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 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.

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.

What we accomplished this past year and our plans for the future

By Krys Hammers,
Desert Rivers Audubon

Dear Desert Rivers Audubon Members and Friends,

Krys Hammers (l), President, Desert Rivers Audubon, with Greg Clark of Wild at Heart and feather friend.

At the end of each year, we assess what we accomplished in the past year, and make plans for the future. We also make this appeal to our friends to consider giving Desert Rivers a special gift above and beyond your membership dues.

Since membership dues do not begin to cover operation costs, we depend upon corporate gifts, book sales, recycling of aluminum cans, raffle income, and our year-end appeal to help keep Desert Rivers financially healthy and moving forward. In these tough economic times, charitable giving for conservation is on the decrease, and yet the needs remain.

Desert Rivers has continued to actively work to fulfill our mission: to educate and inspire our community on birds, wildlife and their habitats.

Last year, Desert Rivers engaged the public and its members with the following programs, all of which are free.

We received a Together Green grant to partner with Wild at Heart to build 100 burrows for Burrowing Owls at Zanjero Park. The burrows were built in Oct, 2011 and 10 owls were released in April. Again this spring we will build a tent to temporarily house another 10 owls. After 30 days they will be released to the area.

We’ve recently hosted our first annual Tour de Bird, a tour of urban bird habitats that demonstrate how everyone can help birds in their own backyard.

The Field Trips program had over 400 attendees to locations around town and the state. These trips are an important way we introduce new friends to birding and the conservation message.

Thanks to volunteers, who donated almost 600 hours, we’ve continued our monthly public birdwalk programs at Chandler’s Veterans Oasis Park and the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. These birdwalks help engage our community with an appreciation for Arizona birds and conservation message. Every child leaves with a gift to help them continue to appreciate the birds around them.

Joy Dingley hosts her Early Birds Club for children 7 – 13. These enthusiastic children have not only watched birds, they have drawn birds, listened to them, and studied their habitat and diets.

With our preserve partners, we hosted field trips for a group of blind children who learned to appreciate nature by hearing, touch and smell. We also provided a special morning program for the Hope Kids, a charity for families with children dealing with life-threatening conditions.

Our regular monthly programs at the Gilbert Community Center have attracted and inspired members and guests on a variety of topics of concern and interest.

Our top-notch newsletter highlights the happenings at our chapter, as well as provides in-depth information about conservation and wildlife topics.

This season, from September 2012 through May 2013, we will continue with these programs. We will also offer additional educational materials, and enhance our Audubon at Home Award Program, which recognizes people who have created healthy bird habitats. At this time we are specifically in need of a utility trailer where we can store and transport all of our equipment to events.

We truly appreciate your support to ensure Desert Rivers continues to offer these programs.  All of your gift will be used locally by Desert Rivers and is tax-deductible. Thank you.

Citizen Science: Join the Arizona Christmas Bird Count

By Walter Thurber
Desert Rivers Audubon

The National Audubon Society has conducted Christmas bird counts since the year 1900. Volunteers from throughout the Western Hemisphere go afield during one calendar day between December 14 and January 5 to record every bird species and individual bird encountered within a designated 15-mile diameter circle.

These records now comprise an extensive ornithological database that enables monitoring of winter bird populations and the
overall health of the environment.

Participants are typically assigned to teams based on their bird identification skills and endurance. Many counts hold a compilation dinner at the end of the day where results are tabulated and stories shared. There is no longer a participation fee. Help is needed on most of these counts, so find one or more of interest to you and contact the compiler for information.

Desert Rivers Audubon & Wild At Heart Dig In Wildlife Development for Burrowing Owls in Gilbert

By Eileen Kane
Communications Director
Desert Rivers Audubon

Greg Clark, Owl Habitat Coordinator for raptor rescue and rehabilitation group Wild At Heart, talked about the struggle to preserve Arizona’s Burrowing Owls,  September 13, 2011, at Desert Rivers Audubon’s monthly meeting.

Burrowing Owl visits Desert Rivers Audubon's September 2011 meeting, photo by Linda Covey.

A Species of Special Concern, Burrowing Owls live their lives largely in underground burrows made by squirrels, coyotes, skunks and other animals. Small and active both day and night, Burrowing Owls are vulnerable to other birds of prey, animals, and construction.

With over 5,000 artificial owl burrows installed throughout Arizona, Greg describds his latest project with Desert Rivers Audubon to install 100 burrows at Zanjero Park, Gilbert. Immediately adjacent to active farmland, Zanjero is an example of the disturbed land on the fringes of suburban areas Burrowing Owls prefer.

