Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What is the Role of Mistletoe in Our Environment?

Phoradendron californicum
Desert mistletoe in an ironwood tree

Kendall Kroesen, Habitats Program Manager

Desert mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum) is a native, parasitic plant that grows on several species of Sonoran Desert trees and shrubs. Tucson Audubon recommends leaving it in trees because it is such a useful resource for birds and other wildlife, providing food, shelter and sometimes nest-building locations. In particular, it is a key resource for phainopeplas.

Scientists we consult generally support this view, saying the mistletoe does not do significant harm to its host trees. However, more generally in the Tucson region there is a strong bias against it. People believe that as a parasite, it must be killing trees.

While we have not seen definitive studies on our species of mistletoe, we believe that this native species has co-evolved with the native trees that host it. There is no scarcity of these trees so it is clear they have not been eliminated by parasitic plants. We also notice many trees that seem to tolerate infestation well, and other trees that have died with no mistletoe infestations.

Now a new study out of Australia suggests the important role mistletoe can play in its ecosystem. Researchers wondered, as some have suggested, if the concept of "keystone species," can be applied to mistletoe. Keystone species are ones that play a key ecological role in their environment, disproportionate to their abundance.

Desert mistletoe berries are eaten by several birds
To study this, they studied forest areas where they removed all the mistletoe, and compared them to control areas where mistletoe remained and others where there was naturally no mistletoe. They studied all the areas before and after removal of mistletoe from the experimental plots.

Briefly here are their results. "Three years after mistletoe removal, treatment woodlands lost, on average, 20.9 per cent of their  total species richness, 26.5 per cent of woodland-dependent bird species and 34.8 per cent of  their woodland- dependent residents, compared with moderate increases in control sites and no  significant changes in mistletoe-free sites."

They suggest that, in this case, the mistletoe is providing nutrient enrichment of the forest floor via litter-fall "promoting species richness, driving small-scale heterogeneity in productivity and food availability for woodland animals." These results seem to support the designation of mistletoe as a keystone species.

Tucson Audubon hopes to generate a civil conversation about mistletoe in our region, what effect it may be having on our landscape trees and what effect removing it may be having on our environment, particularly on birds.

The article is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, September 2012, volume 279, number 1743. To see the journal article in full, see http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/279/1743/3853.full.pdf+html.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Christmas Bird Count Explained: The Messiah Sing-along of Birding

Guest post by Rich Hoyer
Tucson Valley Count Coordinator

If you’ve heard and read about the Christmas Bird Count but not done one, you may have the wrong impression of what it is all about. Almost any official description brags of its wide scope, long history, and important scientific value. It’s described as “oldest and most important citizen science poject,” among others. I’m convinced that this creates for many an image of a bunch of serious folk doing something important but tedious, requiring a high level of skill. I have a different take on this annual event: I declare it not science or a data-gathering exercise, but rather the most fun social birding event all year. I think of it as the Messiah sing-along of birding, where even the most rank beginners are welcome and are certain to have a good time.

Chestnut-sided Warbler is one of the rare eastern warblers that sometimes is found on the Tucson Valley CBC.

If you’re totally new to the idea of the Christmas Bird Count, or CBC, here’s my quick synopsis: On one day from December 14 to January 5 each year, a bunch of people spread out and go birding in a 15-mile diameter circle. They keep track of every bird they see, then get together in the evening to tally up the species count and share their day’s experiences. Why do people do this? What is so special about a CBC that keeps people coming back year after year, in any kind of weather? Because it’s great fun! Birding is fun any day of the year but is even more fun in a group effort when your participation becomes part of something bigger. The meeting at the end of the day is at least half of the fun, and some have said about the CBC “it’s all about the food.”

White-winged Dove is one of the scarce winter birds in Tucson that goes unnoticed until dozens of birders scour the neighborhoods all on the same day.

There are hundreds of these 15-mile diameter circles across the North American continent, extending to Hawaii and even south through the Caribbean and Central and South America. In fact, last year there were 2248 of these circles. Each one is defined by the latitude and longitude of its center and was created by a CBC junkie and approved by the National Audubon Society, which maintains the giant database of records dating back over a hundred years. There are a few requirements that have to be met before a circle is founded, but even you can create a CBC circle in your area if there isn’t one already. (Incidentally, the current Tucson Valley circle was created by Edward Chalif in 1971.)

The Tucson Valley CBC has lots of urban habitats that birders cover, but a chunk of the gorgeous, largely inaccessible Santa Catalina Mountains fills the NE part of the circle.

