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Empidonax and Pewees–A Discipline Information Assessment – 10,000 Birds

The very first thing to notice concerning the Discipline Information to North American Flycatchers is the subtitle: Empidonax and Pewees. No Kingbirds, no Phoebes, no Myiarchus flycatchers, simply Empidonax and Pewees. The second factor to notice is that this is a superb and brave ebook that tackles a gaggle of birds whose subject identification has stumped essentially the most expert birders. Gulls and sparrows are powerful however manageable; Empids could require DNA evaluation (because it really did in the case of the non-vocalizing Western Flycatcher seen in Central Park, NYC in November 2015).  The ebook expands subject information boundaries with its slender give attention to two genera (teams) with a bonus Tufted Flycatcher thrown in for good measure. That’s 18 species in a single ebook. I don’t know one other information that’s extra particular, and, in what I like to consider because the golden age of subject guides, it’s an intriguing route. The third factor to notice about Discipline Information to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees is the care authors Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch have taken to current their identification experience in a approach that’s comprehensible by birders of each degree.

That is greater than a set of species accounts. The authors spend a good portion of the ebook (42 pages) on HOW to watch flycatchers, a course of involving the remark and evaluation of numerous subject marks together with construction and form, habitat, vary, and, after all, vocalizations, and which they name “holistic subject identification.” This builds and expands on a traditional collection of articles by Bret Whitney and Kenn Kaufman that appeared Birding journal between 1985 and 1987.* Whitney and Kaufman begin the collection by describing a state of confusion in Empid identification: “Many supposed fieldmarks have been instructed and have been extensively quoted or misquoted, with birders taking sides on every one, claiming that one character is diagnostic whereas one other is nugatory. Even these factors that appear to be universally accepted are sometimes extra opinion than truth.” They conclude that many non-vocalizing Empidonax flycatchers might be recognized within the subject, however solely “when a number of subject characters are utilized in mixture–and after one has gained expertise in these characters on singing/calling and captive birds (i.e., known-identity).”**

Introductory Materials

The issue is that many of those subject marks are delicate, tough to differentiate within the subject, and likewise that many birders, not solely newbies, don’t know what to search for. Lee and Birch well begin off with a chapter that names, describes, and illustrates these traits:  Crown Form, Brow Angle, Invoice Size, Decrease Mandible Coloration, Tail Size, Tail Width, Main Projection, Wingbar Distinction, Wing Panel Distinction, Higher/Underpart Distinction, Eye-ring, and Total Coloration. (The chapter is titled “The way to Use This Information,” however don’t be fooled, it’s way more.) These descriptions are immensely helpful, telling us which subject marks are diagnostic and that are variable inside a particular species, which of them would possibly differ underneath completely different lighting situations or the hen’s state of molt or age or intercourse, which subject marks are helpful for pewees however not for Empids, and extra. Plumage colour, for instance, is topic to quite a lot of variation, as anybody whose seen and photographed a flycatcher in direct daylight after which underneath a cloud can attest–gray-green? green-gray? gray-brown?–it’s lighting and our personal particular person perceptions in play. The authors advocate observing “colour contrasts between completely different elements of the hen” as a substitute of merely total coloration (p. 30).

This chapter additionally talks briefly about Behavoir, with particular consideration to wing and tail flicking; Age and Molt; Vocalizations and learn spectograms (included within the Species Accounts); Habitat Preferences; and, within the part on Vary, Seasonal Standing, and Migration, learn the Species Account vary maps and seasonal abundance charts, vital clues to identification. To carry all of it collectively, the authors current two distinctive visible aids: a Discipline Mark Matrix, a chart plotting out important subject marks, together with tail and wing flicks, for every species, and a Visible Similarity Map (under), which reveals in graphic kind which flycatchers look alike and which don’t. There are additionally two pages illustrating the “Holistic Method,” silhouettes of every species (Western birds on the left, Jap birds on the correct), that permit for comparability of construction, dimension, and form.


