Volume XLIX, No.4




Notes and Announcements

From the Editor - Deva Burns


Board News - And A Good Time Was Had By All

Cliff Noted

Photo Quiz

Conservation – Birds & Forest Fire

AZ Special Species – Brown-Crested Flycatcher

Field Trips

Field Trip Report – California Quail in Arizona

Conservation – Government Contacts

Photo Quiz Answers

Sightings – March April

Photo Quiz Answers Continued

Board News – Changes in the Wind at Audubon

Birder’s Corner – Gunnison Gase Grouse LEK

Glossy Ibis photographed by Roy Jones with Olympus C-3000 digital camera through Kowa 82mm scope.  First State Record.

To navigate to other parts of the site, scroll to the bottom of the page or use this link


By Bob Witzeman

"A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it.  It implies respect for his fellow members and also respect for the community as such."

Aldo Leopold- Sand County Almanac

A consortium of the U.S. Forest Service, an NAU forestry professor named Wallace Covington, and others, are moving forward with their multimillion-dollar "fireproofing" of 100,000 acres of a Flagstaff area forest.  They call it "pre-settlement restoration" or sometimes fire prevention but it has already been used as old-growth logging disguised as forest fireproofing.  Proof of this is Covington's past pre-settlement "thinning" restorations at Mount Trumbull.  Photographed at that site were 36-inch matriarchs being sold to logging companies, - supposedly to pay for the cost of the restoration thinning.  Sometimes enviros are able to set a 16-inch cap on these "pre-settlement" logging schemes, sometimes not.  George Bush's new appointees will certainly oppose any logging size caps.


This pre-settlement scheme claims to protect homes from forest fire. In reality, most of those millions of dollars will be wastefully spent in forests more than the 0.5 miles from homes.  Numerous studies have shown that if you wish to protect homes and property you are wasting money if you thin and manipulate the forest more than half mile from that wildlands-urban interface.

The "pre-settlement" approach embraces the Covington notion that by thinning the forests we can return them to a benign "pre-settlement" forest type characterized by slow, cool-burning forest fires which will hug the ground and not reach the canopy.  In reality, fire burned in Arizona and throughout the West in every possible manner from hot to cool.


Since cattle are not permanently removed from our public forests following this "restoration" thinning, the cycle of dense conifer thickets and crown-fire laddering continues. Cattle, by removing grass, allow conifer seedlings to germinate in excess.

If we were to have only Covington's cool fires here in the West, it would be an ecological disaster. There are important ecological benefits from having both hot and cool burning fires. Many birds and other wildlife are dependent upon hot, stand-replacing fires, intermediate fires, and cool fires.  This mix of fire intensity types results in diverse tree species and age classes, and many beneficial stages of forest succession -essential to dynamic, productive forest ecosystems.

Smokey's fire suppression policy has impacted a host of fire-dependent birds and wildlife.  In Arizona these include Hermit Thrush, Hairy woodpecker, and Olive-sided Flycatcher.  That flycatcher needs severely burned forests. Under fire suppression Arizona and the West have lost much of its aspen. Aspen is valuable here for our Red-naped Sapsucker, Warbling Vireo, and various woodpeckers and swallows.


Fire is indispensable for Arizona's Buff-breasted Flycatcher. That species depends upon fire-induced clear areas in pine forests. Aerial photos of most forest fires show a complex mosaic of heavily burned, partially burned and unburned areas.  These burned/unburned mosaic interfaces with both living and standing dead trees become insect smorgasbords for bluebirds, swallows, woodpeckers etc. They capitalize on the copious, varied food supply of the burned and unburned habitats.

Fire is essential for the survival of various plant species, whether the flames open sealed cones to release seeds, or clear the ground to create conditions for germination. Harmful, exotic weeds brought in by the livestock industry, are reduced in number by fire. Smokey has always told us how inimical bark beetles, dwarf mistletoe, gypsy moths, porcupines and fires were

to his tree farm mindset.  These are, in reality, the beneficial forces.  Like fire, they open up overgrown post-mature forests for wildlife and promote tree species succession.  The latest issue of Audubon Magazine pointed out that some insect species actively search out fires, homing in on the chemical compounds in smoke. These fire-loving insects include wasps, wood-boring beetles and robber flies.  The black Melanophila beetles congregate at fires, arriving in time to lay their eggs in still-smoldering trees.  These beetles apparently detect flames with a pair of infrared sensors on their thorax.

Smoke may signal widely dispersed insects to gather, increasing their chance of finding a mate.  Burned trees also provide food for growing insect youngsters as well as the birds that depend on these insects as prey items. In one wasp species, the mother lays her eggs under scorched bark, along with depositing a wood fiber-digesting fungus. Insectivorous birds thrive in hot fire areas with standing burned trees.

