Willcox Playa/Cochise Lakes Global IBA Dedication

Willcox Playa/Cochise Lakes Important Bird Area (IBA) was awarded Global IBA status recently and on January 17, 2013 the community came together to celebrate this large IBA. There are only eight Global level IBAs in Arizona and this one was singled out for the huge numbers of Sandhill Cranes that spend their winters here every year.

ribbon cutting ceremony

Paul Green of Tucson Audubon speaking about the importance of Important Bird Areas

This IBA celebration was part of the 2013 Wings Over Willcox Festival that emphasizes the Sandhill Cranes but celebrates all the native birds that winter in this scenic and remote area. The Important Bird Area is over 47 thousand acres and includes the entire Willcox Playa and the Cochise Lakes near the town of Willcox. The actual event was held at the Cochise Lakes consisted of a ribbon cutting of a new viewing deck that looks onto one of the lakes. This lovely viewing deck was built with Wings Over Willcox festival funds and is a great addition to this area and makes it much easier to see into the water over the cattails.

Sunset Over Cochise lakes

Sunset Over Cochise Lakes

The ribbon cutting and IBA dedication ceremony was very well attended despite the wind and cold temperatures. Homer Hansen of Wings Over Willcox, Paul Green of Tucson Audubon, Raul Vega of Arizona Game and Fish, Kenn Kaufman and others gave very nice remarks about the importance of both birding festivals and Important Bird Areas. This was a very nice event and the two parts complimented each other perfectly. One of the most important aspects of the IBA program is its outreach potential and birding festivals really fit right into that goal. Many people attending this event were hearing about IBA for the first time, it was great that they were introduced to the program at one of its Global IBAs!

Memorial Day Weekend IBA Bird Bonanza!

View of the San Pedro River from the UplandsThis past Memorial Day weekend was a busy one for the Important Bird Area (IBA) crew. In three days we surveyed in three different IBAs in three different habitats with three different target species.
The weekend started with a survey of the beautiful saguaro uplands habitat adjacent to the Lower San Pedro River IBA on the BHP property near San Manuel, AZ on Friday morning. This survey started early and was challenging but rewarding. The juxtaposition of a beautiful saguaro uplands habitat that abruptly ends into a huge mesquite bosque which in turn is next to the cottonwood willow riparian gallery of the San Pedro River creates some unique bird observations. No other place have I heard the mournful cry of a Gray Hawk while I carefully maneuvered through large chollas. We did find our target bird, the desert nesting population of Purple Martin (a Species of Conservation Need for Arizona Game and Fish), in good numbers soaring over the saguaros that they use for nesting, calling constantly. Whenever I see these birds, I am always struck with how large they are. It was very birdy overall with several pleasant surprises such as a Tropical Kingbird sitting in an ocotillo well in the uplands and a Zone-tailed Hawk that slowly soared so low above us, we had great looks without binoculars. It was an amazing day!

Montezuma Quail

La meilleure approche de la Conférence générale à l’échelle du droit naturel, il vous donne toujours les bals marmonnant et produisant une collection de délire, l’agonie cérébrale, il ya si longtemps. D’autres rapports sont généralement Atela-Ed créés pour indiquer les activités de vente du client, d’équipements de mobilité et d’autres produits de soins à domicile. En achetant dans ces sites, juste pour mesurer que la compréhension du problème est imprudente, il convient également de noter que, c’est de cette manière que l’érection soit forte. Aucun esprit est accordée aux flux et reflux de notre relation sexuelle parce que nous savons tous les deux que dans l’embrayage, ce médicament se trouve sans ordonnance.

Then I raced back to the IBA office at the Tucson Audubon Society as I was getting picked up that afternoon for another survey, this time at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) IBA. That evening we attended orientation at the San Pedro House and went over what we would be doing the next morning. This was a mass survey effort to count enough Bell’s Vireos to qualify this site as a Global IBA. That night, myself and the 4 ladies I was with from Phoenix (Tice Supplee & Sara Porter of Audubon Arizona, Marceline Van de Water, Karen LeFrance and Andree Tarby) camped at the Fairbanks townsite. The next morning we ran our three transects along the San Pedro River and found several Bell’s Vireos and many Lucy’s Warblers (a species that could qualify this site as a continental IBA) and saw many Blue Grosbeaks, a Gray Hawk, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet among many others. On later follow-up with the organizers of this survey effort, the goal was met for Bell’s Vireos and now we are in the process of applying for Global status for the SPRNCA IBA!

