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Trip report: Warner Mountains

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  • Martin Meyers
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2002
      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 Meyers
      | meyersm@...
      | Truckee, CA
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