Let's protect homes and property by only fireproofing the well studied, officially accepted half-mile wildland-urban interface distance.  And let's not throw billions of tax dollars into the "pre-settlement" nonsense even one inch outside the 0.5-mile wildland-urban interface.

The cool-burning "pre-settlement" forest type never even remotely characterized the West. The Covington prescription is nothing more than the foot in the door by a forestry professor to bring old-growth logging and even-aged tree farms back to the West. If you have any doubts about this, look how our pro-logging western senators are clamoring for this "fireproofing" charade.

Buff-breasted Flycatcher: This bird is dependent upon forest fires which create mosaics of meadows full of insects, surrounded by unburned standing trees for nesting.Jim Burns photo




By Jim Burns


Thirty years of birding have come down finally to this:  I would readily label any Empidonax flycatcher and happily sit through another root canal before I would comfortably try to distinguish between Arizona's two largest Myiarchus flycatchers, Ash-throated and Brown-crested.  Though the former is widespread throughout the West, the latter, Myiarchus tyrannulus, is one of Arizona's special species, species found only here or more easily here than in any other state.


Brown-crested Flycatchers are migrants to the states, common but local breeders throughout central and southern Arizona and south Texas, with records from southeastern California and extreme southwestern New Mexico.  Part of the identification problem is that they are notably late arrivals (early May) and notably early departures (mid-August), so time for study is relatively short and of course not many birders are doing south Texas in the early summer humidity.


Brown-cresteds are short distance migrants, present most of the year in much of Mexico, widespread south to Costa Rica, found also from Columbia to northern Argentina.  Here in Arizona they are typically but not exclusively found in riparian areas.  The accompanying photograph was taken in a dry wash in a residential area of northwest Tucson.  South of Tucson watch (listen) for them in lower Madera Canyon, at the Sonoita Creek preserve, and around the ponds at Kino Springs.  Closer to Phoenix they are reliably found along the Beeline Highway at Mesquite Wash and in the Sunflower area, at Seven Springs near Camp Creek, and northward below the Mogollon Rim in areas such as Oak Creek Canyon.


Like its Myiarchus congeners, Brown-cresteds are cavity nesters, and being the largest of the Myiarchus they utilize the holes of our largest woodpeckers, Gilded Flicker and Gila in Arizona, Golden-fronted in Texas.  Saguaros, cottonwoods, and sycamores are favored locations, and three to six eggs are laid on a bed of fur, feathers, and snakeskin.  Brown-cresteds are very aggressive around the nest site and are one of our few native species that compete successfully with Starlings.

Brown-Crested Flycatcher photographed in Tucson, AZ 7/00.  Photo by Jim Burns

Brown-crested was formerly called Wied's Flycatcher after the Prince of Wied, a 19th century collector.  If you lament the loss of history inherent in these name changes, but applaud the apparent addition of diagnostics, consider that all four US species of Myiarchus have brown heads and appear crested.  Perhaps "Hook-billed Brown Cardinal" would have made more sense visually.  Though they subsist primarily on insects and some fruit, there are many records of Brown-cresteds taking lizards and hummingbirds.  That hook would be the envy of any shrike.


Granted this bill looks massive and bill size is one of the features used to separate Brown-crested from its Myiarchus congeners, Great-crested, Ash-throated, and Dusky-capped, but most of these featuresthroat color, amount and brightness of yellow on the belly, contrast in the tertial edges, rufous in the tailare only relative.  It's unlikely you will have more than one Myiarchus in your binocular field for comparison.  Distinguishing between Ash-throated and Brown-crested comes down finally to two things:  voice and the pattern of rufous in the undertail.


One author verbalizes Ash-throated's song as "a rolling preer" and writes Brown-crested's as "a rolling prri-di-whew."  Another calls Ash-throated's voice "burry," Brown-crested's "rough."  Still another says Ash-throated has a "rhythmic series of ha-wheers" and Brown-crested a "series of soft burr-rs."  One seemingly apt description likens Ash-throated to a referee's whistle, but I've listened to both tapes many times and I've heard both birds on the courts and playing fields.  Aurally I'm just not getting it.


If you've been blessed with a musical ear you'll probably be fine.  Otherwise try to catch the tip of the undertail.  On our Brown-crested the undertail will show rufous all the way to the tips of the inner webs.  Ash-throateds will show brown tips all the way across.  Unless it's a juvenile bird.  Are you starting to get the picture?  I think the latest National Geo guide illustrates tails better than Sibley. 

Give me one more spring in the field and maybe I'll have it.









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