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Cooper's Hawk (Juvenile) photographed by  Jim Burns at Mesquite Wash 10/01 with Canon EOS A2 body, Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens, and Fujichrome Velvia filam.



By Bob Witzeman

Land Ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain members and citizens of it.
   - Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

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There are now US fish and Wildlife Service Annual Breeding Bird surveys that span more than the last three decades.  Many Arizona birdwatchers have participated in these.  A recent article in USA Today pointed out that of the 116 songbirds whose population has varied since 1966, 76 species showed declines and 40 showed increases in these surveys.

Birds which are well known as threatened to birdwatchers are species such as the Kirtland's Warbler which was a victim of overzealous fire control.  The young pine trees needed for nesting were disappearing with decades of fire control.  Now intentional fires as well as cowbird control have brought this Michigan bird back from the edge of extinction to some 1,800 individuals.

Florida Scrub-Jay, is another fire-dependent species.  It has radically declined to some 2,500 individuals due to fire suppression of its scrub oak habitat which historically renewed itself with fire on a regular basis.

Another fire dependent species here  in Arizona is the Buff-breasted Flycatcher.  With both fire suppression and unbridled Forest Service overgrazing, the species has lost both its high quality grassland open space, and the forest fragmentation and open space mosaics it needs.  Grazing, besides degrading this bird's grassland habitat, also acts adversely by suppressing normal fire cycles.

The California Gnatcatcher is down to perhaps 5,000 birds.  The prime ocean frontage real estate needed by this bird is being developed rapidly. those who have not seen or heard this perky little gnatcatcher would be wise to do so. Though it may survive longer in its presently undeveloped Baja (Mexico) California environs, current pressures in California are formidable.

The Golden-cheeked Warbler, now down to an estimated 9,000 to 30,000 individuals, is one President Bush claims he has seen on his Texas ranch.  Urban sprawl and land clearing is responsible for destruction of its limited oak-juniper scrub habitat.

Military bases like Ft. Drum in upper New York state can be refuges for the rapidly disappearing hay fields and pastures needed by the northeast's Henslow's Sparrows.  the spontaneous reforestation of fallow, abandoned farmlands. while helping the Goshawk return to New York State, has impacted this sparrow.  Originally natural forest fires opened forested lands for such species.

The Spargue's Pipit, which we Arizona birders work so hard to see during winter in our state, has total numbers listed at only some 10,000 individuals.  Conservation of the Great Plains prairie grasslands to croplands, overgrazing, and the introduction of exotic grasses for cattle has taken a toll on the bird's limited Dakota, Montana, and Canadian habitat. Also, the impact of overgrazing in Arizona and elsewhere in its wintering habitat is a problem.

But we can help save our songbirds in various ways.  According to the American Bird Conservancy, some 8 million songbirds a year are killed by cats.

Canopied forest habitat in Central and South America essential to over-wintering, migratory North American songbirds is being destroyed by forest clearing for row crops such as sun coffee.  Sun coffee also requires much more insecticide and fertilizer.  My Safeway store, for the first time, is now carrying shade coffee.  If you can't find shade coffee at your supermarket, please, come and buy it at our MAS monthly meetings at the Phoenix Zoo.

Happily, many forest mangers across the U.S. are now realizing fire is an essential tool in species survival.  However, the billions now being proposed by Congress for forest thinning as a means of fire prevention is either subterfuge for old-growth logging or a tragically misdirected failure to focus on protecting homes and property at the wildland/urban interfaces between forests and homes.  The western Congressmen supporting this boondoggle fail to comprehend the importance of fire in renewing forest ecosystems.  They should be focusing on protecting homes and property at the forest/home edge, rather than the enrichment of logging companies deep in the forest.

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Henslow's Sparrow.  The lack of periodic fires in the forested Eastern U.S. today, and the replacement of pasturelands with second growth forests that are not allowed to burn, has brought this sparrow down to and estimated 30,000 individuals.  Photo by Jim Burns

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By Jim Burns


A) Good Photo, Easy Bird


This Issue's Clue:

It's that time of year again when these "rumpfoots" may show up here in the desert.  Do you see any similarities between these birds and those in the January/February 2001 quiz?





B) Good Photo, Difficult Bird




C) Bad Photo, Easy Bird



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Last updated: November 27, 2001
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