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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Flycatchers of the Southwest: Buff-breasted and Dusky-capped Flycatchers plus a Tyrannulet

[April 2016. Tucson area]

"Suum cuique" -- an ancient Latin saying that means "to each his own"; indeed, where could this be more applicable than in the realm of birding? Some birders are confirmed warblerholics; others are shorebird maniacs; others still have made the icterids their lifelong passion. In this post, however, we provide avian fodder for those whose obsession is that of the flycatcher persuasion.

Tyrant flycatchers are a fascinating family. Although they pale in photogenic significance compared to our more colorful warblers, buntings, and tanagers, they possess an oversized character and personality that has captivated many a birder.

And while the Eastern US has its share of Kingbirds, Phoebes and Pewees, the most interesting flycatchers in the country are found in the Southwest -- specifically, Southeastern Arizona (SEAZ). 

Indeed, a quick Spring visit to the Tucson area offered up an eclectic mix of species headlined by the specialty flycatchers of the area:
  • Buff-bellied Flycatcher
  • Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher
  • Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
  • Western Wood Pewee
  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Lesser Nighthawk
  • Hutton's Vireo
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
We start with the spectacular Buff-bellied Flycatcher -- this is the most distinctive empidonax flycatcher in the US and at the top of every flycatcher-aficionado's wishlist. 

This beautiful flycatcher was seen at Rose Canyon on Mt. Lemmon where it may be reliably found.

Like the Buff-breasted Flycatcher, the Dusky-capped Flycatcher is also an Arizona specialty.

This shaggy-crested tyrant is found from Argentina to S. Arizona. This spectacular specimen was seen at Madera Canyon.

Ash-throated Flycatcher is widely found in the West:

The Northern Beardless Tyrannulet is a must-see for those in SEAZ:


This is a tiny flycatcher but a highly energetic vocalizer.

The name "Northern Beardless Tyrannulet" means a small tyrant flycatcher without rictal bristles (hence "beardless"). This exciting flycatcher was observed in Sabino Canyon.
Perhaps the most "ordinary" flycatcher observed was this Western Wood Pewee seen at Rose Canyon:

In addition to the flycatchers, other species observed were:

Cooper's Hawk:

This beautiful raptor was observed with a recently deceased Rufous-crowned Sparrow in its talons.

Repeated calling from the adult resulted in the arrival of the juvenile above. Both these hawks were observed at Molino Basin on Mt. Lemmon.

Over at Sweetwater Wetlands, this blogger came to see the spectacle of a swarm of Lesser Nighthawks hawking for insects over the water:

Attempting photographic capture of erratic-flying nighthawks in near darkness is an exercise in futility as can be seen from the results.

Finally, a trio of species seen on Mt. Lemmon: 
Hutton's Vireo:

White-breasted Nuthatch:

And, where else but Southeastern Arizona can you observe 3 species of Gnatchatcher? (Blue-grey, Black-tailed and Black-capped; the former observed here):

Each of the various families of birds found in the US are delightful in their own right. And while flashy warblers and tanagers may steal the spotlight because of their avian charisma, the flycatcher family offers some fascinating species that will enthrall the intrepid birder and there is no better place than Southeastern Arizona to observe them.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

All-Stars of Port Huron: Mourning Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-winged Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak

[Port Huron SGA. June 2016]

Who shall know the true splendor of our forests? Only those that lose themselves in the verdant depths of the woods will discover the true manifestation of nature's bounty in trilling warblers, the musical cascades of tanagers and grosbeaks and the haunting melodies of thrushes

And, this is precisely the promise that a visit to Port Huron State Game Area holds for the intrepid birder Every year, this area harbors a spectacular collection of species to be enjoyed at the peak of their breeding prime; species such as:
  • American Goldfinch
  • American Redstart
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Louisiana Waterthrush
  • Mourning Warbler
  • Ovenbird
  • Pine Warbler 
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Veery
We begin with the Goldfinch:
American Goldfinch is a species that can be cruelly overlooked on account of its abundance:

The male Goldfinch is a truly spectacular specimen with its pink bill and strongly contrasting yellow and black plumage.

The main attraction at Port Huron SGA, are the warblers. American Redstart is a summer breeder here: 

Like the Redstart, Blue-winged Warbler is also a breeding species. Its buzzy song is instantly recognizable.

The male Chestnut-sided Warbler can sing two songs -- one for attracting prospective mates and the other for defending its territory against competing rivals.

Common Yellowthroat is usually found in weedy areas:

The "inverse" of the Common Yellowthroat is said to be the Hooded Warbler:

The Hooded shows yellow where the Common Yellowthroat shows black.

The loud "chinks" of an Indigo Bunting betray its presence:

All the above are regularly occurring -- however, the Louisiana Waterthrush is only an uncommon breeder here: 

The Mourning Warbler is seen with great difficulty in migration, but here, it is locally common on its breeding grounds:

The song of the Mourning Warbler is loud -- but it is nothing compared to the bold yelling of "teacher, teacher" of the Ovenbird:

The Pine Warbler, like its name implies, is never seen far from pines:

The sweet notes of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak fill the air before it is sighted:

No songster is as persistent, however, as the Red-eyed Vireo:

Compared the Vireo, the song of the Veery is soft and haunting:

The woods of Eastern North America are alive with brilliant songbirds that are ours to discover. And, Port Huron SGA in Summer is a treasure-trove of delightful species that will enthrall any one who seeks beauty in nature's abundance.