Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Guest post by Bob Bowers

In spite of my obsession with birds, my true love never gave me a partridge in a pear tree or, for that matter, any of the other five birds mentioned in that old English Christmas carol. As a birder, don't you find it interesting that half the gifts immortalized in that old song are birds? With one exception, the other stuff is a bit strange, more like what you might expect at Lady Gaga's birthday party: guests dancing and leaping, noisy musicians and milkmaids. If you’ve ever wondered about the birds in this carol, read on.

The Twelve Days of Christmas originated in Europe, and was published in England 233 years ago, making it older than most of my friends. Surprisingly, the birds of the song are real, though mostly European. Considering that Europeans have a dismal record of slaughtering and eating birds, it's even more surprising that none of these are extinct.

Did They Really Mean a 'Pear Tree'?
The only partridges we normally see in the U.S. Are the Chukar and the Gray Partridge, both non-native game birds that were introduced from Europe. However, partridges are related to several familiar birds, including grouse, ptarmigans, pheasants, prairie chickens and wild turkeys. Until fairly recently, our Gambel's quail were also part of this large family. The bird of the song probably is the Gray Partridge. The French word for partridge is perdrix, pronounced 'per dree', suggesting that the pear tree of the song might be a typo. If the original version had been, 'A partridge, une perdrix' , it could accidentally have been transcribed 'A partridge in a pear tree.'

The European Turtle Dove looks a lot like our Mourning Dove, although, unlike our dove, it migrates to southern Africa each winter. Sometimes I wish ours would. Also unlike our dove, the Turtle Dove population has dropped by nearly two-thirds, in part due to the pathetic practice of shooting migratory birds for fun. On a lighter note, “Three French Hens” would have been a welcomed gift, since French chickens (Faverolles) are gentle, make good pets, lay lots of eggs and are delicious. Well, maybe not the family pet.

I always thought it was “Four calling birds”, but in researching this article, I discovered it's “Four colly birds”. Live and learn. It turns out that a colly bird is really a blackbird, specifically the Common Blackbird, a European bird that is actually a thrush, unrelated to our blackbirds. It also turns out that this bird is somewhat of a celebrity. It was considered sacred in classical Greek folklore, and it's the subject of 'Sing a Song of Sixpence.' In that song, two dozen blackbirds were baked in a pie, a dainty dish to set before the king. In medieval times, they actually put live birds under a pie crust just before serving, which explains how the birds were able to sing when the pie was opened. The Common Blackbird is even the national bird of Sweden. I wonder if that had anything to do with the pie.

The final two birds of the song are action figures. Maybe 'six geese-a-laying' and 'seven swans-a-swimming' was just a way to transition from perching birds to leaping lords. In any event, these are more familiar birds. We once lived on a river in Oregon, and didn't have to travel far to see Tundra Swans in the winter. Our Canada Geese fit the song well, laying each spring and raising dozens of goslings in our backyard. In SaddleBrooke, you get a backyard full of quail. Sort of like geese, quail lay lots of eggs, raise dozens of chicks and run around eating your flowers. On the other hand, Canada Geese stand three feet tall, have a wingspan of five feet and perpetually pump out fertilizer. Be thankful you're in Arizona.

(This article, which has been updated, originally appeared in the Saddlebag Notes newspaper on December 1, 2011.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Volunteers of the Year!

Congratulations to Sherry Massie, Dennis Weeks, and Deb Vath for their recognition as Tucson Audubon's 2013 Volunteers of the Year!

In the current issue of the Vermilion Flycatcher, you can read all about Dennis, Sherry, and Deb's amazing contributions to the birds and communities of our region, but with three volunteers to recognize in the Flycatcher, that didn't leave much room to highlight anything else about these stellar volunteers. So, here's an addendum to that feature!

Dennis Weeks

 Dennis Weeks and his wife, Bonnie (who is also a star Tucson Audubon volunteer!), started volunteering with Tucson Audubon a couple of years ago, when they moved to Tucson from Washington. They had been devoted volunteers at the shop of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Olympia prior to making the move, and when they came to Tucson, the fit seemed a natural one. Dennis thinks Tucson Audubon is a great place to make friends and meet people, too!

