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