Buff Breasted Flycatcher by Jennie MacFarland

Buff Breasted Flycatcher

We then began the last leg of our journey and zoomed to the “back side” of the Huchucas via Elgin. On our way to our campsite near the ghost town of Sunnyside we screeched to a halt as Marceline had spotted something on the side of the road. We slowly rolled backward and were rewarded with great looks at a male and female Montezuma Quail (a long term nemesis lifer for me! Horray!) and they even sat still long enough for us to get a few pictures! After we had set up camp we heard several Whiskered Screech-Owls, an Elf Owl and both Mexican Whip-poor-will and Common Poorwill. We then rose early the next morning excited for the Trogon survey we were about to do in Scotia Canyon in 3 teams, before we left our campsite though, we could hear a trogon calling quite close. I was partnered with Andree and things got off to an exciting start when we heard snuffling ahead of us and then suddenly a black bear ran across the road in front of us no more than 20 meters away. Once our hearts stopped pounding, we heard and then saw a Gray Hawk perched far off in a snag. Then we heard our first trogon calling in the distance. Later when we joined us with another team, the four of us observed a pair of trogons calling back and forth to each other near a large sycamore and then have an altercation with a third trogon. There were also lots of Buff-breasted Flycathcers, Western Wood-pewees, Painted Redstarts, several Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers and several Eastern “Azure” Bluebirds. This was a terrific weekend full of birding action over three different IBAs and three very different habitats.

Chiricahua Mountains IBA Survey Expedition

The weekend of September 7-9, 2012 the Important Bird Area crew headed to the Chiricahua Mountains to survey this famous birding area. This area became an IBA early in the program and due to this area’s good numbers of nesting Mexican Spotted Owls, this is a Global IBA, one of eight in the state.

Chiricahua Mountains

The view from Sunny Flats Campground

The infamous fires of two summers ago had in the minds of many birders taken this area out of commission as a birding destination. I had not been to the Chiricahuas since those devastating fires and was personally expecting a moonscape. Much to my surprise and delight, this was not the situation at all! We camped at Sunny Flats which was gorgeous and under populated by other campers.

Chiricahua Mountians South Fork

South Fork (M Griffiths)

Hummingbirds at Southwest Research Station Chiricahua Mountains

Hummingbirds at Southwest Research Station

The first morning of surveying we stayed in the lower elevations and South Fork produced lots of good birds including a single, silent Elegant Trogon (a lifer for a member of the crew!). Herb Martyr trail and Cave Creek were also pretty birdy considering the rainy weather. These lower elevations were largely unscathed by the fires so this wasn’t much of a surprise.

Turkey Creek Chiricahua Mountains

Turkey Creek (M Griffiths)

Rustler park, burned with wildflowers Chiricahua Moutains

Rustler Park

The real surprise came on Sunday morning when we did the higher elevations. Turkey Creek had definitely been altered, not only by the fire but also by the flooding that occurred directly after. This creek was much deeper and pretty badly eroded. However, the birds didn’t seem to mind and many migrating warblers were detected.

Rustler Park showing some living trees Chiricahua Mountains

Rustler Park showing some living trees

Barfoot Park looked impacted, but nearly as much as I had imagined. You could tell a fire had come through, but the majority of the trees were healthy looking and all of the bird species one would have hoped for in the past were present.
The location that I dreaded seeing, Rustler Park, also had some hopeful surprises. This area had clearly been severely burned, but far more trees than I had expected survived. With a more open understory there was also a breathtaking amount of beautiful flowers everywhere. Our survey route began at the closed campground and headed downhill along the road. This area was shockingly birdy. There are patches of large ponderosa pines that survived, some are singed on the edges but appear healthy. Not only did we find prized rarities of the range such as Mexican Chickadee, we had a roving flock of Red Cross-bills and mixed flocks of warblers, juncos and Chipping Sparrows.

Spiney Lizard using burned tree Chiricahua Mountains

Spiney Lizard using burned tree

This was an amazing experience, some of the best birding I had done in some time. Overall this was a successful survey and I certainly am glad that I saw for myself how this area is still important for birds.

