Hooked on the Christmas Bird Count

Audubon logoThis past weekend was the 112th National Audubon Christmas Bird Count when tens of thousands of citizen scientists all over the country brave winter conditions to do a census of their local bird population. In my Chiricahua Mountain community of Portal, Arizona, it was the 38th annual count — and no courage was required with sunny skies, no wind, and temperatures in the 60s.

House finchI’m — at best — a rookie birder, but I got to tag along on Reed Peter’s 2-mile territory that extended from his Cave Creek Ranch to Sunny Flats Campground at an elevation of about 5,000′.  We saw a total of 41 species, including house finches, lesser goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, Gambel’s quail, many Mexican jays, along with canyon towhees, two red-naped sapsuckers, and lots of white-crowned sparrows. Most unusual was the arrival of a Scott’s Oriole on the ranch feeder!

Acorn woodpecker

My favorite bird is still the clownish acorn woodpecker — tragically, we arrived too late to rescue one from a passing Cooper’s hawk.

Sunday was the 37th annual Peloncillo count across the state line near Animas, New Mexico, and again I tagged along, this time with Reed Peters, Peg Abbott, of Naturalist Journeys, and a birder named Steve from Santa Fe. Wow — what a magnificent area! Our territory was a chunk of the Dunnegan Ranch, which is part of the 322,000-acre Nature Conservancy Gray Ranch, owned by the Animas Foundation and usually closed to the public. We traversed desert flats and sprawling grasslands, crossed clear flowing streams, scampered through narrow canyons, and crunched across oak/juniper woodlands. We recorded 46 species — and about 40 were ones we didn’t see in the higher elevations during yesterday’s count. Most of all, I learned that sparrows are HARD to identify! We saw hundreds of them, including Bairds, grasshopper, savannah, Brewers, white-crowned, black-throated, chipping, lark, and vespers.

Watching the prairie falcon skim over the grass tops, the roadrunner bask in the early morning sun on top of a juniper, and seeing a cloud of 100 mountain bluebirds descend into a nearby tree were sights I won’t soon forget.

Many thanks to the ever-patient Reed and Peg! I’m definitely hooked and hope to be more knowledgable this time next year when the next Christmas count rolls around…

Big valley and Animas Mtns

Peg Abbott soaks up the view of grasslands stretching across the Gray Ranch toward the snow-capped Animas Mountains.

A First-Time Gathering of the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon

FoCCC logoConsidered by many to be the crown jewel of southern Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, Cave Creek Canyon now has a new friend — or, at last count, nearly 100 of them.

The Friends of Cave Creek Canyon (FoCCC) mission is

To inspire appreciation and understanding of the beauty, biodiversity and legacy of
Cave Creek Canyon.

To accomplish that goal, a year ago a small steering group began dealing with IRS paperwork and legalese in order to become an official 503(c) (3) Friends group. They also worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service employees of Coronado National Forest to find the best way for FoCCC volunteers to help support the USFS work and mission in Southeast Arizona.

Since getting established in September, the group has already
• set up a website and a Facebook page,
• teamed the Forest Service with local volunteers to establish benches in South Fork, clear VIsta Point, and maintain the Cave Creek Nature Trail,
• co-hosted a Portal-based Celtic Music weekend, and
• sponsored an educational forum with the Arizona Game and Fish Dept. to help landowners learn how to cope with the black bears in town following the Horseshoe 2 fire.

Hosted by the Chiricahua Desert Museum in Rodeo, N.M., forty-seven enthusiastic residents attended FoCCC’s first annual membership meeting, bringing offers to volunteer, along with discussion of many potential projects, including:
• adding an information kiosk at the opening of the canyon,
• replacing signs identifying some of the more noteworthy rock formations,
• photo-monitoring of regeneration after the fire that burned 230,000 acres,
• compiling a Biota Bibliographic project that would be a repository of links to scientific papers on the region,
• establishing an annual Bat Watch event, and
• providing hosts for the Visitor Center in order to keep it open longer.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way the meeting went,” said Reed Peters, FoCCC president. “The community certainly showed that Friends is something they care about and want to be involved in.”

Larry Pratt, Developed Recreation Project Manager for the Coronado, agreed. “I don’t live in this canyon, but my wife and I have been coming here for years,” he said after the meeting. “I’m very excited to see the formation of this Friends group and look forward to working with the members and seeing it succeed.”

For more information on membership, donations, or volunteer opportunities, check out the FoCCC website and Facebook page.

[DISCLOSURE: I’m on the Board of Directors.]

Woooo-HOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Steam Locomotive No. 844

Steam Locomotive No. 844 passes through Steins, N.M.

It’s not often that I’ll rise before dawn and brave temperatures in the 30s with a howling wind … for a machine.

But what a machine! Steam Locomotive Engine No. 844 flew past the ghost town of Steins, N. M. at 8:15 this morning, welcomed by two dozen cold but enthusiastically waving train fans. The Union Pacific Heritage train was on its way to its first Arizona stop in Willcox and will arrive in Tucson for a display day on Friday. The New Mexico/Arizona Centennial Tour started in Cheyenne, Wyo., will last 32 days, and go through nine states.

No. 844 was the last steam locomotive built for United Pacific Railroad and was saved from being scrapped in 1960 to be held for special service.

And special it was – it’s been nearly 35 years since the U.S. Bicentennial when a steam locomotive last passed through the state.

To read more about it and to see an interactive map, check out the United Pacific website – from the warmth of your computer!