Monday, June 29, 2015

Paton on the Fly

My name is Sandy Marin and I am the summer 2015 intern for the Tucson Audubon Society. I have been working here for about a month, and I am delighted to feel so welcome. Everyone here is so enthusiastic about my participation and is trying to ensure that I get the best experience out of my internship. I can already say that I am well on my way to a summer full of valuable experiences that enrich not only my professional career, but my personal health as well. One of my favorite things about working with Tucson Audubon is being able to work in such amazing atmospheres. From the conservation and education focused Mason Center, to the restoration efforts at Atturbury Wash and more, Tucson Audubon is working to conserve and rehabilitate valuable bird habitat in Tucson. The added bonus of conserving and restoring beautiful landscapes is being able to spend time in these relaxing and restorative areas.

I had the opportunity to visit the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia this past week and it's definitely one of my new favorite places. The property is quaint, charming, and teeming with life. During the visit with the restoration crew, our goal was to landscape, remove invasive species, and conduct general repairs. I couldn't say that I minded doing yard work when the context of the work entailed spending time in a hotspot for bird diversity. I'll be sharing some of my experiences and photos of the two day trip below.

 My first sighting was one of the most exciting and glorious, a Western-Yellow Billed Cuckoo! I was distracted by the construction of bird feeder trays at the time, but was lucky enough to rush over in time to catch a glimpse of this threatened beauty. I managed to snap a blurry photo to share, but nothing beats being able to see this guy in person.

One of my favorite things about going down to the Paton Center, was that, despite the hard work everyone was putting in, no one was ever too busy to stop and appreciate the beauty surrounding us. I was cooling off in the dusk shade after a hot day and appreciating the bed time feeding frenzy when I saw a Violet-crowned Hummingbird whiz by my head and start feasting at one of the many feeders around the property.

The sun set shortly after this photo, and we set foot for the only open restaurant in quirky downtown Patagonia. We enjoyed a bite to eat and headed back to Patons, tired and ready to roll out our sleeping bags. My last view before I drifted to sleep was the inky black sky dotted with twinkling stars. I woke up to the birds chirping and I welcomed the morning with a short walk around the property. While I was walking, I kept hearing the call of a Gambel's Quail searching for her partner. I was looking along the ground expecting to see her running across the yard, but I couldn't spot her. I finally looked up to see a curious looking mom staring back at me. She was standing protectively in front of her young, but she couldn't help looking back at me with the same inquisitive eyes I had on her. Too bad her babies ran off before I could take a photo.

I was so lucky that I had the camera in my hand when I went back to work, because a Gila Woodpecker landed right in the grassy area right beside the sign I was creating! 

My favorite project I worked on over my two day stay at Patons was painting the backyard feeders. The birds took well to the new stain, the feeders were full within minutes of me resetting them. 

We took a lunch break, and watched the clouds roll in while we ate at the neighborhood cafe. By the time we finished our chores, the rain was pouring and we were drenched. Our final task of the visit was weeding Johnson grass, and I pulled that grass with a fervor fueled primarily by my desire to put on a dry shirt. Needless to say, the rain smelled amazing and our newly manicured landscape drank in the first summer rain. We outraced the clouds on our way back to Tucson, and the view on the way out of town was breathtaking.

I can't wait for my next visit, when we will be working with students from the University of Arizona to design a new shade structure to keep visitors cool! If you find yourself with a free day, a trip through Patagonia to the Paton property is well worth the trek. Make sure to bring binoculars for the full experience!

If you want to find out more about the Paton Center or visit the facility, follow the link: Tucson Audubon's Paton Center for Hummingbirds

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Life With a Cooper's Hawk Family

Guest post by Michael Ehrhardt

I have been following a Cooper's Hawk for 18 months now. I have been able to watch the nest last spring and this year. The hawk got used to my presence and I was able to get quite close.

I also saw her offspring in the Sabino wash.

This May, five eggs were reported by a crane operator who was pruning mesquites. Two siblings appeared 15 days ago, and this June 2nd, flew for the first time.

This morning I got up at 5 am again and walked to the nest after toast and coffee. I arrived at the nest at 7:05 am. As the day before, a parent flew out of the nest and headed east up the Sabino wash. Soon the two youngsters got out of the nest and perched on the limb in front.

They were both eager to flex their wings.

His sibling did a "I can do that, too" --

One soon moved up the limb and into a maze of small branches. He kept moving into the tangle and it became very difficult to see him. The other remained on the limb and began exercising her wings. Finally. at 7:54 am, spreading them and taking her first flight, to a nearby mesquite.