After the day’s birding is the countdown meeting and dinner – either at a restaurant, a private home, or, for a CBC in a larger urban area with lots of participants, a meeting hall. There people warm up from the day out in the winter weather, share their experiences over a great meal, and then participate in the final countdown tally. This is where the compiler reads down the master list of the species and all counters call out “yes” for every one that was seen, remaining quiet for those species missed. Then if any unexpected species were found, each group gets a chance to share their fun finds, and we find out how many species were recorded by all teams during the day.

This is where the Messiah sing-along analogy comes in. Just as you can spend any day birding in the field on your own or with a small group of friends, you could hum a tune while doing dishes or get together once a week to sing 4-part English madrigals. Both are gratifying in their own way, and you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy either. But in the grand sing-along, you sing or hum an otherwise meaningless harmony (or a melody that would be horrible if I just tried to sing it on my own), and you do it with 60 or 100 others also doing their little part. The end result is marvelous and bigger than the mere sum of its parts. On a CBC, you get a huge number of people birding in places they would never think to cover on their own, and the end result is an amazing variety of species and unexpected rarities that you could never find on your own in a single day. Later, when the results from all CBC's are in, we can compare how many species we got with others in the state or rate how well did with species for which we often get the high count (Tucson Valley usually leads the nation with Mourning Doves, Cooper’s Hawks, Vermilion Flycatchers, and Verdins, among others). I have a hunch that this year we’ll certainly lead the state with the most number of participants. 

Birders on the Santa Cruz River have their work cut out for them, sorting through and counting flocks that could contain White-crowned Sparrow and Lark Bunting, as in this bush.

On top of all that, the birds we tallied do become part of the international CBC database which – despite our being amateur and hobby birders and participating just for the fun – has scientific and conservation value. We keep track of how many people were birding for how many miles and hours, and with this done every year, species that are relatively numerous and easy to observe reveal trends in their populations that can be tied into more rigorous scientific surveys. So when you participate on a Christmas Bird Count, do it for the fun and the chance to participate in an event that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. You can even hum Handel’s Messiah while your at it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The quest for a better tree

By Jonathan Horst 

A major limitation to the long-term success of desert restoration work is the need to establish trees that can grow without irrigation.  Naturally growing mesquite trees develop a long tap root as small seedlings that will, ideally, eventually find its way down near to the water table.  If the tap root is damaged or its downward growth is impeded the tree will not be able to adequately harvest deep water – a requirement for long-term survival of large mesquite trees in the desert.  Most trees purchased in greenhouses have a tap root that has circled the pot many times and will not be able to regain its normal downward growth trajectory in a sufficient fashion.  These trees therefore need either irrigation or supplemental water, in the form of harvested rainwater or roadside runoff, in the drier months in order to survive—easy enough to provide in town but not practical in the open desert.  Tucson Audubon attempts to limit the irrigation volume on restoration sites and to have plants fully established to survive without irrigation after two years. Even though trees are planted in basins utilizing berms to capture any additional water possible, the average nursery mesquite is likely doomed to a smaller size and shortened lifespan when used in a desert restoration setting compared to trees growing naturally from seed.

The Restoration Crew at Tucson Audubon has decided to start a trial method to grow seedlings that will be able to be planted with next-to-zero taproot disturbance using biodegradable pots made from gift wrapping-paper tubes that can be directly installed in the soil and will biodegrade rapidly.  This will be part of a larger experiment to compare growth and long-term survival rates of trees grown and transplanted using a variety of established and novel techniques. We expect that the minimal disturbance to natural tap root development utilizing the gift-wrap tube pots will allow faster overall growth rates, increased survival, and greater overall tree size once plants are taken off irrigation than standard nursery trees. Whether they can outperform trees grown from seed on site is another question!

Interesting facts about mesquites
  • By the time a mesquite seedling is 3” tall and has its first pair of true leaves, the tap root is already over a foot long – deeper than a 1 gallon nursery pot.
  • Mesquite trees have the deepest roots known, one live root measured over 160 feet deep. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
  • Mesquite seeds need to be scarified (scratched up) before they will sprout. This can be accomplished by rolling along in a flood, repeated freezing and thawing, being eaten by cattle or deer, or being driven over by car tires along the road.
  • Mesquite trees increase the fertility of the soil around them. Nitrogen is a major nutrient that plants need. However, they can’t utilize the nitrogen in the air. Mesquites, and other plants in the bean family, have bacteria in their roots which convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable to plants.

Monday, November 19, 2012

November's Volunteer Shout-Out

A look at two of the Tucson Audubon Nature Shop's most long-time, beloved volunteers

by Kara Kaczmarzyk

Lorel Picciurro and Kathy Olmstead first met years ago in a hiking club. Since then, the two ladies have traveled the world together.

