Friday, February 28, 2014

Tucson Audubon's Paton Hummingbird (and White-tailed Deer) Haven

Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

Violet-crowned Hummingbird at the Patons' on 2/28/2014
As we speak the Paton property in Pagagonia, Arizona, is in the process of being transferred to Tucson Audubon's ownership. This is big news and was covered in the local Tucson paper (Arizona Daily Star, December 13, 2013) as well as in the current issue of Audubon Magazine (March-April 2014).

Apart from the media it's big news for birders because after the passing of Wally and Marion Paton--and a period of uncertainty--the property will now remain a great birding site for the foreseeable future.

I was there today and a wide variety of birds was being seen, including stunning Violet-crowned and Broad-billed hummingbirds.

White-breasted Nuthatch at the feeders, 2/28/2014
Birders may not see big changes in the immediate future but Tucson Audubon gradually will make improvements to the house, the landscaping and the back yard. We hope it will be possible to use the property for other things as well, like environmental education, while never interrupting the birding that is the main focus of visitors.

There will be management challenges, and we will need your help meeting those challenges. You can do this by leaving money in the sugar fund when you visit and by donating online.

White-tailed deer at the feeders today
One management issue I witnessed today was a question of how to feed the birds without feeding the white-tailed deer! They easily hop the fence in the back yard and make themselves right at home.

It was fun seeing them up close but they probably can gobble up a lot of seed in a short period of time.

If you have thoughts about the management of the property let us know. New things you'd like to see? Things we should do differently? What should we do first?

Comment on this blog post or contact me (520-209-1806) and I will bring your ideas to the management team for the property.

White-tailed deer leaves no feeder untested, 2/28/2014
Please visit Tucson Audubon's Paton Hummingbird Haven and enjoy the birding (and the deering).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Status of Sweetwater Wetlands and Roger Road Ponds

--Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

Tucson Audubon has received many questions about the current status of Sweetwater Wetlands and the Roger Road Ponds. Both have been affected by the closure of the Roger Road Wastewater Reclamation Facility. Here are updates on both.


The Roger Road Ponds and Sweetwater Wetlands have long been important birding sites for Tucsonans and visitors.

The Roger Road Ponds (eBird species list totals 251) have been present for decades and were originally part of the treatment of wastewater at the Roger Road facility, which is a Pima County facility. Later they were maintained as ponds because of interest from the birding community. In recent years they have been open to the public on weekdays when the security entrance to the facility was staffed.

Across the street to the south is Sweetwater Wetlands (eBird species list 288). The wetlands are much bigger than the Roger Road Ponds and were created both to treat water and to create habitat. They were built by Tucson Water as part of the processing of effluent from the Roger Road plant to the higher level of purity necessary for use in Tucson's reclaimed water system.

Status of Roger Road Ponds
Entrance to the Roger Road plant & ponds currently closed
Vegetation around Roger Road Ponds, and a bit of open
water, visible from Sweetwater Drive

The Roger Road wastewater facility stopped operating on January 8, 2014 because a new, modern wastewater facility has now taken its place. The new "Agua Nueva" facility is located just north of the old Roger Road plant. Water is now being piped to the Roger Road Ponds from the Agua Nueva facility in order to maintain the water level. However, through approximately early summer of 2014 the old plant will be undergoing cleaning and decommissioning. This involves activities that the wastewater department has deemed to be potentially dangerous to the public, so the facility--including the ponds--is closed to visitors at this time.

Some of the vegetation around the ponds, and glimpses of the ponds themselves, are still visible from Sweetwater Drive.

When the decommissioning is finished, the wastewater department will consider how to reopen the ponds to the public. Since no wastewater operations will be taking place on site, no wastewater personnel will be there to monitor the public's use of the property that contains the ponds. So the logistics of opening it to the public are undecided.

In the longer run the wastewater department is working with other county agencies, including Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department, on a plan to make the southern part of the Roger Road plant site a park. The ponds would remain a part of this park and there would be parking there for the linear trail along the Santa Cruz River and potentially additional parking for Sweetwater Wetlands. Tucson Audubon has advocated for making this area a park focusing on wildlife and wildlife watching.

Status of Sweetwater Wetlands

Intake stream at Sweetwater Wetlands, dry at this time
Tucson Water have pledged to continue operating the wetlands even though effluent from the new Agua Nueva facility may meet the water quality standards for the reclaimed water system. However, at the present time water flow from the Roger Road facility has stopped and water flow from the Agua Nueva facility has not yet begun. Therefore, the water level in the ponds at Sweetwater Wetlands has been declining.

New pipes are in place and the concrete is curing. Water is expected to begin flowing again to the wetlands by early to mid March. Photos shown here, taken on February 11, show that there was a reasonable amount of water remaining at that time. It may be that new flows will start before ponds dry up completely.

Sweetwater Wetlands Annual Controlled Burn

One of the ponds at Sweetwater on
February 11--down but not dry
Sweetwater Wetlands will be closed Tuesday March 4 for the annual controlled burn. Every year about 1/3 of the wetlands vegetation is dried and burned with help from Tucson Fire Department. This clears thick growth of reeds and cattails and helps maintain open water areas and reduce potential for mosquito breeding.

New Sweetwater Wetlands parking lot under construction 
New Parking at Sweetwater Wetlands

A new parking lot is being build north of Sweetwater Drive, immediately across the street from the old Sweetwater Wetlands parking. This should minimize or eliminate the need for overflow parking from the old lot to park along Sweetwater Drive.

The new parking lot may be ready for use by the end of March or so.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Successful Publicity for Nest Box Pilot Program

--Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

Nest boxes
Well over 100 people have expressed an interest in hosting and monitoring an experimental nesting box as part of Tucson Audubon's Nest Boxes for Urban Birds Pilot Project. This is due both to strong interest on the part of Tucson Audubon members and successful outreach to non-members via newspaper and TV. This sort of project ignites the interest of the public and suggests an avenue for Tucson Audubon to attract new members.

Gourds for nests
We had a lot of interest a few weeks ago after a newspaper article appeared about the project. Then Keith Ashley and I appeared on AZ Illustrated, so we expect to get even more calls and emails from people interested in helping. See the short AZ Illustrated segment here!

The goal of the nest box pilot program is to test nest box designs and placements to see if a future, full-fledged nest box program could help support local hole-nesting species. The initial level of interest suggests that it also would be a great teaching and outreach tool.

We have been able to build 37 nest boxes and due to overwhelming interest they are already all spoken for. However, we would like to enroll everyone that is interested in an email list so that we can send them information about how to obtain a nest box elsewhere, how to mount it and how to monitor it to see if it successfully supports one of our target species. Sign up for the nest Box emails here, as well as other Tucson Audubon emails.

Volunteers putting together nest boxes

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ornithologists in Training at the Mason Center

-Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

On February 5 and 6 Tucson Audubon's Mason Center hosted Dr. Renee Duckworth's University of Arizona ornithology classes. She brings them to the Center every year for hands-on training in ornithological field techniques.

First students do nest searches, recording data about nests of cactus wrens, verdins, woodpeckers and others. While they are doing that Renee and her assistants set up mist nets. When the students come back from the nest search they observe the removal of birds from nets, banding, and feather and blood sampling.

Here are some photos from the two days. Tucson Audubon is excited that the Mason Center can act as a training ground for university students.

Removing a House Finch from the net

At the banding table

A feather sample showing that only the tip of the feature is red

Measuring the banded bird

Taking a blood sample from a House Sparrow at the table

Blood sample archived on a card