Episode 46: Riparian Habitat and Bird Ecology

Listen to Episode 46 HERE...

In this weeks episode we are so fortunate to have on two wonderful bird ecologists, Sean Mahoney and Peter Motyka out of Northern Arizona University. They recently helped publish a paper (along with researchers Nell Smith, Raemy Winton, Erik Lundgren, Bo Stevens and Matthew Johnson) on bird communities who utilize non-native Russian Olive riparian habitat that dominate the banks of the San Juan River through Utah.

Photo of mixed habitat along the San Juan River at
Big Sandy, near Lime Ridge/Comb Wash.

Join us as we discuss this interesting study, the future of riparian habitat in the southwest, the threats of false science, and also offer some great advice to folks who may want to become an ecologist one day.

And stick around for a special High Desert Jamboree with guest Cato Cook from Jakarta, Indonesia where you will hear all about life in this beautiful region, musical traditions, Javan Tiger biology, the captive bird trade, and much more.

Special guest Cato Cook (on right) and friends from a bird
survey crew in Indonesia. 

Links of Note:

Sean Mahoney (ResearchGate)

Peter Motyka (ResearchGate)

Species Mentioned:

Russian OliveElaeagnus angustifolia L.

Tamarisk/Salt Cedar, Tamarix L.

Northern Tamarisk Beetle, Diorhabda carinulata 

Southwestern Willow FlycatcherEmpidonax trailii extimus

Western Yellow-billed CuckooCoccyzus americanus occidentalis

Indonesia Links of Note:

Javan TigerPanthera tigris sondaica

Javan Tiger Center, Didik Raharyono (Facebook page)

Episode 45: Spring Foraging and Urban Composting

Listen to Episode 45 HERE...

Desert Rhubarb (photo by Ron Wolf)
Our resident Plateau forager, nutritionist and culinary artist Ashley Doyle once again takes us on a walk through the Plateau, foraging for a few of the hundreds of edible and medicinal plants that pop up in the springtime. And this spring has been plentiful in our region with a much needed heavy snowpack this winter and many rainstorms during the solstice transition period.

Ashley talks about the tasty and elusive morel mushroom, the spicy and plentiful wild mustard and the interesting plant known as desert rhubarb. Desert rhubarb is one of those plants where a portion of it is edible, a portion of it can be used topically, and a portion of it is dangerous.

Also Ashley takes a trip to interview an expert in urban composting, Ryan Gordon and they discuss everything from simple ways to set up your own composting area at your home, the do's and don'ts of composting, the dangers of many chemical based gardening products, and some great resources for urban composting too.

Also, Ryan is offering up his services to folks in northern Arizona, free of charge, so if you have ever wanted to start composting and want the great advice from expert, you can contact him at gordongardenconsulting@gmail.com anytime.

Ashley Doyle, Ryan Gordon and some healthy compost.
Links of Note:

Morel Mushroom (Identification Guide)

Wild Mustard - Sinapsus arvensis (NRCS Resource page)

Desert Rhubarb - Rumex hymenosepalus (The Foragers Path Resource page)

Jeff Lowenfels (Author's webpage, as mentioned by Ryan Gordon)

Probiotic Farmers Alliance (Facebook group page, as mentioned by Ryan Gordon)

Episode 44: Endangered and Threatened Species Conservation

Listen to Episode 44 HERE...

Tune in today for a special show all about a successful technique utilized for the conservation of endangered and threatened species known as captive breeding.

Narrow-headed Gartersnake, photo by George Andrejko.

From California Condors to the Kanab Ambersnail to the Narrow-headed Gartersnake, captive breeding is not only helping to increase these imperiled populations but also ensuring their genetic diversity.

The main enclosure at the Vivarium.
We also take a trip down to the Narrow-headed Gartersnake Vivarium, led by herpetologist Erika Nowak, that is a one of a kind captive breeding facility here in northern Arizona that is helping to rescue snakes out of wildfire areas, as well as helping to increase the population of this imperiled snake. I was so fortunate to sit down and interview three of the amazing student researchers involved with the Narrow-headed Gartersnake Vivarium captive breeding program, and get their unique perspectives on the important work they are doing, on their path to becoming a scientist and how snakes are so often misunderstood.

One of the great things with the Vivarium is that you can check out a livestream of one of the enclosures. 

And if you would like to help contribute to the efforts of the Gartersnake Research Project and the Vivarium, you can always donate to them right here (Just look for the 'Donate Today' button on the right.).

