Stories from the field: Site AZ4
Welcome to Springerville, AZ. This lovely little town is a nestled in the forested hills of southeastern Arizona, a green oasis in the middle of a desert. Still, the town itself is not much to look at (although Java Blues, the coffeshop/restaurant/bar on the main drag is pretty good, and plays great music). There is a small prairie dog colony up on Forest Service west of town, but the site is remote and the animals cover a large area despite being few in number. Yes, in hindsight, that colony would be better than the one recovering from plague (I presume) and constantly guarding against people (it is at a recreation area).
However, only hindsight is 20/20. My actual vision is about 20/600 or so, and my figurative vision is usually better, but sometimes not by a whole lot. AZ4 was the first Gunnison’s pdog site I have set up, and my aspirations may have been too high. Gunnison’s prairie dogs are more shy than black-tails and are less densely populated, so traps need to cover a larger area to capture the same number of individuals. This colony probably has only about 20 individuals in it to begin with, and you can (with a reasonable number of traps) not expect to catch every individual. In addition, there are babies that have not yet emerged, and individuals are probably more wary than usual. This is a long-winded way of leading up to my admission that we captured only 7 different prairie dogs in two weeks– one of my lowest success rates ever. It will be interesting to find out if any of them have been exposed to plague– apparently the colony used to have 100 individuals, but has declined dramatically in the last few years.
On the plus side, we caught some short horned lizards (including babies) and have seen hundreds of smaller (fence? earless?) lizards running around, and have trapped several rock squirrels (they LOVE the bait) and a gopher snake (which fortunately did not seem too injured by the trap). And, when there’s lots of down time, we can always visit Java Blues or go get ice cream (the best perk of field work).
Some random anecdotes: People in Springerville are nice. I was sitting in my truck returning a phone call when a woman knocked on my window (Zeppelin did not like that). I opened the door to get out and she said, “Oh, you don’t need to get out, I was just wondering if you were hungry.” I was puzzled, but she continued, “I saw you working out there and thought you might want a sandwich.” A bit odd, but maybe that’s what you do in small towns. The Forest Service folks in the local office are very accommodating and even more generous than offering a sandwich– cumulatively, they spent several hours with me discussing prairie dogs and all my requests for water, a freezer, camping, maps, housing, and more.
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An evolutionary biologist with a passion for conservation. Or vice versa.