December 2002 Mystery Bird

This flycatcher was photographed 7 October 1979 at Point Reyes, Marin County, California. It didn't generate much discussion, either because it was rather straightforward or because it was impossibly difficult.

It is a Least Flycatcher. The buffy, rather than white wing-bars are characteristic of immatures, which retain juvenile wing-coverts until after the fall migration. Most similar is Hammond's Flycatcher which also has a whitish throat, short bill and short tail. However, Hammond's usually has a narrower bill without so much pale on the mandible. Hammond's also has a longer primary projection than Least Flycatcher, and that's why I chose these images. The primary projection seems to me to be longer than expected on Least when compared to the paintings in the National Geographic guide. Also Least Flycatchers normally have white fringed tertials even as immatures, not buffy as in this individual. Least also usually has a darker ground-color to the wings, causing them to contrast more with the back than on Hammond's. However, these characters are all somewhat variable. The more extensive eye-ring is good for Least vs. Hammond's.

In this case, the bird was calling, giving a dry "pwit" characteristic of Least Flycatcher and unlike Hammond's which gives a distinctive sharp "peek" note.

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Photos © 1979 Albert Ghiorso
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