Some Points from Observing a Great Crested Flycatcher

I went on a bird walk at Fort Harrison State Park last Sunday morning which is led by Don Gorney. It is always an enjoyable outing, even if the birds aren’t numerous. Which was the case last Sunday.  Here’s Don’s report from IN-Bird.

One of the few birds that did come out for a good view was an Eastern Wood-Pewee. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

I would like to discuss some points that came up from observing a Great Crested Flycatcher. The bird didn’t call and only showed it’s back at first.  Don pointed out that the bird looked “off” for a Great Crested and could it be Indiana’s first Ash-throated Flycatcher? It flew to another tree and really didn’t look as yellow below as a Great Crested usually does. After some thought it was decided the bird was probably a young Great Crested Flycatcher.

We initially only saw the bird from behind with it only giving looks at its back.  In my mind I knew there was something about the pattern of the tertials on a Great Crested (GCFL) versus an Ash-throated (ATFL).  But I couldn’t pull that info from my brain, so I didn’t say anything. And I was too busy watching the bird to ask if anyone had a field guide. OK, I really didn’t think to ask.

GCFL Arrow
The next day I had the same scenario – a bird with it’s back to me. But this time I knew it was a Great Crested Flycatcher after reading up the day before. Notice how the tertials have broad white edges. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15
ATFL Arrow
For comparison this Ash-throated Flycatcher’s tertials aren’t as sharply contrasting. Rabbit Valley CO 6/23/15

The following are some notes to myself.  Use them yourself as you deem necessary.

Point 1 – Always carry a field guide and I don’t care how hot it is.

I usually carry a field guide in my man purse but it was going to be 90 degrees that day and it was already hot and humid.  And carrying the man purse is hot. And don’t remind me I carried one everyday in Colorado in 100 degree weather. So get a nylon one if the canvas one is going to stop you from carrying a field guide.

Point 2 – I’m not so smart that I don’t need to carry a field guide.

I rarely use a field guide in the field anymore.  I usually take good notes and then look things up when I get back to the car.  But it seems the time I usually need it is way out in the field. Like the discrepancy on the tertial feathers of the GCFL.

Back in Illinois the group I birded with had several members that had been birding for over 30 years.  One November we had walked out to a point on a lake to observe loons and grebes, not common birds in north-central Illinois. We ended up seeing both a Red-necked Grebe and Red-throated Loon along with Common Loons.  Luckily someone had the forethought to bring along a field guide or we would never have positively ID the birds. So sometimes it doesn’t matter how long you have birded.

I didn’t need a field guide to ID this guy. A Green Heron hunting around a pond. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

Point 3 – I need to keep reviewing my field guide for the birds I might see this time of year.

If I had been reviewing flycatchers in the last month I would have known the wing feathers and the differences of the adult and juvenile birds.

Point 4 – Keep taking field notes.

Luckily I had used my voice recorder to get a good description of the bird so when we got back I could use them to review. This let me confirm the differences on the flycatchers.

Swainson’s Thrush were numerous over the weekend. But for me they are hard to photograph since they don’t come out in the open very often. And I had been reviewing them the previous week. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

Point 5 – Stay on the bird until I’m sure I have all the info I can get.

The group finally moved on to other birds but I stayed on the GCFL until it finally moved to another tree and then out of sight.  When it flew the second time through the sunlight I could see how bright yellow it was on the underside clinching the GCFL ID.

Point 6 – Keep birding other areas of the United States on a regular basis.

I knew from Colorado the ATFL were a lighter yellow than GCFL. Now would I have remembered if I had taken the trip several years ago instead of last June?

4 Replies to “Some Points from Observing a Great Crested Flycatcher”

  1. Good tips for all! I especially like #3 & 6. As for field guides in the field, I always keep my Sibley in the car when I’m birding, but my smartphone in my pocket when I’m in the field. I use the Sibley app and a few others for getting IDs in the field – it’s a lot easier to carry a small smartphone than a field guide.

    I liked the comparison photos of the ATFL vs. the GCFL – that’s a great learning tool and hopefully I can put it to use someday!

    1. In several aspects I still don’t live in the 21st century. Do smartphone apps give as much detail as the field guides? Can you see them in bright sunlight? I don’t remember, did you get one for Costa Rica?

      Yes, I have been thinking about using an app in the field but haven’t got there yet. Probably is time.

      1. Hey Bob, no, the apps don’t give the same detail and the coloring is not always as good as paper field guides, but that being said – they are normally good enough to confirm an ID. There are quite a few apps – I use the Sibley and Audubon Pro (one with plates and one with photos). One other nice feature is they have all the calls and songs. I like having the ability to confirm a song – I’ll play it softly with my phone held to my ear as to not disturb their behavior. All of this for a device you can easily slip in your back pocket.

        I had my smartphone before Costa Rica, but I did install and use a Costa Rica field guide app while there.

        I was never a fan of smartphones until about 2 years ago – I just couldn’t understand my friends pay $75-100 a month for service. Then I found a company called Republic Wireless – they have different plans, but the one I use is $12 a month. It’s unlimited calls, data, and text when connected to WiFi, but only calls and text when using cell towers. You buy the phone outright so there is no contract, but again – my bill for the entire year only runs $144. It’s worth looking into in my opinion.

        1. OK, I’ll probably step into the 21st century and give the app a try in the next couple of months and report back.

          I hear you on the phone. Only problem is my wife and daughter would have a problem. So I’ll just keep working to support their phone habit.

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