Sunday, December 1, 2019

Of Flycatchers, Bluebirds and Pigs

[Pacific-slope Flycatcher, across from the Beanery parking area, Cape May, NJ, November 30 2019. click to enlarge all photos]

All I really wanted to do was take pictures of ducks. The low-angle late November light cast the kind of gold glow that can't be photo-shopped in, the usual pre-winter accumulation of ducks was accumulated, and ducks are cool.

But, I figured why not walk through St. Mary's cemetery (a bit south of the Cape May canal and west of Seashore Road) to see if the cranes were hanging out in one of the adjacent fields, and then, since I was going right by, why not stop for the 'Western" flycatcher.  So I did, running into Glenn Davis who had some flycatcher excrement in a bag for later DNA analysis. He asked if I knew if empids could produce excrement that large . . . you can't make this stuff up. Then a Cooper's Hawk flew in giving its 'sapsucker call," and I heard the flycatcher. High, up-slurred whistle. Pacific-slope, thinks I, and ready the phone to record it. And wait. And wait. No more vocalizations, until I was ready to leave and ran into Claudia Burns and Warren Cairo, got some good photos. . .and it called again, same sound. Claudia heard it too.

Here's the thing: Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers used to be lumped under "Western Flycatcher," and as my friend Mark Garland pointed out, "Western's" Latin name was Empidonax difficilis. I'll say difficilis, if you hang out with these things on their breeding grounds you'll hear enough variation in calls and enough seeming overlap, why, it's enough to tear your hair out. Let's rephrase that: the vocalizations make for an interesting and exciting challenge. This by the way is true if you truly hang out with any bird, e.g. try it with Carolina Wren sometime. All that aside, to my ear Pacific-slope's "position note" is higher pitched than Cordilleran's, it's like a piccolo versus a flute. Pacific-slope's note is up-slurred, not two-parted, but Cordilleran can slur its call too. Oi. But I'm going with Pacific-slope, and if Glenn's DNA comes back with something different, we will have all learned an important lesson.

Warren and Claudia mentioned this rare bluebird at Beach Plum Farm, but I figured I'd walk over through the Beanery, in case there was an Ash-throated Flycatcher there. And there was. On to the bluebird:

[Above, the Mountain Bluebird at Beach Plum Farm, which is open only on weekends. The Mountain Bluebird joined a flock of Eastern Bluebirds, occasionally interacting with them, and occasionally investigating cavities - perhaps looking for a nighttime roost, which is what bluebirds do, roost in cavities. November 30, 2019 (and still there December 1); second Cape May County record.]

[There are not many places on Cape Island where you can say, "It's near the pigs." Only one, actually. Having grown up on a farm, I was reminded how my burly uncle used to say it was time to butcher a pig when he couldn't pick it up by the hocks and spin it around. Mmmm, farm-fresh bacon.]

[Pine Warbler at Beach Plum Farm, fresh from a puddle bath and perhaps wondering what the birder parade was about. Also present were Clay-colored Sparrow, Pine Warbler, and at least 22 Eastern Meadowlarks.]

I never did reach those ducks.

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