Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mallards in the Canyon

 I have come to expect the unexpected here in the Sonoran Desert. One of those unexpected things is ducks. I was surprised to see them by the thousands on my first visit to Sweetwater Wetlands and I was surprised to find them swimming in Sabino Creek yesterday. It's not that they don't belong there, it's more that I haven't seen them there in all my visits. When I go out to places like Sabino I know there's a pretty good chance that I'll see Roadrunners and Phainopeplas and at certain times of year I can count on Western Bluebirds and even American Robins but Mallards not so much.

Seeing something unexpected is part of the reason why I spend so much time on, around, and near water here in the desert.

This pool is just above where I spotted the Mallards and when I arrived the sun had not breached the canyon peaks until this moment when the water turned from gray to these beautiful reflections. I have always enjoyed photographing reflections in water so it was nice to have my tripod and ND filter with me to see what was possible.

On this visit I also saw Gnatcatchers, White-tailed Deer, Roadrunner, Phainopepla, Curved-billed Thrasher and Northern Cardinal. Again I looked and looked but did not see a mountain lion but I always have the feeling that a mountain lion sees me.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunshine and Neutral Density Filtration

                                                              ISO 100 F20 SS1/4 18MM

The flow in Sabino Creek has slowed considerably due to some very cold weather here in the Sonoran Desert this past week. With temperatures in the low twenties in the valley it's a safe bet that it was extremely cold at 8000 feet above sea level. When I arrived at Sabino Dam there were still a few places where water was flowing over the top of the dam. Fortunately it was more than enough water for me to use my Neutral Density Filter to see what effects it would have on flowing water.

                                                            ISO100  F 20 SS 0.400000s 18MM

Normally the dam is fairly well shaded but on this visit the entire area was bathed in bright sunshine with the exception of a small portion of the dam.

 This is a shot of the dam from down stream which was taken at F20 18MM. Keep in mind that even though these photos were taken using a tripod the wind was blowing at about 8 or 10 miles per hour and the trees had some pretty good movement which would have some effect on the sharpness at longer shutter speeds.

I plan on taking an early morning trip back to the canyon and photographing the creek at some of the bridges perhaps Monday. I'll have to walk in starting at dawn which at least on the way in means no sun until much later in the A.M. due to the steep canyon walls.  This should give me chance to get a few miles into the canyon and work in the shade at least for a few hours.

I'll also have another chance to keep my eye out for mountain lions and hopefully see some other wildlife as well. With temperatures in the mid to upper 70's this week it should be a fairly pleasant hike and water flow should increase although I'm not certain by how much.

As climate change has already arrived my interest in it's effects on riparian areas has increased considerably. Hundreds of birds that live here or migrate through this area are dependent on a few places that have an adequate supply of water most of the year. Climate change could severely impact the ability of endangered species like the Gray Hawk pictured above which has only about 100 nesting pairs in the state, mostly in southern Arizona along the border with Mexico. Their survival depends on the cottonwoods where they nest along the rivers and streams in the few riparian areas that remain.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Solitary Sandpiper

This Solitary Sandpiper has made it's winter home in the middle of Tucson Arizona for at least the last two seasons. The Solitary breeds in the far north boreal forests and traditionally winters from mid Mexico and throughout Central and South America. I can count this bird a true rarity for me along with the Curved-billed Ani, both seen this year at Sweetwater Wetlands.
I located a very interesting account of Solitary Sandpiper ranges and behavior that I have included a link to here:  As you will be able to see from the distribution/migration maps there's not much to indicate that this bird should be here but seeing a rare bird is a part of what makes bird watching interesting and fun.
A few of the other birds that I spotted at Sweetwater included Sora, Moor Hen, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrows, Spotted Sandpiper, B+W Warbler, Northern Harrier, Harris's Hawk and the ducks have increased in numbers 10 fold since my last visit a few weeks ago. Lots to see and I plan on a visit this afternoon to do a little walking and birding.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Buffalo Field Campaign - Western Watersheds Project

Good news from the Buffalo Field Campaign and the Western Watershed Project concerning the Yellowstone bison herd.

* Bison Gain Ground in Court Ruling

  Buffalo roam the Gardiner Basin.  BFC file photo by Stephany.  Click photo for larger image.

Wild buffalo gained ground this week when a Montana district judge ruled in favor of allowing them room to roam in the Gardiner Basin of Montana during winter months. Judge Phillips' ruling upheld adaptive changes to the Interagency Bison Management Plan made by the state to expand the area where bison are allowed in Montana.

Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project intervened in a lawsuit filed against the State of Montana to defend wild bison against a litany of claims raised by the Park County Stockgrowers Association, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, and Park County during the severe winter of 2010-2011, when 1400 buffalo migrated into Gardiner Basin.
All ten counts of the complaint were thrown out by Judge E. Wayne Phillips in a major victory for wild bison.
Under the new changes, during winter and until May 1st, bison can occupy habitat in the Gardiner Basin on both sides of the Yellowstone River up to the ridge divide and Yankee Jim Canyon. This includes habitat on the Gallatin National Forest and on private lands where bison are welcome. 
In his findings, Judge Phillips cited the testimony of local residents and Buffalo Field Campaign supporters Fred Baker and Scott Hoeninghausen as a factor in his decision to throw out the Stockgrowers complaint: "… many landowners and residents in the Gardiner Basin view the presence of wildlife, including bison, on and near their property as a significant factor contributing positively to their quality of life and the use and enjoyment of their property." 
The testimony of Fred and Scott along with many others in the community who testified in favor of buffalo, were an important antidote to the complaints of a vocal anti-buffalo minority.
"This decision is a great one and I am honored that I got to participate," said Gardiner resident Fred Baker, "I am so happy to help the bison.""It's a great day for buffalo," said Scott Hoeninghausen, also of Gardiner, " I absolutely love seeing buffalo in the area when they are not being harassed and are free to enjoy their life like they should."
Judge Phillips also found that the Stockgrowers "did not present evidence that any of their members faces an actual threat of brucellosis transmission to cattle due to seasonal bison occupancy of lands in the Gardiner Basin."
In his conclusion, Judge Phillips wrote "The Court emphasizes [sic] with the struggles some of the Petitioners' members have in encounters with bison, but as Rathbone (see last words, below) so eloquently stated that is "a consequence of living in Montana and with her abundant wildlife."
Incredibly, and for the first time, Buffalo Field Campaign stood with the State of Montana, including the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL), during these proceedings. The DOL, signatory to the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan, uncharacteristically though justly advocated for more habitat for wild bison.
Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project were jointly represented by Western Watersheds Project attorney Summer Nelson and private attorney Ted Fellman. BFC's habitat coordinator Darrell Geist oversaw the case for BFC and persistently fought for the rights of area residents to have their voices heard. Both Nelson and Fellman have served as BFC volunteers, coordinators, and board members.
"It may be a little harder fo the State actors to marginalize us knowing that when they do the right thing, we are there to support them, just as surely as we will be to call them out when their actions harm the buffalo," Fellman said.
Judge Phillips' ruling applies to Montana's actions and not those of Yellowstone National Park. The judge's ruling has no bearing on the Park's stated intent to capture for slaughter up to 400 female bison from the Northern Range and kill up to 50 bulls this winter and spring. In addition, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture APHIS has agreed to make its Corwin Springs quarantine pens available to hold 300 test-negative female bison and their calves who would be trailered from Yellowstone National Park's Stephens Creek trap. With your support and involvement, Buffalo Field Campaign hopes to stop these plans in their tracks. 
While this victory provides breathing room for bison outside of Yellowstone's boundaries, it does not mean an end to the slaughter. Nevertheless, it is a cause for celebration and very heartening to see a state judge ruling in favor of wild bison over the complaints of livestock interests. This decision strengthens the resolve of BFC. We will not rest until wild bison have true sovereignty over themselves and are allowed to access their native habitat. With persistence, resistance, and endurance we shall press on until the buffalo are truly free.
Thanks to all our supporters for allowing us to defend wild bison in such a significant way and for making this victory possible. Thanks also to Summer, Ted, and Darrell for your tireless work and strong passion for the buffalo!
Wild is the Way ~ Roam Free!
  • Read our press statement and the judge's decision here
  •  Read attorney Ted Fellman's full account of this experience here
  • Read Summer Nelson's write up for Western Watersheds Project here
  • View a map of the new areas (in red) that buffalo will be allowed to use here

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Madera Canyon Stream Flow

                                                         SNOW IN MADERA CANYON

We went to check out the stream that flows down through Madera Canyon and found very little water running in Madera Creek and even less bird and animal activity. There are small patches of snow and a  small amount of flow so there is water  available for wildlife but we did not see the usual array of birds and animals that we are used seeing here. It was very quiet which might be attributed to our late morning arrival time. At the beginning of the Mt. Wrightson trail there is more snow and it seemed as though the stream would gain a little strength during the afternoon hours from snow melt but it was still not a huge difference.
When the Neutral Density filter arrives I have decided to head back to Sabino Canyon where the stream has a much stronger flow and much more dramatic falling water which should make for an interesting test. Once I have finished at Sabino I will consider going back to Madera especially if it warms up here in Southern Arizona which should increase the steams flow quite a bit. When there is good flow in Madera Creek there are some nice opportunities for photography and if you visit during the week it is relatively quiet with most visitors coming to watch birds..

As a side note I have added a new conservation website to the list which is the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences that does some very interesting work with birds and habitat and has an interesting assessment of the damage to managed wetlands caused by hurricane Sandy from Massachusetts to the Carolinas. You can check them out here:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Buffalo Field Campaign APHIS FOIA Victory

My friends at the Buffalo Field Campaign in Yellowstone National Park have just chalked up an amazing victory that will effect the environmental communities relationship with the US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Inspection Service in a monumental way. Congratulations to BFC and all who were involved in shinning a light inside APHIS. Never under estimate the the impact of a small but committed group of activists.