The first time Dennis and Bonnie went birding was in 1999, and they haven’t looked back. The fateful event occurred at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Now, their favorite to go birding is Madera Canyon. It’s close, relaxing, there is a wide elevation range, and they can bring their dogs too!
Sherry Massie

In Sherry's words: I got started with TAS through my neighbor, Sherry Kistler.  I had done some birding with Sherry and also some of the TAS weeklytrips.  She mentioned a couple of years ago that the then current librarian was thinking about retiring and the society was looking for someone else to fill in.  The timing was perfect, because I needed a project to put my mind to at that time.  Plus I’ve always been impressed by TAS’s focus on conservation and legislative issues.  I was lucky to have TAS's enthusiastic  staff to back the project, and three excellent volunteers (Hal Myers, Olga Habour, and Carol Eagle) to help with the processing once the cataloging was completed. 

I wish I had a birdy experience; I just haven’t been birding much lately!  Last night I had two great horned owls wake me up at1:30am hooting back and forth to each other on my roof.  Quite a nice wake-up, but once they left, I had to find my way back to sleep!  Not much of a story!

Deb Vath
Deb Vath is a retired teacher from the Sunnyside school district, and her passion for youth birding led to an increased engagement with Tucson Audubon. A few years ago, Deb and another Deb from Sunnyside, began exploring what a youth birding program would look like for Billy Lane Lauffer middle school in conjunction with Tucson Audubon. From that fateful first exploration grew the SASUN (Sunnyside Audubon Student Urban Naturalists) program and many more volunteer experiences.

Deb birds all around and will enthusiastically go birding with those young and old. You can often find her at the local hotspot, Sweetwater Wetlands, where she leads family and beginner bird walks.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Winter Gardens bring Spring Birds and Coyote Herds

Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

At 10 a.m. there is already 0.35 inch of rain in the rain gauge at the Mason Center from today's storm, bringing renewed hope for ironwoods, saguaros, gardens, wildlife and spring wildflowers. Life is abundant here at Tucson Audubon's nature preserve and urban sustainability demonstration site.

Since the two-inch rain in November many tiny annuals have poked up their seed leaves and continued to grow. Today's is the second smaller storm since then serving to keep those wildflower hopes alive.

Restoration Program Manager Jonathan Horst, expert in teeny weeny plants, says that in this small patch of ground in the hummingbird garden (on the east side of the house at Mason Center) there are at least the following genera: Amsinckia, Cryptantha, Bowlesia, Lesquerella, Filago, Pectocarya, Eschscholzia and Schismus. Bear in mind that none of these is more than about an inch high!

Four coyotes just chased a cottontail through the grounds, losing it under the narrow hiding space below the stage in the classroom ramada. Unfortunately for rabbitdom, but happily for coyotedom, another cottontail lost such a chase some time earlier.

Our hummingbirds seem content, visiting flowers and feeders around the grounds. Costa's, pictured below, will nest here in late winter and early spring. Here's a map of Costa's Hummingbird distribution in Tucson from the Tucson Bird Count. Anna's, here year-round, will also nest on the grounds.

Costa's hummingbird this morning, perched on a night-blooming cereus (Peniocereus greggii)

Chuparosa (Justicia californica), still blooming in winter since we haven't had a hard freeze, providing forage for hummers

The rains are also keeping water in the soil around our native wildlife-friendly landscape, moisture in our heritage food garden and water in our rainwater harvesting tanks. I've been careful to water gardens from the tanks during dry weeks to keep plants moist and so that there would be room in the tanks to hold water from new storms like today's.

The winter vegetables in the heritage food garden are doing well, except the beets which seem to have been eaten by something in spite of the protective frost cloth we've kept over them. (The thin Agribon frost cloth protects them not only from frost but also from herbivorous critters and from drying out).

Part of our winter heritage food garden

I'itoi's onion

Mostaza roja (mustard greens)

There's more here at Tucson Audubon's Mason Center than can fit in one blog post! Plan a visit to look around for yourself. More information at our Mason Center page. You can keep up with Tucson Audubon's Urban Program (including our nest box pilot program) and other Tucson Audubon programs by subscribing to program-specific emails or weekly news emails from Tucson Audubon. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Shout-out To You from Us!

