Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving and a Tale of Two Turkeys

Guest post by Bob Bowers
Originally appeared in Saddlebag Notes, November, 2014

When November rolls around, thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, being thankful and, inevitably, turkeys. Whether turkeys think about our holiday has yet to be proven, and except for the annually-pardoned White House bird, domestic turkeys have no reason to be grateful.  On the other hand, most of their wild cousins have plenty of reasons to be thankful.  Give or take, about 7 million reasons.

Bearded male Wild Turkey in Madera Canyon (photo Bob Bowers)

Worldwide, there are two species of turkeys:  the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and the Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata).  The species we are most familiar with is the Wild Turkey, a resident of all 50 states, Canada and Mexico, while the Ocellated Turkey’s range is limited to some 50,000 square miles of the Yucatan Peninsula.  About the same size as Wild Turkeys (up to four feet in length), the Ocellated species are the trimmer of the two.  The males run about 11 pounds (females about 7) compared with 16 and 9 pounds for their cousins.  In ‘A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America’, Steve Howell’s description of the Ocellated suggests a Halloween witch:  ‘horn nail, naked head and upper neck, blue and orange warts and an inflatable forehead wattle hanging over a black bill.’  But then he describes the iridescent plumage and you realize this is one beautiful bird.  In his short write up of the Ocellated Turkey, Howell uses 16 descriptive colors: black, blue, orange, reddish pink, metallic blue-black, blue-green, golden metallic green, burnished copper, dark brown, white, vermiculated grey, violet-blue, flesh, orange-red, metallic sheen and grey-brown.  I probably missed a couple.  Our Wild Turkeys are colorful, too, but they’re blown away by the Ocellated.  Unfortunately, this sister species to our Wild Turkey is losing ground, figuratively and literally.  Precise population numbers are unknown, but habitat loss and subsistence hunting have led to an estimated 50% reduction during the last century, perhaps leaving as few as 20,000 breeding adult birds, and it is now considered threatened by Mexico.  Fortunately, we got to enjoy these spectacular birds in January, spotting a couple in the jungle near the Mayan ruins at Calakmul, 22 miles north of Guatemala.

Yucatan's Endemic Ocellated Turkey (photo Prudy Bowers)

Displaying Wild Turkey, Madera Canyon in April (photo Bob Bowers)

The Wild Turkey suffered a crisis of its own, due to unregulated hunting.  Over-hunting nearly led to extirpation of American turkeys by the 1930s, prompting a desperate attempt by state wildlife agencies to save the bird.  First attempts to rescue the turkey consisted of releasing pen-raised birds, but the near-domesticated turkeys couldn’t survive in the wild. This failure was finally reversed 20 years later by capturing wild turkeys in one area for release in other, non-populated locations.  Ironically, the biggest boost to the Wild Turkey's recovery came in 1973, with the founding of the National Wild Turkey Foundation, established primarily to protect the future of turkey hunting. The NWTF is a nonprofit conservation and hunting organization, and its efforts, together with that of other state and conservation organizations has proven enormously successful. The number of Wild Turkeys that had recovered to about 1 million birds by 1973 is now estimated by the NWTF at more than 7 million. On Thanksgiving, the Wild Turkey does in fact have reasons to be thankful.

In Arizona, we have two of the six sub-species of Wild Turkey, merriami (Merriam’s) and Mexicana (Gould’s).  Gould’s were a table favorite of miners, and by the time Arizona regulated hunting in 1929, they were non-existent north of Mexico.  An active capture and release program is slowly restoring our population of this species, which now numbers about a thousand birds.

Although hunting in Arizona is permitted for both native species, it is strongly restricted and tightly controlled. During two limited seasons in spring and fall, permits for a single bearded male turkey annually are available only by lottery. In addition to being lucky, you need a fat wallet.  License and tag fees are ‘just’ $75, but then you need a finely patterned, camouflaged shotgun, ‘quite expensive’ ammunition, and, to maximize success, a guide ($2,100 for a 3-day Tucson-based expert).  Makes a free-range grocery store bird look like a bargain.

If you have questions or comments about SaddleBrooke’s birds, or to receive emailed information about bird walks led by Bob and Prudy, call 825-9895 or email bobandpru@aol.com.  Previously published articles can be found at www.birdingthebrookeandbeyond.com.

