Saturday, April 15, 2006

Back From the Argentine

Spring is upon us in southeastern Arizona, a season announced not with wildflowers but by the arrival of our summer birds. The drought here continues and it has been the driest winter on record in our area. We have had three little sprinkles, totaling .43 inch in our rain gauge since, last October. That’s right, less than half an inch of rain in the last 6 months. We are a desert, but even for a desert that’s too dry. It is going to be a traumatic year for the wildlife, with no snowpack in the mountains, springs will soon be dry and the spring breeding season will be very difficult. But in the midst of all this brown, dessicated landscape, spring is arriving on warbler wings. Swainson’s Hawks are back from Argentina and Great Horned Owls and Golden Eagles have already downy young.

I’ve done a couple of Elderhostel birding classes in the Chiricahuas in the last two weeks and leave tomorrow for another one. In between, the bird observatory has begun our regular walks on the river and in the Huachucas and hummingbird banding along the San Pedro River. This week the river was alive with birds, part of the estimated 6 million songbirds that use the San Pedro as a migratory corridor. The stretch of river where we do our walks has been transformed by the restoration of beaver to the river. What used to be shallow riffles and tiny channels is now a series of wide deep pools. This may not qualify as a river in your part of the country, but in southern Arizona, in a drought year (decade?) this is a treasure. At one point we had 19 Lucy’s Warblers in one binocular view in one bush. Wilson's, Yellow, MacGillivray's and Yellow-rumped Warblers all cavorted in the willows along the river while we got warblerneck. Easier to view Scotts’ Orioles are all over the feeders at the field station and Black- headed Grosbeaks went from non-existent to abundant overnight. Hummingbird banding today on the river produced 15 birds, eight of whom were recaptures - including one banded last year on April 16 recaptured April 15 this year.

Owl Prowls this week were a mixed bag. A trip to Miller Canyon found a nest cavity with 3 (?) Elf Owls displaying around the tree and a touching food exchange from a pair of Whiskered Screech Owls. Apparently a large moth is an appropriate first date meal for a new couple. Closer to home in the Mule Mountains, our resident Elf Owls have yet to settle into their old nest cavity - making our job of showing off our neighbors much more difficult. Hopefully they will return next week.

We are still waiting for our first trogon, Red-faced Warblers and Western Tanagers but they should arrive soon. One of the scariest aspects of this drought is that we are now entering a time of year we EXPECT to be rainless. It may be July before we see any relief and it will be hard to watch the plants and animals suffer. We’ll keep the water features full at home and at the field station and water our wildlife-friendly landscaping and hope for the best.

Climate change? What climate change? tw