[Tweeters] seeking Empidonax flyc expertise and wisdom

Pterodroma at aol.com Pterodroma at aol.com
Fri May 3 22:39:53 PDT 2013

Empidonax flycatcher expertise and wisdom, ME is not! For that matter, is
anyone really?

I had a couple good day's runs for Empidonax flycatchers (Apr 30 and May
1), a dozen or so total but none since so far despite same levels of birding
effort on May 2 and 3 in the Lake Hills Greenbelt (LHG-Bellevue). On Apr
30 and May 1, these flycatchers were fairly conspicuously scattered
throughout the routine greenbelt walks. Most, maybe all, except maybe one, were
believed to be Hammond's based on predominately gray appearance showing at
best, if at all, only the faintest of hint yellowish on the belly.
Otherwise, gray; gray head, gray throat, gray chest, lighter gray underparts, gray
back, gray tail, just shades of gray. In general, head shape relative to
the bird seemed a tad disproportionately largish, "bull-headed", not so
much slender or imparting a 'peaked' look. Bills were quite small, narrow,
and short, mostly black with maybe a bit of yellowish or orangeish only at
the base of the lower mandible and that often but barely discernable. All had
variably conspicuous almond-shaped eye-rings, very faint if detectable at
all, paler lores, and wingbars. All these flycatchers have been silent
except for one which uttered a few single but very short faint "chew" like
chips. All of these Empidonax flycatchers scattered about were in similar
habitats, scrubby riparian areas with alders, birches, salmonberry, small
conifers, often near but not in the small groves of strictly largish conifers
which are predominately hemlock/cedar with a scattering of Douglas Fir,
thus, none too high, mostly in the 10-20 foot range, and typically active
between perching and moving about from branch to branch in familiar flycatcher

The "exception" alluded to above is the one and last bird I saw on May 1
near Phantom Lake, along the gravel walkway out to the observation deck in
the low scrub and shrubbery at the NE corner of the hemlock/cedar grove
there (aka, the 'saw-whet owl' woods) and adjacent lawn viewed at eye level at
close quarters for 8-10 minutes as I tried to sort this thing out. This
was a bird similar to all the rest in it's shades and subtleties of gray with
perhaps a longer looking bill, maybe longer tail, and less 'bull-headed',
and silent, but decidedly different from ALL the rest with it's constant
upward tail flicking. Perched, the tail jerked up then slowly settled back,
smartly flicked up again, slowly settling back, repeating over and over and
over, cycling through every 5 seconds or so, endless. Does this bird
sound at all like it is or was perhaps or likely even, a Dusky Flycatcher?
Is this upward tail flicking regarded at all as a sufficient behavioral
trait and trademark of Dusky Flycatcher not shared so much among our other
typically lowland Empidonax flycatchers? Hammond's come through the lowlands
with pretty high regularity, so it seems like a few Dusky Flycatchers would
dribble through the lowlands as well, most or all headed of course for the
higher hills and slopes of the Cascades and beyond. Lowland banding
evidence likely would better address and answer this question rather than most
of our forever questionable visual impressions for such challenging birds
for which unid. Empidonax becomes the escape default of last resort. I can't
really address any other of what may be a number of subtle and perhaps
overlapping features not mentioned, like primary projections, feather edgings,
etc; I simply don't have that level of expertise, especially out of
context and without direct comparison, and even so, that might still be beyond at
least my abilities at this or any stage.

Of all the usually lowland local Empidonax, Pacific-slope is the one I'm
most familiar which always tend to the olive spectrum of things to
olive-yellowish underparts and darker olive-gray/brown back, slender build and a
more peaked head rather than thick or rounded. Pacific-slope Flycatchers are
pretty conspicuous to me when they are around, usually the first of the
group to arrive, and I am surprised I haven't detected one yet in the
greenbelt. Any day now I figure. Maybe tomorrow? The other usual Empidonax that
frequents the LHG with regularity is Willow, and I definitely have not
seen or heard any of those yet either, but it is still a bit early for that
one (mid-May and beyond).

Thanks for any helpful and learned feedback from the Empidonax experts out
there in tweeterland.

Richard Rowlett
Bellevue (Eastgate), WA

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