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Monday, March 24, 2014

Next Generation

Hummingbirds are one of my favorite birds to watch and this has been a banner year so far. I stepped outside my front door and was able to get this picture because the mother bird is used to having me around and doesn't seem to mind my presence. I will watch these (two, one not visible) over the next couple of weeks to see how they are doing. 


Fledged Today

As I suspected the nestlings in the Palo Verde in the front of the house have begun to abandon the nest that has been their home for the last few weeks. The mother has really done an excellent job caring for her two offspring with a well built and well placed nest that has held together through a couple of very windy days, one accompanied by rain. The main solidifying ingredient in a hummingbirds nest is the spider webs that hold the nest together and also attach it to the tree or shrub where it is located.


This is the first fledgling to actually leave this nest. The other one is still in the nest but is displaying signs of being ready to vacate very soon. It's was on 3/10/14 that I spotted the first beak sticking up out of this nest, so just a little over two weeks for this remarkable transition.


After leaving the nest the fledgling has taken up residence in a nearby Texas Ranger where the mother continues to feed it for as many as a few days before it must make it's way in the world on it's own. I expect that the other one will find it's way to the same location very soon, perhaps some time today.


Not quite ready to make the leap this one is sitting on the side of the nest and exercising it's wings and waiting to be fed. Once it leaves the nest none of the family will return to the nest. As a side note the male does not participate in the building of the nest or the raising of the chicks or any of the care or training. All the work is left to the female who drives all other hummingbirds away if they approach anywhere near the nest.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Museums, Hummingbirds, and Photography

                                                    ART AND THE ANIMAL EXHIBIT

It's been quite some time since I last sat down at the computer to write about life here in the Sonoran Desert. There's not really a good reason for my absence other than to say I felt like I needed a break from the blog and I wanted to get involved in something new. Knowing that at some point I would return to the pages of Sonoran Connection I have concentrated on improving my photography, volunteering, and just plain enjoying life here in the desert.
In August 2013 I began volunteering at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Art Institute in the Ironwood Gallery.  I chose the gallery because it would afford me the opportunity to meet and work with people involved in educating others about the Sonoran Desert. I am filling a number of roles as a volunteer including assisting with the set up of new exhibits which I enjoy  immensely, working the Sunday morning shift as a gallery attendant and as luck would have I have been tapped to photograph the galleries exhibits and museum events. The current exhibit is "Art and the Animal" which is a traveling around the country from Vermont to Georgia. Art and the Animal is a project of the Society of Animal Artists and you can read more about them here: http://www.societyofanimalartists.com/info.html Also as part of my work with the gallery I have been involved with a project of "The Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program" whose mission is to promote and preserve botanical illustrations of the Sonoran Desert region. You can find the project at www.sonorandesertflorilegium.org .

One of the benefits of volunteering at the Desert Museum is that every Sunday before my gallery shift I get to walk the grounds with my camera. For those of you unfamiliar with the museum it is a world class facility that includes a zoo, botanical gardens, art gallery, educational facilities, an aquarium, as well as aviaries and research projects. Currently I am working on a portfolio of photo's exclusively from the museum including animals, birds, and plants.

HUMMINGBIRDS

                                          Not quite fledged from the first nest of the season

Another project that I enjoy takes place right here at the house. It is my hummingbird feeding stations that I keep on both sides of the house. In early January I spotted my first nest in the oleander near the carport. The nest could be easily observed from inside the house so I was able to watch as the Black-chinned female fussed over the construction, laid her two eggs, fed and raised them and finally as they fledged. The two little ones hung around for a while before moving on to their new unknown territories.
At the present time I have two more active nests close to the house. One is located in an oleander on the opposite side of the house near the front door and the other is located in a Palo Verde tree on the west side of the house. Right now I feel bad for the two Mom's who are sitting on their nests riding out a rain and wind storm that just blew in. We are going to have rain on and off for the next 24 hours so I'm hoping that the day is not to hard on them. Sometimes nature is very difficult to watch but my guess is they will be alright.
I wanted to mention that if you are planning to provide feeders for the hummingbirds please don't use the commercial red food dyed mixes you see everywhere. They are not healthy for the hummers who should be fed a clear 4 parts water 1 part sugar mix that is changed out every two or three days. I boil my mixture for a couple of minutes and let it cool to room temperature before bringing in the feeders and cleaning them with Dawn and hot water.

