Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Season of Studies

During my weekly count at Reid Park, I capture this cold and wonderful moment
This new year has taken a strange yet welcome turn of events here in Tucson.  Things I had thought about separately are now merging into one big blur. 

Monk Parakeets
First, I need to write about the projects. I have been serious for years about the Monk Parakeets of Arizona.  There was once a feral population back in 2004.  While most people blew the bird off(it's an exotic non-countable bird for listers), I was actually interested in finding out what had happened to them. And like a good detective, I interviewed neighbors over the years who had told me that they had hired someone to "take them out".  I didn't want to get into specifics, but I understood that they were removed from the area.

The Rosy-faced Lovebird was once considered an exotic bird.  Today they number in the tens of thousands around the Phoenix area.
On January 1st, I did a study with Magill Weber on the exotics that have established themselves in the state.  I have been ebirding my data on the Monk Parakeets for several years with detailed data. Gordon Karre has also followed up on reports around the Phoenix area. A couple weeks ago, an AZFO(Arizona Field Ornithology) member by the name of Kurt Rademaker found an old report of mine and asked if I would be interested in writing up a paper and organizing a census.  He is also the same person who is responsible for getting the Rosy-faced Lovebirds on the state list. 

the Nanday Parakeets of Tempe, AZ do not show signs of breeding.  These birds were escapees who have managed to survive Phoenix's harsh climate
I know Monk Parakeets well. I grew up with them and I raised them with my Mom from egg. But to do a paper on 4 or 6 random parakeets found around the Phoenix area?  No.  So Magill and I both decided to visit several of the historical areas where Monks had been seen in smaller numbers. For years, I have been searching for this colony.  Every year, a Monk or 2 would show up in random spots like a hotel or person's backyard. I knew that they weren't escapees and that they were coming from a large colony somewhere in the Phoenix area. So we followed the electronic trail. We needed answers.

I needed breeding evidence to seriously consider this request.  And by pure accident, we found TWO colonies of Monk Parakeets in an area south of Phoenix.  It was like the Holy Grail for me and finally answered the 8 year question that had bothered me for so long.  Where did the Arizona Monk Parakeets go?

It is a serendipitous moment that I won't soon forget. I'm supposed to be the "navigator" but everyone knows that I am terrible at it:)  Magill asks me, "Where do I turn?"  Me, thinking I know the directions, tells her to turn down the wrong road in the wrong direction.  Classic me.  Then a flock of Mourning Doves flies over her vehicle? NO! WAIT! A flock on Monk Parakeets!!!! We both pull over and gather our whits. It's something we both witness for the first time in Arizona.  Monk Parakeets calling from all over the place! We have a moment and witness something very rare and special.  There was evidence of breeding as a parakeet flew out carrying a branch to a secret nest on private property.  And there was evidence to prove that the colonies were feral/wild as they flew away as I approached them.  We are hoping to have the first of our population census at the end of February.

This January, I helped with a CBC count in Pinal with Keith Kamper.  Keith had access to private property along the San Pedro river and I was immediately interested.  

a private piece of conservancy land  after a fire in 2018 is full of brush piles, perfect for sparrows
 Part of the riparian area had burned thanks in part to an ignorant resident burning brush during the driest month of the year!  But not all things are terrible.  The fallen branches and trees created brush piles for hundreds if not thousands of sparrows!  It was amazing!

Blue-throated Hummingbird, Madera Canyon
In a couple weekends, I'll be working with Gordon Karre on his water bird count up in Phoenix.  Over the course of February, I'll be working with Tucson Audubon in the grasslands to count the declining populations of Chestnut-collared Longspurs. 

Mexican Jays on a cold day at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders of Madera Canyon
Along the way we'll be meeting old and new friends alike discovering new things.  In March, I'll be giving a lecture in Wales about Arizona birds. Then the busy season of guiding happens.  My friends will have finished their birder's casita and I'll be there to guide when needed. 

Olive Warbler in Madera Canyon
Birding requires a strict budget with strict planning.  I think in one day I was working on the details of my Wales' trek, talking to Gordon about our lek trek in April AND planning for a pelagic in Maine with Kathie Brown for a very special photo shoot this summer.  I love it but I am definitely not a casual birder.  There are goals!  On top of that, a budget and savings account are needed!  Any extra cash flow goes into the treks.

American Kestrel
I've also been working on other projects.  In winter, I really enjoy being outdoors.  I've finished the hummingbird part of my garden which has plants that are favored by butterflies and hummingbirds.  I utilize plants with red, orange and yellow tubular flowers. Plus I hung up some solar lights on a curved metal piece for honeysuckle to climb, another popular treat for my Broad-billed Hummingbirds.

a confiding Greater Roadrunner at Sabino Canyon
January is a great time to get any artificial nests all situated.  As you may recall from this blog over the years, we have a pair of Great Horned Owls who nest during this time every year under our Ironwood Trees.

