AZFO Youth Scholarships
For more information on the Youth Scholarships click here
I drove up to Flagstaff with Caleb early Friday the 20th to Mormon Lake overlook. Most kids wanted to go to Nevada to raid Area 51 that day, but I wanted to go birding. We talked to Dara Vasquez a little bit on the phone on the way there. The conversation ended on Northern Goshawks. Since we were going to Mormon Lake, I expected wind, and was hoping for the longshot Common Crane (I call it the Mormon Crane). We didn’t get the crane, but we did see a Swainson’s Hawk which was pretty cool. We also could see lots of swallows flying over the lake. We hit up another lake after that called Ashurst Lake. This place brings back memories for me, as just last year I had fun with confusing meadowlarks, Mountain Bluebirds, Common Black-Hawk, Merriam’s Turkeys, Golden Eagles, a Prairie Merlin, and Purple Martins. This time around my highlights were Vesper Sparrows, Common Mergansers, a juvenile Peregrine Falcon chasing a Red-necked Phalarope, and an Osprey. The last of which is one of my all-time favorite species, as well as being the bird that essentially got me into birding. Caleb let me borrow his camera so I was able to get decent shots of the Osprey in flight.
Next up we stopped at Marshall Lake, which was the last of the Mogollon lake trifecta to bird. However, most of the highlights involved insects, such as Rocky Mountain Yellowjacket-Fly, Western Band-winged Hover Fly, Spotted Spreadwing, and Plains Forktail. Once again, we had a lot of swallows. I also interacted with Laurie Nessel and Janet Weitzman.
After the field trip Caleb and I headed back to Mormon Lake to bird the riparian sheltered by the cliff face. We didn’t find anything too rare, but I got killer shots of a Townsend’s Solitaire that stayed close, and I saw a Virginia’s Warbler too. We also observed a Tundra Peregrine Falcon harass a North American Peregrine, which was epic. The Tundra subspecies is substantially lighter in color than the other subsp. A flock of White-throated Swifts was flying along the cliffs, sometimes above us, and over the lake. As usual I couldn’t get pics of these lightning fast birds, and even worse Caleb’s camera’s battery passed away. So, no photos of one of my favorite species ever. Additionally, we had Western Tanagers, Dark-lored White-crowned Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhees, and a Black-chinned Sparrow. The last of which was a county bird as well as one that I haven’t seen much of. The riparian had a dense understory that looked good as habitat for potential vagrants like Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Swainson’s Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and other terrestrial warblers. The habitat consisted of predominantly Arizona Black Walnut, plus Boxelder Maple, Gambel Oak; pockets with a few Fremont Cottonwoods & willows (Salix), and Arizona Wild-Grapevine, ferns, and grasses as the understory.
We met up with Dara Vasquez and Eric Hough at Lower Lake Mary. The highlight was 12 Forster’s Tern, which were a lot of fun to watch in flight. Terns are among my favorite bird families- in fact my favorite species in the world is the Arctic Tern. That thing flies over 1 million miles in its lifetime, absolutely insane… We had about 1,300 swallows, mostly Violet-green - other than that was a couple hundred Barn Swallows and 500 swallow sp. Northern Harrier was another fun bird. The biggest highlight was that Dara gave me food; something I hadn’t had since early morning. We then went over to Upper Lake Mary. There we had a pair of Caspian Terns ; basically, my second favorite bird (okay maybe Golden Eagle). The Caspian is the largest tern in the world, with a huge crimson bill, 4 ft. wingspan, black outer primaries, and a short square tail. Bald Eagle was pretty neat too, but I’ve seen countless in Alaska.
In the evening I got to meet Lauren Harter, Chrissy Kondrat, and other people. I was able to discuss how I got into birding, and I shared some of my memorable encounters. The highlight was Dara losing a foosball bet so she had to ca-caw at the meeting the next day.
We got up early in the morning to arrive at NAU before the meeting and bird. We had highlights like Mountain Chickadees, Wilson’s Warbler, and Pygmy Nuthatches.
Before the meeting started, I was able to meet the other young birders and talk to people. During the meeting we covered topics such as Yellow-billed Cuckoos in SE AZ, Golden eagles breeding in Arizona, the ongoing habitat restoration project at Kachina Wetlands, Pinyon Jays, and Hairy Woodpeckers’ preference to a specific Ponderosa Pine environment. Dara also stayed true to the bet, she even ca-cawed twice! What a champ! Lunch was interesting as I helped Dara with spruce & fir identification. These different genera of trees often get misidentified for each other. During our break, I talked to Richard Fray about guiding. This is something I’ve been intrigued by since becoming a more knowledgeable birder. Considering my comfort around a good size group of people, I feel the profession would fit me well. Richard told me that you either love it, or hate it, and you really have to experience it to come to the decision. After the meeting, I met up with Caleb and the other young birders for a visual identification team competition. This was actually the first year that people were split up into teams. Our name was the September Sabine’s Gulls, since most Sabine’s Gulls seen that month in Arizona are juveniles, which is what we are (I don’t think anybody got the reference though). Our team actually won, and I was surprised at how well I did. I was frequently able to put a name to species before Caleb, and explain field marks pretty well. We then did a raffle that was hosted by Gordon Karre. I won a fluffy stuffed animal Cardinal (thanks to Dara’s help), who I named Brad. I also was able to take a box full of magazines and some books for free afterwards.
