A healthy creek brings the birds to Patagonia
The Sonoita Creek is the lifeblood of birds and wildlife in Patagonia, making the connection from the Santa Cruz River and Sonora Mexico through the low valleys and up into the mountains of the Sky Island region. The creek turns this area into an amazing corridor for wildlife diversity and creates a birders' paradise. Threatened western Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Gray Hawks, Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, and a wide variety of other species call this creek home.
However, much of the creek is choked with invasive species, the water table is dropping, banks are eroding, and the majestic cottonwoods are not recruiting a new generation. The understory in many areas forms dense areas of Johnsongrass and vinca – niether providing habitat for most birds and crowding out the incredible biodiversity of native grasses, shrubs, and pollinator plants that are associated with the amazing birds folks travel from all around the world to see.
Tucson Audubon Society has accepted the challenge from Matt Fraker to turn the Johnsongrass-choked bankside of the Sonoita Creek at the Paton Center into an area instead crowded with native grasses and flowers, a weedy-seedy (in the best senses of those words) haven for finches, buntings, and all the other little seed-eaters, as well as producing a bountiful crop of the insects that provide meals for cuckoos and flycatchers and all nesting species. Once completed, the area will be a living memorial to his mother Carol.
When Tucson Audubon first started working at the Paton Center, the first view visitors saw when approaching was a dense patch of invasive giant reed (Arundo donax, left). In an intensive process, this area has been converted to a multi-storied mixture of native grasses, shrubs, and trees. Giant reed provided a bit of shelter for quail to roost, but was avoided by other species. With the removal of the reed, barely surviving Arizona ash and Mexican elderberry trees were saved, and area was opened up to plant hackberries and desert willows – all species providing food and shelter for many species that didn’t use the giant reed, and allowing an understory of flowers and grasses to develop providing food and shelter for a wide variety of additional species. And, the quail? They still hide in the dense undergrowth now with the advantage of readily available food in the same spot!
Further, Tucson Audubon has received a grant from Partners for Fish and Wildlife to extend this project onto 5 adjoining acres with the project specifically being focused on benefitting cuckoos, pollinators, and a wide suite of migratory birds using the Sonoita Creek corridor. Improvements will be made by removing Johnsongrass and replacing it with a wide variety of understory pollinator plants--including milkweeds for monarchs, dense patches of desert honeysuckle and other nectar-laden flowers for the hummingbirds, and Arizona walnut and cottonwood trees for the cuckoos.
With funding from Partners for Fish and Wildlife, Tucson Audubon is turning the 5 acres immediately adjacent to the Paton Center into a stretch that will provide better habitat for western Yellow-billed Cuckoos, pollinators, and a variety of hummingbirds and other migratory bird species.
Check out the Creekside Restoration Facebook page to stay updated on this project and see photos of the work!