Thursday, June 30, 2016

Local landowners seek to address extreme threat to San Pedro watershed

COMMENTARY (first appeared in the Sierra Vista Herald June 29, 2016)
Guest post by Peter Else

As chair of one of the landowner-based organizations challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the proposed Villages at Vigneto development’s wildlife impacts, I feel compelled to explain the harm this proposed development would bring to our watershed and to explain who are the so-called “outsiders” and the “extremists” in this debate.

Tuscany in the desert??
Not everyone in the San Pedro watershed wants a massive new retirement community — essentially a medium-sized city — to pop up in the last remaining natural river ecosystem of southern Arizona. The organization I lead represents landowners who promote conservation of the San Pedro ecosystem’s water resources that support the area’s rural lifestyles, sustainable working landscapes, hunting, and ecotourism.

Most of our members have lived in Arizona long enough to have witnessed what happens when you try to support rapid housing growth in the desert with massive year-round groundwater withdrawals. Everyone in the region is forced to dig deeper and deeper wells.

Natural riparian vegetation dies. You no longer live in a rural community where you can hunt, grow food, and live in harmony with Arizona’s wildlife.

Instead, you fight traffic caused by tens of thousands of new residents who have a very limited sense of place, going to strip malls that look like every other stick-and-stucco strip mall in the Southwest. The proposed Vigneto development will bring these unwelcome water resource and traffic impacts not only to Benson, but to the entire watershed.

The future for Benson?
We have witnessed the death of major river ecosystems in Tucson and Phoenix. Like everyone else, we’ve become resigned to the fact that the major watersheds of the so-called Sun Corridor are now supported by imported water, and rely on land in the San Pedro watershed to mitigate impacts on wildlife habitat caused by rapid development sprawl in the growth corridor.

Arizona is currently in an extended drought and has a lower priority for receiving Colorado River water via the Central Arizona Project. Will we now allow this sprawl to take over the last desert river ecosystem available to mitigate growth impacts in the Sun Corridor? If so, we would be destroying the very wildness that attracted people to this part of Arizona in the first place.

Given these facts, it appears to many of us that it is “extreme” to allow an outside corporation and a single municipal government in the watershed to rapidly push through a continuously growing plan for a new instant city larger than Flagstaff, without first examining the impacts this new plan will have on a hemispherically important desert river habitat.

We need to look before we leap at the first sugar daddy who emerges from an air-conditioned office in Phoenix with a plan for building a lush Italian city in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.

We did our best to get the Army Corps and the Town of Benson to listen to rural conservation interests, but their ears have been deaf to the long-term concerns about the impacts to the river and to nearby landowners.

It is not extreme to want to keep one of our last free-flowing rivers flowing. It is not extreme to be concerned about a truly sustainable economy. It is hardly extreme to ask that the government give this proposal a good hard look and that it seek to minimize or eliminate the harm to our precious river.


It is extreme, however, to stand idly by and watch our river and the land and ecosystem it supports dry up to profit big developers.

Peter Else is chair of the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance

TAKE ACTION!
Attend three final public meetings for the Villages at Vigneto Community Master Plan (CMP). Come prepared to share your concerns at these upcoming public meetings:
    • Planning & Zoning Commission hearing @ 7:00 PM, July 5th (Benson City Hall)
    • City Council work session @ 9:00 AM, July 9th (Cochise College Center in Benson)
    • City Council hearing @ 7:00 PM, July 18th (Benson City Hall)

Read Tucson Audubon's Conservation Alert (July 1)


Executive Director Karen Fogas's address from our Storytelling and Poetry on the San Pedro event

Friday, June 24, 2016

Owlphelia: Chronology of a Screech-Owl Nest Box

Habitat at Home yard
recognition sign
For several years now Tucson Audubon has been encouraging people to place nest boxes in their yards for desert birds. This process is now integrated with our Habitat at Home program, which asks people to do a variety of things in their yards to create safe, sustainable bird habitat. Then the program then recognizes their achievements (see the sign to the right)!