She seems to have that "Did I do that?" look. She then flew again and headed into the mesquite bosque on a neighbor' estate. That is fenced, of course, so we can't follow the hawks there.

Almost an hour late the boy started moving toward more open branches and began doing wing exercises. His then moved to another branch and stretched out again.

And he then, at 8:52 am took his first flight, going west into the bosque.

I did not see the youngsters again. They are somewhere nearby, in the neighbor's property. The mom became agitated as I moved around and gave me a serious warning.

But the mom I have followed now for 18 months has almost finished her parenting job for this year.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Brief Field Report: Leucistic Curve-billed Thrasher

Guest post by Joe Billings

While working on a self-designed water harvesting/native plant landscape project(“A Natural Desert Garden Refuge “/ The Landscaping Artist, southeastern Pima County), I spotted a bird—pure white in color—that looked from a distance, to be a Curve-billed Thrasher.

At the time, on Thursday, April 24th, I was conversing with two area residents, Jane and Ann, pointing out several spectacular native cholla stands, when the bird suddenly entered our visual field. A week or so prior, I had noticed a whitish blur of wings in the same vicinity, but without getting a good look, I assumed it was just another white pigeon. Working around to the opposite side of a magnificent silver cylindropuntia fulgida thicket, I was clearly able to confirm its identity, through my binocs, while sitting on the ground. Later that evening, taking my sister Linda’s advice—the only true birder of our family—I purchased a Canon Powershot camera and now equipped for the first time with zoom capabilities, resolved to get photos of this remarkable bird.

When I resumed the stalk for El Pajaro Blanco Magnifico the next day, I roamed a neighboring property where I had met and talked to a lady who had come out to greet me, on the previous day, while I was ‘salting’ the silver cholla thicket with bird seed after a quick trip over to the local ACE Hardware. She could not have been more friendly and gracious, asking: “Are you the landscaper?” and inviting me to enter and take photos wherever I wished. She said that the bird had shown up about a week before—coinciding with my first indistinct sighting—and had observed that the other thrashers would “pick on it” occasionally. Growing up surrounded by ample desert thickets with abundant thrashers and other ground foraging birds, this thrasher seemed just as familiar to me as your normal feisty thrasher.

I kept a respectful distance, although, not being used to my new camera, I used the pull-out screen rather than the viewfinder to take a series of pictures. According to Melissa Mayntz, of, as a professed birder of 30+ years experience: "Leucistic birds have an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment—primarily melanin—from properly coloring a bird’s feathers." However, leucism affects only the feathers, leaving the normal eye coloration, as is readily visible in these photos. I hope to add more birds to my current list for the site upon which I’m working—30-35 at present—but so nice to add this gem!

Thanks and appreciation go out to area residents for their friendliness & access, and I hope to get some better ‘pics’ in the coming week!

Cheers, JB

Monday, April 20, 2015

Patagonia Trail Blazing Part 3

Guest post by volunteer Bob Brandt
It is with mixed feelings that I submit this, my final blog entry marking the finish of the new trail linking the Tucson Audubon's Paton Center and The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. I think I speak for all the crew members in declaring no small amount of pride in having completed a job well done but an equal measure of regret that we will no longer be gathering each Wednesday morning as we have since last November to put our collective shoulders to the wheel in the service of these two wonderful organizations whose work not only protects our area’s unique flora and fauna but enhances our enjoyment of these precious assets in the process.

No small amount of credit is due our crew chief, Chris Strohm, for his constant guidance in making certain we stayed within the parameters prescribed for our new-found trail bulding skills, i.e., carefully clearing vegetation from the rough corridor while protecting as much of the native plants as we could, then creating a walkable tread of the correct width while maintaining just the right pitch to ensure water runoff and pleasing uphill/downhill grades.  The result is a trail that is destined to be the most frequently used and most highly appreciated hiking trail within the Patagonia vicinity of the Sonoita Creek watershed. That it connects two of the most important birding hotspots in Southern Arizona will please many a birder who will enjoy the foot journey from one destination to the other where they previously would have likely driven a motorized vehicle--a real plus for the environment. Panoramic views to be enjoyed periodically along the trail are an added attraction, especially the one afforded the hiker at the pinnacle of the vista spur.

The new trail, about a mile in length, is already getting rave reviews from users, many of whom have discovered it on their own. Since it has not been officially announced as yet nor even been formally connected to the two properties to and from which its users will set out, many hikers discover it as they begin the Geoffrey Platts Trail, which now shares a re-worked portion of its beginning tread with the new trail (which to date has not been officially named or signed with permanent signs).

