The old “what flycatcher is this?” question

Two years ago, I filmed a little bird that was flitting back and forth in the mowed corridor between two over-grown sections on our property. It was then that I learned about the challenges faced when attempting to identify the species within the genus Empidonax. “Did you get an audio identification?” I was asked when I would post a photo asking for assistance.

Last year I got lucky or smart and I began recording the vocalizations (if I heard them) when I saw one of these cuties. And, in fact, I was lucky to get good audio that the BirdNET app determined with good confidence was a Willow flycatcher while at the same time capturing a pretty decent image of the bird. I spotted Willow flycatchers around our place during much of the summer.

This year, my third foray into the birding hobby, I believe that my ears are getting more adept at recognizing the various species that reside or visit here and I’m a bit quicker to start an audio recording when I hear a unique song, or one that I haven’t heard for a spell. I typically review the file back at my desk, as the BirdNET app doesn’t always function in the field due to signal issues I encounter.

Yesterday, after 6:00 PM after an entire day of over cast skies and a heavy rain, I spotted a flycatcher in the alley near the old barn. This is a place where old wooden posts that once held fencing remain and a sometimes mowed “alley” provides great hunting for birds like the flycatchers. They can perch atop a post and then flit down for a bug and often return to that same post moments later. That makes it a wonderful place to acquire an otherwise difficult photo of the little birds. The predictability of their behavior allows me to me to leave my focus on a specific post top and simply wait for the bird to return.

Here are the photos I took on 7/26/22, Fayette Co, IL

Curiously, just before I spotted the bird, I heard the call of what I thought might be a Willow Flycatcher. I had heard it a few days prior, as well. That’s why I think my ears were tuned to recognize it. In the relative darkness, I didn’t have a clue what species I was filming, except that its behavior told me it was a flycatcher.

Last night I ran the audio file for BirdNET to analyze. The “Willow Flycather – ALMOST CERTAIN” result made me feel very accomplished. Then, I reviewed the images which were disappointing in their low-light condition, but I was able to increase the exposure value to get a clear enough image to feel confident in the BirdNET evaluation. It was a Willow.

Today, I went about the job of editing the audio file – which just means cutting off the sections around the file which contained the Willow Flycatcher’s vocalization. But, when I ran the app again, three different times, the results were: Acadian Flycather – HIGHLY LIKELY, ALMOST CERTAIN and HIGHLY LIKELY. What?

In the background of the 33 second long audio file, there is a lot of high pitched insect noise. I always find it interesting when I listen to a recording to discover how loud those insects can be and how (when I am out) my brain seems to ignore the sound, and is able to hear the bird sounds more clearly than they sound on the recording. Still. I think the bird vocalizations are clear enough to distinguish for a seasoned birder. And, that is the point of this post. I am seeking assistance from folks in the know regarding the Flycatcher species who may be able to tell me what species they hear.

One other interesting note – the BirdNET app also has returned “Worm Eating Warbler – LIKELY, ALMOST CERTAIN and HIGHLY LIKELY as well on this recording. That is a species that I have never seen or heard, yet, on our property. So, getting a confirmation of the BirdNET app’s determination on that species would be really great! If you are a Birder with flycatcher experience and are willing to help me, I’d truly appreciate your assistance.

One Comment on “The old “what flycatcher is this?” question

  1. Not a Worm Eating Warbler for sure, wrong habitat. Willow flycatcher seems correct but I did not here it in the sound clip, I heard Carolina Chickadee though. The big yellow bill makes it an Eastern Willow flycatcher.

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