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!



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New Paton Center Pond a Big Hit With Birds and Birders!

By Nick Beauregard

Tucson Audubon Society’s ecological restoration crew recently completed work on one of our biggest Paton Center projects yet! If you’ve visited the Paton Center for Hummingbirds over the winter, you may have noticed a rather unsightly hole in the ground in the Richard Grand Memorial Meadow. Well, after a couple months of prep work, that hole is now a fully-functioning, wildlife-friendly pond!

Using a bunyip/water level to make sure all sides are level, and that the overflow occurs exactly where we want it to - so that it feeds our wetland plants.

Crew supervisor Rodd Lancaster takes the first dip!

Full of water!
 
With several feeders placed nearby, hundreds of new native plants surrounding it, and several benches in the shade of mature trees, this part of the property is already becoming one of the most visited areas of the property by birds and birdwatchers alike! We have already seen Phainopepla, quail, sparrows, tanagers, and even ravens coming down for a drink! See image below. Not to mention all the butterflies that gather on the damp gravel along the edges.


The new pond is designed specifically to enhance wildlife habitat at the Paton Center. Every morning, water is added to the pond to allow it to overflow into a small basin where the water collects to support wetland plants such as columbine. This wetland area will create a unique pocket of riparian habitat that attract specific butterflies and hummingbirds, and it also helps keep the pond clean. The pond itself will also soon be home to native fish, which will help keep the mosquitoes under control. Maybe if we’re lucky, that elusive Green Kingfisher that’s been seen on Sonoita Creek this year will pay us a visit too!

This is certainly one of the most visible changes to the Paton Center since we first acquired the property. With the old backyard fountain no longer functional, we wanted to create a new water feature that would not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also benefit birds and wildlife as well. We’re pretty sure we hit a home run with this project, and we invite you to come see for yourself!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wrenegades Wreck It! – Birdathon 2016 Report

By Matt Griffiths

From first bird to last (Franklin’s Gull to Harris’s Hawk), my Birdathon this year was a whirlwind of movement and great bird sightings. The Wrenegades found 174 separate species in about 21 hours of birding all over southeastern Arizona!


With some last minute route wrangling, we decided to start this year in the late afternoon in Willcox, and boy did it pay off. The lake outside town was filled with birds we don’t normally get on our Birdathons: gulls and shorebirds, and a new bird for me, Semipalmated Plover. The surrounding grasslands and marsh area provided many more species, including a family of Scaled Quail, and we left town with something like 70 species and full bellies (Thanks Isabel’s South of the Border!).

Our plan now called for us to tour some Tucson water reclamation ponds and city parks at night, a task that required spotlights and possibly switchblades. Our safety aside, we managed to see and rile up a few more birds but none of the local riff raff. I knew Columbus Park had trees full of roosting cormorants, but the late night fisher people enjoying bon fires on the shore was a new one.

After a short rest break we started up again in the wee hours joined by our leader, Jennie, who had to pull a late shift and sadly missed our Willcox trip. Now we were back to familiar territory as we motored up most of Mt. Lemmon’s 9000 ft of cactus to forest life zones. We picked up five of our seven owls, but surprisingly no nightjars, and plunked down in the doug firs to await the dawn chorus. Steller’s Jays, House Wrens, Red-faced Warblers and American Robins defy logic and once again start their songs at the faintest glimmer of light. We spot a Zone-tailed Hawk nest after their cries echo through the trees and then head to Summerhaven with hope of seeing the uncommon for us, Common Grackle. After grackle-less bagels, we hit a few stops on the top of the mountain, and despite the multitudes of forest campers, manage to find two birds our Birdathons have missed recently: Virginia’s Warbler and Arizona Woodpecker.


On the way now to the grasslands of Las Cienegas, we pick up most of the classic Sonoran desert species, except perhaps the most-classic, Greater Roadrunner. The grasslands aren’t the revelatory experience they were last year, but rest assured we found some cool sparrows and a pair of White-tailed Kites!


I was excited for our next stops in the funky town of Patagonia. After spending a good deal of time there in the past year as part of the team restoring the grounds of the Paton Center for Hummingbirds, I hadn’t been back in months as that part of my job was phased out (There’s a pond now!). It was great fun to sit in the quaint backyard, chatting with visitors from around the US and seeing the Paton’s bird de jour, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Those same visitors must have thought it strange when, instead of relaxing more with the amazing variety of birds, we bolted out of there after a few minutes with a “Good birding!” to all within earshot.

With a Thick-billed Kingbird but no Rock Wren from the Roadside Rest, we rolled downhill to the Santa Cruz River in Tubac. Always a good time in the cottonwoods and willows along the water, this is where we meander after 21 hours of birding catches up with us, and we don’t mind! Birding by ear becomes important here as many of the birds hide in the brush or high up in the trees. A kingfisher is heard off in the distance, Gray Hawks fill the air with tropical cries, and MacGillivray’s Warblers give their harsh calls but are never seen.

