Yellow-rump Exposed

One of the most common warblers anywhere in North America is the Yellow-rumped Warbler. When we lived down in California the “butter-butt” was one of the species that you expected to see all winter and even, in some pockets, year round.  Here on Vancouver Island it is a summer bird that will show up migrating in the spring and fall and in numbers that make it a common sight, perhaps the most common warbler seen in North America.

Many birders probably will not pay much attention to this common bird.  Look at the rump — if yellow checkmark beside Yellow-rumped.  Want more detail? Look at the throat.  If it’s yellow it’s an Audubon’s with normal western range from the Pacific to the Rockies and north to Haida Gwai.  If the throat is white, it’s a Myrtle with range just about anywhere in North America.  Oh, Audubon’s and Myrtle are sub-species.

Here are some adult Yellow-rump pictures taken in Nanaimo recently (July 3, 2019).

First, a side view.  Note the yellow markings on the throat, top of head and shoulder.

P1190832 Yellow-rumped side view.jpg

Next,  a view more from the front.

P1190835 Yellow-rumped front-top view.jpg

The throat marking is yellow for the Audubon’s sub-species seen on the west coast. On the east coast the Myrtle is more common with its white throat patch.

P1190833 Yellow-rumped front view.jpg

Of course I had to have at least one picture from behind of the yellow butt, er rump.

P1190834 Yellow-rumped back-butt view.jpg

In Disguise

At this time of year, early summer, the new batch of birds are hatching, fledging and showing up with all the other birds making bird identification trickier.  These new birds would be unrecognizable to anyone who has only ever paid attention to adult birds.  For instance, look at the following picture taken on July 11 2019:

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It doesn’t look much like a Yellow-rumped but it turns out that this is in fact a juvenile Yellow-rumped Warbler (thanks to those who helped me with the ID).  There is no evidence of the yellow patches seen in an adult.

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Juvenile Yellow-rumped Exposed

Look at the next sequence of 4 images, all of a single juvenile Yellow-rumped, taken over a period of a few seconds on July 14, 2019.  How do I know this is a “butter-butt”? Look at the second picture taken a few seconds after the first.

Yellow-rumped Warbler juvenile

Nothing? Don’t see it?  Look at the third picture taken a few seconds after the second:

Yellow-rumped Warbler juvenile

The bird has adjusted its feathers to show the yellow-rump.  Finally, a few seconds later still:

Yellow-rumped Warbler juvenile

The bird’s identify has been fully exposed despite the lack of any of the other yellow patches.

Nature rarely does anything without a reason which makes me wonder what purpose the yellow-butt and the ability to expose it play in the day-to-day of this warbler.  At least it makes identifying the juvenile birds without any other yellow markings a little easier.

Final Thoughts

The Audubon’s and Myrtle sub-species were separate species until 1973 when scientists combined them.  Better DNA evidence suggests that perhaps they should be separate species after all.  Check out the following 2016 article by Hugh Powell in All About Birds, an online free resource from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Goodbye, Yellow-Rump: Will We See A Return To Myrtle And Audubon’s Warblers?

 

Empido-nightmare

Updated July 12, 2019: Added a ‘See Also’ section.

Empidonax: from the Ancient Greek empis for “gnat“, and anax for “master”.

Empidonax Flycatchers

Anyone who regularly watches birds in North America will, at some point, come across  a small flycatcher from the genus Empidonax for which species identification may have proven to be difficult or impossible.  In many cases the only reliable identification requires hearing the bird’s song which is only sung by the adult male and usually only during breeding season.

But wait, there’s Contopus.

There is a second genus of flycatcher, Contopus, (pewees and wood-pewees) that should be considered as some of its species can resemble those of Empidonax. On Vancouver Island the relevant Contopus species are the Olive-sided Flycatcher and the Western Wood-Pewee.

My Identification Challenge

Our house backs onto a small pond and wetland decorated with fairly heavy brush that provides good cover for birds and other critters.  The brushy area behind our yard is where I recently encountered the flycatcher shown in the following pictures:

 

These images were all taken with my Panasonic FZ-200 camera and have not been edited other than to crop the images. No song or call was heard from the flycatcher.

None of the Contopus flycatchers appear to be a match leaving us with Empidonax.  Based on the Sibley Guide to Birds (2000 edition) the only Empidonax species that we should see in the Nanaimo area are Pacific-slope, Willow and Hammond’s. The Least, Dusky and Gray Flycatchers have normal habitats that come close to Vancouver Island and should not immediately be discounted when comparing species based on appearance.

Help!

I am not comfortable assigning my flycatcher pictures to any of the above mentioned Empidonax species to I will solicit birders out there to propose a species type for the above images hopefully with an explanation for their identification.

See Also

Here are some resources for flycatcher identification.  I will update this post if I find additional interesting links.

Identifying Flycatchers on their Wintering Grounds

If you think that identifying the Empidonax and Contopus flycatchers is difficult up here in Canada and the US during breading season, consider what it must be like in April and May in South America where migratory species from the East and West coasts of North America are intermixed with non-migratory resident species.  To make matters worse they various species may be silent, not singing those songs that are sometimes the best way to separate and identify flycatchers.  Here is a link to a document provided by eBird Central America that will give you a summary of the ID challenges and provide you with tips on how to separate: Flycatcher ID challenges in a Central American context.

Cedar Waxwings are also Flycatchers!