Also if you would like to join in the effort as a citizen scientists you can turn in your sightings of Narrow-headed Gartersnakes ( as well as any gartersnake) right here.

Links of Note:

Gartersnake Research Project

Narrow-headed Gartersnake (Identification Page)

California Condor (Information Page)

Kanab Ambersnail (Information Page)

Why are there missing episodes?

Warm Greetings friends, just wanted to make a quick post here to explain why there are some missing episodes in this ongoing saga of science radio right here.

I have gotten quite a few emails wondering where Episode 1, Episode 36 and now Episode 43 are, and am now willing to reveal the secret behind these lost episodes...and the secret is...I am not very good with this whole technology thing...sigh...

So the very first Episode was all about the origins of the show, and the Colorado Plateau in general, and then I had on my very first guest who was none other than the legendary Ed Kabotie, an
Ed Kabotie, Hopi/Tewa artist and musician.
extraordinary artist and musician (front-man of Tha Yoties) who spoke about his life growing up on the Plateau and on Hopi, about the importance of water and of community, about the Rumble on the Mountain event that year, and he did a spectacular rendition of his song The River live in the studio (I even had to sit on the ground holding a microphone to his guitar). Anyway, I was so excited to do my first live show, and to be talking with Ed, that I completely forgot to record it. So it was lost forever, into the airwaves and into space, and I began bringing a little placard into the studio with me after that that simply said 'Hit Record You Idiot!'. Ed and I finally did another episode together (Episode 34) and we have one planned for the fall titled 'The Alternative History of the Americas' so stay tuned for that one!

 And that little placard helped me have a great run...until Episode 36.

Members of one of the epic Grand Canyon Youth trips.
Episode 36 was all about the Colorado River and I was trying to take listeners on a journey from the headwaters of the Colorado River beginning at La Poudre Pass in the Southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, at just under 2 miles above sea level, and eventually hitting the sea at the Gulf of California 1, 450 miles later. I encouraged listeners to get out a map and follow along and talked about places like Blackrocks where the river is nearly 100 feet deep, and the Kawuneeche Valley and Ruby Canyon and of course Cataract and the Grand Canyon. And the guest was none other than Tory Syracuse the Development and Communications Director for Grand Canyon Youth, a Flagstaff nonprofit that provides expeditions on the rivers of the Southwest to youth from all backgrounds. It was an amazing interview and very emotional as well, and even though I did hit record, the thumb-drive I was recording to failed and once again a beautiful episode was lost to all but those who tuned in live. But not to worry! Tory and I devised another show for the future where I will interview some of the kids who learned so much from the river and through the tireless efforts of Grand Canyon Youth.

Finally we get to the lost Episode 43...an episode devoted to bird watching on the Plateau. There was no guest this time around, just a fun journey on interesting bird species of the Plateau, riparian habitat and special place of note, as well as the joys and amazing benefits that one gets from bird watching. It was a simple show, a happy show, and a doomed show. I deleted the only file of the recording during a computer cleanup, and that show is lost forever.

Your humble host, Christopher Calvo (bottom left) with dear
friends from a Birding Club outing in FLagstaff, AZ.
So here is to that never happening again, and to another long run of no technical difficulties (I hope). Thanks so much for all the emails and for continuing to tune into this homemade science show, friends.

- Christopher Calvo

Plateau on the Radio: Episode 42 Extraction and Exploitation on the Plateau

Listen to Episode 42 HERE...

The footprints of many oil and gas drilling rigs surrounding the White River
in Utah, a tributary of the Green. Photo by Taylor McKinnon.

Journey with us today as we look to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Fantasy Canyon in Utah, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Red Gap Ranch and areas near the Petrified Forest in Arizona, and learn about the harmful practices of gas, oil and mineral extraction.

Our wonderful guest today is Lisa Test of the effective grass-roots organization No Fracking AZ, who guides us through the definition of fracking, the lack of regulations, and the very real threats due to fracking happening right now within the Coconino Aquifer, one of the cleanest aquifers in the world, right here on the Plateau. Also find out what you can do to help with their important efforts here in our region. 

Lisa Test and friends from No Fracking AZ educating
officials at a meeting in Arizona. 

Links of Note:

No Fracking AZ - Website

No Fracking AZ - Facebook

Plateau on the Radio: Episode 41 Plants of the Plateau with Sara Souther

Listen to Episode 41 HERE...

