September 5, 2014
This month, Saúl and I traveled with two student interns from the Universidad Estatal de Sonora (State University of Sonora), Carolina and Ligia. Our adventure began on the Viviendo con Felinos ranches, and the four of us divided into two teams to work faster checking the motion-triggered cameras.
Carolina and I went to Bábaco, where we noticed a juvenile Gray Hawk (Asturina nitida) perched on a mesquite branch. Since it was quiet around us, we wanted to see if we could get a better view. Yet as soon as we approached, it flew away. We saw several other raptors, including a young Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and a Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus antracinus). One species that I have missed seeing is the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), which although uncommon, can be seen perched on pitaya cactus or the branches of low trees during the winter months.
While visiting camera sites, we were able to appreciate the changes in vegetation brought about by summer rains. We enjoyed seeing everything thriving and the brilliant green colors. The only downside that impedes our desire for long walks this time of year is the chiggers, known as “baiburines” in Sonora. They hang out in the grass, get on our clothes, and bite us. Chigger bites vary in intensity from person to person, and some people are more sensitive. In my case, the intense itching lasted over a two-day period. Laco, the Northern Jaguar Reserve’s vaquero, is hardly affected. Unfortunately, the chiggers bothered Carolina and Ligia throughout most of the trip. We hope that by now the itching has subsided and want to extend a special thanks to them.
There has been frequent rain, benefitting both wildlife and the cattle that count on this source of nourishment. We noticed that on the ranches, the water in the ponds is at an optimum level, which means there should not be such a drastic scarcity of water during the dry season. Everything on the reserve is full of life. The arroyos were running and the grass had grown tall. The grass was not yet at the highest level it can reach, but it was still up there.
On the reserve we had to work hard as we checked our cameras and positioned new short-term cameras that are part of a national census, CenJaguar, to determine the total number of jaguars in Mexico. While we were at Los Pavos, we went on several reconnaissance trips to scout locations for these cameras. On a long day of exploration, we walked to the Río Aros and then continued downstream to where the Aros and Río Bavispe converge to form the Río Yaqui. We were able to see a pair of Military Macaws (Ara militaris) flying along the river corridor. We had one additional macaw sighting in Cajón Los Pavos where we usually see macaws each summer.
We encountered a huge boulder obstructing the road toward Los Pavos that delayed our journey. Saúl and I tried to remove it from the road, but we were not at all successful. We had to use a jack and were able to move it just enough so that our truck could squeeze by. Fallen branches and poor road conditions also delayed and interfered with our work. We lost one day while en route to Los Alisos when the truck got stuck because of the heavy rains and badly damaged road. We decided to look for the ranch owners to help pull us out and were finally successful late that night. We continued checking cameras the following day, and fortunately, we were still able to meet nearly all of our goals for this trip.
At El Saucito, the ranch owner and Saúl were able to reach the most distant camera locations by horseback, which is something Saúl has wanted to do for a long time. Meanwhile, Carolina, Ligia, and I checked cameras closer to the ranch house. Toward the end of our trip, we had problems reaching the Teópari ranch. This time, we decided not to continue since the roads were in very bad condition, and we could have easily gotten stuck again. We also knew it would be impossible to cross an arroyo that would be flowing to reach one of Teópari’s camera sites.
As you can see, this trip was a little problematic with the roads, rain, and chiggers, which is to be expected this time of year. It also carried the satisfaction of contributing to the protection of jaguars and diversity of wildlife that find shelter on the reserve and nearby ranches. We hope that next time we will continue to have new and interesting stories to share with you.
Javier Valenzuela Amarillas has worked on the Northern Jaguar Reserve and Viviendo con Felinos ranches since 2012. As a jaguar guardian, he helps maintain an extensive network of motion-triggered cameras, inventory the ecological health of the land and water, and work with ranchers to support local wildlife.