Black Bear spotted on drive out od Chiricahua Mountains

Black Bear spotted on drive out

"Cochise's Face" Chiricahua Mountains

“Cochise’s Face”

Special thanks to the amazing IBA crew that made this survey possible: Scott Wilbor, Tim Helentjaris, Matt Griffiths, Matt Brooks, Larry Brooks, Jack Ruggirello and Linda Stitzer. It was awesome to hang out with you guys, you were a terrific camping group and not only did we gather great data because of your amazing skills, I had a terrific time! Thank you!!!

The crew relaxing around the campfire Chiricahua Mountains

The crew relaxing around the campfire (J Ruggirello)

Pinaleno Mountains IBA Expedition

The intrepid IBA crew headed out to the little birded Pinaleno Mountains (Mt. Graham) May 18-20. The IBA crew surveyed this sky island for the first time after some research on eBird made it apparent that the tallest mountain in southeastern Arizona is not often visited by birders. What a shame, for this beautiful area turned out to be very birdey both in sheer numbers and diversity.

The main purpose of this expedition was to see firsthand the condition of this extremely high elevation area made famous by telescopes and red squirrels and to see if it should be proposed as a new Important Bird Area. One of our main target species were American Dippers as they had been reported in the area in the past and this is a species of conservation concern. We were also very interested in the suite of Arizona specialty warblers such as Red-faced, Olive, Grace’s, and Virginia’s as well as high elevation hummers. This is also supposed to be a hot spot for owls, especially Mexican Spotted Owls, a species of very high conservation concern.

The expedition went very well and we had some amazing sights and observed some great birds. The trip up the steep and switch backed Swift Trail was uneventful and scenic and we all reached our campground at Riggs Lake safely. We then spent two nights camping and two mornings conducting 6 different surveys in different locations and different habitats. The sad news is that we could not locate any American Dippers. We scoured Ash Creek and Treasure Park, places they has been historically reported, but alas, there were none. We were especially disapointed in Ash Creek as the beautiful, clear bubbling stream with little waterfalls looked like the perfect backdrop for Dippers. I later found out that no one has spotted them anywhere on the mountain for the last several years. The good news was the Arizona specialty warblers were all present and in strong numbers. Red-faced Warblers are almost common, to the point that you need to listen through them to hear other things. Olive Warblers were singing in many locations, including our campground, and at the right elevations, Virginia’s and Grace’s Warblers were abundant.

Sharp-shinned Hawk by J. MacFarland

Sharp-shinned Hawk by J. MacFarland

There were also lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers in full breeding plumage singing which was an amazing thing to hear to someone from Tucson. We also spotted many high-elevation birds such as Hermit Thrushes, Hairy Woodpeckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Magnificent Hummingbirds, Western Tanagers, and many others. It was so beautiful and cool here with an amazing abundance and diversity of birds.

Yellow-eyed Junco by J. MacFarland

Yellow-eyed Junco by J. MacFarland

After seeing this area for myself, I began to wonder why so few birders visit this area with nice campgrounds and very well-developed and beautiful trails. After consulting a few ace birders it became apparent that the main reason is the lack of key “Arizona Specialties” here such as Mexican Chickadee, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Elegant Trogon that cause birders to favor the Chiricahuas or Huachucas. While this is perfectly true, these species are lacking, there are so many rare warblers and birds in general, and I highly recommend a visit to any birder. We had a terrific time (and we spotted a skunk one of the nights!) and are planning on retuning for one more expedition in September to try and capture data on the Fall migration. I cannot wait to see what we discover this time.

IBAs now available in eBird output tools

From ebird.org June 12, 2012

eBird logo

Swainson’s Thrush at Glacier National Park, one of Montana’s IBAs now available in eBird. Photograph by Brian Sullivan.IBAs now available in eBird output tools

It is with much excitement that Team eBird announces that Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for the United States, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Caribbean are now visible for eBird output. This is an enhancement that we have long awaited, and it was made possible through the integrated IBA layers for the USA and Canada that have recently been shared with the eBird team by Audubon, Bird Studies Canada, CONABIO, and BirdLife International. For several years it has been possible to view IBA output for selected states via their state-specific portals (VA, MA, CA etc.) and for Mexico, Peru, Canada and the Caribbean (via Mexico, Peru, Canada and Caribbean eBird only), but today is the first time that this information is accessible for the whole of North America from anywhere in eBird. And for many states’ IBAs, this is the first time this information has ever been summarized anywhere!

