Tweety Bird

Howdy everyone! Big thanks to Brad for his latest contribution to the wild side. Apparently those Crabbies can be devious – you bad Crabbie, very very very bad Crabbie! (my end of year bonus also includes Seinfeld references, not just Monty Python .. cha-ching link here). The plan was to get both my race recaps done while Brad held down the fort – lazy Bri only finished one, but it was a biggie. If you need some material to help you get to sleep the long and dry recap of the bittersweet 100K ultra attempt is now posted (link here). Should get the other race done by the end of the week. With all the hoopla around the acquisition of a certain “blue bird” company, thought it would be a perfect time to bring out today’s featured feathered friend.

Social Flycatcher found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in January 2022

Let me guess, you thought it was going to be a “blue” bird – well, maybe at least some bluish hue to it. Nope! Our bird is colorful, but no blue. So, why is this such a perfect time to feature this particular bird … could it be Elon’s favorite bird..hit the jump and I’ll explain everything.

I’m pretty sure this particular bird has no idea what a tweet is. Clearly by the fact the head isn’t drooping down, shoulders hunched over and have a thumb talon 4 times bigger that the rest of the fingers, our feature is NOT addicted to a cell phone – also probably goes without saying, no idea what social media is. No folks, our specimen is only related to the blue bird company by name. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the Social Flycatcher.

Social Flycatcher found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in January 2022

Unlike the blue bird, this Flycatcher doesn’t “call” in 280 character or less texts, rather uses something that is quickly becoming a thing of the past for humans – a voice. Mr. Yellow here (honestly, it could be a Mrs. as they look identical and thankfully they do not use pronouns in their headers), has a couple of different calls/songs. According to eBird, they have a morning song that is a bit twillish – imagine what a rubber ducky fart might sound like. Another one of their calls sound more like a rubber sandal being dragged across a pane of glass (that was not my original comparison, but you can thank me later as that image would never ever leave your head). Lastly, they have a steady, ~3 second spaced chirp that sounds exactly like….a bird chirping.

Social Flycatcher found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in January 2022

It was that last “chirping” call that the other birders we ran into were distinctly listening for. In fact, I didn’t know it had other calls until I was researching for this post. Before I get into more details about the bird itself, let’s start back at the beginning and cover where we found this border crossing specimen.

Social Flycatcher found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in January 2022

This Social Flycatcher was probably the second or third most sought after “rarity” in the Rio Grande Valley. The first was easily the Bat Falcon (link here), which we had already tinned a few days earlier at Santa Ana NWR. Linda was also hearing (and seeing) a lot of talk about this Social Flycatcher showing up on the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus located in Brownsville. I will admit it, I was originally not too keen in going after it thanks to the family it belongs to. Sparrows (or little brown jobbers) are a pain in the ass to try and identify – wanna know what else bucks the keister – FLYCATCHERS. There were visions of standing around staring at a woods going “that looks like a Flycatcher is that it?” (fellow birder – nope), “that kinda looks like a Flycatcher is that it?” (fellow annoyed birder – nope), “wait, that is kinda behaving like a Flycatcher is that it?” (fellow birder whacks me over the head with his monopod). Sorry, none of that sounded “enjoyable”, so kept dragging my heals when Linda would bring it up.

Social Flycatcher found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in January 2022

Ron and I ended up joining with a guided birding group – Encroaching, stealthily adding ourselves to the mix, globbing onto, taking out two stragglers and throwing them behind some weeds so no one noticed our addition… all would work ha. They were nice enough to point out a pair of Green Kingfishers as we were passing (which we badly needed). Took the opportunity to ask about the Bat Falcon – at that time we didn’t know where it was hanging out. They had two very knowledgeable guides who turned out to be Santa Ana NWR volunteers who gave this tour for free several times a week. We really learned a lot and added some key birds thanks to the group’s help. Anyway, a long story to simply point out that another member of the group asked if we had seen the Social Flycatcher yet. Reliving the monopod nightmare, confessed I wasn’t too eager to go after a bird that looks so similar to others. He quickly corrected me, said it looks more like a Great Kiskadee with a tiny bill (link here). Even more helpful, told exactly where to park and where it was!

Social Flycatcher found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in January 2022

Great Kiskadee’s are strikingly different from many of the other Flycatchers, so I had a chance of finding it, although the “tiny” bill still had a possibility of a lethal monopod strike to the noggin. Sheepishly returned to Linda and told her I was interested and after getting the obligatory ear full of told you so’s, she signed onto the Whats App chase group and starting keeping tabs on sightings. Unlike the Bat Falcon, it was not keeping a tight schedule – chaotic times for random lengths of visit (none more than 20 minutes or so).

Social Flycatcher found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in January 2022

We had to drop Ron off at the Brownsville airport for his return trip (he’s still in the career grind). Being that close, we drove over to the campus about an hour before he had to be at the terminal. That campus is really nice! They have a very nice walkway across a resaca where this bird was hanging out. Got to the place the Santa Ana birder told us about and Ron immediately went to work talking up the other birders for info – no recent sightings beyond a morning report. Guess what I did see??? plenty of – that’s right Great Kiskadees and we learned it was often hanging out with them….that’s just great…slowly got myself out of tripod swinging range. There is one very helpful clue beyond the bill size and that is the fact Kiskadees are chatterboxes and sound more like a rubber ducky the night after eating chili – not Texas chili … chili violated with beans. As long as it would call, I wouldn’t need to risk a hospital visit.

Social Flycatcher found at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in January 2022

After 40 minutes or so, it was time get Ron to the airport – we had struck out. Fortunately, I had a few more days to try again. I wish I could have taken a picture of Ron’s face when he found out the Flycatcher had shown up 30 minutes after we left and while he was still waiting for the scanners to open up – apparently you didn’t need to be at their little airport that early. I know he is still ticked about the miss.

Obviously Linda and I made it back and had the opportunity to tin this rare bird. A very nice add for my Average Year (link here) and one that Ron would be able to tin this yea (I did not just smirk, that was not a smirk, nope, definitely not a smirk.. as far as you know).

So, getting back to the bird, why so special? The Social Flycatcher is not considered a US bird. Social in this context is somewhere between Mexico and South America. This is a screen of the sightings from eBird.

Social Flycatcher region map from eBird

Need to bring you in a bit so you can see where it just touches the tip of Texas.

Social Flycatcher region map from eBird

Well, that still doesn’t paint the picture, but you can just see two little squares on the Texas border. We can remedy that…

Social Flycatcher region map from eBird

There, a small pocket of sightings west of McAllen and a few more sightings in the Brownsville area (right side of image). Went ahead and grabbed the Great Kiskadee sightings map which is limited primarily to southern Texas, but clearly more readily accessible which leads to the problem with distinguishing the two.

Great Kiskadee Region Map from eBird

Now that I have seen the Social Flycatcher’s bill it is pretty easy to tell how much smaller it is than the Greats – generally relative references are not that useful. Beyond that trait and the call differences, they are pretty much identical (from reference pictures, the black through the eye might be a little thicker as it drops down into the back, but that is purely based on this one specimen). Not being a US bird, Cornell has limited information on it, so I can’t pass on interesting facts. What I can say is it appears to have returned to campus (sophomore year!). Ron will likely have another chance to tin it… but that is another year and the counters reset anyway .. I feel bad (that was NOT a smirk).

Thank you for dropping by, hope you enjoyed seeing our special visitor. Should be snowing here when this post gets published.

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