Sunday, November 20, 2016

Non-natives Worth a Second Look

You’re going to find the best bird diversity in native vegetation, no doubt about it.  Native plants have insects (read: bird food!), due to relationships that have been evolving in this place for a very long time. Non-native plants are often free of such insects, and therefore free of birds. But in an urban area like Tucson, we’re stuck with lots of non-native vegetation, and to increase our species count on the Christmas Bird Count, it pays to learn how to selectively check it for birds. Some, like the non-native ash trees (Fraxinus sp.) in so many apartment complexes, are utterly birdless. Others might actually be worth checking carefully.

Kurrajong, Brachychiton populneus, in the mallow family, is an Australian native that Red-naped Sapsuckers (very common in the native oak woodlands at higher elevation around us, but scarce in the Tucson Valley) seem to find a reliable source of tree sap. The sapsuckers are very quiet, but you can look carefully up into each tree and perhaps find one.

The SEINet data portal lists as many as 17 species of Eucalyptus in Pima County. Red River Gum (E. camaldulensis) and Coolibah (E. microtheca) are the two most planted and can have birds if they are blooming, including hummingbirds, tanagers, orioles, and warblers. Here’s a Coolibah which can also have Red-naped Sapsucker.

Here are two blooming Eucalyptus species that I haven’t identified yet, which I recently saw at the Vista del Norte mobile home park in north-central Tucson. Rare warblers to look for in these trees could be Cape May, Northern Parula, and Tennessee. In fact, one blooming Eucalyptus (probably a Red River Gum) in this residential area had Arizona’s second winter record of Calliope Hummingbird.

These trees seem to bloom erratically and unpredictably, and information on where trees are blooming is valuable. Go birding in your area and let us know if you are finding blooming eucalyptus.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Tucson Valley CBC Circle Map

On December 14, all bird observations will be compiled and summed up for the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count. But for anything to count in the totals, it must be observed within the boundaries of this 15 mile-diameter circle, which was defined in its current location centered near or at Oracle and River Roads in 1971 (though it has been wiggled around several times since then)

To browse this map online and see details, click on this link to Google maps:,-111.0324409,12z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!6m1!1s1BruvwGqHc_uI5zM7LLv_f-hdLtc

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Next Tucson Valley CBC: Wednesday December 14, 2016

Also, this year Luke Safford will be helping out as a co-compiler and will be primary compiler for the 2017 count.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Summary of the December 14, 2015 Tucson Valley CBC

Cooper's Hawk
There seems to be no end to the increase in Cooper's Hawks numbers on the Tucson Valley CBC

There’s no other birding event like a Christmas Bird Count. Yes, there are other ways one can help census birds and monitor their populations, ranging from the Breeding Bird Survey, the Great Backyard Bird Count, the North American Migration Count, and of course just by using eBird. But none of those bring together a huge group of people on one day and force them to count birds all within 15 miles of each other and in places they’d never think of birding, such as cemeteries, golf courses (something like 20 in the Tucson Circle), desert washes, mobile home parks, and even homeless camps – and then get together for a species countdown in the evening. It’s like a cross between a birding festival and a bird survey, and amazing things happen.

This year we were beset with a fast-moving cold front that presented no sign at the beautiful and relatively warm dawn. It even looked like the weather forecast had been horribly wrong, but it wasn’t. By late morning it was drizzling in most places in the circle, and if it wasn’t raining, it was snowing. Some groups were caught miles up the Santa Catalina foothill canyons during the middle of the front’s passage. But after the 2-3 hours of squalls ended, the remaining hours were lively and bright, and those birders who didn’t quit early were rewarded with some excellent afternoon birding.

So while our species count of 153 sounds low compared to last year’s all-time Arizona high of 164, it’s actually the third highest count in 44 years, well above the average of 139. And thanks to the preparation of birders ready to count the departing roosts of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, we tallied the second highest number of individual birds ever on this CBC: 79,934 (almost half of those Yellow-headed Blackbirds). Subtract those blackbirds, and we still tallied more individuals than two-thirds of all previous counts. One can only imagine the numbers we might have had were it not for the weather.

Rare bird highlights were three new species for the all-time list. A juvenile Gray Hawk had been found by Keith Kamper and Patty Tersey while scouting before the CBC, and it was still present on the CBC day. So more surprising was a second bird found a few miles downstream by Laurens Halsey and Andrew Core. A Bonaparte’s Gull was flying around for Chris McCreedy, Michael Lester, and Homer Hansen at Silverbell Lake. Another big surprise was a Gray Catbird first heard then seen by Andrew Core and Laurens Halsey.

