Ribbons of Green

It was a hot day at the Rio Salado Nature Center in Phoenix but the center was full of people; people who had given up a precious Saturday, people who had driven from as far away as Prescott and Yuma, people ready to listen and learn. Outside, despite the heat,a few birds flew over the almost dry River Salt and dragonflies zipped by over the small pond where the young Cottonwoods were trembling in the heat. Yet the audience inside resolutely turned their backs on the scene to concentrate on what was being said inside, and they did that because they fully appreciate the importance of water in our desert lands.

It was the second workshop meeting of the Western Rivers Action Network (WRAN), held so that interested societies and individuals could come together to address the issues that threaten all of the rivers in the Western United States. Up until now it has been up to separate and often isolated groups to fight for specific rivers but, as the climate gets dryer and the pressure on our waterways increases with population growth, we need a less fragmented approach.

Hence the formation of WRAN and this meeting was held to start the ball rolling on formulating policies for the new group. We had lots of wonderful people come to talk to us, we shared ideas and information. For me though there was one powerful phrase that Tice Supplee used when she was talking about Important Bird Areas. She showed an aerial photograph of one of Arizona’s rivers. It was mostly the dusty brown color we know so well but, along the length of the river the trees grew in what she described as “a ribbon of green.”

An that, in essence, is what WRAN is all about. Preserving those “ribbons of green” for the animals and plants that depend on them now, for the people who have made Arizona their home, for the future generations who should enjoy the same beauty of such a unique ecosystem.

So what can you do? Maybe a little, maybe a lot, but first and foremost you can try this website – http://az.audubon.org/rivers-and-water-0
You can sign up here to become part of the network and you’ll be kept informed of what WRAN is doing and how you can help.

Then you can sign the petition at http://www.audubonaction.org/ProtectAZrivers

and finally – because this is not just about Arizona’s rivers but a wider issue you can read the multi-state newsletter at

Water affects us all – every drop is precious and to protect that water every person is precious. Please join with us.

Audubon launches multistate Rivers Advocacy Network

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

In the arid West we are all connected by rivers; they are the lifeblood of our land, our economy, our way of life. Western rivers—including the Colorado, the Verde, the Gila and the San Pedro, provide water for tens of millions of people, including twenty-two Native American tribes and the cities of Denver, Phoenix, Albuquerque and Tucson.

We aren’t alone in our reliance on western rivers. Ninety percent of Central Flyway birds depend on these waterways for their survival.

Unfortunately our rivers are in jeopardy. Drought, invasive species, over-allocation and unsustainable management are running our rivers dry. Many of the birds that depend on them, like the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Bell’s Vireo, are in decline, and the future of the communities and economies surrounding our rivers is uncertain.

Audubon is taking a major step to address the threats to our western rivers. This spring we’re launching the Western Rivers Action Network, a multistate grassroots coalition to advocate for our rivers and the bird species that depend on them.

To lead the development of the Arizona network, we’ve engaged Sarah Luna, a seasoned conservation professional who brings a MGatRioSalado7wealth of skills to Audubon. Sarah will be reaching out to Audubon members across the state to get your input on how to make the Western Rivers Action Network a success and to find out how the network can support your chapter’s riparian conservation work.

Interested in being a part of the Western Rivers Action Network? There are many opportunities for volunteer advocates! Contact us to find out more. Email riosalado@audubon.org or Sarah Porter at sporter@audubon.org.

‘Second Chance for Wild Wings’ with Liberty Wildlife, part of the Arizona SciTech Festival, March 12

Join us Tuesday, March 12, 7:00 pm, Gilbert Community Center, 130 North Oak Street, Gilbert for Second Chance for Wild Wings as volunteers with Liberty Wildlife demonstrate the resilience and care required of injured Arizona wildlife.

Bring kids and cameras and be ready for raptor stare-downs.

Bring kids and cameras and be ready for raptor stare-downs.

Bring kids & cameras as we visit with some of Arizona’s most charismatic birds (which may include eagles, owls or hawks).
Come early to browse our mobile book shop, visit, and discover volunteer opportunities with Desert Rivers Audubon.
FREE. Light refreshments served.

Feb2012DRAS2Part of the Arizona Scitech Festival.

Spearheaded by Arizona Science Center, the Arizona Technology Council Foundation, Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona State University, and the University of Arizona and over 350 organizations statewide, the Arizona SciTech Festival, held annually in February and March celebrates the scientific wonders, resources, and opportunities in our state and their potential global impact.

Join Desert Rivers Audubon for the Great Backyard Bird Count February 15-18, 2013

Kick-off Saturday, February 16th @ Gilbert Riparian Preserve

Join Desert Rivers Audubon at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, 2757 E. Guadalupe Road Gilbert, to kick-off the Great Backyard Bird Count, Saturday, February 16, 2013, 8am-12 noon.

