If you're having trouble viewing this email, you may see it online. Share this:
The Desert NewsFlash
December 2020
Feeling Joyous!
By Lisa Gordon
The family in the above photo captured the sincere and joyous mood of what we've experienced at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens from each of our visitors. We had to share it with all of you! Most everyone we've talked to since our reopening in June 2020, is feeling joyous -- feeling joyous about being outdoors and celebrating life.  
Then there's the other side. The pandemic has affected each of us in meaningful ways, but it has also made us aware of what is special and aware of all that is precious. It's not wealth. It's - family. It's - friends. And it's those connections we make with our neighbors, and the people we see and interact with every day. 
The holiday season has arrived, and there is no escaping that sentimental feeling, that need to see and be with family. But, with the hope that once we get past this one that we won't experience another pandemic like it anytime soon (like in another 100 years), for now, let's all take it slow and easy, and let's not rush to have our family so physically close this year. Let's look forward to and celebrate having friends and family still with us when next year's holiday season arrives.  
Although 2020 has been a tragic year for many -- loss of a friend or family member to COVID-19, loss of work, wondering how to feed the family, or how to keep the business open, we're doing it, and we'll make it through this--together. We have to remain committed to helping each other -- because together we can do this. 
At the CDRI Nature Center & Botanical Gardens, we are thrilled to see each of you as you arrive at the Nature Center. Many of our recent visitors have said that this is their first visit to the Nature Center. Several visitors have also stated that they aren't "outdoorsy" people, but since the experts say that it's safer to be outdoors, they're trying it out -- trying out being outdoors with Nature.  And, what's inspiring is that everyone with whom we've visited has liked making a connection with Nature. 
We are feeling joyous for each of you this holiday season! And we're looking forward to welcoming each of you in the coming year! Be safe. Be smart. And, share the love you have in your heart with anyone in need who happens to come your way.
Find your way to make this one the most joyous of holidays! This is the year to suggest, practice, and believe:
Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men -- and Women -- and People of Color -- and to Everything Big and Small; Peace on Earth to  ALL Who Inhabit This Planet, Earth. 
Feeling thankful for our friends!
We are grateful to the folks who have visited the Nature Center this year. These are just a few of CDRI's friends who we had the pleasure of welcoming to the Nature Center & Botanical Gardens in November. 
Meet the Loggerhead Shrike, an honorary Chihuahuan Desert raptor
By Erin Strasser

In keeping readers informed about Nature and research within the Chihuahuan Desert region, we are sharing the following article, reprinted with permission by its author Erin Strasser, International Biologist, with The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (Fort Collins, CO)Her passion for research and avian conservation has led her to study birds in several Western states, as well as Belize and Honduras. She is interested in how anthropogenic change impacts breeding bird behavior and physiology, and the overwintering ecology of migrants. Erin is involved with the Bird Conservancy’s Chihuahuan Desert grasslands project aimed at understanding overwintering survival and habitat use of Baird’s and Grasshopper Sparrows.

