Thursday, May 19, 2011

Another Mason Center Update

Kendall Kroesen, Habitats Program Manager

Turns out spring is pretty exciting at our new offices at the Mason Center! Some Tucson Audubon staff, including me, moved our offices up here in mid December. We survived some cold weather, and now are enjoying spring.

Desert globemallow

We observed the first lizards to emerge—including whiptails, zebra-tailed and spiny lizards. And now we’re seeing plants blossom and birds nest! A beautiful male Costa’s Hummingbird is coming to our feeders and doing its whirring territorial song and dizzying display flight.

Curve-billed thrashers are nesting in a big cholla cactus. Baby birds can be heard in a Lesser Goldfinch nest high in a palo verde. And a House Finch pair has a nest with three eggs in it, all hidden deftly in another cholla.

Thrasher nest

Female House Finch near nest
The beautiful passion flower trellised up the side of the house by the front door has three flowers, and seems to have many more unopened ones in store.

Passion flower
Spring has sprung. 

More information about the Mason Center is here:

Newly planted blue palo verde in old road
Little leaf cordia flower
Flowering verbena

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wrenegades! Birdathon Team Finds Birds and Fun!

By Jennie MacFarland IBA Program Assistant - Biologist
On the morning of April 17, the intrepid Birdathon team, the Wrenegades gathered together in Sweetwater Wetlands to kick off our action packed day. Once the dream team of Jennie MacFarland, Matt Brooks, Sarah Pike, Corey Perez, Sandy Elers, Julie Gordon, and Herb Trossman had all gathered in the parking lot, the Birdathon was on! First Sandy surprised us all with wonderful t-shirts bearing the team logo! Now we really looked like a team!
The morning started strong with the team finding many birds right off the bat! It seemed like it was going to be a
very birdy day! We quickly checked off some expected birds by ear such as Red-winged Blackbird and Common Yellow Throat. A walk around the ponds added some waterfowl to the list such as Ruddy Duck, American Wigeon, Mallard and Northern Shoveler. A closer look turned up a Pied-billed Grebe and the great find of a female Bufflehead! As we continued along the trail, we found the reliable Black-chinned hummingbird and came across an area where the air space was full of swallows. We did very well with this diverse group and found 6 species: Northern Rough Winged Swallow, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow and Cliff Swallow! We continued to find classic species such as Killdeer, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Wilson’s Warbler, and Sora along with some less obvious species such as Least Sandpiper, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Bronzed Cowbird and Green Heron. As we continued along, it occurred to us that we still had not seen the resident Harris’s Hawk Family, but then one flew over and we could follow its flight back to the nest. What a treat!
Then it was time to head south. On the road we recorded both Common and Chihuahuan Raven along with Red-tailed Hawk. With the windows open we also detected Rufous-winged Sparrow and Bell’s Vireo as we zoomed along! At a hidden stop in Tubac (whose lo
cation will remain shrouded in mystery) we found Northern Cardinal (the only one we saw all day!), Black-throated Gray Warbler and Cedar Waxwings chowing down on mulberries which caused much excitement for the team!

It was then high time to be getting along to Madera Canyon! At the first stop of Proctor we picked up the last of our desert birds in Black-throated Sparrow and Costa’s Hummingbird! Along the trail we found a demure Hermit Thrush right on the trail and a calling Acorn Woodpecker, the first of many for the day. Then excitement soared as a lone Gray hawk drifted overhead, wheeled a few times and then soared out of sight!
Then it was time to go up in elevation and into the canyon. We quickly picked up the distinctive song of the Pine Siskins in the large pines and could see their distinctive yellow wing bars. We made all of the classic stops at the feeders and enjoyed the astounding sight of about 8 male Lazuli Buntings all feeding on the same feeder! Here we also saw a Bullock’s Oriole, many Chipping Sparrows, and White Breasted Nuthatch. We then zoomed to the top and walked the Mt. Wrightstown trail with surprisingly poor results, though we did pick up Arizona Woodpecker, Cassin’s Vireo and a Painted Redstart that was very interested in us and why we had invaded his territory. We then wound down at the famous Kubo B&B feeders and checked off Magnificient Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, a beautiful male Scott’s Oriole, Hepatic Tanager and a lone Yellow-eyed Junco. As we were walking back to our cars to get our lunches, we then heard our last bird, a Dusky-capped Flycatcher!

