Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Flycatchers Gather at the Beaver Pond Before Flying South

The Great crested Flycatcher is still at the preserve, but soon they will head south
We've had a good showing of flycatchers just lately. Most have been observed at the beaver ponds – where these specialized hunters find a dependable supply of flying insects. However, a few species - like the Least Flycatcher are only rarely found at the beaver pond. You're most likely to encounter it along the edge of the forest.
The Least Flycatcher is the smallest Empidonax flycatcher in the Northeast
The  Least Flycatcher is easy to pick of a foraging mixed flock of songbirds
In the latter part of summer the Least Flycatcher will keep company with chickadees and a variety of migrant warblers and vireos. Together these mixed foraging flocks travel through the woods – and often along the forest edge. I was almost certain that I spied a relatively uncommon migrant Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in one such flock, but alas, I didn't get a good enough look at it to clinch the ID. 
A migrant Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is about the same size as the Least Flycatcher and their behavior is also very similar. Like the Least, the Yellow-bellied tends to travel with mixed flocks of songbirds. Perhaps the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is the prettiest of the empidonax flycatchers - at least of the ones that occur in the Northeast US. It is clear that it is the only one with distinct enough plumage to make its identification a fairly simple matter
The Alder Flycatcher remained on its breeding ground until just last week
The Willow Flycatcher (partially hidden) and the Alders are often both gone by September
The Willow and Alder Flycatchers (also empidonax flycatchers) are both so similar in appearance that they can't be safely identified in the field without hearing their diagnostic songs or call notes. Since both species breed at the nature preserve, if you see one you need to wait patiently for the bird to call before identifying the species. Not so long ago the Willow and Alder Flycatchers were considered to be the same species - called the Trail's Flycatcher. Interestingly, though these birds are virtually identical, they don't interbreed. It only goes to show that it's not how you look but what you say that is most important with these birds.
The Eastern Wood Pewee - note the lack of a distinct eyering
The Pewee also shows light "vest" markings
The Eastern Wood Pewees are still singing their trademark whistled songs at the beaver pond and in the old woods where they nested during the summer. The Pewee is of a similar size to the Alder and Willow Flycatchers, but their wings are longer. The Pewee has obvious wingbars like the empidonax flycatchers, but they lack a distinct eyering. The Pewee also shows a slight vest, which is similar but not nearly as pronounced as the dark vest markings on the Olive-sided Flycatcher. 
The Olive-sided Flycatcher has an obvious dark "vest"
Like the Pewee, the Olive-sided  may often return to the same perch while hunting
The Olive-sided is a fairly uncommon migrant in Central New York; they breed in bogs and swamps in the north country. We usually see no more than one individual per migration season. Most often they appear at the beaver pond where the insect hunting is reliably good.
The Eastern Kingbird is definitely the "king" of the flycatchers
A Kingfisher was easily deposed  and chased off of its perch by the Kingbird
The resident pair of Eastern Kingbird that raised 2 offspring this season still show up at the beaver pond. They fly in with purpose, ready to chase off the perceived competition as well as any other birds that might look at them the wrong way. Today they chased away the Pewee, a Flicker and a Belted Kingfisher. 
A flock of Cedar Waxwings comes to the pond daily
Waxwings are very proficient at catching flying insects above the water
Many immature Cedar Waxwings are at the pond - note the white outline around the black mask
Cedar Waxwings are currently presenting the Kingbird and the other flycatchers with the most serious competition for insect resources. For the last moth a flock of at least 20 have been daily visitors to the pond.  Most people think of the waxwings as strictly berry eaters, but they are also highly proficient at catching flies on the wing. It's safe to say that the waxwing flock catches thousands of insects each day. Still, for some reason the Kingbird doesn't seem to get too upset about their presence and he doesn't usually try to chase them off.
A Great crested Flycatcher looks out of the nest hole over the beaver pond

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