Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Wrenegades Awaken

Pic courtesy of Sara Pike
Each year, I tell myself I'm not going to do it again.  And then I do:) Why? I like the crowd.  I like the challenge.  Raising money for Tucson Audubon is a good thing especially when our current US administration is cutting funding back for many of our conservation programs around the US. 

Tim's secret plans
Each one of us is in charge of something on this 24 hour crazy-thon.  We go a full day straight looking for birds in Southern Arizona.  Tim is our excellent organizer and planner.  Every bird hotspot is carefully chosen with a timed response.  This means we have to find as many birds as we can in our window timeframe. Then we are whisked away by our drivers Sara, Matt and Tim.  

Copulating Killdeer
 I am the documentation guy.  I ebird every hotspot conscious or not:)  I keep the lists and photos of our journey for our donors.  After it's all over, we process the data and pics so that the group can send their supporters all the highlights and fun from our treks.  

Long-billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers

But I have to admit.  There are some spots I love more than others.  I love Willcox, AZ.  I love that after our search we stop at the Mexican restaurant to grab something to eat.  It's essentially the calm before the storm.  

American Avocet
 I love owling with the crew on Mt. Lemmon.  I don't like birding alone in the dark.  And you'd be surprised by how many random cars we see at night around 3 in the morning.  It's hard to see who is in the car since the windows are all fogged up:)

Scaled Quail
This year our team made some interesting discoveries.  At Cochise Lake, we found 4 Western Grebes.  I haven't seen these birds here before so it was an interesting observation. Also at Cochise Lake, we discovered, for the AZ birding crowd, a cute little Snowy Plover.  

But a big surprise was about to happen during our night out on Mt. Lemmon.  Our team has suspected for a long time that we had been hearing Northern Saw-whet Owls near Summerhaven over the past couple years.  We just never had visual confirmation.  Until now.  

A new bird to my Pima County list! Northern Saw-whet Owl
 Thanks in part from a tip by Brian Nicholas, a Tucson birder and really great guy, we went to an area near his coordinates.  Almost immediately, we heard a high whinny call that was NOT a Northern Pygmy Owl.  We knew we had a different and very rare owl on the mountain.  Any sleepy thoughts I had were quickly erased as I became super alert.  While the group was excited by the discovery, Matt and I grabbed the spotlight and flashed it up to where the call was being made.....and my camera got one shot and that was it. For Matt, it was a lifer.  For me, it was a significant discovery that will now lead me into a new investigation.  Is there a tiny population that breeds up there?  OR are they migrating through the area?  This bird alone made the trek worthwhile.  

But the fun didn't stop.  At dawn, the bird chorus on the mountain is overwhelming.  It began at around 4:30 AM and continued for 30 or 40 minutes.  One call in particular lead us to this hard to photograph warbler, the Virginia's Warbler.  For the first time in 6 years, I was able to get long and satisfying looks at this normally secretive warbler. This is one of my favorite pics from our trek. 

Virginia's Warbler
 As we continued throughout the morning, I began to get more tired.  It was cold and then it wasn't.  In fact, it got nasty hot.  And I hate birding in the heat.  But when doing a birdathon, birders have to keep going. 

Western Wood Pewee
 And we did.  The heat began to get closer to 100 degrees and my body was not having it.  

Hermit Warbler
At one point, I nearly passed out.  I couldn't do it anymore.  We were at the DeAnza trail in Tubac when I lost the energy to bird.  

the Davis Pasture in the Cienagas Grasslands-pic by Matt Griffiths

While Matt, Jennie, Sara, Corey and Tim kept hiking the 90 degree, chigger sensational DeAnza trail, I sat in the park under the ramada and counted birds.  I am, after all, a mere mortal.  I should have taken two days off instead of one but finals have arrived and students need their teacher for support.  

Matt, Jennie, Sara, Corey, Tim and me in the back

By the end of the day, I acquired new information that I can now use for my own research.  The team was exhausted but we did it. And it felt good. Not only did we raise several thousands of dollars, we broke our old record and surpassed our 180 bird species goal in a 24 hour time period with 182 birds.  I really like these people a lot.  

 We cross paths throughout the year but really only bird on these two days together each year as a team.  It's a tradition that I hope we keep going every year.  If you'd like to track that tradition, here are some links to our past searches and how we've grown as a team. 
 2014-Blur  2015-Veni, Vidi,Vici 
 2016-Return of the Wrenegades

And as a side note, I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention how Tim is always attacked by some wild mammal. One year it was a rabid skunk.  And while not wild, this year it was a mother cow.  Good times!  Until next week:)


  1. Sounds a fun, if tiring day, and all for a good cause. Great post and photos Chris. I have never taken part in a bird race so it was interesting again to follow your adventures and read about your sightings :)

    1. It was fun. Lots of great birds out and about. I wonder what it would be like to do a big day in your neck of the woods:)

  2. The deepest I get into me garden horticulture, biodiversity, the more
    trascendental learning/knowing about birds become. Your blog is always a stimulating shot of energy. Thanks!

    1. Hello there!!! Thanks for stopping by! Great to hear from you. The garden is what got me into birds. It connected the dots for me. And's plants and birds:)

  3. successful birdwatching day! hope it was joyful adventure)))
    xoxo, Juliana | PJ’ Happies :)

  4. L'Avocette américaine est magnifique ;-)
    Céline & Philippe

  5. Great birding and it sounds like your team has some interesting traditions.

  6. Oh, I like that post! Great, great photos! The last photo is so wonderful!

  7. That was amazing! Thanks for documenting the event and sharing it -- gorgeous birds, great people, and congratulations on surpassing your goal!


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