Elegant Trogan Bird Survey Experience

On the weekend of June 2-3rd I took part in my first ever bird survey with the Tucson Audubon Society.  Our survey was for the annual count of Elegant Trogans located in the Cave Creek area of the Chiricahua mountains in southeastern AZ.  Other surveys for Elegant Trogans were also taking place in the Huachuca’s, Madera Canyon, and Patagonia Lake.

I headed to the Huachuca’s solo and opted to take the scenic route over FS road 42 via Pinery Canyon, over Onion pass and down to Cave Creek.  The views of the Dragoons, Dos Cabezas and Chiracahuas from this dirt road were amazing. Approaching Cave Creek from this direction was stunning and provided breathtaking views of the south east flank of the Chiracahuas.

Feeling intimated as a novice birdwatcher, I met up with 12 other very experienced birders taking part in the survey Saturday afternoon at the Portal ranger station.  My initial fears about being inexperienced were allayed as the director patiently went over the protocol for documenting when, where and how frequently we see and or hear elegant trogans.  After listening to recordings of three different types of calls elegant trogans make and describing traditional habitat trogans prefer, our territories were assigned to us.  My territory was the South fork of Cave creek 4 miles up canyon by the rock formation called “the Nose”.  Did I mention this area is nicknamed the Yosemite of Arizona?  Very aptly named!

After our meeting was completed I set up camp at the Sunny Flat campground and had a stunning view of the sun setting on Cathedral rock.  Cave Creek area is also a “dark sky compliant” area which means stargazing was phenomenal!

Our survey started at 6:00 am Sunday morning and I was “late” to the trailhead and last one arriving at 5:30am.  Within the first 2 miles hiking in I heard 2 elegant trogan males calling in the canyon.  Arriving at my territory after hiking in 4 miles (and spending the next 2 hours there) I heard one more male trogan.  Unf., I wasn’t able to spot him but nonetheless it was very cool tracking him by sound as he flew up and down thru my territory.

Fortunately, on my way hiking out and with the help of another volunteer I saw my first elegant trogan!!  It was a male and was extremely exciting seeing one live in their natural habitat.  All told the early results of our survey counted @ 5 males and 2 pairs of trogans dwelling in South fork.  One other birder counted 32 different species of birds in her territory (there have been 375 avian species recorded here!).

The South fork of Cave Creek is a lovely shady riparian corridor at a higher elevation with many Arizona Sycamores and maple trees.  Water was plentiful higher up the canyon and a few small poolsDSC_0162r1remained lower down.  “The Bathtub” also had water in it and during monsoons it is a favorite watering hole for animals and people alike.

Overall, I had an excellent bird watching experience in Cave Creek.  The Chiracahuas are a magical place, have a fascinating history and are an incredibly biodiverse region.  I will definitely be back for more bird watching and exploring! By Deb Huie, Certified Pima MN, Cohort 1.

Here is a link with more of Deb’s photos from the trip.

PCMN Sonoita, Grasslands Field trip 4/22/18

IMG_4824Cohort (1) Carol Anderson, Don Featherstone, Julie Hallbach, Hank Verbais, Deb Huie, Franklin Lane. Cohort (2) Gael Cassidy, Mack Consigny

Presenter: Jim Koweek

At this final, coordinated, Advance Training opportunity for the Spring of 2018, Pima County Master Naturalists met at the General Store in Sonoita, Arizona. We caravanned from there about 20 miles south down Hwy 83 to the Lyle Canyon turn off. At the bottom of the hill we met our Grasslands Guide; Scientist/cowboy/author/range specialist/western singer, Jim Koweek!

For the next couple of hours we learned about the incredible biodiversity of this high elevation (+5,000’) grassland biome. The dirt road through the canyon is initially on private property but it is a legal easement to a section of the Coronado National Forest. We made several stops (get out, get back in!) as Jim spotted plants or a particular soil type from his truck.

At out final stop we hiked up a small hill that stood out prominently on the terrain. With some amazing views we discussed grassland ecology, history of ranching in the area and the impact of invasives.

Jim explained about the importation of African grasses to the area in the 1920s-30s as part of an effort to combat the devastation of severe drought conditions in Southern Arizona around that time. He has concluded that it takes about (40) years to really understand the effect an introduced species has on a native population. Therefore, many of those early decision makers never really lived to see the end result. When an invasive out competes a native species there is a cascading effect on other plants, animals and insects.

Everyone agreed that the experience was incredibly worthwhile and should be considered for part of the required curriculum for future PCMN cohorts.
“Grasslands are full of indicator species….a fascinating history of farming and development.” – Julie H.

Submitted by Franklin Lane, Certified Pima MN, Cohort 1. All Photos and the following partial list of plants encountered provided by Deborah Huie, Certified Pima MN Cohort 1.

