Purple Owl Clover - Red Canyon, Sedona, AZ

Purple Owl Clover – Red Canyon, Sedona, AZ by Derek von Briesen

The lands comprising the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock National Monument support a great diversity of plant and animal species. This diversity is the result of the large number of biotic communities found at elevations between 3500 and 6700 feet. This undulating topography includes mountains, canyons, grasslands, riparian environments, forests, savannahs, and chaparral, providing environments of varying temperature and humidity that affect habitat development. Of the nine main biotic communities in Arizona, the area has all but two. These seven biotic communities support 1400 plant species, about one-third of the flora known to occur in Arizona.

Among the rare plant species found here are Arizona bugbane, cliff fleabane, spreading false pennyroyal, manyleaf mousetail, alcove bog orchid, four species of rare agaves, an unusual spikerush (Eleocharis), and Lynghom’s brakefern (one of the rarest ferns in North America, with fewer than 100 individuals known). An entirely new plant species, the Verde breadroot, was just recently discovered.

Mammals found in the area include pronghorn, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, four species of skunks, coatimundis, ringtails, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, gray foxes, coyotes, javelinas, cottontails and jackrabbits, squirrels, raccoons, rock squirrels, cliff chipmunks, Western harvest mice, Harris antelope ground squirrels, brush mice, and 18 species of bats.

The area is home to some 200 species of birds—passerines, waterfowl, wading birds, fowl-like birds, miscellaneous nonpasserine birds (such as kingfishers, pigeons, doves, hummingbirds, orioles, cuckoos, and woodpeckers), and raptors, including the second-largest population of nesting peregrine falcons in the state. Other rare birds living here are Mexican spotted owls, yellow-billed cuckoos, black hawks, and bald eagles.

Reptiles include 15 species of lizards, turtles, and many venomous and nonvenomous snakes. The area is home to one of the largest populations of rare narrow-headed garter snakes in the United States. The Mexican garter snake, another very rare reptile species, is unique to the area.

Riparian areas of the monument support populations of native fish, including longfin dace, loach minnows, roundtail chubs, Sonora and desert suckers, Gila topminnows, desert pupfish, razorback suckers, and speckled dace. Their environments are under great pressure and urgently in need of protection.

Birds of the Monument Area

The proposed Red Rock National Monument area comprises 160,000+ acres and encompasses two sub-watersheds in central Arizona: Oak Creek and part of Beaver Creek. Within a relatively small circumference around Sedona proper there is tremendous elevation change ranging from 3000 feet to over 8000 feet supporting several biological life zones, which results in numerous diverse habitats. This kind of geographic diversity and the wildlife it supports is unique. For this reason the greater Sedona region and its urban wildland interface continues to be important geographically for ecological research by such facilities as Northern Arizona University, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Colorado Plateau Research Station – leaders in avian biology

Grussing - blue heron in flight

Blue Heron by Ted Grussing

Three wilderness designations lie within the Oak Creek watershed: part of Munds Mountain Wilderness, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness and Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. The Oak Creek riparian corridor from Red Rock State Park to the Page Springs Fish Hatchery is designated an Audubon Important Birding Area. The entire riparian corridor boasts of well over 200 bird species.

In 1976, Beaver Creek was designated a biosphere reserve due to its unique flora and fauna. The Beaver Creek watershed is among the most biologically diverse areas in the state of Arizona. Studies have identified well over 100 species of birds there. Further studies, it is estimated, would reveal closer to 200 species.

These two perennial streams flow into the Verde River, which flows 200 miles from its headwaters in Chino Valley and joins the Salt River near Fountain Hills, Arizona. As part of this extensive watershed system , Oak and Beaver Creeks are migration corridors for hundreds of neo-tropical species, used by thousands of individuals from Mexico, Central, and South America winging their way north to their breeding grounds. These are important routes of the inland Pacific flyway. There are over 250 species of birds that live or migrate through these unique habitats of grassland, riparian corridors, rugged cliffs, and foothills of pinon and juniper.

Fish and Wildlife of the Sedona Red Rocks Area

The Sedona area lies in a transition zone between higher elevations of the Colorado Plateau to the north and lower lands of the Sonoran Desert to the south. The area’s rich diversity of wild species reflects both this in-between situation and the variety of vegetation types present including desert lands, pinion-juniper woodlands, grasslands, and riparian corridors.

Some of the wildlife diversity is seasonal due to both long-distance migration and shorter localized travel to higher or lower elevation in response to winter conditions or summer heat. As one might expect in a transition zone, there are also many adaptable and widely distributed species found here as year-round residents common to both the high country and desert lands on either side.

