A Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher at Long Key SP
The Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes luteiventris) is currently in the Review List of the Florida Ornithological Society‘s Records Committee (FOSRC). Review species are those whose status is poorly known or documented in Florida. Normally, a species with 10 accepted records will be removed from the list, but the committee may remove species from the list, or retain species on the list, as it believes best serves the interests of Florida ornithology. Anyone who finds this species in the state of Florida is encouraged to submit a report to the FOSRC.
– September 17, 2014 – As we were about to finish our daily transect count at Long Key State Park at roughly 9:45 am, Moe Morrissette and I came upon a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, perched in the canopy of the rockland hammock sector of the Golden Orb Trail. The bird was within a cluster of mature Gumbo Limbo and Poisonwood trees. Seconds after being detected, it moved gently into a deeper nook of the hammock and was lost from sight.
We tried for several minutes to relocate the flycatcher, but if you have ever birded in a West Indian hardwood hammock, you know how dense the vegetation is, and how easily birds get lost in this jungle-like habitat. My fear was that we may not have the chance to relocate the bird to obtain a photograph for documentation. The occurrence of Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher in Florida is not well understood, and very few documented records exist for the state – none to my knowledge from the Florida Keys proper – although there are records from Cape Florida and reports of Myiodynastes sp. from the Upper Arsnicker Keys in Florida Bay. Familiar with the challenges presented in Florida by a small group of occasional and/or hypothetical “streaked” flycatcher species in the genera Myiodynastes, Legatus, and Empidonomus, I realized I had to quickly put on paper every detail I remembered from the brief encounter with the bird in question to secure documentation.
Out of habit, my immediate reaction was to draw as detailed a sketch of the bird as my memory allowed, before too much time elapsed. Within ten minutes of having last seen the bird, I drafted the sketch above.
Unable to relocate the flycatcher during the morning, it was not until the afternoon, after the hawkwatch was over, that members of our team were able to go back to Long Key and look for the bird. Kerry Ross and Alexander Harper did not take long in finding the bird within the vicinity of where it was first detected.
Separating Sulphur-bellied from Streaked Flycatcher: Although this flycatcher was difficult to photograph through the canopy, Kerry Ross and Alex Harper were able to capture the field marks that allow us to separate the bird in question from its similar congener, Streaked Flycatcher (Myiodynastes maculatus). Both Streaked (19.5 – 21 cm) and Sulphur-bellied (20.5 cm) Flycatchers are rather large, with strongly marked plumage. All members of this genus exhibit large bills with flesh-colored bases to the lower mandible, bold facial masks and varying amounts of rufous on the tail and/or wing feathers.
Consider the following when separating Sulphur-bellied from Streaked: a) The extent of the dark malar markings across the chin; b) the amount of streaking on the belly and undertail coverts, and the yellow coloration of the underparts; c) the coloration of primary feather edging; d) the overall whiteness of the “background” of the facial region; e) the extent of rufous on the tail and uppertail coverts.
a) Sulphur-bellied shows broad dark (blackish) streaks across the malar region that join below the bill, therefore it often appears to show a black and/or streaked upper chin. The malar markings of Streaked are thinner and extend to the base of the bill, but do not join, therefore the chin appears pale. The austral migrant form of Streaked (M. m. solitarius) may show streaking on the throat and chin, as in Sulphur-bellied.
b) As its name indicates, Sulphur-bellied shows a yellow wash from the undertail coverts through the belly and fading into the breast. The austral form of Streaked shows a paler yellow tinge throughout its underparts that rarely reaches the intensity of Sulphur-bellied. Most importantly, the yellow belly and undertail coverts of Sulphur-bellied are mostly unstreaked and clean, except perhaps towards the flanks. By contrast, Streaked Flycatcher shows bold streaks throughout the flanks and into the belly and undertail coverts.
c) The color on the edge of the primary feathers varies between both species. The primary edging of Sulphur-bellied is whitish, while it is rufous tinged or yellowish in Streaked.
d) The “background” color of the facial region and throat plumage, including the supercilium and moustachial stripe are white in Sulphur-bellied, rarely tinged with yellow. These are tinged yellow in Streaked.
e) While both species show a significant amount of rufous on the tail and uppertail coverts, this is most prominent on Sulphur-bellied. The “expected” form of Streaked Flycatcher – the austral migrant solitarius – shows thin rufous-tinged edges to an otherwise dark brown tail. By contrast, the tail of Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher appears largely rufous, with dark centers and a rufous uppertail with sparse streaking.
The markings captured in the photos by Alex Harper and Kerry Ross show the necessary traits for the elimination of Streaked, and in favor of Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. While Streaked Flycatcher has never been documented in Florida, beware of the smaller yet similar Piratic (Legatus leucophaius) and Variegated (Empidonomus varius) Flycatchers, both of which have been documented in the state.
Left: Rafael Galvez sketching the bird on site, within 10 minutes after the first detection. The possibility of not relocating the bird made this exercise useful for identification. Right: Alex Harper celebrates the relocation of the flycatcher later the afternoon of Sept. 17, while Kerry Ross and Brehan Furfey focus on the bird.