                                                                       Fledged

It's important to note that the weather here has been for the most part very warm and everything seems to be early including nesting activities. I'm not actually sure just how many hummers there are here in the yard as it varies from a few to as many as 8 or 9 at a time. The most likely visitors are Anna's, Costa's Black-chinned, as well as an occasional Magnificent and Rufous. Some stay for extended periods and some are migrants. All in all it's quite active and extremely entertaining.

UPDATE 3/10/14
It's been a seemingly endless wait but just now I spotted the mother feeding at least one newborn chick in the nest located in the Palo Verde tree out front. Yesterday was an unusually windy day and I worried that the nests could be disrupted at a critical time but I see no evidence that this was the case. Hummingbird nests are fortified with spider webs which is one of the reasons our yard is so popular  We do not use pesticides so there is lots of this critical building material readily available.
I also witnessed the other mom defending her nest from a sparrow that landed too close. She confronted the sparrow repeatedly darting in and making contact with her beak and at one point she knocked the sparrow to the ground. That would be like a person confronting a bear and winning.
I'll post a picture as soon as I feel comfortable getting close enough to the nest. The females are used to my presence in and around their territories but I try not to intrude too often.

UPDATE 3/14/14
I spotted for the first time today a second little black bill sticking up out of the nest in the Palo Verde. This makes 4 chicks so far this season. The nest in the oleander is still active but no sign of hatchlings.

UPDATE 3/22/14
We now have at least one nestling in the nest in the oleander as I saw the mother feeding a youngster. Sometimes the eggs hatch several days apart so as soon as I know for sure that there are two in the nest I will report that here. The two in the Palo Verde are approaching fledgeling stage and I expect that it won't be too long before they leave the nest. There is nothing more satisfying than having a hummingbird land on a feeder while it's still in your hand which happens a lot to me as I change the liquid every 2 or 3 days.

UPDATE 3/23/14 Definitely two in the nest in the oleander out front.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Broad-tailed Hummingbird


I went to  the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum this morning to look into doing some volunteer work and while I was there I spent half an hour in the hummingbird aviary. It happened to be pretty quiet at the time which is when it's the most enjoyable for me and the birds I'm sure. This Broad-tailed Hummingbird was pretty active allowing me to get fairly close but chasing away the Costa's when ever they ventured too close.


This photograph does really good job of showing all the identifying characteristics. As you can see this little guy has been banded on his left leg. For this species more than 2/3rd's of Arizona is in it's summer or breeding range. More information on the Broad-tailed Hummingbird can be found at: http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/221/overview/Broad-tailed_Hummingbird.aspx

Wilson's Phalaropes and Rufous Hummingbird


We had to deliver an order of Nancy's handmade soaps to Apple Annie's Country Store in Willcox Az. which is about 100 mile drive one way so when we go I make sure to get a piece of apple pie and make a stop at Twin Lakes to check out the wading birds before heading home. I did a little exploring while at Twin Lakes which is more like a couple of ponds (one fairly large and one not so big) and checked out the two blinds on the large pond and an overlook that looks fairly new on the smaller pond. Clearly this place is set up to encourage birding and I always see plenty of wader's like Stilt's and Avocet's. On this trip however the big lake was loaded with Wilson's Phalaropes, perhaps a hundred or more. Because there is absolutely no cover around the big pond it was hard to get any decent pictures except for landscapes. As you can see it was a beautiful morning and I wish I could have spent more time there. You can find more information on Wilson's Phalarope at: http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/520/overview/Wilsons_Phalarope.aspx