We enjoyed a social hour and banquet in the evening. I mainly talked to Ryan O’Donnell, Lauren Harter, and Eric Hough. I talked about my home county- Matanuska Susitna, AK- and its potential for certain birds, as well as the rarities it’s had in the past. The banquet had good food, dessert, and the topic was on Native Americans’ relationship with birds. It was fascinating despite pictures of dead birds (as blankets).
On the last day I did another field trip with Caleb; working our way east in Coconino County. At our first stop I received my best views, and first photos of a Marsh Wren. It was hopping around on rocks along the shoreline of a small pond, and jumped in the water for a quick bath. At the same spot I got sick flight shots of a Northern Pintail. Another highlight was Bank Swallow. We drove up the road to a narrow riparian spot in midst of One-seed Juniper woodland. Here I finally got pics of Gray Vireo, and received another county bird in Cassin’s Finch (still a heard only species).
Our next stop was Babbitt Tank, and our best bird was a Loggerhead Shrike. Shrikes are a predatory passerine that I never get tired of seeing, and I’ve had the epic experience of 2 Northern Shrikes fighting right above my head in my Alaskan yard a few years ago. In the Raymond Ranch area, I finally got an overdue lifer: Sage Thrasher. Other highlights were Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Western Wood-Pewee.
We had a bunch of cool migrants at Meteor Crater RV Park, but nothing rare unfortunately. Many Western Tanagers, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond’s, Gray, Western, and Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Red-naped Sapsuckers, Hermit Thrushes, and Green-tailed Towhee highlighted our lists. We also had a hummingbird that was likely Costa’s.
Our last stop that was a part of the field trip was a hotel with a gorgeous garden in Winslow. We were here to look for a Blackpoll Warbler that Richard Fay found on the Navajo County field trip. We didn’t find it, but I got my best photos of Plumbeous Vireo, and got White-winged Dove, which is local in Coconino.
Caleb, Keith Camper, Tracy McCarthey, and I went to Cholla Lake, in Navajo County, where we found 3 Sabine’s Gulls! They were flying around, showing off the black “M” on the wings. We also had Caspian & Forster’s Terns. Eric Hough joined us to get Sabine’s for Navajo.
Our final stop was Tucker Tank Flat, which didn’t have much, but we did find a Black-and-White Warbler, my 5th one for Arizona, and first for Coconino County.
I really enjoyed my first AZFO expedition! Special thanks to Lauren Harter, Chrissy Kondrat, and Erika Wilson for accepting me for a scholarship. Thanks to Caleb Strand for letting me borrow his beastly camera and driving me there. Thanks to everyone who was able to make the conference happen, and putting all the hard work and research to be able to present! I am very excited for the next meeting!
Undergraduate student at University of Arizona
The AZFO conference this year was my first professional scientific conference, made possible through the Youth Scholarship. As I am an undergraduate student from the University of Arizona, cost was a big factor in deciding to go, and I am more than happy that I attended. My career as an ornithologist started in May 2018 by volunteering with Tucson Audubon Society, and has continued to evolve, as birds are the most fascinating organisms out there to me. Visiting Flagstaff was a nice short vacation from Tucson and school. Taking a field trip to Lockett Meadow was a wonderful break from the academic aspect of ornithology that I have been working in for about a year, as I got to practice my bird ID and simply relax, enjoy the walk, and just listen to and see the birds.
The conference day itself was fun, engaging, and eye-opening, as the presentations made me realize all the various paths I could take as an ornithologist. It was great to see graduate students present their research, and to meet other professionals attending the event. After having volunteered on Yellow-Billed Cuckoo surveys and working part time on organizing the survey data for US Fish & Wildlife Service, seeing and meeting Nick Beauregard was great. I was happy to see him present the fruition of his research and volunteer hours, and what that data means for the conservation and future of the distinct population. Meeting with Jennie MacFarland from Tucson Audubon was also fun, as I got to see her present Tucson Audubon’s work in a new, professional environment. Chuck LaRue’s talk on “Birding the Navajo and Hopi Nations: Recent and Ancient Field Ornithology in the Four Corners” was fascinating, and it opened many new thoughts I have on our deep connection to birds historically and evolutionarily. This talk reminded me how important it is to have an appreciation for birds aside from academia as the Native Americans did before.
I left early next morning, regretfully not attending any of the Sunday workshops or field trips due to exams I had for school the following week. Despite this, I would like to thank Maricopa Audubon Society, Prescott Audubon Society, and the anonymous donor for funding the Youth Scholarship. I would also like to thank Olya Phillips for encouraging me to apply, along with other Tucson Audubon staff members for their support and kindness. I will be trying to graduate from the University of Arizona next fall, but I look forward to attending the next AZFO conference in Safford!
Undergraduate student at University of Arizona
This September, I had the honor of attending the AZFO meeting in Flagstaff, AZ solely because of the youth scholarship. Prior to the meeting, I had heard of the organization and was aware of the annual event through my internship at Tucson Audubon. As a busy and budget-bound undergraduate student, I never thought I would have the chance to attend. However, when Olya Phillips at Tucson Audubon told me about the AZFO youth scholarship, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to get my way in!
I drove up to Flagstaff on Friday morning and made it just in time to tag along on a birding expedition in Kachina Wetlands. Christina Vojta and Tom Hedwall led our group. I felt very welcomed by them and all the participants. We saw over 40 species in about 2 hours (many I hadn’t seen before), which was pretty good for a late afternoon in September!
The day of the meeting, I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole day, intently listening to all the presenters. Although all of the talks were awesome and informative, I particularly enjoyed Nick Beauregard’s, which featured his research regarding yellow-billed cuckoos. I also was intrigued when Michele Losee spoke about new methods for selecting wind turbine sites to reduce avian mortality of migrating species. It was really fun to see a 5-mintue presentation by Jennie MacFarland about the Lucy’s Warbler, a project that I have participated in for the last two years.
