The class I’m teaching this semester has very few field trip opportunities compared to the classes I usually teach, so I was very excited to go on the optional field trip this past weekend. Students who wanted to get some extra experience in the field were asked to meet us on campus at 7:45 on Saturday. As one might expect, only a handful of the 1400 total students (mostly freshmen) taking the course this semester wanted to get up early to do extra work on a weekend, so very few students signed up. Then there was a freakish cold front that brought in a frigid rain the morning of the field trip, so even fewer people actually showed up. But I still wanted to go! And I’m glad I did. We went to Ramsey Canyon, a Nature Conservancy property near Sierra Vista, AZ, and it was a really great day.
Ramsey Canyon is a beautiful canyon in the Huachuca Mountains of south central Arizona. The canyon is rather short by Arizona’s standards. The walk from the visitor’s center at the bottom to the very end of the Nature Conservancy property is only a little over a mile, and most people never get past the first half mile. But it is a spectacular half mile! Ramsey is filled with oaks and sycamores and pines, a gorgeous clear creek full of bugs, bears and squirrels and birds galore. In fact, the canyon is a very popular birding area thanks to the presence of the elegant trogon and several species of hummingbirds. I haven’t ever seen a trogon myself, but I’m still hoping to catch a glimpse of one someday.
Our group of 18 staff members and students split into three groups and headed up the canyon to work. We were there to count Arizona grey squirrel nests, collecting data about the nesting trees and the surrounding area when we found them. I found a nest shortly after we started up the trail and my group took the required measurements before we sat down for lunch. Then we didn’t find any more nests. But that turned out to be fine for everyone in the group! We kept looking for nests, but everyone pulled out their cameras and we stopped every 10-20 yards to take photos. Between the six of us I’m sure we took well over a thousand photos.
We also took a bit of time to scoop some insects out of Ramsey Creek with the soup strainer I brought along just for that purpose. Even though we were technically there to learn about squirrel nesting habits, I think my group ended up learning more about aquatic and other insects simply because we found many more insects than we did squirrels or squirrel nests (though it could have also had something to do with the two entomologists leading the group).
I’ve been to Ramsey before to look for a special aquatic insect that’s found there, a water scorpion with a very limited range called Curicta pronotata. It’s a glorious insect, more robust than the Ranatra water scorpions I’ve featured several times here, but more stick-like than the more giant water bug shaped Nepa species. Alas, we didn’t find any Curicta during our trip, but we did find several other things. We found a lot of these leaf case making caddisflies:
I found those on my most recent collecting trip, so you’ve already seen them. They were incredibly abundant in Ramsey Creek and I caught hundreds (and threw them all back). It was a lot of fun sharing them with the students because they’re the sort of thing that they would have never suspected was alive if I hadn’t pointed them out. We found a few diving beetles, including this Agabus species:
I love predaceous diving beetles! If you ever have a chance to watch some of the larger species swim, I highly recommend that you spend a few minutes admiring their elegance as they paddle about. It’s truly stunning! I didn’t find any giant water bugs or whirligig beetles as I’d expected, but we did come across these:
Water strider nymphs! Water striders are often gregarious, meaning that they like to stay together in groups. I really enjoyed watching them skittering around on the surface of the water. In fact, I recorded them doing so. If you’d like to experience a taste of what it was like to sit next to a clear, cool creek in a gorgeous canyon photographing water striders, just watch this 30 second video:
Really, can it get any better than that? Absolute heaven for me!
It was quite cold almost the whole trip and we were alternately subjected to rain, sleet, hail, snow, and high winds, but it was still a really great day. I felt like the boundaries between the students and the TAs in our group eventually melted away so that we became a rather cohesive group of photographer scientists out in a beautiful place on a cold and cloudy spring day. The trip to Ramsey was completely worth getting up early on a Saturday, even if it meant extra work! At least, it was for me. I spent the day with a group of very enjoyable people in a stunning mountain canyon teaching and hiking and photographing and watching bugs. Honestly, I can’t imagine a nicer day in the field!