Northern Gray Wolf’s Trek to Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau

By Matt Clark, Tucson Audubon Conservation Advocate

Gray Wolf’s Presence Highlights the Importance of the Grand Canyon Ecoregion for Wolf Recovery and the Need for Strong ESA Protections and Corridor Conservation on a Continental Scale

The wolf sports a tracking collar. AZGF
According to the authoritative website Lobos of the Southwest, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed, through DNA tests on scat, that there is a female northern Rockies gray wolf on the Kaibab National Forest, near the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. This brave female is the first wolf in this area for more than 70 years!”  Wolves were completely eradicated in the American West by the powerful livestock lobby and government-sanctioned hunting programs (except in the Western Great Lakes area where they persisted). Sadly, by the 1940’s, the howl of the wolf was silenced on the North Kaibab Plateau by such programs. And now the wolf has returned to the Kaibab – not via direct reintroduction – but rather by following its own instincts in search of new territory, prey and a mate. This lone female wolf is thought to have traveled hundreds of miles from the Yellowstone region where wolves have been successfully reintroduced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This wolf’s amazing journey highlights the importance of the Grand Canyon Ecoregion as a prime location for future wolf recovery efforts and the need to protect the core habitats and corridors that enable such important wildlife dispersal movements to occur. The implementation of this vison has been championed by the Wildlands Network and a host of partnering conservation organizations. Last year, this collaborative launched a project called TrekWest, which followed adventurer John Davis on a historic 10-month, 5,000 mile human-powered journey along the “Western Wildway” from northern Mexico all the way to the northern Rockies. Wolves were amongst the wide-ranging animals Davis highlighted as he hiked through the Blue Range and Grand Canyon Ecoregion in a herculean effort to document crucial corridors and draw public attention to ongoing efforts to connect, protect and restore wild nature. Sign a petition to protect America’s fast-disappearing corridors. The arrival of this northern gray wolf in Arizona also underscores the importance of maintaining strong legal protections for the northern gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act, as wolves have only regained less than a tenth of their historic range in the lower 48 states.

The Arizona Daily Star reported, “Wolves often roam vast distances in search of food and mates. But the farther they go, the less likely they are to find a mate, said Ed Bangs, who led recovery efforts for wolves in the Northern Rockies over two decades before retiring from the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011. “It’s looking for love,” he said. “It leaves the core population and doesn’t know the love of its life is going to be right over the next hill, so it just keeps traveling.” About 25 percent of the roughly 1,700 wolves from the Northern Rockies are being tracked, wildlife officials said. They are distinguished from the Mexican gray wolves found in the Southwest by their more full bodies and less pointed ears. Mike Jimenez, with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming, said Northern Rockies gray wolves are hard-wired to disperse and have traveled hundreds of miles. One young female started off in Montana and traveled 3,000 miles over six months, making stops in Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Colorado before it died, he said. Colorado had been the farthest journey south for the animals until the female was confirmed in Arizona, he said . . . The Fish and Wildlife Service in recent years lifted federal protections for the animals in the western Great Lakes and the Northern Rockies. A federal judge recently ordered the protections reinstated in Wyoming after wildlife advocates sued. Environmentalists are pressing for continued protection of gray wolves. Meanwhile, they celebrated the news of the one in Northern Arizona.”

This lone female wolf, now a symbol of hope for wolf recovery in the region, needs a name! Lobos of the Southwest has launched a contest to solicit name ideas from our youth, “We think this amazing pioneer inhabiting an area where wolves once thrived deserves a special name. That’s why groups from all over the west are working together on this contest! With the help of their parent or guardian, children under the age of 18 can learn more and enter the naming contest at this website.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Arizona IBA partnership with Student Conservation Association

by Jennie MacFarland, IBA Conservation Biologist

For a second year the Arizona Important Bird Areas Program has been partnering with the Student Conservation Association and this has brought our volunteers together with these college-age students of the SCA in remarkable ways. This partnership was born of another partnership, that between Tucson Audubon and Audubon Arizona in Phoenix who share the coordination of the Arizona Important Bird Areas Program. Tice Supplee, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Arizona, teaches a class at Phoenix College on Wildlife and has become a mentor to students within the SCA on wildlife survey techniques. These students receive a very diverse set of skills through different training sessions including wilderness first aid, "leave no trace" and wilderness fire fighting. For the bird survey portion of their training they are working with us at Arizona IBA with the further benefit of generating useful data for the program.

SCA students and IBA volunteers at Buenos Aires Oct 2013
Last winter in Buenos Aires NWR the SCA students and IBA volunteers paired off into teams and did driving transect surveys with an emphasis on grassland birds such as wintering sparrows, thrashers and raptors.
Mel from the SCA crew records the bird data seen through the spotting scope!

