Friday, February 24, 2012

New IBA Surveyors Trained in Yuma and Side Trip to the Twilight Zone!

By Jennie MacFarland, Arizona IBA Conservation Biologist
Jennie talking about survey protocol with volunteers
            The very first training workshop for volunteer IBA surveyors in Yuma was held February 15, 2012. The recent interest from the members of the Yuma Audubon Society to become IBA surveyors was especially exciting as there are several IBAs right in their area that need surveying. Both Tice Supplee, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Arizona and Jennie MacFarland, AZ IBA Coordinating Biologist at Tucson Audubon Society made the journey to Yuma to lead this workshop.
            The day before the workshop Tice and I met at the Arizona Game and Fish Office in Yuma and spoke for awhile with Lin Piest about where the new volunteers can be best implemented. There are four IBAs within a short drive of Yuma, the Lower Colorado River Gadsden Riparian Area IBA, Mittry Lake Wildlife Area IBA, Imperial Reservoir IBA, and Imperial National Wildlife Refuge IBA. These volunteers will be especially valuable as our partner, Arizona Game and Fish, also has an interest in these areas and is very interested in what our surveys find there in the future.
Tice Supplee getting ready for field portion of workshop
            That evening, Tice and I gave a presentation to the Yuma Audubon Society on the Important Bird Area program, how effective it has been in Arizona and talked about the IBAs right in their back yard and the exciting birds that live there. The presentation went very well and there was lots of interest for the training workshop the next day.
            The morning of the 15th, all 13 workshop participants met with Tice and I in the Yuma East Wetlands (right near the Yuma Territorial Prison) to learn how to conduct IBA surveys. First Tice and I went over the protocols and datasheets for the different types of surveys. Then we broke up the participants into teams and conducted two practice surveys. This was a great workshop with very enthusiastic participants. Yeah for Yuma!

After the training was completed and Tice and I were headed for home, I took a little detour into the Twilight Zone. Right down the road, a little more west on the I-8 is a spot on the map called Felicity, California. This place is a monument to quirky, yet is surprisingly classy and only takes a few minutes.
Original Eiffel Tower stair case, where is it going?
 Here I gazed at a piece of the original staircase from Eiffel Tower that just climbs into the sky. 

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate?
There is a bronze reproduction of the hand of God from the Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel fresco that points off into the horizon. A huge granite maze with a history of pretty much everything winds its way around in an impressively huge design. My very favorite thing in Felicity is a giant pyramid that houses the official center of the earth (no kidding). 
The pyramid that houses the center of the world!
The official center of the world! They tell you to stand on it and make a wish! ( I totally did it!)
On the floor of the pyramid is a bronze plaque with a small dot that is has been officially recognized by the government of France as the center of the earth. This was an amazing detour that I highly recommend to anyone visiting Yuma.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

San Rafael IBA Survey a Great Success!

