Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Breaking News From The Buffalo Field Campaign

At 1:45 PM May 14, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Charles C. Lovell issued a Temporary Restraining Order upon the Interagency Bison Management Plan agencies "from conducting further bison helicopter hazing operations in the targeted Hebgen Basin area pending further order of this Court." Attorney Rebecca K. Smith presented arguments in today's hearing on behalf of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies to prohibit the use of Dept. of Livestock helicopters in threatened grizzly bear habitat to forcefully remove bison that have migrated into Hebgen Basin for the calving season. Judge Charles C. Lovell's order is in effect for 14 days and can be renewed for an additional 14 days upon showing cause. Buffalo Field Campaign provided expert assistance, video and photo documentation of grizzly bear activity and disturbances by the livestock agency's helicopters, evidence which weighed heavily in today's hearing and in Judge Lovell's order.
U.S. District Court Judge Charles C. Lovell ORDER, May 14, 2012. (PDF 73k)

Congratulations to Mike, Rebecca, Stephany and all those who made this important restraining order possible.
Great work as always! Let the Buffalo Roam Free!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tucson Arizona Heronry

I have lived here in Tucson for the past six years and in that time I have experienced and marveled at the incredible diversity that exists in the Sonoran Desert's avian world. One thing that I never expected to find here was a heronry. Perhaps it's just my own preconceived notion of what birds I would find here but I still find it's presence somewhat unusual. That being said there is definitely a heronry in the heart of Tucson Arizona at Silverbell Lake. 

I have been to Silverbell Lake only once in the past five years and on that visit I saw only one Great Egret and one Great Blue Heron. Silverbell is a local man made fishing, picnic, dog park, series of ponds that are not that large and frankly not the cleanest park in the area due to it's central location and heavy usage. On my visit there today I cleaned up trash around one of the ponds which after a weekend of picnics needed some attention. It's hard to understand why people would leave such a mess in a park that they use to enjoy the great outdoors.

When I first arrived I spotted this Great White Egret in the corner of the pond close to shore feeding and as I was trying to get a picture the Great Blue Heron flew in and sent the Great White scurrying. I think they must be fairly used to each other because they settled down right away and fed in that same area for quite awhile.

There were three different Great White Egrets around the lake but they kept moving around so I'm not sure which ones I photographed but they really stand out here in the desert. Information on the Great White Egret can be found at:  www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/great_egret/id

There were many Great Blues moving about the ponds sitting in trees and on poles and on high tension towers. I estimate around a dozen. Read about the Great Blue Herons here: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Blue_Heron/id

I'm not sure exactly how many ponds there are but in the middle of the largest one is an island with some large sycamore trees and in these trees are several large heron nests with young herons. The nests are not that noticeable from the west side of the island but I was tipped off to their presence when an adult landed and there was loud calling from the herons already occupying the nests.

Heronry- Make sure to click on the photo to see the enlarged version of the heronry.

Neotropic Cormorant  perching near the heronry. www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Neotropic_Cormorant/id

To top the day off I saw several Black Crowned Night Herons around the ponds. You can read more about them at: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/black-crowned_night-heron/lifehistory

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Today's Spring Bird List

I've spent quite a bit of time at home this past week and I have to say this place is hopping, bird wise that is. Early in the week I discovered a fledgling Lesser Goldfinch on the ground under some bushes. I decided to intervene and managed to capture him/her in my hand. At the same time I realized there was another one in the bush flapping and trying to learn to fly. I decided to place the bird in the hand in the bush and watch to see if the parents were anywhere to be found. First mom showed up and fed them both and then disappeared. After a very long wait the male showed up and fed them and then he took off and I didn't see either of them again for hours. I had to go out for a few hours and decided I would check them on my return. When I arrived home they were no where to be found and I was left to wonder if something bad had happened or if they had flown away with mom. Two days later I was getting the mail and there they were in the mesquite bush next to the mailboxes apparently in fine health.