Lorel & Kathy (top) with Laura LePere at the Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival

Lorel Picciurro has volunteered in the Tucson Audubon Nature Shop since at least 2005. A Hollywood, CA native, Lorel always seems to have a calm yet positive attitude. Each quarter, Lorel brings copies of the Vermilion Flycatcher to the main library, ensuring they get distributed to readers in all 27 branches. In addition, she maintains all of the bird feeders in the front yard of the nature shop, for the enjoyment of all Nature Shop visitors, as well as those who would like to test out a new pair of binoculars on some local birds. Further, she is coordinating the February Sandhill Crane member trip. Lorel is a retired high school teacher. I discovered that Lorel plays a soprano recorder, and she enjoys making stained glass stepping stones and baking.

Kathy Olmstead has volunteered in the Tucson Audubon nature shop longer than any other volunteer. When new shop volunteer Chris Bjorgaard was preparing to start training in the shop, he (wisely) chose to shadow Kathy for that just reason. It is true, Kathy is a wealth of knowledge on all things shop, and bird, related. Kathy too is a former teacher. She joined Tucson Audubon in 1970 and is a lifetime member. As Operations and Retail Coordinator Kelly DiGiacomo points out, Kathy knows everyone in the birding community; she is kind of a celebrity.

Both ladies are enthusiastic volunteers at offsite events, from the Tucson Botanical Garden’s Flock Party to the Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival and all in between. They do Birdathon together. They are also both docents at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. We all enjoy when they return from travels and we get to hear of their many adventures. Kathy and Lorel truly are a dynamic duo, as described by any staff person I’ve asked.

Image credits: Mallard by madmcmojo, Lorel & Kathy by Becky Aparicio

November's Volunteer Shout-Out

A look at two of the Tucson Audubon Nature Shop's most long-time, beloved volunteers

by Kara Kaczmarzyk

Lorel Picciurro and Kathy Olmstead first met years ago in a hiking club. Since then, the two ladies have traveled the world together.

Lorel & Kathy (top) with Laura LePere at the Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival

Lorel Picciurro has volunteered in the Tucson Audubon Nature Shop since at least 2005. A Hollywood, CA native, Lorel always seems to have a calm yet positive attitude. Each quarter, Lorel brings copies of the Vermilion Flycatcher to the main library, ensuring they get distributed to readers in all 27 branches. In addition, she maintains all of the bird feeders in the front yard of the nature shop, for the enjoyment of all Nature Shop visitors, as well as those who would like to test out a new pair of binoculars on some local birds. Further, she is coordinating the February Sandhill Crane member trip. Lorel is a retired high school teacher. I discovered that Lorel plays a soprano recorder, and she enjoys making stained glass stepping stones and baking.

Kathy Olmstead has volunteered in the Tucson Audubon nature shop longer than any other volunteer. When new shop volunteer Chris Bjorgaard was preparing to start training in the shop, he (wisely) chose to shadow Kathy for that just reason. It is true, Kathy is a wealth of knowledge on all things shop, and bird, related. Kathy too is a former teacher. She joined Tucson Audubon in 1970 and is a lifetime member. As Operations and Retail Coordinator Kelly DiGiacomo points out, Kathy knows everyone in the birding community; she is kind of a celebrity.

Both ladies are enthusiastic volunteers at offsite events, from the Tucson Botanical Garden’s Flock Party to the Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival and all in between. They do Birdathon together. They are also both docents at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. We all enjoy when they return from travels and we get to hear of their many adventures. Kathy and Lorel truly are a dynamic duo, as described by any staff person I’ve asked.

Image credits: Mallard by madmcmojo, Lorel & Kathy by Becky Aparicio

Monday, November 5, 2012

Highlights of Audubon’s 112th Christmas Bird Count

Guest post by Bob Bowers
The Northern Cardinal, One of the Easier
CBC Birds to Spot (photos Bob Bowers)
Volume 66 of American Birds, which details results of the National Audubon Society’s 112th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), has just been published.  This will be the last hard copy version of the magazine, a data-rich compilation of statistics gathered by tens of thousands of citizen-scientists within a 23-day period each winter.  The hard copy magazine will be replaced by an online version, reducing production costs and benefitting participants, members and researchers simultaneously.  Beginning with the upcoming 113th CBC, which runs from December 14, 2012 through January 5, 2013, the five-dollar participation fee will be waived.  Additionally, the society announced that annual count results will be posted online as they are completed, which will provide a lot of information much earlier than the typical October publication.  This will benefit researchers and others who use the results, and the society hopes that elimination of the participation fee will add more volunteers and expand the counting areas, further enriching the data.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Bob Bowers)
The annual results are always fascinating, valuable and sometimes surprising, and those just published are no exception.  Each of the past few years has shown record participation, record counts and expanding surveys, and the 2011-2012 results once more raises the bar.  As Geoffrey LeBaron, the CBC Director reports, the 112th count was notable for a number of reasons, and remarkable in its results.  As seems to be the case everywhere lately, weather was an important factor, with one of the least wintry counts on record.  While snow itself was less of an issue, pre-count excitement built as high numbers of Snowy Owls began appearing much farther south than usual.  Indeed, 546 Snowy Owls were reported in a broad swath of southern Canadian provinces and U.S. states, including nine each in two separate South Dakota circles.  In the opinion of Sebastian Patti, who summarized that area’s data, enough to qualify each as a ‘Parliament’, the term used for an assemblage of owls.