Great Horned Owl nest
Over winter break, me and a couple friends fixed up their nest box.  We now wait.  She will begin to lay eggs either this month or next.

friend and co-worker Mike secures the box securely against the Ironwood tree without damaging the bark
And at home, I have put up Lucy's Warblers nest boxes to help promote nesting in my garden. If you have a mesquite or several, it's a great idea to get a couple boxes from Tucson Audubon.  They're 5 dollars a box.  If you live in Arizona, I highly recommend checking it out. They're easy to install. Lucy's Warblers will begin to arrive in March and will begin their nesting right away.

Lucy's Warbler nesting box
I have a regular job, but it seems that every year, I am pulled more and more into the birding world. I don't mind it.  It provides escape, something I much need these days.  The world sometimes feels like it's tearing itself up.  I don't recognize my country anymore and it's the wild spaces that prevent me from going crazy. But now even that is a mess!

During a moment of anxiety, in the middle of the ridiculous government shutdown, caused by the orange baboon, I needed to breathe and walk in the snow landscape of Madera Canyon. He's a complete idiot.  The wall is an ecological disaster that will cause great harm to the wildlife here. AND currently, I have friends who are not getting paid at their National Park Jobs.  And the National Parks are getting trashed.  It's horrible. I see it.  It's not made up. Now I can't even escape it.

So I walked and found this perfect moment. My talented friend Kathie Brown wrote this beautiful poem based on the pic below, 

"When sunlight through the forest streams
and plays its little dancing beams
like golden fingers in the creek
this woodland magic makes me seek
the beauty of these Nature places
which soothes my soul and then erases
the worries that the world imposes
on our hearts and mind, exposes
why we need this quiet place, 
this woodland glen, this open space, 
We leave renewed and refreshed 
From all this lovely wildness."
~Kathie Brown, 2019

rare snow event in Madera Canyon
I'm glad I'm not alone in this world and that others are also going through this madness as well. This poem brought a smile to my face. In other news, the blog has hit one million views. Thank you for following! Until next time......


  1. I love reading your column and tell Kathy that her poem was wonderful!

  2. I used to live in Brooklyn, NY. There was a few large successful colonies of Monk's. They survived the weather by building their huge stick nests around electric transformers and stadium lights in large parking lots. I don't know today what their numbers are, since I moved away in 2006. Agree about that wall it's so ridiculous!

    1. Monks are crazy! It's even more surprising for me that they can endure those extreme cold temps, but they somehow do it. Smart birds!

  3. Another interesting post Chris and a lovely poem from Kathy.

  4. Wonderful photography to bring the birding world to my easy chair. I have taken to calling him the orange balloon wanting to not disparage baboons. Peace to you and the author of the lovely poem.

    1. Thanks Janice. So glad you can join in on the fun. Hope all is well and have a wonderful start to your week!

  5. I so enjoyed reading about your projects and seeing your stunning photos. The poem is beautiful.

    1. Thank you so much! Kathie is one talented lady. Thoughtful artist. Her birding style is very comfy. I like how she operates her craft. A little crazy on the ebird checklists but we work well together. Plus she's a dear friend. I can't wait to take people to a special island in May! We're all set to go. I can't wait to hear what Kathie has to say:) It's going to be fun.

  6. Hi Chris. A delightful blog post, rounded of beautifully by Kathy's poem.

    I see you are in Wales in March. I'd love to attend your talk if possible. What date and time is it, and will it be open to the public? I may have a problem that month, however, as I am away on the Scilly Isles for a while.

    My very best wishes to you and Micheal - - - Richard

    1. Hello! That would be great! Right now there isn't anything specific other than there will be a lecture somewhere:) I'm working with Stephen Culley on this. The lecture will be on Arizona birds and some of the projects we are working on with Tucson Audubon, plus our birds found in the state. That would be awesome. I'll let you know more when we get closer to the date. I would love to meet you in person! Chris

  7. Very nice post. The whole question of what is natural and what is not is never as simple as it seems. We have many exotic birds here - and also a number of cases native birds have been moved around in Australia - it all gets very complex!

    cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

    1. it does! And then there's the question of what counts and what doesn't. It give me headaches. If birds reproduce successfully, in my humble opinion, they're legit:)

  8. I love your enthusiasm and find it contagious. You will be set up to follow your dream upon retirement.

    1. Thanks Gaelyn! I cannot wait but I am saddened for everyone who is locked out of job because of numb nuts. It breaks my heart that there is someone out there who is an absolute a-hole and hurting families who do amazing things in their line of work. That's unforgivable.

  9. Un reportaje espectacular, me ha encantado. Tienes un nuevo seguidor en el blog, saludos.


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