October is a month of change in southeastern Arizona. Most of our summer birds have departed, and our winter residents are just starting to arrive. It’s a time when we look back on our hectic spring-summer field season and look forward to what we hope to accomplish in 2019, with your help.
Here are some of our accomplishments this year, made possible by our generous members and donors:
- Our hummingbird monitoring on the San Pedro River just completed its 23rd season. We caught nearly 600 hummingbirds this year, 98 of which were birds banded in previous seasons. Perhaps as importantly, our banding sessions were attended by around a thousand visitors: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, pre-schoolers, senior citizens, families, TV crews, print journalists, and researchers, all drawn by a fascination for hummingbirds. Our crew of dedicated, knowledgeable volunteers, some of whom have been with us more than a decade, have once again made the scope of this project possible.
- In late July, the annual “High Country Hummers” event in cooperation with the Arizona Game and Fish Department drew over 900 people to Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area for a morning of hummingbird banding and a talk about our favorite subject.
- In September, we met with other hummingbird banders from around the U.S. and Canada and representatives of the North American Banding Council to update the manual used by hummingbird banders throughout the hemisphere.
- In August, we helped with both the Southwest Wings Birding Festival in Sierra Vista and Tucson Audubon Society’s Southeast Arizona Birding Festival.
- We also led three highly successful week-long birding workshops and tours of our own. In May, our Owls & More workshop spent a wonderful week exploring the diverse habitats and dazzling diversity of southeastern Arizona. Our scheduled Hummingbirds of Arizona tour in mid-August proved so popular that we offered a second tour two weeks later which also filled to capacity. Despite the absence of the rarer hummingbird species this summer, the two tours found 12 and 11 species respectively.
- Our popular spring walks along the San Pedro River in cooperation with Casa de San Pedro Bed & Breakfast continue as we marvel at and document the amazing migration of songbirds along this crucial corridor.
- In September, we submitted comments on the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed management plan for the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, drawing on our decades of experience on the river and our previous songbird banding study on the river south of the border.
- The “Birding SEAZ” smartphone app we developed in cooperation with Tucson Audubon is now available for both iPhones and Android and will be featured in the December issue of Birding
- Other projects include our continuing relationship with the Arizona Game and Fish Department at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. The nest boxes we erected two years ago produced broods of Barn Owls and American Kestrels this summer, and we plan to continue our commitment to providing some visitor services at the site again this winter.
- The relatively quiet fall and winter months allow us time to work on data management, with reports to the Bird Banding Lab and Arizona Game and Fish as well as analyzing the data collected with an eye towards trends and occurrences worthy of further research and/or publishing. Our entire database will be backed up at the Avian Knowledge Network and combined with over 100 million bird records for future analysis.
- The success of this year’s workshops and tours has encouraged us to offer even more next year. These include Hawks and Cranes in January, Sparrowphobics Anonymous in February, Owls & More in May, and Hummingbirds of Arizona in August. We are also venturing farther afield with Trinidad & Tobago: Fabulous Hummingbirds & More this December, Birding Alamos, Sonora in March, and Hummingbirds of Ecuador in June. We would love to have you join us on one or more of these trips. Please check the website for details.
If it sounds like we’ve been busy, we have! We could not do any of this without the generosity of our members and donors. Your support is especially critical right now to get us through the slow fall and winter months and give us a head start on our goals for 2019. We hope you will consider joining, renewing or upgrading your membership and/or making an additional donation to help us continue to work on your behalf for the birds and other wildlife of southeastern Arizona.
The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
SABO’s spring River Walks and hummingbird banding sessions are now on the events calendar! Please note that there will be no walks or banding sessions April 9-14 during the American Ornithological Society meeting in Tucson, but we’ve added Sunday walks on April 8 and 15.
Registration for SABO’s 2018 Owls & More! spring tour is now open! Reserve your space now for this 7-day, 6-night adventure highlighting the best of spring birding in southeastern Arizona! For registration or more information, see our Calendar of Events.
The new Birding Southeast Arizona app is now available for Apple iOS device (iPhone, iPad), and an Android version is coming soon! A collaboration between the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory and the Tucson Audubon Society with funding from the Southeastern Arizona Birding Trail committee, the app covers 130 birding sites in six subregions, all vetted by local experts.
