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NVBIRDS  August 2002

NVBIRDS August 2002

Subject:

Cordilleran vs. Pacific-Slope Flycatchers

From:

Martin Meyers <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Martin Meyers <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 2 Aug 2002 21:41:48 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (147 lines)

I just posted a rather long trip report to the California bird list.
However, the major topic in the post is relevant to Nevada birders, so I'm
going to pass it on to this list as well.  Incidentally, the Warner
Mountains, described in the report, are VERY close to Nevada, being
stretching to within about 10 or 15 miles of the Nevada border in extreme
northeast California.

As a little background:
The "Western" Flycatchers of the Warner Mountains are presumed to be
Cordilleran, based on genetic studies.  However, it has been known for some
time that they give confusing calls, many of which are very similar to
Pacific-Slope calls.  The main reason for my trip to the Warners was to
listen to these supposed intermediate-type calls.

-----------    Trip Report posted to Cal Birds -------
I finally made it up into the Warner Mountains.  I only had two days, but
the drive from Truckee isn't bad, so it was worth it even for that short a
time.  I drove up Thursday (8/1), arriving at Blue Lake in the southern part
of the range (Lassen County) a little before noon.  The afternoon was very
smoky and pretty hot.  Birds were not particularly active, of course, and I
actually spent a good portion of the afternoon enjoying butterflies.  (There
were lots and lots of large Fritillaries, but I'm lousy at identifying large
Fritillaries, unfortunately.  I think they were Great Spangled.  Good
numbers of other species as well, including Monarchs, West-coast Ladies --
sure, take the easy ones!)

The Blue Lake area was burned last year, and there were a fair number of
woodpeckers around, mostly Hairy, Flicker, and Williamson's Sapsuckers.
However, I did manage to find a family of three Black-backs the next morning
(two young, one adult female).  Ospreys, an adult Bald Eagle, lots of Brown
Creepers feeding young, Western Tanagers (also feeding young), two
Red-shouldered Hawks (one adult, one immature), countless Western
Wood-Peewees, and a Beaver kept the day interesting.  The trail around the
lake is pleasant even with the burned trees.

Of course, the primary reason for the trip was to hear some (presumed)
Cordilleran Flycatchers.  I had received lots of good information in
response to my earlier post to this list (thanks, Kris Olson, Mike Feighner,
Brad Schram, Matthew Matthiessen, Mark Miller, Dave Quady, John Lewis, Ron
LeValley, Chet Ogan, Jennifer Matkin, and anyone I might have forgotten).
Ron pointed out that the longer I waited, the less likelihood of hearing
songs, and he was correct.  Even at 6:00 a.m., no Cords were singing.
That'll have to wait for another trip next spring/early summer.  But I did
get to hear several birds calling.  I'm not sure I have anything to add to
the enormous amount of discussion that has already been posted on the topic,
but I'll throw in my observations anyway.

I found a family of "Western" Flycatchers in the late afternoon Thursday.
These birds were just up the road from the campground, near a house with a
"Deputy Sheriff" sign out front.  The group included three young birds being
fed by one adult.  (I cannot be absolutely sure there weren't two adults,
but I never saw two together feeding them.)  I stayed with these birds for
about forty minutes, but they were generally silent, except for a very weak,
thin, high "eet" which appeared to be coming only from the young (perhaps a
begging call).  I stayed in this area until nearly dark, but never heard any
other calls.

I returned to that location at 6:00 the next morning.  I covered that area
and some other likely areas for the next two hours with no success (at
least, no Flycatcher success -- I did find the Black-backs near that house
around 7:30).  I returned to camp, packed up the tent, and headed out.  But
I decided to make one more stop at the Deputy Sheriff house as I drove out,
and this time, I was immediately greeted by a "classic" Cordilleran
Flycatcher call, two separated notes, the second higher.  In the next
fifteen minutes or so, I heard this bird call a few more times and saw the
bird briefly.  All calls were typical for Cordilleran, no different to my
ears than birds in Utah or central and eastern Nevada.  This seems
consistent with several other reports, which said that the birds around Blue
Lake are the only ones that give unequivocal Cordilleran calls. (A few
reports have also stated hearing intermediate calls from Blue Lake birds,
but this bird gave no such calls.)

