Friday, October 29, 2010

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Tucson Audubon Field Trip Report
By Michael Bissontz (

Today (10-23-10) 7 Tucson Audubon members got their feet wet in the ever lovely Sonoita Creek in Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (permit required). We went in from the Rio Rico entrance and hiked 6 miles round trip.

38 species were observed and heard. Highlights included Belted Kingfisher, Anna's Hummingbird, Great Horned Owl, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Plumbeous Vireo, Rufous-winged and Black-throated Sparrows. We were surprised to find that one of the Cassin's Kingbirds turned out to be a Tropical Kingbird!

Great Horned Owl by Mark Sharon

Rufous-winged Sparrow by Mark Sharon

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet by Mark Sharon

Tropical Kingbird by Mark Sharon

Tubac de Anza Trail

Tucson Audubon Field trip Report
Clifford A. Cathers (

Today (October 17, 2010) I led the Tucson Audubon Society field trip to Tubac where 26 enthusiastic birders scoured the jungle both north and south of the bridge over the Santa Cruz River. Our route was the trail north of the bridge all the way to the corral near the golf course, back along the golf course and roads to the bridge and then south into Morris Park from 7:30 AM to 10:50 AM. It was initially quite cool with a south wind and temps in the upper 50's.

It was very, very quiet in the early morning north of the bridge. It seems as if we're trapped between seasons right now and resident and migrant activity was low. It wasn't until we walked back along the edge of the golf course that things perked up. I was thankful for lots of friendly faces because the lack of birds, the cold breeze, the very wet grass and predator seed pods made it a challenging morning!

Our best birds included a small flock of CEDAR WAXWINGs, both CASSIN'S and PLUMBEOUS VIREOs, a sapsucker which photos may prove to be a Yellow-bellied, VERMILION FLYCATCHERs on the golf course, a lingering DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, one each of SUMMER and WESTERN TANAGER, and a lone RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET. GREEN-TAILED TOWHEEs were in big numbers (12-14 perhaps?), but were impossible to see in the dense vegetation.


See the Field Trip listings to join one of these exciting birding trips!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Take That Arundo!

Sabino IBA Stewardship & TogetherGreen volunteer day. A good day for us, a bad day for Arundo!

By Jennie MacFarland – IBA Program Assistant - Biologist

As the cool morning dawned on Saturday, October 23, a group of 20 volunteers and 4 Tucson Audubon Society staff members gathered in the heart of Sabino Creek and Bear Creek Important Bird Area. Their purpose was to lay siege to the dense clumps of Arundo donax (Giant Reed) that is invading Sabino Creek. For those who have not encountered this less than charming plant, Arundo is an invasive species from Asia that crowds out native vegetation and strongly competes for water. For this reason, we are trying to rid Sabino Creek of Arundo and protect the habitat for native birds in this Important Bird Area.

We all gathered at 8am and listened to a welcome speech and instructions on how to attack Arundo from Kendall Kroesen. Then Scott Wilbor described how this area provides habitat for our native birds as an Important Bird Area. Then it was time to get to work! All the helpers split up into small groups armed with clippers and poles with sponges on the end to apply herbicide to the cutoff stumps of Arundo. This is necessary as cutting them is not enough, if herbicide is not applied to the freshly cut stem, the plant could quickly grow back. As stems of Arundo were cut, they were placed into piles that quickly became large piles of very long stems that often required more than one person to carry. Spirits were high and jokes abounded as we all busily worked away at clearing out this plant. This was a fun productive day of teamwork and stewardship that resulted in improved health of this important habitat as well as a more pleasant place for us humans to visit. However, by no means is the battle on Arundo over.
Stay tuned for future opportunities to help in the battle against Arundo and other non-natives such as Fountain Grass. These opportunities are shown on the current events calendar and there is one coming up in Ironwood Forest National Monument on December 11. If you are also interested in the Important Bird Area Program and would like to find out what it is all about, there is a fun Bird Blitz for Conservation coming up on November 13. We will have a fun, informal day of birding in Tanque Verde Wash and discover what it is that IBA Program volunteers do to help Arizona’s birds. If you are interested in participating, contact the Tucson Audubon Society’s IBA office at 629-0510 x7004 or x7005.