As we enjoyed our lunches outside among the birds we reflected on what a great day it had been and how lucky we were to have netted 103 species in under 6 hours. What a day! A special thanks to all of the great folks who sponsored us in Birdathon! Go Wrenegades!!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

An Important Bird Area Party In Tubac!

Upper Santa Cruz River IBA Recognition Ceremony a Success!
By Jennie MacFarland, IBA Program Assistant - Biologist

On the morning of Saturday April 16, a group of enthusiastic folks gathered in Tubac to celebrate the Upper Santa Cruz River IBA. The morning began with two bird walks which turned up many classic riparian species such as Wilson’s Warbler, Summer Tanager, Northern Beardless-tyrannulet, Bell’s Vireo, Barn Swallows, Lazuli Bunting and Grey Hawk. Some surprise birds also made an appearance including Pine Siskin, Bullock’s Oriole and Bridled Titmouse! It was fun to see so many species in such beautiful riparian habitat. It really showed us what Important Bird Areas are all about!

Soon it was time for the actual recognition ceremony to begin. The attendees gathered in the community center and settled in for several presentations. Scott Wilbor, AZ IBA Conservation Biologist, kicked everything off with a brief welcome and run down of the morning would entail. Paul Green, Executive Director of Tucson Audubon Society, then spoke about how birding enriches a community and its economy. Then Scott talked about the IBA program itself, the Upper Santa Cruz River IBA and its importance to the birds that live there. Then Scott presented several certificates of appreciation to individuals and organizations that helped make this area an identified and now recognized Important Bird Area. Those recognized included volunteer IBA bird surveyors, the Tucson Audubon Society restoration crew, Friends of the Santa Cruz River, The Sonoran Institute, community leaders such as Amy McCoy, Richard Bohman and Sherry Sass. The ceremony then wrapped up with a reading by Ken Lamberton from his book: Dry River Stories of Life, Death, and Redemption on the Santa Cruz. It was a moving and appropriate ending to the ceremony.
It was then time for some refreshments! The attendees then moved outdoors and enjoyed some delicious brunch foods from Tubac Market, mingled and chatted, looked at the beautiful poster of the birds found in on the lower Santa Cruz River and a large map of the boundary of the IBA.
The event wrapped up just as the temperatures began to rise. But the excitement was not over! As the Tucson Audubon crew and volunteers were putting away everything from the event, we had some exciting avian visitors. First a Zone-tailed Hawk made an appearance overhead giving everyone great views. Then a pair of Grey Hawks circled very low over the building a few times and then headed over to the riparian area much to the delight of everyone on the ground. What a perfect end to the day!
This was a fun event made possible by the hard work of Tucson Audubon Society staff and volunteers and made successful by the enthusiastic attendees who took time out of their busy lives to be a part of this event! Thank you!

Kids Plant Trees at Mason Center

By Kendall Kroesen, Habitats Program Manager

Things are really coming along at the Mason Center. The off-grid, strawbale building with the two composting toilets is functioning perfectly. We are making electricity with our solar panels and harvesting rainwater with our cisterns. A committee is in the process of updating the sustainability site plan for the center. And with the new gravel pave driveway and paths, we are now ADA accessible (Americans with Disabilities Act).

If you haven’t seen some of these new things, feel free to visit! A perfect opportunity is Saturday, May 14, when we will hold the 12th Annual Ironwood Festival and Ironwood Jam! Find all the details at

The new parking lot means that the old dirt driveway from Thornydale Road is no longer necessary. So we decided to revegetate it!

On Saturday, April 9 we had about 12 people planting 10 new trees. Most of them were middle school and high school students. The high school students are volunteers at the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona, and the middle school students were from up the street at Tortolita Middle School. Teacher Kathleen Neighbors recruited the Tortolita kids from her service learning club, and our contact Jessica Hersh-Ballering at the Volunteer Center brought the high school students.

The volunteers did a great job in spite of the cold and rainy weather! The rain watered the trees extra well due to the rainwater harvesting microbasins placed around each tree.

The trees were provided by The Local Trust ( The Local Trust is a Tucson-based carbon offset program. People who contribute to releases of carbon dioxide into the environment (pretty much all of us), can go to The Local Trust, calculate their carbon production, and pay to have projects done that will offset that carbon.

One of The Local Trust’s projects is to provide trees to Tucson Audubon. The trees grow, take in carbon, and fix it in their wood, removing it from the atmosphere.

We now have 10 new mesquites and palo verdes—most of them in the old driveway! Thanks volunteers! And thank you to The Local Trust!

More information about the Mason Center is here: