Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes luteiventris)
Owl Canyon, Bodega Bay
Sonoma County, California
Sat 09-27-1997

Photos by Roger Harshaw © 1997
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher at Bodega Bay
    This morning I was leading an ornithology class field trip to Point Reyes. It was clear and windy and birds were scarce although we managed to see a Bobolink at the lighthouse parking lot. After returning from the Fish Docks I found a note on my car from Cindy and Leslie Lieurance saying "...a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher or better is at Owl Canyon this AM." They had received a call from Rich Stallcup on their car telephone!

I shared the news with the class and decided to head straight to Bodega Bay. About five of my students followed. We arrived about 1:30pm and the bird was still present in an isolated eucalyptus grove just north of the mouth of Owl Canyon. Others present included Scott Terrill, Keith Hansen, Leslie & Cindy Lieurance, Hugh Cotter, Roger Harshaw and others. Students from my class included Mark Eaton, Steve & Lillian Fuji, and Natalie White. Later Rick Lebadore, Jennifer Matkin and others saw the bird. I spent over two hours studying the bird while numerous observers came and went. Photos were attempted by Roger Harshaw and Scott Terrill. I understand this bird was first found this morning by Dave MacKenzie and Dan Nelson put the word out on the Bird Box. Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher at Bodega Bay

The bird alternated between sitting quietly and flycatching actively. It moved from the interior of the eucalyptus to the weedy hillside and back several times. Once I heard a squeaky sound like a rubber duck from deep inside the eucalyptus when the bird was not in view. This sound was probably made by the bird. Viewing was in good light through my KOWA TSN4 and close study through a Questar made available by Roger Harshaw.

The following is based on notes taken while watching the bird:

Towards late afternoon, the bird frequently closed the membrane over one eye, but seemed healthy and active otherwise.

The is the third Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher I have seen in California. The first was at the Hall Ranch at Point Reyes in September 1993 and the second was a different individual at Pine Gulch Creek at Bolinas Lagoon in October 1993. There appear to be only eleven accepted records of this species in California.


Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher at Bodega BayA notorious claim of Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher from Maine turned out to be the South American Variegated Flycatcher (Empidonomus varius) after photos were examined (Abbott & Finch, American Birds 32:161-163, 1978).

The Owl Canyon bird is clearly not a Variegated Flycatcher, the most obvious difference being the much larger, heavier bill of Sulphur-bellied. The closest similar species is the Middle American Streaked Flycatcher (Myiodynastes maculatus) which has a white chin, paler belly and usually yellower supercilium. Note that the claimed paler bill of Streaked Flycatcher discussed and illustrated in "A Guide to the Bird of Mexico & Northern Central America" by Howell and Webb is not a reliable distinction.

Special thanks to Leslie & Cindy Lieurance for alerting me to the bird; to Hugh Cotter for providing desperately needed note paper while the bird was in view; and especially to Roger Harshaw for generously sharing his Questar and providing the photographs. 

Joseph Morlan
380 Talbot Avenue #206
Pacifica, CA 94044