The goal of The Great Backyard Bird Count is to watch birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count then enter tallies at the Count’s website. Watch live data coming in and look up your area by zip code to see the Count progress in your city. Anyone can participate; it’s free. Participants can count anywhere they wish, not just in backyards, but in neighborhoods, parks, nature centers, or anywhere they see birds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada and sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited.

“This year’s count will give us a whole new perspective as sightings pour in from around the globe in real time,” said Marshall Iliff at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Millions of people encounter birds every day all over the world. Imagine what scientists will learn if each one of us shares observations from our own area!

“Once again, we’ll be able to coach East Valley residents in their bird identification skills Saturday during our free Family Birdwalk at Gilbert Riparian Preserve, Saturday, February 16, 2013, 8am-noon,” added Eileen Kane, Communications Director, Desert Rivers Audubon Society. “We hope to see those citizen scientists who helped us last year as well as new folks interested in knowing more about their neighborhood wildlife. Kids can count, too!”

During the 2012 count, participants reported 17.4 million bird observations on 104,000 checklists.

Keep watch for American Goldfinch.

“The GBBC is an ideal opportunity for young and old to connect with nature by discovering birds and to participate in a huge science project,” said Gary Langham, Audubon’s Chief Scientist. “This year, we hope people on all seven continents, oceans, and islands, will head out into their neighborhoods, rural areas, parks, and wilderness to further our understanding of birds across the hemispheres.”

Part of the Arizona SciTech Festival.

‘Arizona Raptors: Off and On the Radar’ part of the Arizona SciTech Festival, February 12

Join us Tuesday, February 12, 7:00 pm, Gilbert Community Center, 130 North Oak Street, Gilbert as Richard Glinski, editor of Raptors of Arizona, discusses Arizona Raptors: Off and On the Radar.

Glinski, Park Supervisor, Desert Outdoor Center at Lake Pleasant, Maricopa County Parks & Recreation Department, shares stories about and his passion for conserving the eagles, hawks, kites, and owls of Arizona.

With over 40 species of birds of prey calling Arizona home, there will be ample time to admire these amazing raptor in photographs and descriptions of personal encounters.

Come early to browse our mobile book shop, visit, and discover volunteer opportunities with Desert Rivers Audubon.
FREE. Light refreshments served.

Part of the Arizona SciTech Festival.

Join us as we celebrate the Great Backyard Bird Count at Gilbert Riparian Preserve with the Arizona SciTech Festival February 16: http://azscitechfest.org/events/great-backyard-bird-count-gilbert-riparian-preserve

Join us as we celebrate the Great Backyard Bird Count at Gilbert Riparian Preserve with the Arizona SciTech Festival February 16, 2013, 8 am-noon.

For those who are not familiar with the Arizona SciTech Festival, this annual five-week festivity celebrates the scientific wonders, resources, and opportunities in our state and their potential global impact. The Festival integrates its interactive messaging in all corners of the state to all ages by collaborating with Arizona’s cultural, educational, research and business communities to explore the vital roles of science, engineering and technology in our own environments, across our nation and the world.

Protecting Arizona’s Environment – It’s worth it

Join Us at Environmental Day at the Capitol!

We hope you’ll join us for this fun annual event to show our legislators how much the people of Arizona care about our environment. Let legislators know that environmental protection is critical to a strong economy.

Tuesday, February 12EnviroDayWordle_5

8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

League of Cities and Towns,
Rm 101
1821 W. Washington St., Phoenix
Just west of the Capitol


Meet with legislators as part of a group so they can hear first-hand how much Arizonans really do care about clean air, clean water, and having parks and wildlife now and in the future.

You can stop by for a short period or stay for the day. Carpooling is available from some locations, and a bus will be coming from Tucson to Phoenix.

Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter addresses over 100 participants at  last year's Environment Day.

Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter addresses over 100 participants at last year’s Environment Day.

Please plan to attend, and bring a friend!

For more information, please contact Sandy Bahr at (602) 253-8633 or sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org.

Audubon and the gulf oil spill

By Mike Evans
Conservation Director
Desert Rivers Audubon

A heavily oiled Brown Pelican sits hear healthy birds in Louisiana’s Cat Bay.

I would like to talk about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the work being done by Audubon and other environmental groups to restore the Gulf to the vital place it plays in our nation’s ecosystem as America’s Third Coast. My son Aaron is interning with the Gulf Restoration Network  this spring semester in New Orleans. (The Louisiana Audubon Council and Baton Rouge Audubon are two of the forty-five environmental organizations partnering with the Gulf Restoration Network on restoring the Gulf after the BP oil spill.) Aaron is a junior at Tulane University where he is working on a triple major in Anthropology, English, and Early Medieval Studies. He hopes to have a career in writing for environmental, science, and outdoor magazines.

