Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

March 29, 2009

Empidonax Frustrations

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places, light — richditch @ 2:42 pm
Empidonax Flycatcher at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Empidonax Flycatcher at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

I’ll be the first to admit that these small gray/green/yellow flycatchers are difficult to identify, especially when they are silent as most of the birds are that I see in the deserts of central AZ. When I “learned my birds” I lived in New Jersey, and the problem of empidonax identification was fairly easy – you just listened to them on territory! When I moved from NJ to AZ I mostly gave up on these troublesome birds, but I still struggle with them at times embarrassed by this particular inadequacy.

The flycatcher shown here sat in front of me and my camera for just over a minute in the Demonstration Garden at Boyce Thompson Arboretum on 3/28/09. I got off a few frames, mostly to assist in later study with my collection of field guides. The setting wasn’t the best, and the light direction was a problem, so both of the images shown here have their aesthetic issues.

The possibilities are:

  • Gray Flycatcher
  • Hammond’s Flycatcher
  • Dusky Flycatcher
  • Pacific-slope Flycatcher
  • Cordilleran Flycatcher
  • Willow Flycatcher

I’ve left out the eastern empids, as well as the colorful Buff-breasted Flycatcher, from the list of likely birds here near Phoenix.

Empidonax Flycatcher

Empidonax Flycatcher

I’ve posted a gallery with more shots (as well as head close-ups cropped from these and other images) on my web site.

I’d enjoy hearing anyone’s analysis on this bird – maybe its still not too late for me to continue to “learn my birds.”

Follow-up 3/31/09.

The votes are in, and by an overwhelming majority this bird has been identified as a Hammond’s Flycatcher. The tally of comments received here and in private email messages is:

  • Hammond’s Flycatcher – 8
  • Dusky Flycatcher – 2
  • Least Flycatcher – 1

My thanks to all who provided insight on this bird. Now, all I need to do is keep the input in mind and apply it in the field next time I see a silent empid in front of me.

Addendum 4/2/09.

I’ve received another well reasoned vote for Dusky Flycatcher from an experienced local birder whose judgement I trust, so the count now stands at 8, 3, 1. So, please provide your input if you have an opinion on this bird.

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1 Comment »

  1. Rich,

    White eyering eliminates Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers, which show yellow teardrop shaped eyerings.

    The bill is too small and eyering to strong for Willow.

    I think the bird too colorful and the bill too short and dusky-tipped underneath for Gray.

    That leaves Hammond’s and Dusky. Unfortunately, while the close ups of the head are beautiful, it is the primary extension that I need to see. So a shot from the backside would help clinch the ID.

    My guess from a limited view is that the primary extension is short. That, combined with the extensive orange under mandible color indicates Dusky to me.

    Of course, several vagrant Eastern Empids are possible, but the generally subdued colors of plumage and low wing bar contrast eliminate most of those.

    So, I’m going with Dusky Flycatcher.

    Greg Gillson
    Hillsboro, Oregon

    Comment by nwbackyardbirder — March 30, 2009 @ 10:23 am


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