13 Jan 09
Ted Lee Eubanks
On 13 December (and later on 27 December) Willie Sekula reported a western-type Empidonax flycatcher at Choke Canyon State Park Calliham Unit. Birders (Martin Reid, Sheridan Coffey, Derek Muschalek, Willie Sekula) relocated the bird on New Year's Day, and began to suspect that the bird in question might be a Pine Flycatcher (Empidonax affinis). This species of Empidonax is native to the high mountain forests of Mexico and southwestern Guatemala, and had not been previously seen in the U.S.
With the public announcement of the bird's presence and possible identification posted to TEXBIRDS, the rush began. Birders from around the world converged on the park to see this rarity. Articles about this "dinky bird" were published as far afield as Great Britain.
As photos (this one by Carlton Collier) and recordings were posted to the web, experts began to offer their opinions about the identification. Doubts were expressed, and counter arguments were given. As of today the debate continues.
From our perspective, this incident demonstrates the degree to which technology has advanced birding over the past decade. Already there are numerous digital photographs of the bird available on the web, as well as digital recordings and spectrograms of its call. The fact that birders would even attempt to identify such a challenging species (the Empidonax are famously difficult) is evidence of how far field birding has progressed. It was not that long ago that most small flycatchers of this type were left unidentified. Our hats are off to those who have been willing to risk such an identification and to include the world in their efforts.
Where To Go
From San Antonio (north) or Corpus Christi (south) travel I-37 to Three Rivers. From Three Rivers continue north to the Calliham Unit of Choke Canyon State Park. According to Martin Reid, "after the entrance road take a left at the stop sign, going towards the boat ramp. After about 400 yards you will see a sign on the right pointing to the ball field, There is a service road with a vehicle barrier by the sign on the right side of the road. You can park opposite the sign in a parking lot and walk in along the service road about 70 yards where you will see some water on the road. There is a small water treatment plant on the left behind a fence. The bird frequents this area. It seems to prefer the two live oaks on the left side of the road."