A fitting celebration of our efforts took place at the conclusion of our last day of work when Tucson Audubon treated us “Dirt Bags” to a wonderful BBQ picnic at the Paton Center. While rain threatened to curtail our work all morning, as it turned out, we benefitted from just scattered refreshing showers and by the time the picnic celebration began the weather was glorious. As we feasted on our choice of beef or veggie burgers and all the “trimmins”, we workers were thrilled to be feted by several Tucson Audubon staff members, including the new executive director, Karen Fogas. We also had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Volunteer Coordinator Sharon Long and her daughter, Daisy, as well as Karen’s son, Andrew. Other Tucson Audubon staff on hand included Matt Griffiths, Jonathan Horst and Dan Lehman. Rodd Lancaster merits a special shout: he frequently joined us on the trail crew and, besides brandishing the tools of the trade, saw to it that we were well supplied with sustenance like energy bars, oranges, apples and that most important staple--popcorn. 

Of course, Keith Ashley, the Paton Center’s heroic head honcho, (are you blushing, Keith?) was on hand to profusely thank us all for our work and dedication and to remind us that there were other projects he’d gladly sign us up for if we’re feeling terribly afflicted by the effects of withdrawal from the trail-building highs. I, for one, am hooked and will be lending a hand as I am able to help the Paton Center achieve its full potential. It’s gratifying to know I can contribute to making this one of the premiere birding destinations in the country. If you haven’t been there yet, y’all come, hear?

Crew chief Chris Strohm proves he has skills that go beyond building beautiful trails.

A week before we finished the trail, we had a surprise birthday celebration for none other than our esteemed crew leader. Don't worry Chris, we'd never divulge your age.

Stu Evans starts obliterating part of the Geoffrey Platts Trail after we designed and built a superior bypass to eliminate a switchback.

(l-r) Dick Steffensen, Joe Watkins and Denny Allen install a temporary sign post at one of the junctions.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Transforming Young Minds Through Restoration Education

During January and February of 2015, Tucson Audubon greatly increased its meaningful work with youth through a number of projects. In this blog, we'll show you three examples of how Tucson Audubon is enlightening local youth minds and transforming their perspectives on the environment and their roles and responsibilities within it.


Guest Blog--Volunteering at Atturbury Wash Restoration
Contributed by Alice Cave

[all picture credits: Rick Fletcher and Alice Cave]

On Friday, February 5, TAS Staff Member Andy Bennett led a special project with the Ironwood Tree Experience Program, and the sophomore class from Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson to continue efforts to restore Atturbury Wash, this time focusing on creating rock structures to impede erosion and conserve water when there is rain. Atturbury Wash is located on the eastern side of Tucson, in Lincoln Regional Park. My husband, Rick Fletcher, and I started volunteering for these projects a couple of years ago when we were visiting in the Tucson area, and now we are spending the winter here and we enjoy working in this area and having a chance to see the birds resident there such as the vermilion flycatcher, phainopepla, and red tailed hawk.

The Ironwood Tree Experience,, is focused on introducing young people to nature, and provides experiences in local schools as well as trips to national parks and other beautiful and ecologically important destinations. Kara Welch and Elise Dillingham represented this group and worked along with the other adult volunteers to guide the students in their efforts.

The students from Salpointe Catholic High School were an impressive group. After an informative talk and tour through the wash, led by Andy Bennett, the students divided into groups and began building "rock mulch" and "one rock dams." After a brief demo, the kids got the idea, and quickly and efficiently built the structures. I was impressed by how focused they were, and how quick they were to understand the concepts. We adults acted as guides.

Andy explains how to build a media luna and the importance of water harvesting in desert restoration

Rick Fletcher helps Salpointe students build a one-rock dam to control erosion at Atturbury Wash

Students building rock media lunas to harvest water and grow vegetation

Salpointe students reflect on their experience and present short discussions
about specific topics that they focused on during the event
Restoration projects such as Atturbury Wash are very satisfying as a volunteer, because it does not take long to see the results and value of your work. For me, the value of Friday's work was not only in the visible rock structures throughout the site, but in witnessing the students' interest in ecology. Sure, they may not all grow up to have ecology careers, but it is not hard to imagine that they would remember their work at Atturbury Wash, and that it might have an impact on their decisions in the future.

Thanks for your post, Alice!


