Over the years Sandra and I have birded various places and seen various birds – most of which we were able to identify albeit some through a protracted process. It took me quite a while to realise that bird identification, while visiting foreign countries, does not need to be instant and that working on a species is quite acceptable, especially when it comes backed up with audio, such conundrums are usually from the tropics. There are always some birds that feel uncomfortable, images where you think it might be one thing but can’t rule out another, so I thought I’d lay bare my birding soul and ask for input on some images. I know you can do this on Facebook, but I’ve often been disappointed by the level of snide-ness that some ID requesters get subjected to. Sometimes your brain just fogs, people should remember that because, if they are any sort of birder, they will ask daft questions from time to time.

This re-evaluation of images has recently been inspired by the desire to add images to my eBird submissions, something that has shown me how little I understood eBird when I started to use it in 2012. Had I known that ‘X’ meant nothing and not ‘present’ as I thought at the time, I would have used a ‘1’ as a standard unless I had a higher count. It is also interesting reviewing old eBird checklists on the occasions where we were guided (very infrequent). We did a trip to Ecuador and the eBird reviewer is also the guy who guided us, so when something is flagged as rare, well you said it was one and we were too busy running from new bird to new bird to do anything but agree.

Some of the images are not great here and I suspect they will be eventually consigned to the digital dump, but it is worth having a bash just for the craik (an Irish word meaning craik).

Up first is a sparrow, probably, seen near Vigia Chico on the Yucatan Peninsula on 25-June-2009. It may be Green-backed Sparrow but it seems hefty, images 1 & 2.

to-id-yucatan-2009-5 to-id-yucatan-2009-4

Now a run of empid, or empid-like birds. The one below is from Mount Lemmon, Tucson AZ from 18-June-2014. It suggests Western Wood-Pewee but that bill is long, much longer than any of those in my other pewee shots from the west and taken on previous trips, images 3 & 4.

Update: When I saw this bird and later filed my photos this silent empid went down as a Cordilleran, however, that bill didn’t match any of the field guides. Experience is the thing with empids and Thor has advised that it is good for Cordilleran both physically and based on location. Thanks Thor for your input, much appreciated, Cordilleran it is.

18-6-2014-mt-lemmon-az-1 18-6-2014-mt-lemmon-az-2

This one is from west Mexico, near Puerto Vallarta in January 2013. We didn’t go up high so a Pacific lowland species, image 5.

Update: Dominic suggest Pine Flycatcher and I really don’t know why I never considered it but yes, in aspect Pine flycatcher fits.


This one is from the Sedona area of Arizona. I thought Grey Flycatcher when I looked at the images but, again, pewee is possible although it does look weird, images 6 & 7.

Update: I think I am going with the consensus that this is a Western Wood-pewee (based on location). Gray Flycatcher was another possibility and discussed but a couple of point were not quite right.

to-id-az-sept-2011-5 to-id-az-sept-2011-4

Two more from June 2009 and the Yucatan. I am fairly sure that they are different birds. Neither looks right for the regular flycatchers in the area, the bar above the bill on the flying bird is especially odd, images 8 & 9.

Update: This one proved to be a bit problematical. Greenish Elaenia was considered but the pale band above the bill makes this a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, thanks to Dominic for his input.

The second bird is clearly something else and my feeling is that it is a Tropical Pewee.



And finally, and admittedly perhaps outside the range of experience for readers of this blog; I was in Egypt on an island in the Nile at Luxor, March 2011, photographing Black Kites. Mid snap this flew over and I got two bites before it vanished and for some reason I never returned to the images until now to look at it again. From the angle it looks vaguely Chaetura swift-like but is likely a Rock Martin type, images 10 & 11.

Update: Steve has suggested that this is what we used to call Pale Rock Martin, a species that now sits  lumped with Rock Martin. Funny how a fluffed up body can change the feeling an image gives you. I have another what I call African Rock Martin shot from the same trip and am happy that this particular mystery is now solved, thanks Steve.

to-id-luxor-march-2011-2 to-id-luxor-march-2011-1

All help is appreciated and input can be anonymous if desired although I’m sure the CIA, when reading this, won’t be much interested in unidentifiable empids unless the obnoxious Trump is planning to deport them all as undocumented!