The clock is ticking down now. We search fruitlessly for that roadrunner but instead find a Costa’s Hummingbird in the desert of Green Valley. And what, no Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at Amado pond?! There are always the “easy” birds that get away during every Birdathon. No Pie-billed Grebes this year, when usually every pond you visit has at least a couple of these common birds. We should have also seen Black Vultures at some point, so we scan the skies on the way to our last stop, a Harris’s Hawk nest we have been hipped to. Even after we see one hawk perched up in the giant eucalyptus tree it calls home, we still scan the skies on the way home.

No Black Vultures ever turn up, but 174 other bird species do! We have hope, and are already planning, that with a little more luck 180 species is easy and will be our goal for next year!

Thanks to all my Birdathon supporters this year and other years! Thanks to the Wrenegades: Jennie, Tim, Sara, Corey and Chris!

Donations are still being taken this week. Why not support a team of your choice at this link: www.z2systems.com/np/clients/tas/publicFundraiserList.jsp?campaignId=36&

Or support Matt Griffiths and the Wrenegades here: www.z2systems.com/np/clients/tas/campaign.jsp?campaign=36&fundraiser=12725&


Barn Owl by Chris Rohrer




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher nest at Tucson Audubon's Mason Center

A Pima College class visited the Mason Center on this week. On tours of the Mason Center we often show people the sustainability features of the buildings and gardens, and then take them around the short inner-loop trail. We talk about the key role of saguaros in the ecosystem--providing homes for many birds. And we talk about the "nurse" role of many of the trees on the property, creating a microclimate where saguaros grow more easily. We point out many plants and their roles for wildlife. Among them we point out desert mistletoe, which also has been proposed as a keystone species.
We tell them that desert mistletoe berries are important to a variety of birds, like Phainopeplas. And that Phainopeplas--and other birds--sometimes nest in the dense clump that mistletoe often provides. 
On this occasion, arriving at desert hackberry, we explained how great that plant is for wildlife. Nearby, there was a small clump of mistletoe growing in an acacia. We notices there was indeed a very small nest inside this clump. Almost small enough to be a hummingbird nest. 
And then we saw the unmistakable tail and head of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher sticking up over the rim of the nest. We had seen them foraging nearby a couple weeks before. 
It was almost impossible to get a good photo because the nest is so well concealed in the mistletoe. But after trying a variety of angles we finally got some decent shots. In the photos below we zoom in from the mistletoe, located in a whitethorn acacia, to a closeup of the bird in the nest (below). We hope you enjoy this little piece of nature from Tucson Audubon's Mason Center!





Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tucson Audubon Invites You to Engage with Nature!

By Sarah Whelan and Sara Pike

In a world full of screens and electronic devices, it is more important now than ever before to go outside and engage with nature. When we press pause on a game, close the laptop, or turn off the TV and go outside, something magical happens. Even something as simple as 30 minutes a day engaged with nature helps reduce stress. Nature offers a great way to spend time with those you love or to provide some much-needed time by yourself. When we go outside and take part in the natural world around us, we support our emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual development and well-being.

Children can benefit greatly from time outdoors. The National Wildlife Federation highlights the benefits to getting kids outdoors on their website, summarizing that children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces, exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms, and being in nature can enhance social interactions and value for the community.

Even WebMD has an article titled, “Do You Need a Nature Prescription?” This article references, “…a 2010 Japanese study of shinrin-yoku (defined as “taking in the forest atmosphere, or forest bathing”), for example, researchers found that elements of the environment, such as the odor of wood, the sound of running stream water, and the scenery of the forest can provide relaxation reduce stress; those taking part in the study experienced lower levels of cortisol, a lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure.”

There is no doubt what being outside can do for you and your family. For those who are new to the outdoors in general, the question is “Where to start?”

An easy place to start would be a walk in your neighborhood. Look at the trees and plants, listen for birds or other sounds of nature, feel the breeze or the heat from the sun. If you are an urban dweller, find your closest park and spend 10 minutes looking, listening and feeling. For longer excursions, driving up Mt. Lemmon or visiting a local state park for a picnic and a walk can make for a nice morning.

Tucson Audubon offers a variety of programs that can then expand your horizon and get you outdoors. Check out the ½ mile, easy to walk desert trail lined with stunning saguaros and ironwood trees at Tucson Audubon’s Mason Center, attend a 7 Saturdays program held in Patagonia at Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, attend a birding field trip (beginners to advanced birders all welcome!), or watch for an upcoming class on gardening for birds or sharpening your birding identification skills. You can find all of this information on the Tucson Audubon website, www.tucsonaudubon.org.



If you are a reader and prefer to learn about an activity before partaking, or if you enjoy having a book as your guide as you go along, the Tucson Audubon Society Nature Shops have what you need to get started and what you need to dig deeper into your experience with the great outdoors. Whether you are starting your first nature journal, tracking your latest bird sighting, planning your spring pollinator’s garden, or wanting to spend more time with your kids outdoors, we have the supplies you need to keep you motivated and answer your questions on how to engage with nature. You can find these great books, plus an opportunity to engage with nature at these locations:

Tucson Audubon Society’s Nature Shop – 300 E University Blvd. #120, 520-629-0510, Monday – Saturday, 10am – 4pm. This location provides the perfect opportunity to see an urban yard built for wildlife in action. Sit on the bench out front; enjoy the fountain and watching the birds at the plants and feeders.