For more on Audubon’s work on the Gulf oil spill, check out the National Audubon Society’s website. Much of what follows comes from that website.

So, as a reminder, “on April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off Louisiana’s coast, unleashing an undersea volcano

Priority Species of the Important Bird Areas along the Gulf Coast include the Black Skimmer.

of oil and natural gas that would ultimately gush into the Gulf of Mexico for three months. Audubon staff sprang into action.” Audubon “staff were first on the scene to assess the impacts and help guide and coordinate the emergency response.

“Hundreds of volunteers took on critical response activities, assisting with oiled and injured bird transportation, protecting beach-nesting bird colonies, and making nets, cages and other materials used in bird rescue. Others helped monitor bird populations and health through citizen science initiatives, including the Coastal Bird Survey, a program that continues to this day.

“After three months of desperate attempts, BP finally sealed the gushing well. By then, thousands of birds had died from contact with oil, the nesting season had been disrupted, and oil had reached 17 Important Bird Areas from Louisiana to Florida.”

Only time will reveal the full toll of the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Unprecedented amounts of oil, natural gas and dispersants entered the gulf in what amounts to an uncontrolled chemical experiment with unknown consequences.”

Today, Audubon is working to mitigate spill impacts, monitoring and preparing to act on emerging threats or declines observed in the months or years ahead, and working towards a plan for system-wide conservation in coalition with other environmental groups. For more detailed information on the clean up and restoration see this page on the Audubon website.

There is a great group of videos on the Gulf oil spill and Audubon’s vital role in the mitigation and restoration of the Gulf.

Finally, please take a look at this page on the website and take action. This story isn’t over yet. Unfortunately, there are many more chapters still to come. But, we can all make a difference. This disaster happened because we are all addicted to oil. On this webpage you will find concrete examples of how we can all help Restore the Gulf! If you made it to here, thanks for reading.

Wrap-up of the highlights of Zanjero’s Burrowing Owls for 2012

by Stacy Burleigh
OwlWatch Coordinator

Zanjero Park Burrowing Owl of 86X photo by Rick Inskeep.

Zanjero Park Burrowing Owl of 86X photo by Rick Inskeep

Even though we hoped all ten owls would stay on site, the owls have the choice of staying or leaving. At least they were alive to make that choice thanks to the efforts of many of you, Greg Clark, and Wild at Heart’s burrowing owl relocation program. And then as always with all wildlife whether in urban or in more wild areas, there is the circle of life.

It was just April 28th that we released the 5 males and 5 females from the acclimatization tent! The first owl up the hill to the burrows from the release site was a male…was it the “Grinch” aka the ring leader in the unsuccessful escape attempt from the tent a month earlier?? He only stays onsite for a couple days.

Just eleven days later we had our first local owl show up! We immediately knew he was male as he wasted no time mating with banded female 88X. They established a nest in #39. We named him “Palemale” as he was a beautiful light-colored owl.

On day twelve, banded female 86X makes her way up the hill and establishes her residency around burrows #21-24. She becomes our most dependably-seen owl, one we can count on to easily show the public at our monthly “Owl Walk and Talks”.

By May 22nd, all five banded males and 2 banded females have left the site. We obviously do not know why they left but I suspect it was a combination of availability of food, interaction dynamics at the release site, and the trials and tribulations of being celebrities. The third female who stayed was 90X. She tried to come up to the hill burrows but Palemale kept her to the release site.

Stacy models Desert Rivers Audubon's 2013 t-shirt, available at our upcoming events.

Stacy models Desert Rivers Audubon’s 2013 t-shirt, available at our upcoming events.

On June 27th, we witnessed our own scene from a nature show, when Palemale defended 88X and his nest from a coyote. He chased, screeched, and dive bombed the coyote relentlessly. The coyote still almost got 88X when she flew too low towards the coyote and it lunged straight up only missing her by inches!

Two days later during the June “Owl Walk and Talk”, we were perplexed by Palemale’s absence, but excited to witness a nestling coming out of #39. This excitement was short lived as Palemale continued to be absent in the days following. Since both the mate and nestlings are dependent on the male bringing food at this critical stage of rearing young, I knew our nestling(s) did not have a chance of survival. (I surmised that Palemale so exhausted himself that evening he was probably more susceptible to predation).

July 4th not only brought fireworks directly across the street from Zanjero Park, but also brought a second local owl to the site. This owl was very skittish and hung out adjacent to 86X at #23-24. October 3rd was the last time we saw this local owl. I was pretty concerned about the effect the fireworks would have on the owls, but thanks to volunteers talking to firework watchers they managed fine.

With Palemale gone, 90X is seen up the hill for the first time. She immediately starts hanging out with 88X that begins a cozy relationship between the two. (Is 90X a misbanded male or is mounting and lovey-dovey behavior between females normal in the non-breeding period??). Today you can find 90X at #50 and 88X usually at #39-44.