A couple years ago, one of our nest boxes went to a couple living in the Tucson foothills. They are long-time members of Tucson Audubon and had closely followed the development of this program. The box was placed on the rafters of their second floor balcony where they hoped it would catch the attention of American Kestrels. It didn't, so in late 2015 they felt they needed to make a change. They decided to move the box to another location where it might be more successful.

Western Screech-Owl (Doris Evans)
In October 2016 Tucson Audubon Society's Bringing Birds Home Program Manager, Kendall Kroesen, helped them find a new place for the box in a palo verde tree near the house. The reasoning was that this new location might be good for attracting Western Screech-Owls.

Below is a chronology of events starting when the first owl moved in, which they named Owlphelia! This is based on reports from the residents of this home. (If you have a nest box, we would love to see your reports of activities in your box!)

October 8, 2015
Box moved to palo verde tree.

March 4, 2016
When I went to put down the window shade this morning, I happened to look out at the bird house you and we had moved to the large mesquite tree. Lo and behold there was a face in the hole!!!  I had been hearing a screech-owl recently at night that sounded quite close by. It must have been he, or she? Very excited. We've named her Owlphelia.

First screech-owl sighting in box
      

March 8, 2016
We checked the box last night after our resident left to hunt and/or find a mate. No eggs. Will check again next week. 

March 30, 2016
We noticed the first egg March 23, the second one March 26, and the third one March 29! 

April 4, 2016
Normally when we check the box at dark every few days, there is no one home. Last night when we went to do the same, an owl flew out when we opened the box. There are three eggs and we were able to get some pictures of them. An owl is perched in his/her usual whole today, so it looks as though we did not scare them off!

Three screech-owl eggs

April 20, 2016
Haven't seen our owl today. Usually someone is sunning himself/herself in the portal all day. We saw someone fly out of the box at twilight and when we checked in the box, the three eggs were still there but no owl. 

April 29, 2016
We looked today and she was still sitting on the eggs. 

May 16, 2016
Owlphelia was hanging out in the portal of the bird house when we approached to check on her. She dropped down into the box and when we opened it, she had a wing spread trying to cover what looked to be a big ball of fluff. We could see only one, but the others were probably under her wing.  She is spending more time in the portal, so I imagine the eggs have hatched and she doesn't have to be sitting on them. We'll check in another day or two to see if we can see more. 

May 22, 2016
Yesterday evening around dusk I noticed our cat looking out the bedroom window at something on porch beam. Usually it is a dove or house finch, but much to my surprise, it was the screech owl staring back at us. Since we didn’t see anyone in the portal of the nest box, we thought it might be Owlphelia on the porch. We went to the box and opening the door, we found two fledglings.  Don’t know what happened to the third egg. We were surprised that they were so far along. The last time we looked a few days ago, what we could see still looked like balls of fluff. 

This morning I noticed this face in the portal. My husband went out to take a picture from the porch.  The owl backed away a bit, so you get to see only part of him/her. While we were out there, Owlphelia flew into the nest and has been there ever since. Will keep an eye on the box to see when the fledglings come out on the tree limbs.

First sight of a nestling peaking out of the box


May 26, 2016
This photo speaks for itself!

May 27, 2016
Two young owls looking out of the box

June 1, 2016
Everyone seems to be gone!  When I looked out this morning, no one appeared on the branch or in the box portal.  Later this morning we opened the box and no owls, not even the one we think was not alive. We will miss them. It has been fun. 

June 2, 2016
We spoke too soon! Guess who's back? When we checked the house yesterday, there was nothing in it except for the shavings and other things we did not investigate. This morning when by habit I looked out the window to the nest box, there she was in the portal. Since returning, she has been in and out of the house, occasionally sitting on the branch. Have not seen any sign of the kids. Would screech owls continue to use the same home even after nesting? We are assuming, of course, that this is Owlphelia and not a different owl?

P.S.  Just looked and there is Junior in the portal window!  