Also this week I had my first visit of the season from a Rufous Hummingbird at my feeder in Tucson. I see Rufous several times each migration and have had them stay in the yard for weeks on occasion but this was just a couple of days and I haven't seen her for a couple of days now. Rufous migrate from as far away as Alaska and generally from the northwestern US. Read more about Rufous Hummingbirds at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/rufous_hummingbird/lifehistory

Monday, July 22, 2013

In The Presence of Buffalo by Dan Brister

Working To Stop The Yellowstone Slaughter


I just completed reading Dan Brister's new book and I have to say in all my sixty-four years I have never read a more moving and educational offering on the treatment of the Yellowstone buffalo. Dan takes you through the brutal history of the cattle industry in Montana and his own 15 year journey dedicated to stopping the slaughter of buffalo that wander to their ancestral lands across the border into Montana from Yellowstone National Park. His commitment to the buffalo and the commitment of many others who volunteer at The Buffalo Field Campaign shines a light on the abhorrent treatment endured by the buffalo at the hands of the Montana Department of Livestock, National Park Service and the State of Montana.
I have followed this tragedy since the late nineties when the Interagency Bison Management Plan was still in the talking stages and was one of the original commenter's siding with the buffalo who under the plan finalized in 2000 had no good options for the buffalo. Dan's and the Buffalo Field Campaign's story is an inspiration to all of us who cherish wild creatures and shows that we can stand up against those who would destroy them. If this book doesn't move you to take action, nothing will. Perhaps the truth will set the Yellowstone buffalo free.

In The Presence Of Buffalo by Dan Brister can be purchased at

http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/media/update1213/070513.html

Proceeds go directly to The Buffalo Field Campaign

Note: I sent a copy of Dan's book to the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell with the follwing letter attached.


Secretary of the Interior Jewell                                                        8/2/2013
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street N.W.
Washington D.C. 20240


Dear Secretary Jewell,

I am writing to today both to congratulate you on becoming Secretary of the Interior and to make you aware of the mistreatment of the Yellowstone buffalo at the hands of the Montana Department of Livestock, the State of Montana, and the National Park Service.
The mistreatment of the only remaining wild bison herd in the United States under the terms of the Interagency Bison Management Plan is nothing short of a stain on the good name of the National Park Service which is tasked by the American people to protect all park resources including the buffalo of Yellowstone. Under the IBMP the buffalo are hazed and run for miles, shot, trapped and slaughtered to keep them from their ancestral grounds in Montana because of a non-existent threat of disease. While the enemies of the buffalo will tell you that it’s because of brucellosis their real motivation is grazing rights and to illustrate this point elk contaminated with brucellosis are allowed to freely move back and forth into Montana.
I have enclosed a copy of Dan Brister’s book In The Presence of Buffalo, Working to Stop the Yellowstone Slaughter which I sincerely hope you will read as it lays out the misery that the buffalo of Yellowstone National Park have endured for more than fifteen years.


Regards



Ray Goodwin
Tucson Arizona 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Super Moon Over Kitt Peak National Observatory


Kitt Peak National Observatory is located 56 miles southwest of Tucson Arizona in the Quinlan Mountains. I live more than 50 miles away from the observatory but I can see it from where I live. Kitt Peak is home to the worlds largest collection of telescopes including the Mayall 4 meter telescope and the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.


McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope

I have made several trips to Kitt Peak for the amazing views and to be able to check out the telescopes and one of my favorite things to do while I am there is visit the observation deck of the Mayall telescope which is open to the public and affords a 360 degree views of the surrounding Sonoran Desert.


