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CDRI Desert NewsFlash
April 2021
    Echinocereus viridiflorus v. canus, (common name: Graybeard hedgehog cactus). Photo by Alan Wintz.
Welcome to the April 2021 Desert NewsFlash!  

We've got a lot to share with you about signs of spring at the Nature Center, with the biggest sign of spring being Spring Break (March 8-20).  To all who visited, thank you for your thoughtfulness in remembering to wear your mask, and thank you for practicing social distancing from others who were not in your group. We're delighted you chose to spend part of your Spring Break with us! 
If you enjoyed your visit, please consider posting a review on the website  TripAdvisor.comTripAdvisor provides a site for visitor comments and reviews. It's a useful marketing tool for us, as well as it provides future visitors with helpful information.  Thank you!
Beginning this month, we've added a few more benefits to our membership plans. Information about new benefits that affect you and your CDRI membership follows this article.  
We hope you enjoy this issue of the Desert NewsFlash. And, we hope you can visit soon!  
Your CDRI Membership Just Got
a Lot More Exciting!

CDRI has recently joined the American Horticultural Society which offers an expansive Reciprocal Admissions Program. Why is this exciting? If you are a member at CDRI, you now have free admission to over 330 Botanical Gardens across the United States. We've provided a link to the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal Admissions Program (AHS-RAP) so that you can plan your garden visits in the coming months. All you need to do is present your CDRI membership card at any of the participating Botanical Gardens for free admission, store discounts, and other membership benefits offered through the AHS-RAP.
CDRI is also a member of the Association of Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) which allows you free admission to more than 125 Nature Centers across the country. We've included a link to the ANCA site for a listing of participating nature centers. 
We're also opening the Nature Center & Botanical Gardens on Wednesdays, from 9:00 a.m. - Noon for CDRI members-only starting Wednesday, April 14.  If you're interested in coming to hike or to visit the garden on a Wednesday, please email us in advance at programs@cdri.org or call 432-364-2499.
If you have been thinking about becoming a new member or renewing your membership with the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens, today might be the perfect day to join.  It's easy! Membership dues provide nearly 15% of CDRI's operating budget, which is a vital component of our growth and sustainability.  And, your support helps us achieve our mission to promote public awareness, appreciation, and concern for nature generally and the Chihuahuan Desert region specifically, through education, the visitor experience, and through the support of research. 
 Recent interest in the spring arrival of turkey vultures in the Fort Davis region inspired us to share the following article from the Desert NewsFlash, Sept. 2017, by Rick Herrman, immediate past Executive Director at CDRI and now Treasurer on the CDRI Board of Directors. Updates to the article are by Lisa Gordon, Executive Director, CDRI. 
In Praise of Turkey Vultures
One of Nature’s Top “Sanitation Engineers”
In the Davis Mountain’s sky island area, we tend to mark the arrival of spring with the presence of the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura).  Very near us (to the south, in the lower elevations of Presidio County near the Rio Grande) these birds can be found year-round.  Their 5 to 6-foot wingspan, combined with their soaring ability, especially when flying with a large group – known as a “kettle” – circling high in the sky, make them hard to miss.

Physical Features
Turkey vultures got their name due to their red, featherless heads resembling that of a wild turkey. They have dark brown, almost black, feathers (plumage).  When in flight, the underneath side of their nearly 6-foot wingspan has a whitish-silvery color. Although appearing somewhat awkward when taking flight from the ground, turkey vultures are graceful flyers that soar on thermals – often rocking from side to side while soaring.