Desert Rivers Audubon is organizing volunteers to dig the burrows, 8am-2pm, Saturday, October 29, 2011 at Zanjero Park, 3785 S. Lindsay Road, Lindsay Road, South of Loop 202, Gilbert. In the spring, volunteers will again be needed to feed and care for the owls while they are acclimated to the site and before their release.

The Burrowing Owl Habitat Project is made possible by a grant from Together Green, an initiative by the National Audubon Society and Toyota to fund conservation projects, train environmental leaders, and offer volunteer and individual action opportunities that significantly benefit the environment.

Desert Rivers Audubon and Wild At Heart will also present a technology forum Wednesday, September 28, 2011, as part of the Gangplank Brown Bag Series lunchtime series. Both organizations are seeking advice and brainstorming on social media, mobile technology, and signage to enhance the public’s experience of this Burrowing Owl habitat.

UPDATE (10/24/2011) from Greg Clark:

“Zanjero Park is considered underutilized by the Town of Gilbert. It is designed for use by horses and there is evidence that horse owners do take their horses there for riding. But, it is not used much for that purpose. It has attractive recirculating water features and two well maintained ramadas that are occasionally used at lunch time by office workers. The main trail around the edge of the park is part of a larger trail used mostly by bicycles. This appears to me to be the main use in the park. There is a nice park bench area and plantings in one area in the middle of the trail.

“Because the park is devoid of grass it is not attractive to families with small children looking for a playground. For all these reasons the park doesn’t see much use. But, situated next to farm land, it is perfect for Burrowing Owls. The trail system and park bench would allow easy access to see the owls and small children would not typically be at the park running around and looking for fun opportunities to chase the owls. The low density vegetation will allow the owls good visibility, especially in the large basin area where the release sites are located. 100 burrows are being installed with four release sites.

“Once the owls are present the use of the park will go way up as people go to see the owls up pretty close.

“The close proximity of Campo Verde High School (adjacent to the park) could provide scientific and educational opportunities for the students via monitoring, owl behavior descriptions, pellet comparison studies with other nearby owl sites, and gathering video and still images for web site reports and creative writing.

“I anticipate that one release tent per year would go up for the next 4 years.”

UPDATE (11/14/2011) from Steve Thomas (conact stevepthomas@cox.net to volunteer):

If you missed #OWLDAY, Wild at Heart has another habitat install project, Saturday, November 19, 2011.

“On Nov 19th we will be constructing new homes for burrowing owls at a farm northwest of Gila Bend.  Travel time from Phoenix to the site is approximately 2 hours.

“The 400 new homes, or artificial burrows as they are called, are needed to relocate AZ burrowing owls who have been displaced by development and/or loss of their natural burrows and habitat.

“Building the burrows consists of placing plastic burrow chambers in the ground, connecting flexible access tubes to the chambers and creating ground-level entrances so the owls can get down inside their new home. We expect these new homes will support many families of owls for the next 20 years.

“Children are welcome at the event.  Children ages 10 and up can usually perform any of the tasks; children ages 8-9 can learn some of the more difficult tasks and be good helpers to an adult or teen. Children 4-7 may be able to paint the tubes and help carry supplies back and forth. Children under 4 will need constant supervision to be sure they stay safe.”

Greg Clark, Wild At Heart Burrowing Owl Habitat Coordinator, joins chapter president Krys Hammers and a rescued burrowing owl at Desert Rivers Audubon's September 2011 meeting. Photo by Linda Covey.

Tropical Kingbird Attends Desert Rivers Audubon’s Board Retreat

by Mike Evans
Conservation Director 
Desert Rivers Audubon Society

Yesterday Desert Rivers Audubon Society Board had their annual planning meeting at the Rio Salado Audubon Center.

Desert Rivers Audubon Board of Directors Retreat Saturday, July 30, 2011 at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center, Phoenix, AZ.

Five of the board members met at 7AM for some pre-meeting birding.Our one notable find was a probable TROPICAL KINGBIRD.  In a little over an hour of birding we had 28 species.  Other notables were a COOPER’S HAWK, three Heron species, PHAINOPEPLA, and calling COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. This morning, my son Aaron and I went back with our spotting scope to confirm the presence of the TROPICAL KINGBIRD.
After two hours of patiently working the area between the 7th Street and 7th Avenue bridges (in tropical conditions with dew points in the upper 60’s and low 70’s), on our third pass through the area immediately west of the Central Avenue bridge, we found the bird in the same general area where we had seen it Saturday morning.  It was found in habitat identical to what is described in Kaufman’s book, at the top of a tall cottonwood tree with ponds in the area.  Nice views with the scope confirmed it as a probable Tropical Kingbird.