I highly recommend that if you are in the area you take a trip to the observatory. You can access a virtual tour of Kitt Peak National Observatory at: http://www.noao.edu/outreach/kptour/. The entire trip from Tucson can be done in 5 or 6 hours and I recommend you take a picnic lunch and be prepared to see some spectacular scenery as well some very fascinating science.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Arizona- Sonora Desert Museums Newest Resident




Presently 6 1/2 months old this male was rescued in San Jose, California weighing only 15 pounds. The Desert Museum has provided the following information on it's new resident: http://www.desertmuseum.org/ml/background.php

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bird Watching at Cochise Lakes Willcox Arizona


We took a ride out to Willcox Arizona on business and to get a piece of apple pie alamode at Apple Annie's new country store and decided to make a quick stop at Twin Lakes to check out the birds. I've only been here a couple of times but each time there were plenty of birds to see. Black-necked Stilts were in abundance, perhaps 30 or 40 in all. According to the maps in Sibley stilts summer in a small area of south eastern Arizona and migrate throughout the state. I have seen many here in Tucson at Sweetwater Wetlands. Check out Black-necked Stilts at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-necked_Stilt/id



There were Kildeers and what looked like plovers but the lighting was very difficult so I can't be sure of an I.D. Also spotted a single White-faced Ibis feeding along the sand bar which can be seen in the photo below. Information on Kildeers: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/killdeer/id


The following is a description of the area by the Southern Arizona Birding Organization.

"At the northern end of the valley, on the east side of the city of Willcox, is Cochise Lakes (a.k.a. Twin Lakes) a pair of effluent ponds adjacent to the municipal golf course on the east side of the city of Willcox. These ponds, ranging from shallow and ephemeral to deep enough for grebes and diving ducks, provide habitat for a variety of migrant and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. The ponds are deep enough to support diving species such as Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Common Merganser, and Western and Clark's Grebe. In winter, Sandhill Cranes can sometimes be seen loafing in the grasslands nearby in the afternoons. This is a very popular birding stop from August through May, but be aware that the route around the lakes is not paved and is treacherous when wet. The city of Willcox has recently begun to develop visitor access to this site; please sign in at the visitor register at the entrance.


As you can see the town has provided blinds for close up watching. The birds on the island are mostly American Avocets which also summer in a small area of southeastern Arizona. Read about American Avocets at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Avocet/id

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Female Costa's Hummingbird Building Nest

It's been a busy week here in my Sonoran Desert yard. Some of you may already know that I live on the border of Tucson Mountain Park in Tucson Az. not far from Saguaro National Park West. It's been above 100 degrees here all week so I get outside around 6 A.M. to do my yard work and make sure that water is available for all my daily visitors. First I make sure that the bird bath which is placed on the ground is clean and filled. If it's starting to grow things I use bleach and a tooth brush to scrub it and then I rinse it exceptionally well before filling. Because we get so little rain this time of year I have a varied and a sometimes unusual parade of visitors hoping for a drink. As you can clearly see I live in a residential area that was carved out of the desert many years before I arrived here in Tucson. Nearness to the park puts us in a locale that has close proximity to wildlife so visitors like these Mule Deer while not the norm pay us an occasional visit. Today promises to be 106 degrees maybe more so it will be important to keep the water filled. I usually change it 3 or 4 times a day as needed.


It has been an unusual season for Diamondback Rattlesnakes having encountered two here in the yard and one at the Desert Museum. The two in the yard were very young perhaps from the same hatch so I suspect that their might be a den somewhere nearby. Young rattlesnakes can travel up to a mile from their den and adults up to three miles in search of food.
Gambel Quails have been visiting the watering hole for a couple of months in pairs and family groups and only rarely solitary individuals. This week they have started showing up with the tiniest of chicks in tow. I have seen 2, 3 and 7 chicks in different family coveys.
We have the usual assortment of Mourning and White Winged Doves, House Finches, English Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, Goldfinches, Verdins, Northern Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Gila Woodpeckers with occasional visits from Phyrraloxia, Phainopepla, Hooded Oriole, Bullocks Orioles, Cottontail Rabbits, assorted Lizards and a very disruptive Coopers Hawk. My favorite visitors are however the hummingbirds.


