For many birders, adding a new lifer to their list means chasing and long hours in the field searching for a rare bird or a lost vagrant, or else extensive travel to remote corners of the world for birds you’d never encounter otherwise. If you’re lucky, however, sometimes a lifer flies right onto your list, with no effort required on your part. Such was the case with my latest lifer, the great crested flycatcher.
There was nothing extraordinary about the day – a typical sunny Florida July day, with showers expected in the afternoon, a long work to-do list to attend to and no great ambitions for anything productive, surprising or memorable. That is, until I looked out the window.
I’m fortunate that the window in my home office looks out onto our backyard, letting me keep an eye on goings-on with ease. That includes checking the bird feeders, squirrel feeder, gopher tortoise burrow and other wildlife wonders, and on that day, I was awed by the rainbow of birds that descended for a few minutes. With just a glance, I saw a blue jay flitting high in the laurel oak, a female northern cardinal poking about on the shaded ground, a red-bellied woodpecker scaling his favorite trunk and a downy woodpecker resolutely poking away on a branch. I love my yard and how birdy it can be, but rarely is it this popular in a single glance.
But one more bird stood out – a large-ish songbird with a long tail, slender body, big head and relatively thick neck, perched low on a dangling branch near the center of the yard. I know all my regular visitors quite well, and this bird stood out as a stranger. Fortunately, I keep my binoculars nearby and it was only a step away to pick up my field guide and start flicking through pages. A more studied glance at the bird showed me a grayish face, a thick, stout bill and a blush of warmer cinnamon on the head and wings, with grayish-white underparts. The long tail was flicking regularly, and the bird sallied out into the yard to nip an insect out of midair before returning to the same branch. With that brief flight – distinctive behavior in itself – I also saw those warm brown tones on the wings, which I’d already noted were marked with a thin white bar.
Well, look at that. A great crested flycatcher, right in my yard. Of course, these flycatchers can easily be confused with several other flycatchers, including the brown-crested, ash-throated and dusky-capped, but given my yard’s location along the east coast of Florida, range alone was enough to eliminate those competitors. A quick check of my life list confirmed my initial suspicion – this was a new lifer for me! Suddenly, that not-so-extraordinary day was far more exciting than I’d thought it would be, and it would be a day I’d always remember. I hope there are many more to come – for all of us.