Birds frequenting the urban Sonoran Desert is the focus at the eighth annual Tour de Bird in 13 East Valley homes, parks and businesses next weekend.
The tour, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 2, is aimed at demonstrating how backyards can be habitats to birds and wildlife, yet be water-wise, easy to maintain and tolerate extreme heat.
Sponsored by the Desert Rivers Audubon Society, the self-guided tour includes eight variously landscaped homes.
At every stop, volunteer bird watchers explain how native plants create pleasing spaces for birds and humans, as well as answer environmental questions about climate change, habitat encroachment and species endangerment.
The 12-year-old chapter is one of eight in Arizona and 500-plus throughout the country, sponsored by The National Audubon Society, based in New York City and founded in 1901.
“Transforming your landscape will take some research as well as sweat, but the Tour de Bird can help you figure it out,” said Liz Farquhar, an Ahwatukee writer, editor and the chapter’s spokeswoman.
“What if you gave up trying to make your backyard look like Chicago and instead mimicked our Sonoran Desert?” Farquhar asked. “What if you dug up your grass and replaced it with native flowers, bushes and trees? The birds in your area would recognize your home as their home.
“Now, imagine that a few other people on your street did the same,” she added. “Your neighborhood might become a patchwork of bird-friendly oases.”
Each tour venue offers informative discussions.
In Mesa, for example, Wild Birds Unlimited, 2136 E. Baseline Road, will present “Natural Landscaping and Responsible Bird-Feeding Practices” at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., to participants, where fellow twitchers can enjoy refreshments and recive a gift.
“The Tour de Bird gives everyone the opportunity for anyone to see firsthand what is possible in your backyard,” said the owner Dave Covey, a Mesa resident who is hosting the event for the eighth year.
“It’s a wonderful hobby, beautiful and peaceful, and you’re participating in the second most popular hobby in the U.S., second only to gardening,”
In Chandler, representatives from the Pond Gnome will answer questions about ponds and streams at the home of Krys Hammers, president of the Desert Rivers Audubon Society, who hosts the event every year.
The Colorado native said she’s seen more than 40 species in her yard, with every migration bringing new ones.
Her birding passion began 15 years ago when she and a birder friend visited southern Arizona.
“We were sitting by a small stream, and I saw a vermilion flycatcher, a brilliant red bird with dark wings,” she remembered. “As a flycatcher, it swoops out from its perch and scoops up little gnats and bugs and then floats back to its perch. I was mesmerized.”
Also in Chandler at the Autery home, Mesa resident Jon Orona will discuss how native trees support wildlife and how to prune trees to prevent harm to animals.
The Pinetop-Lakeside native is a certified arborist and urban forestry specialist for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
At about age 10, Orona started watching and photographing raptors, especially the osprey, which dramatically dives to capture fish.
He became a falconer at 14, and attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and has since worked for a number of wildlife agencies.
“One of my favorite assignments was hooting for Mexican spotted owls in the steep canyons of northern Arizona,” he recalled.
Birds are a part of larger ecological issues everyone should consider.
“Our urban areas are expanding into wildland areas and we need to learn to live with our wild neighbors that are displaced by our urban encroachment,” he said, adding:
“By planting bird and wildlife-friendly vegetation, we provide valuable habitat for wildlife and also receive benefits from the vegetation itself, including shade/decreased energy costs, carbon sequestration, rainwater capture, soil stabilization and health benefits.”
Gilbert’s Mike Evans, conservation director and a founding member of the Desert Rivers Audubon Society, will not be hosting at his home but will appear at one of the Valley’s best bird-watching areas, Veteran Oasis Park in Chandler.
Another the park on the tour is the avian-rich Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch Park in Gilbert.
Evans, an University of Arizona alumnus and junior high school science teacher, will lead bird walks and plant tours around the Environmental Education Center in Chandler.
He will also discuss desert and bird ecology, emphasizing the importance of planning for both birds and plants when designing home landscaping plans.
Planting trees and low-water-use plants help conserve water, fight climate change and habitat loss, he explained.
“Every tree we plant removes carbon dioxide from the air,” he said. “Habitat loss is the ultimate reason our bird populations have been declining across the country.
“By installing and growing native plants and flowers, we provide the appropriate plant community for our local bird populations to live and reproduce the next generation of birds.”
A few Ahwatukee homes also are on the tour.
Kathryn Elsaesser’s backyard is a bird and butterfly paradise; she will discuss how to incorporate both species in a garden. Among the many plants she grows is the milkweed Monarch butterflies need to reproduce.
”My love of gardening was passed on to me by my mother, and my love and appreciation of all living entities in nature is from my dad,” said Elsaesser.
More than 60 species visit her backyard.
She and her husband Robert take annual birding trips to locations such as the Provence region of France, the Galapagos Islands and Central and South America as well as favorite spots in southwest Arizona, Texas and Cape May.
“What I really love about birding is the quiet space and time it creates, allowing me to be in awe of nature and creation,” said Elsaesser, who notes 25 percent of the birds she enjoyed as a child are extinct.
“Whether it’s learning how a certain type of bird builds a nest, teaches nestlings to fly or what plants they need for nourishment, I find it all fascinating,” she said.
Advance tickets for $15 are available at Wild Bird Unlimited and online at desertriversaudubon.org until 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1. Tickets are are available at every stop on the day of the tour for $20.
Portions of the proceeds benefit bird and conservation educational programs through Desert Rivers Audubon Society.
Also participating is the Perch Pub Brewery, 232 S. Wall Street, in downtown Chandler, where guests can enjoy lunch or dinner on a patio, home to rescued tropical birds.
The Perch will donate 10 percent of the check to Desert River Audubon when the customer presents a ticket. And, at Treeland Nursery in Mesa, tour guests receive a 10-percent discount on presentation of a ticket.