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Empidonax! Empidonax!

August 21, 2013

Sometimes extraordinary things happen. There’s no other way to say it. What should have been the most ordinary, verging on boring, birding outing turned into a moment of magic. While we were in Oshawa, overlooking an enormous marsh (conveniently named Second Marsh, though I have no idea where or if First Marsh exists) with approximately a million Cormorants fluttering about, punctuated by a few Great Blue Herons and a lone juvenile Bald Eagle, I succumbed to a few seconds of boredom and turned my attention away from the marsh and toward a tree. And suddenly I saw a small, brownish bird with whitish wingbars and a cream-colored breast, and immediately recognized it as a Flycatcher! We had just banded a few the day before, and the bird’s coloring was fresh in my mind — the bird reminds me of JCrew catalog clothing that accentuates the understated elegance of khaki shades mediated by white or off-white tones. Back in the days when I bought “teaching clothes”, I now realize I was dressing like a Traill’s Flycatcher. (Don’t worry, my hair looked quite a bit better than this toupee-like version below.) Who knew?

Photo from here.

Photo by Kelly Azar from here.

Since the bird didn’t sing for us, we weren’t able to determine whether it was an Alder or a Willow Flycatcher (they look identical and are only distinguishable by song), so we went with the banding station nomenclature (thanks Pyle!) and called it a Traill’s. (Thankfully the flycatcher didn’t emit a sound; I haven’t yet learned the calls and definitely wouldn’t have been able to tell the alder and willow apart!) Yep. That was my unexpected moment of glory on Saturday morning! I recognized an Empidonax, which would have seemed like a random drab brownish bird just a few months ago! The regal, authoritative sounding genus “Empidonax” actually means “king of gnats”, which shatters some, but not all, of its mystique. I suppose it’s better to be a king of gnats than a servant of gnats; if I’m going to be anywhere in the gnat hierarchy, King is where I’d rather be.

Anyhow, I digress. Cormorants aside, it turned into a fabulous morning. I also correctly ID’d the song of the Caspian tern, which isn’t overly difficult because it sounds like a cross between a dog barking and a squirrel screaming. A hideous sound for such a gorgeous bird. But thankfully extremely easy to remember: nothing else sounds quite so grating and downright ugly. Thanks, Caspian Tern. I’ve just added you to my “memorized bird song” list! Woohoo!

The morning also included a dozen Wild Turkeys hanging out in the middle of a country road, completely unintimidated by our presence, a grey-blue gnatcatcher (!!), a few cardinals, crows, hungry chickadees, a least sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, a Stilt sandpiper, which I couldn’t get excited about properly because I had to rush off to get ready for a wedding and was already starting to fret about my upcoming evening toilette (here at Birds and Words, we don’t get out that often…). And I also saw my first fall warbler: a glowing Magnolia. I’m already excited about autumn!

An unexpectedly beautiful day. My Tilley hat got a workout, and I couldn’t be more grateful for these wonderful (humidity-free!) last days of summer.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2013 6:19 pm

    I look forward to reading your posts Julia – you have such a gift for detailed, humour filled writing.

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