Male Phainopepla, a Common CBC find in Arizona (Bob Bowers)
Whether influenced by mild winter weather, increased participant involvement or the vagaries of bird behavior, the bottom line results continue to impress.  The 112th CBC consisted of 2,248 count circles in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and several Pacific islands.  That’s a jump of 88 circles from the prior year’s record, and includes new additions in Columbia, Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico, as well as the U.S. and Canada.  These circles were counted by a record 63,227 observers, who tallied nearly 65 million birds and 2,298 species, almost a fourth of the world’s total species.  As usual, Texas and California counts dominated the list of most species found north of Mexico.  Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh in Texas repeated its top ranking with 244 species, and the top 29 North American circles were all in Texas and California.  Of Arizona’s 33 count circles, 2 qualified for the list of 150 species or more:   Phoenix-Tres Rios, number 73 with 156 species, and Patagonia with 150.

These numbers are a far cry from the first Christmas Bird Count in 1900.  As the 19th century drew to a close, bird populations were unprotected and many threatened.  Unbelievably, there was an annual event called ‘the Side Hunt’, where participants chose sides and competed to see which group could shoot and kill the most birds.  Frank Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, was appalled by this slaughter and decided to do something about it.  Chapman came up with the idea to count birds rather than kill them, and he recruited 27 observers in 25 locations from California to Ontario to tally birds that Christmas.  Ninety species were recorded, and this activity led to founding of the National Audubon Society five years later.  Fortunately, the Side Hunt faded away as interest in conservation and the Christmas Bird Count grew to today’s remarkable level.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Bob Bowers)
The annual count generates invaluable data used by ornithologists, researchers and decision-makers around the world, and has contributed to legislation and conservation measures that protect birds everywhere.  You don’t have to be a scientist to participate, nor do you have to be an expert birder.  Each 15-mile diameter count circle is led by an experienced compiler/coordinator, and volunteers are welcomed with enthusiasm.  Detailed information describing how to volunteer and participate in this year’s count can be found on the National Audubon Society’s web site beginning in mid-November or Tucson Audubon's site for local details.  You don’t have to be a member, but I would encourage you to join both the national organization and your closest local affiliate.  Signing on to a count this holiday season as a citizen-scientist is an easy way to make a material contribution to birds.  It’s also a great way to meet interesting people with similar interests, have a fun day and learn something new.  Beginning this year, it’s also free.

Additional Info: 
Arizona CBC details - tucsonaudubon.org/cbc
Tucson Valley Count - Dec. 16 - Rich Hoyer 520-325-5310 birdernaturalist@me.com
Atascosa Highlands 2011 count report - Tucson Audubon Blog

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October Volunteer Shout-Out

Meet a couple of members of the Tucson Audubon volunteer team!

by Kara Kaczmarzyk

With the future widening of Thornydale Road to encroach 15 feet onto the Mason Center’s property, we are fortunate to have Ed Bartlett as a volunteer. In the last year alone, Ed has relocated hundreds of mammillarias, hedgehogs, and other cacti on the Mason Center property. Ed does not do all the work himself; on big transplant projects, Ed’s wonderful wife Linda is right there beside him, moving the cacti to their new homes. A member of the Board of Directors of Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society, Ed is an experienced cactus and succulent cultivator and an active volunteer for the TCSS cactus rescue crew. He certainly likes to keep busy. Ed is a trained volunteer naturalist for Pima County Parks & Recreation, but his employment background is in engineering. He is an avid reader, and retains details with an encyclopedic accuracy. When he stops into the Mason Center offices after a morning in the sun, we staff can’t resist tapping into his knowledge bank about all things plant-related. He also has some crafty methods for deterring packrats. At the Harvest Festival, check out the new garden of mammillarias thanks to Ed and Linda!

