empidonax (from empis gnat, mosquito, and anax lord, master) hammondii (named for William Alexander Hammond, US army surgeon and naturalist)
Sunday, June 3, 2018 — 8:32 am
Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado
I wrote a post recently on the difficulty of identifying Dusky and Hammond’s Flycatchers, both members of the Empidonax genus. But I still needed a Hammond’s on my life list, as well as a Cordilleran Flycatcher, another member of the genus. Both of them, and Dusky Flycatchers, have been reported this weekend from Cheyenne Mountain State Park, south of town, so I decided to try my luck.
I was hiking the Blackmer Loop through a stand of ponderosa pine with a thick understory of scrub oak.
I heard a song that I was pretty sure was a Hammond’s Flycatcher. I played the song on my phone and still thought it sounded like a Hammond’s. I played the song louder. Immediately, the bird flew through the woods toward me and landed on a bare scrub oak branch above the trail about 10 feet away. Before I got a photo, it flew into a ponderosa. This time it stuck around long enough for me to get a picture. It was obviously reacting to the song.
It flew back across the trail and disappeared. I continued along the trail, which wound up the hill, then curved above the area where I’d seen the bird. I heard the song again and spotted the flycatcher perched on the very top of a ponderosa near where I’d seen it.
I walked back down to try to get a better look. While I watched, it flew from the pine into the dead branches of a nearby scrub oak and began singing again.
I don’t know how I can be any more sure of the identification.
- A Hammond’s Flycatcher was seen here the day before.
- The bird I saw and heard sounded like the Hammond’s song on my birding app.
- The song of the bird I saw and heard fit the description of the Hammond’s song on my app—”seweep-tsurp-seep.”
- The bird I saw had a distinct vest on its breast, it’s primary extension seemed long, it’s narrow tail was notched, and it was overall grayish.
- Sibley says Hammond’s is “common in coniferous or mixed forests, usually perching high in tall trees. Generally chooses mature coniferous forest,” which is an exact description of the habitat where I saw the bird and of its behavior.
- When I played a Hammond’s song, the bird flew through the woods right toward me and landed on a branch about 10 feet away, then into a nearby pine, obviously responding to the recording.
While I remain unconvinced that most birders can distinguish Hammond’s and Dusky Flycatchers, I do believe the birds themselves can. This bird definitely acted like I was “playing his song.”