                           Image shared by nature photographer, and CDRI friend, and member, Carol DiQuilio.
With a hooked beak and predatory habits, the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) has acquired some ferocious nicknames: The Butcher Bird or, in Spanish, El Verdugo (The Executioner). Although a songbird, they are unique in that they capture and impale small prey items such as insects, sparrows, rodents, and lizards on barbed wire fences and spiny branches. These caches are perfect storage areas when prey is scarce or conditions make hunting difficult. Because they lack strong feet and sharp talons spines also act as leverage, helping the shrikes dismember their prey. Shrikes are often seen perched conspicuously on top of shrubs and fence posts scanning their surroundings for prey, their stately black and white plumage flashing as they drop to the ground in pursuit of an unsuspecting victim.
Above: This is a series of Loggerhead Shrike prey items including a horned lizard, snake, and a banded Grasshopper Sparrow killed and cached by a shrike. Photos: Erin Strasser and José Hugo Martinez
Here in northern Mexico where we are studying declining grassland bird winter survival we’ve gotten to know Loggerhead Shrikes on a very intimate level. Shrikes, preferring open habitats such as pastures, grasslands and shrublands find ideal wintering (and breeding) habitat conditions in the Chihuahuan Desert. Their propensity for dining on small birds has made them the top predator of the wintering Baird’s and Grasshopper Sparrows that we are studying, and we regularly find sparrow remains hung from mesquite thorns or cached deep in spiny piles of tumbleweed.
Despite an abundance of sparrows and ample hunting perches in the area, extremely high winds, sub-freezing temperatures, and competition with other predators have posed challenges for predators and prey alike. Because of this, we have encountered multiple shrike carcasses in the field. Following several days of inclement weather, we even observed a shrike feeding on a dead skunk. Desperate times call for very desperate measures!
Shrike habitat in the Chihuahuan Desert. Shrikes seem to prefer grasslands with scattered shrubs such as mesquite, perfect perches for observing unsuspecting victims.
Photo: Erin Strasser.
This winter we’ve radio-tagged 6 shrikes in order to better understand their home-range size, habitat requirements, and how their movements could impact Baird’s and Grasshopper Sparrow survival. Similar to the sparrows we are tracking, the shrikes’ radio transmitter – which weighs around 1.4 grams -is worn like a small backpack and emits a pulse that is detected by an antenna and receiver. So far, it is obvious that the shrikes prefer hunting from taller mesquite and fence posts on the periphery of open grassland patches. This could indicate that mesquite encroachment, a growing concern in these grasslands, as well as fence construction, is contributing to the mortality and population declines of grassland birds.
                           Image shared by nature photographer, and CDRI friend, and member Carol Diquilio. 
Garden Notes:
The Sacred Datura
By Seth Hamby
Scattered across the dry, temperate and subtropical regions of the Americas exists a beautiful genus of plants harboring a deadly secret. The genus I am referring to is Datura and taxonomically falls into the Solanaceae (Nightshade) Family. The Solanaceae are found throughout the world but are most abundant and widely distributed in tropical Latin America. Economically important Solanaceous species include the potato (Solanum tuberosum), eggplant (S. melongena), tomato (S. lycopersicum), peppers (Capsicum sp.), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum and N. rustica) and belladonna (Atropa belladonna).
Four species of Datura occur naturally in the Trans Pecos region of Texas; D. inoxia or devil’s trumpet, D. quercifolia or oak-leaf thorn-apple, D. stramonium or Jimsonweed, and D. wrightii or Wright’s Jimsonweed.
In modern times, Datura have a cosmopolitan distribution on all continents except Antarctica. We will address this fascinating phenomenon later in the article. Datura is a genus of 10-12 species (botanically unresolved) of vespertine angiosperms (plants that flower in the late afternoon to evening hours). These plants have a characteristic long tubular calyx with elongated funnelform petals (corolla) giving them an altogether trumpet-like appearance. Flowers contain both male and female sexual organs. Fruits are a dry capsule, usually armored with formidable spines that inspired one of their many common names, the thorn apples.
Another common name, originally attributed to D. stramonium, is Jimsonweed. In 1676, British soldiers stationed in Jamestown, Virginia became inadvertently intoxicated when the leaves of the plant were included in their salads. Some reports say that the resulting episodes of confusion, vomiting, and hallucinations lasted for 11 full days. The incident was highly publicized and the offending plant became known as Jamestown weed, later shortened to Jimsonweed.
Let’s go back for a moment to the topic of the worldwide distribution of Datura, especially the long history of Datura metel on the Indian subcontinent dating back to the 4th century CE. Many species of Datura have been introduced to various parts of the world, becoming problematic invasive weeds. Most of these introductions can be traced back to relatively recently; long after Columbus’ voyage to the New World created an international exchange of plant materials unlike any other in history. Far from anecdotal, evidence of a botanically identical plant with remarkably similar pharmacological effects has been recorded from India, China, Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. Accounts from India seem to be the earliest and most reliable, suggesting the presence of Datura metel in the Old World originated in India and expanded from there.
So “why is this noteworthy” you may be asking? For starters, the name “Datura” is derived from the Hindi word dhatūra and the genus was first described by Carolus Linnaeus in the Old World in 1753. However, recent genetic studies have proven beyond a doubt that Datura is a completely New World genus with its center of diversity in Mexico. These studies also showed that D. metel is most closely related to D. inoxia, a species native from Central America to the Trans-Pecos. In particular, D. metel is most closely related to D. inoxia on the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean. To add to the mystery, no wild type specimen of D. metel has ever been found, and morphologically, it appears to actually be a group of cultivars (human cultivated variety) derived through selective breeding sometime significantly before 1492 from wild populations of naturally occurring D. inoxia in the Caribbean.
So where does this leave us? Well, confused yet intrigued, I think. While we cannot entirely rule out pre-Columbian human dispersal from the New World, it seems very unlikely despite the amount of cultural and historical evidence. There has been much debate in recent years about Vikings reaching America long before Columbus, Japanese fishing boats reaching the Pacific Coast 5,500 years ago, and Polynesian sailors bringing South American sweet potatoes back to their islands in antiquity. Until we know for sure, it is a very interesting possibility to entertain.
Now that that is “clear as mud,” let us now turn our attention back to the natural and ethnobotanical history of the Datura genus. Datura species are highly toxic, from the root to the shoot, to the flower, to the fruit… and even the nectar. The nectar is held deep within the corolla tube, making it difficult for most pollinators to reach it. One particular family of moths, the Sphingidae, also known as sphinx moths, hawk moths, and hornworms, have evolved incredibly long mouthparts (proboscis) to reach the nutritious nectar. Sphinx moths are one of only a few pollinators (hummingbirds included) that have evolved the ability to hover, often causing them to be mistaken for small hummingbirds.
