Birding While Bicycling, Forget It!

Bicycling is fun and so is birding. Combine the two activities and there is a challenge at least while I ride my Trek bicycle. I can cycle along and hear the cactus wren at the cholla cactus, the curve-billed thrasher by the cactus or under a creosote bush, or a common raven cawing overhead. But as soon as I coast, stop pedaling, on my bicycle there is a buzzing sound flushing birds from the area! Very frustrating if I want a closer look at the bird or even a photograph!

Well my reality is I am not going to stop birding while bicycling. Instead I have realized I should just keep pedaling, even if it is slowly, when I want to take a closer look. Or pass by the area where a bird is or stop before where I think I am hearing the bird!

We have a wonderful bike loop here in Tucson, Arizona so many bicyclists are out cycling and maybe not as observant of some things that I may notice. At times I stop to observe, listen, and take in a moment. I’ll continue to bicycle and bird …

By the way, the clicking sound is like that of a ratchet wrench, if you know what that is. On a bicycle, the sub-component of a bike’s rear wheel is the free hub that allows the wheel to keep spinning even when I have stopped pedaling. The drivetrain is instantly disengaged until there is a transfer of power from me to the wheel when I pedal. There is more to this in the world of “pawls” to understand the creation of the clicking sound; I will not get into here. I just want to get outdoors to cycle and bird! Hope you are having a great day!

Habitat for Humanity: Real World Building Experience

Affordable housing is needed in the USA. Habitat for Humanity, as an organization, works diligently in making what it can available. But building houses entails construction time and builders, money for building materials, and buyers interested in purchasing a home. Habitat receives monetary donations and grants. Wishful homeowners apply for an opportunity to buy a home through their dollars, attending classes and providing sweat equity. The real challenge is building more homes since the need is so great. 

Habitat for Humanity in Tucson, AZ will have a job training opportunity soon realized at the CHUCK (Connie Hillman Urban Construction Knowledge) Center. I became interested in Habitat’s new direction. It reminded me of NYS’s BOCES programs where young people were taught construction skills: electrical, plumbing, welding, etc. How often have you realized the importance of trade skills when needing to call a plumber or craftsperson to do/help with your own home project? 

The CHUCK Center has a classroom where teaching will provide interns with skills and opportunities to learn how to build affordable housing. A win for the learner who can use the new skills right on Tucson’s Habitat for Humanity housing project. A win for the future homeowner, possibly in a new home sooner because we have more skilled workers building homes in our area. 

The CHUCK Center is a huge space. Some parts of the building process will be accomplished in the warehouse, not in the cold, hot weather or muddy area by the future home. Also, some aspects of the construction can be built and stored in the warehouse, then rolled onto the site when needed.

Additionally, the CHUCK Center will have 2 apartments to house Americorp volunteers and 2 RV spaces for traveling Habitat volunteers. The goal is to have these two aspects accomplished in upcoming months. The warehouse with classroom to be done by February 2023. To have internship opportunities available for young people is truly a gift to this community!

I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. A photo of the place from the outside and another photo of the tables we assembled one day. More work to be accomplished to assemble it all. The CHUCK Center is taking shape and soon to be in action!

Front of Tucson’s CHUCK Center
Classroom desks all assembled by volunteers.

Volunteer Time: Brush With Kindness

Many people volunteer throughout the year with various organizations. Recently I helped “Brush With Kindness”, a program under the umbrella of Habitat for Humanity. Within this program, homeowners apply for and can be selected. Work volunteers complete projects needing to be done outside an individual’s home. Installing gutters or fences or landscaping work are possible projects.

Work volunteers sign-up for shifts for days they wish to help. Mine was Saturday, 7:30am till 1:30pm. Our group of 20 volunteers were tasked with painting and installing rain gutters, and installing and staining a wooden fence. The previous day did have a volunteer group dig post holes for the future fence. They built many, approximately 6 foot, sections of fence for a total 147 feet of fence.

Our work time began. Four of us started painting rain gutters. The homeowner wanted them to match the color of the fascia board. We created a set-up to paint three sides of each gutter. When dry easily flip them and paint the other side … and put on a second coat where needed. Another group was on ladders painting fascia boards. The third group was installing fence sections.

Look at that sky!

And then it began to rain!

Within an hour and half of our start, it began to rain! In all my volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, there has never been rain. Actually monsoon season is when we really have rain here in Tucson, not now! Tarps with telescoping poles were quickly put up over our work areas. The gutters sticking out did get paint washed off and the paint we put on, certainly was not drying. 

