Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pretty Fly For An Empid

 Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
And all the birders say I'm pretty fly
For an empid.
Uno, dos, tres, split or lump, ID’s a mess
A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was reported from Central Park. An unusual sighting given the date but not enough to motivate me to shlep into Manhattan. I had seen the bird earlier this year up in the Adirondacks, so I had even less motivation to try to see this bird. Flycatchers for the uninitiated, are a group of birds that look remarkably similar, yet are different species who differentiate themselves by discreet invariable calls. While some birds learn their calls or songs from their parents and thus can have regional variation, this group of birds does not learn the songs or calls. 

Naturally when a difficult to ID bird appears one cannot be faulted for defaulting to the most likely candidate. In the case of this bird the ID evolved into something far more interesting: a Western Flycatcher. Hold on there you say, as you declare that there is no “Western Flycatcher” in your filed guide. True ‘nuff, unless you check an older one in which it had not been split into the charmingly rolls-off-the-tongue names of Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers. Better still, try to get definitive ways to separate them other than by location. Tough call.

So a way out of range bird that wasn’t talking much presented quite a dilemma; unless the two species are lumped back together. ;) With consensus growing towards Western if not which one of the two splits it was, either way it would be a NYS bird for me and a lifer for Arlene. Who can argue with starting the day tracking down a good bird when later on in the day the plan was to attend a child’s <groan> birthday party.

We left early to beat traffic and find a parking spot. I know you’re thinking: “There’s a parking spot in Manhattan?” but yes there is, and I’m not telling you where. We walked through the park, and deftly merged through the runners to get over to the boat house. We walked past the feeders, and didn’t know that there was a Great Horned Owl way up in a tree there! He was no doubt waiting for dark to munch on the rodents that would scavenge the spilled seeds. In a hurry to get to our target bird, we revisited him later.

We met up with Peter Reef-Heron was staking out the flycatcher. With a less than cooperative bird at that moment, he led us to where the Red-headed Woodpecker was. We never made it there as on the way we crossed paths with Anthony Collared Dove who had more information about where the flycatcher had been so we doubled back. And then shortly thereafter we got the bird exactly where he said it would be! Lifer for Arlene and another [ as yet to be determined species ] NYS #411 and YB  #324!


Of course this rarity meant that birders came out of the woodwork, and it was a virtual who’s who of birders. Even a contingent of Albany birders were even present, despite Will Scaup poo-pooing a visit downstate  recently declaring: “when something good shows up.”  “When” was within one week!

So there was lots of discussion about what the bird is. Pacific-slope or Cordilleran, or could one even tell the difference? Or was this split legitimate and should it be re-lumped? Then there is hearing the calls and songs... Isaac Brant heard it both call and sing; the benefit of being quiet and separating himself  from fellow birders who lapse into conversations instead of trying to listen. Later on recordings were made that as of now seem to point to Pacific-slope Flycatcher too, and yet there is continued tumult. And no shit, someone collected its droppings for a DNA analysis. Binos? Check. Scope? Check. Camera? Check. Pooper-scooper? Check. Yes Virginia, birders want to know what species it is so badly that they’ll collect it’s poop. How about rethinking species that are just about indistinguishable by almost all measures? After all, there are lots of examples of separate, hybridizing birds that are less logically lumped.

Other nice birds seen were the immature Red-headed Woodpecker that we bailed on half way earlier, and the Great Horned Owl we had walked right past on the way to the flycatcher. 

Great Horned Owl

Priorities. Now the priority was a nice cup of coffee and a croissant in the boat house café.
It was a nice day in NYC, and despite flycatchers not being the most inspiring of birds, it was accommodating and a lifer or state bird is worth the trip.

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