This week we focus in on the many plants of our region, specifically endemic and culturally sensitive plants.

Wildflowers in northern Arizona - photo by Lawrence Busch

As we all know the Colorado Plateau region is truly a special place, but one of the things that defines our area being so special is that we have the most endemic plants of any region in the US. And for those that might not know, endemic means that those species are found here and nowhere else. Some would argue that this fact is due to the huge size of the Colorado Plateau, spreading across four states and many sovereign tribal nations, but it is actually due to the environmental complexity that we have ranging from the alpine tundra to the high deserts as well as all the important stresses that these plants face in often harsh conditions, leading to the evolution of many new and distinct species. Biologists and other researchers have documented more than 3,000 vascular plants here on the Plateau, and of those 3,000 plants, 10% of them are endemic, and that is a very big number.

Sara Souther (NAU)
Our guest this week is plant ecologist and conservation biologist Sara Souther (Landscape Conservation Initiative), a truly wonderful person who is helping to launch the Tribal Nations Botanical Research Collaborative, a region wide inventory of the ten culturally sensitive plants that are out there. And this effort is really great because it relies on Citizen Scientists just like you to report data as you recreate and explore the forests of northern Arizona. By utilizing the iNaturalist app and taking photos you can help foragers from the tribes, scientists, and land managers better understand the ecology of these species as well as provide information on areas where sustainable harvesting can take place.

Sara and I also discuss her roots as a forager in West Virginia, the plight of the American Ginseng plant, and the importance of exploring the relationship between the plants and the people who utilize wild food, medicinal and culturally sensitive plants, and what that relationship can say about these communities themselves.

Also the mystery of the recent Juniper tree die-off all around the Plateau region, specific threats to endemic plants of our area, and local music by Sap Dabblers, Tha' Yoties, Sihasin and more!

Further Information and Reading:

Sara Souther's ResearchGate (links to research papers by the guest)

iNaturalist - Tribal Nations Botanical Research Collaborative

Further Information on Species mentioned by Sara Souther and the Host:

American Ginseng

Coyote Tobacco

Emory Oak

Blue Grama

Jones Cycladenia 

Kachina Daisy

Utah Juniper

One-seed Juniper

Plateau on the Radio: Episode 40 The San Francisco Peaks

Listen To or Download Episode 40 HERE...

The San Francisco Peaks - Photograph by Kate Graham

Join us this week as we celebrate the unique beauty of the San Francisco Peaks, in northern Arizona.
Our guest is author and ecologist Gwendolyn Waring, who recently put out a wonderful book titled 'The Natural History of the San Francisco Peaks', and this book is a thorough one, from the formation of the Peaks through multiple eruptions over several million years, to the Pleistocene era and the glacial impacts on the mountain itself, to many of the plants and animals and fungi that made their way to this isolated mountain island and somehow managed to survive. It is beautifully written, mixing science with love, and is a book that anyone could pick up and truly enjoy no matter what.

Gwendolyn shares some experiences on the San Francisco Peaks, discusses the adaptation that many species have made to survive in this often inhospitable environment, talks about the future of the peaks with climate change and mind, and so much more. A truly remarkable person, whose science and life experience on the Plateau and beyond is vast indeed.

Quaking Aspen off the 151 on the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks.
Photograph by Kate Graham.
Also, a spotlight on the Quaking Aspen, the San Francisco Peaks Groundsel, and we share the voices of the Star School students and staff, an off the grid charter school in Northern Arizona, who created a film titled 'Dook'o'oosliid' all about their connection to the sacred San Francisco Peaks.

And for High Desert Jamboree we play some mountain music for you, and hear some memories of the Peaks by resident forager of This is the Colorado Plateau; Ashley Doyle, and local photographer Kate Graham.

The San Francisco Peaks as viewed from the high desert of the
volcanic field. Photograph by Frank Schively.
Further Information and Reading:

A Natural History of the Intermountain West by Gwendolyn Waring

Doo'ko'oosliid - Short Film by the middle school students of the Star School

Species mentioned by Gwendylon Waring and the host:

San Francisco Peaks Groundsel - Packera franciscana

Corkbark Fir - Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica

Limber PinePinus flexilis

Southwestern White Pine - Pinus strobiformis

Quaking AspenPopulus tremuloides

American Pipit

Clark's Nutcracker

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Mexican Spotted Owl

Red Squirrel