Tuesday, November 15, 2011

North Simpson Farm Restoration Site: Halloween Caterpillars

By Kendall Kroesen, Habitats Program Manager

For the month of October—leading up to Halloween—the current work area at the North Simpson Farm habitat restoration site has been a ghoulish place!

There has been an impressive infestation by salt marsh caterpillars. In some areas, particularly among the weeds they were eating, there were an estimated 5 caterpillars per square foot. There must have been tens of thousands of them or more across the site.

These insects come in a variety of colors—most notably black and bright orange! They are fuzzy and actually pretty cute for a caterpillar.

As the temperature went up in the morning they would seek shade and sometimes become quite concentrated under our vehicles.

They would also fall into the planting holes we dug. So many were ambling across the ground and falling into the holes that at one point I scooped them up and Rodd Lancaster took this photo.

Salt marsh caterpillars are crop pests, so perhaps it’s not surprising that we have seen this in the Avra Valley in an agricultural area.

As November started the number of caterpillars is way down and we imagine they are pupating. One of these days we’re expecting to see a lot of white moths—the adult form of the salt marsh caterpillar.

More about salt marsh caterpillars can be found at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/leaf/saltmarsh_caterpillar.htm.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blitzed by the Birds in Chiminea Canyon

Saguaro NP BioBlitz Report
by Matt Griffiths

A very birdy morning in the Rincon Valley greeted my BioBlitz team (Aleck and Vivian MacKinnon) on October 22. With some last minute manuevering we crafted for ourselves probably one of the best birding routes in either the west or east districts in Saguaro National Park. Our described path was to follow the Manning Camp trail up onto the saguaro-filled ridge, surely a great hike in this "off limits" area of the park guarded by the exclusive X-9 ranch. Once we arrived at Madrona Ranger Station though, a quick look at the map and a real look at the wonderfully lush Chiminea Canyon changed our minds without a second thought. We decided to explore the creekside habitat of towering sycamore, oak and feather tree, which is only found north of the border in these south-facing drainages of the Rincon mountains.

The hard work of scrambling over boulders all morning, some the size of a large SUV, paid off! Rock Wren was definitely the bird of the day, but sparrow diversity really surprised us. Right off the bat, while our eyes were still waking up, an unfamiliar sparrow song challenged us and turned out to be a Rufous-winged without the bouncing ball. The day produced Green-tailed Towhees, Lincoln, Black-chinned, Brewer's, Chipping, Lark, Song, Black-throated, and numerous White-crowned Sparrows. 

The presence of water and large trees was certainly the reason for finding 40 species and a great cross section of birds from Black and Say's Phoebe, Northern and Gilded Flicker, Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Solitary Vireo, as well as Verdin to Western Flycatcher. Most surprising were a Painted Redstart flying in and perching above our heads and a single female Indigo Bunting we were able to pick out among the various sparrows.


Besides the amazing setting, other non-bird highlights included a great section of mammal tracks where mountain lion, coati and raccoon prints were put down in mud of perfect consistency. Canyon tree frogs easily outnumbered all other herps seen, while lowland leopard frogs were represented by a few twitchy individuals seen mostly as pond splashes. We got great looks at a black-necked garter snake who seemed to be frozen to a boulder in the morning shade.

All in all the BioBlitz seemed to be a smashing success for us and Saguaro. While my bird route was not open to public registration due to access limitations, it allowed our team to complete a quality survey in an area that is rarely sampled. Many other survey routes turned out to be great introductions to birds and birding for a general public who can't tell a cardinal from a woodpecker. In our Madrona area alone, hundreds of school children spent two days outdoors learning about a whole host of biological processes and getting hands-on experience. Some of them had never even been camping before! This is reason enough to hold an event like this every year!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Arizona IBA Volunteer Appreciation Party!