IBA Volunteer and SCA student kicking up birds in the grass - M. Van de Water
This SCA Program focuses on students from very racially diverse and economically diverse backgrounds and gives them training that can help them to find jobs in the ecology and environmental fields later. We have found these students to be a delight to work with and they are very enthusiastic and eager to learn. They are normally assigned to the role of filling out the data sheets during the survey and their sheets are often the most carefully filled out sheets I encounter.
The SCA students had also worked with Pronghorn in partnership with USFWS

Students from the SCA have also helped us with other projects including Bendire's Thrasher surveys at the new Chicken Springs IBA west of Wickieup that is distictive for its large Joshua Trees.
Joshua Tree IBA - a mix of Mohave and Sonoran Desert habitat
A Bendire's Thrasher found by an SCA student
Just this last week we partnered again with the SCA and a group of students helped us to survey the Arivaca Cienega and Creek for the first time ever! These riparian surveys are a bit challenging so it was great to have such enthusiastic help from these young people!
SCA student in Arivaca Creek

IBA Volunteers and SCA students after the survey in Arivaca
This upcoming spring we will be working with the SCA students again to count Gilded Flickers in Cabeza Prieta NWR and Organ Pipe National Park to try and qualify the Sonoran Desert Borderlands IBA as a Continental IBA. Here's to partnerships!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Paton Center Workdays - the makeover continues

We spent another couple days at the Paton Center working to protect the inner yard with its feeders and lush vegetation, while also beginning to integrate the rest of the property with the surrounding environment and make the whole site a wonderful place for birds, and birders too!

(If you haven't seen it, now would be a great time to read the guest post by volunteer Alice Cave on her experience volunteering at the Paton Center during the time covered by this post.)

We've been getting a ton done there. First and foremost, we've needed to complete the house yard fence and make it javalina proof to protect the back yard, now that the perimeter fencing has come done. We've gotten a new front gate installed to the house thanks to hard work from our neighbor Alex. The new front gate is the hummingbird gate from the fence protecting fountain in the back yard, refinished and sized to perfection. We're calling it the Puerto Colibri.
The Puerto Colibri, pre install, let the measuring begin.
Alex and Keith laying out and working on the Puerto Colibri
Alex digs out the hole for the railroad tie posts
The newly installed Puerto Colibri, anchored in place while
the concrete dries.
Rick and Alice came down and helped out with staining and sealing the new extended wooden fence; it's looking great.

After some hours of kneeling to stain, Alice wised up and brought in some cushy accommodations to finish out the work.
Alice enjoying the cushy work conditions, sun and a nice chair!
Some of the crew and volunteers Terry and John set the foundation and posts for the new information kiosk and then assembled it including re-using the corrugated sheet metal from the old paddock shed as the new roof. The kiosk was designed by local designer/fabricator Doug Thompson. It'll soon develop a fine rusty patina that will look fantastic as a back to the information signage that will be on its way soon.
Terry, Dan, and Andy mixing concrete
Looking pretty level, nice work guys!

The assembled frame concrete in place, waiting for it to dry.
John and Dan putting on the roof.
John and Dan with the assembled and roofed kiosk.
Underside view of the roof - shiny side down.
The completed kiosk, awaiting information.
We've also begun working on the new parking areas. Previously there would be a long line of cars along Blue Heaven Road. With the chain-link fence around the property they were separated out from the Paton's yard. However, now that the perimeter fence is down, cars parked there look out of place. We're consolidating parking near the NE corner of the property on smaller lots separated by water harvesting basins. The water from the parking areas will flow into and feed the water harvesting basins and keep lush hummingbird plants and native grasses and shrubs growing healthy there.
Andy, John, and Dan digging out the water-harvesting basin.
Dirt from the basin going onto the parking area to raise it.
Countless wheelbarrow-fulls of dirt.
And, it looks like parking...or is starting to.
Basin by the front entrance on Blue Heaven, just getting underway.
 Last (for this post), but not least is that the new trail around the meadow area is being roughed in. It'll be lined w/ native bunch-grasses and flowering plants, and lead around to some quiet area and excellent future birding spots...at least that's the goal! Right now it's a nascent path through a weedy field.
Andy beside the path he's just cleared.
Kickin' up some dust.
 Come on out and visit! Check out the changes in person and let us know what you think. And, as always, if you're interested in volunteering, contact Jonathan or Keith!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Volunteering at the Paton Center - a guest post by Alice Cave

For many Tucson birders, visiting the wonderful Paton House is a treat, and I am no exception.  The Paton house is located in Patagonia, near the border with Mexico. The house was owned for years by the Paton family, who made it a birding haven with their many feeders and their unique location.  Now through the efforts of many, the house is being transformed and managed as the the Paton Center for Hummingbirds by Tucson Audubon.  My husband, Rick Fletcher, and I have been following this process with interest, and so when we came to Tucson for the winter, we looked for opportunities to help out.