Terms Will Affect Public Records Requests Nationwide


Contacts: Darrell Geist, Buffalo Field Campaign 406-646-0070
Daniel Brister, Buffalo Field Campaign 406-646-6506
Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign 443-417-3106
Daniel C. Snyder, Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C. 541-344-3505

WEST YELLOWSTONE (MONTANA): Buffalo Field Campaign and the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (“APHIS”) reached a settlement today obligating the agency to undertake sweeping changes in how it processes and responds to Freedom of Information Act requests from citizens nationwide.

The settlement, filed in Montana federal district court, resolves a complaint by Buffalo Field Campaign alleging that APHIS had improperly withheld government documents and had engaged in a “pattern or practice” of failing to timely respond to public information requests. The complaint further alleged that APHIS had repeatedly delayed public disclosure of the documents sought by Buffalo Field Campaign by giving itself extensions of time not permitted by the Freedom of Information Act.

Requests made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act require federal agencies to respond within twenty business days; in some instances, Buffalo Field Campaign says APHIS had given itself months of improper extensions.

“The Freedom of Information Act is a powerful tool for the public to shed light on what the government is up to,” says Daniel Brister, executive director of Buffalo Field Campaign. “We will be watchdogging this settlement to ensure that APHIS complies with the public's Freedom of Information Act requests.”

The nonprofit bison advocacy group had submitted many public information requests to shed light on APHIS's bison population control experiments, births and deaths and welfare of bison in quarantine and associated costs, funding agreements with the Montana Dept. of Livestock, and investigative reports tracing sources of brucellosis infection in Montana cattle.

All of the documents received from APHIS have been posted online at the group's web site:

As a result of the lawsuit, APHIS will augment its Freedom of Information Act training program so the “unusual circumstances” provision of the FOIA, which allows agencies additional response time under certain specific circumstances, is properly used and followed by APHIS in responding to public information requests.

APHIS has also agreed to implement new procedures including a phone number or Internet link for the public to use to check on the status of their public information requests.

“Prompt public access to government records is a necessary ingredient for a healthy, transparent democracy,” says Daniel Snyder, an attorney with the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C. who represented Buffalo Field Campaign in its lawsuit. “Timely access is even more critical here, where the records sought by Buffalo Field Campaign illuminate the federal government's deplorable treatment of Yellowstone's threatened wild buffalo population. The new procedures APHIS must implement nationwide as a result of this lawsuit should result in the punctual disclosure of records requested by the public.”

Attorney John Meyer from the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center in Bozeman, Montana, also represented Buffalo Field Campaign as local counsel.

APHIS will also pay Buffalo Field Campaign's attorneys' fees and costs to settle the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Buffalo Field Campaign is a non-profit public interest organization founded in 1997 to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone's wild buffalo, protect the natural habitat of wild free-roaming buffalo and other native wildlife, and to work with people of all Nations to honor the sacredness of the wild buffalo.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Anderson Dam Sabino Canyon

On New Years day we headed back to  Sabino Canyon to walk and do a little scouting along the creek for an upcoming photo shoot I'm planning so I can try out my new Neutral Density Filter. I purchased the filter to work on my waterfall skills and to force me to use a tripod which I really don't like doing as I find it restrictive and a pain to lug around. Of course using a tripod will help to improve my images by reducing camera shake and the ND filter will allow me to take a longer exposure thus blurring and softening the movement of the water without overexposing the shot. 

The area around Anderson Dam has some very nice movement of water and even a couple of small waterfalls. It also has a great section of Gneiss which should produce some interesting results with the ND filter. Experimenting is a good deal of the fun that comes with a good camera and as an added bonus being out in nature just can't be beat.

We are headed out to Madera Canyon this week to scout for locations along the stream there so that when the fitter arrives next week I won't have to waste allot of time traipsing around looking for good potential areas of flow. Recent snows on the mountains should make streams flow for months so I should have more than one shot at getting the photos I 'm looking for.

The colors this time of year are really conducive to good photos even in bright sunshine. Many shades of brown, yellow and gold along with the blue sky and white clouds can make a real difference in the quality of the photos. I have found that it is not always straight forward when photographing in a canyon such as Sabino. Early morning shadows with the rising sun hidden behind the cliffs can make for dark and dull photos and when the sun clears the eastern peaks virtually one half of the canyon produces washed out shots and sun spots. My answer to this problem is to shoot anyway and sometimes I'll be pleasantly surprised with the result. It is after all digital and if I don't like the result nothing is lost.

The photo above shows the remains of the dam that was built by I believe the Civilian Conservation Corp. in the 40's. I haven't really spent enough time looking at just exactly what they did here but it looks like a combination of natural rock formations and man made sections created a fairly large pool which is no more. One of these days when I have more time to investigate I'd like to figure out just exactly what they did. I haven't been able to find much that's written about the dam but I included a link to some information on the Coranado National Forest that I located online at the end of this post.

The Gneiss has some interesting wear from millions of years of water flowing over it, a process that continues today. This is one of the areas that I hope to get some good water shots.

  The above shot is looking down stream. This is where we had our lunch and got warmed up as the sun had been behind the ridge until we arrived here. The photo below is the view taken from the dam.