In the spirit of the season, this issue of the volunteer shout-out comes from Tucson Audubon staff with special messages to our volunteers!
"One of the biggest components of my job is working with volunteers and I couldn’t be happier about the situation! Whether they are Important Bird Areas surveyors, data enterers, Tucson Bird Count counters or the programmer for the IBA database, our volunteers are awesome. They are upbeat, fun to work with, enthusiastic and extremely skilled in their area of expertise. Out of all the amazing attributes of the many volunteers I work with, the one the blows me away is their generosity of time. Some of the tasks I deploy volunteers on take lots of time and I would like to deeply thank all volunteers for sharing this most precious of commodities with Tucson Audubon." – Jennie MacFarland, IBA Coordinating Biologist

"Over the past year, dozens of volunteers have planted over 400 native grasses, shrubs, and trees at Atturbury Wash. These amazing folks have showed up quite early on Saturday mornings, braving sweltering heat and sun, as well as icy, sub-freezing mornings, to help Tucson Audubon increase wildlife friendly vegetation at the Wash.  Our volunteers represent a diversity of ages, interests and backgrounds as multifaceted as our Tucson community.  We've had hard-working Air Force personnel, eager college students, entire families, wise and wily retirees, police officers, and even exchange students from the Middle East! I'm personally extremely grateful for the ongoing opportunity to work with a variety of people who challenge my preconceptions about our society, always inspire me to learn, and help me become a more effective leader. Our work at Atturbury Wash just simply could not happen without these superb volunteers-thanks everyone, looking forward to seeing you out on the land again!" – Andy Bennett, Restoration Specialist

“I am thankful for each and every Tucson Audubon volunteer for making my job as Volunteer Coordinator so fun and inspiring! I am grateful for the generosity that volunteers bring to Tucson Audubon; you make a choice to spend your time working diligently for the birds and habitats of our community. Here's a special thanks to the volunteers who helped in a crunch, responding to my calls or emails for last-minute volunteer coverage (you know you are!). Lastly, I wanted to thank the volunteers with whom I directly worked for so many offsite and special events (including those spreading the word about those events) and those who accomplished incredible results working behind the scenes with database and data entry projects.” – Kara Kaczmarzyk, Development & Volunteer Coordinator

"I am so thankful for our Shop Volunteers.  Without them, we could not run our shops.  Our Shop volunteers take the initiative to learn about products in the store in order to be better at helping visitors, they have become experts at selling optics and really are enthusiastic about greeting visitors and helping visitors plan their best birding trips.  The Agua Caliente volunteers are an amazing group who have all stepped up to help run the Agua Caliente store and keep our presence at the park there. I am grateful for all of their dedication in making our Nature Shops a success!" – Sara Pike, Operations Manager

"Every time I meet a Tucson Audubon volunteer I get a really good feeling. Why? Because each volunteer brings their passion for birds freely and generously and with good humor. They are giving their time and expertise because it’s want they want to be doing, even though it can be such hard work. Most recently one volunteer who is in long-term recovery from surgery and for whom working is often painful, pushed a $100 bill into my hand and apologized for not giving more. Such passion and dedication is very humbling." – Paul Green, Executive Director
“As the other staff members have mentioned, volunteers are very vital to the success of TAS.  Generally, they are the first contact to the visitors and our members.  As volunteers, they help to promote the many programs we offer.  My main contact with them is through the mailing crew.  Each fourth Thursday of the month, they meet to stuff and seal the renewal membership letters plus other needed jobs to be done.  To date they have mailed 3,115 letters.  They are also on call for special mailings, i.e. Summer and Winter Appeal letters.  Those gatherings are also a social time for them to talk about their latest birding trip. Tucson Audubon is very gratefully for all the work they do.” – Jean Barchman, Membership Coordinator

"Last Saturday we were able to plant 90 trees and shrubs at our Atturbury Wash project due to a great volunteer turnout. Saturday volunteer days are a key tool for us to get this work done under our grant from the Arizona Water Protection Fund. And thanks to volunteers like Keith Ashley and many others, great things are happening at the Mason Center that we were able to show off at the Harvest Festival on November 9 and to a gathering of donors last Sunday." – Kendall Kroesen, Habitats Program Manager

"Without our Volunteers we could not do all that we do! Words cannot express how much we appreciate our volunteers’ time, dedication and efforts. Their hard work truly is the reason for the successes of the Nature Shops and TAS as a whole. We have the best volunteers and are SO thankful for them!" – Kelly DiGiacomo

"Simply put, Tucson Audubon just would not be the same without our volunteers!  It’s so much fun to team up with these special people, who bring so much enthusiasm and energy to the festival, gala, Birdathon and other projects. That our members are so deeply invested in the cause, and want to connect others with Tucson Audubon is inspiring and a great motivator in my work. I’m very thankful for all that I’ve learned from the experience and expertise shared by our awesome volunteers." – Erin Olmstead

