[Update, June 29, 2011: For more on wildfires in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Georgia and near Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park, nesting site of the endangered Whooping Crane, see this report from Associate Editor Matt Mendenhall.]
Fire has dominated the news from Arizona over the last few weeks, and in the last few days, the birding community in the canyons and forests of southeastern Arizona has been particularly hard hit.Miller and Ash Canyons — among the best places in North America to see hummingbirds and other species — are under mandatory evacuation orders due to the Monument Fire that began in the Huachuca Mountains on Sunday, June 12. At least 20 houses in Ash Canyon are said to have been damaged or destroyed, and the popular Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast was rumored to have been among them. But I have just heard from owner Mary Jo Ballator that her home "somehow escaped the firestorm and is 'intact.'" She is staying with a friend and says she may not be able to return home "for some time to come." I'll have more updates from Mary Jo as they become available.Tom Beatty Sr. of Beatty's Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon wrote today to the Arizona-New Mexico Birding List that he is staying put. In addition to the evacuations, the entire Coronado National Forest is now closed due to the fire danger. Farther east in Cave Creek Canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains, the much larger Horseshoe Two fire has burned about 310 square miles, including parts of Rustler Park, a popular birding hotspot. In our forthcoming August issue, an article in "Birding Briefs" notes that in Cave Creek, the fire mostly burned underbrush and leaf litter but left the canopy intact. The issue went to press in late May — before the Monument Fire and the gigantic Wallow Fire began. (As we say in the publishing business, you can be out of date as soon as you go to print.)Today I spoke with Reed Peters, owner and manager of Cave Creek Ranch. He says 95 percent of the people who had booked rooms this season have cancelled, and he doesn't blame them. But he notes that he is still open for business. He explained that due to the extremely dry conditions, especially in the woods and grassy areas, "any spark will start a fire." The forest will remain closed, he says, "until it rains. The fuel moisture content has to go up, and that will only happen with rain. The average start of the monsoon season is July 9th, but it could start in late June." Here's hoping. --Matt Mendenhall, Associate Editor
Photo: Burned forest clearing near Rustler Park. Credit: U.S. Forest Service
For more fire updates, watch the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory's Facebook page and the Monument Fire Facebook page.