[Tweeters] ID help - Flycatchers, plus Trip Report

Christy RJ christyrj at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 29 01:16:25 PDT 2013

Hi Tweets,
I was in Northern California over the weekend and spent some time stalking birds. I could use some ID help with the flycatchers I was seeing, hearing, and photographing. I think I've narrowed it down to the Hammond's Flycatcher, but I could be completely off on that and would appreciate a more experienced eye to confirm or redirect.
These birds were all around me in the trees - a mixture of conifers and oak - in the late afternoon in a hot, dry, densely tree-ed, slightly elevated area. They were singing or calling to one another in almost a slightly haunting or eerie way (but soothing and positive, not creepy-scary :). I *think* I remember that the call was two notes. Unfortunately I didn't have my phone with me with the birding app on it, and later when I retrieved the phone to try to compare and ID the song, the birds had stopped singing (naturally). They were hanging out sometimes high in the trees, sometimes on the telephone wires along the road, and two (sometimes individually and, at one lovely point, as a pair) frequented a low branch of a conifer in a nicely shaded spot over a green pasture. They also sometimes seemed to be on the ground or on the wooden fence along a nicely shaded and quiet stretch of road. There are eight photographs in a row in the photo series, of a scattering of different birds. I realize that it's possible that I may have been seeing more than one species in the area during the time I was there. In one photograph, the bird on the fence seems distinctly darker on its back than the other birds. Also that bird's tail looks distinctly longer than the tail of most of the other birds in the series. I have no idea what that particular bird may have been if not the same species as the other flycatchers I was seeing.
In some of the pictures, the wing barring looks to me like the Western Wood Pewee, but I definitely was not hearing the song of that bird. Though the Hammond's Flycatcher song doesn't sound quite *exactly* like what I remember either. I've noted the "olive vest," the notched and rather short tail, the mostly dark or sometimes completely dark bill, the longish wingtips (only visible in a couple of images) . . .
Your thoughts are much appreciated!

In other highlights of the trip, as a pseudo trip report / more so an enthusiastic birder's chance to recount entertaining myself quite happily for many hours with nothing else I would rather have been doing:
-- I had an absurdly fun time stalking several pairs of Acorn Woodpeckers that were highly active in the area over the several days I was there. Gosh they were fun!! I was so excited to see them and ecstatic to get to see them so frequently and to observe their behavior.
-- I saw and ID'd for the first time the California Towhee. I had had no idea there was such a creature, so it was fun to apply my always-growing awareness and observation of bird behavior, which led me to a quick ID after consulting Sibleys: ground feeders, hopping or walking about with legs/feet splayed oddly wide, long tail, overall size, etc. They immediately reminded me of the size/shape/behavior of Rufous-sided Towhees. (After all this bragging, I sure hope I was not wrong in my ID of these rather odd-looking birds!) I must confess that I found them to be rather creepy, mangy-looking birds, not very attractive, and this impression was not helped by the fact that the one I watched and photographed the most was, for some reason, doing an impression of Quasimodo or of a Killdeer faking a broken wing. (While watching it, I actually had a flashback to a horrifying incident with potato bugs when I was a small child growing up in California. Eeek!) Some of the other birds I saw also looked rather mangy, too, though, like one particularly rough-looking Steller's Jay and a couple of the finches. So maybe it was just the area?
-- The feeders at the home where I was staying were frequented by the Acorn Woodpeckers as well as the Steller's Jays, and I was treated to several spectacular rounds of aerial acrobatics as the Woodpeckers attempted to chase away the Jays. Then, only moments after the last round, I photographed a Woodpecker and a Jay hanging out together a mere inch or two away from one another on the deck railing, looking as though they were either about to come to fisticuffs or were working at becoming fast friends. -- My family members who were playing a game whilst I was busy with photographs came and alerted me to a hawk that had landed in the trees behind the house. Some quick photographs and a little ID work later, I discovered it was a Red-shouldered Hawk, a first for me. So nice the bird was to come for a visit.
-- Did I mention How.Much.Fun I had stalking the Acorn Woodpeckers?? I watched and photographed them for a long while through a window overlooking the bird feeders. A walk outside later led me to discover a pair that like to hang out at the top of the high voltage power poles along the road. I also watched a pair or two going crazy and squawking a blue-streak in the trees all around within a 1/4 mile radius. They are so comical looking! If they point their beaks straight at you, they either look very stern or else like they belong in the parrot family and might just say "Polly-wanna-cracker?".
-- I deep-cleaned my Grandmother's Hummingbird feeders for her and made up a batch of nectar, and then enjoyed stalking several Hummers through the window in the den overlooking the deck - they were incredibly elusive so I never did get clear images of the poses of them they sometimes took and that I so very much wanted to capture. The male gorgets seemed to flash more orange and yellow in the light than the Anna's males I'm used to here at home, but from my bird book I could not find any other Hummers that these might have been. ? (I didn't post any pictures of the orange/yellow gorgets because I never got any non-blurry shots - dang those birds were elusive!!)
-- The Flycatchers were absolutely the prettiest, most soothing and calming birds I enjoyed watching and photographing and listening to. Such pretty, gentle-looking little creatures! I think I'm a little in love with Flycatchers from the last few years of occasionally watching them. I think I wouldn't mind being a flycatcher in another life, if I have to do it all again. Besides how sweet they look, I love how predictable they are, returning to the same branch over and over again. It was SUCH a treat, after watching and birding and walking around for a while, to head back toward one favored Flycatcher spot that I had watched several times, only to discover not one but TWO of them sitting together on the favored branch. And at one point as I watched from a distance, they flew up to nestle into a higher branch together; I assume they were a mating pair. Lovely!

Bird-watching makes me seriously so so happy. :) And photographing them lets me re-live the joy and peace and happiness and fun all over again many times. Thanks for letting me gush, and thanks in advance to any who offer help with the ID on the flycatchers.

Christy in Kenmorechristyrj at Hotmail dot com

More information about the Tweeters mailing list