Date: 5/30/19 2:52 pm
From: Joseph Neal <joeneal...>
Subject: Willow Flycatcher in Benton County
A Willow Flycatcher was singing in a thicket in a big field about 3/4 mile southeast of Craig State Fish Hatchery in Centerton this morning. This is precisely same thicket where a Willow was present at this same time two years ago. This is an extensive, now abandoned hayfield For Sale with a stream running through it and field partially scrapped down to red dirt. In same area: Bell’s Vireo, Field Sparrow, Painted Bunting, Yellow-breasted Chat, Indigo Bunting, etc. Less than 4-miles east, Mike Mlodinow and I used to find Willows on north end of Bentonville Airport, into early 1990s, after which habitat was lost due to development.

Mike wrote an article about these Willow Flycatchers in Arkansas Audubon Society Newsletter (now Arkansas Birds) in1993 (v. 38, no. 1, p. 5). From this morning’s Willow singing perch, a sprawling Walmart distribution center is visible less than 2 miles southeast. It is now a country of old farms dozed to red dirt, new housing ginned up as fast as builders can staple-gun it together.

Watching all of this play out amazes me. Even though Arkansas Territory was where Audubon found and named Traill’s Flycatcher, Arkansas in 2019 is not really an important part of the Willow Flycatcher range, though there is a very good biological reason why birds try to hang onto wide geographical ranges. Northwest Arkansas City economically vibrates and booms. I hate it is doing so increasingly without Willow Flycatchers.

Also amazing to me: a bird that weighs in at less than ½ an ounce and singing on a territory in Benton County today came all the way from a winter spent in Central and South America. We’re talking about Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Columbia, Venezuela, etc. They have been crossing international boundaries since time immemorial. No wars, no documents, no political fuss. Could it be they understand better than do we the purposes of life?

Years ago I would drive home from a trip to Centerton with my head full of such songs. They anchored a place in my spirit. I had a head full of FITZ BEW, OH KEE LAH (Red-winged Blackbird), toots and whistles of Yellow-breasted Chats. It is now a little harder with so many cars and trucks and so much everywhere and everything dozed down and constructed. I regret the change. But: birds are still singing. It is well worth the effort to hear them. That said, competition on life’s sound stage has gotten tougher and a Willow Flycatcher is going to require a longer drive.

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