These restoration volunteer days often occur in quite beautiful areas that are a joy to work in. The best part is the feeling that you did something to directly help birds by improving their habitat. Take my word for it, it’s a great feeling!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Twelve Trees

Kendall Kroesen

Atturbury Wash has twelve new trees. The wash, at Lincoln Regional Park off Escalante Road east of Pantano, is a special place for wildlife. Tucson Audubon is working there, in cooperation with Tucson Parks and Rec and the Groves-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, to explore ways to maintain and enhance habitat for birds.

Entrance to trail along Atturbury Wash Bird and Animal Sanctuary

On October 8 I introduced ten employees of the Southwest Conservation Corps to Atturbury Wash. We went birding and I told them about the importance of places like that to wildlife. Michael Lyman of the Groves-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association gave them a brief history of neighborhood efforts to save the wash and facilitate enjoyment of the wash by walkers and birders.

Then we planted one of twelve trees that had been donated to Tucson Audubon by The Local Trust. I taught them how we build a small rainwater catchment in which to plant, and then how we inspect and plant the tree itself.

Southwest Conservation Corps members prepare to plant the first tree

That tree served as a model the following day, Saturday October 9, when eighteen volunteers arrived to plant the rest of the trees. This was a volunteer day supported by TogetherGreen, a program of National Audubon funded by Toyota. The volunteers did a great job! City Council Member Shirley Scott paid a visit, and the event was covered by a photographer from the Arizona Daily Star (see story). For other photographs, go to this page.

Six employees of the neighborhood's extremely successful youth employment program were also there to help with the work. They pick up trash, maintain the trail system, and water plants--like these trees--that are planted to augment habitat along the wash.

These trees were planted not just to improve habitat in a place where drought and hydrological problems have caused a die-off of vegetation. The Local Trust donated these trees as a carbon sink. The Trust accepts donations from people who want to offset their carbon emissions. Perhaps a person takes a flight or a long road trip and wants to make up for the carbon they put in the air. They make a donation to The Local Trust and it is used to take an equivalent amount of carbon back out of the atmosphere. This has been done, so far, by installing solar water heaters on Habitat for Humanity homes, or by providing trees to Tucson Audubon. The trees sequester carbon as they grow.

Creating partnerships is a critical way Tucson Audubon multiplies its efforts and gets things done to safeguard the environment. For this project we are grateful for the cooperation and support of Tucson Parks and Rec, City Council Member Shirley Scott, the Groves-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, The Local Trust and The Southwest Conservation Corps.

Other TogetherGreen volunteer days will be held at the following locations and times. Go to the Tucson Audubon event calendar for more details. Contact me to sign up, at or 520-971-2385.

Saturday, November 13
Fountain Grass Removal at Esperero Canyon

Saturday, December 4
Cleanup at Robb Wash

Saturday, December 11
Cleanup and Buffelgrass Pull at Ironwood Forest National Monument

Friday, October 15, 2010

Birding the Santa Cruz River at the Santa Fe Ranch

Tucson Audubon Field Trip Report
By Robin Baxter

Hello all, On Saturday Oct. 9 ten participants and I made the first Tucson Audubon Society field trip to the Santa Fe Ranch north of Nogales, and Las Lagunas, a wetland in the north end of Nogales. This was an introductory tour to let the birding community know about these excellent locations.

Santa Cruz River
The Santa Fe Ranch is on North River Road off of Hwy.82. It is a private working cattle ranch owned and operated by the Santa Fe Ranch Foundation. It is not only operated as a cattle ranch but also as an outdoor educational facility. There are restrooms, picnic tables, a butterfly and hummingbird garden, and a nature trail available to the public.

Las Lagunas is on Country Club Drive just off of Grand Ave. at the north end of Nogales. Long time local birders used to know it as the "drive-in pond". It is also owned by the Santa Fe Ranch and has just been officially opened to the public. A small area has been cleared of cattails and a short trail leads to the cienega edge. More cattail clearing to increase the open water, trails and boardwalks are planned for the future.