There were other rarities that weren’t new for the list but have been seen only once before. The stakeout Rufous-capped Warbler was in upper Ventana Canyon just beyond the circle’s edge for a while, then it came down just into the circle. A male Blue Grosbeak was big surprise south of Speedway on the Santa Cruz River. Not seen on this CBC since 1978 was Montezuma Quail, when three were flushed from upper Finger Rock Trail.

A Louisiana Waterthrush on the Santa Cruz was likely the same bird that had been there the two previous winters, while we had Pine Warbler and Neotropic Cormorant for only the 4th time each. The latter is certainly increasing and can’t be considered a rarity any more, but who knows what the future holds.

Finally, there were a lot of rare to rarish species seen that we’ve only had on a third or fewer of the past 43 CBCs. If you go out birding around here on your own, you’d consider yourself lucky to find just one or two of these gems. So it’s worth remembering that these were all seen on the same day by an amazing team of volunteer counters. They are:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Clay-colored Sparrow
Ring-billed Gull
Hooded Oriole
Eastern Bluebird
Black-and-white Warbler
Northern Parula
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Summer Tanager
Cassin’s Kingbird
Barn Swallow
Common Merganser
Snowy Egret
Greater Pewee
Wilson’s Warbler
Ash-throated Flycatcher
American Goldfinch

Summer Tanager
This Summer Tanager was found at Evergreen Cemetery by Gavin Bieber

Of note is that we had multiple Clay-colored Sparrows for only the second time ever (the first was last year), a ridiculous record high 4 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and two Greater Pewees for only the second time ever.

The numbers we tallied always provides for some interesting data to mine. We tallied new high counts for 14 species, but Cooper’s Hawk in particular stands out, as we broke the all-time national high last year by a fair margin with 136. This year we had an astounding 152.

Additional new highs for this particular circle are listed below. The first number in the parentheses is our previous high count, and the second is the year in which that number was recorded.

Common Merganser 13 (7 – 2004)
Neotropic Cormorant 22 (2 –2012, 2014)
Eurasian Collared-Dove 617 (327 – 2013)
Barn Owl 6 (5 – 2011)
Costa’s Hummingbird 73 (56 – 2014)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4 (2 – 2014)
Merlin 5 (5 – 2014)
Peregrine Falcon 16 (14 – 2014)
Greater Pewee 2 (2 – 1998)
Gray Flycatcher 4 (3 – 2014)
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 176 (169 – 1991)
Chipping Sparrow 505 (455 – 1977)
Brewer’s Sparrow 749 (727 – 1999)
Yellow-headed Blackbird 39,725 (19,055, 2014)

I always like to look for birds for which we might get the national high each year. We didn’t see our own record high for the following species, but there are often more of these on the Tucson Valley count than any other. The final results will be known only after all compilers have submitted their lists.

We most certainly had the national high of Vermilion Flycatchers with 311, but true numbers might have been hampered by the birding conditions.

Rock Pigeon 5779
Mourning Dove: 6137
Broad-billed Hummingbird: 37
Gila Woodpecker: 538
Vermilion Flycatcher: 311
Plumbeous Vireo: 13
Cassin's Vireo: 10
Verdin: 652
Black-throated Gray Warbler: 19
Louisiana Waterthrush: 1
House Finch: 3636
Lesser Goldfinch: 2267
Greater Pewee: 2

I looked at species for which we had low counts as well, making a note of those that are below 25% of the long-term average.

Northern Pintail 4
Least Sandpiper 39
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Inca Dove 12
Northern Flicker 20
Canyon Towhee 4
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 4
Spotted Towhee 6
Brown-headed Cowbird 4

The Canyon Towhee numbers were especially shocking, and we nearly missed Brown-headed Cowbird for the first time. Inca Dove seems to be holding steady. But looking at birds that did poorly last year, Gilded Flicker and Loggerhead Shrike numbers are up a bit, but Cactus Wren has dropped a bit.

Then there are our misses. There were six species which were seen during the three days before and after count day and most certainly were in still in the circle. In fact, the Baltimore Oriole suddenly reappeared weeks later.

