Thursday, December 23, 2010

Arizona IBA Team Ventures into San Rafael Valley!

Jennie MacFarland, IBA Program Assistant - Biologist

On the cold, crisp morning of December 10, a team of intrepid Important Bird Area surveyors traveled to the San Rafael Grasslands. As dawn steadily crept over the mountains, our caravan crested the top of the hill and suddenly the entire valley was laid out before us. The sight of sweeping vistas of golden grasses was breathtaking in the morning light.

As the purpose of this venture was to establish and test out new IBA survey routes, we split up into teams of 2 or 3 and began to survey our assigned routes. Some problems such as locked gates and confusing road signs were speed bumps to the endeavor, but the teams powered through and figured out routes that would work. The on-the-ground information these teams discovered and reported back is invaluable to Arizona IBA establishing survey routes in this area for repeat surveying of grassland birds.

The teams also kept meticulous track of all the birds they encountered as IBA survey data. Some of highlights include Prairie Falcon, Eastern Meadowlarks, Vesper Sparrows, one Baird’s Sparrow out at the famous Vaca Corral, huge flocks of Horned Larks and large quantities of Savannah Sparrows. One team encountered a good number of Grasshopper Sparrows and a rolling, tumbling flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs that called continuously and dazzled us with flashes of their white underwings. Another team, positioned further south, found unexpected birds such as Red-naped sapsucker, Mexican Jays and Phainopepla. The other two teams, positioned in the central valley, turned up some great birds as well such as Northern Harrier, Brewer’s Blackbird, House Wren and Brewer’s Sparrows. This was a fun day of surveying, survey route establishment and birding with some terrific birds turning up!


The Arizona IBA crew will be heading back out to the San Rafael Grasslands to formally conduct surveys on the routes we established this month. There were some target birds that eluded us, such as Sprague’s Pipit and McCown’s Longspur, that we hope to find in January and February when we journey back.


If you are interested in participating in these surveys, please contact the IBA office at Tucson Audubon Society at 209-1804 or email us at swilbor@tucsonaudubon.org or jmacfarland@tucsonaudubon.org. It will be a great time and we could use your help finding these amazing and secretive birds!

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