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Garden Team Gets a Shout-Out!

guest post by Lynn Hassler, Tucson Audubon Garden Team Captain

The wildlife garden in front of the shop at 5th and University was had a long history, but after its most recent big upgrades (raised pathways, new plants) in 2006, there were no provisions set for maintaining it. While teaching a class on bird gardening at Tucson Audubon a couple of years ago, it became clear to Lynn Hassler that the space needed help. Overrun with Bermuda grass and overgrown with plants placed too close together and never pruned, Lynn pitched the idea of volunteering her time to improve the look. 

It took some time to get a reliable team of volunteers in place, but I am now very fortunate to have some true all-stars:   MARCIA BECKER, KEITH ASHLEY, and JULIA ARMSTRONG.  All are passionate about plants and gardening, enjoy being physical, have keen minds, and like to laugh.  I try to teach them what I know, but also make sure that we have fun.  Whether they know it or not, they are learning simply by being around the plants throughout the seasons.  Impressive has been their perseverance for gardening through the long hot summer months—testimony to their commitment.   We share plants and seeds, and we’ve taken a number of field trips off site—to a local wholesale nursery, Mt. Lemmon for summer wildflowers, Empire Cienega for birds and for the greened-up grassland experience, and to Tohono Chul for a plant sale.

MARCIA (middle right): Volunteering in the TAS garden has provided me with the opportunity to learn from the best, Lynn Hassler-Garden Queen  and birder  extraordinaire . Helping to create and maintain a place of beauty as well as enjoying the  camaraderie of my fellow gardeners, makes my time in the TAS garden a genuine delight.

KEITH: I knew I had landed in the right place when Lynn gave me a first tour of the garden, carefully explaining the wildlife benefits of each species--from larval food sources for butterflies to nectar hot-spots for hummingbirds.  She patted the top of the bamboo muhly as if it were a favorite pet. I find it much easier to remember plants' personalities, and how to care for them, when I have the chance to work with them regularly like this, under the guidance of someone who clearly loves to garden.

JULIA (right): It has been very gratifying working with the garden, it was a neglected space and now it is looking wonderful! I’ve been friends with Lynn for a long time and she asked me to help. I love plants and birds, and it’s been a great experience.

Two weeks ago we put in a number of new plants, many to increase the butterfly and other pollinator diversity.  Eventually we hope to have plant I.D. tags.  The donation of a bird bath by Pete and Betty Bengtson  has been a real plus.  Cynthia Pruett donated an irrigation clock which has made a huge difference in terms of the watering; it used to be turned on manually, which wasn’t happening very often.  
Getting ready to plant under the dappled sunlight
Another volunteer, ALICE KENNEDY, kindly provides supplemental plant watering.  She used to garden with us on Wednesdays, but has since gone on to a paying job.  One of Alice’s claims to fame is that she single-handedly dug up a number of those tenacious queen’s wreath tubers. 
Most recently the YMCA building manager agreed to let us begin work on the landscaping on the west side of the building so that we can extend the wildlife habitat.  You will be seeing some changes there, although they will be gradual.
A friend recently asked me:  When will the garden be done?  Well, the answer to that is “never” because all great gardens are ever-evolving. 

Lynn has been a gardener her entire life and worked at the Tucson Botanical Gardens for 14 years in a variety of capacities:  Nursery Manager, Volunteer Coordinator, Newsletter Editor, Director of Education, and Director of Horticulture.  She has  written several  books—Birds of the American  Southwest;  Gambel’s Quail;  Roadrunners;  Hummingbirds of the American West; The Raven: Soaring Through History, Legend and Lore; and Hot Pots: Container Gardening in the Arid Southwest.  For the past 12 years she has written a bird gardening column for Bird Watcher’s Digest.  Lynn has previously served on the board of directors of the Arizona Native Plant Society and Tucson Audubon. She currently teaches classes and leads trips for Tucson Audubon, Tohono Chul Park, and Desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix.  Check out Lynn and her Tucson garden in a new book by Bill Thompson III, Bird Homes and Habitats, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Find her in the section entitled “The Birdy Backyard All-Stars.” 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fall Colors in the Sonoran Desert

Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

It was great to be back at Tucson Audubon's North Simpson Farm habitat restoration site on Wednesday. I helped Restoration Manager Jonathan Horst, crew members and volunteers plant grasses in an attempt to make the western part of the restoration area, where it meets up with the low-lying land along the Santa Cruz River, a native grassland.

