2021-05-02 SPI On A Sunday

Least Flycatcher - Empidonax minimus
The primary (wing) feathers seemed right for a Least Flycatcher, and the head shape seemed better (more rounded) than the Acadian Flycatcher. It’s hard to tell them apart. It was a bright Sunday on South Padre Island, and I stayed over 9 hours. I started the morning with an hour at Sheepshead Sanctuary and drove to the Convention Centre for the rest of the day, and met a couple of birds new to me.
Chestnut-Sided Warbler - Setophaga pensylvanica
My first encounter with this flashy species was last spring, here on the island. 

I spent Sunday at South Padre Island (Texas) and couldn’t resist shooting flycatchers. For most of us interested in learning to identify birds, small flycatchers are among the most difficult groups of birds to identify in the field by sight alone.

I enjoy the entire flycatcher family, but as we meet more of them, we realize there are some basic forms. For example, the Myiarchus group includes Ash-Throated, Brown-Crested, Dusky-Capped and others. These all look similar, but if we look closely, there are discernable differences. Other groups (Genus) can be troublesome to identify, but the group known as Empodonix (or Empids) are so challenging as to stimulate heated debates among experienced birders.

I’m pretty sure the flycatchers I captured with weak eye-rings were Eastern Wood-Pewees. Popular opinions about empids on the island this time of year seem split. We expect Least Flycatchers and Acadian Flycatchers, as well as Eastern Wood-Pewees. Add to the mix, the possibility of Willow, Alder and Yellow-Bellied Flycatchers and you have the makings of an ID nightmare. Often the only way to separate these birds is by their voice. But most of the birds I’ve met here have been silent.

Faced with these challenges, I settled my dilemma by eliminating from the gallery, all the empid birds I could not categorize as either Least Flycatcher, or Acadian Flycatcher. There is a subtle size difference, but more observable is the difference in the length of the primary wing feathers, the Acadian’s being longer. The head shape is also different. The Least has a higher domed forehead than the sloping one on the Acadian. However, birds can raise their feathers, changing the appearance of their domes. With these puzzling possibilities, I ask the reader to keep in mind I could be wrong!

This period of migration isn’t a flood, but the trickle of birds contribute to a surprising variety of species. The birds I meet here are in such variety. I can’t believe my good fortune to be in the company of so many species gathered in a single place. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be right now than south Texas during bird migration. The bird train just keeps on rolling!

The species I captured on this safari were Acadian Flycatcher, American Redstart, Black-and-White Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-Throated Green Warbler, Blue-Headed Vireo, Brown Anole (lizard), Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Lark Sparrow, Least Flycatcher, Magnolia Warbler, Mottled Duck, Mourning Warbler, Painted Bunting, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Tennessee Warbler, Varied Bunting, Veery, Wilson’s Warbler, and Yellow Warbler.

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