July 13-14, 2013
Spent one night in the Pinaleños Mts. (dził nchaa si’an) near Safford, AZ, July 16-17. These mountains are the highest of the Southern Arizona Sky Islands with the largest area over 8,000 ft. During the last Ice Age, many of the mountain ranges in Southern Arizona had extensive Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii) and Sub-alpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa) forests. The world went through a period of global warming after this, brought on by methane released by the melting of the glaciers. Most of the colder spruce forest didn’t survive in the other mountain ranges except in the Pinaleños. During the warm period the forest retreated to refugium at the top of the mountain and therefore the forest is both biologically diverse and contain many endemics (Anderson, Shafer, 1991), (Lomolino, Brown, Davis, 1989).
Camped at Snow Flat on the edge of a wet meadow dammed at one end with a small pond. An amazing amount of summer rain after years of drought and fire. That night was the loudest thunderstorm I’ve ever encountered, it sounded like the mountain was coming down on top of us.
Saw two squirrels but I believe they were Abert’s squirrel (Sciurus aberti), a species from Northern Arizona that was introduced in the 1940′s. They have tasseled ears and a white fringe around their tail. The Mount Graham Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis) is an endemic species that only lives in the spruce forests of the Pinaleños and is much smaller and quite rare. Unfortunately didn’t see one. There is concern that the Abert’s squirrel in encroaching into the Mount Graham Red Squirrel’s territory although it is supposed to be only found in Ponderosa pine habitat (Endelman, Koprowski, 2009).