuda Grass

Tamsp-  Tamarix sp.-  Tamarisk species

Salgoo-  Salix gooddingii-  Goodding’s willow

Popfre-  Populus fremontii-  Fremont Cottonwood

Acagre-  Acacia greggii-  Cat’s claw acacia

Parflo-  Parkinsonia florida-  Blue Palo Verde

Paracu-  Parkinsonia aculeate-  Foothill or Yellow Palo Verde

Sciame-  Scirpus americanus-  Three-square Bulrush

DYC-  Damn Yellow Composite-  (If you know the plant below, please let me know!)

This DYC grows abundantly in moderately wet areas of the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge, yet it even confounded the local biologists.


Responding First in the Wilderness

Heart rate and respiratory rate elevated. Sweat beading on the forehead. Mind racing and eyes darting. Who exactly is the patient and who is the rescuer in this scenario?! Having just finished a three day course to re-up my Wilderness First Responder certification, I asked myself this question a number of times. When I allow myself to fully experience the idea of a wilderness emergency (even if it’s taking place in a grassy park near a road!), I can’t help but feel that adrenaline start to flow.

Of course, after a few hours, the fake blood, the oatmeal “vomit,” the overly dramatic, screaming, femur fracture patient becomes common place. I don’t bat an eye when a classmate turns their bruised and gory Halloween like face towards me. And its only when I notice the horrified grocery store patrons gawking at me that I’m reminded of the bloodied ankle fracture I forgot to clean up from earlier in the day.

But initially you lose yourself in it. You know that for the sake of learning and practicing the skills, you need to believe  you’re dealing with a true wilderness medical emergency. The clear difference between a wilderness emergency and an urban one is that one’s proximity to definitive medical care could be a matter of hours or even days, rather than minutes. A wilderness first responder could spend an afternoon hydrating their patient and keeping them cool as they come down from heat exhaustion. Or they could spend twenty minutes reducing a dislocated shoulder, building a makeshift sling with a fleece and then hiking their patient out for two days. The idea is to be prepared for anything from scorpion stings and boiling water scalds to open pneumothoraxes and spine injuries, and to do one’s absolute best for the patient within the given circumstances.

In the five years since my initial training, I’ve been fortunate enough to rarely dig into the first aid kit for much more than band-aids and gauze, but the knowledge that I’m prepared to deal with more is comforting. I would never in a million years pretend that I’m a medical practitioner. But this kind of training just makes sense. I firmly believe that there is a hell of a lot more in the urban world that can hurt a person than in the wilderness. Nonetheless, I spend a lot of time in the wilds. Sometimes with school kids, sometimes with friends, sometimes with my field crew and most often with my husband.  My heart might start pounding, but I know how to clear my mind, look for the signs, ask the questions and treat the wounds, which could mean the difference between a challenging evacuation or another amazing day in the field.


Playing it safe in the great outdoors!