Thursday, November 20, 2014

Arizona IBA partnership with Student Conservation Association

by Jennie MacFarland, IBA Conservation Biologist

For a second year the Arizona Important Bird Areas Program has been partnering with the Student Conservation Association and this has brought our volunteers together with these college-age students of the SCA in remarkable ways. This partnership was born of another partnership, that between Tucson Audubon and Audubon Arizona in Phoenix who share the coordination of the Arizona Important Bird Areas Program. Tice Supplee, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Arizona, teaches a class at Phoenix College on Wildlife and has become a mentor to students within the SCA on wildlife survey techniques. These students receive a very diverse set of skills through different training sessions including wilderness first aid, "leave no trace" and wilderness fire fighting. For the bird survey portion of their training they are working with us at Arizona IBA with the further benefit of generating useful data for the program.

SCA students and IBA volunteers at Buenos Aires Oct 2013
Last winter in Buenos Aires NWR the SCA students and IBA volunteers paired off into teams and did driving transect surveys with an emphasis on grassland birds such as wintering sparrows, thrashers and raptors.
Mel from the SCA crew records the bird data seen through the spotting scope!

IBA Volunteer and SCA student kicking up birds in the grass - M. Van de Water
This SCA Program focuses on students from very racially diverse and economically diverse backgrounds and gives them training that can help them to find jobs in the ecology and environmental fields later. We have found these students to be a delight to work with and they are very enthusiastic and eager to learn. They are normally assigned to the role of filling out the data sheets during the survey and their sheets are often the most carefully filled out sheets I encounter.
The SCA students had also worked with Pronghorn in partnership with USFWS

Students from the SCA have also helped us with other projects including Bendire's Thrasher surveys at the new Chicken Springs IBA west of Wickieup that is distictive for its large Joshua Trees.
Joshua Tree IBA - a mix of Mohave and Sonoran Desert habitat
A Bendire's Thrasher found by an SCA student
Just this last week we partnered again with the SCA and a group of students helped us to survey the Arivaca Cienega and Creek for the first time ever! These riparian surveys are a bit challenging so it was great to have such enthusiastic help from these young people!
SCA student in Arivaca Creek

IBA Volunteers and SCA students after the survey in Arivaca
This upcoming spring we will be working with the SCA students again to count Gilded Flickers in Cabeza Prieta NWR and Organ Pipe National Park to try and qualify the Sonoran Desert Borderlands IBA as a Continental IBA. Here's to partnerships!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Paton Center Workdays - the makeover continues

We spent another couple days at the Paton Center working to protect the inner yard with its feeders and lush vegetation, while also beginning to integrate the rest of the property with the surrounding environment and make the whole site a wonderful place for birds, and birders too!

(If you haven't seen it, now would be a great time to read the guest post by volunteer Alice Cave on her experience volunteering at the Paton Center during the time covered by this post.)

We've been getting a ton done there. First and foremost, we've needed to complete the house yard fence and make it javalina proof to protect the back yard, now that the perimeter fencing has come done. We've gotten a new front gate installed to the house thanks to hard work from our neighbor Alex. The new front gate is the hummingbird gate from the fence protecting fountain in the back yard, refinished and sized to perfection. We're calling it the Puerto Colibri.
The Puerto Colibri, pre install, let the measuring begin.
Alex and Keith laying out and working on the Puerto Colibri
Alex digs out the hole for the railroad tie posts
The newly installed Puerto Colibri, anchored in place while
the concrete dries.
Rick and Alice came down and helped out with staining and sealing the new extended wooden fence; it's looking great.

After some hours of kneeling to stain, Alice wised up and brought in some cushy accommodations to finish out the work.
Alice enjoying the cushy work conditions, sun and a nice chair!
Some of the crew and volunteers Terry and John set the foundation and posts for the new information kiosk and then assembled it including re-using the corrugated sheet metal from the old paddock shed as the new roof. The kiosk was designed by local designer/fabricator Doug Thompson. It'll soon develop a fine rusty patina that will look fantastic as a back to the information signage that will be on its way soon.
Terry, Dan, and Andy mixing concrete
Looking pretty level, nice work guys!

