Cleaning up the yard (list)
(posted 5-21-07)

Things were really popping in my backyard this morning. Judging by the volume and diversity of the "dawn chorus," the neighborhood was loaded with birds. The highlight was a singing scarlet tanager, a fiery male. That's what I like to call a "wow bird"--the kind that could turn almost anybody into a birder.

Flycatchers were flitting around, too. I generally know a member of the empidonax flycatcher family when I see one, but I've never had much confidence in telling them apart. Knowing their songs is the only sure-proof way to make a positive ID.

After a few minutes outside I heard an incessant two-note call that I guessed had to be a least flycatcher. I then went back inside to check the ID using my Peterson "Birding by Ear" CDs. I played the flycatcher track--the segment that I've surely played more than any other over the years--and easily confirmed that the bird I'd been watching and listening to was indeed a least flycatcher.

I tell this story because my official yard list, until now, had one aggravating flaw. One of the species I'd listed wasn't a species at all, it was a family. Not trusting my identification skills, I'd simply written down "empidonax flycatcher species." No shame in that--it's the proper and conservative thing to put down when you're not sure--but it was a lot less precise than I preferred.

So, today my yard list became a little cleaner when I added a "no doubt" least flycatcher. My list didn't grow--I'm still sitting at 103 species--but now every entry is an actual bird.

In the days ahead I'll be listening for Acadian and alder flycatchers, either of which would be a life bird for me. Having listened to the CD this morning and again tonight, I think I might be able to ID one of these other empids if one happens by and vocalizes. Or maybe not. But it's a test I'm looking forward to, whether it happens in the yard or in the field.

Copyright 2007 by Jeff Reiter. All rights reserved.