The evening wrapped up with a delicious dinner and an inspiring keynote speech. Chuck LaRue told us about Ancient field ornithology among the Navajo and Hopi Nations. He described traditions from thousands of years ago that still are in practice today, like the use of prayer feathers. Objects such as feather blankets that were hundreds of years old were displayed. Many birders were quick to identify the birds woven into the blankets based on the beautifully preserved plumage that was still visible. I thought that this was a nice way to cap the day. It balanced the science and spirituality and was a reminder of how people from all backgrounds can appreciate birds.
On Sunday, I wrapped up my weekend with attending a Raptor ID workshop at the AZ Game and Fish office. I chose to attend this workshop over another field trip because I had noticed that I had trouble identifying different raptors in the field. Even in just the month following the workshop, I have noticed that my eye has improved greatly.
My experience at the AZFO annual meeting has benefitted me greatly in my personal and professional life. I loved meeting like-minded people and gaining knowledge from birders and scientists who have had years of experience. It was fun to talk to people in my age group that have a passion for birds like me, as I don’t always have that opportunity in my everyday life. Professionally, the event has given me network opportunities that will help in the upcoming months and years following my graduation this spring. I believe being an AZFO member will be noteworthy on my grad school/ job applications. Also, just learning about all the ongoing research within our state helps me think about some possible future research!
I would like to thank the Maricopa and Prescott Audubon Societies for providing these scholarships. Without my scholarship, I would not have had the chance to participate with this organization and be exposed to everything I learned. I will remember this meeting as playing a crucial role in my development and refinement in my passion for birds. I am very much looking forward to next years’ meeting and being an AZFO member for life!
Undergraduate student from Yuma, AZ
This year I was very excited to attend the Arizona Field Ornithologist’s yearly meeting in Ajo, Arizona thanks to the generous donations from the Maricopa and Prescott Audubon Societies to the Youth Scholarship. I found out about the annual meeting from my friend and mentor Lin Piest of Arizona Game and Fish in Yuma, Arizona. Through the website I was able to locate the scholarship and thought it was such an exciting opportunity to apply and if I were to get the scholarship meet so many other individuals interested in birds. Thankfully I got the scholarship and was able to attend!
I had driven through Ajo once before and thought it looked like a neat city so I was looking forward to attending the conference there. I arrived Friday night and attended the socializing mixer and was able to chat with people about their earlier birding experiences that day. On Saturday there were so many presentations and it was amazing to learn about all these projects so close to home (I’m from Yuma, Arizona).
I enjoyed Tim Tibbitts’ presentation on birds found at Organ Pipe National Monument, followed by the presentation on Gale Monson research grants and what a great contribution those grants are making in bird research. Kerrie Anne Loyd’s research on burrowing owls carried out in Lake Havasu City was particularly interesting because of the prospect of resident birds. Another interesting presentation was that of Eamon Harrity on Yuma Ridgeway Rails and how they’re flying long distances in what appears to possibly be migration.
After the fabulous presentations on Saturday and a beautiful dinner at Sonoran Desert Inn I was able attend the “Becoming an Expert Listener” workshop by Nathan Pieplow. It was a very thorough workshop and started out with the basics of listening to birds which I found very helpful as I am still learning. Nathan Pieplow was very knowledgeable on everything he spoke about and I found a lot of his tips and tricks helpful when trying to characterize different sounds. It was a good ending to a great weekend and I am so thankful I was able to attend. Thank you AZFO, Prescott Audubon, and Maricopa Audubon for helping me attend and providing opportunities for youth to be involved in Arizona’s birds.
This year I was lucky enough to be one of three recipients of the Arizona Field Ornithologist (AZFO) youth scholarship and attend their annual meeting. I was notified that I had received the AZFO Youth Scholarship and I could not have been more thrilled. My friend and co-worker, Chrissy Kondrat-Smith, advised me to apply and when I received an e-mail from Lauren Harter saying that I have been given the opportunity to attend the meeting I was so excited. I also really love the town of Cottonwood but I had never had the opportunity to go birding through the riparian areas of the town, so I felt lucky that the meeting was held in a beautiful area.
On Friday afternoon I arrived in Cottonwood and I met up with the group and the leader, Ryan P. O’Donnell. We drove to Dead Horse Ranch State Park. It was a pleasant state park to go birding. It had a nice pond and an assortment of vegetation, as well as high perches for raptors. Our observations ranged from a Pied-billed Grebe and a Great Blue Heron to raptors such as the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, and three Red-tailed Hawks. I also had quite a few lifers on this expedition. These included a Sora, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallows, Bridled Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a Verdin. I learned the most about sparrows on this expedition and my leader and people from my group were very helpful in differentiating between seven different sparrows: Chipping Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s and non-Gambel’s), Song Sparrow, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. I was very impressed because identifying between sparrows has always been a weak spot for me and I valued their knowledge.
Friday evening we had a social hour at a delicious pizza place called Pizzeria Bocce. It was a great opportunity to meet other members of AZFO while enjoying some tasty food and drinks. The following morning I was greeted by many friendly faces, some new and some familiar. After I received my name tag, I grabbed a drink and snacks then sat down to enjoy the presentations. This year there were some really great presentations about ongoing research on the status, behavior, and distribution of Arizona birds. Some of my favorite presentations were “North America’s only Caracara: Wide-ranging but little known” by Morrison and also “Distribution and habitat of elf owls in riparian environments in Arizona” by David Vander Pluym. A social hour at THAT brewery followed the presentations. I enjoyed talking to others about how their birding expeditions went the day before and also meeting new faces.