P1190890 Perched Waxwing extra long

Our back deck overlooks one end of a wetlands that eBird identifies by the hotspot Oliver Woods Community Centre Pond. This location, which has only been identified as a hotspot since February 2019, has more than 50 species associated with it.  I have seen most of these from the comfort of our back deck.

In the last few days Cedar Waxwings have caught my attention. There appears to be a resident population of ten or twenty Waxwings that hand out around our end of the pond.  I usually think of this bird as hanging around in flocks looking for berries to gorge themselves on, particularly in the winter months.   I would normally expect them to be somewhere else right now.  According to the All About Birds information for the Cedar Waxwing, however, this region has year-round populations. of Cedar Waxwings.

In the last few days I’ve seen two interesting Waxwing behaviours.

First, a number of the birds regularly spend time on top of the large lily pads that cover much of the pond. They appear to be foraging for insects.  The following picture shows an example:

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I noticed the second interesting behaviour at dusk.  Here is a picture of the pond just before sunset.P1190870 Pond at DuskThe glowing areas are some bushes catching the last daylight.  The glow is also attracting lots of flying insects.  The Cedar Waxwings were attracted to these insects and were making short excursions from nearby perches to fly-catch.

Here are a some images of perched Waxwings between foraging flights:P1190872 Perched Waxwing 1P1190877 Perched Waxwing 2P1190880 Perched Waxwing 3P1190884 Perched Waxwing 4

I will have to try making short videos of the fly-catching flights.

I did a little more research into Cedar Waxwing behaviour.  From the Food section of the All About Birds website Life History for the Cedar Waxwing I found the following:

Cedar Waxwings feed mainly on fruits year-round. In summer, they feed on fruits such as serviceberry, strawberry, mulberry, dogwood, and raspberries. The birds’ name derives from their appetite for cedar berries in winter; they also eat mistletoe, madrone, juniper, mountain ash, honeysuckle, crabapple, hawthorn, and Russian olive fruits. In summer Cedar Waxwings supplement their fruit diet with protein-rich insects including mayflies, dragonflies, and stoneflies, often caught on the wing. They also pick items such as scale insects, spruce budworm, and leaf beetles directly from vegetation.

I also checked Birds of North America Online (requires a subscription) and found the following text:

One of only three species worldwide in the family Bombycillidae, the Cedar Waxwing is named for the red, waxlike tips on the secondary flight-feathers of adult birds. Sugary fruits dominate the diet of this bird, especially in winter. During warmer months, Cedar Waxwings glean insects from vegetation or snatch them from the air in sallies from exposed perches, often near streams or ponds. This is a true frugivore, assimilating nutrients from fruit pulp and passing seeds intact back to the environment.

Apparently this is all normal behaviour.  Huh!

See Also:

All About Birds Cedar Waxwing Gallery

Link

Through a Facebook friend I found this link to a New Scientist article suggesting the medication for Diabetes may help slow the progression of PD.

We may finally be able to slow Parkinson’s with a diabetes drug

The drug, FDA-approved since 2005, is called exenatide and is used to treat type 2 diabetes. It works by protecting neurones from toxins. One potential downside is that the drug is currently injected twice daily though a once-weekly injection was approved in 2012. The major side-effects appear to be gastrointestinal.

If I have a major criticism with the article it is with the title which implies that there are no current ways to slow PD progression. In fact exercise, diet, social interaction and at least one drug, Azilect, are all known to or suspected of slowing PD progression to varying degrees.

 

Sunday at Bowen Park

It’s been pretty quiet on the birding front but I decided to go on the Nanaimo/Parksville Sunday bird walk to Bowen Park. In the heart of Nanaimo, this park is a jewel with most of its 36 hectares undeveloped.

The walk starts in the parking lot, near the first hole of Nanaimo’s Disk Golf course where we quickly spotted a Brown Creeper while waiting for the group to assemble.  This one was quite vocal (for a Creeper) emitting a double note call at fairly regular intervals making us wonder if it was a young bird.

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It was pretty quiet today.  There were no Starlings or House Sparrows which helped keep the BQI (Bird Quality Index) high.

Shortly after we started down the birding trail we discovered a fairly large paper wasp nest. What I liked was the colour and pattern — different from the grey nests I am used to. Perhaps mocha is this year’s colour in paper-wasp real-estate.P1180565

A bit further, someone noticed an interesting spider web hanging between trees. With a bit of light that made it through the thick forest canopy it looked a bit like a suspended compact disk.

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Next along the way was a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, making short foraging flights, returning to the same perch. He was quite cooperative, hanging out a few meters from the path so that everyone could get a good look or take a few pictures.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Pileated Woodpeckers frequently are oblivious to us birder-humans as we take shot after shot while they peck away at the trees.  This female was pecking at various trees, occasionally do light renovations to existing holes. With the dark under-canopy, the camera shutter speed was in the 1/100 to 1/200 range so you had to snap your shot during the bird’s brief bouts of pounding or the image would be heavily blurred.

Female Piliated Woodpeckerfullsizeoutput_1f31

We saw a Barred Owl along the way but getting a good image would have been a challenge so I didn’t even try. The following two owls, however, cooperated with my picture taking:

Wood-peckers.

Almost at the end of our outing, we found our ‘Bird of the Day’ — an American Dipper. It was hanging out in a shaded spot at the edge of the Millstone River. The BQI definitely jumped when we found this bird.

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That was it. About three hours at Bowen Park. Total species count: 25.

This walk was organized by the Nanaimo Backyard Wildbird and Nature Store. They can be contacted for more information on future Sunday or Tuesday outings.