Fledged screech-owls still hanging around the box
Everyone out!
June 23, 2016
When I looked out our bedroom window, I noticed a lot of droppings on the porch floor. Looking up, who should be looking back at me but our old friend Owlphelia. Further along the beam were two juveniles. There has been only been one with her when we have seen them lately. They obviously are hanging around our house and the nest box. We are happy to have them and are glad they have chosen to stay around.

Owlphelia in the porch rafters

Fledged screech-owls in the porch rafters near Owlphelia!


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why We Need You Now More Than Ever

Storytelling and Poetry on the San Pedro
Address by Karen Fogas, Executive Director
Singing Wind Bookshop, Benson, AZ | June 12, 2016




What do you think when you see this photo?

The first time I saw this sign, I did a double take. Attractive as it is, it reflects nothing I’ve encountered on the Santa Cruz. Was it someone’s wishful thinking? Someone’s idea of a bad joke? Delusion? A part of me grieves every single time I go by it.

Outside interests are working to turn the abundant, vibrant San Pedro River, the Southwest’s last major free-flowing river, into the same caricature that is illustrated here.

This is a description of the San Pedro River valley, as Coronado experienced it in 1540:

…At that time the climax grasses were so luxuriant as to hide a man on horseback; the now deep, shifting river channel and its affluents were an almost continuous, broad marsh; thousands of beavers saw to that. The relatively few mesquites and catclaws were confined to the first bench above the willows and baccharis, which is their normal habitat. ….the Sonora otter enjoyed its slide; antelope, black-tailed and white-tailed deer, elk, wild turkey, quails, and other game were abundant in this land of the Apache….During migration time great swarms of waterfowl, shorebirds and other transients winnowed the air along this flyway, while the gaudy Avocet and Black-necked Stilt remained to scream above their nests in the long valley where flowed the placid San Pedro.

                                                               ~ Herbert Brandt, Arizona and its Bird Life


Lower San Pedro River. Matt Griffiths

The lush river valley, with its tall grasses, the river work of thousands of beavers and its abundance of wildlife might well describe a foreign landscape when compared to the San Pedro we know today. A century or more of ranching, groundwater mining and development have significantly impacted this last major, free-flowing southwest river. And the potential to have a future description equally jarring in its contrast is occurring right now.

The pressures on the San Pedro are daunting. Major power lines, mining and development loom large. Literally. The Villages at Vigneto promises another 70,000 people added to Benson’s population of about 5,000. The Villages development is to be modeled after Tuscany, with its approximately 36” of rainfall per year, or 3” per month. How does that reconcile in an environment that receives less than 12” annually?

At stake is the future of what is arguably one of the single most important biological features in the arid Southwest. Unlike the highly degraded Santa Cruz River, which has been dewatered and deforested by decades of unsustainable groundwater withdrawal, there is currently enough surface flow to keep the San Pedro’s vital riparian forests alive. These forests are critical to the estimated four million birds that utilize them as a migration stopover; some traveling as many as 5,000 miles. Imagine traveling thousands of miles – you’re literally out of gas and you arrive to find nothing to eat or drink. Other species require healthy, abundant riparian forests to nest and reproduce.

That the San Pedro River serves as such a valuable resource is due in large part to its remarkably intact riparian system that supports extensive stands of cottonwood, willow and large mesquite bosques. These increasingly rare riparian forests rely upon the maintenance of surface and subsurface flows of water. As the Santa Cruz River’s history warns us, these crucial flows and the forests they support are readily put at risk by developments that cannot be sustained in such an arid environment. However, major new development and an increasingly hotter and drier climate threaten to rob the San Pedro of its most crucial ingredient: water.


De-watered and unvegetated Santa Cruz River

The nearby Santa Cruz River stands as a cautionary tale, a tale actually captured in a book called “A Requiem for the Santa Cruz.”— The Santa Cruz has been sucked dry by decades of unsustainable groundwater mining, resulting in the significant loss of nesting and migratory habitats. Unless we write a different story for the San Pedro River, it will join the list of dry riverbeds, with little to offer birds and wildlife.

