BioBlitz at Saguaro NP, Quite an Event!

by Jennie MacFarland, IBA Program Biologist

On October 21-22, 2011 the much publicized BioBlitz was held at Saguaro National Park. This was the 5th annual BioBlitz in a series of 10, each held at a different National Park, leading up to the centennial celebration of the Park Service. This 24 hour species inventory of the Park was both a scientific endeavor and an outreach opportunity.

Learning about the desert

On the 21st thousands of children from all over Tucson were brought to the park to learn about why biodiversity is important and how Saguaro National Park is a preserve of nature right in their own backyard. Tucson Audubon was heavily involved in the bird portion of their natural discovery. Our base camp was the Valley View Picnic Area where we helped the groups of children survey mini transects and look for birds. It was delightful to see how excited the children were to see a common bird such as a Phainopepla or Cactus Wren, birds that are old hat to the likes of us. The children were interested in everything and we did our best to keep up with the steady stream of questions. There were a few logistics bumps in the road, but overall it was a gratifying morning. Hopefully many Tucson children now have a firmer understanding of the natural world and how awesome it can be!

Now it was time for the science part to begin! I led a nocturnal bird survey of Saguaro National Park West while TAS volunteer-extraordinaire Tim Helentjaris led one in Saguaro East. The public was invited to sign up for many of the inventories during the BioBlitz so many people were able to experience what a biological survey is like. My team managed to hear several Great-horned Owls, one loud enough for the entire team of about 12 adults and 2 children to hear, several Western Screech-Owls and three Elf Owls. A tarantula stole the show for a few minutes when it was spotted crossing the road and everyone was excited to spot several scorpions glowing under a black light. The team seemed delighted at all the wonderful critters we uncovered together.

Blacklit scorpion

Bright and early the next morning it was time for my daytime bird inventory. Many TAS volunteers led bird inventory routes and the public was again invited to sign up to join a team. As a result many people who were new to birding or had never ever birded before signed up for these teams and could see for themselves just how much fun we have all the time.

Douglas Spring survey crew

My route was the Douglas Springs Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls in Saguaro East and it was beautiful! As we walked the route we turned up many expected species such as Black-throated Sparrows, Rock Wrens (both in high numbers!), Curve-billed Thrashers and Phainopeplas. The team was very excited to get good looks at these common species which was heartening to me. I guess they only seem common if you see them all the time. We also managed to spot some less usual birds during our survey. Everyone had excellent views of a Loggerhead Shrike which gave me the opportunity to tell them about the fascinating and “dark” side of these “butcher birds” which they loved! We also saw White-throated Swift, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Sharp-shinned Hawk and my favorite bird of the day, a Dicksissel!

It was a fun morning where we found lots of birds and several people walked away with a new appreciation of birding and how fun it can be! The BioBlitz was a good time and I would like to send out a big THANK YOU to all the TAS volunteers and staff that helped Tucson Audubon’s involvement go smoothly! I hope you all had a good time!!