A Song for June 11

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Little Water Canyon is the gem of the Zuni Mountains. I don't remember how I learned of it. It's possible that I just saw it on a map and said, "I want to see that little gash, and what its water has made." What I found, when I hiked in, was towering Blue Spruce trees, taller than the canyon is deep. In the deep shade underneath grew Monk's Hood and Wintergreen, Red Osier Dogwood, and an abundance of Equisetum, all water-loving plants. Hermit Thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Orange-crowned Warbler were there. It felt like Colorado.

Little Water Canyon might not be so special if its contents weren't so rare. The Zuni Mountains reach an elevation of 9,000 feet, but their slopes are not steep. Just about every large tree was cut down and hauled away in the first half of the 20th century. The stumps are still there to prove it. But Little Water's trees were spared, because of inaccessibility I'd guess, and because spruce is not as valuable as Ponderosa Pine and Douglasfir. Thank goodness.

That was 1981. I took people there to see it and urged the U.S. Forest Service to protect it. But in 1988 I moved away. John Trochet and I visited in 1999. I didn't make it back again until 2016. By then Jim McGrath and the Native Plant Society of New Mexico were on the case. Forest Service protection has been relaxed, but "LWC" now has a friends group, and through that group's efforts the canyon's future will be secured, in my hopeful opinion.

When John and I camped at the canyon in 1999 we found a new bird for the Zuni Mountains, the Red-faced Warbler. John has found the species there regularly since then. I'm not surprised. The species is regular 100 miles to the south. It was just a matter of time before it found the Zunis, and LWC is where I'd settle if I were a Red-faced Warbler. That bird's daytime song is just below. Below it is a much more elaborate song by the same bird. Below that is a video of Little Water Canyon.

Click the sonogram to hear and see the sound.

The singing above is conventional behavior for a warbler of Family Parulidae: Well-spaced songs, each 1-3 seconds long, consisting of a few repeated notes or phrases. All eight songs are of one type, except the fourth. This looks like "first-category singing," which is used by unpaired males during the daytime (western Pieplow, p. 487). It was daytime when this bout of singing was recorded, so we might reasonably suppose that he was unpaired. With his species never before seen in the Zuni Mountains, unpaired would seem to be a highly like status. I saw a Red-faced Warbler sing the dominant song-type later in the morning. But, much more complex singing was recorded earlier, while the flycatchers were still engaged in dawnsinging. It is below.

Click the sonogram to hear and see the sound.

You can simply listen to this and enjoy the work of an excellent songster. You will notice some rather harsh sounds. They are coming from a Mountain Chickadee, who is "talking over" our warbler. If you want to get into the weeds, very interesting weeds, I think, three things jump out about this singing behavior: (1) The basic song-type is different from the ones above, although it sounds like it could be by the same species. (2) The songs are irregular in duration. This results from extensions -- of various lengths -- to the basic song-type. (3) The bird is singing at an uneven pace. Regardless of how you measure the inter-song interval, it is not constant. Less obvious are the faint chip notes between songs. All four characteristics point to this as an example of "second-category singing," which is performed at dawn by unpaired males. This cut was recorded at dawn. So, another vote for our colonist being unpaired. It all makes sense. Pieplow says more study is needed on whether this species has two categories of singing. It looks like it might, from these recordings, which unfortunately have been sitting on a shelf for 21 years.

Other Goodies from June 11

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (2014)
Bobolink (2014)

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