While both locations are open to the public the foundation does request that visitors call first. Not all of the ranch property is open to the public and there could be a chain across the entrance to Las Lagunas, so they would like some advance notice from visitors. If the chain is up at Las Lagunas you can still visit by parking across the street at the St. Andrew's Church and just step over the chain. There are no facilities at Las Lagunas.

The Santa Fe Ranch is on the Santa Cruz River(bed) making it good birding habitat, and as Las Lagunas is developed it will become more user friendly and is the best wetland cienega associated with the Santa Cruz River. It was also the first camp within the U.S. used by Juan Bautista de Anza on his expedition to colonize San Francisco in 1775.

The ranch foundation was pleased to have Tucson Audubon bring a group there and they look forward to birders visiting in the future. Here is a list of the birds we saw, which only barely hints at what may be found at these sites:

Gray Hawk by Mark Sharon
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Gray Hawk
American Kestrel
Sora - Heard only.
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Gila Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Gray Flycatcher
Dusky Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Dusky Flycatcher by Mark Sharon
Cassin's Kingbird - Heard only.
Common Raven
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Curve-billed Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Summer Tanager - Heard only.
Green-tailed Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Abert's Towhee
Lark Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Lazuli Bunting
Lazuli Bunting by Mark Sharon
Cedar Waxwing By Mark Sharon
Common Ground Dove by Mark Sharon
Rufous Hummingbird by Mark Sharon

Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Number of Species: 49

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tumamoc Hill: The Highest We've Ever Been at a Staff Meeting

Erin Olmstead
(Title of blog entry by Kendall Kroesen)

Last Wednesday was a beautiful morning. We took our monthly staff meeting to Tumamoc Hill, west of downtown Tucson, where Tumamoc People & Habitats staff graciously allowed us to use their library. This is the same place where their lecture series is held. It was inspiring to discuss our current and future events in a setting with such important history. After we got through all of our business, Community Planner Pamela Pelletier and Project Manager Lynda Klasky were nice enough to give us a tour of the site!

Did you know Tumamoc Hill is home to the world’s oldest and longest running restoration ecology study site? The study area was established in the early 20th century by the Carnegie Insitution, which founded a botanical laboratory there to discover how plants manage to survive and thrive in hot desert environments. The area was fenced off to keep grazing out and an ecological reservation was designated, allowing natural conditions to reestablish. Today the plant communities of Tumamoc provide a super-sensitive biological monitor of climate change.

The very first research paper done on Tumamoc was published in 1905 by botanist Effie Spalding who showed that the stems of saguaro cacti expand when water becomes available, and contract as it is used, thus explaining the accordion-like pleats on the stem! (Interesting trivia: Saguaro’s scientific name is Carnegiea gigantea.) Studies on the iconic saguaro continue to this day.

After Pamela left us to attend to a visiting elementary school group, Lynda shared some stunning repeat photographs taken nearby, and the ancient darkroom with red glass windows where they were developed. The photos helped us to imagine what life in Tucson was like when the lab was being built and the first studies began. It was not so long ago that the Santa Cruz flowed regularly, and a lush ribbon of riparian vegetation graced its banks.

Next we drove up to the top of the hill, where local media and law enforcement have positioned a variety of communication towers. Lynda pointed out some of the interesting pre-Columbian archeological features that were right under our noses: petroglyphs, several bedrock morters, and the ruins of a Hohokam village, complete with the northern-most known trinchera walls, constructed from native volcanic rock. Very cool! We also did some ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the view -- we could see both Baboquivari and Picacho peaks in the distance. The pre-Columbian people chose well when making Tumamoc their home!

But it wasn’t all history and culture. A couple of Rock Wrens persistently announced their presence, and a soaring vulture popped up from below the mesa and glided effortlessly overhead. Looking down at the hillside below, we were keenly aware of the threat posed to this great cultural and biological resource by the dreaded invasive buffelgrass.

You can check out Tumamoc, too! The paved trail is open to walkers from 5 pm to 7am during the week, and all day on weekends. It’s a steep, heart-pumping hike up, but you’ll be rewarded by impressive views of the city and surrounding mountains on your way back down. Visit Tumamoc People and Habitats for more info.