At this very moment a female Costa's is building a nest outside my workroom window. Females are really hard to identify and I have spent the last couple of days trying to decide if she was a Costa's or a Black-chinned. I finally concluded she was a Costa's for two reasons. She has faint spotting on her breast and there is a male Costa's hanging around who is not being aggressive towards her. Males are very aggressive toward any other hummingbird that is in their territory. There is a daily battle raging as other hummers try to get a drink at the feeders.
 Here in Arizona there are 17 different hummingbirds. Some are rare and localized and some are common depending on the time of year. So far I have managed to see 8 different varieties including a Blue-throated Hummingbird in Patagonia. There are at least five different hummers who frequent my three feeders here at the house and I have seen two other attempts to nest in the yard but both were unsuccessful due to high winds. Hopefully this time i will get to watch the entire process from nest building to egg laying and hatching and finally fledging. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Note: Sadly the hummingbird nest was abandoned with two tiny eggs after several days of temps above 105 degrees. Mama spent all day each day sitting in the sun keeping the eggs shaded but I suspect that it was too much for her as she just disappeared. It's possible that some other harm befell her but I will never really know for sure. Of the three attempts that I have witnessed of hummers nesting in the Oleanders all three have failed. I am beginning to wonder if Oleanders are unsuitable nesting sites perhaps because as they bloom they sag under the weight of the blossoms exposing the the nests to the elements.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery 15 Years


Each and everyday my inbox is filled with both good news and bad news from environmental organizations. More often than not though when it comes to wolves the news is bad. Genetics, poaching, and outright hostility by some segments of the cattle industry and their supporter's still plague wolf populations around the country. Recently wolves in some states have been subjected to hunting once again after being de-listed by the Interior Department resulting in the slaughter of over 1100 wolves. An effort is underway by those who care little about the improvements that wolves bring to the ecology to undo all the efforts made to return a healthy wolf population to the lower 48. It still breaks my heart to think about the destruction of Yellowstone's Cottonwood Pack on a mid October morning in 2009 just outside Yellowstone National Park where thousands of people visit each year to see these magnificent animals roaming free and where the environment is recovering thanks to their presence.

Today is the 15th anniversary of the effort to reintroduce the Mexican Gray Wolf, a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, to Arizona and New Mexico. Unfortunately there is still much to be done if we are to save this "most endangered" wolf from extinction. As a supporter of wolf reintroduction the news that there are now 75 Gray Wolves in the wild on the surface is good news but underlying that fact is that all 75 animals are descended from just seven animals. With a genetic pool this shallow the Mexican Gray Wolf is as endangered today as it was when the program started 15 years ago. With only three breeding pairs in the wild much more needs to be done to ensure the survival of the species. Along with genetics, poaching also continues to be a major problem for the program in-spite of huge rewards offered for the capture of those responsible for the deaths of protected Mexican Grays. I was unable to embed video that I took at the Desert Museum of one of the female Mexican Gray Wolves housed there but have added a link to Howling For Justice that has some excellent information on these animals as well as some stunning video that everyone interested in wolves should see.
 http://howlingforjustice.wordpress.com/category/mexican-gray-wolf/

Also in my inbox this morning was this plan from Defenders of Wildlife that prods the US Fish and Wildlife Service to release more wolves to address the genetic instability among the Mexican Grays and to improve their overall chance for survival. It sounds like a very good start.