Delicious flavor is not the only thing that keeps sphinx moths coming back for more. The nectar is spiked with intoxicating alkaloid compounds that appear to illicit addictive behaviors in the moths. Moths have been observed arriving early at flowers, impatiently hovering until they can get their fix. Once they feed, moths have been seen flying erratically, clumsily crashing into things, and even falling to the ground. Once the moths sober up, they go straight back to the flower to get more nectar. It appears that the Datura have ensured the success of their species by evolving substances that addict the moths that pollinate them. 
Before you make value judgments, remember that pollination is life or death and that this particular dealer-addict relationship is actually quite mild when compared with other tortures and trickery of the plant world. Some flowers eject their pollen disks into the eyes of their pollinators or enslave them in a haunted house of chutes and cages within their flower. Many orchids look so much like female bees, that male bees will spend all of their time and energy attempting to copulate with the flower to the point that they simply drop dead. Some plants pretend to have nectar when they do not or exaggerate the tastiness of their nectar through vibrant coloring. Some pollen is so sticky, it rips the legs off of the insect when it tries to fly away.
Moths are not the only animals that can get high from Datura. The tropane alkaloids (anticholinergics) contained within the plant (atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine) are considered dissociatives, and can have profound and deadly effects on human beings. The difference between life and death for a person who ingests the plant can be as little as a single gram, usually as a result of cardiac or respiratory arrest. Organ systems affected by Datura use are the Central Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Initial signs and symptoms of intoxication are to be “blind as a bat, dry as a bone, full as a flask (cannot urinate), hot as a hare, red as a beet, and mad as a hatter.” Scopolamine causes an initial state of excitement, followed by a state of profound depression. It is during this transition that hallucinations occur. Hallucinogenic altered fugue states are the main reason people have been using Datura for millennia.
The use of Datura as an entheogen is well documented in the archeological literature pertaining to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, especially Mexico and the southwestern United States. Contemporary practice and oral tradition validate these findings. In the Old World, as we have discussed, there is a long history of Datura usage and abuse in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
When I set out to write this article, I assumed I would be focusing on the botanical description, habitat, ecology, and taxonomy of Datura. Little did I realize just how interesting and significant the genus would turn out to be. I tried to weed out some of the confusion in the literature to make it much easier for anyone who wanted to learn more to be able to jump right in. I hope I have piqued your interest and encouraged you to always stay curious about the natural world around you.
The above photo is from Southwestdesertflora.com.
Thank you to our Donors in 2020!
CDRI experienced an incredible outpouring of generosity this year! You might think that donations began pouring in once we were all affected by the shutdown caused by COVID-19, but donations began arriving just after New Year's Day. 
We are always saddened by the passing of a loved one, and especially someone who loved life to its fullest such as two individuals who passed in January 2020, who both loved Nature and specifically, the Chihuahuan Desert. Those two were Keene Ferguson of Austin and Thomas Blake Younger of Midland. You never realize how well life has been lived until one sees the outpouring of support and the sharing of loving comments as a testament to those lives. Such was the case with both Keene and Tom. Combined, donors contributed over $28,000 to CDRI. 
Throughout 2020, we also received generous donations from CDRI's Board of Directors, as well as from individual donations from CDRI supporters. And, although we didn't actively solicit grant funding during 2020, we received generous grants from 1) Travis Mathis of The Brown Foundation and 2) a Texas Family Foundation which requests to remain anonymous, for a combined total of $19,000. 
We thank each of you for your generosity and for your support. It helped us in a large way to get through this year.
We are grateful to all of our donors and will provide a complete listing in the January 2021 Desert NewsFlash.. 
And, for those of you who wish to make a donation at the end of the year, we've set aside the entire month of December for you! We'll gladly recognize your donation in the January 2021 Desert NewsFlash. And, not to sound presumptuous, but merely showing gratitude, we thank you, in advance, for your generosity. Thank you!
We wish to say one more time in 2020,
"Thank you for your generous support in helping us achieve our Mission to promote public awareness, appreciation, and concern for nature generally, and for the natural diversity of the Chihuahuan Desert region specifically, through education, the visitor experience, and through the support of research." 
Thank you to our Volunteers!
For many of us, we can attest to the unique and special way in which family events are celebrated and how a particular way of celebrating quickly becomes an expected and highly anticipated "tradition." Like family occasions, CDRI's Volunteer Appreciation Dinner has become one of those traditions.  For the past four years, on the first Saturday in December, toward the end of our workday, we would clear the Powell Visitor Center of all its furnishings and set up banquet tables complete with holiday decorations. Maria and Manny Dutchover would arrive just before 5:00 to deliver enchiladas, tamales, guacamole, beans, and rice from their restaurant, Poco Mexico. Then, the CDRI team, Board of Directors, and volunteers would be next to arrive to enjoy a delicious dinner, along with an evening of fun, while appreciating friends and recognizing contributions made by CDRI's volunteers. 
2020, however,  has been the year of breaking with tradition, albeit only temporarily. We're disappointed that we won't be able to carry on the tradition of the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner this year due to it being 1) a large group, and 2) the event takes place indoors.  
Even though we can't honor our volunteers in person, we're taking the opportunity to honor them in a small way with the photos, below. 
    Volunteers and CDRI staff had a brief moment to get a group photo before the start of the 2020 Cactus Sale,       March 9, 2020. Volunteers in the above photo, front row, are Roy Saffel, Mary Beadleston, Dave Boner, and      CDRI Board President Anne Adams.  Back row: Cameron Adams, Dustin Woods, Barbara Hoffman, and Marty Havran.
Above left, David Scott unloaded Tinaja stone planters for the Cactus Sale. Seth Hamby and Marty Havran moved plants to a  safe location until time for the Cactus Sale. Lico Miller was also helping unload tinaja planters. 
Above left: Julie Seiverman was a tremendous help in August and September working at the Admissions Window. Above center: Nancy Foxworthy, and above right: Judy Reichelderfer, worked with Seth repotting cactus.
     CDRI Board Vice President Jim Martinez and Daniel Botello plant agaves and cacti gifted to the
     Botanical Garden by Jim.

