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Confusing Flycatchers of Guyana

Thursday, December 4, 2008

After awhile, you get used to the fact that there are flycatchers everywhere you look in the tropics. We need them to keep the bugs down, for one thing. They've got a big job in Guyana.

Identifying tropical flycatchers can be tricky, as there are a bunch of them wearing the same uniform with different jobs, and different sizes and bills to go with those uniforms. I'll show you a few lookalikes here.

First and usually most obvious is the great kiskadee, which at first light shouts, "Eat your BEANS!! Eat, eat your BEANS!!" in tropical zones from Texas through South America. I always travel with earplugs, especially in the tropics, where my bird-finding brain never shuts off. Here's a recently fledged great kiskadee (see its yellow mouth corners?)I always find the tropics disorienting, because you can see birds feeding young and nest-building in November. In fact, the botanic garden had a flurry of nestbuilding activity. This great kiskadee is building an untidy ball of sticks and grasses in a low leafless tree.
Everybody was doin' it. I can't remember if this is the same bird or not. I think it was, but there were so many lookalike flycatchers that morning, and those kiskadees are such shape-shifters!Flycatcher language can be nonverbal as well as vocal. Here, a couple of flycatchers square off. Even the Science Chimp is not dead sure what species are involved. I thought they were great kiskadees, but I'm not absolutely sure. They might be lesser kiskadees, which look just like greats, but have a finer bill. You see the problem.
The right hand bird is perched lower, but it gets the upper hand with a little display of heretofore-hidden crown feathers.Bada BING he's got the left-hand bird intimidated, and it responds by facing away, a gesture of submission. (I'd never use my sharp bill on you, M'lord!)
Flycatchers and lotus pods. Methinks this is a great kiskadee.And I'm pretty sure, with its fine bill and small head, that this is a rusty-margined flycatcher (whose wing margins aren't particularly rusty in Guyana).Just to add to the identification mystery, social flycatchers and boat-billed flycatchers identically marked with subtly different bills, are in the yellow, black, white and brown mix with the greater and lesser kiskadees, too. It gets kind of kiskadee-ey, and sometimes you just have to let them all go and go find a flycatcher that looks different from the rest.

Any tropical bird with "tody" in its name is guaranteed to be cute. Tody is Latin for "adorable." Here's a spotted tody-flycatcher. It's not spotted; it's streaked, but it's really cute, especially when you see its incongruous, staring orange eye.I talk to my subjects as I photograph them. Very softly. Sometimes they respond.

Can you show me that big ol' bill?You cute thing.

It's such fun taking you all along to Guyana, showing you things you might never get to see. But I hope you'll consider a truly wild adventure in Guyana when you've had a little preview here. (Preview will go on for some time to come). C'mon. Costa Rica's been DONE.


Good observation on the word "tody"! It's so true.

Ringed/Boat-billed/Kiskadee/Rusty-margined - AHHH!

Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing them.

Oh, Julie, I'm slack-jawed and overwhelmed with your observations and skills.

Flycatchers and lotus pods. Your photos ROCK!

You're right. I, and perhaps many other readers, might not ever see birds so spectacular. I'm lovin' it.

Wow, these are some awesome photos of some awesome birds. I found your comment about wearing earplugs interesting. That would lead me to believe that the birds were just signing constantly, and hearing so much bird song at once was jamming (and/or overwhelming) your radar (or "birdar?"). Was that the case?
Also, when I saw that photo of the kiskadee with his head feathers suddenly on display, a sound effect popped into my head... "Boi-yoi-yoi-yoi-yoinggggg!" Hee hee. Oh, and I'm glad you talk to the birds as you photograph them.

Holy cow, I'd be flummoxed completely. I'd resign to just saying, "Yep, it's a flycatcher!" :c)

Hi Heather,

Nah, it's just that great kiskadees seem to like tropical hotel courtyards, are incredibly loud, and start yelling well before light. I use earplugs to get a little more sleep. In Guyana, the kiskadees had to compete with crowing roosters and the inevitable fighting dogs. Find me a hotel in Latin America that doesn't have roosters and dogs...

That photo that starts "Flycatchers and lotus pods" made me draw in my breath. I truly, honestly thought you had whipped up a painting on the road. What a charming and colorful scene. Guyana sounds AOK to me. It's nice to know there are birds busy nesting and having showdowns there. These days the big show in NH is the morning feeding frenzy of blue jays and mourning doves and the kamikaze juncos and nuthatches and chickadees who try to sneak a meal in between them!

Flycatcher insanity set in after the third pic, and I found myself just saying, "Pretty! Pretty birdie!"

It's been a while since I've checked in but am I glad I did. Don't know when I'll be in Guyana next! Great pictures and comentary.

Wow, the colors of the birds and the surroundings are so beautiful--just the thing I needed to see on a wintry Minnesota evening (with a below zero windchill rattling the windowpanes)

Wow, it is hard to id, but you are the one to make it! I love learning from your posts!

Oooh! Cute cute little bird with an orange eye, and you saw it in person!

I saw a Fork-tailed Flycatcher that'd ended up on the banks of the Delaware in Morrisville, PA several years ago get the crown-feather treatment from a mightily annoyed Kingbird; I wish I'd known then to see if the Fork-tailed looked away in response. As this went on, a Great Crested perched nearby wheep-wheep-wheeped, but he'd probably have done that even without the fancy-looking interloper's presence.

(Word verification: rexpe)

They are all so similarly colored too... yikes, I'd be fully flummoxed half the time! Love seeing all their differences. :c)

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