By Jennie MacFarland, Arizona IBA Program Biologist

On October 29th, 2011 Arizona IBA staff and volunteers gathered on Mount Lemmon to party! The Arizona Important Bird Area Program simply could not operate without its dedicated and talented volunteers! Our volunteers help with surveys, data entry and at special events such as the recent BioBlitz! Very recently, Arizona added two new IBAs (San Rafael Grasslands for wintering sparrows and Aubrey Valley for migrating raptors) and expanded the Sabino Canyon IBA to include Tanque Verde Wash. This program simply would not have the 42 identified IBAs (5 of which have Global status!) without the data collected by our wonderful volunteer surveyors!
To celebrate our awesome volunteers, the Arizona IBA program held a barbeque at the Rose Canyon picnic area on Mount Lemmon! All enjoyed grilled hotdogs/turkey dogs, grilled corn and many delicious goodies brought by attendees! Everyone enjoyed good company and conversation while dining on a great lunch! Later everyone participated in a bird trivia contest with the top prize being a $25 gift certificate to the Tucson Audubon Society Nature Shop and a copy of the newest edition of Finding Birds in SE Arizona (just released!) and second place also received a copy of the book. When all of the excitement settled down, all volunteers present received a special custom hat so they can proudly display their participation in the IBA program! To all of our Arizona IBA volunteers, past and present, one-timers to those who have helped for years on end: THANK YOU! We couldn’t do it without you!

BioBlitz at Saguaro NP, Quite an Event!

by Jennie MacFarland, IBA Program Biologist

On October 21-22, 2011 the much publicized BioBlitz was held at Saguaro National Park. This was the 5th annual BioBlitz in a series of 10, each held at a different National Park, leading up to the centennial celebration of the Park Service. This 24 hour species inventory of the Park was both a scientific endeavor and an outreach opportunity.
On the 21st thousands of children from all over Tucson were brought to the park to learn about why biodiversity is important and how Saguaro National Park is a preserve of nature right in their own backyard. Tucson Audubon was heavily involved in the bird portion of their natural discovery. Our base camp was the Valley View Picnic Area where we helped the groups of children survey mini transects and look for birds. It was delightful to see how excited the children were to see a common bird such as a Phainopepla or Cactus Wren, birds that are old hat to the likes of us. The children were interested in everything and we did our best to keep up with the steady stream of questions. There were a few logistics bumps in the road, but overall it was a gratifying morning. Hopefully many Tucson children now have a firmer understanding of the natural world and how awesome it can be!
Now it was time for the science part to begin! I led a nocturnal bird survey of Saguaro National Park West while TAS volunteer-extraordinaire Tim Helentjaris led one in Saguaro East. The public was invited to sign up for many of the inventories during the BioBlitz so many people were able to experience what a biological survey is like. My team managed to hear several Great-horned Owls, one loud enough for the entire team of about 12 adults and 2 children to hear, several Western Screech-Owls and three Elf Owls. A tarantula stole the show for a few minutes when it was spotted crossing the road and everyone was excited to spot several scorpions glowing under a black light. The team seemed delighted at all the wonderful critters we uncovered together.
Bright and early the next morning it was time for my daytime bird inventory. Many TAS volunteers led bird inventory routes and the public was again invited to sign up to join a team. As a result many people who were new to birding or had never ever birded before signed up for these teams and could see for themselves just how much fun we have all the time. My route was the Douglas Springs Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls in Saguaro East and it was beautiful! As we walked the route we turned up many expected species such as Black-throated Sparrows, Rock Wrens (both in high numbers!), Curve-billed Thrashers and Phainopeplas. The team was very excited to get good looks at these common species which was heartening to me. I guess they only seem common if you see them all the time. We also managed to spot some less usual birds during our survey. Everyone had excellent views of a Loggerhead Shrike which gave me the opportunity to tell them about the fascinating and “dark” side of these “butcher birds” which they loved! We also saw White-throated Swift, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Sharp-shinned Hawk and my favorite bird of the day, a Dicksissel! It was a fun morning where we found lots of birds and several people walked away with a new appreciation of birding and how fun it can be! The BioBlitz was a good time and I would like to send out a big THANK YOU to all the TAS volunteers and staff that helped Tucson Audubon’s involvement go smoothly! I hope you all had a good time!!