Tuesday, February 24, 2015

147 Species - A NEW RECORD!

A total of 147 species were tallied for the count this year, breaking the old record of 142 set in 2012! Below is a narrative of the highlights, followed by a listing of just the statistics. Thanks again to all those participants who put in the effort to count birds in this remote area. I'm sure we can all agree it's well worth it!

Panorama of awe-inspiring Atascosa Mountains on CBC day. Photo by Jake Mohlmann


It was 12:01 a.m. when we were hiking around the rocky rim of Pena Blanca Lake and heard the repeated rising "weeeeeeeia" of a Great Horned Owl quickly followed by its companion's familiar tooted, "Who's awake, you two?" These were a pair of 11 that were detected this year. Not a cloud in the sky and nothing but bright stars quickly morphed into an overcast outing as a smaller contestant started to sound from across the lake in a guise of high-pitched "tut, tut, tuts." A Western Screech Owl finally bounced its ball from afar confirming its identification. Six species of owls were counted this year. Both a single Barn Owl and one Short-eared Owl decided to find refuge in Bellota Canyon, as did a pair of Golden Eagles making a total of 12 for the day. Jalisco and Apache Canyons provided 2 Peregrine Falcons, while Bear Valley Ranch hosted a nice Merlin.

Bear Grass Tank again contributed a nice suite of 13 waterfowl species with such birds as Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, and Bufflehead. All ducks were very wary this year, and hunters were encountered at water spots throughout the day. This area also hosted good numbers of sparrows which were lacking in most areas throughout the day. It also produced a Sage Thrasher, last seen on the count in 1989. Their non-avian highlight, though, was a hooded skunk. At Arivaca Lake the ducks flushed immediately when the group got in their boat. Thanks to the keen eyed observers here a few notables were spotted on the wing including the count's only Redhead, Canvasback, and Wood Duck. The road into California Gulch hosted a pair of Least Grebes on the pool below the dam.

Least Grebe on the way into California Gulch. Photo by Keith Kamper

Cedar and Bartolo Canyons hosted a Cassin's Finch which are more common this year in Southeast Arizona than usual.

Oro Blanco Wash had a Red-breasted X Red-naped Sapsucker hybrid but only Upper Sycamore Canyon could produce a pure Red-breasted Sapsucker for the list.

Perhaps it's no surprise that California Gulch hosted some exciting species including a trio of vireos; Cassin’s, Plumbeous, and Hutton’s. Not only is it the hotspot for Five-Striped Sparrows in the monsoon season, it's also the best place to see the species in winter. Six of these rarities were seen at the bottom of the Gulch that added greatly to the total of 8, a new CBC high count for the nation.

Five-striped Sparrow in California Gulch. Photo by Patty Tersey

This area also had three gnatcatcher species with the most exciting being one Black-capped Gnatcatcher (BCGN), of which a total of 3 were tallied for the day. BCGN was also seen in Rock Corral Canyon.

Black-capped Gnatcatcher in California Gulch. Photo by Keith Kamper

Sycamore Canyon is perhaps the most popular and productive spot in the CBC circle for Mexican vagrants. It was covered in it's entirety by nine intrepid souls. Upper Sycamore produced 1 of only 2 Whiskered Screech Owls for the count along with an amazing 10 Red-naped Sapsuckers. Middle Sycamore held 3 Elegant Trogons as well as one Northern Pgymy-Owl A good berry crop aided in producing 64 Western Bluebirds, 16 Townsend Solitaires, and 30 Hermit Thrushes there. Three Painted Redstarts is a good number for anywhere, but two areas each had 3, the other area being East Ruby Road. Lower Sycamore Canyon added the other 2 Five-striped Sparrows detected on the count. Other surprises down by the border included a Grasshopper Sparrow and a silent "Western” Flycatcher. Further east along the southern edge of the circle a Baird's Sparrow was well spotted in a grassy area along the Summit Motorway.

Abert's Towhees can be difficult to locate within the count circle, but a total of 3 were produced this year.

