Last week (June 7 around 1:00 pm) we were surprised to see this empid flycatcher at the edge of our patio. At first glance I thought it was one of our resident Desert Spiny Lizards poking its head and chest up on the edge, but a quick look through my binoculars revealed it was a flycatcher. I suspected it had come down to check out the mealworms my wife Carol tosses out for the thrashers, mockingbirds, towhees, and woodpeckers who hang around all day. We somethings get a migrant “western” flycatcher in spring or fall in one of the trees, but had never had one on the ground or at the mealworms as this bird was.
The lighting here is terrible for photos but I grabbed the camera with 300 and 2x and quickly set up the tripod, hoping that the flycatcher would return. When it came back I was able to get off a few frames by setting the ISO to 800 and shooting through the dirty glass door. At 1/30th second and f/8 the raw file was sharp enough, although the contrast was very low with washed out dark areas. Plus, the gravel in direct sunlight farther away from the patio bricks was grossly over exposed.
Those problems were address in raw conversion and post processing, and the final result was much better than I’d hoped.
My guess is that this is a Pacific-slope Flycatcher (or what older field guides label as Western Flycatcher before it was split into two species). I’d feel better about that identification if the eye-ring was more prominent and extended at front and back.
I’ve scanned the bar chart covering empids from our reference book to the Birds of Phoenix and Maricopa County by Witzeman, Demaree, and Radke.
Maricopa Empid Barchart
Note that none of the empids (I’ve blocked them out in pale green) are expected in Phoenix in June, although there are a few summer records of Willow Flycatcher and Pacific-slope Flycatcher.
If you’ve got input on the identification and/or date for this image I hope you’ll leave a comment.
I’ve received a number of private email messages about the identity of this bird, as well as read many more comments on the AZ birding listserv. None of the experienced birders who commented thought this was a Pacific-slope Flycatcher or any other of the western species of empids. The conclusion of everybody involved in the on-line discussion and in the private emails was that this is a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. In addition to the bright colors and the contrast of the wing (dangerous attributes if that is all an ID is based upon) the experts cited: shape of the eye ring; shape of the head; length of the primaries; the size of the gaps between primaries; and even the unusual feeding behavior.
As my friend and experienced birder Pete Moulton wrote: I wonder if maybe a bird here at the wrong time might not also be a bird in the wrong place. That was definitely my initial thought when this bird appeared on the edge of the patio.