Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wild in the City!

Erin Olmstead
This month's Living with Nature lecture presentation was a real treat! We were thrilled that Liberty Wildlife volunteers Anne Peyton and Craig Fischer and four avian ambassadors made the trek down from Scottsdale for our monthly meeting. We had a great turnout to hear about Liberty Wildlife's work and what we, as concerned residents, can do to help reduce the risks that native wildlife face living in the city.
When I pulled up to UMC the area near the entrance was abuzz because Anne and Craig were unloading their precious cargo, safely crated in sturdy metal boxes. Wisely, the education team doesn't reveal which special bird guests will be making an appearance so I couldn't wait to see what was in store for us! One by one, we were introduced to four amazing raptors who, since arriving at Liberty Wildlife, have been rehabilitated, but for a variety of reasons are unable to return to the wild. Now, each has a new mission in life: education! First up was Hedwig, a Great-Horned Owl. Hedwig was already imprinted when she was brought in to Liberty Wildlife as a youngster. While she is now perfectly healthy, she cannot be released because her attraction to humans could lead to trouble.

Next we met Salsa, a Harris's Hawk. Scarring from a throat infection prevents her from swallowing food effectively. In the wild this is a problem as Harris's Hawks hunt in groups. Being unable to gulp down prey items quickly, she would have trouble getting enough to eat. She is training to become one of Liberty Wildlife's Raptor Flight Team. Check out the long legs and tail on this bird!

Next up was Pawnee,
a Ferruginous Hawk born in captivity, who showed off his feathered legs:

Then Lady Liberty stole the show!
Despite having lost part of her wing to a gunshot wound many years ago, "Libby" the Bald Eagle is an imposing figure. Here she strikes a majestic pose to a round of applause from the awestruck audience.

The evening was especially memorable for two young naturalists. Before Liberty Wildlife took to the stage, eighth-grader Ary from Sunnyside-Audubon Student Urban Naturalists (SASUN) made an excellent presentation to the group about the club. She impressed us all with her poise and Powerpoint skills, as well as the great projects the club is working on. (Stay tuned for more on what SASUN is up to!) At the end of the night, Ary and her brother had a special photo op with Libby, who after an appetizer of 2 raw chicken drumsticks, was caught on camera sizing up the students!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Las Cienegas Adventure!

by John Yerger

Paul Green (Executive Director), Scott Wilbor (IBA Coordinator) and I were joined by 5 generous Tucson Audubon supporters on an excursion to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. This unique area supports a wide variety of habitats from grassland to cienega marsh, oak-juniper woodland to riparian cottonwood-willow stands - with perennial water!

Our first stop produced several grassland species, the highlight being a local specialty: Eastern "Lilian's" Meadowlark. While currently still considered a "subspecies" by the birding powers that-be, a scientific paper was recently published proving through DNA analysis that this is actually a species unique from "eastern" Eastern Meadowlarks. We enjoyed good looks at a few other birds typical of the area in winter, such as Vesper Sparrow, American Kestrel, and Red-tailed Hawk.

We were fortunate to have arranged for Karen Sims, a wildlife biologist from the BLM, to meet us at the Empire Ranch HQ. Karen obligingly accompanied us for the rest of the morning, sharing her extensive knowledgeable about the area's history and ecology. We were pleased to learn about the BLM's efforts to restore part of the grasslands to their original state through a large-scale mesquite removal project. Karen also led us to an area where endangered black-tailed prairie dogs have been reintroduced, and seem to be faring quite well.

In the immediate vicinity of the HQ we had good looks at a small flock of Brewer's Blackbirds and a Lark Sparrow. Thanks to windy weather, birds largely eluded us for the rest of the day - though we studied the differences between all of the sparrow species we could find (primarily Chipping, Brewer's, Lincoln's, and Vesper). Nevertheless, we were constantly impressed by the high value of the varied habitats at Las Cienegas.

We were engaged by all manner of other wildlife: endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs in Empire Gulch; a large praying mantis in the lower end of Gardner Wash; and a Western diamondback rattlesnake that we could hardly convince to move off the road! Check out the footprint for scale.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a fantastic picnic lunch in the shade of an awesome cottonwood. TAS staff Erin and Jean served up delicious gourmet fare from Delectables catering.

As you can see, a good time was had by all. Please join us for the next adventure!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bug Watching

Kendall Kroesen

Sometimes the best wildlife watching isn't birds.

I spend most Tuesdays at the Simpson Farm habitat restoration project site and lately I've been taking a little time out to photograph a range of bugs. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

This was a pretty good summer for flowering plants. The summer bloom associated with the monsoon rains often brings a plethora of insects. I know what some of these are, but not others. Write in a comment below and name them! I'm always impressed by the variety and number this time of year.

Desert broom is a miracle plant for insects. Particularly when it is blooming, the variety of insects it hosts is quite impressive. Here are some insects seen on a desert broom, all on a single plant and within a few hours. Although some people don't like desert broom, having some of them around your property assures a range of insects are present for birds to eat. It can also help control outbreaks of insects in your garden because the presence of insects means that insect-eating insects will be around to help control outbreaks.

Again, write a comment and name these insects!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

San Rafael Grasslands, Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Tucson Audubon Field Trip Report
By Jim Hays

Today (Nov. 2) eight early-rising Tucson Audubon birders explored the San Rafael Grasslands -- from Bog Hole in the north to Lochiel in the south, then returned via Washington Camp and Harshaw. Avian highlight was at least four Merlins, two very dark (suckleyi?) at Bog Hole and two quite light (richardsonii?) along Rt 58. All of the Merlins were being harassed by the resident American Kestrels.

Most of the expected birds were seen, including seven sparrow species (but not Baird's :-( ), two White-tailed Kites, a large flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs, and a single Lark Bunting -- a total of 49 species.

Non-avian highlight was the beautiful autumn foliage near Lochiel.

Find a free Field Trip for yourself!

White-crowned Sparrow by Mark Sharon

Vesper Sparrow by Mark Sharon

Savannah Sparrow by Mark Sharon

Lincoln's Sparrow by Mark Sharon

Grasshopper Sparrow by Mark Sharon

Lark Bunting by Mark Sharon