Oh, and Merry Christmas or whatever.


11 thoughts on “Help!

  1. Hi Dennis: Re: your Mt. Lemmon empid, I would respectfully suggest that your bird has far too much olive/yellow colouration to be a Western Wood-Peewee, a bird I see a lot of in British Columbia. Considering where you were, and the time of year, the first bird I would think of is Cordilleran Flycatcher. This is one of the go to places for this species in S.E. Arizona at this time of year. Of course the call is also pretty definitive. I was there last May and saw a bird that looks a lot like yours and it was calling. I will send you a picture under separate cover if I can find your e-mail address. It is not as good as your two, as it is taken on an upward angle, and does not show all features, but is a definite Cordilleran, and may prove useful for comparison purposes. Like most empids, you can find a few characteristics that make one doubt one’s identification attempts, but that would be my ” educated ” guess.


  2. Mark: Apologies for getting your name ” upside down “. I’m fighting off a bit of a Christmas cold, and don’t have all ” my powers “. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!!!


    • No worries on the name, happens all the time. Thanks for your comment, I had the bird as Cordilleran in the field and filed but that bill kept bothering me. Thanks for sharing your experience, best wishes, Mark.


  3. Okay Mark: I’ll have a run now at your Gre(a)y Flycatcher. I know I am playing it safe on the spelling. There was a bit of a ” dust up ” on one of the British Columbia listserves on the spelling, and, of course it was between a gentleman from Britain vs. another birder with more American roots, so I try not to offend anyone by spelling it both ways. I think they call that sitting on the fence.
    Anyway, I have a fair amount of experience with this bird, as where I live in the South Okanagan, is one of the best, and only places to look for this bird in Canada. Of course when we see them there,and they are singing, they are in the appropriate plumage for that time of year, which is mostly gre(a)y, and whitish underneath. In Fall, there is more olivey-grey overall with a yellowish hue on the breast.
    I don’t think you specify the season when you took the picture of your bird, but as it was in Sedona, and your picture of the Cordilleran was taken in the Spring, I am making the assumption that it was taken around the same time of year. Also, they mostly vacate North America in winter except for a small part of Southern Arizona, which makes me think it was a Spring/Summer shot as well.
    With those factors taken into consideration, I think you may very well have a Gre(a)y Flycatcher there. It would be nice to see the underside of the bill which should be mostly yellowy orange with a black tip. Also the bird is a fairly active tail pumper, ( downwards ), and, has a pretty distinctive song. However, the colour looks good, it appears to have a shorter primary projection, on a longish tail, and the eye ring is fairly inconspicuous, Finally, as I remember the habitat around Sedona, that matches up with the usual breeding habitat for this species. In B.C. they love Ponderosa Pine.
    I will send you a picture of a Gre(a)y Flycatcher taken in the Spring in the Okanagan under separate cover. Hope this helps.


  4. For # 6-7 I think peewee. The bird has black wings and tail, and notably black lesser coverts (shoulder) and a white throat offset by dusky flanks. Also the bird looks big in this pic, and has a broad bill (gray have long and somewhat narrow bills).

    # 8 Reminds me of a Myiopagis sp. I see that for Mexico, Greenish Elaenia is your only option.

    # 9 Looks like a Becard sp.


    • Pewee I’m happy with, just a freaky pair of photos I think. Greenish Elaenia, yes, I see that too, thanks for that one. I had Caribbean on my checklist but not enough in my notebook on it. We saw Greenish elsewhere too. Becard, I’m not seeing becard in that shot, especially the bill shape, but I’ll fiddle with the photo to try for a bit of colour. Thanks again.


      • Yeah #9 was difficult! The bill looks odd, but I was wondering if it was a photo artifact. Let me know if you can clear it up any. Yeah the more I look at it the less I think Becard. Perhaps a Myarchius sp., but odd you can’t see any pale edging on the wings.


    • I notice that # 8 has wingbars which should rule out my suggestion of Greenish Elaenia. What about Northern Beardless Tyrannulet? The closer I look at it the more I think it is that, what with the facial pattern, particularity the white front, and the wingbars.


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