The app, designed by Aves Amigos LLC, takes bird-finding to the next level:
- Use GPS to find birding “sites near me.”
- Plan your next trip by searching for sites near a city or ZIP code.
- Search all sites for a “target bird,” and find the nearest location.
- Get turn-by-turn directions and find nearby amenities.
- Access an online bird guide for quick reference in the field.
- Tag your favorite spots and share with your friends.
- Track and log your sightings and share custom sighting maps with your friends.
The app is listed in the App Store as “Birding SEAZ.” Proceeds benefit the education, research, and conservation programs of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory and Tucson Audubon Society.
Click the screenshots below for a preview of the iPhone interface:
Explore southeastern Arizona’s hummingbird havens with Sheri L. Williamson, author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds and one of America’s foremost hummingbird experts, and SABO’s founder and Director/Naturalist Tom Wood.
August is one of the most exciting months for hummingbird watching in southeastern Arizona. Summer thunderstorms bring a second spring to the “sky island” mountains and valleys. Blooming wildflowers and the area’s famous feeding stations attract up to 15 hummingbird species plus many other colorful birds, butterflies, and much more.
Most field trip destinations will be of particular interest to hummingbird aficionados, but we won’t neglect the songbirds, raptors, butterflies, and other wildlife that make this region so special. The tour will include short presentations to give you an in-depth understanding of hummingbird natural history and identification. To compensate for early mornings and avoid thunderstorms, most days will incorporate an hour or two of siesta time in the afternoon
Featured lodging for this tour will be Casa de San Pedro Bed & Breakfast, adjacent to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
Day 1 (Sun): meet at Country Inns & Suites in Tucson for orientation and dinner
Day 2 (Mon): Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Mount Lemmon, night in Tucson
Day 3 (Tue): Madera Canyon, Patagonia, night at Casa de San Pedro B&B
Day 4 (Wed): San Pedro River, Miller Canyon, Ash Canyon B&B, night at Casa de San Pedro B&B
Day 5 (Thu): Portal and Chiricahua Mountains, night at Casa de San Pedro B&B
Day 6 (Fri): Carr Canyon, Ash Canyon B&B, hummingbird banding, night at Casa de San Pedro B&B
Day 7 (Sat): San Pedro River, return to Tucson airport by noon
* The actual itinerary will be flexible and may change as unusual opportunities and/or access issues dictate.
$1325 per person for SABO members, $1355 per person for non-members, double occupancy*; add $415 for single occupancy. Package includes 6 nights’ lodging, ground transportation from Tucson, entrance fees, and meals from dinner the first day through breakfast the last day. Alcoholic beverages, guide and lodging gratuities, and other personal expenses are not included. Limited to 8 participants. A deposit of $200 per person is required to hold your reservation.
* Standard rooms at Country Inns & Suites and Casa de San Pedro are equipped with one king bed; please let us know if your party will need two beds.
The diversity of hummingbird species in SABO’s ongoing monitoring project on the San Pedro River now goes to eleven! A juvenile female Magnificent Hummingbird, banded last Thursday at Casa de San Pedro B&B, is the latest addition to our study. She’s a giant compared to our usual clientele: bill length 27.3 mm, wing length 67.2 mm, tail length 40 mm, weight 7.3 grams.
Magnificent Hummingbirds are residents of pine-oak forest from central and northern Arizona south into Central America. Though uncommon to fairly common just a few miles away in the Huachuca Mountains, “Mags” are rare spring and fall visitors to the cottonwood-willow habitats of the San Pedro River. One of our regular banding session visitors had the honor of assisting in the release of this young ambassador from the “sky islands.”
In honor of this new species for the study, we tallied the numbers of each hummingbird species banded so far at our two sites on the San Pedro River (San Pedro House August 1995-present and Casa de San Pedro B&B 2011-present, hybrids not included):
|* breeds on the San Pedro River|
Only six banding sessions are left in the 2016 season (three at each of our two sites), and there may be few or no birds still around for the last two sessions, so make plans to join us this weekend or next weekend. See SABO’s Calendar of Events for more information.