By Jennie MacFarland, AZ IBA Conservation Biologist
The San Rafael IBA Survey Team!
Saturday February 11th dawned cold and clear over the San Rafael Valley as a caravan of cars came over the crest and into the valley. The Arizona Important Bird Area crew of 19 surveyors arrived in the San Rafael Valley IBA just as the sky was beginning to lighten. Many of these intrepid volunteers had arisen as early as 3:30 am to be here at this fleeting time of day in this beautiful spot. Just at the entrance of the valley, the crew stopped to enjoy the magnificent view for a moment and snap a group photo. We scanned the valley for Short-eared Owls soaring low over the grass to no avail, though later one of the teams did observe two. Then the crew split into 5 teams and drove to their appointed start points in the valley. The objective of the day was to record all birds seen but especially all of the Chestnut-collared Longspurs seen.
Matt Griffiths scoping for birds!
While the San Rafael Grasslands was identified as a state IBA in October 2011, we needed to establish that a wintering population of at least 240 is using the habitat for the IBA to be recognized as a Global IBA. This survey was the 4th winter survey of this area in 2 years and I am happy to report that is was a huge success! Four out of the five teams reported sightings of Chestnut-collared Longspurs and overall the entire team reported a total of 833 of these wintering birds! This is tremendous, especially since this is the third survey in a row where we recorded more than the Global IBA threshold number. A large part of the success of these past three surveys was due to two classes that Homer Hansen graciously volunteered to teach the volunteer crew on grassland bird identification. This extra instruction gave the survey crew the confidence they needed to positively identify these notoriously tricky birds. Special thanks to Homer!!
Crew having lunch at Velvet Elvis
Overall it was a great day! All of the teams reported that they had a great time and observed lots of interesting birds. After a long morning of surveying, it was time for lunch. The crew met in Patagonia and dined on delicious pizza from the Velvet Elvis, yummy!  All that remains is to apply for Global status with the world-wide committee for this IBA. While in Patagonia, we also had a chance to observe the very obliging Williamson's Sapsucker that has been reported in the park in Patagonia for a time. Judging from all of the holes he has drilled into that tree, he has been there quite awhile!
I would like to personally thank all of amazing volunteer surveyors: Mark Sharron, Farrish Sharron, Jim Gessaman, Tom Skinner, Jim Chumbley, Tim Helentjaris, Matt Griffiths, Bill Grossi, Joan Czapalay, Becky Aparicio, Diane Holsinger, Sharon Kearns, Katelyn Blakemore, Mary Ellen Flynn, Gay Gilbert, John Reuland, Jim Watts and Heidi Lauchstedt. Special thanks to Mark Sharron for the amazing bird photographs seen here and taken during the survey!
Here is a truncated list of some of the 56 species observed by the crew:
Gadwall          8
Williamson's Sapsucker
Mallard            10
Northern Shoveler       16
Ring-necked Duck      1
Pied-billed Grebe        20
White-tailed Kite        4
Northern Harrier         50
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk        14
American Kestrel        22
Merlin  1
Prairie Falcon  4
Greater Roadrunner    3
Short-eared Owl         2
Short-eared Owl
Acorn Woodpecker     5
Gila Woodpecker        3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker          9
Gray Flycatcher          1
Black Phoebe  1
Say's Phoebe   9
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Loggerhead Shrike      14
Mexican Jay    18
Chihuahuan Raven      2
Common Raven          34
Northern Harrier - male
Horned Lark   303
Bridled Titmouse        2
Bushtit                        10
White-breasted Nuthatch        4
Marsh Wren    1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet           1
Western Bluebird        10
Curve-billed Thrasher    2
Green-tailed Towhee  1
Rufous-crowned Sparrow       1
Chipping Sparrow       252
Brewer's Sparrow        24
Vesper Sparrow          187
Northern Harrier - female
Lark Sparrow  50
Lark Bunting   5
Savannah Sparrow      374
Grasshopper Sparrow  8
Lincoln's Sparrow       5
White-crowned Sparrow         116
McCown's Longspur   50
Chestnut-collared Longspur     833
Unidentified Calcarius sp. (Longspur)   54
Red-winged Blackbird           65
Eastern Meadowlark   63
Western Meadowlark  3
Unidentified Meadowlark      43

Monday, February 20, 2012

Celebrate Tumamoc!

By Jennie MacFarland, Arizona Important Bird Area Conservation Biologist
View of Tucson from Tumamoc
Research Station on Tumamoc
During the last two weekends in January 2012, an amazing event was taking place on Tumamoc Hill in Tucson. This hill is wildly popular as a challenging walk for those looking for a workout,but there is much more to this hill than many realize. The reason that the University of Arizona decided to host this event was to share the amazing native and scientific history of this hill with those who regularly walk up and down its steep slope. Archaeologists have discovered remnants of two different Native American villages on this hill, one so ancient they are not sure who was living there and the other Hohokam. After these villages were abandoned, the hill remained an important spiritual place for the Tohono O'odham and many artifacts and petroglyphs have been found on and around Tumamoc Hill.
Mike Rosenzweig, main organizer

