Date: 6/3/18 1:31 pm
From: Larry McQueen <larmcqueen...>
Subject: [obol] Re: Eastern Or Say's Phoebe

Alan has some good points and I would like to add that although the tail looks black in the photo, it is also the underside in the shadow and against a brighter background. Actually the tail IS darker than the back in reality. The back looks good for Eastern. The overall faint yellowish color underparts indicates that this could be a first-year Eastern. The usual smudgy gray sides of breast can be whitened out by the highlight in the photo. The tail fork is more prominent in this bird, which might also be a result of immaturity. What else could this be — except a Say’s- Eastern hybrid, and the plumage leaves nothing in common with Say’s.


On Jun 3, 2018, at 11:35 AM, Alan Contreras <acontrer56...><mailto:<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
Eugene, Oregon<>

On Jun 2, 2018, at 8:06 PM, James Billstine <billstinj...><mailto:<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:

Join us on Facebook!