Friday, May 31, 2013

Simpson Safari – Wildlife on the plains of Marana

By Matt Griffiths

You never can tell when a “normal” day will turn into a very special one.  Jonathan and I were lucky this week when Tucson Audubon’s habitat restoration sites in Avra Valley treated us to wildlife spectacles not seen very often. Certainly most of the people cruising by in their vehicles had no idea what lives out beyond the fences!


Our field day started with a quick visit to some known Burrowing Owl sites on the Simpson Farm. We were pretty certain one owl was occupying a burrow, but we wanted to see if there were more. Sure enough, we quickly found a pair utilizing the human-made mounds and burrows, soaking up the last of the cool air before the heat of the day set in. 


Jonathan was trying to determine if we had a male and female like we surmised, when all of a sudden, a fox appeared not more than a few feet away from one of the owls! A kit fox! Suddenly again, a second fox materialized, and we were super excited now to be documenting the first sighting of these animals at the Simpson Farm. Then, just like a scene out of a Nature documentary, three more foxes jumped out of the burrow one at a time and began to play in what can only be described as the cutest scene ever witnessed in Tucson Audubon habitat restoration history!


It looked like we had an adult (the mother?) who was on constant alert and four pups never more than 10 meters away from the two Burrowing Owls. Who says the two don’t mix? The scene of owls and foxes in one binocular view was too much for us; we couldn’t look away. At least for me it was too much, I was looking through the binoculars for so long I began to feel sick.

Next we were off to the Martin Farm to water the recently planted Tumamoc globeberries up in the creosote flats. Then Jonathan discovered more Gila monster tracks in the same place he found some last week. We have an active monster on site! The large belly drag and dimpled foot prints are unmistakable. We quickly found fresh tracks all over the place but couldn’t really trace them to a burrow. With just a bit of luck, someone will probably get to see this Gila monster soon!


Thoroughly excited with how this day was turning out, we then went back to Simpson to tackle some more tasks. On the way in we then spotted a Peregrine Falcon that looked like some sort of seabird, it was so fat and stocky. Rodd and I had seen one the previous week chasing down White-winged Doves. Maybe it was the same one returning for another snack?

Then, last, but certainly not least, on the way out of the site Jonathan yells at me to stop driving the Ranger. “Badger, badger!” What? It can’t be. Next thing I know he’s off crashing through the tamarisk and mesquite and has found the animal playing dead under the trees. We get great looks, photos and even video! It shows us its massive claws and beautiful coat, then waddles off the way only badgers do. 

Playing "dead"
video

When we get back to the office, Jonathan and I are both excitedly telling our story to different people, and everyone is amazed. What a day of great wildlife. And I’ve said nothing of the countless birds we saw and heard along the river, the giant iguanas, fish in the river, cottonwood and willow pole plantings doing well, but not one snake. How can that be?

May Volunteer Shout-Out


by Kara Kaczmarzyk


Each month, meet the volunteers behind Tucson Audubon programs!


If you've been to a guided Wednesday bird walk at Sweetwater Wetlands or a Saturday one at the Mason Center, chances are Mike Sadatmousavi was your engaging, patient, and knowledgeable bird walk leader. The first time I ever participated in a bird walk was one morning at the Mason Center, a few weeks after I was hired by Tucson Audubon Society (earlier blog posts gave a shout-out to other Mason Center bird walk leaders Jim Gessaman and Mary EllenFlynn). Mike led that bird walk, and although I couldn't even identify a house finch back then, he didn’t seem to mind at all, and spent time sharing info on all the birds we saw…some less common than others.
 
Mike (right) leads group of Handmaker's Adventure Bus participants on  bird walk at Mason Center
Mike joined the Tucson Audubon volunteer team in the fall of 2011, and since then his repertoire of volunteer activities continues to grow. Mike brings the joy of birding to youth through the River Pathways program, where he and other Tucson Audubon staff and volunteers teach high school students field survey methods at Sweetwater Wetlands and Las Cienegas. Entrenched in the Tucson community, Mike helps bring Tucson Audubon to many community events, like the Festival of Books and Cyclovia. Last December, he organized the after party for the Tucson Christmas Bird Count. A UA graduate in Speech & Hearing, Mike has had a passion for birds since he was 5 years old!

Most of us at Tucson Audubon would know Mike from his naturalist passions, but he draws underground fame for his music skills. A bass player in high school, Mike has produced an “outstanding remix album” among many creative projects. Read about Mike, also known as Altrice, in the UK-based independent online music magazine, The Line of Best Fit, where he reveals his inspirations, “the Catalina Mountains and the CDs I bought in the 90s.” Spot Mike at shows downtown, or walks at Sweetwater!

Image credits: Doris Evans (top) and Angela Salmon

Friday, May 3, 2013

Birdathon Big Week, What a Week it Was!


Last week, over 150 species were spotted during an incredible Birdathon Big Week! This year's Birdathoners came from all over to celebrate birds and conservation. They had a great time, too, as you can see from the excerpts of a couple of very different Big Day reports here...

