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 or Sarah Porter at

Zanjero Park Burrowing Owl project update

by Stacy Burleigh
OwlWatch Coordinator
Desert Rivers Audubon, in partnership with the Town of Gilbert and Wild at Heart raptor rescue, installed a burrowing owl habitat at Zanjero Park, Gilbert, AZ (Lindsay Rd. & 202 Fwy.), Fall 2011. Project made possible by a grant from TogetherGreen.

Desert Rivers Audubon, in partnership with the Town of Gilbert and Wild at Heart raptor rescue, installed a burrowing owl habitat at Zanjero Park, Gilbert, AZ (Lindsay Rd. & 202 Fwy.), Fall 2011. Project made possible by a grant from TogetherGreen.

At the end of October the morning monitoring group began picking up and examining pellets at the burrows to confirm what the owls are eating. A trend of insects and not rodents has been established. Being next to agricultural fields,  it was expected for rodents to dominate their diet. At first we wondered if the farmer was putting down a rodentcide. Greg Clark recently discovered a researcher, in the Imperial Valley where 70% of California’s burrowing owls reside, who found only .2 % of pellets contain rodents. His explanation is that the flood irrigation eliminates rodents. Maybe this is what is happening here as well.

Not knowing if insects could sustain our remaining 5 owls through the winter, I was convinced to do a short-term supplementary feeding of frozen white mice. I began this on January 16th. Greg and I decided we should learn something from doing this as well.  I first wanted a basic question answered – how long will it take a mouse to be regurgitated? Answer: 2 to 3 days. Greg suspected that the owls were not regurgitating all of their pellets at the burrows and if so, we thus were not seeing all that they eat. This has turned out to indeed be the case. Only a small percentage of the white mice pellets are showing up. Some weeks more than others. And those that we do find are a combination of mouse and insects, sometimes very packed with insect parts. I am feeling better that they are finding insects in the winter.
Please join us  Saturday, February 23rd from 8 to 11 am at Zanjero Park for a Volunteer Clean Up Day.

Please join us Saturday, February 23, 2013 from 8 to 11 am at Zanjero Park for a Volunteer Clean Up Day.

Now onto the owls themselves. 90X is her usual, confident self residing at #50, although of late she can be seen all the way down to #37 in the afternoon. This is due to the fact, I surmise, that 88X has not been on site since 1/9 and #37-46 was her “territory”.  No signs of predation in the park this time as was the case with the last two owls. The female of the local pair at #15-16 has not been seen since 1/9 either but because she is so secretive and because it has been so cold I’m not completely convinced she still is not there. The really AWESOME news is the release site local owl who I had started to suspect was male has joined 90X at #49-50.  Last week a regular park walker and the evening monitoring group saw them together at #50. Courting behavior was going on and the male has been named Whitebeard. (He really extends his white chin feathers very long when doing a courting display). This morning we watched Whitebeard come out of #49 and 90X out of #50. If you go out to see them Whitebeard flies easily if approached too close.

A decision on whether more owls will be relocated to Zanjero this Spring is still being reflected upon. Greg Clark is waiting to hear the information the farmer has, how stable the food supply is, and how many migrants will arrive on site in February into early March.

Please join us Saturday, February 23, 2013, 4pm, Zanjero Park, Gilbert for OwlWalk & Talk. Part of the Arizona SciTech Festival:

Please join us Saturday, February 23, 2013, 4pm, Zanjero Park, Gilbert for OwlWalk & Talk. Part of the Arizona SciTech Festival.

Happy Owling!

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.

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.

No-Kill Movement Means Death for Birds

Guest editorial
by Travis Longcore, Ph.D.
Science Director of The Urban Wildlands Group

Dr. Longcore is Science Director of The Urban Wildlands Group, which, along with co-plaintiffs including American Bird Conservancy , successfully sued to halt implementation of a TNR program in the City of Los Angeles until environmental review of the consequences of the program is undertaken.

In recent years it has become seemingly obligatory for local politicians to commit to taking a “no-kill” approach to animal control in their jurisdictions. That news might not raise the concerns of the typical bird conservationist, who may think that this simply means that unfortunate stray animals would be held in shelters long enough to find homes. But the no-kill movement is not innocuous – its mission is to stop euthanasia of any healthy cat or dog, no matter whether that animal has no prospects for a home, is feral, or is dangerously aggressive.

A fundamental element of a no-kill approach is to implement a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program for unowned cats, which stops stray and feral cats from being taken to shelters and instead promotes the unrestricted feeding and maintenance of cat colonies outdoors by “caregivers.” Bird conservationists therefore need to start paying attention to animal sheltering legislation or risk not being able to remove stray and feral cats from places where they threaten birds, whether they be back yards or nature reserves.

This no-kill approach for stray and feral cats results in increasing numbers of free-ranging cats, maintained in groups concentrated around feeding stations. Some of these cats are even redeemed from shelters by so-called rescuers and intentionally placed outside into new or existing colonies. TNR policies are generally coupled with an abandonment by local jurisdictions of traditional animal control functions for stray and feral cats.

Once a TNR program is in place, rules are changed so that it becomes illegal or extremely difficult to trap and take a feral cat to an animal shelter. Cats that have been neutered and are being fed outdoors are marked by cutting off the tip of one ear, and shelters receiving such cats will return them to the person feeding them or to any “rescue” group. In jurisdictions implementing TNR, it can become a crime to interfere with cat feeders, even if the cats number in the dozens and become a nuisance in parks, alleys, and residential neighborhoods. This situation can occur almost overnight, because most states do not require that local jurisdictions control unowned cats, only unowned dogs.

The no-kill movement represents a radical agenda that prioritizes unowned cats and the rights of cat feeders over the welfare of birds and other wildlife and the rights of people who enjoy and care about them. When confronted with the staggering number of individual mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds killed by free-roaming cats, the response by no-kill advocates is often that this does not matter, unless wildlife populations as a whole are affected. To quote one such advocate from a social networking site: “Even if it were true that cats kill 500 million birds a year, that figure still does not tell me anything. I also need to know how many birds in total die annually, and how many get born.” Scientists have documented that high predation levels can affect wildlife populations, but the more troubling issue is that feral cat advocates appear unable to feel compassion for the unnecessary suffering of hundreds of millions of individual birds and other animals, even while they insist that euthanasia of a single feral cat is immoral and reprehensible.

Bird conservationists must be honest about the options. There are many methods of promoting responsible pet ownership to reduce

Cat feeding continues at the Hummingbird Habitat at Desert Breeze Park, Chandler.

the number of stray animals, including roaming ordinances, low-cost and mandatory spay/neuter practices, per-household pet limits, and cat licensing laws. Effective control of free-roaming cats requires aggressive efforts that almost always will include euthanasia. And like any nuisance animal control program, the efforts must be sustained. Sanctuaries are not economically viable, cannot possibly address the magnitude of the problem, and all too often end up as hoarding situations. Given the harm done by feral cats directly to wildlife, and the risks they pose to both human and wildlife health, permanent removal must remain as an option for any strategy to protect the places birds live and breed.

Bird conservationists must also continue to articulate the importance of birds in our lives by educating the public about the nuances of the lives of birds – their intelligence, their documented communication and problem-solving skills, and their beauty – to help others understand why we care, and why the casual dismissal of hundreds of millions of annual deaths is a callous affront.