In upper Chimney Canyon traveling with a flock of 4 Cedar Waxwings was a lovely Evening Grosbeak, possibly from a Mexican population. Pine Siskins were scattered here and there throughout the circle.

Montezuma Quail weren’t as prevalent during the CBC this year, but a total of 83 were still found. They were mostly hanging out along the hike into the remote Pine Canyon. Interestingly, this area hosts the only Chihuahua Pines in the circle. In addition to the quail, it also produced 2 out of the 3 Northern Pygmy-Owls.

Two people hiked up to the top of Atascosa Lookout this year. It is been four years since a severe fire whipped through this area leaving it nearly devoid of birds and bird habitat. It was decided to see what was up there after some recent reports that there was a lot of bird activity near the peak. The Crissal Thrasher, Fox Sparrow, Green-tailed Towheesand Spotted Towhees all lend support that the scrubby undergrowth is coming back nicely.

Heading to the east side of the Atascosa Mountains, Rock Corral Canyon was ripe with berries and harbored at least 56 Hermit Thrushes, 4 Hepatic Tanagers, 6 Green-tailed Towhees, 13 Spotted Towhees, and 26 Canyon Towhees. A Band-tailed Pigeon was observed here, and in other areas within the circle, bringing the total to 6. In nearby Peck Canyon the group found some eastern winter visitors to the tune of a very vocal Winter Wren and White-throated and Clay-colored Sparrows. On the drive into this canyon some rich grasslands hosted a bevy of other sparrows including Rufous-winged, 24 Vesper, Black-throated, 39 Savannah, Grasshopper, and Rufous-crowned. Over 300 White-crowned sparrows were seen, the most for any section this year.

In Ramanote Canyon a new species was added to the overall checklist: 6 Eurasian-collared Doves. Not exactly the rarity one hopes for, but I guess its inevitable at some point. This area also produced a rare Williamson Sapsucker adding depth to their 7 woodpecker species day. Both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks were ticked on Wise Mesa along the entrance road to this spectacular canyon. It also provided an amazing 12 Cassins Kingbirds, which greatly helped out the total of 23 this year.

Last but not least, Peña Blanca lake also produced a new species for the count: a Wilson’s Warbler was spotted along its shrubby shores.

Wilson's Warbler at Pena Blanca Lake, a new species for the count! Photo by Ken Kertell.

Just the Numbers:
foot hours – 156.75
foot miles – 100.08
car hours – 33.25
car miles – 141.1
boat hours - 4
boat miles - 3
owling hours – 9.75
owling miles – 37.75
Max # of Parties - 25
# of Participants – 60
Total species – 147
Old record – 142 set in 2012
Total individual birds – 11,830

New Species for Count:
Eurasian Collared Dove – 6 Wise Mesa/Ramanote Canyon
Wilson’s Warbler – 1 Pena Blanca Lake

New record high counts:
Mallard (Northern) – 80 : old record 30
Northern Shoveler – 56 : old record 24
American Kestrel – 63 : old record 40
Red-naped Sapsucker – 58 : old record 57
Ladder-backed Woodpecker – 111 : old record 110
Cassin’s Kingbird – 23 : old record 19
Loggerhead Shrike – 45 : old record 40
Cassin’s Vireo – 3 : old record 2
Common Raven – 145 : old record 106
Marsh Wren – 13 : old record 12
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 529 : old record 490
Yellow-rumped (Audobon’s) Warbler – 137 : old record 120
Five-striped Sparrow – 8 : old record 6
Lincoln’s Sparrow – 159 : old record 98
Western Meadowlark – 74 : old record 71

