Perhaps it’s fitting that the first order of business for the newly formed Tucson Audubon Society in 1949 was to organize a birding field trip for the 25 founding members.
Birding trips are a staple of the conservation group that keeps an eye on our birds, and the Tucson chapter apparently comprises champion day-trippers.
“Bird-watching field trips are a hallmark of the Audubon Society, and the Tucson chapter does more of them than any other chapter, according to some research,” said Kendall Kroesen, the society’s restoration program manager.
The group has sponsored hundreds of trips to every corner of Arizona. A trip to Panama is planned for later this year.
As the local chapter enters its 61st year in 2009, the group has grown from a loosely knit gaggle of a couple of dozen enthusiasts to a tightly run flock of more than 4,000 that has had a hand in some of the most important ecological decisions in southern Arizona’s history.
“The Tucson Audubon Society played a significant role in the founding of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection,” Kroesen said.
That group was a key to creation of Pima County’s sweeping Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, an award-winning program aimed at protecting swaths of Pima County from developers.
The society helped create the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve in 1960. It has educated public officials, teachers, journalists and other interested folks through its Institute of Desert Ecology, a crash course that plops participants in the middle of the desert to camp and learn for four days.
Audubon’s two Nature Shops offer a one-stop information and gear headquarters for thousands of birders who pass through Tucson every year.
“It’s one of the best places in southern Arizona to buy binoculars,” society board member Craig Marken said with a grin.
From 1949 though 1987, the society’s offices were at several spots around town, each successively bigger to accommodate the growing staff and membership, said University of Arizona Professor Emeritus Thomas R. Rehm, treasurer for the society’s board of directors.
At one point, the offices were in a former dentist’s office.
“We had to rip the lead out of the X-ray room,” he said.
In 1987, the society settled in its current location, 300 E. University Blvd., also the home to one of the Nature Shops. The other is at 12325 E. Roger Road at Caliente Park.
Two key new programs are on the horizon for the local chapter: a youth birding program and an urban sustainability program.
The youth program would be run by the kids with adult supervision. The youths would pick speakers and areas for trips, said Carrie Dean, the chapter’s education program coordinator.
The urban program would focus on sustainability – from water conservation and desert landscaping to ways to reduce energy consumption and your carbon footprint, Kroesen said.
The program would also likely include urban birding trips to bring in folks who might not want to get up at 4:30 a.m. and drive for an hour to bird watch, he said.
“We really want to be relevant to a lot more people,” Kroesen said.
Tucson Audubon Society Nature Shops offer birding books, maps, brochures and gear, including an extensive inventory of binoculars, for sale. The shops are at 300 E. University Blvd. and 12325 E. Roger Road at Agua Caliente Park.
If you go
What: Tucson Audubon Society 60th Anniversary Gala
When: 6 p.m. Feb. 4
Where: Arizona Inn, 2200 E. Elm St.
How much: Tickets start at $150, according to the Tucson Audubon Society Web site. For more information, go to www.tucsonaudubon.org/gala.htm