Sunday, June 2, 2013

"FitzPEW!" It's You!: Willow Flycatchers Arrive in Force

Thank goodness for singing Empidonax Flycatchers when it comes to confidently identifying the species! Identifying the individual species among the genus Empidonax ("Empid" for short) can drive the most experienced birder crazy. When I was new to birding I was rarely confident in being species specific when identifying these birds and reporting them to I remember capturing photos of many of these Empids when I first started birding and sharing them with local listervs and experts to get some help with the identification. Getting consensus from these experts was almost as difficult as nailing the species on my own since some had very strong and differing opinions. Experienced birders often asked questions such as, "Did you hear it sing or call? What was the habitat? Did you notice the relative length of the primary wing feathers?"

Several years into birding and I'm still struggling at times with these spring and summer visitors. Seeing them during the spring months as they migrate and are claiming breeding territories with their songs is probably the easiest time of the year to identify them. Look at most field guides for these Empids and you'll soon learn that several are similar in appearance and  they are almost always "best identified by sound or song." That was exactly the case for me Saturday morning as I took a couple of Salt Lake County birding friends to some Utah County hot spots.  Willow Flycatchers were showing up in decent numbers. We heard several of them singing their distinct "RitzPEW" or "FitzPEW" song before we saw them. When I hear "FitzPEW" I think, "It's You! Willow Flycatcher!" Consequently, we were able to identify three of them before even seeing them. Seeing them without hearing their song would have had me wondering, "Which one was that?"

Below is a series of images showing two of the Willows we found Saturday. The first image was captured from the only decent hole I could find through its heavy coverage by a Russian Olive tree. By the way, these are also the first images I've ever captured of this species.

Willow Flycatcher on Swede Lane in Palmyra, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
The next three images get progressively better in terms of allowing a clear and unobstructed view of the bird, the largest (along with Alder Flycatcher) of the Empidonax Flycatchers. Voice is the major field identifier for these birds, but the pale underside, semi-long (relatively speaking) projection of the primary flight feathers, long, broad bill (yellowish lower mandible), and weak eye ring also help in identifying this species. They are known for having relatively flat heads, but the second image below shows that this appearance can be altered when they raise their crown feathers.

Willow Flycatcher Near River Lane in Palmyra, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
Willow Flycatcher Near River Lane in Palmyra, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
Willow Flycatcher Near River Lane in Palmyra, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)

No comments:

Post a Comment