Cactus Tales

On Seth’s invitation, I am honored to have a chance to contribute to the group. I have a biology background, but am now retired and have an interest in photographing birds. I use point and shoot cameras, starting two years ago with a Canon SX60HS, graduating to a Sony RX10iii this year. I teach classes in bird photography with these cameras. My interests are in telling a story of birds in a small ecotype such as a pond, or in this case one plant species, a cactus, the cardon of the deserts of Northwest Mexico. These photos were taken over two trips to the Baja California Sur Cape Region, and the majority were on one cardon that was outside the bungalow I was staying at in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico while having my morning coffee.

Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, is a close relative of the Saguaro of the desert southwest. It is the tallest cactus in the world, lives for several hundred years, and has a fungal-bacteria symbiotic relationship that allows it to grow on bare rock. For birds, it is the perch of choice for everything from hawks to wrens, a source of abundant food,  a prolific producer of fruit and used by all woodpeckers for their nesting holes. On larger cardons it is not uncommon to see several bird species on a cactus at once and most birds whose territory includes a cardon will touch it several times a day for a song, a snack, and good luck.



Threats to Monarch Butterflies and How We Can Help

A Monarch butterfly caterpillar feeding on the leaves of a milkweed plant. Photographed at the Grapevine Botanical Gardens. Photo © TexasEagle/Flickr through a Creative Commons license, via TNC

We’ve covered monarch butterflies plenty of times in the past, whether it was reporting survey results showing that many households in the US would pay to help create habitat for the species, showcasing a citizen science project by the Xerces Society to count the winged invertebrates during their migration, or simply highlighting the needs of the orange butterfly in general and how to become involved. Now, given increased media coverage of the Monarch, the Cool Green Science blog for The Nature Conservancy is summarizing hazards and helpers of the species:

Twenty years ago, monarch butterflies occupied so much area in Mexico during the winter you could see it from space. It totaled about 20 hectares, or almost 50 acres, with millions if not billions of butterflies clinging to trunks and branches of trees.

Today, that area is around 4 hectares. The previous year had 1.1 hectares, says Brice Semmens, Assistant Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

Semmens was the lead author on “Quasi-extinction risk and population targets for the Eastern, migratory population of monarch butterflies” published recently in the journal Scientific Reports. It is one paper in a long line of sobering butterfly news.

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On the Rocks

Chinatec elders prepare stone soup the traditional way, by the Papaloapan River. PHOTO: SARAH BOREALIS

Chinatec elders prepare stone soup the traditional way, by the Papaloapan River. PHOTO: SARAH BOREALIS

National Geographic’s The Plate explores the “global relationship between what we eat and why, at the intersection of science, technology, history, culture and the environment”. The latest in its daily discussion on food is the preparation of  real stone soup in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The soup originated in a remote ritual site in the Papaloapan River basin, about 12 hours by car from Oaxaca City, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. The geography there is very rocky, and in the Pre-Ceramic [period,] Chinantec ancestors developed an elemental way to cook their food using fire and stone. The ritual site features large boulders excavated to serve as large cooking pots, and I guess you might say that the rest is history! The recipe for stone soup features local ingredients and really is a product of this unique environment.

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Travel For The Marine Biodiversity, Support Conservation in Baja California Sur

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We’ve posted about the biodiversity of this spectacular region before so when we came across this article highlighting the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park it definitely drew our attention.

The park is

a 27.5-square-mile ecosystem with an unusual history and an uncertain future. At least 226 fish species live in the park, and it is home to the only living hard coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. But environmentalists fear that a major resort development could significantly alter this delicate fringe of Baja, both above ground and underwater. Continue reading