Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Paton Center: A view from above

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, John Hoffman came over with his remote operated quad-copter to take some photos of the property so that we can better show changes through time.

The copter is a little GPS-stabilized chopper with 4 propellers. It’s incredibly stable allowing careful positioning to take just the photo wanted. John hooked his phone up to the remote control and so was able to see exactly the photo taken. To this comparative Luddite (i still have a flip-phone!) it was pretty unreal.

I’ll let the photos and captions tell the story.

Paton Center Ambassador Larry Morgan holds the controls
while John Hoffman sets up the quad-copter.
Hoffman orients the copter to the
guiding satellites. This involved
holding it vertically and turning it 360°,
then holding it sideways and repeat.
And, LIFTOFF!      
Red and green lights orient the flier
to which direction the copter is facing
since it is identical from all sides.
Even so, it's easy to get disoriented.
A very careful flier

The controls. By syncing his phone to the controller and the copter, 
Hoffman had a real-time view of what the quad-copter was about to photo.
A view from above -- the front of the Tucson Audubon Paton Center for
Hummingbirds showcasing the new parking areas, front lawn, and new
information kiosk.
Shadows prove to be the biggest obstacle to good photos. Maybe we'll need more on a cloudy day or in winter when more trees have fewer leaves.
A north-facing view of the meadow,
from the south.
(photo credit: John Hoffman)
A west-facing view of the meadow,
from the east.
(photo credit: John Hoffman)
Batteries low, almost touchdown.
Hoffman collects his copter after a
successful outing snapping the
desired photos.

Fun times. Personally, i can’t wait for the next time we need some photos of the site…and with all the ongoing changes, that should be pretty soon.  -- Jonathan

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Paton workday update: Just before Thanksgiving

By Jonathan Horst, Restoration Ecologist

The week before Thanksgiving the crew was back at it at the Paton Center with more work around the property.

We began creating the trail around the paddock, turning it into a meadow. The trail will be a short loop trail primarily around the perimeter with good views of a healthy mulberry tree, a nice grove of locusts, and some large old mesquites. Lots of plans for the future, but i won’t spill the beans on all that just yet.

Volunteer Logan and Matt Griffiths planning where the trail should lie.
Volunteer planting a purple 3-awn grass at the gate signaling the start of the loop trail.
Andy Bennett transplants native bunchgrasses along the trail
Still in process – but progress
Ok, now that looks like a trail! And, it’s bordered on either side with transplanted bunchgrasses saved from the new parking area.

At the back corner of the meadow loop trail our crew and awesome volunteers began prepping and installing some memorial benches.

Lots of work to get it right, but pads for the benches installed! The demo bench will be replaced by some AMAZING benches being restored by some amazing volunteers (you’ll have to wait for next post to see them).

There’s also an amazing little mulberry tree – little for now, it’s gonna grow fast. The main part of the trunk was dying so we had to cut it off, now all those resources go to the new trunk! And the stump becomes the base of the water feature. The water is designed to spill some water over, keeping it fresh, which will water some lush hummingbird plants. First step dig in the tiered basins.

Andy Bennett roughs in the tiered basins.
Completed basins.

Of course there are a ton of other tasks too. We also took down the rest of the fencing from the old fountain area. The fencing will be reused for future gates in the javelina-proof fencing. Reuse first, recycle the rest.

Volunteer Chris Strohm busts the concrete footer away from the fence posts with his impact hammer.
Volunteer John Hughes wipes the protective oils off the new information kiosk.

Volunteer Terry Weimouth power washes and scrubs down the cover of the shaded seating area in the back yard. Looks like new!

Oh, and let’s not forget that we got basins dug to harvest water from more of the new parking areas…

Basins and plants!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Lark Buntings in the Tucson Valley CBC

Guest post by Rich Hoyer, TVCBC Compiler
A recent eBird submission for Lark Bunting at Rio Vista Natural Resource Park got me to thinking. This park is only a mile from where I live in north-central Tucson, and I’ve seen the species in this neighborhood only once in the more than 17 years I’ve lived here. Then it occurred to me that we’ve missed it on several recent Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Counts (happening this weekend, Dec. 14!), including last year’s record-breaking species count. But has it always been a difficult bird here?

Lark Bunting at Rio Vista Natural Resource Park found and photographed by Joan Gellatly.
I was surprised at what I discovered when I looked at the data since Tucson Valley’s current circle was described in 1971. The most surprising is what has happened only since the late 1990’s. Our Lark Buntings have all but disappeared, and they used to be annual, sometimes in the thousands.

This quick blog can’t begin to investigate what might be the causes of this decline, but we can rule out lack of observer coverage. The graph I generated actually accounts for observer coverage by dividing the number of birds by the number of total hours birders spent in the field, the simplest bit of statistical work you can do with these numbers.

To start, one might look at local and regional changes in habitat availability (maybe we’ve lost the habitat they prefer). I did look at about 17 years of area-by-area data, and when they were most abundant, Lark Buntings were found all over the circle, presumably in the larger washes. But they were in the Rillito Wash, way up to where Pantano and Tanque Verde join. They were often in the CaƱada del Oro. And most regularly they were along the Santa Cruz River. At least the latter of these has changed drastically since the mid 1990’s.

Or perhaps one might look at larger scale changes in habitat use and distribution (maybe there’s some other area that is now much more superior where they now prefer to winter). But perhaps most telling might be to look at other CBCs and census data to determine if there’s been a overall decline in the entire population that is mirrored in our CBC data.

But this example shows at least that while nearly all of us are participating in a Christmas Bird Count because it’s fun, relatively common, easy-to-observe, and easy-to-identify birds actually produce some useful data. It’s nice to know that our birding habits might leave a legacy.

Contact Rich Hoyer to sign up for the Tucson Valley CBC. Learn more about the count here: