Just getting the word out for the AZGFD Sugarloaf Tortoise Surveys. Please direct any questions or interest to Audrey:
Hi Turtles Project Volunteers and Colleagues,
The desert tortoises at our Sugarloaf study site have started to emerge from hibernation, and so we are kicking off our desert tortoise survey season for the year. The site is about an hour east of Phoenix, in Tonto National Forest. For those of you who didn’t get to join us last year, our research at Sugarloaf is focusing on home range and habitat use of juvenile tortoises – so, we are searching for juvenile tortoises to add to our radio telemetry project. Last year we were fortunate enough to find 5 juveniles, which we have been tracking since last spring/summer. This means that in addition to assisting with the survey, you will also have the opportunity to assist with tracking desert tortoises with radio-telemetry. This is the first study of its kind in the Sonoran Desert, and we are extremely excited about continuing to collect this important information on juvenile desert tortoise behavior.
The surveys involve hiking/bouldering in search of active and inactive (hiding) juvenile tortoises. With the steep terrain, the hiking can be very strenuous. You should also be prepared for the potential for running into catclaw acacia and encountering rattlesnakes (we have already seen 2 blacktailed rattlesnakes at Sugarloaf in the past 2 weeks). You will need to wear hiking shoes and long pants, along with a pack with water and snacks. The site is off Highway 87 (the Beeline) about 10 miles east of Saguaro Lake. It takes between 30-60 minutes to get there, depending on where you are in the valley. Because of the difficulty of the terrain, we limit this volunteer opportunity to volunteers who are at least 18 years old. I am attaching a few pictures from this year and last year of the study area, one of our transmittered tortoises, and a few other species we regularly encounter.
Our surveys are generally on Wednesdays and Fridays, with a few exceptions. Below are our survey dates, along with the times (the start time is the time we meet at the site).
Apr 6, 8 (10am-2pm)
Apr 13, 15, 20, 22 (8am-12pm)
May 11, 13, 16 (7am-11am)
May 25, 27 (6am-10am)
June 1, 3 (6am-10am)
If you would like to participate, send me an e-mail with your full name, phone number, and the date(s) you are interested in. If you are signing up a friend as well, please send me their name and contact information as well (and copy them on the email). You may sign up for more than one survey. I will e-mail you back with a confirmation of the survey date, directions to the site, and a list of specific items you need to bring and what to expect.
We appreciate the literally thousands of hours our dedicated volunteers have worked towards the conservation of our native turtles and tortoises in the last few years. Our work would simply not be possible without your level of enthusiasm and commitment. We are looking forward to working with everyone again this year!
The AZ Game & Fish Turtles Project (Audrey Owens, Andy Bridges, and Cristina Jones)
Wildlife Specialist, Turtles Project
Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway
Phoenix, AZ 85086
(623) 236-7504 phone
(623) 236-7926 fax