Thursday, March 27, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight Brian Nicholas' Top Bird Lists

Brian Nicholas is the Volunteer Spotlight in the April/May/June issue of the Vermilion Flycatcher. We couldn't fit all the interesting info about him in the magazine article (or here for that matter), so read on for some of Brian's birding hot lists.

Favorite birding spot. The varied habitats along the Tanque Verde Wash, and our yard. When I was young I envisioned my dream house to have fields and moutains and a stream going by the house. This habitat has a wash, desert scrub, nearby mountains, fields, a pecan grove, a cattail pond and lake, along with beautiful riparian stretches of mesquite, cottonwoods, and Arizona Walnut. I do believe I found my dream house and more.

Favorite sighting. The semi-annual sightings of Long-eared Owl in our area are always unpredictable and breathtaking.

Funniest Birding Experience. Sending in a video to Mark Stevenson of a Grasshopper Sparrow for verification, and having him not only verify the sparrow but to point out a Bobolink I had miscalled earlier in the tape. It's one of the best birds seen in our neighborhood and I am thankful for his catch.

Best birds in neighborhood. Bobolink, Clay-colored Sparrow, RB Merganser, Long-eared Owl, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Horned Grebe (Paul Suchanek), Bay-breasted Warbler (Richard Fray). Yellow-eyed Junco, Sagebrush Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Mexican Jay, Prothonotary Warbler, American Redstart, American White Pelican, Arizona Woodpecker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Common Grackle, Rusty Blackbird (Mark Stevenson), American Crow, Least Bittern, Greater Pewee, Tropical Kingbird, Lewis's Woodpecker, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, Sage Thrasher, Gray Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Bald Eagle, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Grasshopper Sparrow. White-eyed Vireo, Violet-Crowned Hummingbird, Greater White-fronted Goose.

Neighborhood Wish list
Common Black Hawk
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Crested Caracara
Many warbler species
Varied Bunting
Fox Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow

Biggest Challenge
Getting out early to bird. Sometimes yard birds make it difficult to go out since it is so exciting just looking out the window. Our cats also encourage me to sleep in with them. I recently led a sleep in special bird trip which was very popular, so it is comforting to know I am not alone. There others who enjoy birds, and sleeping in!

Many Thanks to the Nest Box Pilot Project Citizen Conservation Corps!

by Keith Ashley
Thanks to the expertise, creativity, and brawn of many volunteers, the Nest Boxes for Urban Birds pilot project is up and running for the 2014 nesting season.  Tucson Audubon would like to recognize all of the people who made this infant program a reality.  Thank you!  We wish we could individually acknowledge each person whose donation of time and energy was crucial to the project.  While that’s not possible, we can celebrate the contributions of a few.

Early on in the production process Joe DeRouen of Oro Valley offered his home carpentry shop as a base for cutting more than half the wood that would later be assembled into 40 nest boxes by 30+ volunteers.  A master carpenter of beautiful furniture, Joe straightened out warped planks, smoothed over the rough edges of his carefully hewn oval entry holes, and—most amazing of all—took his carpentry shop on the road when we found that some last minute adjustments needed to be made in order to assemble the boxes. 

Carl Boswell
, also of Oro Valley, invited a group of nest box enthusiasts to his home to demonstrate the ins and outs of his highly successful box for Western Screech-Owls.  Carl’s box has fledged owlets for three years running—exciting activity he has monitored and recorded with a nest cam.  In addition to making home movies of his adopted birds, Carl reports his observations to Cornell’s NestWatch program.  (Mama owl has already laid five eggs for the 2014 Nesting Season!)  Carl has also been setting up his neighbors with nest boxes he is building and helping them to mount.

Meanwhile, recent NAU grad in Biology—Jessica Windes—designed a nest box observation protocol for the pilot project.   Jessica has devised step-by-step directions for Tucson Audubon nest box hosts to link up with the NestWatch program on-line and register observations that allow both Cornell and Tucson Audubon to gather important data.  Jessica helped build boxes along the way at assembly gatherings, proving herself a Jessica-of-All-Trades.

Chip Hedgcock also found a variety of valuable ways to support the project:  cutting box pieces at home, designing a low-cost closure for the box doors, attending assembly gatherings, and teaching other volunteers to assemble the boxes.  Most recently Chip expanded the program to include an 8 foot “nest ledge” he crafted for barn swallows at Manzo Elementary.  Manzo Counselor Moses Thompson is hoping to keep the birds at the school, but redirect their nesting to a more appropriate area. 

