Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bird Survey at the North Simpson Restoration Site

Just a quick note about a bird survey we did on Tuesday at our restoration site on the lower Santa Cruz River. We continue not to see yellow-billed cuckoos at the site, after some promising summers a few years ago. However, it is very rewarding to see a wide variety of summer birds using the site. We believe summer tanagers, Bullock's orioles, Bell's vireo, yellow warblers and many others species are nesting there due to their presence in numbers during spring and summer nesting seasons.

Tuesday's survey was fun too because some early migrants were moving through--as has been reported in the last few days on the AZ/NM birding listserv. These included lazuli buntings, black-headed grosbeaks, and western tanagers.

Scott Wilbor and I have done these surveys for years, but has time has gone by we find ourselves busier and busier. In the last couple years Matt Griffiths has stepped in ably to help us on many of the surveys. On Tuesday, our latest addition Jennie MacFarland did the survey with me. I was very, very impressed by her visual and auditory identification skills. In her capacity as Scott's assistant in the Arizona IBA program, she has also become very knowledgeable about the IBA program and its protocols for bird counts.

The IBA program always has volunteer jobs for birders. There are lots of great places where it is collecting data. If you choose to become a volunteer with the IBA program, you will have great mentors in Scott and Jennie.

Good birding everybody!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lower San Pedro IBA Surveys

This month the Important Bird Area team visited sites around San Manuel to survey for birds. The intrepid team composed of Scott Wilbor (IBA Conservation Biologist, our Fearless Leader and Birding Guru), Jennie MacFarland (IBA Program Assistant – Biologist and Birding Warrior), Tim Helentjaris (Volunteer and Birdwatcher Extraordinaire) and Celeste Andresen (Nature Conservancy Employee and Bird Whisperer). Scott, Jennie and Tim arrived in San Manuel Friday July 16 and discussed plans for surveying our feathered friends the following day over delicious Mexican food and then retired to the San Manuel Lodge.

The following morning the team met before 5 am for breakfast in the hotel parking lot courtesy of Scott and left in teams of 2 to conduct the surveys.

Jennie and Celeste surveyed the 7B property on the T1 Route that begins in a mature mesquite bosque with huge mesquite trees. The transect ends in a small riparian area fed by a hot spring that is home to many birds as well as a community of Lowland Leopard Frogs. Celeste and I found 30 species of birds during our survey including many fledged young Vermillion Flycatchers and Lucy’s Warblers. About halfway through the survey, we encountered a corral that had a large puddle of muddy water. The bird activity here was astounding! Two Lesser Nighthawks were zooming over the water despite the fact it was now midmorning. Two female Black-chinned Hummingbirds were zipping around over the survace of the water hawking for tiny insects and occasionally pausing to fight with each other! While we watched Song Sparrows scratched about for breakfast and sang their distinctive song while a whole family of Yellow Warblers took advantage of the abundant insects. As we moved on to finish our survey, a Black Phoebe swooped from its perch to the water and back again and a Brown-crested Flycatcher caught an enormous insect in its large bill, emitting honking squeaks of triumph. All in all a great surveying morning!

Meanwhile, Scott and Tim were conducting two transect surveys on the BHP property near San Manuel. Their second survey began where the first ended and both closely followed the San Pedro River. Their surveys started off with a bang with a sighting of a group of Wild Turkeys roosting high up in a tree! Racking up an impressive 38 species, many of the highlights of the morning were not birds at all. A mama Javalina with an adorable and tiny baby in tow crossed their path and later in the morning two young White-tailed Deer bucks, still with velvet on their antlers, were hanging out obliviously until they saw Scott and Tim and then bounded away, flashing their white tails. Their second transect ended on the bank of the San Pedro River just in time to see a Great Blue Heron flush and fly a little further down stream.

A great birding time was had by all while gathering important information to hopefully create a new Important Bird Area. To find out what the IBA program is all about and how you could volunteer to be an intrepid bird surveyor, please visit our site at The website it full of great information about the IBA program including current IBA sites in AZ as well as access to summaries of the birds found by IBA surveyors at existing IBA sites and potential IBA sites.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Birding by Bicycle – Mt. Lemmon Overnighter

By Matt Griffiths
Here in Tucson we are lucky to have a great variety of habitats right at our fingertips. A wide sampling of these is easily available on a trip up the Catalina Highway, aka Mt Lemmon. I’m sure you’ve heard this drive is like “traveling from Mexico to Canada” in 28 miles! Well, those of us who tour by bicycle would love to make the real trip to the Great White North, but time is hard to come by. Instead of weeks or months, you can experience the vegetation and birds of the Sonoran desert all the way up to coniferous forests in one day -- by bike! I decided to do just this recently, and taking a cue from our Birdathon, I tried to score as many bird species as I could.

I loaded up my trusty touring bike with camping gear, food and water and set out across town listening for bird song in between watching the traffic flow. I easily picked up the usual urban “tolerants” (tolerant enough to share space with humans!) such as White-winged Dove, Cactus Wren and the occasional singing Bell’s Vireo at wash crossings.

Turning off Tanque Verde and heading toward the mountain, habitat fragments become larger and harbor more and more bird species. The lower slopes are classic Sonoran desert, and here you quickly discover the birds that are not so tolerant of marginal habitat. I never saw any of these species, but it sounded like Ash-throated and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Pyrrhuloxia and Black-throated Sparrows were all enjoying the morning!

After about 6 miles of climbing at Molino Basin you enter Madrean oak forest characterized by several oak species and patches of grassland. This is when you look up from your handlebars and notice that things look different. I stopped to snap a few photos of the dense forest of Arizona white, Mexican blue and silver leaf oaks that hugs the creek at the canyon bottom. I knew there were many new birds to discover here, so I kept my ears open. Once riding again I heard the sweet song of a Scott’s Oriole, had a Cassin’s Kingbird and an Arizona Woodpecker pair fly across my path, and then a silky black Coachwhip snake race along in front of my tire. I always thought that traveling by bicycle was non-obtrusive, but this was ridiculous!

