Date: 6/3/18 1:11 pm
From: Nicholas Mrvelj <nickmrvelj...>
Subject: [obol] Re: Eastern Or Say's Phoebe
Hello all,

I've attached two crudely photoshopped images with my post. The first has
James's Phoebe juxtaposed with two Eastern Phoebes taken in June/July. The
second has his Phoebe juxtaposed with two Say's Phoebes taken between the
same date range. All images were found on Cornell's Macaulay Library via

For my money, I feel this is a rather worn Say's Phoebe. The lack of
contrast between the upperparts/underparts, especially the head, lack of
gray on the breast (vest pattern), and overall impression this bird gives
are my main reasons. When I originally looked at this individual as an
Eastern Phoebe, something just looked a tad off. There are additional
points of scrutiny, as others have mentioned, but I'm feeling a bit lazy at
the moment and will just leave it with those three for now.

In doing research on molt timing, I found that Say's Phoebes have a
relatively short molt cycle as opposed to Eastern Phoebes, with peak
activity of body/primary molt occurring between the beginning of August and
ending the beginning of September. Eastern Phoebes peak activity begins in
the middle of June for both body/primaries and goes until the end of
October (and even into early November for the primaries).

With all that being said, did you hear it vocalize at all? Pardon me if you
mentioned this detail already.

Very interesting bird and great find. Thanks for sharing and what a good

-Nick Mrvelj (Portland)

On Sun, Jun 3, 2018 at 11:36 AM Alan Contreras <acontrer56...> wrote:

> I read your comments and Matt’s and looked at the vids. A few thoughts
> from someone who has not seen an Eastern Phoebe for a few years.
> First, this is a rather worn bird and is also really fluffed so colors are
> probably a little off from what we’d normally see. When we compare to
> online photos, compare to worn birds. The fluffiness may also make the bird
> look stubbier than it really is.
> One thing that makes me think Eastern is that a Say’s normally has
> essentially the same color above—there isn’t really much contrast except
> for the very dark tail. Eastern usually has a paler back relative to a
> darker head, which this bird does. The head looks a lot darker than the
> back in the video when the head turns. However, I’m not sure what extended
> wear would do to that comparison—the back is probably an area that wears
> very little.
> Too bad there are no crisp flight shots from above as Eastern has a
> darker-winged look while Say’s is fairly pale, sort of a Forster’s Tern
> frostiness in gray.
> The shape of the bird is more like an Eastern—Say’s always looks lanky and
> this bird just seems short—but the fluffing may affect that perception.
> I don’t know which species is more likely to retain color for ten months
> without a molt and what that color would look like.
> Alan Contreras
> <acontrer56...>
> Eugene, Oregon
> On Jun 2, 2018, at 8:06 PM, James Billstine <billstinj...> wrote:
> Yesterday I reported what I thought was an Eastern Phoebe in Tillamook.
> Upon further discussion and review it has been brought to my attention that
> there are some inconclusive field marks that leave me wondering.
> I think what stands out the most is how gray or brown most of the wings,
> back, nape, face and head of the bird I observed. The photos of Eastern
> Phoebes on Cornell's Macaulay Library show birds that are much darker:
> charcoal gray to blackish.
> Next, if we look at the flanks, other photos of Eastern Phoebe show some
> light yellow washing. The bird I was photographing and taking video of was
> front-lit, which may have lessened the appearance of the bird's flanks to a
> yellow in the field (instead of the cinnamon of a Say's) which you can see
> hints of in the lower part of the belly and the undertail coverts.
> Moving forward from there, the Macaulay birds have generally white
> breasts, chins, and throats. Some do show a yellowish wash-but that is
> shown in the pictures I have studied next to definite white on the sides of
> the breast and throat. The bird I observed shows a faint yellow and almost
> orangish color throughout the breast, chin, and throat, without any
> contrasting white. And again, the front-lighting of the bird I observed may
> make it look lighter than it actually was.
> The photos also show a lot of static/noise based on the camera I use which
> may have also distorted the color.
> Finally, I was having major allergic reactions with my eyes watering
> profusely and swelling when I first observed the bird. I was focusing on
> taking photos for documentation. Even with clear eyes I don't know if I
> would have been able to pick out these details, but my binoculars and scope
> provide much better optics than my camera.
> In summary: Initially I thought it was a Say's Phoebe. Lack of orange and
> yellow and a possibly white wash in throat and chin made me think Eastern
> Phoebe. After studying photos and comparing to pictures in Macaulay Library
> and some discussion with others I am leaning back towards Say's.
> If you are interested in a truly close study I recommend opening the first
> youtube video link, and then hitting the gear cog symbol in the lower right
> hand corner of the frame to turn the resolution to 1080P, and then the
> speed to .25. It allows you to see a lot of details while the bird is
> moving.
> I would like to hear what others with more experience in both species have
> to say. It can be embarrassing to admit one is wrong, especially with a
> mis-ID of a rare bird, but this wasn't wishful thinking on my part (I have
> talked myself out of plenty of rare birds) and I accept this as a tough
> bird and a learning experience. And I would never, ever, in any case fault
> the judgment of my birding peers and mentors who have taught me so much and
> selflessly given up so much of their time and energy to guide me and grow
> my passion for the pastime. Without them I would truly be lost in a sea of
> feathers.
> Ebird report with similarly washed out Say's Phoebe showing evenly
> diffused coloring:
> Macaulay Photos of an Eastern Phoebe:
> My Report:

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