Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Listener Favorite: Val's Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

I just got an email from my good friend Val Cunningham, who has written several fine books about birds as well as a column for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Regarding favorite birds, she writes:
I agree about how tough it is to choose just one bird, as a matter of fact, it’s impossible. I love all your choices, and then some.   
But may I toss in a bird that might be called my Most Rewarding Bird Ever? I worked and worked on this bird for weeks before I could finally nail down its identity.   
This was way back in the 1980s, when I’d barely begun birding and was still at the stage of reading a field guide and eagerly anticipating new birds I might see. It was early summertime, and since I am self-employed, I can be out and about at any time of the day.   
Riding my bike through a large park near my home I heard the most amazing sound, sort of a big ‘burp’ followed by some gasping ‘wheep’ sounds, repeated over and over. Screeching to a stop I hauled my binoculars out of the bike basket and scanned the nearby woods, but could not find the bird, even though it repeated its sounds over and over.   
As I walked through this park the next morning, I heard the sounds again, in the same wooded area, so I spent many minutes waiting, watching and scanning. But I couldn’t find the bird.   
This occurred over and over for the next several weeks, and I was becoming more and more eager to discover what this bird was. (This all took place before there were bird song apps, and great sites like the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds, that would have made short work of this identification challenge.) .  
Then, one gorgeous morning, as I stoood across the street and listened to the burp and wheeps, a bird flew to the top of one of the trees. Focusing my binos on him I saw a reddish back, a yellowish front and a tall crest, a gorgeous bird. Racing home I got out the field guide and paged through until I found it: a great-crested flycatcher!   
Part of my joy about being able to put a name to a new bird was the weeks-long patience it required, it was almost as if the bird and I were working together, he offering tantalizing sounds and me waiting patiently to see him.  
I wouldn’t say that great-crested flycatchers are my favorite bird ever, but this was one of my favorite birdwatching experiences ever.
Val’s observations seem particularly timely for me, because Russ and I just returned from a trip to Florida, and those burps and wheeps and other cool sounds were a highlight of our three days in the Everglades. I’d brought my recording equipment and managed to get a few recordings, which are serving as the background of this podcast. The Great Crested Flycatcher is a splendid bird by any measure—the sounds it produces give it a fun uniqueness that I’ll be looking forward to hearing up here in just a few short weeks.