Saguaro NP BioBlitz Report
by Matt Griffiths
A very birdy morning in the Rincon Valley greeted my BioBlitz team (Aleck and Vivian MacKinnon) on October 22. With some last minute manuevering we crafted for ourselves probably one of the best birding routes in either the west or east districts in Saguaro National Park. Our described path was to follow the Manning Camp trail up onto the saguaro-filled ridge, surely a great hike in this “off limits” area of the park guarded by the exclusive X-9 ranch. Once we arrived at Madrona Ranger Station though, a quick look at the map and a real look at the wonderfully lush Chiminea Canyon changed our minds without a second thought. We decided to explore the creekside habitat of towering sycamore, oak and feather tree, which is only found north of the border in these south-facing drainages of the Rincon mountains.
The hard work of scrambling over boulders all morning, some the size of a large SUV, paid off! Rock Wren was definitely the bird of the day, but sparrow diversity really surprised us. Right off the bat, while our eyes were still waking up, an unfamiliar sparrow song challenged us and turned out to be a Rufous-winged without the bouncing ball. The day produced Green-tailed Towhees, Lincoln, Black-chinned, Brewer’s, Chipping, Lark, Song, Black-throated, and numerous White-crowned Sparrows.
The presence of water and large trees was certainly the reason for finding 40 species and a great cross section of birds from Black and Say’s Phoebe, Northern and Gilded Flicker, Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Solitary Vireo, as well as Verdin to Western Flycatcher. Most surprising were a Painted Redstart flying in and perching above our heads and a single female Indigo Bunting we were able to pick out among the various sparrows.
Besides the amazing setting, other non-bird highlights included a great section of mammal tracks where mountain lion, coati and raccoon prints were put down in mud of perfect consistency. Canyon tree frogs easily outnumbered all other herps seen, while lowland leopard frogs were represented by a few twitchy individuals seen mostly as pond splashes. We got great looks at a black-necked garter snake who seemed to be frozen to a boulder in the morning shade.
All in all the BioBlitz seemed to be a smashing success for us and Saguaro. While my bird route was not open to public registration due to access limitations, it allowed our team to complete a quality survey in an area that is rarely sampled. Many other survey routes turned out to be great introductions to birds and birding for a general public who can’t tell a cardinal from a woodpecker. In our Madrona area alone, hundreds of school children spent two days outdoors learning about a whole host of biological processes and getting hands-on experience. Some of them had never even been camping before! This is reason enough to hold an event like this every year!