Cleaning up the yard (list)
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.