My fondness for birds blossomed at the young age of four when my late grandmother would tell me tales of her adventures across the world, describing all the various birds she had seen in her travels. Not long after, my fascination grew and off we went. We traveled often to California and all over Arizona. When I was five I took up volunteering at Hassayampa River Preserve. There I bird banded and this is where I had the pleasure to meet Lauren Harter. I soon became a regular bird bander volunteer and often saw Lauren when she came down with her college group.
Fast forward with several years of bird banding, banding trips, numerous bird chases, hikes and more. Soon my mother introduced me to AZFO. My first meeting was in Phoenix, then attended the one in Yuma. We had known about the Youth Scholarship for a while. This year, I finally gathered up all the information needed and applied. One other recipient, Melissa Folsom and I were lucky enough to be chosen. I couldn't wait for the meeting!
The first day of the three day weekend, we left our house before the peak of dawn and traveled to Shield Ranch. There my mom and Eric Hough led a walk. Not even including the wonderful and interesting wildlife we encountered, the aromatic atmosphere and witnessing what we found at this abnormal destination was delightful all by itself. It was interesting to note that we birded between two very important habitats to birds in that area. On one side stood the thick growth of mesquite, cottonwoods and willows along the Verde River. The other side held a flat landscape above with a freshly dug up farming ground below. Patches of dirt were lightly dusted with sprouts and the dirt was moist from a recent watering. Either way, the meadowlarks loved scavenging around on the ground about one other, then taking cover in the shrubs as we approached. A friendly Black Phoebe had also followed us down the farm road and around the bend. Though it wasn't just the birds which were exciting and finding out what lingered on this low-birded spot, I learned a few cool facts about damselflies from Laurie as I watched them dance above us. After the field trips we went to the meeting room, where I helped set up all the chairs and gave a hand at the tables with books.
The second day arrived - meeting day! So many attention absorbing talks were presented, I couldn't look away. Probably two of the most riveting talks, in my opinion, were Joan Morrison’s knowledge on Crested Caracara’s and the talk by Bonnie Swarbrick on the Range Expansion of Mexican Ducks and Northern Mallards in Arizona. Bonnie Swarbrick conveyed how the Mexican Duck's range had expanded from its historical scope it had lived by for so long. She explained and gave proof in her survey results to provide evidence that this may be caused by human alteration. Ms. Swarbrick also discussed the effects caused by Northern Mallards. She also explained the variations seen in the two ducks. Overall it was an interesting presentation as were the many others I saw that day. It was also cool to find out Ms. Swarbrick was new to AZFO.
We wrapped up the meeting with a hilarious yet engaging Audio quiz by my friend Caleb and Photo Identification Quiz by another friend, David. Afterwards, I had several interesting conversations with many experienced birders, old-time friends and mentors. Everyone I talked to were delighted to share their sightings and stories with me. Following the departure of the meeting, I helped clean up and put the tables away, heading to bed to get an early start on the final day.
Our original plans had been canceled, but we had the opportunity on the final day to join in the eBird workshop. There I was able to expand my understanding of eBird, update my account and overall better my listing capabilities. Not only that, but I was intrigued to learn where my data would be going and how it could be used. We were shown these beautiful maps of millions of little glowing dots. They fluctuated to a lighter white glow the more the certain bird species was spotted in a certain area, the glow outlined the birds’ distribution in increments of a time. With information from eBird, the Cornell Lab could put it all together and create these to follow certain species from Canada to South America. We were taught the ins and outs of the website quite thoroughly and how to use it. Something I plan to do once I obtain a phone of course!
This whole experience has been thoroughly fun and invigorating and I can't wait to return next year for the following meeting! I hope the next generation of kids and teens can find love in this green world like I have. Maybe I can even get my brother interested as he grows old enough to attend and learn like I do.
Thank you AZFO and Prescott Audubon Society for this experience and I promise to pass down all my knowledge to those after me as those at the meeting had to me. This is truly a week to remember and share.
I was one of five lucky scholarship recipients this year. Surprisingly, four out of the five of us were homeschooled. Lauren organized a “Young Birder” dinner that Friday at a restaurant, creating a great opportunity for us to meet with each other, Lauren, and some other influential people of the board of AZFO. This allowed us to get familiar with each other and become more comfortable in the setting of the AZFO meeting, with a few friendly faces to know. I spoke a lot with each of the recipients, especially Josh, Caleb, and Ruby, not only getting to know each other but also talking about birds and places we recommended to each other. Josh and Caleb were both into owls. Ruby liked owls and was also interested in the California Scrub-Jay. Sierra was an advocate for conservation work. The range of interests among us varied so much, and yet we had lots to share. I loved the people at the meeting. It’s wonderful when all these people with birds in common get together, because everybody has something to share and new ideas are always present. I cannot overstate the importance of making connections in the world of birding. So many marvelous people to know and share birds with!
On the first day, we met as a group outside the Best Western hotel many of us were staying in. We introduced ourselves around the circle and organized ourselves to carpool. I went with the leader, Henry Detwiler. Henry was a very knowledgeable man, and fact that he was well acquainted with the local birding spots made the trip great for all of us. The group of birders was overall very pleasant (birders tend to be), and I enjoyed discussing varied subjects, including botany, music, birds, Argentinean politics, and butterflies with Henry, Nancy, and Carl Tomoff, a Professor Emeritus at Prescott College. Henry drove us around Yuma, walking us through West Wetlands Park, where I saw my first Common Ground-Dove, and various stops through desert and agricultural areas for raptors and Mountain Plover. The Mexican flag waved distantly at us from over the border, and we used it as a landmark to direct people’s binoculars to birds, underscoring our proximity to the border. The trip brought me several new birds, and better, I enjoyed making new friends in the setting of the field trip.