Feeding Behavior
The turkey vulture is a scavenger. It is noteworthy to point out that it is the only scavenger bird that can’t kill its prey.  It seeks carrion by soaring over open or partly wooded country, watching the ground, and watching the actions of other scavengers. Turkey vultures are able to locate carrion by odor, as they are one of a few birds possessing a well-developed sense of smell.  The birds “can smell very diluted plumes of volatile gases in the air column, hundreds of feet above the ground,” stated Gary Graves, Smithsonian Institution researcher and vulture expert in an important study co-authored by Graves. Graves added that turkey vultures “circle around like bloodhounds to seek the source of the odor.” It’s suggested that once they “smell” a meal, they fly in a circular pattern – using this flight technique to switch to a more specific visual mode of locating their food source.  Having the ability to smell carrion only 12-24 hours old, they prefer “fresh” meat and will refuse rotting or putrefied carcasses. Turkey vultures lack the strength in their feet to carry their food, so they consume carrion at the site in which it was found. 
Turkey vultures don’t build nests. Instead, they lay their eggs in caves, rock crevices, fallen trees, hollow logs, and abandoned hawk nests to name just a few possible nesting sites. A turkey vulture will lay 1-2 eggs, which both parents incubate for a period of time between 30-40 days.  Once hatched, parents take turns at the nest, almost never leaving the chicks alone.  Both parents feed the young by regurgitation. If the young are approached while in the nest, they defend themselves by hissing and regurgitating. Fledging occurs at around 9-10 weeks, with young fledglings staying near the nest site up to 12 weeks of age.

Experienced birders can often identify a turkey vulture by its call.  Turkey vultures lack a syrinx, the vocal organ of birds, to make what most of us would call a bird song. Most of their vocalizations come down to a form of a low, guttural hiss made when they are irritated or vying for a better spot on a carcass. They also may give a low, nasal whine while in flight.  Various websites have recorded calls, which quite frankly, are eerie and “match” the overall look, character, and “role” of this amazing bird. We’ve shared a link from All About Birds with their distinctive sound: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Turkey_Vulture/sounds. The only thing creepier would be if they could vocalize, “Good evening and good night!” in a deep, resonant tone like Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931).

The species is monogamous, with evidence suggesting that a pair of turkey vultures will remain together until death.
Turkey vultures roost together in large community groups, sometimes as large as 100 or more, at the tops of trees or on dead tree limbs. Their nightly ritual of finding a limb on which to settle, then adjusting by flapping their wings, followed by several birds regrouping, can go on until dark when they finally settle in for the night.
North American Migration Map
  •   The Purple color indicates All Seasons - Common
  •   The Red color indicates Breeding - Common
  •   The Pink color indicates Breeding - Uncommon

Miscellaneous Attributes
In spite of their dirty work, the turkey vulture is a very clean bird. Their spread-winged poses, seen often perching on fence posts, are both to warm up - especially on a cool morning, and for “solar” baths. 
One video that was taken at a raptor center (some debate re. this classification, due to their weak talons and beaks, causing them to largely eat dead “prey”), amusingly pointed out the “Three Ps” of Turkey Vultures: i) they “pee” their legs for cooling, ii) they “projectile” vomit as a defense mechanism, and iii) they “pick” their noses, which lack a septum, to remove food after a feeding. 
                                                                                                                                              Glenn Bartley/VIREO
Nature Needs Them
Some people see these birds as being “nasty,” or they are fearful of them because of their size. Some people have expressed concern for the safety of their small pets or children. As stated earlier, turkey vultures don’t have the strength in their feet to carry prey. They only eat what has already died. They are nature’s clean-up crew. They do the dirty work by eliminating dead, rotting animals in the wild and along the roadside -- which, if left unattended to, would lead to disease and pestilence.
We hope that by shedding some light on this bird, that it will be appreciated for its high degree of socialization, its amazing abilities, and its very important place in nature.
Spring in the Botanical Gardens 