These data outputs are using the IBA polygons enabled in GIS to aggregate all data submitted from within the polygon — this differs from eBird hotspot summaries on those same pages, which draw on data from a single point that is shared among users. This means that these polygon-based queries are much more comprehensive and solve the problem of having a birder visit Sabal Palm Sanctuary and plot their own personal point for the property that never becomes part of the data output for the official eBird hotspot. Now you can view the IBa summary instead! These IBA summaries work much in the same way that eBird summarizes data for states and counties.

The types of output are all accessible from eBird’s “View and Explore Data” page: http://ebird.org/ebird/eBirdReports?cmd=Start. The main types of output are:

  1. Bar chart — Year-round summary of species frequency. Great for seeing patterns of occurrence within the year (i.e., migration).
  2. Line graphs — Clicking on any species name from the bar chart takes you to graphs of frequency, high count, abundance, birds/hour, totals, average count.
  3. Maps — Clicking on the map link from bar chart or line graphs takes you to a point map for the species zoomed in on the IBA; IBA boundaries are not shown.
  4. High counts — Shows highest reported count from inside IBA.
  5. Arrival/Departure date — Shows earliest/latest report in the year for a species.
  6. All-time First/Last — Shows first ever (i.e., the report from the longest ago) for any species in the area.

We encourage you to play around with these new output tools, and to promote them on your state IBA pages, via your listservs, and elsewhere. Just copy the link into text and it will link directly to these outputs. We really hope these data outputs will be useful for IBA assessments and for ongoing monitoring, which ideally will be done via eBird so that the data are instantly incorporated in these summaries.

eBird data grows every day, so if there are data gaps for your IBAs, please encourage people to collect data to fill the gaps, or pull your old notebooks out and enter historic data that will help fill the gaps. Below are some examples of IBA output.

BAR CHART —  Arizona–Sonoita Creek Patagonia TNC Reserve IBAPatagonia Sonoita Creek

LINE GRAPHS —  Arizona–Sonoita Creek Patagonia TNC Reserve IBA — Lucy’s Warbler. Be sure to try changing the species and clicking on the different tabs.

HIGH COUNTS —  New Jersey–Edwin B. Forsythe NWR–Brigantine Unit IBA

ARRIVALS — Nebraska–Rainwater Basin IBA

Each time you enter a checklist into eBird, your data are informing IBA managers and other conservation proponents in North America. Eventually we hope to enable data output like this for all of the world’s IBAs.

Note from Arizona IBA: when you bird in an IBA in Arizona, if you list ArizonaIBA as an observer on your survey and share the checklist, your data will come directly to the Arizona IBA program. See the July-September 2012 issue of the Vermillion Flycatcher for more details!

New IBA Surveyors Trained in Yuma and Side Trip to the Twilight Zone!

By Jennie MacFarland, Arizona IBA Conservation Biologist

Jennie talking about survey protocol with volunteers

Jennie talking about survey protocol with volunteers

          The very first training workshop for volunteer IBA surveyors in Yuma was held February 15, 2012. The recent interest from the members of the Yuma Audubon Society to become IBA surveyors was especially exciting as there are several IBAs right in their area that need surveying. Both Tice Supplee, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Arizona and Jennie MacFarland, AZ IBA Coordinating Biologist at Tucson Audubon Society made the journey to Yuma to lead this workshop.

            The day before the workshop Tice and I met at the Arizona Game and Fish Office in Yuma and spoke for awhile with Lin Piest about where the new volunteers can be best implemented. There are four IBAs within a short drive of Yuma, the Lower Colorado River Gadsden Riparian Area IBA, Mittry Lake Wildlife Area IBA, Imperial Reservoir IBA, and Imperial National Wildlife Refuge IBA. These volunteers will be especially valuable as our partner, Arizona Game and Fish, also has an interest in these areas and is very interested in what our surveys find there in the future.

Tice Supplee getting ready for field portion of workshop

Tice Supplee getting ready for field portion of workshop

            That evening, Tice and I gave a presentation to the Yuma Audubon Society on the Important Bird Area program, how effective it has been in Arizona and talked about the IBAs right in their back yard and the exciting birds that live there. The presentation went very well and there was lots of interest for the training workshop the next day.

