Sunday, September 16, 2012

Natural Bridges Myiarchus

Birding Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz, CA, this morning (9/16) with Christian Schwarz, Amy Patten and Chris Lay, Christian spotted this brightly-colored Myiarchus flycatcher. At first glance we saw extensive yellow coming up the breast with dark gray in the throat and face and realized we needed to get a good look at the bird. We took some photos in some pretty poor light, which showed extensive rufous in the tail and contrasting black and white tertials. Quickly we narrowed the bird down to Great Crested or an unusually bright hatch year Ash-throated.

The bird lacked any pale coloring in the lower mandible and (just looking at these first photos) did not seem to have much in the way of olive in the upperparts, and from the very brief looks I got I was more inclined to call it an extremely bright young Ash-throated Flycatcher. The bird had given us the slip and remained silent at this point.

A closer look at the all-important tail, which was heavily molting.

After fruitlessly walking the boardwalk back and forth for some time we decided to head to another part of the park. On exiting the area I heard a familiar if unexpected call, an exuberant, single-note "Wheeeep!" coming from another patch of trees. Sure enough we found the flycatcher again, which gave us prolonged looks, this time showing the broad white edge of the innermost tertial and a good look at the breast. It vocalized 6-7 times in total I believe; a very different call from the rolling "Prrrrrt" typical of an Ash-throated.

The bird was somewhat distant, but was in favorable light compared to the first 3 photos above.

Spreading tertials.

In profile, the bird did seem large-billed.

The final usable shot before the bird dropped down into the willows for good.

Myiarchus Art...nice tertiary racing stripes.

Please let me know what your thoughts on this bird are...aside from the last one, none of these photos have been altered beyond cropping and sharpening.  Great Crested Flycatcher occurs with some regularity as a vagrant to California; this would be a Santa Cruz County first. Christian's photos can be found here.


  1. Dipped on it yesterday afternoon (see what I did there, I is learning), but got it this morning around 11:30. First heard it and got an unsatifying glimpse of it by the bench, but two homeless dudes smoking rocks and discussing their facebook updates likely were the reason it got pushed downstream. Moved down to the boardwalk where heard it call "wheep" 30-40 times within a 30 minute period (bursts of calls followed by long periods of silence) and got one great look and a few other quick looks. The great look showed the bright yellow breast, very rufous tail and thick bill.

    Definitely no expert but the markings were consistent with what you saw. FWIW, Steve Gerow told me he thought it was definitely good for Great-crested.

    Congrats and awesome find guys. Thanks for getting this post up so quickly.

    1. Glad you got to see it! Its a state bird for me, and not something I expected to see here anytime soon. Seems like almost everyone agrees on the ID, its hard to argue when the bird is calling.

  2. I'm impressed with myself. I knew that was a flycatcher. Just wasn't sure which one. I would have gone with great crested. Nice shots!

  3. Great-crested Flycatcher. The shade of yellow, your characterization of the voice and the rufous of the underside of the tail appears to extend to the tip, whereas with something like the ash-throated this would be limited by a darker terminal marking. The brown-crested might deserve comparison.