On the second day, the grand meeting began! All the birders and ornithologists and biologists sat down together to listen to an assortment of scientific presentations by various people. One of my favorites was one studying the flight displays of several Western hummingbirds. The videos of displaying hummingbirds astounded me. Gorgets flared, the tiny fierce creatures buzzed around the interested females in an unnatural blaze of neon and sound. The stark strangeness of the flared metal feathers making the hummingbird’s head an alien shape neared a visceral quality, reminding me that although we share many traits with birds, there are sides to them that are inevitably strange and animal to us. All the presentations were interesting and enlightening in some way; a particularly interesting (not just in the way you think) presentation about Gray Hawks was given – virtually. Ariana LaPorte recorded her presentation and sent it to us, so that we could learn about Gray Hawk density dependence even though she couldn’t be there! I introduced myself to the president of AZFO, Kurt Radamaker. It was fortunate that I would later go on a field trip led by him. We also did a bird audio and ID quiz contest, where I learned many calls and surprised myself with a few correct answers. That night, we had the keynote presentation and banquet. We all sat in groups at spaced tables, ate, and talked together. We then turned our attention to Osvel Hinojosa-Huerta, who presented on his efforts to restore the Colorado River Gulf, using a “pulse” of water every four years to keep riparian areas flourishing along the river. I was very impressed with the cooperation of many water districts and entities to keep the gulf blue, and felt that there was great hope for the river and for other diminishing resources with teamwork such as is done by Raise the River.
On the last day, we rose early to go birding at the Salton Sea. I rode with Ryan O’Donnell and Carl, discussing Ryan’s work with reptiles in the FWS and the funny coincidence that each of us had Argentinean connections. We arrived at the well-known Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge and started birding. An interesting find by Caleb was a leucistic White-Crowned Sparrow. Through a few stops on the shores of the Salton Sea, we picked up Lesser Black-Backed and Yellow-Footed Gulls! The other birders again demonstrated their kindness by letting me look in their scopes, sometimes before even they themselves had had a look. About halfway through the trip, we said a fond goodbye to the group and left for home. I am grateful to the AZFO and the Maricopa Audubon Society for their generosity – attending the meeting taught me more about birds, I had great fun, and best of all, I met lots of wonderful people! I hope many others can have the chance I was so fortunate to have and attend an AZFO annual meeting.
I really enjoyed the 2016 annual AZFO meeting in Yuma. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I went. It was nice to meet up with other kids interested in birds. The presentations were stupendous and I thought it was super exciting to go on a mini-field expedition.
It was cool to talk to kids who liked birds, same as me. They all had a lot more experience than me. It was nice to hear about some of the different things they had done. (Where they have gone birding, what kinds of birding camps they have gone to, etc.)
The presentations were very interesting. I learned so much from them. My two favorites were The Evolution of Hummingbird Coloration and Courtship and A Recovery Effort: California Condor Distribution, Breeding, and Challenges in the Southwest Population. I thought the work put into filming the little hummingbirds was amazing. It was eye-opening to see the differences between each of the different courting shows. Regarding the condors, it is surprising how significantly the population of the condors has grown since 1996. I am so glad they are trying to educate hunters on how much lead bullets effect California Condors.
I loved the Mini-Expeditions! I went on the Yuma East Wetlands mini-field expedition. I saw so many interesting new birds! A lot of the birds were water birds that I don’t get to see. Even though it is a fairly common bird there, my favorite was the Great Egret. It is just so beautiful and regal.
I am so glad that I got the scholarship to participate in this meeting. I felt that it was a great opportunity to learn about birds, along with lots of other things too! Thank you to AZFO and the Maricopa
Audubon Society for the great experience. I hope I can attend a future annual meeting. I’m looking forward to it!
There were several people doing many different presentations. All of them were excellent. I really liked the one that compared different types of hummingbird’s colors and courtship displays, and I loved the presentation about California Condors. I learned a lot about these birds, including how they are often killed by lead poisoning. Every presentation was interesting in its own way.
After the daytime presentations, we went back to the hotel for a break, and then returned for the dinner and dinner speaker. His presentation was about pumping water back into the Colorado River because there was not enough. This was very fascinating, since they used man-made things to make the river a better location for wildlife. The project was beneficial, because many areas of the river were too dry for birds and animals to live.
The next morning, we went on the field expeditions we had signed up for the previous day. I went on the trip to Yuma East Wetlands with one of the other scholarship recipients. We saw mourning doves, lesser goldfinches, killdeer, sandpipers and sparrows. There was also an egret, a kingfisher, and a ton of yellow-rumped warblers. Many of these birds I would not have seen at home.
Going to AZFO was a great opportunity for me. I met some other young birders, learned many things from the presentations, and saw many birds. I hope to go back next year.