Credit Eileen White

Maggie Pearson joined Tucson Audubon’s volunteer team in 2009, working in the Tucson Audubon Nature Shop at Agua Caliente Park and using her creativity for shop displays. Since then, she has given nearly every Saturday afternoon, fall-spring, to the shift. Starting in November, that’s changing! Maggie will be the first to open the shop on a Wednesday. For years, Maggie and her husband have boarded exchange students. It has been a great experience, though she is skeptical that any new boarders will be able to live up to the outstanding student they housed most recently. She’s a vegetarian with a taste for fine French food. In addition, she’s a reader, and a quilter. You can see the fruits of her labor on display at our University-area Nature Shop, and this weekend at the Harvest Festival & Mesquite Milling. Maggie, Laura Cotter, and Becky Aparicio resurrected the quilting bee idea for the lovely wall quilt, Tweet Dreams. The group have revived a quilt once used during the Agua Caliente Park story time. They spent hundreds of hours taking apart the frayed quilt, and using the heirloom fabric, combined with beading, fabric paint, and embroidery details to create the stunning wall quilt, Tweet Dreams. More details here. If perusing the birding guides, clothes, and jewelry within the serene setting of Agua Caliente Park is all that will get you over the Wednesday hump day, stop in and say hi to Maggie soon!

Maggie (left) with Becky Aparicio and Mary Vaneecke

Friday, September 28, 2012

September Volunteer Shout-Out

Looking at the volunteers behind our programs

by Kara Kaczmarzyk
In the last issue of the Vermilion Flycatcher, Olga Harbour’s smiling face graced multiple pages. It’s indicative of her volunteer spirit; she cheerfully helps in so many places! From volunteering at tabling events like Wings Over Willcox, to being a crew member (the mailing crew, that is), to recently working with Sherry Massie to prepare the new Tucson Audubon library, Olga is always eager to assist. Well, unless she’s traveling, and she does this quite a bit with her husband Bob.  The most recent camping trip I can recall was Big Bend, but she loves visiting Colorado too and I’m sure she’s traveled since then. Olga also volunteers at the Desert Museum, in their digital library among other areas. See photo credits in Olga’s name at this link! She is a highly skilled, avid birder who got her start in New Jersey, but is also active on the online birding community, with a presence on ABA.org and BirdChat. Come to say hi to Olga and her husband Bob at an upcoming Birds and Beer night.  

Judy Calvert, like Olga, has volunteered all over Tucson Audubon. A few years ago, she held a weekly shift in our Nature Shop, but now prefers new faces and new places. Both she gets through the many tabling events that she does through the year. She was the first contact for many incoming Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival attendees, as she staffed the registration room multiple days. If you’ve visited Wings Over Willcox, the Tucson Festival of Books, or the Santa Cruz Nature and Heritage Festival, she was there too! It’s clear that Judy knows her stuff, and is always connecting with birders about the latest and greatest birding spots. Tucson Audubon Society is only one of her many interests.  She also has a passion for gardening, and has been part of the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society, The Gardeners of Tucson, and more. I hear she has a stunning personal garden, check out the coverage in the archives of Tucson Citizen at this link. Pick a seat next to Judy at an upcoming Living with Nature lecture.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Chiricahua Mountains IBA Survey Expedition

by Jennie MacFarland, IBA Conservation Biologist

The weekend of September 7-9, 2012 the Important Bird Area crew headed to the Chiricahua Mountains to survey this famous birding area. This area became an IBA early in the program and due to this area’s good numbers of nesting Mexican Spotted Owls, this is a Global IBA, one of eight in the state. 
The view from Sunny Flats Campground
The infamous fires of two summers ago had in the minds of many birders taken this area out of commission as a birding destination. I had not been to the Chiricahuas since those devastating fires and was personally expecting a moonscape. Much to my surprise and delight, this was not the situation at all! We camped at Sunny Flats which was gorgeous and under populated by other campers. 
South Fork (M Griffiths)
Hummingbirds at Southwest Research Station
The first morning of surveying we stayed in the lower elevations and South Fork produced lots of good birds including a single, silent Elegant Trogon (a lifer for a member of the crew!). Herb Martyr trail and Cave Creek were also pretty birdy considering the rainy weather. These lower elevations were largely unscathed by the fires so this wasn’t much of a surprise.
Turkey Creek (M Griffiths)
Rustler Park
The real surprise came on Sunday morning when we did the higher elevations. Turkey Creek had definitely been altered, not only by the fire but also by the flooding that occurred directly after. This creek was much deeper and pretty badly eroded. However, the birds didn’t seem to mind and many migrating warblers were detected. 
Rustler Park showing some living trees
Barfoot Park looked impacted, but nearly as much as I had imagined. You could tell a fire had come through, but the majority of the trees were healthy looking and all of the bird species one would have hoped for in the past were present.
The location that I dreaded seeing, Rustler Park, also had some hopeful surprises. This area had clearly been severely burned, but far more trees than I had expected survived. With a more open understory there was also a breathtaking amount of beautiful flowers everywhere. Our survey route began at the closed campground and headed downhill along the road. This area was shockingly birdy. There are patches of large ponderosa pines that survived, some are singed on the edges but appear healthy. Not only did we find prized rarities of the range such as Mexican Chickadee, we had a roving flock of Red Cross-bills and mixed flocks of warblers, juncos and Chipping Sparrows. 
Spiney Lizard using burned tree
This was an amazing experience, some of the best birding I had done in some time. Overall this was a successful survey and I certainly am glad that I saw for myself how this area is still important for birds. 
Black Bear spotted on drive out
"Cochise's Face"
 Special thanks to the amazing IBA crew that made this survey possible: Scott Wilbor, Tim Helentjaris, Matt Griffiths, Matt Brooks, Larry Brooks, Jack Ruggirello and Linda Stitzer. It was awesome to hang out with you guys, you were a terrific camping group and not only did we gather great data because of your amazing skills, I had a terrific time! Thank you!!!
The crew relaxing around the campfire (J Ruggirello)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Urban Birds - Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Park