I really wanted to hear some of the other calls for which the Warner
population of Cordillerans are justly famous (or infamous), so I headed up
to Mill Creek Campground (Modoc County) and walked up into the South Warner
Wilderness.  I didn't have to go very far!  At Mill Creek Falls, perhaps a
quarter mile from the trailhead, I heard a call that struck me as pretty
typically Cordilleran, but that was immediately followed by a different
call, an up-slurred call that seemed to have no opening or closing notes.
(What I mean by that is that typical calls of both Western Flycatchers have
two specific notes, with the end note higher than the start note.  The
difference between typical Cord and typical P.S. seems to be what goes on in
between these two notes -- separated in Cord, slurred in P.S.  But the call
I heard was just a quick slur from low to high.)  The bird repeated that
call one more time, then disappeared.  (This was very close to the
waterfall, so there was competing noise.)

I then returned to the main trail and walked up toward Clear Lake.  Between
the Falls trail and the Clear Lake trail, I found two more birds.  These
both called quite a bit, and one of them in fact continued calling regularly
for a full hour.  (This was from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m.)  Just what I'd been
hoping for!  But very confusing!!

Neither of these birds ever gave a definite Cordilleran-type call, although
during the hour, I did hear two calls that came pretty close. These calls
had the regular two notes, with no break between them, but no obvious slur
discernible.  I'd say these calls sounded closer to Cordilleran than to
P.S., but were not perfect for Cord.  However, that was only two calls, out
of the fifty or more calls I heard here.  The rest seemed much more like
P.S. calls than Cord calls.  Among these were three types.  One was the
short, weak up-slur described above.  Another was very similar to that, but
with just a trace of specific notes at each end, hence more two-parted.  The
third was a strong, complete two notes with definite up-slur between them, a
call that seemed very much like the characteristic call of P.S. Flycatcher.

One thing I did not hear was a variation on that typical P.S. call which I
have often heard from P.S. Flycatchers along the coast and on the lower west
slope of the Sierra.  That call has always struck me as being almost
three-parted.  The beginning and end are the same two notes as in the other
calls, end note higher than first.  But in between, there seems to be a very
short downward inflection, immediately followed by the typical up-slur.  So
the effect is something like see-uh-weet (where the "uh" is a slightly lower
pitch than the opening "see".) It is a very quick drop in pitch, so perhaps
"see-uwheet" might be better.  Anyway, I have heard that call from most
Pacific Slopes if I sit and listen for a while.  I did not hear it from the
birds at Mill Creek, although one or two calls might have had just a tiny
suggestion of that pattern.

So what does it all mean?  Got me!  But it sure was interesting!

I think the net effect on my state lists was a wash.  I certainly feel
comfortable that I added Cordilleran Flycatcher to my California list, based
on the Blue Lake bird.  But I also think I'm going to have to delete
Pacific-slope Flycatcher from my Nevada list.  I am convinced that many,
perhaps most, of the "Western" Flycatchers in the southern Nevada
migrant-traps in migration are Pacific-slopes.  In late May and early June,
these birds call fairly frequently.  I've never heard one give a classic
Cordilleran call.  And I have heard these birds giving all of the expected
P.S. calls, including the call I describe as "almost three-parted", which I
did not hear in the Warners.  But I cannot in clear conscience say that I'm
convinced that the birds I've seen/heard at Corn Creek (near Las Vegas) or
in Lida or Dyer couldn't have been Cordillerans from this rather specialized
population.  Since I've never heard one of the birds in the desert traps
sing, and I don't expect to, I believe that, for myself, I'm just going to
have to accept that Pacific-slope is not identifiable (without capture) in
Nevada.  (Incidentally, banders have reported various mixes of P.S. and Cord
in migration in southern Nevada, most saying they thought it was around
50-50.  Funny that I've never heard a typical Cordilleran call.)

Martin
____________________________
|
|   Martin Meyers
|   [log in to unmask]
|  Truckee, CA
|__________________________

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