July 11th brings our first local pair at #57-58. They stayed at the park until August 30th.

With all the release site burrows now available for occupancy, another new local owl finds that area to its liking on July 17th.   Ninety-nine percent of the time it can be seen standing on the edge of the pipe of burrow #74.

This photo of Palemale is by Josh McClain.

This photo of Palemale is by Josh McClain.

Shortly after the local pair leaves at #57-58 another local owl comes in and takes up residence in burrow #60 on September 5th.  We nicknamed him/her “Angry Eyes”. If he/she had lasers in those eyes we would have been incinerated in pretty quick order, even at the distance that we monitor the owls from!

On the evening of October 3rd, we get a really nice surprise to find a new local pair doing LOTS of mating behavior. And…he is large in comparison to the female. They took up residence at #15-16.  Another cool thing about these two is we can watch them leave to hunt every evening shortly after sunset. (We never see the other owls leave to hunt in either the morning or evening). The male is always out of the burrow first and once the sun has set he can often be seen and heard telling her it is time to go. We have to keep our distance, though, as it will delay her coming out and he will grow impatient and leave without her.

On October 24th, 86X is not seen for first time ever. I was so concerned that the next night my husband and I came back out and unfortunately found evidence of owl predation (splattered owl feathers in one spot) found in the  rocks below burrow hill at east end of park. Two weeks later Greg Clark was out with some students looking at owl pellets and found an owl carcass. Greg suspected great horned owl.

Zanjero Park, 3785 S. Lindsay Rd., Gilbert

Zanjero Park, 3785 S. Lindsay Rd., Gilbert

Greg was surprised that the pellets showed the owls were eating mainly insects. Being so close to agricultural fields, it is expected they would be eating more rodents. On November 21st, the morning monitoring group began picking up pellets to determine if Greg’s first observation is a true trend.  So far the trend has continued. As insects lessen with winter, if the owls are not able to switch to rodents, they may be forced to leave. (Is the farmer putting down rodentcide?)

On Nov 28th, we found a second owl predation down again in the lower rocks below burrow hill.  Both Angry Eyes and #15-16 female were not spotted that night.  Two nights later, #15-16 female was seen. Angry Eyes has not been seen since. L

So as the new year of 2013 begins we have 5 owls in residence at Zanjero’s Burrowing Owl Habitat-3 locals (local pair #15-16, release site owl) and two banded transplants (female 88X and female 90X).  Please join us at our “Owl Walk and Talk” the 4th Saturday of each month to get the latest scoop and an up close view of the owls through a scope. Please check DRAS’s website calendar for start times as it changes.  If you would like to be involved in the citizen science aspect of the project monitoring the owls we are out every Wednesday alternating each week between morning and evening.

Happy New Year Everyone! Thank you to all the volunteers who helped with Zanjero’s Burrowing Owls in 2012!

Dedicated citizen scientist Tom Cole talks Gilbert’s Neely ponds January 8th

TomColebookTuesday, January 8, 2013, 7 pm, Tom Cole, author of The Intersection: Seventeen Years of Bird Processing on One Street Corner of the World , reviewed here, joins Desert Rivers Audubon to discuss his long-term citizen science study of Gilbert’s Neely Ponds over the course of 17 years at Gilbert Community Center, 130 North Oak Street, Gilbert, AZ 85233.

Cole, creator of educational computer games such as Preposition Pinball, made over a thousand trips to

Birder From Maricopa blogger Tommy J. DeBardeleben has experience with Gilbert’s Neely Ponds.

the intersection of Elliot & Cooper Roads to study a small, urban habitat. In the course of his study, Cole recorded over 13,000 birds. Learn more about the health of our East Valley urban habitats and the motivation behind a dedicated amateur scientist and educator.

Come early to browse our mobile book shop, visit, and discover volunteer opportunities with Desert Rivers Audubon.

FREE. Light refreshments served.

My Ten Favorite Birding Spots in the World with Dr. David Pearson, December 11th

Dr. David Pearson, Arizona State University Research Professor, School of Life Sciences, will talk about “My Ten Favorite Birding Spots in the World,” Tuesday, December 11, 2012, 7pm, Gilbert Community Center, 130 N. Oak Street (2 blocks North of Elliot and 2 blocks West of Gilbert Rd).

Pearson’s narratives are featured in National Geographic’s “Global Birding: Traveling the World in Search of Birds” by Les Beletsky.

Dr. Pearson’s research is focused on the interaction of history and ecology in structuring communities. He also works on developing new techniques for environmental education, especially in South America. His latest book is “A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada: Identification, Natural History, and Distribution of the Cicindelidae.”

Come early to browse our mobile book shop, visit, and discover volunteer opportunities with Desert Rivers Audubon.

FREE. Light refreshments served.