Fledgling Costa's Hummingbirds

I have also noticed an increase in the number of hummingbirds in and around the yard engaged in what can only be described as an intense territorial battle. Before moving on I would like to explain that I provide one hummingbird feeder that I put fresh food in every three or four days and I also provide fresh water via a bird bath on the ground. There are no other feeders. I also do not use weed killers or insect poisons in my yard and I do the weeding that needs to be done by hand using a hoola hoe.
Although an exact count is hard to do I believe there are at this point eight or more hummers in my yard daily. Today Nan discovered the two fledglings in a Texas Ranger next to the driveway.
For reasons that I can't fully explain hummingbirds don't seem to mind my presence and I have had individuals land on my hat and try to pull hair from my head for nesting. I have had them land on the feeder while it was actually in my hand or when I am standing right next to it.
Today as I was watching these two young birds I walked out to see what they were up to and a male had one of the fledglings pinned to the ground on it's back kicking it's feet to protect it self. I know that the animal world can be cruel but I have to admit I intervened and drove the male away with an assist from the mother who took up the chase. She has spent most of the day feeding her young and chasing away intruders. Both of these young have learned to fly but still seem to need or want the assistance of their mom.
Today in the yard I have seen the following birds: Cactus Wren, Northern Cardinal, Curved-billed Thrasher, House Sparrow, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Hooded Oriole (male and female) Costas Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Possible Rufous Hummingbird, Pyrraloxia, White -winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Turkey Vulture, Eurasian Collared Dove and Gambels Quail.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Biosphere II Equals Big Science

Today's adventure was a visit to the University of Arizona's research facility Biosphere II, a trip well worth the effort. On it's face Biosphere II is an amazing engineering feat with an equally amazing scientific history. From the original 2 year closed system experiment to it's current day use studying climate change one thing is certain a great deal has been learned from Biosphere II and much more scientific discovery is underway at the facility today. At first glance it is the facility itself that is awe inspiring. The design is truly unique with it's massive size and geometric construction it is definitely a one of a kind experience.

This section of the building houses the Rainforest which has not changed a great deal since the early days of the Biosphere but is slated for some new an exciting research to enhance our understanding of the effects of climate change on our rain forests. Climate change is a great deal about changes in access to water and what happens when ecosystems are either deprived of water or conversely receive moisture in excess. It is my understanding that the first phase of this multi-year experiment will involve depriving the biome of water for a total of 40 days which I'm sure will have some very negative consequences for a system used to ample daily moisture.

Biosphere II is located at approximately 4000 feet above sea level a half hour north of Tucson Arizona with sweeping views of the Santa Catalina Mountains. For anyone visiting the area this facility is a must visit. Tours are run throughout the day and take around 1 1/2 hours to complete. You won't be disappointed as this is one of the most unique structures in the world.

Biosphere II is dedicated to science in a big way and although the tour is too short to get an in depth understanding of all the experimentation taking place it is easy to see that projects like this extreme incline solar experiment and many others are small pieces of a larger experiment in understanding the effects of climate change and ways to ameliorate it's negative effects on Biosphere I.

There are many displays available in the "living quarters" that help with understanding the basic purpose of the Biosphere and past and current experiments that epitomize the work being done at Biosphere II.

The structure is as amazing on the inside as it is on the outside. This photograph shows a small portion of the living area which was not as big as I expected considering the overall size of the facility. It was very interesting to see where the original eight individuals lived during their two year stay inside the closed system.

The above picture shows the construction of the next major climate change experiment to take place in what is best described by as LEO. The following is a description of the experiment that was taken from a Biosphere website.
The Biosphere 2 Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO) will consist of three massive landscapes constructed inside an environmentally controlled greenhouse facility. LEO aims to address fundamental “grand challenges” in Earth systems science:

How do water, energy and carbon move through landscapes?
How do biological systems (vegetation and microbes) modify landscapes?
How will water resources alter with climate change?.