Terry, Andy, and Dan installing the new information kiosk.
Early on the morning of November 12, we drove down to Patagonia to join a work group in progress and see where we could help out.  There is a lot going on there: construction is in progress for a multi-faceted information kiosk; areas are being smoothed out to create more parking; the fence around the house is being strengthened and weatherproofed and a gate added, to name a few items.    Rick and I talked to Jonathan Horst about how we could jump in and help, and determined that staining the fence would be a great use of our time and energy.  I definitely wanted to stay away from all power tools!   So we set to work staining the fence itself as well as some loose boards that would be used in other ways.  Rick and I worked methodically to cover the area needed, until we ran out of stain. In one day we made a tangible difference in the appearance and condition of the Paton House grounds and it was very satisfying.
Alice staining and sealing the front fence.
Photo Credit: Rick Fletcher
Rick staining the fence.
An obvious difference!
Photo credit:Rick Fletcher
Rick gets close and friendly with the plants to stain
the inside of the fenceline.

Alex and Larry and the newly installed Puerto Colibri.
During the day we got to know other volunteers, such as Alex from Patagonia who was working on installing a javalina-proof gate.  Plus  it was great to visit with some TAS staff members we have gotten to know on other projects, including Andy Bennett and Keith Ashley. It was a dedicated, hard-working group that got right down to business.  And all through the day, birders were coming to the site to see the hummingbirds and other birds the house is famous for.

Why volunteer? What makes this project a good volunteer gig? 

For me, volunteering has a long family history. My parents and many adults I knew as a child, were very active volunteers in all kinds of projects. So I adopted the point of view early on that it is important to make a contribution to society, and I have participated in many diverse activities over the years. Rick and I recently became home owners in the Tucson area, and will be here until spring, and so we looked at volunteering as a way to meet new people, as well as to help with projects that help birds.  Of course, we quickly found TAS. 

Why is the Paton House project a good volunteer gig?  First of all, we made a tangible difference with what we did. Second, the project is very well organized, and there was no time spent wondering what to do. We got there and got started.  Third, it provides a way to meet people while helping birds.  And there was lunch provided as a thank you, sitting outside on one of the new picnic tables with the other volunteers on a beautiful day. What's not to like?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Santa Catalina Mountains CBC

Guest Post by Brian Nicholas, count compiler
It’s 2:30 AM as you stand against the cover of trees on the banks of the wash, listening as Great Horned Owls give slow deep hoots, their calls easily heard against the backdrop of silence. The occasional car sounds like a freight train against the still night, but is easily forgotten. Your first meteor streaks across the sky, but many others will be witnessed this quiet night. You play a recording of the Western Screech Owl, hoping for a response. Nothing. You play it again, then a third time. A mesquite branch jounces ever so slightly on this windless night. You can feel a presence. You try the recording again and midway through the repertoire the recording seems to be repeating itself. You switch it off and the soft whistled hoots continue, followed by a melodic trill. It swoops silently past you like a tiny gray ghost, a shadow against the darkness, so subtle you have to wonder if your eyes actually saw this tiny wonder. Everything else in your life disappears as you relish this moment of an unforgettable night of discovery.

Approximate center of the Santa Catalina Mountains CBC circle as seen from the Santa Catalina Highway at the Thimble Peak Vista pulloff. Thimble Peak is catching the first morning sun on the left horizon and most of the foreground consists of the middle reaches of Bear Canyon and its tributaries.

The Santa Catalina Mountains (SCM) CBC was the first Christmas Count I experienced in Arizona, and I was lucky enough to go out birding with Bob Bates, the compiler. Bob has been a great mentor, and a steady, leading force for this particular circle. The SCM CBC has only had two compilers in its long 77 year history, Bob Bates and the late great Gale Monson. Now that’s a legacy!

