Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trekking Rattlers On the Loose...Again!

Those precocious students from Lauffer Middle School are at it again this Fall season, hiking and exploring Southeast Arizona's wildlands with Tucson Audubon's Trekking Rattlers program. We began our first adventure of the season with an hour or so of bird-watching at Tucson Audubon's Paton Center for Hummingbirds. Swarms of hummingbirds, including the rare violet-crowned, kept everyone entertained.  Ever-helpful Paton Center caretaker and naturalist extraordinaire Larry Morgan was on-hand to answer questions and guide many of the students to their first sightings of several species, including itinerant rufous and calliope hummers.

After we'd had our fill of the throngs of hummingbirds and goldfinches at the Paton Center, we bid Larry farewell and headed to the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve just next door. The Preserve's manager, Luke Reese, met us at the Visitor Center and regaled us with stories of the many creatures spotted at the preserve over the years. Luke also pointed us to his favorite spots along the trails and recommended a hiking path, which we gladly followed.

The Rattlers, deep in the heart of the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
The Preserve was flush with the vibrant, writhing products of our unusually wet spring and summer bounty, crawling with vividly-colored caterpillars, butterflies, beetles and a myriad of other 6-, 8- and 10-leggeds that attracted a host of birds to the trees above. We even spotted one federally-threatened Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

The Rattlers try to measure one of the monstrous cottonwoods along the Creek Trail. The TNC Preserve house some of the largest cottonwoods on record, and many exceed 100' in height.

Angel's not quite sure if this cicada exoskeleton we found in the Preserve is alive or dead

Our excursion culminated with a barefoot walk up Sonoita Creek's rare perrennial waters. The water gurgled around our ankles and incited the crew to aquatic antics, stone-gazing, and the hunt for more birds.

For many students, a Trekking Rattlers adventure is their first brush with wild nature; many would not otherwise have access to the great outdoors. The program, active since 2012, is the brainchild of star Tucson Audubon volunteer Deb Vath. Vath has planned and coordinated every trip, ensuring that sufficient volunteer adult chaperons are signed-up and that the students are bringing everything they need to have a great time outdoors.

Deb Vath leads the Rattlers down a cool, shady walk along Sonoita Creek in Patagonia, AZ

Working in partnership with the Sierra Club's Inspiring Connections Outdoors and Sunnyside School District, Trekking Rattlers has immersed hundreds of children in the natural wonders of our region, inspired creative thinking and teamwork, and helped them develop a sense of harmony with nature.

The success of vital and exceptional programs like Trekking Rattlers truly relies upon the help of dedicated and passionate volunteers like Deb Vath. There are 8 trips remaining for the 2015-2016 school season, to places like the Santa Rita Mountains and Saguaro National Park---please consider volunteering! The hiking is usually rather mellow, so the most important qualification is an eagerness to inspire children in the outdoors.

You can also help the Trekking Rattlers keep on trekking by making an Arizona Tax Credit Donation. More information about the Trekking Rattlers and instructions on how to donate your Tax Credits here.

Until the next foray...Happy Trails!

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