Not too far from Atturbury, Tucson Audubon's "Growing Skills for the Green Economy" project continues to bring innovative ideas and big changes to the Western Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) high school. Staffers Keith Ashley and Andy Bennett introduced the concepts of ecology and ecological restoration during a special hands-on two day intensive lesson. Using the reintroduction of wolves (the school mascot) to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem as an example of species restoration and its role in degraded ecosystems, Ashley and Bennett brought these ideas home and linked them to the restoration work planned at the school. To continue the ecological learning, the students completed an “ecological scavenger hunt” at Tucson Audubon’s urban restoration area at Atturbury Wash that included meeting native species and understanding stream restoration.

WILD students at Atturbury Wash read about the mesquite tree they are sitting on.

As part of the Atturbury Wash ecological scavenger hunt, WILD students measure the depth of the wash’s incision.
We asked some of the students at WILD to reflect upon transformational moments during which they recognized the importance of the natural world. Here are some of their thoughts:

Caleb: Before coming to WILD and meeting all the amazing people through its partnerships, I felt that this world was pretty hopeless. We are constantly destroying it without a second thought, killing animals and disrupting the ecosystem, mining resources using inefficient methods, pouring pollution into the atmosphere--all without even realizing what we were doing, not only to the earth, but to ourselves. The planet is dying, and before being introduced to organizations who are trying to fix the mess we created, I didn’t know that it shouldn’t be. I felt it was fairly normal, I mean everything dies in the end. But I didn’t know that not only was this unnatural, but that there were many ways to prevent this. Meeting people from the Audubon Society and going through some of their lessons allowed me to realize that even making a small change for the better in the environment could drastically change the situation we are in. Going through projects focused on improving the habitat around our campus for plants and animals alike helped me gain skills to change the future and make it a better place for the generations to come.

Laynah: I started to realize the environment was important when I noticed all the housing developments that were coming up in Tucson. I saw how many habitats were being destroyed by the developments, and I realized that in turn, the desert wildlife was being compromised. That is when I started to understand just how important sustaining our environment is.

Devon: The first time that I started to think of the environment was when I first came to WILD and saw how much the school did to fix the environment around them. This made me want to do the same thing. Today I do all I can to help my own family. One thing I have helped with at the school is the green-house and helping WILD work with Tucson Audubon Society to help restore our native bird habitats at our own school. ~ Devon Francisco Lopez

One component of this exciting project are two growing structures that the students are building on the school grounds--a hoop-house and shade-house--that will be used to enrich the school's curriculum through the growing of native plants important to wildlife. These plants will eventually be planted in water harvesting basins on the school's degraded landscapes.

WILD students putting the finishing touches on the hoop-house frame

The hoop-house and shade-house await their respective coverings of thick plastic and shade cloth
On February 21, Tucson Audubon and WILD held a community workshop focused on native plant propagation and seed collection. Local experts Berni Jilka from Nighthawk Natives and Gary Maskarinec from Wildlands Restoration enriched participant's knowledge of the subject matter and also donated native seed, pots, and other supplies. We planted about 75 pots of 10 native grasses, shrubs, and tress that day, and several have already germinated.

WILD students Michelle and Precise (right) get dirty mixing potting soil
for native plants. Berni Jilka from Nighthawk Natives (upper right corner) helped us put
together a mix perfect for natives.

Gary Maskarinec leads a plant identification and seed collection walk through the
WILD school grounds. We collectively identified 18 native species and 11 non-natives present on the property.
On March 28th we'll continue this project with an Urban Restoration Community Workshop. During this exciting hands-on workshop we'll teach the basics of rainwater harvesting and native plant care by constructing basins and planting them with 100 native plants. For more information about this project and the community workshop series, contact Andy Bennett.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Patagonia Trail Blazing Part 2

Guest post by volunteer Bob Brandt
The trail crew has now put in five strong days of building new sections of the yet-to-be-named trail linking Tucson Audubon's Paton Center with the TNC’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. Day five took place on Wednesday, February 4 and saw five women among the 18 total workers. This project is one that increasingly more people seem to want to be a part of. Our numbers keep burgeoning and that bodes well for completion of the trail in a timely manner. In fact, in just five days we are about at the halfway mark, a fact that Crew Leader Chris Strohm acknowledges with pride.

Good thing Chris had flags to mark his way…otherwise we might still be looking for him.

With the notable exception of the paid staff of Tucson Audubon and TNC, all workers have thus far been members of that group variously known as retirees, senior citizens, the over-the-hill gang and a few other monikers some of us prefer to reject. At 73, I fall somewhere in the middle of this pack of trail masons and am both grateful that I am physically capable of making a contribution to this effort and honored to be a part of the team.

