Upping success rate

Posted January 3rd, 2012 by kcorliss. Comment (0).

For those among us who “chase” rare birds you will understand the following. The rest, well, consider it a harmless obsession and be done with it…

After seeing the report of a Nutting’s flycatcher in western Arizona starting on the 19th of December I began to wonder if this was a possible species for me to find. I had, after all, a scheduled trip to the Phoenix area later in the month and could, with some effort, make the drive to the location. Hmmm. Oh, I’ve been lured by the siren song of chasing rare birds before with some success and much failure but every opportunity is different…

As background this is a species which has only been positively confirmed in the U.S. four or five times, all in Arizona except one California sighting. In ABA vernacular, this is a code 5 bird; in other words it’s a mega-rarity. Making this somewhat more dramatic is the bird’s stubborn resemblance to an all-too-common resident species of the southwest, the ash-throated flycatcher (they share the genus Myiarchus). Some sources tell you it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart except for voice.

Turns out I did have the time and the bird was still there. Nearly three hours on the road put us in the location detailed nicely by Lauren Harter (one of the original finders of this bird) at the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge outside of Parker, Ariz.  An hour of fumbling to find the right trail didn’t help but eventually we were on it. Soon enough three of us were staring at a Myiarchus flycatcher and attempting to match field marks with those of Nutting’s flycatcher. As luck would have it the bird finally vocalized–a rising reeeep!–bingo. A Nutting’s flycatcher. For reasons which escape me I didn’t have my camera and so the image at right was taken with a cell phone. Trust me, it’s the Nutting’s flycatcher.

Aside from the cool part about finding this very exceptional rarity, it turns out a guy named John Vanderpoel was attempting a Big Year in 2011 and just missed setting the record by one bird! The last species he got was…Nutting’s flycatcher at the same location we were only 3 days later. Oh, did I mention I met Mr. Vanderpoel at Oahe Reservoir in South Dakota a few years ago when I was there looking at an ivory gull? Pretty neat. Here’s his blog of his Big Year.

habitat where Nutting's flycatcher was found, Bill Williams NWR

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