And yet, as alarming as the future of the San Pedro may well be, it is emblematic of an even bigger problem. The public does not understand the history of water in this state, and as a result naively accepts actions that will irrevocably – and significantly – change this area for humans, birds and wildlife. There is not an inexhaustible supply of water, as those who would exploit it for short term gain would have us believe. History reveals this over and over in documented, dramatic changes to the landscape.

We must change the conversation about water to rewrite the story for precious resources like the San Pedro. A little more than a year ago the Tucson Audubon Society changed the conversation regarding the Villages at Vigneto, by intervening to ask that the Army Corp of Engineers consult with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, consider new hydrological information and evaluate the significantly larger plan for development. Having called attention to this impending development debacle, numerous entities joined in the fight, including our friends from Earth Justice, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Cascabel Conservation Association, Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, Maricopa Audubon Society.

Tucson Audubon intends to change the conversation about water in our region not only by acting to intervene, as we did with the Villages at Vigneto and on numerous other conservation issues threatening birds and bird habitat, but also by endeavoring to shape policy and conduct broad public education. We must change how people view our fragile riparian systems. Only by doing so can we change the outcome for precious resources like the San Pedro. With the investment of supporters, we can change how people value what remains of our fragile, incredibly biologically diverse and important riparian areas, 95% of which have vanished.

Author, poet, activist, landowner, book lover, parent, grandparent, whomever….You came today because you care about the beautiful, fragile, last free-flowing desert river called the San Pedro. I hope you will leave with a new awareness of the region’s water challenges, as evidenced by what is happening here, today, with the San Pedro under more threat that she can bear.

I ask you to support us. Work with us. In whatever capacity you can – member, donor, volunteer – or all three! We are connected to this river, and its wealth of wildlife, including birds. We cannot allow the story that is written to be “A Requiem for the San Pedro.”

https://www.z2systems.com/np/clients/tas/donation.jsp?campaign=3&

Donate today to support Tucson Audubon's work on behalf of the San Pedro River



San Pedro rainbow. Ariana La Porte




Wednesday, June 15, 2016

First Habitat at Home Yard: Are You Next?

Tucson Audubon’s Habitat at Home program has recognized its first Habitat at Home yard! The Habitat at Home program helps you implement safe, sustainable bird habitat in your yard. Then we recognizes your effort with a sign that looks like this!

For years Jennifer Patton and Ben Wilder have been working to make their central Tucson yard, front and back, a haven for native plants and birds. Let's look at some of the things they've done that qualified them for recognition.

When they bought their house in a central Tucson neighborhood in 1998 there were 24 species of plants. Seventy percent of them were exotic—from other continents. Now there are 100 species of plants and only 8% of them are exotic (two of those are fruit trees). 


Native vegetation in the front yard

Native plants are the cornerstone of Habitat at Home, because on average they do a much better job of providing for the needs of birds. This is in large part due to the fact that they support many more of our native insects. According to the influential book Bringing Birds Home, by Douglas Tallamy, 96% of North American terrestrial birds depend on insects to feed their young, even if they tend to eat other things the rest of the year. They need insects to reproduce. And if birds don't successfully reproduce in our neighborhoods, they will not usually be present there.

A diversity not just of native plant species but also of plant structure helps lots of birds. Mid-story vegetation, in particular, is important for birds to forage and nest in. Certain native species, Abert's Towhee, Costa's Hummingbird, Bell's Vireo, Northern Cardinals and others often nest in mid-story vegetation (say, about 3 to 7 feet off the ground). 


Abert's Towhees nested this spring in this riot of
vegetation--including a lot of mid-story structure--in
the back of the lot off the alley

Water is important for the survival of most birds and providing and appropriately-sized water source will increase the variety of birds you see and help them survive.


This, and another small water source in the
yard, provide plenty of fresh water for birds

There was some decorative rock mulch (gravel) in the yard when they moved in, but Jennifer and Ben have emphasized organic mulch as they have upgraded the yard over the years. This insulates the ground, cools the yard and increases diversity of life in soils underneath. Lizards also seem to like it a lot! The abundance of lizards in the yard speaks to the owners' success in encouraging the bottom level of the food web--the insects and other arthropods that provide food for lizards and birds alike.