Volunteers painting the fascia quit, as we did too, and we all helped with the fence installation. Some of us dug a trench for the fence. Others helped carry and hold fence sections in position as it was determined level and ready for screws. All of this happened while it rained. Fortunately the tarp with telescoping poles could be moved over those working on a section of fence. Everyone had muddy boots, wet clothing and were disappointed we could not accomplish the entire project. However, it was truly amazing all the work we had done!  

All kept working in the rain to get the fence up!

Volunteers will sign up for another time to finish the project. I know the homeowner will be thrilled when it is all done. Unfortunately, I will not see this project through to its finish due to other responsibilities. We all did appreciate the person who came by with hot coffee. I thought it was fantastic how we all worked together in miserable conditions and truly accomplished quite a bit!

If you are interested in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, check out the website and find you local group. In Tucson, besides the home buyer/home building program and “Brush With Kindness”, there is “Habitat for Humanity’s Repair Corps Program”.  Thanks to generous funding from Home Depot, this program focuses on repairs being done for veterans within their home. Finally, you may also donate items to your local Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. Reusable household items and building materials are for sale at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. It also keeps many items out of the local landfill. Selling those items allows Habitat to buy appliances and items needed in the newly built Habitat home. All homes have new products installed. And new homeowners are taught how to care for and fix things in their home. 

Check out Habitat for Humanity for how you can help. Know they will teach you, on-site, how to paint, use a drill or do whatever skill you need help with. Truly wonderful people work for and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity wherever I have been volunteering. Don’t hesitate to volunteer here if you enjoy working with your hands and meeting other people with like interests.

Bobcat Sighting!

Seeing a bobcat at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, Arizona is not usual, but it has happened for me a couple of times the last few years. Most recent, my partner and I were birding there and found a cottonwood tree where birds loved to be within its leaves. While we searched for birds, a bobcat was nearby.

My eye caught sight of the bobcat. I told my partner to slowly turn around and see what was behind us. There was “Wyatt”, a bobcat we later learn about from the Bobcats in Tucson research being done in our area. We noticed his long legs, large feet, short tail, and a radio-collar around his neck. He walked on and so did we as we watched his behavior.

I saw a young boy waving a stick around, his parents walking behind him, and approaching us from another direction on the trail. I signaled to them to move slowly and be alert while they watched the bobcat at a respectful distance. They were thrilled, as we were, to see this animal. The bobcat sat and watched an area of tall grasses intently. We watched it all too.

After a couple of minutes, the bobcat moved to another spot. Their sit, stealthly-look, and wait is characteristic of these animals who mostly eat rabbits and all kinds of rodents. They camouflage nicely in these woods and use it to their advantage to catch prey.

Bobcats are beautiful creatures! They are found in about every U.S. state in wild lands and urban areas. Research teams studying bobcats in the Tucson area began in November 2020. They have trapped and radio-collared at least 15 bobcats so they can study the movement of these animals. Male bobcats have large areas which overlap with other males, but females do not have their smaller areas overlap with other females. The Bobcats in Tucson research also indicates bobcats living in urban areas: people’s backyard, under a storage unit, or on a house roof! The findings from their research is absolutely fascinating!

I know in our neighborhood there are bobcats because we have seen them fighting behind our neighbor’s home or walking down the middle of a nearby road. We have a number of washes and riparian areas the bobcats most likely use as ways to cross through our area. A bobcat crossing a road though is a bobcats biggest hazard. One male was tracked crossing roads 2,000 times during 10 months of their tracking … the 75th time crossing a particular road was when it was hit by a vehicle and killed.

Bobcats live on average 7 – 8 years. Kittens are born usually in April, nursed by the female for 3-4 months, and continue to travel with the mother from 5 – 8 months before going on their own. When a female can leave an urban area and make a den on wild land, it will do so. But sometimes people have discovered a female bobcat having its kittens in their backyard. People have been flexible in allowing the bobcats to remain there for the time needed for the developing kittens. Then the bobcats move on.

And so did “Wyatt”, the male bobcat studied by the Bobcats in Tucson research group, and the one we saw at the wetlands on our hike. We watched as he slipped back into another area of the wetlands. Wow, what a sighting … and shared with other people who were as thrilled as we were! Check out the Bobcats in Tucson website for more information.