By Kendall Kroesen
From the Vermilion Vaults
Originally appeared: October 2005 issue

Its name says most of what you need to know about Agua Caliente Park—“hot water.” A warm spring surfaces here and runs down a creek to feed three ponds. The ponds are great places to see waterfowl, and there are plenty of other birds to search for in the park.

The park has been a ranch and a health resort. Now it is a county park with lots of places to watch birds, hike, and have picnics. In fall, look for the arrival of ducks such as American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, and Wood Duck. Migrating Western Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, and Spotted Sandpipers might also be spotted around the ponds. Migrant songbirds like Orange-crowned and Nashville Warblers, and Lazuli Buntings may turn up in trees and bushes. A walk on the trail past the north end of the first pond is a particularly good way to look for these migrants.

Many of the ducks stay for the winter. Other birds also spend the winter here, such as Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows, Red-naped Sapsuckers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Look for wintering Marsh Wrens hiding in the cattails around the edge of the ponds.

In the spring, many species return to the park to build nests and find a mate. In the trees north of the ranch buildings look for brilliant Vermilion Flycatchers as they make sorties to catch insects on the wing. The park is also known as a prime site for Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets, a bird best found by following its loud voice.

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet by Jim Prudente

Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation sponsors many education events at the park, including beginnin bird walks on Tuesdays (Wake Up With the Birds, now THURSDAYS, call 615-7855 for more information). Be sure and visit the new Tucson Audubon Nature Shop located at the park (760-7881).

To get there from Tucson, go east on Tanque Verde Road and north (left) on Soldier Trail. Turn right (east) on Roger Road and look for the entrance to the park on your left.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

August's Volunteer Shout-Out

Monthy peaks at the volunteers behind Tucson Audubon's programs!

by Kara Kaczmarzyk

Sylvia Foster has run the gamut of volunteer roles at Tucson Audubon Society. She was part of the mail crew ever since Jean Barchman, our Membership Coordinator, can remember. We are sad to see her retire from that steadfast monthly role, but glad to know she will be continuing her volunteer involvement in other areas of Tucson Audubon as she has done for many years! Her eloquent conversations were perfect for outreach tabling events. Before Sherry Massie headed the Tucson Audubon Library renovation, Sylvia worked with David West to manage incoming library donations. This collaborative role required discretion and assertion in managing the large quantities of incoming book donations and deciding what to keep, what to sell, and what to donate on again! Her interest in collections management and the arts stems partly from her studies in Art and Art History. Most recently, Sylvia delved into the art collection of Tucson Audubon. Her insights pointed to two things: the role was a two person job, and we need to prioritize, just as in the library! Thanks Sylvia for your continued insight and interest.

Visit the Nature Shop at Agua Caliente Park on a Thursday morning, and you are in for a treat. Lexie Bivings has volunteered in our small east-Tucson Nature Shop since it opened at the Pima County park in 2005! She is full of stories, memories, and expertise on anything on that site, from a bird seen on the Wake up with the Birds walk to an old foot bridge that used to connect visitors to a small pond island. She’ll even extend her hospitality to showing you around the historic Ranch House in which the Shop is housed. Lexie’s expertise doesn’t rest on Agua Caliente or birding. She has traveled the world (except, regrettably, for Australia), and can recount details of breakfast in Turkey, boating off Denmark, and travels from Russia to Ecuador to, most recently this summer, swimming on the East Coast. Last spring, her sharp birding eye paid off big on the Birdathon team the Agua Caliente Bird Brains, and her literary tendencies drew her to volunteer in our outreach booth at the Festival of Books. Thanks for your welcoming presence, Lexie!