We are lucky to have such a diversity of habitats within this circle. Mount Lemmon has many layers of diversity, with many birds typically found in northern climates such as jays, nuthatches, and a diverse population of woodpeckers. Redington Pass also holds specialties including Juniper Titmouse, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Mountain Bluebirds. The Tanque Verde and Agua Caliente washes are great sparrow magnets, and the lowland ponds provide wintering waterfowl habitat. In some lowland areas all four local falcon species have been seen on count day (Prairie, Peregrine, Merlin, and American Kestrel). Sabino Canyon is a unique migrant trap, especially for warblers, and is always good for a rare sighting. Any area in the circle could hold a rare specialty, and, more importantly, will add valuable information on species densities within the circle.

Abert's Towhee is a permanent resident of dense desert wash vegetation and its core range is southern Arizona. It's much more often heard than seen this well.

Mixed flocks of Western and Mountain bluebirds sometimes resemble Christmas ornaments as they flock to ocotillos or junipers in Redington Pass.

Diverse vegetation along Tanque Verde Wash makes excellent habitat for birds as well as Coyotes.

Long-eared Owl has been found on this count!

The SCM CBC is going to be held this year on Saturday, December 20th, the weekend following the Tucson Valley CBC. About 80% of the SCM CBC circle is in the foothills and mountains with much of the circle accessible only by trail although the Catalina Highway and Redington Road provide access to higher elevations in the circle. The circle also contains the Tanque Verde, Aqua Caliente, and Sabino/Bear Canyon washes which are very important to wintering (and breeding!) birds. Although bird diversity and numbers in the mountains and foothills are less than in the lowland washes, there are still a lot of birds which winter in these areas. Species totals for the SCM CBC for the last few years typically ranged from about 120 to 130 with the highest total species count being 144. With extensive coverage, there is little doubt that 150 species can be located in the circle – especially if a few nice rarities decide to overwinter!

Although any help would be appreciated, I would especially like to increase our knowledge of what birds are found in the mountains and foothills. If you have feeders in the southern half of Summerhaven (the northern part of Summerhaven is outside of the circle) or at other residences on Mt. Lemmon, it would be great to get counts from these feeders. Birding one of the many trails heading out into the mountains and foothills also would be greatly appreciated.

If you are willing to help out in these areas or by joining a group covering a portion of the circle or counting birds at your feeder located anywhere in the circle, please contact me at weehawker2@yahoo.com or by phone at 520-760-3583. I'll be trying to coordinate birding teams and effort by area in the weeks prior to the count so let me know how flexible you are in regard to area or time. Birders of all interests and skill levels are encouraged to help out, beginners will join up with more experienced leaders. 

See the full list of Arizona Counts

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A new more welcoming Paton Center for Hummingbirds

(Don't miss the awesome action shots at the end of the post!)
If you haven't been to the Paton Center for Hummingbirds for a while, you might just drive right by before you realize you've gone too far!
Before: Front Gate Parking
After: Front Gate parking, no gate!

But, with the new Welcome Sign up to greet you, hopefully more people from out of town/state/country will be more confident of where they're going on their first magical visit.
The new Welcome sign!
We took down the chain-link fence the whole way along Blue Heaven Road so that the Paton Center is more fully integrated with the surrounding landscape, and is visually a much more welcoming site.
Before: Blue Heaven Road with fence
After: Blue Heaven Road, no fence

We've also gotten up a new Javalina-proof fence to protect the inner yard and gardens around the house continuing the style of the historic house fence.
Matt Clark digs in the
javalina wire trench
Andy Bennett rakes things
back into order afterwards
Volunteer extraordinaire Chris 
Strohm attaches the fencing
The new, very visible, donation box is installed. Don't worry, donations still go to the sugar fund, just as they always have!

And we'll leave you with a pile of exciting action shots; showcasing all the work that goes into making these changes possible. If you want to help out, contact Keith Ashley or Jonathan Horst; we could sure use some help!

HULK SMASH! Rodd Lancaster provides a bit of
persuasion to a fencepost and concrete plug that
just didn't want to budge...

Dan Lehman disassembles the front gate

Our awesome neighbor, Luke Reese of The Sonoita Creek Preserve next door,
lends a hand and mows the overgrown paddock meadow area with a bush hog.
Dan Lehman cuts old welds to take down the old horse paddock behind the old shed

Thanks to the tractor we were able to borrow from  Duncan Blair (Rio Santa Cruz Beef), we were 

Rodd Lancaster ties in the new fencing to the creekside chain-
link fence

To maintain the legacy and feel of the Paton's yard, Jonathan
Horst cuts out a section of the Hummingbird Gate that was the
entrance to the back fountain to become the new front gate to
the main house.