How Is Your Toilet Waste Related to SHARP?

You flush your toilet a few times a day, but do you really know what happens then to the liquid and solid waste? If you are on a city sewer system, all eventually moves through a system of pipes in your area to a wastewater treatment plant. (Or you may have your own septic tank on your own property.) The waste in the sewer system undergoes several stages of treatment with the liquid portion prepared for discharge into the environment. This is referred to as reclaimed water. Around the world, we all need water; it is essential for our survival! Instead of losing waste water, it is important to have reclaimed water for a next step in the process.

After the waste water treatment what happens? The reclaimed water is filled into recharge basins at locations, such as at SHARP: Southeast Houghton Area Recharge Project in Tucson Arizona. Here there are 3 recharge basins covering a huge portion of 40 acres of land. The reclaimed water seeps to an aquifer about 350 deep so we keep our aquifer available to us for our future water needs. This waste water treatment plant with its recharge basins is crucial in processing at maximum capacity 1.3 billion gallons of water per year. Water is essential and this process is crucial for all of us living here.

SHARP, a Tucson Water and City of Tucson waste water treatment project, has landscaped around the recharge basins with walking and mountain biking trails, three ramadas, some benches and a restroom. With water eventually in the recharge basins and the newly planted 1500 plants more fully grown, including 500 trees, it will be attractive to birds. Birds will love the water in the recharge basins, the seeds from trees and plants, and a safe environment to stay and/or migrate through. Of course, bird watchers/lovers look forward to this area developing just as another recharge project on the other side of the city, Sweetwater Wetlands, is enjoyed as a birding hotspot.

I decided to visit the SHARP location now to document the newly created landscape of recharge basins, plantings, and trails so I could look back on it all someday as more birds and people visit. It was quiet this cloudy afternoon, however, one family was there with their child riding a bicycle as I walked around to take photographs. I saw a Say’s phoebe and male house finch also. Knowing my household waste is being treated and recycled is important to me and I look forward to SHARP being a future birding hotspot too!

Here are photos I will use to compare plant growth, etc in future years. I kept mountain ranges in the background so I would know how to line up a photo in the future. It’s not that picturesque yet, but it is a start!

SHARP is on the north side of Fantasy Island, an established mountain biking trail system which has been encroached upon for home construction and SHARP. I noticed dirt paths for mountain biking within SHARP and there seems to be an effort to connect SHARP with Fantasy Island. In time I think it may be more easily realized.

This sign is not clear to me. Maybe it means, if you walk your bicycle then walk in the same direction as the walkers? I look forward to spending more time here as it is closer to my home than Sweetwater Wetlands, which I love, but on the other side of the city. Anyway, the project is truly important! Know good things are happening when you flush your toilet!

Sam Lena Recreation Area, Tucson

The Kino Sports Complex is huge when you consider the north and south side, but today I am only focusing on Sam Lena Park which is part of the north complex. Sam Lena was a longtime politician, member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, served twice in AZ House and four terms in the State Senate. As a supporter of parks and recreation, the park was named in Sam Lena’s honor (1921-1996) along with a Sam Lena – South Tucson Library which he advocated for many years.

I was visiting the park to see what birds might be around since the last time I was here was about a year ago when I first began birding and had a birding workshop here. While walking a small part of the park, I noticed ramadas, fitness/1 mile walking trail, softball fields and had to keep an eye open as some played disc golf around me and where I was also watching a few birds.

I saw a number of birds:

Gray flycatcher
Greater yellowlegs
Ring-necked duck
Northern shoveler
Great blue heron

If it wasn’t for the pandemic we are currently experiencing, this park would be very busy with people. Almost everyone I saw today was wearing a facial mask and many were visiting with me to ask what birds I was seeing and asking about my camera equipment. I like those teachable moments and it seemed all were wanting some conversation! The disc golfers even showed me their discs! I am not sure I will ever play that game as I can only envision losing the disc just like I lose golf balls! Who knows, someday maybe I will give it a try. I can always use another new activity in my life!

Sorry to tell them they have a spelling error on the “disc” golf.

Bike Church in Tucson, AZ

Dependent on where you live in the US, there are signs: “Share the road”, Bicycles may use full lane”, “Motorists must allow at least 4 feet” between car and bicyclist, and “3 feet minimum to pass bicycles”. The bottomline is we all need to watch out for bicyclists as we also should for motorcyclists! When we drive a motor vehicle it is important to not be distracted, but instead, be aware of all that is happening on the road so everyone is safe.