The assembled frame concrete in place, waiting for it to dry.
John and Dan putting on the roof.
John and Dan with the assembled and roofed kiosk.
Underside view of the roof - shiny side down.
The completed kiosk, awaiting information.
We've also begun working on the new parking areas. Previously there would be a long line of cars along Blue Heaven Road. With the chain-link fence around the property they were separated out from the Paton's yard. However, now that the perimeter fence is down, cars parked there look out of place. We're consolidating parking near the NE corner of the property on smaller lots separated by water harvesting basins. The water from the parking areas will flow into and feed the water harvesting basins and keep lush hummingbird plants and native grasses and shrubs growing healthy there.
Andy, John, and Dan digging out the water-harvesting basin.
Dirt from the basin going onto the parking area to raise it.
Countless wheelbarrow-fulls of dirt.
And, it looks like parking...or is starting to.
Basin by the front entrance on Blue Heaven, just getting underway.
 Last (for this post), but not least is that the new trail around the meadow area is being roughed in. It'll be lined w/ native bunch-grasses and flowering plants, and lead around to some quiet area and excellent future birding least that's the goal! Right now it's a nascent path through a weedy field.
Andy beside the path he's just cleared.
Kickin' up some dust.
 Come on out and visit! Check out the changes in person and let us know what you think. And, as always, if you're interested in volunteering, contact Jonathan or Keith!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Volunteering at the Paton Center - a guest post by Alice Cave

For many Tucson birders, visiting the wonderful Paton House is a treat, and I am no exception.  The Paton house is located in Patagonia, near the border with Mexico. The house was owned for years by the Paton family, who made it a birding haven with their many feeders and their unique location.  Now through the efforts of many, the house is being transformed and managed as the the Paton Center for Hummingbirds by Tucson Audubon.  My husband, Rick Fletcher, and I have been following this process with interest, and so when we came to Tucson for the winter, we looked for opportunities to help out.

Terry, Andy, and Dan installing the new information kiosk.
Early on the morning of November 12, we drove down to Patagonia to join a work group in progress and see where we could help out.  There is a lot going on there: construction is in progress for a multi-faceted information kiosk; areas are being smoothed out to create more parking; the fence around the house is being strengthened and weatherproofed and a gate added, to name a few items.    Rick and I talked to Jonathan Horst about how we could jump in and help, and determined that staining the fence would be a great use of our time and energy.  I definitely wanted to stay away from all power tools!   So we set to work staining the fence itself as well as some loose boards that would be used in other ways.  Rick and I worked methodically to cover the area needed, until we ran out of stain. In one day we made a tangible difference in the appearance and condition of the Paton House grounds and it was very satisfying.
Alice staining and sealing the front fence.
Photo Credit: Rick Fletcher
Rick staining the fence.
An obvious difference!
Photo credit:Rick Fletcher
Rick gets close and friendly with the plants to stain
the inside of the fenceline.

Alex and Larry and the newly installed Puerto Colibri.
During the day we got to know other volunteers, such as Alex from Patagonia who was working on installing a javalina-proof gate.  Plus  it was great to visit with some TAS staff members we have gotten to know on other projects, including Andy Bennett and Keith Ashley. It was a dedicated, hard-working group that got right down to business.  And all through the day, birders were coming to the site to see the hummingbirds and other birds the house is famous for.

Why volunteer? What makes this project a good volunteer gig? 

For me, volunteering has a long family history. My parents and many adults I knew as a child, were very active volunteers in all kinds of projects. So I adopted the point of view early on that it is important to make a contribution to society, and I have participated in many diverse activities over the years. Rick and I recently became home owners in the Tucson area, and will be here until spring, and so we looked at volunteering as a way to meet new people, as well as to help with projects that help birds.  Of course, we quickly found TAS. 

Why is the Paton House project a good volunteer gig?  First of all, we made a tangible difference with what we did. Second, the project is very well organized, and there was no time spent wondering what to do. We got there and got started.  Third, it provides a way to meet people while helping birds.  And there was lunch provided as a thank you, sitting outside on one of the new picnic tables with the other volunteers on a beautiful day. What's not to like?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Santa Catalina Mountains CBC

Guest Post by Brian Nicholas, count compiler
It’s 2:30 AM as you stand against the cover of trees on the banks of the wash, listening as Great Horned Owls give slow deep hoots, their calls easily heard against the backdrop of silence. The occasional car sounds like a freight train against the still night, but is easily forgotten. Your first meteor streaks across the sky, but many others will be witnessed this quiet night. You play a recording of the Western Screech Owl, hoping for a response. Nothing. You play it again, then a third time. A mesquite branch jounces ever so slightly on this windless night. You can feel a presence. You try the recording again and midway through the repertoire the recording seems to be repeating itself. You switch it off and the soft whistled hoots continue, followed by a melodic trill. It swoops silently past you like a tiny gray ghost, a shadow against the darkness, so subtle you have to wonder if your eyes actually saw this tiny wonder. Everything else in your life disappears as you relish this moment of an unforgettable night of discovery.

Approximate center of the Santa Catalina Mountains CBC circle as seen from the Santa Catalina Highway at the Thimble Peak Vista pulloff. Thimble Peak is catching the first morning sun on the left horizon and most of the foreground consists of the middle reaches of Bear Canyon and its tributaries.

The Santa Catalina Mountains (SCM) CBC was the first Christmas Count I experienced in Arizona, and I was lucky enough to go out birding with Bob Bates, the compiler. Bob has been a great mentor, and a steady, leading force for this particular circle. The SCM CBC has only had two compilers in its long 77 year history, Bob Bates and the late great Gale Monson. Now that’s a legacy!

