Possible Hammond's Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii), Jones Beach, Nassau County, New York, 27 October 2001

On Friday 26 October 2001, John and Gerta Fritz discovered a small empidonax flycatcher near the turn-around at the western end of Jones Beach State Park, Nassau County, Long Island, New York. Co-observers included Doug Futuyma and Shai Mitra. After careful study they tentatively identified the bird as a Hammond's Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii) - a species not previously recorded in New York State. The bird was present in the same area this morning and was studied (and photographed) at length by many local birders. Sadly, it is thought to have fallen prey to a Merlin later in the afternoon.

Some brief comments on the identification: The field identification of non-calling empids is notoriously difficult and care must be taken to eliminate basic-plumaged Least Flycatcher (E. minimus; an uncommon and poorly known plumage in North America) and the traditional confusion species Dusky Flycatcher (E. oberholseri). The broad, crisply marked off-white or buffy wing bars and edges to the tertials and secondaries indicate a freshly molted bird. This is consistent with Hammond's Flycatcher which typically undergoes pre-basic molt before migration. [Of course this would not exclude a prematurely molted individual (e.g. failed breeder) of another species.] Perhaps the strongest argument against Least Flycatcher and for Hammond's Flycatcher are the relatively long primaries, evident in the first four images below.

Comments from experienced observers with intimate knowledge of this trio would be greatly appreciated. Although Hammond's Flycatcher has not been recorded in New York before, there are well-documented records from Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvannia and Maryland. For all those fortunate enough to see the Jones Beach bird, descriptions and photos should be sent to the New York State Avian Records Committee (NYSARC).

Fig. 1. This image shows the grayish nape contrasting with the greener mantle.

Fig. 2. The flycatcher often gave a slightly tufted impression, evident in this shot.

Fig. 3.

Fig. 4.  Side profile, showing long primaries to good effect.

Fig. 5. Portrait shot! Note that the breast is somewhat over-exposed.

Fig. 6.View of top of the bill.

Fig. 7.View showing underside of the bill. Photo copyright of Andy Guthrie© 2001.

Fig. 8.View showing underside of the bill. Photo copyright of Andy Guthrie© 2001.

Fig. 9.View showing underside of the bill. Photo copyright of Andy Guthrie© 2001.

Fig. 10.Another side view showing length of primaries. Photo copyright of Andy Guthrie© 2001.

Fig. 11. Photo copyright of Andy Guthrie© 2001.

Notes on the photography: All shots by Angus Wilson were taken through a Kowa TSN-4 scope (at 20X) using hand-held a Nikon Coolpix 880 digital camera. Those by Andy Guthrie were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 995 and Pentax 80 scope. Images were cropped and sharpened slightly using Adobe Photoshop 5.0.

Additional thoughts, comparative photos and information would be very welcome.
Here are some useful links provided by Andy Guthrie.






Images copyright of Angus Wilson and Andy Guthrie. Unauthroized use is prohibited. Text copyright of Angus Wilson/Ocean Wanderers© 2001.

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