This sounds like an exciting use of the space as I have always believed that availability of water is the key to all things environmental. No water, no clean water, poisoned water, too much water, the wrong kind of water, water that's too warm or too cold, water in the wrong places........ I will be waiting for this important project to open for public access as I'm sure it will be very enlightening.

A facility like the Biosphere allows scientist's to control the conditions under which they wish to observe results. Out in the rain forests you cannot shut off the water to see the effects. Inside the Biosphere all things are possible and withholding moisture is not a problem. The size and design of the facility allow for "big science" and big experiments under controlled conditions which could not be replicated anywhere else. Biosphere is a truly remarkable opportunity to change the future of the planet.

The ocean was brought to the Biosphere from the San Diego area in refrigerated trucks so that it would contain all the organisms present in the Pacific. At the rear of the photo is an area of mangrove swamp whose soil conditions are actually taken from a mangrove in Florida.

The photos below are from the Rainforest Biome which is about to undergo some radical experimentation and I can't help but feel a little sad as this area is lush and beautiful. Hard to imagine it any other way but I guess it's for a good cause.

Experimentation is the reason this facility exists and there is evidence of many on going experiments throughout the different biomes. Below is an explanation of one experiment that I found particularly interesting. Enlarge the photo by clicking on it to read about it.

As a former Director of Engineering I can appreciate the skill and knowledge it took to first imagine and engineer and then construct this one of a kind facility. From the visionaries to the financiers to the engineers and scientists this project is certainly one of the scientific and engineering wonders of the world as the following photos will attest.

These are shots of the LEO project from the exterior and one of my favorite parts of the building. You can certainly tell what a difficult design and build this must have been.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Parker Canyon Lake

Sonoita is one of those places that seems to have it all. Stunning mountain vistas, amazing grasslands and lots an lots of blue skies. On this trip out there we decided to take the drive through Coronado National Forest to Parker Canyon Lake. The lake which is man made covers 130 acres and is surrounded by hiking and camping opportunities and also seems like a pretty good place to bird watch although the winds were blowing at a pretty good clip keeping allot of the smaller species grounded.

This first pic is of the Santa Ritas from route 83. I believe that the tall peak is Mt Wrightson with Madera Canyon on the other side. Mt Wrightson is quite impressive especially from Madera Canyon.

We did not see any Pronghorn Antelope on this trip but we have seen them on several other trips to the area. I love the visuals of the sweeping gasses blowing in the wind and being able to see sometimes for miles without interruption.

One of the ways that this area has moved away from cattle ranching is it's wineries of which their are quite a few. We have not visited any of them but the ones that we have driven by offer wine tasting and tours which should be interesting.

I can never resist stopping to photograph horses and this drive through Elgin Arizona takes you past Whisper's Sanctuary a non profit featuring 26 acres referred to by it's owners as "a place of peace and healing for horses and other animals".

The sanctuary is located at the Double R Heart Ranch in Elgin and as you can see from the pictures it was very windy. You can read more about Whisper's here: www.rrheartranch.com/index.html

The lake is really nice and is only a few hours from Tucson but I will warn you at times the road feels endless and there is not much out there once you get into Coronado National Forrest.  Just the way I like It.

The wind was strong enough to produce white caps and the larger birds including about a dozen Turkey Vultures and at least one Gray Hawk spent their day soaring in the wind and having a grand old time doing it.

We also spotted one Great Blue and a dozen or so American Coots on the water. Unfortunately I did not get a pic of the Great Blue as the coots scared him off chasing each other across the water.

The views of the Huachuca Mountains are spectacular and just about everywhere you look is something to photograph. There are amazing examples of Arizona Ash and Oak along the road and the High Desert Grasslands are expansive and beautiful.

I should caution you to keep your speed down as the road is not that great and occasionally you will come across a cow or two laying in the road as some of this is still open range which means the cattle are free to roam even in the roadway.

This is the Canelo Cowboy Church which used to be the old school house. Just one of those pieces of history that are dotted across the countryside here in extreme Southern Arizona.