Tag Archives: Ash-throated Flycatcher

Mid-April Migrants

Mid-April migrant - Ash-throated Flycatcher

Mid-April migrant – Ash-throated Flycatcher

Recently, we took a trip to one of the local canyons in the Santa Ana mountains in search of mid-April migrants. We hit the jackpot almost immediately. Right away, this handsome Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens) greeted us in the parking lot. Surprisingly, he was pretty cooperative too. We stopped in a dry foothill canyon to listen for sparrows. First, Lazuli Bunting, Black-chinned Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Western Tanager rewarded us. Typically, California Thrasher, Bewick’s Wren and both Blue-gray and California Gnatcatchers were there, along with California Towhee, Phainopepla and a distant Coastal Cactus Wren.

Silverado Canyon

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Next, we went to our target destination: Silverado Canyon. The reported MacGillivray’s Warbler, a much sought-after mid-April migrant, ultimately called loudly enough to be heard over the stream. Mountain Quail were calling from all over everywhere. Pacific-slope Flycatchers worked the under story over the creek. Following that, a wave of common warblers came through: Wilson’s, Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray, and a few Nashville Warblers. A handful of late Yellow-rumped Warblers of the Audubon’s race also showed up. Some of the Orange-crowned Warblers (Oreothlypis celata) annually stay and breed here. And the morning light was perfect for photography too.

Other Migrants

Male Hermit Warbler

Male Hermit Warbler bathing

Surprisingly, the vireos put in a good showing too, with half a dozen migrant Warbling Vireos and at least two singing Cassin’s Vireos. Perhaps the most common vireos were the vocal resident Hutton’s. An early Western Wood-Pewee sang its distinctive song in the distance, a perfect complement to the activity in front of us. Later, at a stream crossing with shallow pools, we found migrants coming in to bathe and drink. Hermit Thrushes stood by shyly as the warblers boldly splashed about. This lovely male Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) gave us quite a show. Some of these bathing birds were so busy, they let us approach quite closely. Thus, even small birds like these warblers were huge in the 10×42 Zeiss Victory SF binoculars we were lucky to be using. It’s pretty hard to beat that kind of frame-filling view of such beautiful birds!

Lastly, I shot these photos with a Canon EOS T3 equipped with a 100-400 mm zoom lens.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher carrying food

Ash-throated Flycatcher carrying food

During a recent Cactus Wren survey at the Starr Ranch National Audubon Sanctuary, I found a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers. The Ash-throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens, is a common breeding species here in Orange County. Ash-throats typically inhabit the open woodlands at the edge of scrub-land and the partially-wooded suburban areas. Ash-throats reach up to 8.5 inches in length, making them fairly large flycatchers. Flycatchers of this genus are particularly handsome, with reddish webbing in the outer wing and tail feathers. A yellowish wash to the belly and gray throats contrast with the brown back, cheek and crown. Like many flycatchers, they have a crest that they can raise or lower at will. This gives them sort of a punk look, as in this shot.

Ash-throated Flycatcher at nest cavity

Ash-throated Flycatcher at nest cavity

At the Nest

Ash-throated Flycatchers are cavity nesters. They require a nest hole, either natural, like a woodpecker hole or artificial, like a nest box. This pair used a hole in a massive old sycamore, which formed where a large branch broke off. This cavity was so deep that when the parent birds fed their young, they disappeared entirely in the hole. Typically, the birds were quite conspicuous, hunting and perching on exposed branches and vocalizing frequently with their loud “chi-beeer!” calls. They were often surprisingly unsubtle about the location of their nest. They flew in without hesitation and disappeared deep in the tree, only to reappear seconds later.

These parents were quite attentive to their young. They foraged rather successfully, as attested by the spider and unknown insect in their beaks. They were quite rude, frequently talking with their mouths full! But they were also cooperative, frequently posing on nearby perches and enabling photography.

Ash-throated Flycatcher emerging from the nest hole

Ash-throated Flycatcher emerging from the nest hole

Range

Ash-throated Flycatchers breed in Orange County, the only members of this genus that do so. Here, any other flycatcher in this genus is only visiting. That said, at least four other Myiarchus flycatchers show up in the county, including Dusky-capped, Brown-crested , Great-crested, and in winter of 2000, a Nutting’s Flycatcher. Of these, only the Great-crested Flycatcher doesn’t breed relatively nearby. Ash-throated Flycatchers are migratory, appearing between mid-March and the end of May and departing, from mid-August through September. Ash-throats over-winter in Orange County fairly regularly but are never common. Wintering birds average about one per year, according to “The Birds of Orange County California – Status and Distribution”.

Ash-throated Flycatcher with prey

Ash-throated Flycatcher with prey

Digiscoping

These pictures were taken with the Leica digiscoping rig comprised of the D-Lux4 digital camera attached to the Apo-Televid 82 scope with the D-Lux4 digiscoping-adaptor. One issue with digiscoping is that it takes longer to deploy than a regular camera set-up. Still, the high magnification of the Televid scope and great resolution of the D-Lux4 camera make for some good pictures. I snapped off perhaps 20 shots of these birds in the space of a few minutes. While not all were of publication quality, only one wasn’t in sharp focus. With the camera set on aperture priority, the exposures were pretty much spot-on every time. I’m not a great photographer, but this rig allows me to fake it pretty well! And with spectacular and willing subjects like these gorgeous Ash-throated Flycatchers, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.