Tucson Audubon’s Restoration Ecologist, Jonathan Horst, volunteered his time to cut a shipment of boards at home and also helped Moses at Manzo to install one of the kestrel nest boxes 20 feet up in an Aleppo pine at the edge of the campus.  Tim Helentjaris helped to investigate the heat sensors that will be used to monitor nest box temperatures.  Around town, many volunteers have used our nest box plans to build and mount their own boxes at home—some   One project participant reports that a Western Screech Owl moved into her box just days after it went up.    Thanks again to everyone for your contributions!

Volunteer Shout-out to Techies and Recyclers!

Snapshots at some of the incredible volunteers who are part of the Tucson Audubon volunteer team!

by Kara Kaczmarzyk

A couple of recent activities spurred shout-outs for two great Tucson Audubon volunteers, Ann Mavko and Pete Bengtson.

To correspond with the recent launch of the online volunteer time tracking program, I wanted to highlight Ann Mavko for her contributions to this online program. As the database administrator for Tucson Audubon, I work closely with Ann on a variety of database tasks. When I wrote up the volunteer hours instructions, I passed them by her to make sure they made sense (and they didn’t, really, but she had some great comments). Attention to detail is a critical part of Ann’s volunteer role at Tucson Audubon and one she holds highly. I literally get giddy with excitement talking spreadsheet formulas with Ann, and it is clear that she takes a real care in the problem-solving, data-driven work she is doing for Tucson Audubon. One of the projects Ann works on is connecting National Audubon members with Tucson Audubon, and thanks largely to her results, an increasing number of National Audubon members are engaging with Tucson Audubon’s conservation, education, and recreation programs. I remember interviewing Ann last fall; when she told me she was looking for a long-term volunteer commitment after already devoting about 13 years to another volunteer organization, I was practically sold! This time of year Ann is also busy volunteering for tax preparation related activities. When she is not behind a computer, Ann also enjoys quilting and gardening.

"I began volunteering at TAS because it allows me to combine my love of birding with my computer skills and contribute to an organization whose mission and sense of purpose are actively contributing to the natural environment of Tucson and beyond."

While Ann exemplifies the many volunteers who work behind the scenes for Tucson Audubon, our other shout out volunteer, Pete Bengtson, is often front and center for the organization.

The timely idea to feature Pete was spurred at a recent Tucson Audubon staff meeting, during which staff discussed ways we can be sustainable in our day to day activities. Some things seemed more obvious than others, but all were good reminders, like using reusable water bottles, recycling anything that is recyclable, buying local, and using environmentally sensitive products. Each step we take, whether as staff or as volunteers, adds up to make a big difference. During these conversations, a few staff members brought up the individual contributions that other Tucson Audubon members play in these efforts, specifically highlighting Pete Bengtson. 

At Tucson Audubon’s downtown nature shop, Pete often receives and unpacks new shop merchandise deliveries encased in non-biodegradable Styrofoam packing peanuts. A while ago, Pete took initiative to collect and bring the packing peanuts to a local UPS store. No longer waste, the peanuts are now reused in outbound UPS packages!

Stop by the downtown Nature Shop on Wednesday mornings to have Pete help you pick out that perfect item. You can also find him and his wife Betty engaging new people with Tucson Audubon through many offsite events in which they represent Tucson Audubon and share their birding knowledge. I always appreciate hearing Pete’s constructive, thoughtful feedback that focuses on how Tucson Audubon can improve our services to the birding community. Pete and Betty are strong supporters of Tucson Audubon’s programs and also very involved with other Audubon chapters, the Sierra Club, and local advocacy efforts.

Pete with Tucson Audubon board member Nancy Young Wright at last month's Our Changing Climate gala

"My wife, Betty, and I decided we wanted to get serious about birding in about 2005.  We had always paid some attention to birding not seriously.  We bought good binoculars at the Nature shop, took a few TAS classes, and started attending birding festivals around the country.

I enjoyed birding with the TAS and felt the need to contribute some time to the organization.  I tried working in the nature shop and enjoyed it.  It is great to be one of the Nature Shop Volunteers so I can help out when I'm around and have other people work when I want to travel.

This is the perfect volunteer position for me."