As soon as I saw this bird, I put a name to it. Aside from initial impressions, I spent no time studying its field marks and didn't bother confirming its characteristics in one of my field guide apps. I quickly snapped a few pictures to share on this blog, never questioning my identification of the bird. Because of experience and familiarity with birds in the region, one might say that this is a perfectly acceptable practice. Having recently traveled to Arizona and North Carolina where very similar looking birds to this one exist, perhaps I should not have been so quick to jump to my conclusion. While reviewing the images I wondered, "Could this bird be something else? This train of thought led to the question, "What makes this flycatcher different from the other twenty plus birds in the Myiarchus genus?" (side note: my online search of Latin and Greek roots informs us that the meaning of myiarchus is "fly-ruler", or "rules over flies". Seems fitting for a tyrant flycatcher.)
My rapid trigger pulling on bird identification is dangerous. It could lead to misidentifications and maybe even some public shaming. More importantly, it might cause me to miss out on the glory of finding a true rarity for the region.
Not long after sunrise, I had just crossed the Utah border into Idaho and was at a rest area amid a small forest of juniper trees. This was a decent sized bird conspicuously singing its aubade from atop a dead tree... smaller than an American Robin, about the same size as a Western Kingbird...maybe a bit smaller. As soon as I saw the rusty color in the wings, that was enough for me to determine it was an Ash-throated Flycatcher. But is it? Could it be a vagrant Brown, Dusky, or Great-crested Flycatcher? Or what about an even more rare Nutting's or La Sagra's?! Let's take a look at the field characteristics and see what we discover...
Sibley: Whitish wing-bars = Check. Whitish throat = Check. Very pale yellow below = Check. Whitish edges on secondaries = Check. Dark color across tip of tail feathers = Check.
Audubon Birds: Hindcrown peaked when alert = Check. Rufous primary edges; white secondary edges = Check. Narrow pale margins to tertials = Hmm...diagram in app points to tail-feathers, so an error in the app there. Dull olive above (back browner that similar Myiarchus) = Definitely dull olive-brown back, but nothing to compare it to. Throat and breast grayish-white = Check. Habitat: desert, dry woods = Check.
iBird Pro: Gray-brown upperparts = Check. Pale gray throat and breast = Check. Gray-brown tail with rufous highlights = I'd say more brown to dark with a hint of rufous. Pale yellow belly = Check. Bill, legs, and feet are black = Check, but there is some lighter coloring at the base of the bill too.
Peterson: Two wing bars = Check. Whitish throat = Check. Pale Gray breast = Check. Pale Yellowish belly = Check. Rufous tail = not so apparent. Head slightly bushy = Check.
These closely related species do have subtle difference...the amount and brightness of the yellow on the belly, the amount of rufous in the tail feathers, bill and body shape-size-color, and slight contrasting colors in the face. Good luck!
|Great-crested Flycatcher - by Scott Simmons|
|Brown-crested Flycatcher - by Stephen Pollard|
|Dusky-capped Flycatcher - by Ron Wolf|
|Nutting's Flycatcher - by Jeremy Medina|
|La Sagra's Flycatcher - David Pavlik|