Jennie with TBC poster
This hill, right next to SentinelPeak or “A Mountain” as it is locally known, also has an impressive scientific history. In 1903, Tumamoc Hill was chosen out of many locations in the Southwestern United States to be the site for The Desert Botanical Laboratory funded by Andrew Carnegie. Some of the earliest studies on desert plant ecology were conducted here and the 9 remaining plots for vegetation surveys established in 1905 are the oldest existing vegetation plots in the world. The next year a fence was installed around the entire hill to keep out the livestock that had long grazed this area and the scientists quickly noticed changes in the vegetation. From this point on, Tumamoc Hill became an outdoor lab where the impacts of human use of the desert could be studied. In later years, this hill is also known as the origin point of Reconciliation Ecology, the idea thatone way to make up for habitat lost to human use, such as urbanization, is to make what habitat remains in these areas as hospitable for wildlife as possible.
TBC sign-up station
Lots of beautiful art!
A major project that came from this philosophy is the Tucson Bird Count, the first annual urban bird census in the world and the reason that Tucson Audubon was involved with the Celebrate Tumamoc event. Tucson Audubon will now be coordinating the Tucson Bird Count in partnership with the University of Arizona. Jennie MacFarland, a staffer with TAS and the Conservation Biologist for the Arizona Important Bird Area program will be mainly coordinating the count and designed a poster for the Tucson Bird Count with key information about participation and results. Many people stopped by and chatted about the TBC or birds they had seen around town. The event was a huge success with lots of people learning about the Tucson Bird Count and over30 people signing up to help with the annual count. It was a very enjoyable two days with beautiful weather and lots of fun company!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dastardly Duos - From the Vermilion Vaults

We'll occasionally post articles from older Vermilion Flycatcher newsletters here on this Blog. There's lots of good reading hiding in the vaults! Check back soon for more!

Dastardly Duos: Ground Doves
By Larry Liese
Originally appeared: Dec 2002/Jan 2003 issue

As an early southeast Arizona birder, I routinely “checked my checklist” for common birds that I had not seen yet. I would study those birds and where they were (supposedly) found, then go out and try my luck. For the lister types among us, success here can be very satisfying.

Two months into my new hobby, I was birding the trails at the Sonoita Creek Preserve in Patagonia when I came around a corner on the Creek Trail, and there on the trail were these funny looking doves. My mind raced through that little algorithm of a new birder’s brain. Wait! I know I’ve seen this bird in the field guide! It’s one of those whatchamacallits that isn’t a MODO … OH! I know. A Common Ground-Dove. Ch-Ching! Life bird! I had been wondering why the “Common”Ground-Dove wasn’t appearing to be all that common!

Art by George West

Well, it gets harder than that as time goes on. For those of you who haven’t seen the rarer Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti), fall and winter are the times we get a few sprinkled around. They associate with other doves, particularly Inca Doves. When found with the Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina), telling them apart can be somewhat tricky. The numbers of Commons are less in winter, so it pays to look closely at the ones you find this time of year. As their name implies, Ground-Doves are usually found foraging on the ground, though they frequently fly to a perch when flushed.

Ruddy Ground-Doves are a little bigger, but that won’t help much. Male Ruddys are a bright ruddy, almost orange color with a contrasting light gray head. Closer looks need to be had to distinguish the other three choices. Both male and female Ruddys have a dark bill; the Commons have a two-toned bill that is orange at the base. Commons also have scaly-looking feathers on the front third of their bodies. Both species have the short, squared-off tails characteristic of ground-doves, though the Ruddy’s is a little longer. Notice how long in proportion an Inca Dove’s tail is the next time you see one. In flight you might distinguish a female Ruddy by the much smaller white tail tip corners, though you can get in trouble with that field mark. Views of a perched Ruddy should show blackish “dots” on the wings that are purplish (m) or brown (f) in the Common Ground-Dove. If you’re really in tune with birds’ feathering, you’ll notice that the dots also appear on the scapulars of the Ruddys, above the wings. Also look at the tail color. The Common will have a tan or gray color, while the female Ruddy has a warmer brown color and the male a bright ruddy color. Your best bet will be to look for all of these traits on the Common Ground-Doves you see. Then the occasional Ruddy you run into will jump out as different.