Tropical Kingbird

Having not seen one in a couple of decades, and only having seen Couch’s Kingbird once before (when one spent the winter outside Tacna, AZ), and not hearing it’s call, we can’t definitively say it is a Tropical and not a Couch’s.  We had a very good view of the tail and back in the scope.  There was no white on the tail, and the tail had a distinctive notch.  The tail color was brown, not black.  Yesterday and today, multiple books were used for reference.  I hope someone with more experience with Tropical Kingbirds can substantiate the find.

Summer Conservation News and Notes

by Mike Evans
Conservation Director 
Desert Rivers Audubon Society

On the afternoon of May 24th, I received a call from Scott Cleaves, the Park Ranger for the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch Park.  In the previous two weeks he had only seen one cat in the Riparian Preserve.  He had repeatedly tried to catch it over that time.  He called me to report that he had finally been successful.  To the best knowledge of GWR and Riparian Preserve staff, there were NO feral cats left at GWR!  The most recent survey in mid-March reported only 13 cats left in the preserve.  The staff trapped eight of those cats.  Coyotes or natural causes are believed to have accounted for the other five.  (Coyotes have been photographed this spring with one adult and two kittens in their mouths.)  This compares to last October’s survey that had 82 cats and two litters of hidden kittens living in the preserve.

Signs have been installed at the GWR prohibiting the dumping of any type of animal at the facility.  An ordinance prohibiting the dumping of animals has been drafted and circulated for comments.  It will come before the town council this summer for adoption.  Town employees will continue to trap for cats should any more appear at GWR.

If you run into Scott Anderson, Riparian Preserve Executive Director, Lisa Hermann, Education Director, Ranger Scott Cleaves, or Naturalist Jennie Rambo during a future visit to GWR, please thank them for their efforts to make the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch a feral cat-free facility.  Thanks go out as well to the members of Save the Cats Arizona for their cooperation in the removal of the cats.

Thank you to all those that contacted Gilbert town staff and elected officials regarding this issue.  The hard work of the birding community has been rewarded with a cat-free Important Birding Area (IBA) here in Gilbert, AZ.

However, since that happy day in late May, I have received two emails reporting additional cats in the preserve.  Both reports gave detailed descriptions and very good locations.  I have forwarded them on to Riparian Preserve staff so that they can be trapped and removed.  Please continue to let me know at mascatce@cox.net if you see any on your visits to GWR.

For those of you interested in our Important Birding Area (IBA) program here in Arizona, the Arizona Audubon Council and Audubon Arizona are planning a conference for this October 1st at the Rio Salado Nature Center.  The conference will focus on threats to the IBA from power line and transmission tower corridors that are scheduled to be established across our state due to the planned increase in alternative power sources.  This is a classic public policy conflict, when two desired goals and their implementation conflict with one another.  Please save the date on your calendars if this is of interest to you.  More details will be coming soon.  (So, I suppose there are a few of you wondering, “What the heck is the Arizona Audubon Council?”  Well, that is the organization where all of the Audubon societies in Arizona work together on conservation issues.)

Our board was recently asked by Audubon Arizona to sign on to a letter from the Arizona Wilderness Coalition regarding a threat to roadless areas on the Coronado National Forest.  As a former USFS firefighter on the Coronado NF and a former park Ranger at Chiricahua National Monument, that is a part of the state near and dear to me and also to many other birders.  We added our support to the letter.  If you would like more information, you can go to the AZ Wilderness Coalition website for more information: http://azwild.org/action/foresttravel.php.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department is seeking public review and input on an action plan for wildlife viewing recreation in Arizona.  The Wildlife Viewing Action Plan outlines objectives and strategies to help guide and implement a statewide watchable wildlife project. It identifies programs, products, and services the department is currently providing in wildlife viewing recreation, discusses opportunities and challenges for the future, and identifies new approaches that, if implemented, will help take advantage of opportunities and overcome challenges. Game and Fish is seeking input from the public on the general topics and strategies that have been developed in the plan.  Here in the East Valley, a public meeting will be held from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM on Wednesday, June 29, at the Arizona Game and Fish Department Mesa Regional Office, 7200 E. University Drive.  Here is a link to the Action Plan:  http://www.azgfd.gov/images/outdoor_recreation/watchablewildlife/WildlifeViewPlanForReview.pdf.  For additional information of the Watchable Wildlife program, check out this link: www.azgfd.gov/wwreview.

