Avid birdwatchers here in eastern Massachusetts have been pleasantly surprised by the arrival of two flycatchers that were/are totally unexpected. We have had a very warm spell recently with lots of westerly and southwesterly winds. These sorts of weather conditions just might sweep migrants, especially, wrong-way avian migrants from the west and southwest into the eastern states. As the ocean forms a rather significant boundary after arriving in this region, many of these birds drop down onto islands and into coastal habitats instead of heading out to sea and a likely demise. Locations like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket or Tuckernuck or the Monomoy islands are well known vagrant stops. These two flycatchers were a bit more inland but surely they were smelling the salt air of the ocean for the first time.
The first, a Vermillion Flycatcher, (VEFL) was discovered in a bit of sandy coastal scrub and stayed for several days allowing birders to visit from near and far. The other bird arrived a couple weeks later and stayed for quite a while also; it was a Hammond’s Flycatcher (HAFL). The Vermillion Flycatcher is found in the southern states of the US from east Texas west to southern California. It is not common but not unusual in a variety of arid habitats, usually near whatever water is available.
The Hammond’s Flycatcher is found normally in tall, usually coniferous, forests in the far west. In the right habitat it can also be found as far east as Wyoming and Colorado. It is one of a group of flycatchers in the Empidonax group. There are about 11 species of Empidonax species in the USA and they are all quite similar. Those birders with good ears can tell them best by sound and song. The taxonomy of the Empidonax is a history of lumping and splitting types into or out of species groupings.
Thanks again to all those who visited these birds and left them to their own activities. All the visitors I saw were respectful of the birds space and nature. It may be a bit pointless as I don’t think these two will survive to breed back in their home lands – but at least they will have the chance. It was a pleasure to have them here for a while….I wonder what’s next?