Tort Tattler – Changes in the Habitat

It was such a crazy spring that the first tortoise didn’t come out until mid-March. Usually Betty comes out the first week of February, but she must have been stuck at the back of a burrow. Willie
was the first one out on March 12. Roxie, our five-year-old, two-pound tortoise made it through the

She snuggled up next to Shelby in the deepest burrow. By the beginning of April, all of the tortoises were out.

It didn’t take long for the tortoises to warm up and start eating. Volunteers feed the tortoises
every Wednesday and Saturday morning through the end of September. The tortoises are waiting for us at 8 a.m. when the Visitor Center opens. If the weather is mild, they may take an hour or more to finish eating. If it’s hot, they can clean their plates in half an hour!

Every Monday morning the volunteers soak the tortoises. It’s always fun to see their colorful clean
shells after a soak.

In early June, Chelsea and Sue took Max to the vet for a check-up. Max weighs 15 and a half pounds. The vet examined him and he doesn’t have a bladder stone and is in good health. He was actually good in the car.

Most tortoises think that it very unnatural to go 65 miles an hour!


You may have heard that we are retiring as Tort Team Leads at the end of the season. We’re happy to tell you that Chelsea Conlin will be taking over in October. Chelsea is originally from upstate
New York and lived in Japan and Kentucky before moving to Las Vegas six years ago. You probably already know her as she’s volunteered in the habitat and on other Friends Teams at Red Rock.

We’ll be working together for the rest of the season to make for a seamless transition. The torts won’t even notice!

If you’d like to join the Tort Team, we’re having the last training session of the year in August.

Email us at for more information.

We’ll see you in the habitat!

Monarchs and Milkweed Matter


It may surprise many people in Las Vegas, but the monarch butterfly does indeed inhabit
Southern Nevada during migration.

During the summer of 2015, Friends of Red Rock Canyon decided to help the monarch butterfly
by applying for a grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). After eight very busy weeks, Friends submitted an application to NFWF with the official title of “The Southern Nevada Milkweed Mapping, Seed Production and Distribution Project.”

The goals of the grant included mapping milkweed plant locations, collecting milkweed seeds and planting milkweed plants.

How do milkweed plants help the monarch butterfly?

Monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed plants as the plant is the only food source
for monarch caterpillars. The milkweed plant provides all the nourishment the caterpillar needs
to transform into the adult butterfly. Unfortunately, milkweed plants have been disappearing throughout their habitat.

The cause?

Habitat loss due to land development and the widespread spraying of weed killer on the fields where they grow.

NFWF awarded Friends the $135,346 grant in September 2015. Now was the time to get busy,
recruit volunteers and get this project off the ground. Friends contracted with Doyle Wayman
as the project manager.

The project name was shortened to the Southern Nevada Milkweed Project, or SNMP.

The SNMP team organized volunteers into several groups including those who mapped milkweed plants in the field, those who collected and cleaned seeds, greenhouse volunteers who propagated milkweed plants and data entry volunteers.

Click here for a video on the project hosted by Doyle Wayman.

After volunteer training was completed, three Field Teams traveled throughout Southern Nevada
and located eight native plant species, including Showy, Desert, Spider, Horsetail, Narrowleaf, Davis, Rush, and Climbing. The Field Teams went out twice a week, mapping and collecting data at each plant location.

The team collected and cleaned seeds from plants within Warm Springs, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Sandy Valley, Cottonwood Valley, Clark County Wetlands Park, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, Lovell and Trout Canyons, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and the Bird Spring Range.

From the beginning of the project through the end of October 2016, the SNMP team: mapping and seed collection.

  • Conducted 43 field team  sessions including mapping and seed collection
  • Had 24 greenhouse sessions with 22,500 seeds planted and 12,000 plants grown.
  • Coordinated six sessions in the field with more than 6,000 milkweeds planted thanks
    to almost 150 volunteers.

Unfortunately, the plants had very high mortality rates. The milkweed seeds were originally grown in material made with earthworm casings, Q-Plugs, which were a big attraction for
rodents and birds. Attracted by the earthworm odor, they dug out and ate the plug and sometimes even the entire plant.

The larger plants grown in potting soil did better, although that process took additional time and labor to complete.

Greenhouse propagation continued during late winter of 2016 and early 2017 and new out-plantings occurred during March and April 2017. The greenhouse sessions continued twice a week with activities such as collecting seeds from the plants in the nursery and surrounding area and cleaning milkweed seeds.