            The morning of the 15th, all 13 workshop participants met with Tice and I in the Yuma East Wetlands (right near the Yuma Territorial Prison) to learn how to conduct IBA surveys. First Tice and I went over the protocols and datasheets for the different types of surveys. Then we broke up the participants into teams and conducted two practice surveys. This was a great workshop with very enthusiastic participants. Yeah for Yuma!

 After the training was completed and Tice and I were headed for home, I took a little detour into the Twilight Zone. Right down the road, a little more west on the I-8 is a spot on the map called Felicity, California. This place is a monument to quirky, yet is surprisingly classy and only takes a few minutes.

Original Eiffel Tower stair case, where is it going?

Original Eiffel Tower stair case, where is it going?

Here I gazed at a piece of the original staircase from Eiffel Tower that just climbs into the sky.

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate?

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate?

There is a bronze reproduction of the hand of God from the Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel fresco that points off into the horizon. A huge granite maze with a history of pretty much everything winds its way around in an impressively huge design. My very favorite thing in Felicity is a giant pyramid that houses the official center of the earth (no kidding).

The pyramid that houses the center of the world!

The pyramid that houses the center of the world!

The official center of the world! They tell you to stand on it and make a wish! ( I totally did it!)

The official center of the world! They tell you to stand on it and make a wish! ( I totally did it!)

On the floor of the pyramid is a bronze plaque with a small dot that is has been officially recognized by the government of France as the center of the earth. This was an amazing detour that I highly recommend to anyone visiting Yuma.

San Rafael IBA Survey a Great Success!

By Jennie MacFarland, AZ IBA Conservation Biologist

San Rafael Grasslands IBA Survey Crew!

San Rafael Grasslands IBA Survey Crew!

Saturday February 11th dawned cold and clear over the San Rafael Valley as a caravan of cars came over the crest and into the valley. The Arizona Important Bird Area crew of 19 surveyors arrived in the San Rafael Valley IBA just as the sky was beginning to lighten. Many of these intrepid volunteers had arisen as early as 3:30 am to be here at this fleeting time of day in this beautiful spot. Just at the entrance of the valley, the crew stopped to enjoy the magnificent view for a moment and snap a group photo. We scanned the valley for Short-eared Owls soaring low over the grass to no avail, though later one of the teams did observe two. Then the crew split into 5 teams and drove to their appointed start points in the valley. The objective of the day was to record all birds seen but especially all of the Chestnut-collared Longspurs seen.

crew looking for short-eared owlsWhile the San Rafael Grasslands was identified as a state IBA in October 2011, we needed to establish that a wintering population of at least 240 is using the habitat for the IBA to be recognized as a Global IBA. This survey was the 4th winter survey of this area in 2 years and I am happy to report that is was a huge success! Four out of the five teams reported sightings of Chestnut-collared Longspurs and overall the entire team reported a total of 833 of these wintering birds! This is tremendous, especially since this is the third survey in a row where we recorded more than the Global IBA threshold number. A large part of the success of these past three surveys was due to two classes that Homer Hansen graciously volunteered to teach the volunteer crew on grassland bird identification. This extra instruction gave the survey crew the confidence they needed to positively identify these notoriously tricky birds. Special thanks to Homer!!

Matt Griffiths scoping for birdsOverall it was a great day! All of the teams reported that they had a great time and observed lots of interesting birds. After a long morning of surveying, it was time for lunch. The crew met in Patagonia and dined on delicious pizza from the Velvet Elvis, yummy! All that remains is to apply for Global status with the world-wide committee for this IBA. While in Patagonia, we also had a chance to observe the very obliging Williamson’s Sapsucker that has been reported in the park in Patagonia for a time. Judging from all of the holes he has drilled into that tree, he has been there quite awhile!Crew chowing down at Velvet Elvis

I would like to personally thank all of amazing volunteer surveyors: Mark Sharron, Farrish Sharron, Jim Gessaman, Tom Skinner, Jim Chumbley, Tim Helentjaris, Matt Griffiths, Bill Grossi, Joan Czapalay, Becky Aparicio, Diane Holsinger, Sharon Kearns, Katelyn Blakemore, Mary Ellen Flynn, Gay Gilbert, John Reuland, Jim Watts and Heidi Lauchstedt. Special thanks to Mark Sharron for the amazing bird photographs seen here and taken during the survey!