Gila Woodpeckers

HI, I'M A EIGHT-YEAR-OLD TRYING TO RAISE MONEY TO HELP BIRDS AND THE TUCSON AUDUBON SOCIETY BECAUSE I THINK THAT WE NEED TO SUPPORT THEM.  BIRDS ARE A VERY IMPORTANT PART OF THE ECOSYSTEM BECAUSE SOME ARE OMNIVORES, SOME ARE PREDATORS, AND SOME ARE VEGETARIAN SO THEY HELP BALANCE THE FOOD CHAIN.  I ALSO LIKE BIRDS BECAUSE THEY ARE VERY FUN TO LOOK AT AND I THINK PEOPLE SHOULD CARE MORE ABOUT THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE ALIVE AND THEY ARE NATURE. PLEASE HELP ME TO RAISE MONEY FOR THE TUCSON AUDUBON SOCIETY BY SPONSORING MY TEAM IN THE BIRDATHON.  PLEASE PLEDGE $1.00 FOR EVERY BIRD SPECIES I CAN FIND ON APRIL 20TH.  I HOPE TO FIND ABOUT 20.   THANK YOU!

Update from Mom: On April 20th (Earth Day) my daughter woke up early and joined our friend and her birdathon team mate, Sandy Elers, at  Sweetwater.  There, she and Sandy found 22 bird species.  Later in the day they went out again to do a little "backyard" birding near Pima Wash.   There, they found another 10 species - 32 species total!  Highlights of the day included finding a Great Horned Owl on its nest.  Also, it was the end of the day and she and Sandy were lamenting that they hadn't found a Gila Woodpecker - their team mascot!  On cue, a Gila flew up onto the top of a nearby saguaro.  It was the last species they found.  My daughter thought it was saying, "good job!"  It was a great experience for her and doing it for Tucson Audubon was a special treat.  She surpassed her own expectations and learned a little bit about the bird diversity of our region.  Thanks to Sandy, all those who have supported her, and Tucson Audubon!

Tyrannulets, by Kendall Kroesen

(part 5 of 6)...Loosing Precious Hours to… Sleep 
We could have continued to search through the mountains and maybe find one of the owls we hadn’t seen: spotted owl, northern pygmy-owl or northern saw-whet owl. But that’s a relatively small number of species and we thought the better part of valor was to get some sleep and be strong for the following day.  
At least that’s what Janine and I thought, especially considering that it was about 11:45 p.m. and morning birds would start singing no later than 5 a.m. But I think Brian might have preferred to stay up. The last thing I remember as I got into my sleeping bag was Brian playing a recording of a northern saw-whet owl.  
The next thing I remember was Brian standing over me in the softest, earliest light of morning asking me if I had heard a wild turkey. It was not the kind of Wild Turkey conversation one normally has during a camping trip. It was a few minutes after 5 a.m.  
As I folded up my gear Brian was hearing a spotted towhee. As I poured my coffee Janine and Brian were identifying a Steller’s jay. The coffee was still warm. 
When I was ready to roll we walked up the road toward Mt. Bigelow, past some of the most beautiful pines and firs on the mountain. We probably kept this up too long, hurting our chances elsewhere later in the day. But it was a beautiful walk filled with the sounds and sights of redfaced warblers, hermit thrushes, golden-crowned kinglets, black-headed grosbeaks, red-breasted nuthatches, brown creepers, broad-tailed hummingbirds, yellow-eyed juncos and many more.
Early morning is really the best time of day. We drove up the road to the picnic area at Syke’s Knob where we have been able increase our count in the past. Pretty quickly we saw a blue-gray gnatcatcher, western bluebird, violet-green swallow, pygmy nuthatch and zone-tailed hawk.  
On the way back down the mountain we got magnificent hummingbird at the feeder at the ranger station. At Rose Canyon we saw six additional species that were new to our list, including our first Cooper’s hawk and a beautiful Grace’s warbler.  
At Bear Canyon we picked up a few more mountain birds, including the attractive black-throated gray warbler and the melodious Scott’s oriole. 
The pickin’s were getting slim and we talked about what to do next. It was mid morning and we would have to start driving now to get to any other area with a new set of birds. We settled on driving straight to the town of Patagonia, Arizona. There would be riparian forests, oak forests, Patagonia Lake and the famed Paton home, where for decades birders have been welcome to come into a back yard full of bird feeders. 
It was getting dark as we drove across town toward the Mt. Lemmon Highway. The idea was to go up into the Santa Catalina Mountains and listen for birds active at night and then look for mountain birds in the morning.  

Before going up we stopped at a couple places on the east side of Tucson for owls found at lower elevations. We already had found burrowing owl and great horned owl, so we were now listening for barn owl, western screech-owl and elf owl. Barn owl was a little unlikely since they don’t vocalize a lot and we didn’t have any prior knowledge of where one might be nesting. (If we had time we would have done some scouting trips and asked around.)...


To donate to support this year's outstanding Birdathoners today, click here. To share your Big Day report, email kkaczmarzyk@tucsonaudubon.org.