Spiny lizards blend in well with the organic mulch 

This yard keeps rain onsite with rainwater harvesting basins. They have also removed an impermeable concrete driveway and replaced it with permeable landscaping full of native plants. The has a gray water system making use of water from the washing machine. This all reduces the amount of rare, valuable potable water that is used for watering plants. 


Formerly a concrete driveway, this area along the west side
of the house is now a cool, shady path lined by scores of native
plants. Most of the rainwater that falls here sinks into
the ground now rather than running into the street.

The best news is that in 1998 only 11 species of birds were observed (27% of them were exotic House Sparrows, European Starlings and Rock Doves). In the last couple years 38 species have been seen and the exotics now only constitute only 8%!



The Habitat at Home program seeks a wholesale conversion of Tucson yards into safe, sustainable bird habitat. Let’s make Tucson a miracle of bird diversity and reconciliation ecology! In doing so, we will make our city cooler, less dependent on imported water, and more beautiful. And our kids will have a yard full of wonder that might, just might, pry them away from their screens for a while!

Sign up for Habitat at Home now! Go to www.tucsonaudubon.org/habitatathome!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Underbirded Areas of SE AZ: Canelo Hills area - Korn, Lyle, and Merritt Canyons

Guest post by Tim Helentjaris
June 6th, 2016


I hadn’t heard of any of these drainages until last summer during our Yellow-billed Cuckoo surveys and Jennie MacFarland assigned them to us. In fact, before our surveys last summer, I saw no eBird reports from these areas at all, despite their close proximity to Parker Canyon Lake. A very pleasant surprise as they turned out to be very productive for a number of species, given first impressions. I was back there this morning as part of an effort to help Ariana La Porte in her project on Gray Hawks, looking at nesting success in different habitats. In her first two seasons, she had analyzed a number of nests along the San Pedro and found some interesting differences in those that were flanked by mesquite bosques vs those flanked by grasslands. She was interested in adding nests in oak woodlands and I had previously seen a number of these in both the Patagonia Mts. and in the Canelo Hills drainages and agreed to help her add them to her study. Had been out previously and we had found one GrHa nest in each of these three drainages.


Adult Gray Hawk on the San Pedro River. Ariana La Porte

Gray Hawk nestlings on the San Pedro River. Ariana La Porte

All three of these drainages are easily reached from the drive to Parker Canyon Lake along SR83 and they share a number of similar characteristics. All are very shallow, belying their canyon status, and flanked by wide areas of rolling hills covered by oak, juniper, and grasslands. Within the canyons themselves, there are mostly larger oaks, but also some scattered sycamores. I was surprised last summer when our bird surveys in them turned out to be so productive, I guess because my prior understanding of oak habitats was naively informed by a small number of areas such as Madera and Cave Canyons which are more steep-sided and very narrow in nature compared to these much broader and drier drainages. Points up another advantage to these canyons, all offer almost completely flat hikes in for a couple of miles, so most folks will find them fairly easy walks, in spite of the lack of obvious trails.


Korn Canyon. Tim Helentjaris

Lyle Canyon with Huachucas in distance. Tim Helentjaris

Driving south along SR83 towards Parker Canyon Lake, I first reached Lyle Canyon Road, aka FS #201, as it splits off around 19 miles from Sonoita. This first section of this area is mostly a patchwork of private property, but luckily the best birding areas are farther along in Coronado Nat For areas. LCR is a very reasonable road and passable along its length by most cars, paralleling the drainage for most of its length, sometimes actually crossing it back and forth. Obvious species in this area are most of the usual oak denizens, CASSIN’S KINGBIRD, MORNING and WHITE-WINGED DOVES, LARK SPARROWS, MEXICAN JAYS, etc. The first area where I actually got out and prepared to bird this morning was up from the junction with Korn Canyon, just about 3 miles in. As soon as I got out of the car, I immediately heard WILD TURKEYS and the eerie call of the male MONTEZUMA QUAIL. In fact, last summer, all of us remarked on how many times we encountered this last species which can be a bit troublesome to find elsewhere, but not in this general area. I also heard a GRAY HAWK with its whining call and trudged in towards the nest site. As I approached the tree, its partner flew out. Despite a large sycamore not far away, these raptors had chosen to build their nest in a large oak. An inspection did not reveal any young as yet. While there, dogs were barking from a flanking property and the landowner came out. I had met Kathy last year during our cuckoo surveys here and we talked about the GrHa’s that were nesting here, as her and her husband were keenly interested in it and Ariana’s project. She also remarked on how common the quail were, having been on her front porch just the other day. She emphasized that birders were always welcome in this area - nice to hear! You don’t know what you might find in this type of area, during the cuckoo surveys last year, I also had a WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD in here!