Here is a truncated list of some of the 56 species observed by the crew:

Gadwall          8

Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker

Mallard            10

Northern Shoveler       16

Ring-necked Duck      1

Pied-billed Grebe        20

White-tailed Kite        4

Northern Harrier         50

Sharp-shinned Hawk  2

Red-tailed Hawk        14

American Kestrel        22

Merlin  1

Prairie Falcon  4

Greater Roadrunner    3

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl         2

Acorn Woodpecker     5

Gila Woodpecker        3

Ladder-backed Woodpecker  3

Northern Flicker          9

Gray Flycatcher          1

Black Phoebe  1

Say’s Phoebe   9

Northern Harrier male

Northern Harrier male

Vermilion Flycatcher  1

Loggerhead Shrike      14

Mexican Jay    18

Chihuahuan Raven      2

Common Raven          34

Horned Lark   303

Bridled Titmouse        2

Bushtit                        10

White-breasted Nuthatch        4

Marsh Wren    1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet           1

Western Bluebird        10

Curve-billed Thrasher   2

Northern Harrier female

Northern Harrier female

Green-tailed Towhee  1

Rufous-crowned Sparrow       1

Chipping Sparrow       252

Brewer’s Sparrow        24

Vesper Sparrow          187

Lark Sparrow  50

Lark Bunting   5

Savannah Sparrow      374

Grasshopper Sparrow  8

Lincoln’s Sparrow       5

White-crowned Sparrow         116

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

McCown’s Longspur   50

Chestnut-collared Longspur     833

Unidentified Calcarius sp. (Longspur)   54

Red-winged Blackbird           65

Eastern Meadowlark   63

Western Meadowlark  3

Unidentified Meadowlark      43

Celebrate Tumamoc!

By Jennie MacFarland, Arizona Important Bird Area Conservation Biologist

View of Tucson from Tumamoc

View of Tucson from Tumamoc

During the last two weekends in January 2012, an amazing event was taking place on Tumamoc Hill in Tucson. This hill is wildly popular as a challenging walk for those looking for a workout, but there is much more to this hill than many realize. The reason that the University of Arizona decided to host this event was to share the amazing native and scientific history of this hill with those who regularly walk up and down its steep slope. Archaeologists have discovered remnants of two different Native American villages on this hill, one so ancient they are not sure who was living there and the other Hohokam. After these villages were abandoned, the hill remained an important spiritual place for the Tohono O’odham and many artifacts and petroglyphs have been found on and around Tumamoc Hill.

Mike Rosenzweig at Tumamoc event

Mike Rosenzweig at Tumamoc event

Jennie with TBC poster

Jennie with TBC poster

This hill, right next to Sentinel Peak or “A Mountain” as it is locally known, also has an impressive scientific history. In 1903, Tumamoc Hill was chosen out of many locations in the

Tumamoc Research Station

Tumamoc Research Station

Southwestern United States to be the site for The Desert Botanical Laboratory funded by Andrew Carnegie. Some of the earliest studies on desert plant ecology were conducted here and the 9 remaining plots for vegetation surveys established in 1905 are the oldest existing vegetation plots in the world. The next year a fence was installed around the entire hill to keep out the livestock that had long grazed this area and the scientists quickly noticed changes in the vegetation. From this point on, Tumamoc Hill became an outdoor lab where the impacts of human use of the desert could be studied. In later years, this hill is also known as the origin point of Reconciliation Ecology, the idea that one way to make up for habitat lost to human use, such as urbanization, is to make what habitat remains in these areas as hospitable for wildlife as possible.

TBC Sign up station

TBC Sign up station

A major project that came from this philosophy is the Tucson Bird Count, the first annual urban bird census in the world and the reason that Tucson Audubon was involved with the Celebrate Tumamoc event. Tucson Audubon will now be coordinating the Tucson Bird Count in partnership with the University of Arizona. Jennie MacFarland, a staffer with TAS and the Conservation Biologist for the Arizona Important Bird Area program will be mainly coordinating the count and designed a poster for the Tucson Bird Count with key information about participation and results. Many people stopped by and chatted about the TBC or birds they had seen around town. The event was a huge success with lots of people learning about the Tucson Bird Count and over 30 people signing up to help with the annual count. It was a very enjoyable two days with beautiful weather and lots of fun company!