Photo by: Garrett Dauphars

Photo by: Garrett Dauphars

Oak Creek is a perennial, state-designated special waterway that bisects Sedona. The presence of such a major riparian corridor, along with ephemeral and intermittent streams such as Dry Creek, greatly enhance the diversity of wild species found here. The variety of habitats found near Sedona results in the area also holding a significant share of threatened, endangered, and sensitive species as well. A large number of these are connected to the Oak Creek corridor and other riparian habitats.

Wildlife seen locally that are more commonly associated with cooler pine forests of the high country around Flagstaff above the Mogollon Rim include elk, Steller’s jays, juncos, and goshawks. Some of these are only winter visitors. Sedona is also home to wildlife more typically found in lower desert landscapes around Phoenix or Tucson such as Gambel’s quail, several species of rattlesnakes, numerous kinds of lizards, including the Gila monster, and several types of hummingbirds.

Among commonly seen and widely distributed species that are year-round residents are mammals such as mule deer, coyotes, javelina, cottontail rabbits, and chipmunks. Also widely distributed but less commonly seen mammals include pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, bobcats, black bears, Coues whitetail deer, and a number of bat species.

Pronghorn antelope are of high interest and are identified by the Forest Service as an indicator species for the impacts of habitat management activities. As with so many animals whose survival is of concern, destruction or alteration of pronghorn habitat is a key factor. Road building and advance of urban areas both destroy and fragment their habitat.

Gambels quail - Ted Grussing

Photo by: Ted Grussing

Even the casual observer will regularly see resident birds such as Gambel’s quail, ravens, scrub jays, doves, finches and several species of sparrows. Those more skilled in bird observation and identification will discover nearly 150 bird species around Sedona. These include a variety of resident, migratory, and part-time wintering or nesting species such as ducks, herons, hawks, shorebirds, owls, swallows, flycatchers, warblers, turkey vultures, roadrunners, and cardinals.

Bald and golden eagles both live and nest in the Sedona area and are considered sensitive species of special interest to state and federal agencies. Bald eagles are more often seen around riparian corridors while foraging, especially during the winter.

Amphibians, including frogs and toads, are limited to areas having seasonal or perennial water, including Oak Creek, stock ponds, temporary pools in washes, urban water features, and ephemeral streams. Boundaries of the proposed National Monument do not exactly follow the boundaries of Forest Service administrative areas or Arizona Game and Fish Department districts. Such boundaries are often used in agency lists, making it difficult to exactly enumerate which of several species of frogs and toads actually inhabit the proposed National Monument area. The same is true of a number of reptiles including snakes, lizards, and turtles.

IMG_0068 Small (ringneck) snake on path

Ringneck Snake Photo By: Birgit Loewenstein

Reptiles are significantly more abundant than amphibians in this transition zone because they are not dependent on water for a part of their life cycle. As many as 20 snake species and upwards of 15 kinds of lizards live in or near Sedona.   Gopher and garter snakes are the most commonly observed snake species, but both spiny and whiptail lizard species most often catch the human eye. Some of the lizards are particularly difficult to identify without the ability to closely observe subtle color markings or specific scale patterns.

Other than a few ponds on private lands, Oak Creek is the sole habitat for local fish species. Arizona Game and Fish Department stocks the creek with rainbow trout above Sedona on a “put and take” basis and there are naturally spawning brown trout present. Neither trout species is native to Oak Creek. Native fish that still inhabit Oak Creek in and near Sedona are almost all considered to be sensitive or having a greater conservation need. From Sedona downstream, the creek also contains a number of introduced warm-water fish species such as bass, sunfish, and catfish.

Lands around Sedona host a number of species whose continued survival is of concern to one or more public agencies. Threatened, endangered, and sensitive species of greatest conservation need are so labeled to classify species of concern, depending on the particular state or federal agency’s system and who is making the decision. Everyone may not agree on a particular species’ status. Lowland leopard frogs, Clark’s grebe, loach minnows, narrow-headed garter snakes, Page Springs snails, common black hawk, roundtail chub and peregrine falcon are some of those fish and wildlife in and around Sedona that share one or more of those labels. Their diversity, like that of all fish and wildlife in the Sedona area, underlines the wide variety of wild species that inhabit this very special piece of Arizona.

Additional information on fish and wildlife of the Sedona area is available through these agencies and organizations:

               Arizona Game and Fish Department

               U.S. Forest Service Red Rock Ranger District

              Arizona State Parks

              Northern Arizona Audubon