In 2009 a metal sculpture, the Bike Church, was constructed from recycled bike parts; in 2014 a park was created around it. It is a permanent memorial to fallen cyclists. The sculpture has stained glass such as in a church, a top similar to Islamic temples, 2 Stars of David and a mold of a Pascua Yaqui dancer. You can walk within the sculpture for a closer look at its chimes, stained glass, various bicycle parts, and “in memory of” brick pavers. I have not seen the sculpture at night when it is lit up, but I can imagine with the stained glass it is amazing.

Bike Church in Tucson

Reid Park …

So many people and so many birds are hanging out at Reid Park in Tucson, Arizona. No one is on the baseball fields near by, everyone is at one of two ponds … feeding the ducks, despite signs saying not to feed them! Scurrying around on the ground eating some berries were yellow-dumped warblers.

A quick look into the trees and way on top I see a Cassin’s kingbird … new bird for me!

Many, many mallard ducks, American wigeons, geese and ring-necked ducks in the pond while some comfortably go about their business at the pond’s edge, such as the great egret. Others, neotropic cormorant and black-crowned night heron, sit and watch all that is happening around them and are not bothered by the ruckus. Yet the egret does fly up into a tree and the heron moves itself to sit on a BBQ grill!

While the mallards and other ducks fly to another side of the pond, as this American wigeon is doing, when another handout of bread is about to happen! It seems there is no enforcement of the rule on the sign.

Here the great egret lands at the tree and the black-crowned night heron is at the BBQ grill. When you spend time with birds you see how smart they are!

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

In the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and within the Coronado National Forest, you’ll discover Sabino Canyon’s numerous trails which reopened 3 months ago. The Bighorn wildfire burned thousands of acres north of the canyon causing the area’s closure. Many of us are now walking or running the trails or riding the emission-free tram which operates on a paved road. While hiking along, you’ll see some ramadas with tables for picnic time, saguaro cacti and riparian areas, canyons and mountainsides.

Check the park rules to know when bicycling is allowed, be aware dogs are not allowed, and understand wildlife live within or walk through the area. Always carry plenty of water and know where you are in the park since trails are numerous.

Since the Bighorn fire, there are a couple of new fences and gates erected quite possibly to restrict trail access, if needed in the future. Whether it be another fire or monsoon activity, not a bad idea to keep everyone safe since few check local weather or know of hazards as often as we should when thinking to explore an area.

During the pandemic, the majority of hikers are wearing facial masks and/or keeping physically distant while hiking the trails. I have not been near the visitor center so I can only hope safety protocols are followed there too. It is a beautiful place to hike with your family or partner, so I hope to see you on the trail!

Rio Vista Natural Resources Park, Tucson, Arizona

What to do with a former horse ranch near a bike path in Tucson, Arizona? Forty acres of land has provided an equestrian trail, bicycle and walking trails within and to the bicycle “loop”, along with sitting places and picnic areas at ramadas. There is also a playground with a children’s climbing wall, dog area and a Compassion Garden. The Compassion Garden is a place for people to seek solace in nature as they grieve a loss.

A gneiss (pronounced “nice”) bench is nearby to sit on, with a plaque explaining its origins … love humor in the least likely places! It was formed during uplift of the Santa Catalina Mountains from 1.4 billion years old black Oracle granite and 50 million years old white Wilderness Suite granite through high temperatures and pressures to a recrystallized gneiss, an artist sculpted it, and now here as a bench; nice!

I recently discovered this park while looking for birding places. Various trails cut through the land with the City of Tucson Parks Department making a concerted effort to close off trails to slow down erosion of the land. Other signs encourage visitors to not feed animals, stay on main trails and to watch out for coyotes and bobcats. No doubt in my mind, the coyotes I see walking across the nearby wash do use this park as a pathway since neighborhoods are all around the park.

Lots and lots of sparrows! I identified most as white-crowned sparrows, along with phainopepla and house finches. The male house finch seemed to pose for me so I did spend time with him.

I was walking to leave the park when I saw a hawk-like bird on a cement wall. I quickly took a photo, but it then flew off into a bush after something and over my head to another area. This sharp-shinned hawk was to fast for me to capture him in anything but his sitting on the wall!

People can drive and park their car, ride their horse through, or walk in from the neighborhood or bike path, so it is an easily accessible park. I nice place for all to take a break from whatever we wish!