Joshua G. Smith
As a frequent user of both eBird and the AZ/NM Listserv, I have learned quite a bit about other birders in Arizona. I had many opportunities to meet and speak with some of these people (including Troy Corman and Felipe Guerrero). Some of my favorite memories of the meeting were those times spent getting to know my fellow Arizona birders. Out of the dozen or so presentations we were treated to, a few stuck out from the rest. In the California Condor Recovery presentation, it was fascinating to see how telemetry was used to create condor 'pathways' for various months. In the presentation on Hummingbird Coloration and Courtship, the differences between various hummingbird species' courtship flight patterns and signaling tactics were stunning. Another study of interest was Gray Hawk Expansion in the San Pedro River Valley. I had never heard of the model that was used to measure the colonization of new areas by Gray Hawks. This model suggested that a species uses the best habitat until all territories are full and that subsequent populations will move into less-optimal habitat over time.
In addition to networking and learning, I was able to enjoy some excellent birding in a corner of the state which I had never visited before. At Mittry Lake, Caleb Strand, Gordon Karre, Jenny MacFarland, and I heard the muffled growl of an elusive Black Rail. At the Yuma East Wetlands, Caleb and I sifted through a sizeable flock of Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers and found a vagrant Black-and-white Warbler. We birded these two spots before the first presentation and during lunch break, respectively. In the AZFO room, there was a book sale and souvenir table. There was also a large poster board covered with birds for the identification quiz. I enjoyed attempting to determine the identity of each species on the board. Another exciting group activity was the audio quiz; different bird vocalizations were played over the PA system and we had to figure out what species produced the sound. It was quite difficult!
At the end of the day - after a lengthy afternoon break - our special guest speaker (Dr. Osvel Hinojosa Huerte) arrived at the meeting to share his story with us. Dr. Huerte, a good-natured man who is greatly concerned for the future of the Colorado River Delta, manages wetland restoration on behalf of the Mexican conservation agency, Pronatura Noroeste. It was absolutely incredible to see what he has accomplished. Essentially, Dr. Huerte reopened stretches of the Colorado River in Northwest Mexico in order to restore the river and wetlands to their natural states. I was pleased to learn that his team has recorded Yellow-billed Cuckoos along these reopened stretches. Dr. Huerte's work appears quite beneficial to these birds (which are of special concern). After our special guest's presentation had concluded, several birders and I shared stories and laughs around a table outside. Although I could have talked all night, I certainly needed some sleep if I wanted to be fully functional for the next day...
Just before 5:30 am on Sunday morning, Caleb and I met our trip leader, AZFO president Kurt Radamaker, at a predetermined meeting place for our half-day field trip. We and nine other birders departed for the Salton Sea promptly at 5:30. Caleb and I rode along with Kurt and Doug Jenness; I truly enjoyed hearing Kurt's many tales of past birding in the area. Doug, who served as the AZFO treasurer, was very kind and knowledgeable. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Doug and I were both Eagle Scouts and Order of the Arrow members. Arriving at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge, we scanned through scores of gulls and shorebirds. I was probably the only birder who got their lifer Herring Gull that day (yes, it's ok to laugh). A great surprise came in the form of a Lesser Black-backed Gull which we separated from the similar Western Gull by a variety of features including the presence of pointed primaries and yellow legs. Although late October isn't the best time of year for Yellow-footed Gulls, we still managed to locate four individuals further north along the Salton Sea! As someone who has very limited experience with gulls, this field trip was an invaluable learning experience. I learned some of the finer details of larid identification and also practiced recognizing rails and Least Bitterns by ear. The Herring, Lesser Black-backed, and Yellow-footed Gulls were my three lifers of the day. Other species of interest included a Neotropic Cormorant, Horned Grebe, and some Snow Geese.
As we were headed back to Yuma after our Sunday field trip, Kurt stopped at the edge of a seemingly barren expanse of desert dunes and sparse creosote. He told us that he was in search of a lizard - the Yuman Fringe-toed Lizard to be exact. As we walked into the desert, Kurt pointed us towards some tiny tracks which were imprinted along the rippled surface of the sand and would end abruptly. He explained that these locations are areas where the lizards have buried themselves underneath the sand. After finding a suitable stick, Kurt probed the sand until a small lizard burst out and furiously ran to the shelter of a creosote. Kurt was ecstatic to have found his target so quickly! After thoroughly photographing the reptile and observing its specially-modified hind toes, we watched in awe as it sprinted across the dune and out of sight.
As my first experience with the Arizona Field Ornithologists, I was impressed by the level of organization and quality that was upheld throughout the event. In addition to being a time of fellowship and storytelling, it was also a valuable learning experience for me. The presentations, photo and audio quizzes, and birding trips were all very memorable and informative. I would like to personally thank Lauren Harter for extending this scholarship opportunity to me. I would also like to thank Doug Jenness for your accompanying us on the field trip and for managing the money well so that I could have a scholarship in the first place. President Kurt: thank you for driving us around the Salton Sea and for stopping to find the Yuman Fringe-toed Lizard. It was quite the experience! Finally, I would like to thank my good friend Caleb Strand for your undying enthusiasm throughout the course of this event and for "birding hard" as always! If you would like to hear more of my birding tales, you can visit my blog here.
When my good friend Joshua Smith offered to let me tag along on his adventure out to Yuma, AZ for AZFO's 10th annual meeting I didn't hesitate to answer him with an enthusiastic "Heck yeah!", especially after he mentioned that we'd have the chance at birding the Salton Sea - an overdue location lifer. Not only would I get the chance at birding some awesome areas with one of my best friends but I would also get to hang out with other awesome people and meet a few new birders. And to add onto all of the exciting reasons to go, I had never gone to an AZFO meeting, yet I have lived and birded in Arizona my whole life.
