Friday, December 30, 2011

Expanding Our Education Reach

by Kara Kaczmarzyk, Volunteer & Development Coordinator

By educating the public about birds and other wildlife, conservation, and how to be good stewards of our natural environment, we as a community strengthen. The education department at Tucson Audubon Society is one of our most important and visible endeavors. Really, much of what we do every day at Tucson Audubon can fall under the umbrella of “education” (presenting knowledge to as many people as possible), whether it’s through membership, our website, publications, our nature shops, festivals, or fundraisers. But, there are some activities that fall under a more specific “education” division. This department offers many ways to make an impact through volunteering.

The Living with Nature lecture series is a perfect example. These free monthly events allow the public to learn about their environments through topic-specific presentations. About 20% of attendees to the recent lecture Ecuador: World’s Hottest Hummingbird Hotspot came from the general public (not Tucson Audubon members). While this figure confirms a significant impact and outreach this program is having in our communities, it could be much, much larger with the right marketing and publicity.

The Mason Center’s weekly Morning Bird Walks are a great introduction to birdwatching basics. I can vouch for this firsthand–after doing my first-ever birdwalk with volunteer leader Mike Sadatmousavi around the trail, I was hooked! These peaceful, hour-and-a-half excursions around Tucson Audubon’s saguaro-ironwood preserve on the northwest side have a huge potential to get new faces interested in birding and the organization.

Additional education programs include the Young Birders Club, the Institute of Desert Ecology, the Lifelong Birding Series (I’m looking forward to the Backyard Birding and Beyond class this January), Family Institutes, and many more special activities. Throughout the year, chances are that if there is an environmentally-conscious festival, field day, or collaboration, Tucson Audubon volunteers have a presence.

There is so much more we would like to do in education. Already in my few weeks here, I have heard numerous people ask Tucson Audubon to give a birding talk for their class or group. Currently, our board president, Cynthia Pruett, has a limited group of volunteers who do this as possible. We are always looking for people with a passion for birds and our regional habitats to spend a few hours in our community, educating groups on an as-requested basis.

Tucson Audubon is famous for our free field trips. Yearly, over 130 of these excursions are completely volunteer-led and volunteer-managed, thanks to the outstanding dedication of Volunteer Field Trip Coordinator Kate Reynolds and a great group of regular leaders. There are always opportunities for new leaders to join the fun by leading a trip to a new (or old favorite) hot-spot, or by leading a special-event walk (like at the recent BioBlitz, where 10 volunteers helped students from all over Tucson to inventory the biological diversity of the Sonoran Desert).
One might wonder how Bete Pfister, our Environmental Education Program Coordinator, manages to oversee all of these endeavors while working part time. The answer–she relies heavily on volunteers. The opportunities for volunteering are numerous, from distributing flyers of upcoming activities around town and online to leading a discussion or tour, greeting people at lectures, fielding questions at events, or working closely with Bete on administrative aspects of running an environmental education program!

Whatever the task at hand, volunteers for the education department help people to understand and conserve our natural resources, and we value their many contributions of time and talent! Interested in helping? Please contact me at or by phone to 520-629-0510 x7011 to discuss available opportunities.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Searching for Grey Vireos in Ironwood National Monument

By Jennie MacFarland, AZ IBA Coordinating Biologist

On the cold morning of December 9th, 2011, two members of the AZ IBA team headed out to search for Grey Vireos. This endeavor was part of a larger effort organized by Arizona Field Ornithologists to determine where this species winters in Arizona. It has been documented that the winter range of this species is closely tied to the occurrence of Elephant Trees (Bursera microphylla) which produce a red fruit on which the vireos feed. This means that the species switches from its diet of insects in the breeding season to fruit in the winter, a rather unusual strategy in the avian world.

This coordinated effort had teams searching for the Grey Vireos in locations where Elephant Trees are documented, but not Grey Vireos. Tim Helntjaris and I headed out to our assigned area of the Waterman Mountains in Ironwood National Monument. I had never been out here and was astonished by the beautiful views and the remote feeling of the area. This area seems like true wilderness with few roads and limited access. There are however, abandoned mining sites that are a harsh reminder of this areas exploitative past.

The most difficult part of this adventure was getting to our survey location which required a rather long walk through difficult terrain covered in pokey plants. The maps showed an old road, suitable for walking but not driving, that ran rather near our survey points, but we could not find it. As we bushwhacked through the desert and towards our points, we did observe some birds. There were Verdins everywhere and Phainopeplas gave their whoop call from several directions. One of the best sightings was a small group of Western Bluebirds foraging in the desert and an energetic Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Once we finally did reach our points, it was very easy to see the road we had been looking for. At least we could use it to get down when we were done.

Now it was time to conduct our surveys. There were indeed many Elephant Trees present in the area, but they all appeared to have died back, most likely due to the hard frost of last winter. At first, Tim and I despaired that they were dead. Then we noticed that almost all of them did have shoots growing from the base covered in leaves! While none of the trees had any fruits and we did not find any Grey Vireos on our surveys, perhaps the Elephant Trees will have recovered enough by next winter to produce fruits. Then maybe there will be Grey Vireos there to feast upon them!