Walked back to my car and drove further south, re-crossing the boundary into National Forest land in another quarter mile. After a short ways, came to my second nesting area and got out and hiked over to the drainage, where here it is incised in a bit. On the walk in, I saw an interesting hybrid NORTHERN/GILDED FLICKER, reminiscent of another that I had seen just over in the Patagonia Mts, along Harshaw Creek Road on successive years. They seem to predominantly like these intermediate elevations, although I also saw several non-hybrid NORTHERN FLICKERS here as well, along with several WESTERN WOOD-PEWEES and DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS. Again heard a GrHa whining during the walk over but also a barking male ELEGANT TROGON. This whole area was not only productive for cuckoos and gray hawks but also trogons, although the one in Korn Canyon was a bit farther up than my hike today. This GrHa nest here in Lyle Canyon was built in a the upper canopy of a large pine, again despite the presence of a large sycamore lower in the bottom of this drainage, a seemingly unique location for this species usually associated with lower riparian habitats. A few white tufts of down decorated this nest, indicating its current usage, despite the fact that today I never saw an adult in this tree. I watched the GRAY HAWK for some time in a perch higher up the slope until it flew off a bit.

Gray Hawk nest in oak tree

By this time, I had been listening to the continued barking of a male ELEGANT TROGON just a bit farther up-canyon and decided to try another replication of an experiment designed this year by Jennie MacFarland and Jonathon Horst. Last year during our cuckoo surveys, several teams reported agitation and aggression by ElTr’s when they played the cuckoo calls. To further investigate this, J&J designed a protocol where we play a random set including calls of these two species along with one “control” species, a White-breasted Nuthatch. I got to within ~50 yards of the barking male trogon and initiated the playlist of calls. First up this time was the YbCu and the ElTr hardly reacted, if at all. Next came the trogon and the reaction was immediate and electric, as the trogon continued its barking but flew into and all around the speaker. In our other repetitions, we used dolls of all three species that Jennie had constructed, but I didn’t have them with me today. Would have been interesting to see the reaction? The playlist concluded with the call of the White-breasted Nuthatch but before I could stop it, launched into the next playlist with YbCu. No reaction to these at all. My initial, and premature, conclusion is that the ElTr reacted to the trogon call, as there is another territory just down-canyon and within earshot, so he didn’t want that trogon infringing further on his territory, hence the response. No response to the cuckoo call, as he hadn’t yet seen/heard a cuckoo this season, they’re not here yet. We’ll see if their responses to cuckoos intensify later in the season, once the cuckoos arrive and the trogons will also be stressed by feeding their young.

Back at the GrHa nest, I was a bit concerned as I had not yet seen a second individual near this nest, despite being in the general area for over an hour. To insure the nest was really being used, I tried playback for this raptor and the response was pretty quick, as I saw and heard two individuals flying about the canyon, vocalizing quite a bit as they presumably looked for the intruder.