Notables: out of 41 years
Wood Duck – 1 : previously seen 5 years
Least Grebe – 2 : previously seen 3 years
Merlin – 2 : previously seen 8 years
Barn Owl – 1 : previously seen 4 years
Short-eared Owl – 1 : previously seen 2 years
Williamson’s Sapsucker – 1 : previously seen 6 years
Red-breasted Sapsucker – 1 : previously seen 1 year
“Western” Flycatcher – 1 : previously seen 3 years
Winter Wren – 1 : previously seen 4 years
Black-capped Gnatcatcher – 3 : previously seen 5 years
Sage Thrasher – 2 : previously seen 5 years
Clay-colored Sparrow – 1 : previously seen 6 years
Baird’s Sparrow – 1 : previously seen 4 years
Evening Grosbeak – 1 : previously seen 3 years

Until next year...
Jake Mohlmann
Compiler - Atascosa Highlands CBC

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Countdown dinner - Wisdom's Cafe

CBC participants -

The countdown dinner is often the most exciting part of the day!  Teams will each have a chance to tell exciting events that happened as well as any notable bird sightings.  Having a warm place with good food is crucial to this end of the day activity which is why I am happy to announce that Wisdom's Cafe has graciously offered to host our count-off dinner this season!  If you've never been here before I can highly recommend!  It's delicious authentic Mexican cuisine at its finest!

Check out their website for the menu.  http://www.wisdomscafe.com/

They are located 3 miles south of Tubac and 1500 feet north of the Tumacacori Mission, on the east side of the road. Take the Tumacacori/Carmen exit and head north on the east side frontage road. This exit is just 9 minutes south of the Amado Exit for those covering the west side of the circle and escaping via Arivaca Road rather than the Ruby Road exit on I-19.

The restaurant opens at 5:00p.m. so you can arrive anytime after that.  I will try my best to arrive by 6:00p.m. shortly after which I will begin the count-off. 


Jake Mohlmann
Atascosa Highlands CBC

Date for this season's CBC - Friday January 2nd 2015 ! ! !

photo by Jake Mohlmann
Highly desirable species like this Whiskered Screech-Owl are possible. 11 were detected on last years count!  ©photo by Jake Mohlmann

This season's Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count will be held on January 2nd, 2015. The only other CBC being held on this date in Arizona is the Carefree count located north of Phoenix. If you're not planning on attending that count and if you're available to help with the Atascosa Highlands count please email Jake Mohlmann (mohlmann2 AT yahoo.com) to sign-up! 

Click here for a list of Arizona's other CBCs.

See you out there!

Jake Mohlmann
Atascosa Highlands CBC

Monday, January 20, 2014

The results are in: 134 total species!

A SPOTTED OWL found in the Pine Canyon section of the CBC! (photo K.Baeza)

The results are in:
A grand total of 62 participants broke into 30 parties throughout the day and logged an amazing 278.85 miles by foot, car, and boat to record the 134 species detected on the Atascosa Highlands CBC this year!  A breakdown of the stats below:

134 species
62 participants
30 parties
0 feeder watchers
156.25 foot hours
28.25 car hours
152.05 car miles
3 boat hours
1 boat mile

Total 187.5 hours
Total 278.85 miles (448.77km)

Two new bird species were added to the overall checklist; a Summer Tanager found in California Gulch and a Tree Swallow spied flying over Arivaca Lake.  17 new high counts were tallied for the following species (including 2 subspecies):

Species or ssp: new record / old record
Turkey Vulture 2 / 1
Eared Grebe 15 / 13
American Kestrel 40 / 29
Whiskered Screech Owl 11 / 6 (all-time record Ramsey Canyon with 14 in 1994)
Williamson’s Sapsucker 2 / 1
Vermilion Flycatcher 9 / 7
Plumbeous Vireo 4 / 2
Common Raven 106 / 103
Bewick’s Wren 333 / 263
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 17 / 16
Townsend’s Solitaire 79 / 68
Hermit Thrush 95 / 85
“Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warbler 5 / 3
Common Yellowthroat 9 / 4
Rufous-winged Sparrow 190 / 90
“Slate-colored” Junco 4 / 3
Northern Cardinal 105 / 99

Notable species:
Ferruginous Hawk – only seen 4 previous years
Western Flycatcher – only seen 1 previous year
Loggerhead Shrike – 40 ties the old record of 40
Cassin’s Vireo – only seen 5 previous years
Orange-crowned Warbler – 4 ties the old record of 4
Five-striped Sparrow – 5 old record 6

Like in many counts throughout the state numbers of sparrows were very low this year.  One of the major water areas, Arivaca Lake, had extremely low water levels.  A couple of groups also noted that waterfowl hunters were out en mass which doesn’t help the situation either and may explain why overall waterfowl numbers were down.  