Ready to try your luck? The Rare Bird Alert will give you hints on where to look. The Pinal Air Park Pecan Grove is a good spot, as well as the Patons’ in Patagonia. Good luck!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Restoring What We Love About Tucson

By Kara Kaczmarzyk, Volunteer & Development Coordinator

Restoration of our open lands and habitat management are vital to keeping southeastern
Arizona beautiful for generations of people and wildlife to come. While our conservation department works to preserve habitat in important bird areas, restoration picks up the other end. At Tucson Audubon Society, we target our restoration efforts on lowland riparian areas. Why riparian? These areas, near natural watercourses, are the most efficient use of our time since so many wildlife species use these lush spots. Using a combination of standard restoration techniques and innovative sustainability methods, we remove invasive plants while increasing the diversity and density of native vegetation in targeted areas.

Here, volunteers can get down and dirty (if they so desire), to plant native trees and shrubs, build water harvesting features, install rainwater runoff management, and much more.

Kendall Kroesen, Rodd Lancaster, and Matt Griffiths are out in the field almost daily throughout the year, at times they let others join in the fun. These are mainly during volunteer workdays called “TogetherGreen.” As you may know, TogetherGreen is a National Audubon project funded by Toyota. It provides us with the resources to engage a large public in Tucson Audubon’s targeted efforts and is a great way to meet other like-minded individuals in your area.

Be a TogetherGreen groupie and follow all our events! Groups of students and members of organizations like the Sierra Club, Tucson Clean and Beautiful, Sky Island Alliance, Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society, and Native Plant Society have already joined many, many community members to spend some time outdoors for our environment. These TogetherGreen volunteer workdays are usually scheduled on weekend mornings (Fall through Spring, early enough in the morning to avoid the heat of an Arizona winter day!).

Volunteer in restoration and you can really see the difference you make. You will also learn about wildlife habitat, native plants, and restoration techniques during these activities. Many of the skills learned in a day in the field can be brought back to your home. I look at my neighborhood’s (and my) yards much differently after seeing the rainwater runoff strategies employed in volunteer days and at our Mason Center.

I did my first restoration morning a couple of weeks ago during a Martin Luther King Jr. day of service, and it was great! Working alongside students from Lauffer Middle School, Sunnyside High School, and others, I pulled buffelgrass, an invasive, threatening weed from a wash behind Lauffer Middle School. The before (weed-ridden south-facing wash bank) and after (weeds hidden away in big black garbage bags, ready to be picked up by the city thanks to coordination by Caroline Patrick of Tucson Clean and Beautiful), was certainly rewarding. So was eavesdropping on some of the young volunteers: “Nature is kinda cool sometimes."

If you’ve done a few TogetherGreen’s in your day, or are specifically studying restoration techniques, and have a six-month (or longer) period to dedicate, the restoration department would love to get an addition to their weekly team. If you would instead prefer to check out the action from a safe distance, that’s great too! Take a camera & a sign-in sheet and help capture all the amazing work that gets done during TogetherGreen days. If restoration is something you are really passionate about and you have experience in administration, we are looking for a dedicated person to assist Kendall Kroesen, Habitats Program Manager, with all aspects of coordinating our annual restoration activities.

There are many ways to volunteer in the restoration field, and Tucson Audubon and our natural spaces are forever grateful for the impact made by the time, talent, and sweat of our volunteers! Please contact me at or by phone to 520-209-1811 to discuss available opportunities, I look forward to hearing from you.