Friday, December 5, 2014

There’s No Such Thing as a Boring CBC Area

At least not in the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count circle. Just look as this amazing spread, covering two large drainages (the Pantano-Agua Caliente-Rillito complex draining from the east and the Santa Cruz River from the south), some nice wetlands (think Sweetwater), several lush parks, a large number of golf courses with ponds (I can think of 11 different courses and parts of 2 more), a big, old cemetery full of pine trees, and a decent chunk of Pusch Ridge up to forested Kimball Peak.

But let’s look at the area I usually do on the CBC. At 2.89 square miles, Area 22, officially known as  “U of A Farm and the Rillito from Campbell to First” is the second smallest in the entire circle, and it’s notable for not having any water and no parks. It’s largely rather open residential areas with lots of Rock Pigeons, Mourning Doves, and House Sparrows. This is arguably the least interesting area in the circle, but this is my preferred area, as on a bicycle (as I’ve done it many years since 1998), I can cover it pretty thoroughly, and throughout the years it has produced a good number of rarities. Given that there is more, better, and more interesting habitat in every other area of the circle, this little summary here should give you an idea of what is possible. Here are two views of the area, from Google Earth and Google Maps.

It’s also where I live, which is more than convenient. This is how we’ve gotten Ruby-throated Hummingbird on the CBC (the first state record, I saw it at my feeder while preparing to leave for a tour to Oaxaca, and it was still there when I got back 10 days later), as well as Violet-crowned Hummingbird.

All of the good birds were found in the lush neighborhoods and washes within a half mile of the Rillito, and that’s probably significant. One of the best birding areas is in fact the University of Arizona’s agricultural center on Roger Road, though surprisingly it hasn’t resulted in any rarities (yet). It has been a reliable place for wintering Bronzed Cowbirds, however.

But it’s clusters of cottonwood, ash, or pecan that seem to attract the rarities. Feeders help, of course (the Cape May Warbler that pre-dates me on the 1993 CBC was at a feeder), and some of the rarities have even been in blooming Eucalyptus, such as the Calliope Hummingbird.

The 2002 Clay-colored Sparrow was a state bird for many in the weeks following the CBC.

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