Tucson Audubon Society’s Nature Shop at Pima County’s Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Park – 12325 E. Roger Rd., 520-760-7881, Thursday – Saturday, 10:30am – 1pm. This location offers ponds, park, picnic tables and walking paths throughout the park, and is a local birding hotspot, too!

Get out there, engage and enjoy!

References:

WebMD Article http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/nature-therapy-ecotherapy?page=4

National Wildlife Federation Article http://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Kids-and-Nature/Why-Get-Kids-Outside/Health-Benefits.aspx

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Poisoning Pack Rats Kills Owls (and other wildlife!)

Guest post by Bob and Prudy Bowers

We showed our Portland friends, Jeff and Lynette, a local Great Horned Owl's saguaro nest, complete with three almost-fledged babies. Jeff took this video of Winkin, Blinkin and Nod, three semi-adorable owlets, which includes Winkin's struggle to consume Fat Albert, a full-grown white-throated wood rat (aka a pack rat).



This video is hilarious, but serious, too. It's why we advocate so strongly against the too-common practice of using poisoned bait to 'control' pack rats.

A Great Horned Owl can eat one rat a day throughout its 25 year expected life span. That's 228,125 pack rats you add to the rat population when you kill one owl with a poisoned rat. Not to mention the thousands of rat babies each of those spared rats would also produce. 

Poisoned rats die slowly, staggering around for more than a day, and are easy prey for owls, hawks, bobcats, coyotes and other desert animals that control our perpetual rat population naturally. Please don't use rat poison, and if your pest control company does use it, find another pest control company and tell your company why you are switching.

Monday, April 18, 2016

BIRDATHON: Competitive, Casual, Creative—but Forever a FUNraiser

By Keith Ashley, Resource Development Director

When competitive and casual teams come together to have fun and raise money for a cause they believe in, the results are extraordinary—but it’s worth noting that Birdathon is the Tucson Audubon FUNraiser that almost never took flight…

MEET RUTH RUSSELL: TUCSON AUDUBON BIRDATHON FOUNDER
Board Member Ruth Russell is the obvious go-to person for Birdathon history. Not only is she one of the event’s founders, but she has also participated annually for 29 years running! And here’s the beautiful secret: in 1987, when Ruth recommended Birdathon be adopted as an official event by the Tucson Audubon Board of Directors, they all voted against it—even her husband, Steve. She decided to hold a small, unofficial Birdathon anyway just for fun. And the rest is history…

Despite his “no” vote, Steve ended up leading Ruth’s team (the Coots) and four more local teams formed to compete (the Larks, the Becards, the Eagles, and the Kingbirds). Each of the five teams had three members: two birders and one recorder. Teams only birded for six hours each, but their star-studded cast knew where to find the birds. A few of the participants were John Bates, ornithologist and now associate curator of the Chicago Field Museum; Kenn Kaufman, acclaimed birder and author of Kingbird Highway; Gale Monson, “the father of modern Arizona field ornithology”; and Steve Russell, retired University of Arizona professor and researcher in ecology and evolutionary biology. Also on board was Arnie Moorhouse, at that time the organizer of the Christmas Bird Count in Elfrida.

Ruth describes Arnie: “He, for instance, knew where to find every single Barn Owl in his territory. He counted 57 one year. Arnie would give you directions to some deep hole in the ground. You’d look in and sure enough, there was a Barn Owl roosting.” Arnie proved to be the Coots’ ace in the hole. The team won the competition by spotting 138 species in just six hours. Total Birdathon donations for the event came out to $2,190.

BIRDATHON: COMPETITIVE, CASUAL, CREATIVE
Debbie and Tom Callazo with Blue
There are as many different approaches to Birdathon as there are different ways to love birds. Last year’s prize-winning team, the Wrenegades, saw 163 species. (Team member Tim Helentjaris points to Sara Pike’s “Just one more bird, just one more bird!” as the key to their success). Debbie and Tom Callazo, a decidedly more casual team, took their dog Blue out with them and included both an “American Rooster” from Barrio Hollwood and a Great-Horned Owl of the plastic roof-top variety among their 45 sightings.

In her 29 years of Birdathon participation, Ruth has run the gamut of approaches—but she clearly excels at the creative Birdathon. “We once held a strictly warbler Birdathon, beginning in Mexico, and ended up with 50 species,” she explains. “Another time we counted how many hummingbirds we could band in a day.”

Ruth always kicks off the Birdathon season with a letter to her supporters informing them of the nature of the year’s Birdathon—and to let them know why it is so important to her to raise money to support the work of Tucson Audubon.

Join the 2016 Birdathon fun! Join or create a team or donate to your favorite team at tucsonaudubon.org/birdathon.