Species Accounts

Species Accounts differ in size in accordance with the hen, with related trying species (Western and Jap Wooden-Pewee, Willow and Alder Flycatcher, Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatcher) handled collectively. As I mentioned above, 18 species are coated, all members of the Empidonax and Contopus genera plus Tufted Flycatcher, which is within the Mitrephanes genus. I used to be puzzled why the authors determined to incorporate Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Pine Flycatcher, and Tufted Flycatcher, species which have extraordinarily restricted vary in North America. The reply for the primary two, I think about, is completeness, a need to cowl the entire genus. Tufted Flycatcher, the authors say within the Introduction, is included “due to its superficial resemblance to a number of the Empidonax flycatchers” (p. 6), which I can verify is true, having seen it in Carr Canyon, Arizona. It does get complicated, although, as a result of the Species Account says that it’s “unlikely to be confused with another flycatcher in the US” (p.51). At any price, the inclusion of those species, that are seen in Mexico and Central America, does make this a ‘North American’ subject information within the true ‘North American’ definition of the geographic time period.

Every species account is headlined with the frequent and scientific names of the species and its measurements and weight; suitably, Willow and Alder are underneath the heading ‘Traill’s Flycatchers’ and Pacific-slope and Cordilleran are underneath “Western Flycatcher.” Sections cowl Common Identification (dimension, form, construction, what subject marks to search for, behavioral clues); Voice (songs and calls are described and transcribed); Vary and Habitat (habitat preferences on breeding and wintering grounds, instances of spring and fall migration and the place); and Comparable Species (particulars on variations make this a vital part).

That is adopted by a web page or 4 of Andy Birch’s pretty, detailed illustrations. The species is proven largely in profile, but additionally from the entrance or angled in direction of the entrance, and infrequently angled in direction of the again, every picture clearly created with the precise purpose of illustrating a particular function–the form of the crown, the crispness of an eye-ring, the size of the primaries. Trying over these flycatcher photos–all exhibiting a perched passerine with wingbars and a yellow/orangish invoice (o.okay., generally very darkish yellow/orange), all utilizing the identical muted palette of inexperienced, yellow grey, and brown–it turns into simpler to see the structural and detailed variations amongst these species. It’s additionally a bit awe-inspiring, as a result of creating these photos should have concerned hours of remark and, I think about, museum work, and I’m wondering if in some unspecified time in the future green-gray-brown fatigue set in. It’s simple for us to say {that a} subject information of neotropical birds options lovely paintings. It’s more durable, I feel, to worth paintings the place the dimensions and readability of an eye-ring and the breadth of a tail distinguishes a species.

The photographs are giant, with simply three or 4 figures filling the web page, and captioned intimately. This is able to be a luxurious in most subject guides and is without doubt one of the benefits of such small species protection. I admire the addition of pencil drawings in some species accounts as an instance structural options. Visible comparisons are made with related species, comparable to the location of a Willow Flycatcher picture within the Wooden-Pewee Species Account–we see full photos of every species and pencil depictions of the first projection variations. “Comparability of Hammond’s, Dusky, Grey and Least Flycatchers,” a seven-page subsection following the Dusky Flycatcher Species Account, is a visible tutorial is differentiate amongst these 4 species, all of whom seem within the west and, although frankly I feel I’d nonetheless have issues within the subject.

Because of this vocalizations are so vital. The spectograms in every Species Account visualize the hen’s calls and songs, generally two or extra of every (there are daybreak songs and night songs). I discover them tough to see on the web page, and I’m unsure if that is due to the character of the supply materials or if extra distinction was wanted when printing, or if it’s me (they really do look clearer once I take my glasses off). Customers would possibly need to complement the fabric right here with the spectograms in Nathan Pieplow’s Discipline Information to Chook Sounds regional guides and with the Merlin app within the subject. The spectograms are most helpful when learn with the textual content descriptions, which clarify which vocalizations are diagnostic, describe geographic variations, and when the spectrogram is very vital for differentiating related vocalizations of various species.