Crew member Dan Lehman demonstrates a grass-planting strategy

And then we got to work, since there were a lot of grass "plugs" to plant.

Several species of native grasses waiting to be planted

After planting some grasses I took a few minutes to walk around and take photos, since I hadn't been out there for a while. The vegetation at the site is not typical of the iconic Sonoran Desert Uplands, with their ironwoods and saguaros. This is previously farmed dusty flooplain of the Santa Cruz River. It's now getting revegetated with a variety of plants, the most dominant of which is saltbush.

In autumn the abundant seeds on healthy four-winged saltbushes turn yellowish.

Four-winged saltbush (Atriplex canescens) turning yellow

Realizing that there might be other indications of fall, I looked around a bit more. Another species of saltbush, called quailbush (Atriplex lentiformis), was also turning color. But instead of typical fall colors the seeds on this plant, small lens-shaped ones, sometimes turn purplish.

Quailbush seeds

Then I ran across a whitethorn acacia (Acacia constricta). As the seed pods of whitethorns start to dry out, they turn red. It's a beautiful red.

Acacia constricta pods, and white thorns

And if you want some more traditional fall colors, well, you're almost out of luck. But here's the very top of a cottonwood tree, sticking out from the trees along the river. It was starting to turn yellow. 

Cottonwood (Populus fremonti) beginning to turn

There's beauty in our world where ever you look. Thanks crew and volunteers for making this restoration site more beautiful and better for wildlife.

Field crew and volunteers

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Birds Watch as we Plant Mason Winter Garden

-Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

Today we planted winter crops in the Mason Food Garden. Birds watched from nearby trees in anticipation. More about that in a moment, but first a word about our food garden.

Last week volunteer extraordinaire Keith Ashley pulled dead corn stalks and the withering squash vines out of the Mason Food Garden to get it ready for our winter garden.

Keith Ashley prepping the vegetable garden

The Mason garden is a small demonstration area containing three Kino Heritage Fruit Trees, a few native culinary herbs and a postage-stamp vegetable garden. We purchased the fruit trees and culinary herbs from Desert Survivors Nursery (www.desertsurvivors.org) last fall. Over the summer we planted corn, beans and squash.

Quarter-inch drip line with in-line emitters
When it rains, the garden gets a significant amount of moisture from a pipe that brings water from half of the bathroom roof directly into a French drain inside the garden (the gravel-filled trench visible in the photo above).

The garden has a drip irrigation system that we use when there isn't enough moisture from rain (which, for vegetables, is a lot of the time!). We just installed some new 1/4-inch irrigation tubes with in-line emitters every six inches. We're hoping this will be more water efficient than our old drip system and put water right where we want it. 

Seed packets
This morning we planted some fall/winter crops, including a sampling of carrots, Swiss chard, beets, lettuce, fava beans, mustard greens, onions and cilantro. Most of the seeds are from our great local heritage seed bank: Native Seeds/SEARCH (www.nativeseeds.org/).

As we planted I heard a lot of birds nearby, including Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Costa's Hummingbird and a Black-throated Sparrow.

It made me wonder if they knew what we were doing. Maybe they see our little plot as the Mason Bird Food Garden! If our summer garden was any indication, the critters are indeed watching. Somebody thought the beans we planted were pretty good because instead of twining up the corn stalks as we had planned, the bean sprouts simply vanished both times we planted them.

Planting onions
[Photo by Keith Ashley]
We don't mind if the birds help a little with the harvest. After all, everything we do is for the birds. But we are taking steps to avoid total losses, such as putting down an Agribon "frost blanket" to protect young plants from critters. (The blanket will also help prevent soil moisture from evaporating.) We're also sprinkling some diatomaceous earth around as a barrier to the leaf-cutter ants that seem to be working full time hauling off leaves of the pomegranate and chiltepin. These protections are in addition to the anti-javelina fence we put up around the garden.

Make plans to visit Tucson Audubon's Mason Center this fall, including our Harvest Festival and Mesquite Milling on November 9. If you are interested in Tucson Audubon's urban sustainability program, please go to www.z2systems.com/np/clients/tas/survey.jsp?surveyId=13 and subscribe to our emails on "Gardening for Birds and Urban Sustainability."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival: Your Fantastic Field Trip Leaders!