Got back to the car and continued to drive through Lyle Canyon, an area which is pretty natural and productive. Check out some of our Ebird lists from this area last year. At one point, I saw the following four species from a single point: BAND-TAILED PIGEON, CURVE-BILLED THRASHER, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, and GREATER ROADRUNNER, a surprising mix of Sonoran and Oak-Juniper habitats that occurs here. After another few miles, LCR/FR201 rejoins SR83 near mile marker #7. A short ways towards Parker Canyon Lake, you pass some old corrals and the turn-off to FR#5600 and there is a gynormus raptor nest in the top of a huge pine tree. I have never noted a raptor near this nest but would love to know who constructed it and if any of you find out, let me know.

SR83 begins a series of switchbacks just after mile marker #4 before the lake as it drops into another drainage, which is Merritt Canyon. Here one can walk up-canyon, which is dry and open but still productive for Montezuma Quail and other oak birds. Walking down-canyon, the canopy is more developed with larger trees as candidates for a GrHa nest. I headed for the other GrHa nest we had seen last year. No evidence of it being used this year and I couldn’t detect activity even with playback here. Back at the car, I continued on this road, past the marina and towards Lakeview where the road again crosses Merritt Canyon and a huge culvert. Again, no evidence of GrHa’s here, so my thought was that this territory was not being used this year. However, when I relayed this information to Ariana, she told me I must have the wrong coordinates for the nest, that she had found another and that the female was sitting on eggs there! Wow, these guys can be really sneaky during this phase of nesting! One thought both of us developed this year is that GrHa nests are much harder in general to find up in these oak areas, because the candidate trees are spread beyond even the obvious drainages and out in those rolling hills. Along the San Pedro, the candidate cottonwood and sycamore trees are always in the wet zone itself, are usually the taller trees along the stretch, which themselves are much more open in their canopies than these oaks and pines, so in general are much easier to find. Neither Ariana nor myself were ever able to pin down the nest tree itself in the Scotia/Sunnyside canyons at ~6000 ft elev despite a lot of searching, because this area too has a sprawling area of larger trees and the pair of hawks up there just didn’t reveal their preferred site.

Ariana La Porte

Wow, pretty dang hot today, supposed to hit 113 in Tucson, so I quit a bit early in the morning, given that my primary tasks were completed. But, a very interesting and productive area without a lot of bird reports. I suggest that if you find yourself in this area, say camping or fishing at nearby Parker Canyon Lake, the most interesting area to investigate would be to take Lyle Canyon Road and either walk a mile or so up Korn Canyon or farther south, drop into the Lyle Canyon itself and see what you can find. I suspect you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

How Is Your Habitat at Home?

Provide resources for birds in your own yard using our new program
By Sara Pike and Kendall Kroesen

When you look out your window and into your yard, it is pleasing to look at something green or colorful. Whether a balcony or a big yard, it is nice to see a bit of nature and remind ourselves there is a big, beautiful life out there. A plant, tree, or pot of flowers can brighten a view and offer a respite from the daily grind. If there happens to be a bird or butterfly on that plant, tree or pot of flowers, well this might just ignite some awe in the world of animals and the natural beauty of nature.


If one drives around the perimeter of Tucson, all the new developments becomes very obvious. New neighborhoods and shopping centers are popping up further and further out. And, while humans take up more and more space for homes and amenities, wildlife loses their homes. For every action, there is a reaction.

An abundance of different species of animals is a sign of a healthy environment. This abundance of species is what is often referred to as “biodiversity.” According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Biodiversity allows us to live healthy and happy lives. It provides us with an array of foods and materials and it contributes to the economy. Without a diversity of pollinators, plants, and soils, our supermarkets would have a lot less produce.” This is just one reason why biodiversity is important, and why we should all care about the habitat loss in our region, including bird habitat. You can read all about Biodiversity in the National Wildlife Federation article referenced below.


