Bird #495 — Hammond’s Flycatcher

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.

  1. A Hammond’s Flycatcher was seen here the day before.
  2. The bird I saw and heard sounded like the Hammond’s song on my birding app.
  3. The song of the bird I saw and heard fit the description of the Hammond’s song on my app—”seweep-tsurp-seep.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”

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