The meeting was to be held in the southwest corner of the state, an area I hadn't explored much, and one of my favorite things about birding is getting familiar with different areas and the status and distribution of each species in that region. However, other than the addition of having the Colorado River running through it, Yuma is very similar bird-life-wise to Buckeye, where I live.
To start off the trip, Josh and I met Lauren Harter and our fellow scholarship recipients at a Chili's in Yuma. During and well after dinner we discussed many common subjects to young birders such as how we got into birding, what we plan on doing with our lives, what we found fun about birding, and how it's affected our lives.
To start the first official day of the AZFO meeting, Josh and I got up early in the morning to head over to Mittry Lake, a location I hadn't been to before. Mittry Lake has some of the most extensive cattail/reed habitat in Arizona and is home to six species in the family Rallidae - Black, Ridgway's, and Virginia rails, Sora, Common Gallinule, and of course American Coot. Arriving at the "Rail Overlook" just above a very extensive river of reeds we could hear five of the six species of rallids calling in response to each other. Although we weren't in the peak calling time of year for Black Rails we managed to hear one distantly giving its growling calls. Before heading back to the hotel for the beginning of the meeting we drove further down the lake to where the water opened up where we noted cool things such as increasing numbers of waterfowl and seeing what was perhaps the last strong wave of Barn Swallows that came through the Lower Colorado River for the fall (including 80+ individuals).
Upon arriving back at the hotel I got to catch up with some of my good birding friends who I hadn't seen in a while and even meet some very cool birders who I hadn't met before including Janet Witzeman - who some might call the mother of Arizona birding! The meeting started with several presentations including one on hummingbirds and their mating displays, the expansion of Gray Hawks in Arizona, and the current status of California Condors. After a break and some more presentation, Josh and I headed out to get lunch before more presentations started. After finishing lunch relatively early Josh said we should spend the hour we had left before the meeting's break was over birding! The enthusiasm of Josh is unlike that of any other birder I know. Josh doesn't get to go out birding very often but when he does he birds like it's his last day of birding, and that kind of birding is motivational and exciting! So Josh and I ran out to the Yuma East Wetlands where we spent the next forty minutes scanning through mixed feeding flocks of Passerines in the canopy of the large cottonwoods and willows. Upon starting our search we heard a late/wintering Yellow Warbler calling but things got a bit more exciting when I spotted Josh’ lifer Black-and-white Warbler moving about quickly. A couple of other neat observations were a late/wintering Bell's Vireo and an Audubon's x Myrtle Warbler intergrade. Once we got back to the hotel we listened to a few more presentations before having a lengthy break. On our break birders sat back, had a drink, introduced themselves to new people, and shared their stories and experiences. Then came dinner, where Da Boyz prepared a great Italian supper for us, along with some delicious dessert! After enjoying our meals we listened to one last presentation by Dr. Osvel Hinojosa-Huerte on managing habitat along the Lower Colorado River Delta which was very informational. To end the night I sat around a table with a few other birders and had a good ol’ time.
On our last day of the AZFO meeting we attended a trip to the Salton Sea, led by Kurt Radamaker. Josh and I were to ride out to southern California (where the Salton Sea resides) with Kurt and Doug Jenness. The Salton Sea is a spot where I had never been and always wanted to go to. It holds some awesome concentrations of shorebirds and gulls (for being inland at least) and has the only reliable population of Yellow-footed Gulls in the ABA area! Upon arriving at the sea at dawn, many Ring-billed and California Gulls were flying out for the day, some of the highest concentrations of Cattle Egrets and White-faced Ibis I had ever seen were flying out into the fields for the day, and some majestic Sandhill Cranes flew over. Our first stop of the day was to the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge on the south side of the lake. Highlights at this spot included a continuing Lesser Black-backed Gull, a few Western Gulls (rare inland from the Pacific coast), and a "getting-late" Dark-lored White-crowned Sparrow (presumably of the oriantha subspecies). My highlight, however, was counting hard (including all birds but especially gulls and shorebirds), sharpening my ID skills. Working our way north up the lake we made a couple of other stops producing many more birds, including my lifer Yellow-footed Gulls, a Neotropic Cormorant (my first for California), and a rare (for the Salton Sea) Horned Grebe. We also heard some Ridgway's Rails in the nearby marshes which was a highlight for me because this is one of my favorite species of birds. After a couple more brief stops we called it a day and worked our way to Yuma and then home.
Overall the AZFO meeting was a great experience for me and I highly recommend going if you haven't! I learned a lot from the many presentations, I met some very kind birders, and it got me out into a part of Arizona (and California) I have seldom been to. Thank you Kurt Radamaker and Lauren Harter for making it possible for me, and the other young birders, to go to this awesome meeting, it has sparked the beginning of what will no doubt be many more visits to ornithological meetings! I would also like to thank my good friend Joshua Smith for accompanying me on another awesome adventure!
High school student from Oak Hills, California
I was ecstatic when I found out that I had received the Arizona Field Ornithologists Youth Scholarship. I had heard about the scholarship from my friend and mentor Lauren Harter, and I was so happy to get an email from her saying that I had been given the opportunity to attend the meeting. I was also very excited that the meeting would be in Show Low, Arizona, because I had always wanted to go there. I began packing early in the week and headed out on Thursday, September 17th.
When I arrived on Friday afternoon and met up with my group and the leader Chris Benesh, we jumped right into our birding activities. We headed out to the South Fork of the Little Colorado River and the Grasslands Wildlife Area. During this expedition I was able to meet many new people and I learned so much within a matter of hours. I was also able to get quite a few lifers on this expedition. These included a Green-tailed Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Vesper Sparrow, Mountain Bluebird, Canyon Towhee, Brewer’s Sparrow, and Long-eared Owl. I learned the most about sparrows on this expedition and my leader and people from my group were very helpful in showing me how to identify different species of sparrows.