Thanks to all those who were able to help with this count and see you next year!

Jake Mohlmann
Tucson, AZ
Atascosa Highlands CBC - compiler


Friday, December 20, 2013

Preparing for the CBC

As we continue to field some very welcome last-minute sign-ups for this Sunday's CBC, a serious compiler prepares for the assault on Arivaca Lake two days in advance by learning how to mount the Sheppards' canoe to the top of his truck.

Paul isn't able to take part on the CBC this year but is contributing in a big way by lending his canoe. And Jake is lending his truck to the team covering the lake. It remains to be seen if this year's team will do as well in covering that crucial reservoir with its many arms and branches. I don't think we have anything to worry about.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Atascosa Highlands CBC December 22, 2013 MARK YOUR CALENDARS

AHCBC led the country with 60 GRAY FLYCATCHERS seen during last year's count.

The Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count (AHCBC) will be held on December 22, 2013.  This date was chosen so it will not compete for participants with other Arizona CBCs.  The other 2 counts being held in Arizona on December 22nd are Hassayampa and Camp Verde, both of which are several hours away from southeast Arizona minimizing overlap.
Last year was a banner year for this count.  A record number of participants (74) established a record number of species (142)!  It's no coincidence that the more people that participate, the more birds that are found.  If you know anyone to recruit to help out this year please let me know.

Arizona held the high count record last year for 74 species (and 5 forms)!  The Matagorda County Mad Island Marsh Texas
--> CBC lead the nation for 'high-counts' with 17 species.  The Atascosa Highlands CBC came in close second place with 16 national high counts.  This CBC also was tied for a few of the high counts with other Arizona CBCs.
They are as follows:
Whiskered Screech-Owl 6 (tied with Patagonia)

Elegant Trogon 6

Hammond's Flycatcher 13 (tied with Patagonia)

Gray Flycatcher 60

Bridled Titmouse 307

Rock Wren 87

Canyon Wren 97

Louisiana Waterthrush 1 (tied with Patagonia)

Painted Redstart 11 (tied with Green Valley-Madera Canyon)

Hepatic Tanager 10

Canyon Towhee 141

Cassin's Sparrow 7 (tied with Ramsey Canyon)

Rufous-crowned Sparrow 167

Five-striped Sparrow 1

Chipping Sparrow 3381

Lincoln's Sparrow 254

You can see there's quite a number of exciting species to be seen in this circle.  If you would like to join us this year on December 22nd please email Jake Mohlmann (mohlmann2 AT yahoo.com) to sign up. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

142 Species – A New Record!

I've actually finished entering data, in record time. (Though I still have to enter it online.)

142 species (previous record was 139 in 2008)
11,777 individuals (5th highest)
74 participants (previous high was 68 in 2010)

It will be a couple months before I know how we ranked nationally with numbers of species, but we likely got the national high of Elegant Trogon (6) and Painted Redstart (11). We had low numbers of residents like Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Rock Wren, and Canyon Wren but are still likely to have the national high for those species as usual.

Here's our digibinned Elegant Trogon from Pine Canyon, the first we've had there in winter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Countdown Dinner Details

The exciting countdown tally, where we find out the total species count, will be held at Wisdom's Cafe in Tumacacori. Celeste Wisdom, the owner of this long-time establishment, is very birder-friendly and has been generous to set aside an area for us to hold the tally during a time of year that is always very busy for them.