After a long winter, when the grass looks like dried straw, and it’s difficult to remember what any color other than yellow in the landscape looks like, you might happen to see a bright, red patch of flowers blooming off in the distance on a craggy, rocky mountainside in the Davis Mountains region. This early-blooming cactus is the claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) which is always the first to announce that spring has arrived. At CDRI, we usually see the first flowers open on the last days of March, and they are at their prettiest through April.
 Echinocereus is from the Greek echinos, meaning "hedgehog," and cereus meaning "wax taper." Early European settlers thought the plant’s spiny exterior resembled that of a hedgehog, while its spiny clumps of cylindrical stems -- sometimes numbering up to 100 or more -- fit the description of  a “wax taper.”  Triglochidiatus describes the plant’s spines arranged in clusters of three.
In addition to its bright red color, the claret cup’s flowers are distinctive for shape, morphology, and timing of availability as their bloom cycle coincides with the arrival of hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are well-recognized as the most common pollinator of the claret cup cactus. A hummingbird must get its entire head deep into the funnel-shaped flower to reach the nectar chamber. By doing so, the hummingbird assists in the transfer of pollen from the flower as the hummingbird's face and head rub against the flower’s stigma and anthers.
Claret cup cactus produces fleshy rounded fruits about one-inch long and variable in color from green to yellow to pink. The outside of each fruit has spines that may be rubbed off, with the inside consisting of a juicy white edible pulp surrounding the black seeds. In addition to the fruits, Native Americans are known to have eaten the stems. After burning off the spines, claret cup stems were mashed and baked with sugar to produce sweet cakes.
We invite each of you to visit the Botanical Gardens in the next few weeks to appreciate the claret cup cactus in full bloom. 
The above photo was taken in the Botanical Gardens on 4/4/2020. Below, is another claret cup cactus in the Botanical Gardens, photographed on 3/30/2021, and ready to burst into a show of red flowers. 
Please Join Us
CDRI's Adopt a Highway Clean-Up 
Wednesday, April 7, 9:30 - 11:30 a.m. 

You're invited to join CDRI volunteers to help clean up the roadway along a one-mile stretch in either direction from the CDRI entrance gates.
We'll start at 9:30 a.m. and finish by 11:30 a.m. We'll provide sturdy trash bags, safety vests, long-handled trash grabbers, bottled water, and snacks.
We think you'll agree it's fun to get out with friends and fun to make new friends.  Contact programs@cdri.org.
Authors of Marfa Garden 
Featured in Interview
Trinity University Press and Maverick Book Club recently hosted an interview with the authors of Marfa Garden: The Wonders of Dry Desert PlantsThe interview was with Jim Martinez, Mary Lou Saxon, Jim Fissel, and Martha Hughes, moderated by Rainer Judd of The Judd Foundation. Marfa Garden is a stunning guide, as well as a beautiful coffee table book, celebrating the flowering plants of the Chihuahuan Desert. 
Jim Martinez is on the CDRI Board of Directors as Vice-President. Martinez and Jim Fissell have both been a tremendous help in our landscape project at the Cactus Greenhouse, along with the planning and design of the interpretive signage accompanying the project.
Marfa Garden can be purchased at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and at Trinity University Press

Celebrate Earth Day at Your CDRI Nature Center

Created 51 years ago, April 22, 1970, Earth Day is celebrated each year on April 22. This year, Earth Day's global theme "Restore the Earth" is intended to "bring hope that all people can come together to heal the planet."  Wherever you may find yourself on April 22, please take a moment, or longer, to go outdoors and appreciate nature. 
Earthday.org is honoring the occasion with a virtual celebration April 20 - 22. Earth Day activities can be accessed here
We like to think of every day as being Earth Day at the Nature Center. We're sharing photos (below) from "Earth Day 2020" with a reminder that we each have a responsibility to care for and maintain the beauty and diversity of life on this planet we call home. 
Photos were taken on Earth Day 2020. Identification of images above, top row: Faxon Yucca and Ocotillo; middle row: Fragrant Ash, Lacey's Oak, and Mexican Blue Oak; and bottom row: Sumac ad Goldenball Leadtree. 
One more sign of the arrival of spring!
Come visit "your" 
CDRI Nature Center & Botanical Gardens 
and take in all that the season has to offer!
See you soon!
      Our season's first sighting of a black-chinned hummingbird on March 18. Photo: Alan Wintz.   
Save the Date:
CDRI's Cookout & Auction fundraiser
Saturday, September 25, 2021
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, P.O. Box 905, Fort Davis, TX 79734


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