The plants that were propagated up to this point were out-planted, with the remaining 3,500 plants in the greenhouse re-potted and moved to the outside of the greenhouse in semi-shade. These plants continued to grow until they were used in out-plantings in the fall of 2017.

During the course of the two-year project, it was discovered that there was a lot of interest in
creating pollinator gardens throughout Southern Nevada.

The out-plantings that took place in 2017 included native pollinator plants in addition to milkweed
plants. Many connections and interest in pollinator gardens were made between the SNMP Team
and Master Gardeners, Green Our Planet, Faith Lutheran Middle and High School, Red Rock
Audubon Society, Great Basin Water Company, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of
Success program.

Glenda Bona was named as SNMP Program Manager in July 2017; she and the team continued
to grow milkweed plants. Out-planting sessions of both plants and seed were conducted from September through October.

The fifth and final out-planting took place at the Clark County Cooperative Extension Botanical Gardens with the Master Gardeners planting 100 pollinator plants, including milkweed. The Botanical Gardens is experimenting with growing a wide variety of milkweed and other pollinator attractors.  The “Milkweed Trials” feature small groupings of milkweed planted throughout the 3.5 acre Botanical Gardens.


Overall, SNMP had a low success rate with milkweed planted in non-irrigated and
wildlife populated areas. The SNMP Team estimated that 95 percent of the plants
died either from lack of water or uncontrolled wildlife, particularly rabbits and wild
burros. However, out-plantings in areas that could be more easily monitored and had
a source of water had a much higher rate of survival.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, there were many positive outcomes from the
SNMP. The SNMP Team located and mapped a large number of milkweed plants and
collected well over a million seeds. A good replacement to Q-plugs for growing milk-
weed plants was found, the team collaborated with several partners and others in the
community to make this project a success, and seeds and plants were given to those
who will improve monarch butterfly habitats in Southern Nevada.

To obtain a copy of the final grant report, please contact Kristi Weeks, Executive
Director of Friends of Red Rock Canyon at 702-515-5366

Wiping Out Graffiti at Red Rock Day

By Kristi Weeks

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hosts three community volunteer events each year. National Public Lands Day and Make a Difference Day take place in the fall and Red
Rock Day is scheduled to coincide with Earth Day.

To make these events successful, BLM partners with REI, the nonprofit organizations Southern Nevada Conservancy  and Friends of Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Day was held on April 21 at the First Creek Trail within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

With over two million visitors a year, one of the most disturbing trends experienced at Red Rock Canyon is the increase in intentional damage, specifically graffiti applied to cliff faces and boulders within Red Rock Canyon.

Unfortunately, First Creek Trail is heavily impacted by graffiti on a regular basis. Forty-seven volunteers, as well as eight staff members from the BLM, participated in this event to clean graffiti off boulders.

Food and water is always provided at volunteer work day events as a way to say “thank you” to
the community members who come out to help. The day began with coffee, juice and donuts generously provided by Ashley Lee of REI. Friends coordinated the event registration and provided swag bags to event participants. The SNC staff assisted with registration, as well as staffing an Earth Day education table for volunteers and hikers.

BLM staff, team leaders and community volunteers formed six teams and successfully cleaned approximately 25 graffiti sites along the First Creek Trail.

An additional team removed one mile of old cable and eight fence posts. After the work concluded, Friends provided sandwiches, fruit, chips and cookies for the hard-working volunteers and staff. Volunteers donated more than 239 hours, including event preparation, for this successful day.

What can you do to help reduce graffiti within Red Rock Canyon?

You can join Friends’ Graffiti Removal Team and help us keep Red Rock Canyon a graffiti free zone.

Since 1997, the Graffiti Removal Team has donated nearly 2,400 hours of their time and talents to
eradicate the blight. According to Graffiti Team Lead Peter Sbraccia, the areas that experience the most damage include trails at Oak Creek, First Creek and Ice Box, along with all of the Calico Basin and Red Springs sites, especially the climbing areas.

The Graffiti Removal Team works with the BLM to compile an inventory of graffiti damage and
schedules volunteer workdays outside of summer months to remove the damage. Become a member of Friends of Red Rock Canyon and support our ongoing efforts at preserving and protecting this very special place.

You can also help by sending your vandalism photos and the GPS location (use UTM NAD 83) to: Do not confront anyone you see or suspect
of this crime but do note details to provide to BLM Law Enforcement officers.

Friends also will provide a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone defacing Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Thank you to the following Red Rock Canyon staff and volunteers who contributed to a very productive morning: John Asselin, KC Craven, Cody Dix, Cory Gozar, Cal Howell, Shelby Johnson,
Janis Kadlec, Joe Kotecki, Tom Lisby, Wyatt Mulvey, Susan Murphy, Peter Sbraccia, Penny Sinisi
and Kristi Weeks.