Black-throated Sparrow Photo Credit Doris Evans

Monday, July 23, 2012

July's Volunteer Shout-Out

by Kara Kaczmarzyk

Five cheers go to the Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival Planning Committee! This committee, comprised of Bonny Bruce, Ruth Russell, Laura Cotter, Deb Vath, and Shari Montgomery, has been instrumental in many of the key components of this year’s festival. Their help spanned a wide range of functions, from developing trip themes to picking out color schemes! Says Erin Olmstead, Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival Coordinator, “It’s great to see our volunteers taking ownership of this event; they contributed a lot to planning and the festival will run more smoothly thanks to their involvement.”

I first met Bonny Bruce in the laid-back environment of one of Tucson Audubon Society’s Birds and Beer social hours. Since then, her fast-paced attention to detail side has shown brightly! Her perseverance has paid off with four optics companies now exhibiting at the festival, restaurant discounts available for festival participants, and more. All of this she accomplished in addition to working full time in the Pima County library system and volunteering for other important community organizations such as Imagine Greater Tucson!

Laura Cotter is a crafty lady. She sews, beads, quilts, embroiders, and, of course, loves birds. During the fall-spring seasons, you can find Laura at our Nature Shop in Agua Caliente Park. In addition to ringing up sales and answering visitors’ questions, she added a bi-weekly story time to her Friday morning shift at the nature shop. During the summer, she occasionally will lead the Wake Up with the Birds walk, also at the Park. A love for kids also attracted her to the festival, where she has been instrumental, with Deb Vath, in crafting the Birds, Bugs, Books, and Beyond youth activities at the festival on Saturday, August 18th.

Shari Montgomery has probably handled some of your mail. Don’t worry...she’s on our volunteer mail crew (stuffing envelopes, chatting up the other volunteers and staff, and ensuring our appeals and membership mailings are delivered in a timely manner)! In addition, she is a cheerful face at so many of our events, often having worked behind the scenes to launch them successfully. In her spare time, she enjoys golfing and teaching her golf mates about birds while they’re hitting birdies.

Read all about committee member Ruth Russell, the current Tucson Audubon Society Board Secretary, past National Audubon Society board member, Birdathoner-extraordinaire, and expert hummingbird bander in the Vermilion Flycatcher’s April-June issue here.

Deb Vath is a retired teacher, but she hasn’t retired her interest in helping kids. Deb is a dependable, enthusiastic presence in so many of our youth activities. She piloted the SASUN (Sunnyside Audubon Student Urban Naturalists) program a few years ago and last year guided Caleb Weaver in taking on those responsibilities, while always remaining close and passionately involved. She leads free field trips, staffs our outreach booths at festivals, and so much more.

Cade Cropper is not part of the festival committee, but deserves special mention. He first got interested in Tucson Audubon Society at last year’s Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival. There, he missed the Kenn Kaufman keynote dinner, but was later elated to receive the author’s signed field guide in the mail. This year, he was one of the first people to offer to volunteer for the festival. He works at a golf course in Colorado, but has volunteered with us every day since the spring. How? Through a virtual volunteer role, he manages incoming festival registrations online. Though it's a heavy data-entry role, one day Cade let slip: “It’s actually kinda fun.”

Say hello to these and over 50 other volunteers—who lend their expertise and enthusiasm as field trip leaders, A/V leads, greetors, workshop and expo liaisons, shop staff, food coordinators, speakers, and to so many other roles—August 15-19 at the Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival. Their volunteer support is integral to the event. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monsoon Birding Mt. Lemmon with Tucson Audubon

Guest post by Bob Bowers
Originally appeared on Birding the 'Brooke blog

Male Blue Grosbeak (photo copyright Bob Bowers)
As the raven flies (no crows around here), Mt. Lemmon’s summit is just nine short miles from SaddleBrooke, but when you’re driving, it’s two hours:  an hour to Catalina Highway near the base, and another hour to cover the 25 miles to the summit. If you’re birding, however, you’ll spend a lot more than an hour getting to the top.  At mile zero on the Sky Island Scenic Byway, the road climbs more than 6,000 feet to reach the summit’s 9,157 feet, taking you through six life zones and a variety of bird species impressive even for southeastern Arizona.  These six life, or vegetative zones as the Visitor Center describes them, include the saguaro-rich Sonoran Desert, Semi-desert Grasslands, Oak Woodland and Chaparral, Pine-oak Woodland, Ponderosa Pine Forest and Mixed Conifer Forest.  This 25-mile drive is equivalent to driving from Mexico to Canada.

We’ve taken this trip many times, and last Saturday was a perfect time to do it again.  The temperature in Tucson was forecast to break 100, and in summer the mountain summit is typically 30 degrees shy of Tucson’s sizzle.  Conveniently, a Tucson Audubon field trip was also scheduled, a half-day of professional guiding at no cost.  Tucson Audubon Society (TAS) offers free, guided field trips year-round throughout southeastern Arizona and beyond.  The TAS web site lists 31 trip leader bios, but there are probably 50 or more leaders. Many of these are professional guides who regularly charge a lot more than nothing, and all of the leaders are birding experts. This is just one of lots of reasons to join Tucson Audubon. In truth, you don’t have to be a TAS member to enjoy these free trips, but if you are you’ll find it easier to learn about upcoming trips and more.