Molino Basin
A little farther along you enter Bear Canyon, a fortress of rock formations and giant Arizona Cypress and Sycamore trees. About this time I was really starting to feel the effects of the effort and the stifling humidity. A mandatory rest stop proved productive as a chorus of raptor screeching drew my eyes to the sky. I was surprised and excited to see four Peregrine Falcons calling and chasing each other around, with a Common Raven joining in on the fun. I would later kick myself for not shooting some video footage of this—perfect for a blog!
So, I had wanted to make it up to about 8000 ft to camp, but now the rain was already moving in and my body wasn’t in synch with my mind. I decided to camp at Hitchcock Campground in the pine/oak forest of Bear Canyon at 6000 ft. After intermittent rain showers this was a wonderland of Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Painted Redstarts, Western Wood-Pewees, Hermit Thrushes, Plumbeous Vireos and a single Juniper Titmouse.

Night birding from my camp was easy. Despite the rain, conditions were calm, so I easily heard Common Poorwill, Whip-poor-will, and Flammulated, Western Screech and Elf Owls.

On the trail
The next morning I hiked part way up the Green Mountain trail which heads up canyon and eventually deposits you back on the Highway at San Pedro Vista. This is a great scenic trail that I would recommend to anyone who loves steep climbs with views! Anyway, on the way back I found two juvenile Cooper’s Hawks patrolling the area who were happy to come perch right above my head! I got great looks at the birds and their behavior but once again forgot to get any kind of photo or video documentation! I guess I really do live for the moment.

As I was packing up camp a thunder-laden group of clouds began marching overhead, so I quickly hit the road and rolled down to the valley where the heat returned and the rain was nowhere to be seen. All told, I had found 51 bird species. Not too bad for bike seat birding and not making it to “Canada.” I guess I probably ended somewhere in the foothills of the Sierras in Northern California…

For more bicycle birding stories, read the reports from my Tucson Audubon Birdathon teams: 2008, 2009.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rain Comes to Barrio Kroeger Lane

Not long after lamenting the lack of rain in my last post about our project at Barrio Kroeger Lane, the rain finally came!

Monday night a storm passed through. There was enough rain to cause stormwater to run along the sides of the street, through the curb cuts and into the basins. A few of the basins that are still being constructed got quite a bit of water (see photo)!

I went down this morning with Executive Director Paul Green to show him the progress we have made. He was excited to see the middle school-aged kids at work, and the extensive rainwater harvesting basins and native plantings that have been done.

The photos below show one of the completed basins and Paul talking to Nathan Fenoglio, one of the Southwest Conservation Corps crew leaders.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Harvesting Rainwater (if it ever rains!) at Barrio Kroeger Lane

I'm back from another morning at Barrio Kroeger Lane with the Southwest Conservation Corps. We have their teams of middle school students--part of a "learn and serve" summer program--creating rainwater harvesting basins along the often-flooded streets of this small neighborhood southwest of downtown Tucson.

My back is a little sore this time because a coupler was misplaced that allows them to get water from an irrigation system there. So I had to make three trips with a 55-gallon barrel in the back of my truck to ferry water to them, which we then had to dip out of the barrel with 5-gallon buckets to water the plants.

Glitches are to be expected in a project this big, and that has so many partners. Tucson Audubon's participation is paid for by our TogetherGreen Innovation Grant, a program of National Audubon funded by Toyota. This is the second year we have been working with this neighborhood with TogetherGreen funds. Additional funding was obtained by City Council member Regina Romero's Ward 1 council office, through the efforts of Mac Hudson, aide to the council member. This money has paid for the City of Tucson Department of Transportation to do the initial, rough excavation of the extensive rainwater harvesting basins, and to cut the curbs to allow stormwater to run into the basins from the street.

The Barrio Kroeger Lane Neighborhood, of course, is providing the pallet for this work and some great logistical assistance.

Desert Survivors Nursery, located nearby on Starr Pass Road, pitched in by providing trees and shrubs at a discount. Finally, the Southwest Conservation Corps obtained their Learn and Serve Grant and decided to use a substantial amount of the available student labor to help build these basins.

The Learn and Serve students have been shaping basins, lining them with rock, planting trees and shrubs and putting mulch in the basin (as seen in the adjacent photo). Tucson Audubon has provided our staff time to oversee the work, some of the mulch and many of the shrubs.

The project addresses several ecological and practical issues. First, the neighborhood is on flat ground in the historic floodplain of the Santa Cruz River, and is subject to flooding in heavy summer rains. The project will help reduce the amount of stormwater on streets, which will flow off the streets through the cuts in the curbs and into the basins. Second, the stormwater will help grow native tree and shrub species that will beautify the neighborhood and provide homes for birds and other animals. Third, this is a demonstration of how landscaping can subsist on rainwater alone (after plants are established), reducing the amount of expensive and scarce potable water we have to use on landscapes. This will eventually help us to reach groundwater safe yield, protect areas of high groundwater, and perhaps take less water from the Colorado River. Our use of Colorado River water kills habitat along the lower Colorado River, uses huge amounts of energy and has a huge carbon footprint.

So hooray for all who are participating in this great effort! And I'll rest my back the rest of the day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Welcome to the Tucson Audubon blog!

We realize that only a fraction of what staff and volunteers do for Tucson Audubon ever reaches our membership. There's only so much we can put in the pages of the Vermilion Flycatcher, onto our website, or into our weekly emails. So here is our blog, a place for staff and volunteers to get up close and personal with those who have an interest in knowing what is going on.