List of Grasses Identified:

• Blue grama
• Side out grama
• Green sprangle top
• Seep willow
• AZ sycamore
• AZ ash
• Loco weed
• Border pinon pine
• White oak
• Alligator juniper
• Bull muhly
• Pinon rice grass
• Trailing flea bane
• Plains love grass
• Sacaton
• Three ons
• Canyon grapes
• AZ walnut

• Hairy grama
• Cochise lovegrass
• Creeping snake herb – dichereti
• Evolvulus arizonicus (blue eyed)
• Gumphrina
• Manzanita
• Spruce top grama
• Yellow disoida thymophyla
• Yerba de psomo
• Vevlvet pod mimosa
• Native flax – lineum pruberum
• Curly mesquite grass
• Rose heath
• Cliff rose
• Range spreading magenta rattney
• Mouse ears
• Louts (vetch)
• Milkweed
• Rubber rabbit bush

The Glorious Monsoon 2018

white lightning heating mountain
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Each year, about this time, those of us who have lived in southern Arizona start to look for totals of rainfall and to see if the numbers match up to what we have actually measured in our back yard. Or we have at least noticed about the fullness of water barrels placed strategically to harvest every bit of rain that falls.

Triggered by a tropical storm that came through our area and saturated much of Tucson, this year’s monsoon seemed to get off to a good start. However, going forward, patterns were less fulfilling with the afternoon clouds arriving but releasing little water, before moving on. In spite of the wonderful sunsets created by those clouds (which at least once appeared to be lit from above and sending shafts of bright light to the ground), the desired thunderstorms were mild during much of June and July.

Following the driest Spring ever (as recorded by KVOA news) and a severe drought condition over the Four Corners area of the state, the full-on storms held off until August. Some dazzling lightning bolts were recorded by AZ Daily Star photographers over the Santa Rita Mts forming a large loop and again near the downtown area where spectacularly long, vertical stabs were caught on film. After brief sprinkles rainbows appeared amidst the beautiful cloud formations.

On August 22 heavy rains and wind whipped the Menlo Park area on the west side of Tucson and caused flooding of surface streets in the northwest around Thornydale and Overton. Hail and the uprooting of trees by Cortaro Farms Road and Camino de Oeste also occurred. On August 24th lightening delayed a football game at Tucson Magnate H.S and caused a rescheduling of the same at Cholla HS. While these seem significant one friend called this a ‘baby monsoon’ with low frequency of downpours and high intensity of the few we’ve had.

KVOA had predicted an above average season total of inches of rainfall due to the drought in the Four Corners and temperature of sea surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico and on Mexico’s west coast. In order for us to be out of danger of drought it was thought that 12 inches were needed. As of 9/10/2018 there have been only 6.26 inches recorded officially at Tucson International Airport leaving the rest to fall hopefully before the season concludes at the end of the month. By Barbara Rose Gaynor, Cohort 2 Intern

Get Involved in Citizen Science with the USA National Phenology Network

The USA National Phenology Network (www.usanpn.org) is a national consortium of volunteer observers and many partners, including research scientists, resource managers, educators, and policy makers. The USA-NPN was established in 2007 to collect, store and share data and information about the life cycle events of plants and animals, or phenology. The primary way the data come into the National Phenology Database is through Nature’s Notebook, a plant and animal observation program. Many Master Naturalists are involved in programs run by the USA-NPN to collect data about Sonoran desert flora and fauna. Several Master Naturalists are also Certified Local Phenology Leaders who organize groups of volunteers to collect data for a special purpose. Visit www.naturesnotebook.org to find out how to can get involved!
— Posted by Erin Posthumus, Certified Master Naturalist, Cohort 1group by sahuaro

White Water Reserve Field Trip

On January 11, 2018 eleven Pima County, Master Naturalists from cohorts (1) and (2) joined, noted humorist and part time ornithologist, Jeff Babson on a visit to the Sulphur Springs Valley to observe and appreciate Sandhill Cranes.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is east of Tucson and extends from Wilcox to Douglas, Arizona. The cranes start showing up as early as September and may extend their winter vacation into March. The best time to appreciate them, however, is between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.

Jeff explained that there are several subspecies of Sandhills that visit the Wilcox Valley.  One group is known as the Rocky Mountain population and come down from nesting areas in Idaho, Wyoming and Southern Canada. The other, Mid-Continent population, is from Northern Canada, Alaska and as far away as Siberia. Between 25,000 and 35,000 birds visit Southern Arizona each winter.

The cranes are grayish, with black feet and legs. They have a very distinctive red patch on their foreheads.  Most of the ones we observed appeared to be about 4 feet tall and were VERY noisy, especially in flight! We observed flocks returning from feeding, in fallow fields of corn and alfalfa, of several hundred birds but also loners and couples.  It was interesting to speculate on the dynamics going on. There were also many young among the cranes at the White Water Reserve, making their first visit to Arizona with their parents. Next year they’ll be on their own.

In addition to the Sandhill Cranes there were dozens of other bird species, both native and visitor, that Jeff was able to identify for us.  A partial list, compiled by Deborah H., follows. The trip was rewarding and fun so we’ll probably try and arrange it again next February. Thanks to Pete Pfeiffer for the great photos.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.

— Izaak Walton

hiking up trail