-- Erin Olmstead, Festival Coordinator

The third annual Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival was a success thanks to the dedication of many in the birding and conservation community, locally and beyond. This one goes out to our outstanding crew of friendly and professional field trip leaders!

We are so grateful to these amazing ladies and gentlemen who so generously and enthusiastically lent their time and expertise to help people connect with birds, nature, and kindred spirits...

Brian Gibbons navigates the by birds on Mt. Lemmon
Matt Brooks shares a Regal Ringneck Snake found at Las Cienegas
Vince Pinto points out a barrel cactus near Patagonia Lake
Mike Sadatmousavi and Drew Lanham introduce beginners to Sweetwater Wetlands
Back at the Riverpark, Richard Fray and Chris Benesh review the day's results

There is something so meaningful (and fun!) about going out in the field with someone who exudes knowledge, loves nature, appreciates the thrill of discovery, and really understands what makes a place special...

To Jeff Babson, Chris Benesh, Andy Bennett, Matt Brooks, Jennie Duberstein, Richard Fray, Brian Gibbons, Paul Green, Matt Griffiths, Homer Hansen, Lynn Hassler, Steve Howell, Rich Hoyer, Drew Lanham, Jennie MacFarland, Jake Mohlmann, Michael O'Brien, Scott Olmstead, Sara Pike, Vince Pinto, Mike Sadatmousavi, Ronnie Sidner, Heather Swanson, Bonnie Swarbrick, Rick Taylor, Deb Vath, Sheri Williamson, John Yerger, and Louise Zemaitis:

Thank you for that 'special something'. Because of you, there were so many smiles, laughs, high-fives, lifers, and "Aha!" moments at the festival this year. We can't wait to do it all over again. 

Plant a Tree, Help a Bird

--Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

The cool season has arrived! Well, the cooler season, anyway. Mornings have been clear and slightly chilled.

With the lower temperatures, our fall volunteer habitat restoration work days have begun at Atturbury Wash. On Saturday September 28 we had about 40 University of Arizona students planting trees and shrubs. They also dug rainwater harvesting basins, spread mulch, and installed drip irrigation. They did a great job!

Come out and help with this project--located on the east side of Tucson at Lincoln Regional Park--on one of these additional volunteer days through December:

October 12, 7 - 11 a.m.
November 16, 8 a.m. - noon
December 7, 8 a.m. - noon
(Other's will be scheduled in January through March)

Contact Kara Kaczmarzyk to sign up: volunteer@tucsonaudubon.org, 520-209-1811.

There are many other volunteer opportunities at Tucson Audubon--go to www.tucsonaudubon.org/volunteer.html to learn more.

There will also be a free Tucson Audubon birding field trip at Atturbury Wash on Saturday, December 14. Contact me to sign up for that: kkroesen@tucsonaudubon.org, or 520-209-1806.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dispatches from the 2013 Sky Islands Birding Cup: No Egrets

As reported by Tice Supplee, captain of Team 'No Egrets'

Tice Supplee of No Egrets
Over dinner in Tucson, Magill Weber, Andree Tarbee and I planned out our route on a pizza box top. We "slept" a few hours before setting off spotlighting ducks and wading birds on Tucson lakes. Zooming around town after midnight with no traffic was a kick! We then owled our way to the top of the mountain, where we heard a begging juvenile and adult Spotted Owls at Ski Valley. 

As we left Rose Canyon, I spotted a large bird in a ponderosa pine tree...it was a juvenile Northern Goshawk. Sweet! 

Our next raptor was a juvenile Cooper's Hawk being dive-bombed and hit by Purple Martins. We then saw a martin family coming in and out of holes in a saguaro, a real treat.

Our final raptor saga was watching an adult Red-tailed Hawk fly by followed by a juvenile. The adult had a mouse in her talons and as she flew above junior, she dropped the mouse into the air. The young hawk grabbed it with skill.

We sat through a rain and hail storm at Kino Springs where our reward was a look at a rain-soaked male Painted Bunting, a life bird for me! Later on we called it quits when torrents of rain swept across Lake Cochise at Willcox. We had a great time!  

Monsoon storm looms at Cochise Lake, Willcox
Final total: 136 species  (3rd place)

Click here to learn more about the Sky Islands Birding Cup, a bold Big Day event!