The next day was the day of the meeting. The meeting began with a presentation about raptor migration by Zach Smith which I found to be very interesting. The second presentation however, was one of the most interesting to me. It was about Gray Hawk expansion on the San Pedro River. I thought this was interesting because the research, by Ariana LaPorte, is very similar to the type of research that I would someday like to conduct. I also enjoyed the presentation about the Elegant Trogons because it inspired me to really want to see these birds. The audio and photo quiz were also interesting to take. I did pretty well on the photo quiz, but not so much on the audio quiz. These quizzes taught me a lot about identification by sound and by sight. Lastly, I thought the presentation by Chris Benesh during the dinner was very interesting. It was fascinating to see how birding has evolved during the past 20 years from audio identification to our overall understanding of birds and their behaviors. Overall, the meeting was full of information and facts that I was able to obtain and will hopefully use in the future during birding or discussing birds with others.
On Sunday I was able to attend another one of the expeditions that went to Sheep’s Crossing and the West Fork at Mt. Baldy Trail. This expedition consisted of a lot of hiking and beautiful scenery. I was able to get a few more lifers on this expedition as well. These included many, many Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, an American Three-toed Woodpecker, and a Townsend’s Warbler. This expedition really opened my eyes to Arizona’s beauty and its amazing range of bird species as well. This expedition and the experience as a whole was an amazing learning experience and I am so glad and thankful that I was given the opportunity to attend.
This year I was lucky enough to be one of three recipients of the Arizona Field Ornithologists (AZFO) youth scholarships to go to their annual meeting. I was very excited to receive this scholarship and finally go to the AZFO meeting which I had wanted to go to for quite some time. Arizona in particular has a very special place in my heart as it was one of my first introductions into the amazing and mysterious world of birds. I grew up in the town of Tijeras which in the mountains just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is where my love of nature and especially birds was born. I have been a very serious birder now for the past four years and the reason why Arizona has a special place in my heart as it was there that I took my first birding trip. On that trip I realized my true love of birds and traveling and since then I have been completely unable to stop! I have taken several birding trips to Arizona now and it continues to be one of my favorite places in the world to go to! This is why I applied for the scholarship the second I heard about it. I will never pass up an opportunity to take a trip to Arizona!
The annual AZFO meeting was full of many fascinating presentations and features. I especially enjoyed lectures that were based on a single species, such as the study on Gray Hawks and the expansion of Neotropic Cormorants. I also found the blood sample results from the study with the Rufous-winged Sparrows very thought provoking and stimulating. Overall the AZFO annual meeting was refreshing and engaged the members too.
In 2014, I was one of the three people accepted for the AZFO youth scholarship to attend the annual AZFO conference, and the youngest of them all. This meant I had the opportunity to attend the AZFO annual meeting, which was held in Globe-Miami this year. I learned of this scholarship from my mentor, Joy Dingley from Desert Rivers Audubon. I applied, and a few weeks later, I got a reply from Lauren Harter of AZFO saying I have been accepted, and I accepted the offer right away.
The annual conference was from October 3-5, but I missed the field trips on Friday the third of October, because I had school. I was able to attend the conference on the fourth, and go to a field trip into the Pinal Mountains with ASU’s Dr. David Pearson on the fifth.
Finally, there I was on October 4, 2014, at the Bullion Plaza Cultural Center, surrounded by experienced birders, researchers, professors, and others. Except for a couple of people, I had not met anyone at this conference before. I took my nametag, and was greeted by Lauren Harter and Kurt Radamaker. Soon after, the conference began and I took my seat. Several experts from different backgrounds and places were all prepared with the latest birding news. I had a lot to learn!
After a meal, I returned to the meeting. Next up there was a report on visits to the AZFO website. It was interesting how so many people as far as Mumbai visited the website. The following presentation was Dr. Deviche talking about a study on psychological effects of capture for banding on Rufous-crowned Sparrows. This was done testing hormones in blood samples taken from the birds, and there was clear indication that this process is not easy for the sparrows. Next up was a video on Lesser Nighthawks nesting in Larry Arbanas’s yard, but because of technical difficulties, the schedule was switched around a little. There was a break half an hour early during which the technical issues were resolved and the video was presented. I would have never guessed that nighthawks are ground-nesters, or that they blend in so well with the dirt. The following presentation was on a possible AZFO project by Carol Beardmore followed by an in-the-experiment study on Purple Martins by Jennie MacFarland. I learned two important things in that presentation; one was that there are Purple Martins in the Sonoran Desert, and the other was the Martins breed in the Sonoran Desert, in Saguaro cavities. The next presentation was on citizen science data by Doug Jenness, one on the AZFO newsletter by Pierre Deviche, and finally, a talk about the field expeditions the next day by Eric Hough. After that were raffle drawings and results on the photo and audio ID quizzes.
After the presentations, there was a trip to a new saloon for a social hour, but with my twenty-first birthday years away, I didn’t go. I went back to the motel room for a little bit, but I was back at the banquet that evening with Dr. Charles Van Riper III as the keynote speaker. Dr. Riper spoke about a very important topic right now, changing bird populations due to factors like climate change and habitat loss. After a day of great presentations, I said goodbye to the wonderful people at AZFO including Kurt Radamaker and Lauren Harter before returning to the motel to get some sleep. I had to wake up early the next morning to go on a birding trip to Pinal Mountain.
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