They are located 3 miles south of Tubac and 1500 feet north of the Tumacacori Mission, on the east side of the road. Take the Tumacacori/Carmen exit and head north on the east side frontage road. This exit is just 9 minutes south of the Amado Exit for those covering the west side of the circle and escaping via Arivaca Road rather than the Ruby Road exit on I-19.

Their website is http://www.wisdomscafe.com, and you can see the menu there. They open at 5:00 p.m., so you can plan to show up any time after then.

I will try to arrive by 6:00 p.m. and will hold the tally as soon thereafter as possible, and then everyone can go home to get some rest.

2012 Area Assignments

As of today, we have a record high of 80 participants. And there's still room for a lot more.

Note: this was edited on 12/23 to show the final participant list

AZAH 2012 Area Assignments 

1. Bear Grass Tank and Murphy Canyon
Gavin Bieber

2. Jalisco and Apache Canyons
Rick Taylor
John Mitchell
Brian Nicholas
Deanna Mac Phail

3. Arivaca Lake and Chimney Canyon
Paul Sheppard
John Williams
Michael Lester

4. Oro Blanco Wash
Tim Helentjaris
Barbara Johnson
Lisa Turecek
Sue Feyrer

5. Warsaw and Holden Canyons
Sue Carnahan
Curtis Smith
Howard Buchanan
Laura Ellis

6. Cedar and Bartolo Canyons
Greg Greene
Vernie Aikins
Kimberly Aikins

7. Ruby and Papago Tanks
Jay Miller
Vicki Hire
Matt VanWallene

8. California Gulch
Reid Freeman
Richard Wilt
Jeff Gilligan

9. Corral Nuevo
Jennie MacFarland
Thomas Gaskill
James McKay

10. Upper Sycamore and Yanks Canyons
Richard Fray
Larry Morgan
Jenise Porter
David Beatty

11. Middle Sycamore and Peñasco Canyons
Brian Gibbons
Art Schaub
Meaghan Conway
Steven Foldi

12. Lower Sycamore and Tonto Canyons
John Reuland
Larry Langstaff
John Jung
Kendon Jung
Colin Jung

13. Pine Canyon to Hells Gate
Rich Hoyer
Yue Max Li
Kimberly Baeza

14. Atascosa Lookout

15. Bear Valley Ranch
Larry Liese
Sonja Ladouceur
Paul Suchanek

16. Rock Corral and Tinaja Canyons
Jake Mohlmann
Niki vonHedermann
Adam Walters

17. Peck Canyon Complex
Laurens Halsey

Scott Olmstead
Norma Miller
Cathy Beck
Jim Beck

18. Wise Mesa and Ramanote Canyon
Morgan Jackson
John Yerger
Matt Brown

19. Bellota Canyon
Erika Wilson
Elaine Emeigh
Leslie Hall

20. Peña Blanca Lake and Canyon
Ken Kertell
Fred Heath
Joan Lucas
Sharon Goldwasser
Beth Russell
Will Russell

21. Ruby Road East
Molly Pollock
Mark Stevenson
Diana Davis

22. Alamo Canyon
Sally Johnsen
Clark Blake
Jim Hays
Linda White

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some Modest Area Adjustments

Team and area assignments are pretty much settled, with adjustments here and there as we get new people and some drop out at the last minute.

As a result of our seeing how thoroughly burned the forest to Atascosa Lookout was (which is not on the peak of the same name, but rather at the end of a hiking trail), we changed the Wise Mesa area to include the mile of Ramanote Canyon above the end of the road. There's no one assigned to do Atascosa Lookout now, unless there are some serious birder/rock climber-types willing to do an area that has virtually zero chance of getting any unique species, and is into a pleasant hike with fabulous views or an challenging mountain climb to the top of Atascosa and Ramanote Peak. We can probably guarantee stunning views of White-throated Swift from the top.

We also gave some of Peña Blanca Canyon below the dam to Bellota Canyon area and gave Bellota Tank to Peña Blanca Lake area.