We were particularly lucky Saturday.  Our trip leader was Melody Kehl, a long-time Tucson resident and professional guide, leading more than 200 trips a year as Melody’s Birding Adventures, and she’s done this for 22 years.  Like other TAS leaders, she birds by ear, taking frequent breaks to simply listen.  She picks up soft, distant or high-frequency songs and calls that elude the less-skilled, accurately identifying birds that invariably show themselves to prove her right.  Her background in music serves her well.

Yellow-eyed Junco on Mt. Lemmon, Arizona (photo copyright Bob Bowers)

On Saturday, Melody led us from Molino Canyon at 4,000 feet, to Middle Bear picnic area at 6,000 feet, to Rose Canyon campground at 7,000 feet and finally to Ski Valley near the summit.  From there, we turned back, pausing for lunch at Sykes Knob (8,000 feet).  It was a day of color, with Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Indigo Bunting, Black Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatch, Dusky-capped and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Painted Redstart, Hepatic Tanager, Olive Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Western Bluebird, Plumbeous Vireo, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Yellow-eyed Junco and no doubt some colors I’ve forgotten.  Unfortunately, we missed the Black-throated Green Warblers spotted on Friday.  Beyond this rainbow of color, the day’s highlight was close up views of Grace’s Warblers feeding their fluffy young in Rose Canyon.  Melody’s van proclaims ‘So many birds, So little time’, a perfect description for birding Mt. Lemmon.

Monsoon Storm Approaches SaddleBrooke, Arizona (photo copyright Bob Bowers)
As we drove down the mountain, towering storm clouds built behind us.  The monsoon officially had begun the day before, but the fixed June 15 start precedes the first storm, often by two weeks or more.  Regardless, thunder broke as we arrived home, and the wind rose.  I rushed to retrieve tools and cushions from the dry yard, flinching as lightning moved closer.  I stood at the door as the storm exploded with horizontal rain, hail and thunder.  Waves of rain washed over my eastern windows like seawater against a ship, measuring an inch in ten minutes and dropping the temperature from 96 to 66.

Free, professionally guided birding in the morning, ranging across 6,000 vertical feet and 6 life zones.  More than 40 species of birds, a spectrum of color in name and feather. Cataclysmic afternoon thunderstorms that frighten and amaze, with 30-degree summer temperature drops.  And that was just Saturday.  This is why I live in Arizona.

Find the full list of current Tucson Audubon FREE field trips

Monday, June 18, 2012

June's Volunteer Shout-Out

Meet these stellar Tucson Audubon volunteers!

By Kara Kaczmarzyk and Jennie MacFarland 

Soon after Jim Chumbley moved to Arizona from Alaska, Jim contacted the Important Bird Area program at Tucson Audubon looking for ways to get involved. Luckily there was an IBA training session coming right up, which Jim attended and then he was off! Jim has helped in almost every IBA survey event this season and then volunteered to help with a regularly surveyed route in Tanque Verde Wash! His tenacity, willingness to help and excellent hiking abilities have made him a huge asset to the IBA program. Way to make a splash Jim! We are so happy to have you as part of the IBA volunteer family!

Scott Olmstead is a professional bird tour leader and a volunteer at Tucson Audubon. Recently, he led an All-Star Birdathon team to see 118 species in one Big Day. His stunning, colorful photos of birds from all over the Americas are frequently projected onto the screen at Sky Bar during Tucson Audubon’s monthly Birds & Beer social. He has been heavily involved in youth birding activities (and now has a full-time career teaching Spanish in a Tucson high school). Always a fountain of knowledge and a friendly face, you will see him around Tucson Audubon events a lot. In fact, next week he leads a group of Tucson Audubon members in the special birding trip to Ecuador. Thanks Scott!

Carol Palmer joined the Tucson Audubon volunteer team two years ago and has lent much expertise on plant ID and care to the 20 acres of ironwood saguaro habitat at our Mason Center. She comes out regularly to make sure the hummingbird and butterfly gardens are prospering, watches over the heritage grapefruit tree, and transitions in new volunteers to help maintain the property. This spring, she’s been working with Habitat Program Manager Kendall Kroesen and a group of Tortolita Middle School students led by Kathleen Neighbors to install plant ID signs around the Mason Center trail. Look for pictures of the finished project this summer, and learn about some native plants this fall when the Mason Center bird walks resume or during the Harvest Festival and Mesquite Milling.

Bird image credit Doris Evans