Blue-winged Teal
Black-necked Stilt
Dusky Flycatcher
Eastern Meadowlark
Baltimore Oriole
Pine Siskin

The following were also reported on eBird within a couple weeks of the count and probably were in the circle, but you can never see them all.
Long-billed Dowitcher
Hammond’s Flycatcher
Bullock’s Oriole
Brown Thrasher
Bell’s Vireo
White-throated Sparrow
Wood Duck

Then there are those residents we know are in the circle but were missed almost certainly because of the weather.
Golden Eagle
White-throated Swift
Acorn Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker
Western Scrub-Jay

Total Species List:
Snow Goose 1
Gadwall 62
American Wigeon 1377
Mallard (Northern) 327
Mallard (Mexican) 2
Mallard (Mexican intergrade) 3
Cinnamon Teal 15
Northern Shoveler 366
Northern Pintail 4
Green-winged Teal 73
Canvasback 24
Redhead 2
Ring-necked Duck 95
Lesser Scaup 17
Bufflehead 7
Hooded Merganser 2
Common Merganser 13
Ruddy Duck 94
Gambel's Quail 498
Montezuma Quail 3
Pied-billed Grebe 51
Eared Grebe 15
Neotropic Cormorant 22
Double-crested Cormorant 12
Great Blue Heron (Blue form) 18
Great Egret 20
Snowy Egret 4
Green Heron 5
Black-crowned Night-Heron 24
Northern Harrier 7
Sharp-shinned Hawk 12
Cooper's Hawk 152
Harris's Hawk 24
Gray Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 119
Virginia Rail 4
Sora 5
Common Gallinule 5
American Coot 785
Killdeer 135
Spotted Sandpiper 8
Least Sandpiper 39
Wilson's Snipe 1
Bonaparte's Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
gull sp. 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 5779
Eurasian Collared-Dove 617
Inca Dove 12
White-winged Dove 53
Mourning Dove 6137
Greater Roadrunner 13
Barn Owl 6
Western Screech-Owl 4
Great Horned Owl 11
Anna's Hummingbird 279
Costa's Hummingbird 73
Broad-billed Hummingbird 37
hummingbird sp. 16
Belted Kingfisher 9
Gila Woodpecker 538
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4
Red-naped Sapsucker 5
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 75
Northern Flicker (total) 20
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) 20
Gilded Flicker 23
Northern/Gilded Flicker 1
American Kestrel 87
Merlin 5
Peregrine Falcon 16
Prairie Falcon 4
Greater Pewee 2
Gray Flycatcher 4
Black Phoebe 23
Say's Phoebe 62
Vermilion Flycatcher 311
Ash-throated Flycatcher 2
Cassin's Kingbird 2
Loggerhead Shrike 16
Plumbeous Vireo 13
Cassin's Vireo 10
Hutton's Vireo 7
Mexican Jay 6
Common Raven 60
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 11
Barn Swallow 1
swallow sp. 2
Bridled Titmouse 6
Verdin 652
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Brown Creeper 1
Rock Wren 46
Canyon Wren 10
House Wren 25
Marsh Wren 15
Bewick's Wren 25
Cactus Wren 146
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 21
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 176
gnatcatcher sp. 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 425
Eastern Bluebird 4
Western Bluebird 53
Hermit Thrush 13
American Robin 6
Gray Catbird 1
Curve-billed Thrasher 96
Crissal Thrasher 2
Northern Mockingbird 145
European Starling 1940
American Pipit 62
Cedar Waxwing 8
Phainopepla 258
Louisiana Waterthrush 1
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 86
Common Yellowthroat 9
Northern Parula 1
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (total) 1340
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) 1336
Black-throated Gray Warbler 19
Rufous-capped Warbler 1
Wilson's Warbler 1
Rufous-winged Sparrow 15
Chipping Sparrow 505
Clay-colored Sparrow 3
Black-chinned Sparrow 5
Brewer's Sparrow 749
Black-throated Sparrow 54
Lark Sparrow 60
Lark Bunting 165
Dark-eyed Junco (total) 63
Dark-eyed Junco (unknown type) 12
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) 39
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided) 8
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed) 3
Yellow-eyed Junco 1
White-crowned Sparrow (total) 2127
White-crowned Sparrow (oriantha) 5
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel's) 2122
Vesper Sparrow 8
Savannah Sparrow 6
Song Sparrow 68
Lincoln's Sparrow 130
Canyon Towhee 4
Abert's Towhee 401
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 4
Green-tailed Towhee 7
Spotted Towhee 6
Summer Tanager 1
Northern Cardinal 51
Pyrrhuloxia 28
Blue Grosbeak 1
Red-winged Blackbird 1168
Western Meadowlark 54
Western/Eastern Meadowlark 1
Yellow-headed Blackbird 39725
Brewer's Blackbird 1811
Great-tailed Grackle 1009
Bronzed Cowbird 85
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
Hooded Oriole 1
blackbird sp. 200
House Finch 3636
Lesser Goldfinch 2267
Lawrence's Goldfinch 21
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 1076

Total species:153
Total  individuals: 79934