Now, to cover the circle thoroughly, we just need 200 more intrepid hiker-birders willing to scale canyons and fight acacia and mimosa thickets.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Any Water in Bear Grass Tank?

If anyone has the gumption to check out a seldom birded sector of the AZAH circle in advance of the Dec 22 CBC, please consider scouting Area 1 – Bear Grass Tank. It's a huge area, but birders have only covered the western half, where there is better access and more habitat diversity. It wasn't covered at all last year, due to shortage of participants, so it's possible not a single birder has been there since the Dec 31, 2010 CBC.

This is one of the few areas that has a chance for Abert's Towhee, Chihuahuan Raven, Scaled Quail, and – if there's water – a good selection of ducks and maybe a rare water bird. On our first scouting trip here in 2008 we found an Eastern Phoebe in the good riparian vegetation below the dam. The northern, lower elevation parts of the area should help boost our Rufous-winged Sparrow numbers, and in the southern parts of the area are the right kind of juniper woodlands that could host Western Scrub-Jay, Townsend's Solitaire, and Western or Mountain Bluebirds.

As compilers, Jake Mohlmann and I have the luxury of deciding where WE want to bird most on the count day. And every time we start talking about the virtues of any individual area of the circle, we start yearning to cover that area ourselves. It turns out there is no bum area here. All have little pockets of habitat, endless off-trail hiking possibilities, side canyons that have never been birded.

How many people we send into this area really does depend on the water situation, so if you do go birding here in the next 4 weeks or so, let us know what you find. A high clearance vehicle is recommended, and directions are on the map below.

~ Rich Hoyer

Two miles north of Arivaca, turn east onto Universal Ranch Road (right at mile marker 2). From here the road jogs south, then east, then makes a few dog legs to go around the north then east side of Twin Peaks. Note: this road is not on the 1981 7.5-minute topo map.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Atascosa Lookout: Burned to a Crisp

Jake and I did some scouting in the circle today. Neither of us had been to the lookout since the Murphy Complex burn in June 2011, so that was our main target.

But first we had to check out the White Rock Campground area just upstream from Peña Blanca Lake and whip out one of our secret weapons: bird seed. I searched for a good spot to spread a few pounds of mixed grass, red millet, and canola seed where birds would be visible from a short distance, yet close enough to cover that they would come down to the ground with a sense of safety. The location I chose was below the left side of the road (as you're headed west), under a thicket of hackberries, just as you reach the first pipe fence that extends east from the corral at the turnoff into the campground. We birded around here for a bit and discovered two of Atascosa Highland's winter specialties: Hepatic Tanager and Elegant Trogon. There were also lots of Chipping Sparrows, with a few other species, including Dark-eyed Juncos mixed in.

Then we did the hike up to the peak, stopping where there were still some trees. Much of the brush was gone, and most of the juniper-pinyon near the peak completely wiped out. Gone are the Crissal Thrashers and Western Scrub-Jays. Here's a view looking west towards Baboquivari Peak, with the nice woodland at the Sycamore Canyon trailhead just barely visible as a dark area at the far left-center part of the photo. This particular patch of burnt forest was good for wintering Townsend's Warbler and Scott's Oriole, but no longer.

This is up at the very peak looking northeast, with the Santa Rita Mountains in the distance at the far right. The biggest peak on the left is Atascosa Peak, and the sharp one just right of center is Ramanote Peak, both of which are in the circle. Before the fire, the close ridge low center was a dense, impenetrable thicket of manzanita, silktassle, mimosa, oak, pinyon, and juniper. Now it is mostly grassland.

The main advantage of the trail is no longer the forest at the top, but it still offers the best access to the upper reaches of Ramanote and Bellota Canyons. I'm hoping this year someone will want to cover these, getting dropped off here and hiking down the canyons to meet up with the crews driving up from below who are covering the lower stretches at the eastern perimeter of the circle. Let me know if you're into such a hike, and I can give some GPS coordinates or even a route.