     Our wonderful Host Campers! Above, left: BJ King; Above, center: David Boner; Above, right:
      Mary Beadleston.
We're closed on Wednesdays, but that doesn't mean we're not working!
  Steven Hamilton, CDRI Maintenance Supervisor, added gravel to the parking lot. 

When the Nature Center reopened in June 2020, we did so with reduced staffing. Wednesdays and Sundays had historically been our slowest day, so we made the decision to close on those two days. What began as a cost-saving step has actually become a life-saver, allowing us to efficiently take care of needed maintenance that would be nearly impossible to get done while welcoming visitors to the Nature Center.  Wednesdays have become our get-the-work-done day of the week. That includes using the weedeater or the lawnmower around the Powell Visitor Center,  filling in gravel in the parking lot, the roadway, or the trails, and taking care of other maintenance and repairs as required that would otherwise disrupt the visitor experience.  
We've found that Wednesday is a great day to schedule volunteer activities. Volunteers Judy Reichelderfer and Nancy Foxworthy have volunteered to help Seth, CDRI's Head Gardener, to repot cactus and tidy up planting areas in the Botanical Garden and outside of the Powell Visitor Center. Both Judy and Nancy have been volunteering their time almost every Wednesday since early summer. 
On November 17 (another Wednesday) CDRI held its Adopt-a-Highway cleanup. We picked up trash and debris from an area that makes up the two-mile stretch of highway frontage that CDRI is responsible for, which conveniently spans a mile in either direction from CDRI's front gate. Volunteers who helped with the cleanup include Anne Adams, Nancy Foxworthy, Judy Reichelderfer, Martin Havran, Cameron Pratt, Pam Cook, and CDRI's Team consisting of Seth Hamby, Steven Hamilton, and Lisa Fargason Gordon
CDRI's next scheduled volunteer work-day will be Wednesday, December 9.  We'll start at 9:30 a.m. The work will consist of walking or hiking the trails, clearing the paths of any loose rock, and trimming possible overgrowth of grasses or tree limbs that might be encroaching on the trails.  If you've got Wednesday open on your calendar, please come on down and join us. Email lgordon@cdri.org for additional information about volunteering.   

Give the Gift of Nature


Open the Door to


Gift Memberships
Starting at $35
From the "best rural
Nature Center in Texas,"
we wish you
Happy Holidays
and always,
Happy Trails!
                                 Photo shared by CDRI host camper, friend, and photographer Andy Morgan.
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, P.O. Box 905, Fort Davis, TX 79734


This email was sent to . To ensure that you continue receiving our emails,
please add us to your address book or safe list.
manage your preferences | opt out using TrueRemove®
Got this as a forward? Sign up to receive our future emails.
powered by

Subscribe to our email list.