The final function in every Species Account are the vary maps and abundance charts, illustrating and increasing on the data given within the textual content part. The maps are pretty advanced, exhibiting breeding vary, winter vary, year-round vary, migration routes, instances, and instructions. Giant and colourful, they embody Mexico, Central America and generally South America, exhibiting the complete migration route. It might have been helpful to have the map key on one of many inside covers, as a substitute of web page 41 (although the color-coding system may be very easy).  I like that there are abundance tables for a number of completely different places, north to south, and that they’re related by arrows to the geographic places on the vary maps. I selfishly would have like extra consideration paid to New York on these tables and maps, although logically that is senseless since most Jap flycatchers take the Gulf of Mexico migration route.


Authors Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch are birders and birding writers and artists (Lee can also be a really succesful painter of hen photos, as evidenced on his web site) with roots in southern California. They’ve co-authored numerous articles, together with a number of on subject identification for Birding and Texas Birds Annual. Lee can also be a geochemist and professor within the Division of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Rice College, Houston. Birch is well-known within the Los Angeles birding group (I had the pleasure of assembly him a number of years in the past at Silver Lake Reservoir, the place he confirmed me the place to search for the long-staying Lucy’s Warbler). He is without doubt one of the leaders of the brand new Los Angeles Birders group, and has webinars on subjects comparable to “Tough Tringas” and, with Cin-Ty Lee, “Empidonax Identification within the West.” He’s a co-illustrator of Discipline Information to the Birds of the Center East (1996) and has illustrated many different magazines and articles.


Discipline Information to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees a well-thought out, handsomely designed information to the method of flycatcher identification in two of its most difficult teams. The ebook isn’t any magic wand–finding out it might not end in instantaneous identification of the following Empidonax flycatcher you meet, although it might assist you distinguish it from a Wooden-Pewee. It’s going to train you what subject marks and behaviors to search for, observe and {photograph}, and it’ll present a vocabulary and framework for work out that identification. As Whitney and Kaufman identified in these articles written over 30 years in the past, one a part of flycatcher identification is realizing which mixture of subject marks to make use of, the opposite half is expertise.

It is a ebook properly price proudly owning for each its excellence of content material and uniqueness. There are usually not quite a lot of flycatcher guides on the market! (I discovered a latest title, Lazer Targeted Discipline Information to the Flycatchers of North America by Texan birders Mark Cochran and Mel Cooksey, independently revealed, however haven’t been capable of look at it and might discover no critiques.) Kaufman’s chapter on”The Empidonax Flycatchers” in his Discipline Information to Superior Birding (2011) covers quite a lot of the Empid materials, however way more compactly (40 pages) and with out the useful Discipline Mark Matrix, spectograms, vary maps, and easy-to-use design of the ebook. The information within reason priced (at $19.95, determine it’s $1.11 per hen), gentle and transportable, and, with minimal technical language, geared to birders of each degree. Discipline Information to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees is hopefully the primary of a three-part collection on flycatcher identification, in accordance with the authors. I’m curious how the remaining Tyrant Flycatchers of North America shall be divvied up–Kingbirds and Kiskadee? Phoebes and Myiarchus? A particular part for the stunners–Scissor-tailed, Fork-tailed and Vermillion Flycatchers? And what new identification “cheats,” just like the Discipline Mark Matrix and Visible Similarity Map, Lee and Birch will devise. And what Andy Birch’s paintings will appear to be as soon as he’s in a position to make use of a bit of extra colour. It’s one thing to look ahead to.


*  This five-part collection is now retrievable for members of the American Birding Affiliation due to the digitization of all problems with Birding. The Birding journal archive might be searched by key phrase, title, or creator or by clicking on the thumbnail of the needed subject’s cowl. The “Empidonax Problem” articles are within the following points: Half I–August, 1985; Half II–Dec. 1985; Half III–June 1986; Half IV–Dec. 1986; Half V–Oct. 1987.

** Whitney, Bret & Kenn Kaufman, “The Empidonax Problem: Empidonax, Half I,” Birding, v. 17, no. 4, Aug. 1985, pp. 151-152.

Discipline Information to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees
by Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch; Illustrated by Andrew Birch
Princeton College Press, April 2023
157 pages; 5 x 8 in.; illus:  55 colour + b/w illus. 19 maps. 53
ISBN: 9780691240626

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