In order to move Mexican gray wolves back from the edge of extinction, Defenders has created a three-point emergency rescue plan:


1 Release more captive wolves into the wild in order to address the genetic problem. The wolves to be released must be the right wolves genetically, and the releases need to be the first step in a more rigorous genetic improvement plan.
2 Complete a scientifically sound recovery plan. USFWS must complete this essential road map to recovery, and then implement it.
3 Establish at least two additional core wolf populations — and do so right away. Additional core populations of Mexican gray wolves will allow them to expand and give them a better chance for long-term survival.
On a further note from Defenders the message is clear.
Time is not on the Mexican Gray Wolf's side, but there is still hope if we act today. Wildlife lovers like you have helped bring back the peregrine falcon, the grizzly bear and a host of other endangered wildlife back from the brink. With the right energy and focus, Mexican gray wolves can join the list of species that have become conservation success stories.

I also received an e-mail from the Arizona Fish and Game Department today about the effort to have Mexican Gray Wolves de-listed ostensibly so that the state can take over the reintroduction effort. I strongly object to any de-listing effort as the State of Arizona Conservation Commission is controlled by hunting interests including a member with ties to Safari International. While the people of Arizona usually speak loudly and clearly for protecting the natural heritage of the state, elected officials record on the other hand has not always in the best interests of conservation.
Wolves Belong here in Arizona and deserve the protection afforded them by the Endangered Species Act.

For the wolves,

Ray






                                   

Monday, March 11, 2013

Predators Balance Nature

 MOUNTAIN LION 


When large predators are removed from the environment negative consequences follow such as deer and elk populations exploding. This is then followed by over browsing of plants, which can cause streams to erode and populations of plants, birds, animals, fish, insects, and amphibians to dwindle with some vanishing forever. Take wolves from the environment and coyotes proliferate reducing populations of rabbits and hares. At the same time deer and elk herds grow beyond the ability of the forest to sustain them. Trees and shrubs are unable to reproduce adequately due to over browsing and some vanish from the landscape. Habitat that supports birds and insects is lost and their numbers plummet. By removing wolves from the environment a chain reaction is put into play that is the beginning of a major ecological degradation.
 Here in the west wolves, mountain lions, bears and eagles were hunted almost to extinction to make room for domestic cattle and sheep. Unable to comprehend the contribution of large predators to the ecology bounties placed on predators almost completely removed wolves from the lower 48 including our public lands. Today wolf reintroduction programs are seriously impacted by those who misunderstand the role that these predators play in the health of the environment.
 Recently protections for wolves have been removed by the Interior Department allowing them to be slaughtered by the hundreds in the Northern Rockies and I believe they will try to remove protections from almost all wolves across the country before Secretary Salazar leaves the agency once again leaving wolves to be leg trapped and shot back to the brink of extinction.
Mountain Lions are being killed in South Dakota, Wolves in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Minnesota are being killed at an alarming rate (0ver 1000) since August 2012. Threats to these animals include hunting, habitat loss and poaching.



                                                             MEXICAN GRAY WOLF

Even though the Mexican Gray Wolf has been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1976 twenty of the animals released along the Arizona/New Mexico Border have been killed. Currently there are only 58 Mexican Grays in the wild making them the most endangered mammal in the country.
 Around the world thousands of species are either extinct or endangered due almost exclusively to the activities of humans. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was approved by Congress with the force of law aimed at protecting plants and animals that are in danger of extinction. Today we still have great challenges including legislators on the right that try to weaken and even end protections for our most vulnerable species based on politics with little or no regard for science. Clearly this assault from politicians is driven by campaign cash and unfortunately ignorance. Senator Orrin Hatch has introduced  a bill that would remove protections from all wolves allowing them to be slaughtered throughout the entire country including in Arizona/New Mexico where reintroduction efforts would be devastated and the Mexican Gray Wolf would disappear from the landscape forever.




Wolves and Mountain Lions provide a natural and necessary function in nature. We made the mistake of removing them in the past and our ecology suffered enormously. Now with the science clearly showing how these animals help an ailing landscape forces are poised to repeat the tragic mistakes of the past. If this battle is lost then hundreds if not thousands of other efforts will fail along with it. We must prevail in our efforts to save these remarkable animals or suffer grave consequences.