Thanks as always to our dedicated volunteers, our hosts Karl and Patrick at Casa de San Pedro and the Friends of the San Pedro River, and SABO’s many members and donors, all of whom make possible the continuation of this landmark study.
It’s been a very busy spring at SABO’s hummingbird banding stations! Our team has been seeing lots of recaptures from previous seasons (including one at least 8 years old!), many females with developing eggs, and various colors of pollen reflecting a good season for natural nectar, but also one bird that’s seen some hard times. Check out the photos below for highlights!
A very rare “pastel” Sandhill Crane is spending the winter at the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. This handsome mutant was spotted by SABO Director/Naturalist Tom Wood on January 31 during the flock’s midday fly-in and photographed by SABO member Michelle Cook.
Pigment abnormalities of any kind are seldom observed in Sandhill Cranes, affecting fewer than one in 200,000 individuals. This bird, which we’re calling “Pearl,” sports very pale plumage, a condition known as dilution. Both eumelanin, the pigment responsible for blacks, grays, and dull browns, and the red-brown pigment pheomelanin are present but at greatly reduced concentrations, a form of dilution called “pastel.” “Pearl’s” bill and legs are also paler than those of a normal crane, which is typical for dilute birds. On its forehead, some pale orange skin shows through pale beige juvenile feathers. The red skin color of adults is created by carotenoid pigments unaffected by dilution mutations, so “Pearl” should have a normal-looking red forehead if it survives to adulthood.
An odd-colored adult Sandhill Crane that spent the winter of 2003-2004 at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, dubbed “Moby” by SABO staff, had mostly white plumage with scattered normal and gray-shaded feathers and normally pigmented eyes, bill, legs, and forehead. A pattern like this is consistent with a common but mysterious condition called “progressive graying.” Affected birds appear normal in their early years of life but acquire white feathers with age, sometimes becoming mostly or entirely white. Extreme cases may ultimately affect the skin, bill, and legs as well. This condition may be related to the human pigment disorder vitiligo or simply represent an avian version of gray hairs.
With rare exceptions, progressive graying is nearly indistinguishable from leucism* (pronounced with a hard “c”), a relatively rare condition characterized by pure white feathers either in patches among normal ones or over the entire body. Affected birds with no normal feathers (total leucism) usually have unpigmented skin, bills, and legs and are distinguished from true albinos only by their normally colored eyes. Partially leucistic birds have patches of pure white feathers among normal ones, often in nearly symmetrical patterns, and skin that may be normal or patchily pigmented. Albinism is an extreme condition in which affected animals produce no melanin pigment at all; though you often see the term used informally, there is really no such thing as “partial” albinism.
The reduced melanin may make “Pearl” more vulnerable to sunburn and feather wear as well as more conspicuous to predators. Nevertheless, we have high hopes that this remarkable bird will survive to winter with us again.
For more on pigment abnormalities in birds, see:
Many thanks to Michelle Cook for documenting this rarity and allowing us to use her photo to illustrate this post! If you are lucky enough to see and photograph “Pearl” and would be willing to allow SABO to use your photos in our education and outreach programs, please contact us.
* “Leucism” has a long history of misuse as a catch-all term for any reduction in pigment.
If you can’t join SABO this winter for a Whitewater Wetlands Walk and/or Sandhill Crane Watch, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has provided the next best thing: a live video feed from the playa lake at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area!
The feed is best viewed between 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. when Arizona’s largest flock of Sandhill Cranes departs for breakfast in nearby farm fields, between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. when the majority of the flock returns, and between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. when the last stragglers return to the roost for the night. Even when the cranes are not present, you may see some of the ducks, shorebirds, songbirds, and birds of prey that make their winter home at the wildlife area.
Thanks to our colleagues at Arizona Game and Fish for sharing our cranes with birders and wildlife watchers the world over!
(The video above is from SABO’s YouTube channel.)
The Sandhill Cranes are back at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area and SABO’s winter activities are on the calendar. We’ve fixed a glitch on the website to now allow online registration for our Sunday morning walks at Whitewater followed by crane watching from the viewing platform. Come join us for one of the area’s best wildlife viewing opportunities.