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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stars of the Certhioidea plus assorted Tyrants

[SE Arizona. April 2014]

Despite the imposing and somewhat mysterious title of this week's blog, we will not be discussing the celestial bodies of a far off  galaxy called Certhioidea; neither shall we be discussing world despots -- indeed, the subject of this blog post is decidedly avian.

In the hallowed taxonomy of the Aves, the superfamily Certhioidea encompasses some truly interesting species belonging to the Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Wrens, and Gnatcatchers. We are fortunate that the Gnatcatchers and Wrens are especially well represented in the New World (indeed Gnatcatchers are exclusive to the Americas).  Treecreepers and Nuthatches, on the other hand, are much more richly represented in the Old World.

In this post we will review recent observations of species belonging to this superfamily plus a small selection of Tyrant Flycatchers that were observed in SE Arizona earlier this year. Specifically, we will briefly profile:

From the Certhioidea:
  • Canyon Wren
  • Rock Wren
  • House Wren
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  • Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
  • Pygmy Nuthatch
And, from Tyrant Flycatchers:
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher
  • Buff-breasted Flycatcher 
  • Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  • Cordilleran Flycatcher
The Americas are blessed with a wealth of wrens and while most wrens are cryptic brown jobs, the Canyon Wren breaks the mold somewhat in a smart combination of chestnut, brown, grey and white:

 Canyon Wren seen at Sabino Canyon

Canyon Wren seen at Sabino Canyon (river bed trail behind the dam)

One is first alerted to the presence of the Canyon Wren by its incredibly loud song -- a burst of tightly spaced whistled notes that gradually grow longer (and lower pitched) and conclude with a grating squawk.

 Canyon Wren seen at Sabino Canyon

Ranging all across the West, our most distinctive wren is a crevice specialist with an uncanny ability to flatten its body to forage in impossibly tight spaces.

Rock Wren seen at Molino Vista

The aptly named Rock Wren, compared to the Canyon Wren, is both stockier and greyer. However, in song, the Rock Wren is equally (and perhaps more) accomplished. Sadly, its population is declining across its Western range.

House Wren seen at Madera Canyon
House Wren seen at Bear Wallow

Our next wren is the humble House Wren. This songbird has one of the largest ranges of any bird in the New World ranging from Argentina to Canada. It is a cavity nester and population trends are fairly stable.

Closely related to the wrens but not found in the Old World are the delightful Gnatcatchers:

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher seen at Rose Canyon

Unlike the Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (above) which enjoys widespread distribution across the US, the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is found in a small range close to the Mexican border from Texas westwards.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher seen at Sabino Canyon

While disambiguating the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher from the Blue-grey may be problematic in Winter, in alternate plumage the identification is a cinch thanks to the spectacular black cap and flamboyant white-edged black tail.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher seen at Sabino Canyon

Described by George Newbold Lawrence (of Lawrence's Goldfinch fame), this tiny bird is a feisty insectivore but, unlike the Blue-grey, it does not hawk insects in the air; preferring instead, to glean them from leaves and branches. 

We conclude our brief survey of representatives of the Certhioidea with a nuthatch:

Pygmy Nuthatch seen at Rose Canyon

Competing with the Brown-headed Nuthatch for the title to our smallest nuthatch, this pair were observed next to their nest cavity on the descent to Rose Canyon on Mt. Lemmon.

And now for the Tyrant Flycatchers:

Ash-throated Flycatcher:

Ash-throated Flycatcher seen at Molino Vista
And the spectacular Buff-breasted Flycatcher -- much favored for its exclusivity to Arizona in the US:

Preferring woodland habitat over arid scrub, the Dusky-capped Flycatcher appears otherwise quite similar to the Ash-throated:

Dusky-capped Flycatcher seen at Madera Canyon

We conclude with Cordilleran Flycatcher:

A magnet for those of the birding persuasion, SE Arizona is a treasure trove of stunning species some of which are found nowhere else in the US.

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