Saturday, January 31, 2015

When Greg met Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe. Tijuana River Valley, San Diego, California. January 18, 2015. Greg Gillson.
There are over 400 species of New World Tyrant Flycatchers, most in the tropics. Of these, only 3 are named with the Greek woman's name of Phoebe. Lacking eye rings and wing bars (except for 2 South American subspecies of Black Phoebe) as many other flycatchers, the tail wagging behavior and sweet "fee-bee" (Phoebe) calls make identification fairly straightforward. Phoebes nest commonly around people--often on back porches and out buildings.

On January 18, I made a successful effort to find and photograph a rather rare Eastern Phoebe that was fairly reliable down at the Bird and Butterfly Garden [site guide] in the Tijuana River Valley. As it turned out, I happened to photograph all three species of Phoebes this day! I present them here. Plus, I tell you the story of the very first time I met each species.

Eastern Phoebes breed from the Atlantic to the edges of the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the United States. In winter they move south to extreme southern US south into Central America. They are olive above with whitish breast and faintly yellow belly.

I first met Eastern Phoebe: January 9, 1982 at a golf course in Ventura, California. Discovered originally by others in December, but I didn't know about it. I found and identified this bird myself, independently--and took really good notes.

Say's Phoebe
Say's Phoebe. Tijuana River Valley, San Diego, California. January 18, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Say's Phoebes are found in drier lands of western North America--from the 100th meridian westward, and reach all the way to Alaska in summer. In winter, northern birds move south as far as northern Central America. Vagrants can reach the East Coast in winter. They are grayish-brown with a black tail and buffy cinnamon colored below.

I first met Say's Phoebe: November 20, 1972. Albany, Oregon. This was one of the first birds I identified when I began recording birds in my backyard as a school project.

Black Phoebe
Black Phoebe. Chula Vista, California. January 18, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Black Phoebes are less migratory than the other species. They are resident from SW Oregon, through California and Arizona all the way to Argentina in South America. They are almost always found near water. They are blackish except for striking white belly and undertail coverts.

I first met Black Phoebe: March 22, 1976. Death Valley, California. I spent a week in Death Valley with my parents and grandparents during spring break.