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, 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.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Viewing The CBC Circle On Your Smart Phone!

This is really cool, but it only works if:

1. You have a Google account (free, easy)

2. You have a smart phone, like an iPhone (easy, but no so free)


3. You have a cell phone signal. (Good luck in most of the Atascosa Highlands...)

But if you meet these conditions, you can go online and see the edge of this CBC circle in You need the following link to navigate to the public map with the circle that I created in my own Google "My places" account, but you need to click on it from within your smart phone. So if you're at your laptop or desktop, copy this link and paste it in an email to yourself. Open that email on your phone and click on the link.

If you're not logged into your Google account, do so.

Add this to your maps by saving to "My places."

Let me know how this works and if I need to add any information.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rock Corral Canyon: Area 16

Alas, Chris McCreedy won't be here to do his magic on Rock Corral this year. Looking for a rugged  hiker with 4X4, willingness to scramble up slopes, pish his or her brain out, and scour this subtropical paradise.

See my blogpost about my recent TAS field trip here:

I was also told that if you google "rock corral canyon," my initial blog about this amazing canyon is one of the top hits.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The CBC is Free

It has been announced by the National Audubon Society that there is no longer a $5 fee for participating in the Christmas Bird Count. Results from a survey showed that there wasn't enough support to continue the expensive print journal every year, so they are discontinuing that and having the summary available electronically. There is still a significant cost in administration and paying for the online services, so donations are encouraged. A PDF with the full announcement can be found at their website here.

One less excuse to not participate!

If results from our scouting are any clue, the Atascosa Highlands CBC (abbreviation: AZAH) won't have any trouble finding this SE Arizona specialty, Rufous-winged Sparrow (above). It used to be a rarity in the circle, but in 2009 we led the nation with 90! Last year a respectable 42 were reported. How many will we see this year?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Area Profile: Peña Blanca Lake

In an ongoing effort to get to know the Atascosa Highlands CBC circle better, Jake and I did a bit of exploring below the dam at Peña Blanca Lake yesterday (after twitching the continuing Philadelphia Vireo). The lake itself is already well known, perhaps the most birded location in the entire circle. But what lies beyond the dam is still unknown to most birders.

Reaching the dam via trail is easy, and the birding is good. We saw tons of Lincoln's Sparrows, a Blue Grosbeak, and a lot of migrating/staging Cassin's Kingbirds. But once you look over the edge of the spillway, you’ll be wondering how to get down into canyon and check the mouth-watering habitat below.

There’s actually a trail that drops down along the edge of the dam proper, and California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum) was blooming all down the slope of the dam. Anna’s Hummingbirds were in attendance, but I doubt there’ll still be blooms 8 weeks and 3 days from now…any hummingbird is hard to get on this CBC. Maybe we should put up some feeders a week or two before the CBC. Hmmm…

In the concrete slab of the side of the dam was this gathering of Chestnut Paper Wasps, Polistes major castaneicolor.

The habitat in the canyon bottom is nice, even with some flowing water. Maybe some day it will have a Green Kingfisher or something else more exotic. It certainly looks good for Elegant Trogon and Painted Redstart. We did have a couple Black-throated Gray Warblers here.

It’s also a rather scenic stretch of canyon.

We reached a point where the hillsides opened up, and the canyon became drier. But on the more protected slopes was a good oak woodland where I predicted we might find wintering Hepatic Tanager. After a few minutes of pishing and owl imitations, Jake spotted a silent female right on cue. A couple of Lawrence’s Goldfinches also flew in, but not close enough to see well. I’ve had Whiskered Screech-Owl in such habitat respond vocally to my imitations during the daytime, something to keep in mind.

On the return, rather than taking the trail along the lakeshore, we took the circuitous road that leads from the dam to the upper slopes and in 1.3 miles back to the boat ramp parking area through the dredge spoils. It’s good for upland sparrows – we had Black-throated and Grasshopper Sparrows here, and I presume using playback in winter might yield Cassin’s Sparrow.

Jake spotted this Rainbow Grasshopper, Dactylotum bicolor on the road on our way back.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This Year's CBC: Saturday, Dec 22, 2012

We're gearing up for an exciting day of birding in Arizona's most rugged, wild, and scenic Christmas Bird Count Circle. In recent years we've had the highest number of birders on any Arizona CBC, placed in the top five for number of species, and have even been in the top 5 nationwide for the number of species with high counts. Hands down we'll snag the highest counts for Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Canyon Towhee, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. But last year we got only one more Montezuma Quail than the Davis Mountains CBC. Will the Montezuma Quail numbers have rebounded? What additional species will we have as the national high this year? What will the volatile numbers of wintering sparrows do? What oddities will be found lurking in the deep canyons, on the few bodies of water, or up high in the only Chihuahuan Pine forest in Pine Canyon?