We are lucky to have such a diversity of habitats within this circle. Mount Lemmon has many layers of diversity, with many birds typically found in northern climates such as jays, nuthatches, and a diverse population of woodpeckers. Redington Pass also holds specialties including Juniper Titmouse, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Mountain Bluebirds. The Tanque Verde and Agua Caliente washes are great sparrow magnets, and the lowland ponds provide wintering waterfowl habitat. In some lowland areas all four local falcon species have been seen on count day (Prairie, Peregrine, Merlin, and American Kestrel). Sabino Canyon is a unique migrant trap, especially for warblers, and is always good for a rare sighting. Any area in the circle could hold a rare specialty, and, more importantly, will add valuable information on species densities within the circle.

Abert's Towhee is a permanent resident of dense desert wash vegetation and its core range is southern Arizona. It's much more often heard than seen this well.

Mixed flocks of Western and Mountain bluebirds sometimes resemble Christmas ornaments as they flock to ocotillos or junipers in Redington Pass.

Diverse vegetation along Tanque Verde Wash makes excellent habitat for birds as well as Coyotes.

Long-eared Owl has been found on this count!

The SCM CBC is going to be held this year on Saturday, December 20th, the weekend following the Tucson Valley CBC. About 80% of the SCM CBC circle is in the foothills and mountains with much of the circle accessible only by trail although the Catalina Highway and Redington Road provide access to higher elevations in the circle. The circle also contains the Tanque Verde, Aqua Caliente, and Sabino/Bear Canyon washes which are very important to wintering (and breeding!) birds. Although bird diversity and numbers in the mountains and foothills are less than in the lowland washes, there are still a lot of birds which winter in these areas. Species totals for the SCM CBC for the last few years typically ranged from about 120 to 130 with the highest total species count being 144. With extensive coverage, there is little doubt that 150 species can be located in the circle – especially if a few nice rarities decide to overwinter!

Although any help would be appreciated, I would especially like to increase our knowledge of what birds are found in the mountains and foothills. If you have feeders in the southern half of Summerhaven (the northern part of Summerhaven is outside of the circle) or at other residences on Mt. Lemmon, it would be great to get counts from these feeders. Birding one of the many trails heading out into the mountains and foothills also would be greatly appreciated.

If you are willing to help out in these areas or by joining a group covering a portion of the circle or counting birds at your feeder located anywhere in the circle, please contact me at or by phone at 520-760-3583. I'll be trying to coordinate birding teams and effort by area in the weeks prior to the count so let me know how flexible you are in regard to area or time. Birders of all interests and skill levels are encouraged to help out, beginners will join up with more experienced leaders. 

See the full list of Arizona Counts

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A new more welcoming Paton Center for Hummingbirds

(Don't miss the awesome action shots at the end of the post!)
If you haven't been to the Paton Center for Hummingbirds for a while, you might just drive right by before you realize you've gone too far!
Before: Front Gate Parking
After: Front Gate parking, no gate!

But, with the new Welcome Sign up to greet you, hopefully more people from out of town/state/country will be more confident of where they're going on their first magical visit.
The new Welcome sign!
We took down the chain-link fence the whole way along Blue Heaven Road so that the Paton Center is more fully integrated with the surrounding landscape, and is visually a much more welcoming site.
Before: Blue Heaven Road with fence
After: Blue Heaven Road, no fence

We've also gotten up a new Javalina-proof fence to protect the inner yard and gardens around the house continuing the style of the historic house fence.
Matt Clark digs in the
javalina wire trench
Andy Bennett rakes things
back into order afterwards
Volunteer extraordinaire Chris 
Strohm attaches the fencing
The new, very visible, donation box is installed. Don't worry, donations still go to the sugar fund, just as they always have!

And we'll leave you with a pile of exciting action shots; showcasing all the work that goes into making these changes possible. If you want to help out, contact Keith Ashley or Jonathan Horst; we could sure use some help!

HULK SMASH! Rodd Lancaster provides a bit of
persuasion to a fencepost and concrete plug that
just didn't want to budge...

Dan Lehman disassembles the front gate

Our awesome neighbor, Luke Reese of The Sonoita Creek Preserve next door,
lends a hand and mows the overgrown paddock meadow area with a bush hog.
Dan Lehman cuts old welds to take down the old horse paddock behind the old shed

Thanks to the tractor we were able to borrow from  Duncan Blair (Rio Santa Cruz Beef), we were 

Rodd Lancaster ties in the new fencing to the creekside chain-
link fence

To maintain the legacy and feel of the Paton's yard, Jonathan
Horst cuts out a section of the Hummingbird Gate that was the
entrance to the back fountain to become the new front gate to
the main house.