How can we learn to share our limited space with other life that needs it, too? What if there was a small, simple act that we humans can participate in to help alleviate the drastic loss for some of our birds and other wildlife? What if all it took was to plant a native plant (or a few) that our native bird species prefer to eat or nest in? There is now a path for all interested in supporting the great biodiversity of wildlife in our region. That support can start with birds and other pollinators.

by Doris Evans
Tucson Audubon Society has launched a new program called Habitat At Home in Tucson to help homeowners create habitat in their yard to support birds and wildlife, and at the same time to be recognized for the effort. While this program is designed for folks who have the space to go a little bigger on the habitat, the general message is the same and the principles can be applied even to a smaller yard.
This program recognizes residents that take a variety of actions to create bird-friendly and sustainable yards. It will give residents incentives to landscape and garden in ways that improve habitat for birds (while improving quality of life for the resident at the same time!) Some of these include:
  • “Nature-scaping”—having landscape areas with exclusively native plants
  • Controlling non-native, invasive plant species
  • Reducing pesticide use
  • Increasing use of rainwater, storm water and gray water
  • Adding wildlife stewardship measures like nest boxes
  • Keeping cats indoors

There will be several levels of achievement recognized, from basic to more complex. Homeowners who achieve a Habitat At Home at a certain level can receive a special recognition sign to place in their yard that will show others their initiative and how they’re caring for our birds and other wildlife.

Knowing the value of nature, more homeowners are now seeking interesting, colorful and animated yards rather than sterile, lifeless ones. In addition:
  • Birds and other pollinators help in the garden by pollinating plants
  • Birds help control unwanted insects
  • Healthy yards create learning opportunities for children and get them outdoors
  • Yards that provide habitat contain a variety of native plants that green our neighborhoods
  • Yards that are good for birds create shade, which cools our community and reduces AC costs



by Laura Stafford
For those who sign up, this program comes with ongoing interactive opportunities and educational materials for family members of all ages. Continuing educational information will cover nest boxes, bird baths, feeders, and many other techniques you can to use make your yard more interesting to birds… and to people!

If you have wanted to find a way to help and to feel good about giving back a little, this could be the way to get started! Not only will you get outdoors and experience a little bit of nature, you will be helping birds (and ultimately the biodiversity in our region) in the process.

To learn more about your Habitat At Home, visit the Tucson Audubon Society website at www.tucsonaudubon.org/habitatathome.

Reference: National Wildlife Federation, What is Biodiversity? http://nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Conservation/Biodiversity.aspx



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Paton Center for... Butterflies?!

By Nick Beauregard

As restoration and development moves forward at the Paton Center, it has become clear that this special little corner of the Sky Islands is outstanding for more than just hummingbirds. The Sonoita Creek riparian corridor is truly a pollinator hotspot, and there are dozens of species of colorful butterflies occurring here as well. For many birders, identifying butterflies is just as exciting, and we are happy to be accommodating that interest as much as we possibly can!

Recently, the Paton Center received two hundred native plants to be placed around the property as part of a grant with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and our local partner Borderlands Restoration. One hundred monarch-friendly milkweeds, in addition to one-hundred other pollinator plants, were planted throughout the property with the help of over a dozen dedicated volunteers.



Most of the areas that we planted were previously over-run by invasive horehound or Bermuda grass, species that offer little or no benefit to wildlife. After clearing out these invasives, Tucson Audubon staff and volunteers spent three mornings planting our new native plants and running irrigation lines to them to help them make it through the hot, dry summer that is just around the corner. Though these plants are fairly small right now, by this time next year they should be mature enough to flower and attract lots of butterflies and hummingbirds. Within a few more years of growth, they will have spread their seeds to fill in these areas even more extensively, out-competing the invasive species that we work so hard to keep at bay. This project helps complete one of the largest Monarch Butterfly waystations in the area!



We certainly couldn’t have achieved this without the incredible support of our volunteers. We had local Patagonians stop by to join in on the fun as well as friends from Tucson who were eager to get out of the heat of the low desert and into the shady riparian forest of Patagonia. Of course, it’s hard to think of a more beautiful place to volunteer than Patagonia, especially for birders! Our volunteers were treated to a dazzling display of birds enjoying the habitat that they’ve helped create!

If you haven’t been to the Paton Center recently, it’s definitely worth the visit now. Temperatures are still cool enough to enjoy hours of fantastic birding, and flowers are bursting with color! Also, don’t forget to bring a butterfly field guide in addition to your bird guide, because there are many colorful species to be seen!