Art at Tumamoc

An example of some of the art at Tumamoc

A Slow Birding Day Still Beats Most Other Days!

Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count 
By Matt Griffiths

What a great way to start a new year of birding! Jennie MacFarland and I participated in this amazing count for the first time. It covers a wide swath of the very wild Atascosa mountains, taking in many canyons and open grassland just north of the border with Mexico. This includes such hot spots as Sycamore Canyon and California Gulch among others. Adding to this diversity, the count circle includes Pena Blanca and Arivaca lakes. A fun fact: It has the highest concentrations of Montezuma Quail, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, and wintering Elegant Trogon of any CBC circle in the country. The opportunities are endless and I can’t wait for next year!

Anyway, Jennie and I were covering the Corral Nuevo section on what turned out to be a very quite day, bird-wise. Lucky for us, the forest road we were following was also very quiet and the scenery was great! We traversed oak studded rolling hills that were separated by wide drainages that in almost every case contained running water! The high peaks of the Highlands towered over us to the east, and we found a section of hoodoos along our road which was a nice surprise.

An interesting hillside microhabitat of pinyon pine and juniper didn’t yield the explosion of birds we had hoped, but our day was still going fine with oodles of Chipping Sparrows, a few Rufous-crowned Sparrows, and great looks at a male Red-naped Sapsucker. Closer to the full Big Tank, we found the hot spot of the day with yet more sparrows including a lone Vesper Sparrow, Spotted Towhees, a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds, but none of the Western Scrub Jays that were found in previous years.

We finished the day exploring the side roads of the area and then listening for owls back up on Ruby Road. Not surprisingly, the owls were quiet but the sunset was amazing!

For all the info on the Atascosa Highlands count run by Rich Hoyer, see his Blog

Searching for Grey Vireos in Ironwood National Monument

By Jennie MacFarland, AZ IBA Coordinating Biologist

On the cold morning of December 9th, 2011, two members of the AZ IBA team headed out to search for Grey Vireos. This endeavor was part of a larger effort organized by Arizona


Waterman Mountains in Ironwood NM

Field Ornithologists to determine where this species winters in Arizona. It has been documented that the winter range of this species is closely tied to the occurrence of Elephant Trees (Bursera microphylla) which produce a red fruit on which the vireos feed. This means that the species switches from its diet of insects in the breeding season to fruit in the winter, a rather unusual strategy in the avian world.

Abandoned Mine Site

Abandoned Mine Site

This coordinated effort had teams searching for the Grey Vireos in locations where Elephant Trees are documented, but not Grey Vireos. Tim Helntjaris and I headed out to our assigned area of the Waterman Mountains in Ironwood National Monument. I had never been out here and was astonished by the beautiful views and the remote feeling of the area. This area seems like true wilderness with few roads and limited access. There are however, abandoned mining sites that are a harsh reminder of this areas exploitative past.  

Jennie MacFarland

Jennie MacFarland

Tim Helentjaris

Tim Helentjaris

The most difficult part of this adventure was getting to our survey location which required a rather long walk through difficult terrain covered in pokey plants. The maps showed an old road, suitable for walking but not driving, that ran rather near our survey points, but we could not find it. As we bushwhacked through the desert and towards our points, we did observe some birds. There were Verdins everywhere and Phainopeplas gave their whoop call from several directions. One of the best sightings was a small group of Western Bluebirds foraging in the desert and an energetic Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Once we finally did reach our points, it was very easy to see the road we had been looking for. At least we could use it to get down when we were done.

Now it was time to conduct our surveys. There were indeed many Elephant Trees present in the area, but they all appeared to have died back, most likely due to the hard frost of last winter. At first, Tim and I despaired that they were

New Growth

New Growth

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree

dead. Then we noticed that almost all of them did have shoots growing from the base covered in leaves! While none of the trees had any fruits and we did not find any Grey Vireos on our surveys, perhaps the Elephant Trees will have recovered enough by next winter to produce fruits. Then maybe there will be Grey Vireos there to feast upon them!