Sign up with Rich Hoyer or Jake Mohlmann.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Count Totals for Jan 2, 2012 and Next Year's Date

Below is the species list and count from the January 2, 2012 Atascosa Highlands CBC.

133 species (4th highest total since 1960)
10017 individuals
54 participants

Thanks to everyone for their efforts.

The date for next year's count: Saturday, December 22, 2012. See you then!

Wood Duck 1
Gadwall 63
American Wigeon 5
Mallard 15
Blue-winged Teal 1
Cinnamon Teal 1
Northern Shoveler 29
Northern Pintail 6
Green-winged Teal 65
Ring-necked Duck 70
Lesser Scaup 2
Bufflehead 7
Hooded Merganser 2
Ruddy Duck 122
Gambel's Quail 19
Montezuma Quail 2
Least Grebe 14
Pied-billed Grebe 17
Eared Grebe 3
Western Grebe 1
Great Blue Heron 8
Great Egret 1
Green Heron 1
Black Vulture 10
Turkey Vulture 1
Northern Harrier 10
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4
Cooper's Hawk 7
Accipiter sp. 1
Red-tailed Hawk 39
Golden Eagle 8
American Kestrel 18
Merlin 2
Peregrine Falcon 3
Prairie Falcon 4
Sora 1
American Coot 521
Killdeer 4
Wilson's Snipe 3
White-winged Dove 10
Mourning Dove 606
Inca Dove 6
Common Ground-Dove 45
Greater Roadrunner 2
Northern Pygmy-Owl 1
Common Poorwill 4
Anna's Hummingbird 1
Elegant Trogon 3
Belted Kingfisher 2
Acorn Woodpecker 17
Gila Woodpecker 46
Red-naped Sapsucker 46
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 53
Arizona Woodpecker 11
Northern Flicker 65
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 1
Hammond's Flycatcher 2
Gray Flycatcher 32
Dusky Flycatcher 1
Dusky/Hammond's Flycatcher 1
Black Phoebe 45
Say's Phoebe 26
Vermilion Flycatcher 3
Ash-throated Flycatcher 5
Loggerhead Shrike 12
Hutton's Vireo 13
Mexican Jay 155
Chihuahuan Raven 2
Common Raven 92
raven sp. 14
Bridled Titmouse 96
Verdin 50
Bushtit 97
White-breasted Nuthatch 6
Cactus Wren 6
Rock Wren 68
Canyon Wren 47
Bewick's Wren 125
House Wren 28
Marsh Wren 10
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 194
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 5
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 19
Eastern Bluebird 49
Western Bluebird 231
Mountain Bluebird 20
bluebird sp. 7
Townsend's Solitaire 12
Hermit Thrush 23
American Robin 17
Northern Mockingbird 13
Sage Thrasher 1
Curve-billed Thrasher 2
Crissal Thrasher 2
American Pipit 1
Phainopepla 8
Olive Warbler 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 35
Black-throated Gray Warbler 2
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 4
Painted Redstart 5
Green-tailed Towhee 105
Spotted Towhee 88
Canyon Towhee 139
Abert's Towhee 1
Rufous-winged Sparrow 42
Cassin's Sparrow 3
Rufous-crowned Sparrow 167
Chipping Sparrow 1630
Brewer's Sparrow 662
Black-chinned Sparrow 23
Vesper Sparrow 589
Lark Sparrow 347
Black-throated Sparrow 136
Lark Bunting 138
Savannah Sparrow 56
Grasshopper Sparrow 19
Baird's Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 19
Lincoln's Sparrow 95
White-crowned Sparrow 1480
Dark-eyed Junco 101
Yellow-eyed Junco 1
Northern Cardinal 99
Pyrrhuloxia 57
Black-headed Grosbeak 1
Blue Grosbeak 1
Eastern Meadowlark 30
Western Meadowlark 37
meadowlark sp. 24
Great-tailed Grackle 1
Hooded Oriole 1
House Finch 280
Pine Siskin 1
Lesser Goldfinch 36
Lawrence's Goldfinch 8