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.

Feral Cat Problem at Gilbert Riparian Preserve Continues

In 1997, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) launched the Cats Indoors!Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats to educate cat owners, policy makers, and the general public that cats, wildlife, and people all benefit when cats are kept indoors, confined to an enclosure when outdoors, or trained to go outside on a harness and leash.

By Mike Evans
Conservation Director
Desert Rivers Audubon

As most of you know, we have had a feral cat problem at GWR. Since November 2010 we have trapped and removed over 125 cats from the Preserve. If you saw a recent Arizona Republic article, there was a different number given. Our number is correct.

Last summer we had the population of feral cats down to only a handful or less. This spring we observed increased numbers, more like ten to twelve feral cats. Jennie Rambo, the Park Naturalist, began trapping again. This summer she called and asked for some help and my son Aaron and I have assisted for the last several weeks. What we have observed, and discovered, is troubling.

The feral cat advocates have begun surreptitiously feeding the cats again. We have found several locations where they are distributing both dry and wet food. We have found camouflaged five gallon water containers, as well as one other container that looks like it was used to transport feral cats into the preserve. We have met with town staff and they have pledged to aggressively enforce the new ordinances that are in place that outlaw feeding the cats.

We have also learned that feral cats are being fed at the Lutheran church and school adjacent to the Preserve on the south side. Feral cats are also being fed at the medical office complex to the north of the Preserve across Guadalupe Road. Town officials are attempting to get these feeding locations shut down.

So, what can we do? Well, we must stay committed to our policy of no feral cats in the Preserve. We will continue to trap and remove cats as long as they are observed at GWR. If you see a cat during your visits there, report it by email to Riparian Preserve staff members on the Riparian Institute website. If you have some extra time and want to help with the trapping, Jennie would like some volunteers during the day to help trap. Those traps have to be watched so they aren’t stolen by feral cat advocates. If twilight or darkness is more your style, let me know if you would like to join us for evening trapping.

Finally, if letter writing is more your thing, send a letter to the Mayor and Town Council telling them that GWR is no place for feral cats. Together we can continue to maintain the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch as one of the premier urban birding locations in our state.

“As Congress Heads Home for Recess, Bird Conservation Funding Hangs in the Balance”

By Mike Evans
Conservation Director
Desert Rivers Audubon

Mike Evans (l), Desert Rivers Audubon’s Conservation Director, leads a birdwalk during the Feathered Friends Festival at Gilbert Riparian Preserve, March 24, 2012.

I received an email  yesterday, 8/2/12, from American Bird Conservancy, a great birding resource for all issues related to bird habitatconservation throughout the entire Americas.  The email was pretty wonky, but if you want to understand the financial impact of budget decisions, or more often, budget indecisions, then this email is for you.

I want to connect for you bird conservation funding to the mess our federal elected officials have made in Washington, highlighting what is left undone in the appropriations process and what the threat of sequestration means to us that care about the environment and wildlife conservation.

So, if you haven’t paid attention to the budget mess in Washington, here is a great summary of current conservation work left undone by Congress as they go home to campaign.  There is also a really nice explanation of how sequestration will affect the environment and conservation issues.  What a nightmare!  I hope all you policy wonks enjoy!

Desert Rivers and Tropical Cats

by Mike Evans
Conservation Director 
Desert Rivers Audubon Society

The recent stories of jaguars and ocelots being spotted in Arizona got me thinking about the historic role that our desert rivers played in wildlife population distribution. My thoughts wandered to the impact the “dang fence” on the border would have in limiting the future distribution of these tropical species back into Arizona. I also got to thinking about how our modern system of canals has come to partially replace the role that our desert rivers historically played in wildlife distribution, especially here in the Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa area.

Jaguar, Panthera onca.

For those that missed the news reports, the Arizona Game and Fish Department confirmed through photographs that a mountain lion hunter treed a jaguar southeast of Tucson.  The Arizona Daily Star also reported that in June a helicopter pilot for Homeland Security spotted a jaguar loping down a forested hillside in the Santa Rita Mountains of southern Arizona. Arizona Game & Fish also reported that a further five reports by hunters have been confirmed and the department is now attempting to determine through photographic analysis how many jaguars may be roaming about southern Arizona. The Game & Fish believe that these individuals represent the most northern part of a population of jaguars living in Sonora, Mexico.

We were also recently briefly regaled with the story of a sighting of an ocelot. Upon further analysis, the Game and Fish Department believes that the cat was more likely a serval, or serval hybrid, an African cat popular in the pet trade. However, there were two other confirmed sightings of ocelots earlier in the year, both in the Huachuca Mountains.

These are only the third and fourth reports of ocelots in Arizona since the 1960’s. It was generally agreed by most wildlife observers

Ocelot, Leopardus pardalis, also known as the dwarf leopard or McKenney's wildcat.

that the ocelot was extinct in Arizona until one was found dead along the highway in the Globe area in 2010 and one was photographed in 2009 by a trail camera belonging to the Sky Island Alliance.  There is a small remnant population of ocelots in Texas and the rest of the range was believed to be much farther south in Mexico, but now Arizona has to be added to the list of locations where the species is still holding on to some territory.

Historically, Arizona’s desert rivers have been corridors for wildlife. Although the exact locations of the traditional corridors used by jaguars and ocelots remain uncertain, there is good evidence that the prey species of both cats were originally found in abundance along our desert rivers. For these species to survive, movement corridors need to be maintained. Conservation efforts are crucial as habitat becomes more fragmented and isolated. The Sky Island Alliance is one organization working to maintain the connections north and south of the border through their Wildlife Linkages program.

One threat to the continued efforts to conserve both of these species is the proposed border fence. The Center for Biological Diversity  has been warning of the environmental catastrophe that the border fence would be for wildlife populations for five years. Back in 2006, the Center said:

More border walls, militarization, low-level aircraft and roads would further damage already-stressed wildlife and places, such as the Cactus Pygmy Owl and Sonoran Pronghorn in Arizona, Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard and Peninsular Ranges Bighorn Sheep in California, Jaguar and Mexican Gray Wolves in New Mexico, and the Rio Grande River, Ocelot, and Big Bend National Park in Texas. Triple walls are harmful to wildlife blocking critical migration corridors and destroying valuable habitat. The distance of the triple wall – 370 miles – is approximately the distance of the entire border in Arizona.

With two Arizona desert rivers having their headwaters in Mexico, the border fence will affect wildlife distribution. It seems clear that the northernmost range for the ocelot and jaguar would be cut off from the population in Mexico and stop any natural repopulation of these species in Arizona.

Roosevelt Water Conservation District

Closer to home, our canal system is the wildlife corridor for coyotes and other mammals. In the southeast valley, the four SRP canals (Consolidated, Eastern, Western, & Tempe) plus the Roosevelt Water Conservation District canal are regular coyote corridors. When we add in the Eastern Maricopa Floodway, we have a wildlife corridor that stretches from the San Tan Mountains in the south to the Salt River Recreation Area. So the next time you see a coyote in one of the East Valley riparian areas, or a coyote loping through a southeast valley neighborhood, remind yourself that it is the same mode of transit that wildlife has always used in the southwest: our riparian desert rivers. And, if you want your children and grandchildren to someday see jaguars and ocelots in the wildlands of Arizona, let your opinion be known to our elected officials the next time they start talking about building “the dang fence”.

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 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:

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:  For additional information of the Watchable Wildlife program, check out this link:

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.