I conducted a short workshop this morning on developing birding skills for Christmas Bird Counts, organized by the Arizona Field Ornithologists (azfo.org) and sponsored by the Tucson Audubon Society.
We had a 40-minute powerpoint presentation, followed by some birding in the area. We covered topics such as preparing for the CBC by studying maps and scouting the route, estimating numbers of groups of birds, and use of mobile phone apps for ID, data entry, and visualizing the CBC circle. My favorite focus is learning how to identify habitats worth checking for maximizing your bird list.
Check out this satellite image from Google Maps.
There's a nice chunk of native Sonoran Desert habitat on the west, and that's TAS's Mason Center property where we held the workshop and then birded on the sinuous desert path. It was honest-to-goodness desert, with Pyrrhuloxia, Curve-billed Thrasher, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Gambel's Quail, and Black-throated Sparrow, with a bonus Great Horned Owl sitting low in a palo verde. If you were just driving by here, you'd be drawn to check the attractive desert for birds, and habitat like that should definitely be covered.
But look at the complex on the right – the Sunnyvale professional plaza, with a dental office, fitness studio, and such. Mostly pavement, plenty of non-native Chilean or Argentinian mesquites, oleander hedges, a large African Sumac. Yuck. But look again. First of all, it has a darker patch of green along the western and southern edges. Second, the parking lot backs up against several back yards which tend to have milder climates and might have bird feeders. Finally, upon closer inspection, one sees a few native plants (palo verde, Velvet Mesquite and Sonoran Ironwood), and one back yard had a blooming Cape Honeysuckle draping over the brick wall. So I pished, and here's what we had in a matter of 5 minutes:
1 Anna's Hummingbird, 1 Costa's Hummingbird, 2 Verdin, 2 Orange-crowned Warbler, 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) S, 2 Abert's Towhee, and 2 House Sparrow.
Definitely worth the stop.