Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) at Jordan Lake - First North Carolina Record

Latest update: last seen in same location at 2 pm, Saturday 1/22/2000. Appears that he did not survive the 14 inches of snow and long cold spell (temperatures down to 1 F).

At about 11:15 am on Saturday, 15 January 2000, Harry LeGrand and Jeff Pippen discovered a "Western" Flycatcher on Big Woods Road at Jordan Lake. Between 1 and 1:30 pm, Derb Carter, Ricky Davis and Will Cook relocated the bird and, with the aid of the National Geographic tape, it came right in and responded, first with 'seet' notes, then with Male Position Notes (MPN). The MPNs we heard were indistinguishable from those of the Pacific-slope on the tape. We played both Pacific-slope and Cordilleran vocalizations to it. While it seemed interested in the latter, it responded aggressively and repeated MPNs only after the former. Derb got photos and unsuccessfully attempted to record a call note. We tried again to get a good recording on Sunday 16 January 2000. The bird had not been seen for four hours, but we pulled it in by playing the tape. Eventually, between 12:00-12:30, Derb got decent recordings of this bird's vocalizations (as it responded to the Pacific-slope Flycatcher tape). Again, we played the Cordilleran to it, but it didn't respond.


Derb Carter got some decent shots of the bird on 15 January 2000. A small section in the center of each slide (i.e., the part containing the bird) was scanned in at 2700 dpi using a Polaroid SprintScan 35, then color-balanced, resampled down to 300x250, and sharpened using the freeware program IrfanView.
Click on a thumbnail image below to see an enlargement.


MPN1 - Call from tape followed by response from bird (243kb)

MPN2 - Call from bird (120kb)

MPN3 - Call from bird (172kb)

"seet" - Call from bird (87kb)

View spectrographs from these recordings.

Description of the bird

This description is from notes taken in the field by Jeff Pippen, Harry LeGrand, and Will Cook as we watched it through 10 power binoculars and a 30 power scope:

Small flycatcher, noticeably smaller than an Eastern Phoebe, which was nearby for comparison and larger than a nearby Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Head slightly crested; Bill fairly broad, blackish above, orangish-flesh below; mouth interior orange; Eyering pale yellow, wider and nearly pointed in back, very thin above, widened in front but not pointed and not quite as wide as in back; Upperparts olive, slightly more yellowish/richer around nape and head; Underparts pale yellow with greenish tint and a brighter yellow in center of belly; Upper flanks slightly dingier than rest of underparts; Undertail coverts pale yellowish; Wings dark sooty; Wingbars present (two), buffy/pale yellow with upper wingbar slightly thinner and duller; Wings short, barely reaching base of tail with short primary projection; Tail medium length, appearing long due to short primary projection.

The habitat was along the margin of medium growth mixed pine & hardwoods with tangles of honeysuckle and a nearby weedy field. The bird spent most of its time along the grassy edges, but it also fed in sunlit openings just inside the woods. Most of its foraging was at or within 3 feet of ground-level.


Jordan Lake is in Chatham County, NC, southwest of Raleigh. Big Woods Road runs along the west side of the lake, north of US 64. Follow Big Woods 4.9 miles north of the intersection with 64 (or if coming from the north end, take Big Woods 1.5 miles south). There is a road off to the right labelled "Public Fishing Area". The bird has most frequently been seen near this intersection (northeast corner) though it has been seen a little further along the gravel road, down the first trail to the left. The bird was seen at the edge of the woods, almost always stayed near the ground (usually 2 feet up), and occasionally made forays to the grass. It often perched on the wire fence. It seems to spend more time on the edge when it's cold and the sun is out. For more birding spots on Big Woods Road, see the description in the Triangle Birder's Guide.

Note for those with older field guides

The old Western Flycatcher was split several years ago into Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) of the west coast and Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis) of the Rocky Mountains. They are nearly identical in plumage but can be told apart by Male Position Notes.

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All photographs and text ©2013 by Will Cook unless otherwise noted.