Finally, one last note, if I may.  I’m sure there are others like me that are just as heart-sick as I am at the destruction brought on by a man-caused fire in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona.  As I write this, there are over 72,000 acres burned in the sixth largest fire in our state’s history.  Containment is projected for sometime in late June.  If you are of the mind to do so, please keep our brave wildland firefighters battling “the beast” (as our firefighters call big fires) in your thoughts and prayers.

Cow Bird Conundrums

by Joy Dingley
Education Committee
Desert Rivers Audubon 

Cowbirds at bird feeder.

When I grew up in England every child knew the call of the cuckoo and that it laid its eggs in other birds’ nests. Yet, even when I was a grown up bird watcher no one could give me a reasonable explanation of why the bird should choose such a roundabout way to produce the next generation – still less how the behavior evolved. So when I got to theU.S.and found that Cowbirds followed the same route of absentee parenting I was delighted when I was given a rational explanation. Cowbirds apparently followed the great herds of buffalo around feasting on the attendant insects. When the herd moved, the birds moved and they didn’t have time to build a nest, incubate eggs and feed the young ones.

It sounded good to me and I’ve repeated the explanation to other people. However, I’ve now got doubts about it. Right from the start I should have asked, if there are still enough insects around to feed the young chicks then why aren’t there enough for the parents as well? Many birds feed their young the protein providing insects they need to develop but make do with a much less rich diet themselves.

Secondly I noticed this summer how often Cowbirds are coming to my seed feeders. There do seem to be more of them than I’ve noticed before but this isn’t the first year they have done this. Even at the Santa Rita lodge in Madera Canyon at the end of May they were vying with Black Headed Grosbeaks for possession of the seed feeders.  So if they aren’t dependant on insects they could have stayed with their chicks for a few weeks before flying on to where the Buffalo had migrated.

So I’m back to asking the same questions I used to ask about the cuckoo, how on earth did this strategy evolve, could the bird ever revert to looking after its own eggs if the surrogate parents disappear and what mechanism ensures that the parasite bird doesn’t wipe out all the possible surrogate parents if they are too successful in a given area?  Somebody out there must know!

AZGFD Wildlife Viewing Action Plan-Birders Be Heard

Join Desert Rivers Audubon members and Conservation Director Mike Evans in listening to and commenting about the AZGFD Wildlife Viewing Action PlanWednesday, June 29, 2011, 6:00pm – 8:00pm at the Arizona Game and Fish Department Mesa Regional Office, 7200 E. University Drive, Mesa, AZ. Mike notes, “I like attending this kind of meeting.  It gives you a chance to have your voice heard and you leave with a feeling of having actually accomplished something.”

The Arizona Game and Fish Department is seeking public review and input on an action plan for wildlife viewing recreation in Arizona.

The Wildlife Viewing Action Plan outlines objectives and strategies to help guide and implement a statewide watchable wildlife project. It identifies programs, products, and services the department is currently providing in wildlife viewing recreation, discusses opportunities and challenges for the future, and identifies new approaches that, if implemented, will help take advantage of opportunities and overcome challenges.

Game and Fish is seeking input from the public on the general topics and strategies that have been developed in the plan.

“This is a step to include users and stakeholders in evaluating the plan,” says Watchable Wildlife Coordinator Joe Yarchin. “We’re looking for input on any broad objectives or strategies we might have missed, including alternatives. We want feedback on whether this is hitting the mark or has some gaps that need to be addressed.”

The Arizona Game and Fish Department recognizes the need to manage for positive wildlife opportunities for all outdoor recreationists. There is strong public interest in watching wildlife. According to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 1.3 million wildlife viewing participants spend $838 million in Arizona annually.

Despite this comparatively large demographic, there appears to be a significant gap between the current conditions, as they relate to wildlife viewing recreation, and the desired future conditions. The action plan outlines objectives, goals and actions to narrow the gap.

Comments can be submitted at the meetings, or you can submit comments by e-mail to wwreview@azgfd.gov or by U.S. mail to: Wildlife Viewing Action Plan Comment, c/o Arizona Game and Fish Department, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086. The deadline to submit comment is July 6, 2011.