Birds of Red Rock Canyon

Bureau of Land Management

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is an oasis in the desert.  Its deep sandstone canyons provide a perennial water supply, cool temperatures and a wide variety of vegetation which serves as ideal habitat for many birds species.  In fact, more than 100 bird species have been identified within Red Rock Canyon.

Many birds exhibit specific behavioral traits which allow them to survive in arid lands.

Eagles and hawks conserve water by soaring in high altitude air currents where strong winds allow them to stay aloft with little exertion and temperatures can be 20 degrees cooler than at ground level.  Obtaining water is no problem for these birds; their water needs are satisfied by eating the moisture-rich flesh of small animals.  The dark silhouettes of the red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, golden eagle and other raptors can be seen against the blue sky.

Some birds have learned to use desert plants, especially those of the cactus family, for protection of captured prey.

Loggerhead Shrike

The loggerhead shrike, though a predatory bird, has weak feet and is unable to hold struggling prey in its grasp.  To immobilize prey, the shrike will often impale it on cactus spines.  It will eat the prey immediately or allow it to sun dry for later consumption.



Cactus Wren

The cactus wren, identified by its down turned bill, heavily streaked body and fan shaped tail, uses the spiny branches of the cholla cactus to protect its nests.  The nests, which resemble a football, are built from desert plant stems and flower stalks.  Up to 10 nests may be built by one pair of cactus wrens, but only one will be used to raise young.  The unoccupied nests may serve to confuse and frustrate predators not hampered by cholla spines.  The cactus wren does not wander far from its nests, rather it hunts succulent spiders, insects and larvae in the nearby vicinity.

A few birds have not only adapted behaviorally, but also have special body modifications to meet the demands of desert life.


One such bird is the roadrunner.  This desert member of the cuckoo family is a large bird about the size of a chicken.  It is heavily streaked, has a bristle tipped crest and a long tail.  It is most easily identified, however, by its habit of streaking across the desert on foot, much like the roadrunner cartoon character.  It rarely flies, but will make short, hopping flights to escape danger or aid in the capture of lizards, snakes, ground squirrels and insects.  These prey have a high percentage of body moisture which satisfies the roadrunner’s need for water.  The roadrunner pants to keep cool and voids excess blood salts through special nasal glands similar to those found in marine birds.  Watch for this lively bird throughout the 13-Mile Scenic Drive.

Many birds found in the Red Rock Canyon have no special behavioral or body adaptations.  Only the presence of water in perennial streams or potholes after rains allows them to survive in this area. Such birds include the rufous-sided towhee, mourning dove, whie-throated swift, chukar and Gambel’s quail.

Rufous-sided Towhee

The rufous-sided towhee is usually seen in oak tree and shrub vegetation near water.  Its red sides, dark head and black and white underbelly identify this bird.  It has a strong bill for crushing seeds, but it will also eat insects and berries.

The mourning dove, recognized by its plump, brown body and wedge shaped tail, needs daily drinking water in order to survive.  It arrives in red Rock during the spring months and constructs flimsy nests on shrubs or the branches of the cholla cactus within one mile of water.  These nests often fall apart during high winds or stormy weather, killing the young.  However, the high reproductive rate of these birds allows a few nests to be lost without much harm to the overall productivity of the breeding pair.  The parents feed their young a white liquid produced in their crop; the liquid is so rich in protein that young can fly in 10 days.  Some young doves have left the nest within one month.  The parents will then begin a new nest.  Adult morning doves may raise up to six separate groups of young per breeding season in this manner.  Watch for this bird as it flies to and from water sources throughout Red Rock Canyon.

The white-throated swift is a small bird with long narrow, stiff wings and a short tail.  It can be distinguished from other swifts by the contrasting black and white pattern on its underside.  Its small size and pointed wings grant it great speed and maneuverability that aid in the capture of insects.  Swifts are frequently seen flying in steep canyons and over pools of water throughout the area.

Gambel’s Quail

Both chukar and Gambel’s quail need a supply of water to supplement the moisture they derive from the seeds they eat.  Although in the same family, they prefer different habitats within the conservation area.  The Gambel’s quail occurs in the desert thickets near washes, while the chukar prefers steep, rocky slopes where grasses are plentiful.  Both rely on their feet for travel, but will make sustained flights in times of danger.


Many more bird species inhabit the Red Rock Canyon.  Click here for a full list.