As I mentioned in my first entry, our crew members hail from as far away as Tucson, well over an hour away from the work site. I especially want to note that the day five crew included my good friend from near Gettysburg, PA, Loy Elliott, who just happened to be dropping in on me at just the right time. What’s that, Loy? Did you say “wrong time?" But, Loy, we did allow you to recline while you worked. (see evidence below)

Pennsylvanian Loy Elliott happened into my world just in time to join in
on our fun. Relaxing work, eh Loy?

Two events outside the normal bounds of this project took place this past week and are worthy of special mention. First, on Day 5 our regular work of clearing corridor and creating finished tread was preceded by the extraction of three very old appliances from the premises of the Paton Center. It might be more accurate to say that these items—a refrigerator, freezer and heavy metal tank--were exhumed. They had been buried on the Paton property near the creek many years ago and took an immense amount of manpower (apologies to the ladies) to dislodge from their “graves”. All manner of implements were brought to bear on this extraction exercise, but Denny Allen emerged the hero when he lassoed each of the items to his Dodge Ram pickup truck with chain and winch and pulled them up and out of their trench.

That accomplished, and about an hour behind schedule, the crew set about doing what is now the routine but physically-demanding task of creating a trail that is sure to please many a hiker and be enjoyed by throngs of birders.

Freezer fun--Try as they might, the crew could not lift this monster from its
grave without help from Denny and his Dodge Ram pickup.

The second event of note last week was the arrival of a group of sophomores from Salpointe High School in Tucson to spend time helping us build the trail. Accompanied by two teachers and supervised by Chris, preserve manager Luke Reese and myself, the students were given the task of clearing a new section of trail including the clearing of a rough corridor and creating the finished tread. After introductory remarks and instruction on safety and basic trail-building techniques, the students had only about an hour and a half of time on the trail. However, their energy and enthusiasm resulted in their completing roughly a hundred feet of new trail, an admirable achievement for so short a time. The students all seemed to enjoy the experience in spite of the clawing some of them endured in the brush-clearing phase. They are likely to be back again next year according to their teachers.

Salpointe sophomores pose with Chris and Luke as they prepare to create a new segment of trail.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Patagonia Trail Blazing

Guest post by volunteer Bob Brandt
On Wednesday, January 7, some dozen able-bodied volunteers set about the task of building a hiking trail from Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds to The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. The single-use trail will be nearly a mile long and will allow hikers to walk from either of these two birding hotspots to the other while enjoying some great views of the surrounding landscape from elevated parts of the trail.

Chris explains the basics of trail-building techniques and
specifications to the work crew before the actual work begins.
Crew leader Chris Strohm, a winter resident of Patagonia, has years of experience in trail building and maintenance as a result of his work on the Pacific Crest and Lake Tahoe Rim trails in California as well as maintaining and improving the 21 miles of trails in the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area adjacent to Patagonia Lake State Park. Chris, TNC preserve manager, Luke Reese, and Tucson Audubon board member, Bob Hernbrode, laid out a rough corridor before Christmas 2014, then Chris and others “tight flagged” the first section of the trail prior to the first group work day. The crew plans to work on the trail every Wednesday until it is completed, hopefully before the blistering heat of summer arrives.

The crew clears an 8-10 foot corridor of most plant material, then creates a 24 inch wide tread on which the hikers will actually set foot. The trail will meet modern trail building specifications that will ensure patrons a safe and enjoyable trek through some of the most beautiful terrain in Southeastern Arizona.

Typical view of the trail terrain before the crew clears the 8-10 foot trail corridor.
A view of part of the first section finished by the crew on Day 1.

As I post this first blog entry, about 20 individual volunteers have completed three days of trail-building, logging in more than 150 hours of effort already. The crew, affectionately known as the Dirt Bags, so far has consisted of volunteers from Patagonia, Rio Rico, Green Valley and even Tucson. Both men and women are pitching in to bring this trail to life.

Crew Leader, Chris Strohm, stands next to the sign marking the trailhead of the
The Nature Conservancy’s Geoffrey Platts Trail, part of which will be incorporated into the new trail.
Joe Watkins and Dennie Allen, both of Rio Rico, muscle a huge rock
from the future trail on the first day.
Members of the crew hard at work.
Members of the crew quench their thirst after a hard day’s work courtesy of
Tucson Audubon Vice President, Bob Hernbrode.