Monday, March 5, 2012

Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher

Gnatcatchers are curious little birds. They seem to be as close as the natural world comes to creating a perpetual motion device and can be found throughout much of Arizona (and many other states) year round. The Blue-Gray and the Black-Tailed are the two common species in the Phoenix area, but they can be as frustrating to photograph at times as they can be difficult to tell apart.


When not in their breeding plumage, the Blue-Grays and Black-Tails both have a dull grayish white coat. The Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher can still be told apart by the dark underside to its tail, as this upright female is displaying.


The male Black-Tailed also sports a nice black cap when he's courting, though this leads to its own problems of taxonomical separation from the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher found in southeastern Arizona.


Gnatcatchers are warbler size, but nearly half of their body length is made up of the birds' tails, which they flick about and use to balance while hopping and running in dense foliage, as well as scare up insects.


I recently found a pretty good spot for observing both Blue-Grays and Black-Tails, so I'm hoping to follow up with more photos and behavioral observations. For some reason, this relatively dull birds hold a special fascination for me, perhaps only because it's so tricky to get a good long look at them.

11 comments:

  1. A very informative post Laurence!

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    1. Thanks Mia. I'm hoping I can follow up a bit better.

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  2. Gnatcatchers...females are so bloody hard to identify without seeing the undertail. Looking forward to more gnatcatching photos (find a Black-capped!).

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    1. Indeed! And isn't that quite an impolite way to observe a female???
      I hope to follow up soon--I'm planning a southeast AZ excursion the end of next week, maybe they'll turn up.

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  3. I love our Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, but sometimes I wish we had an identification challenge, too. In south Florida they were the first bird we'd see during migration, and by mid-winter they'd be everywhere. There's no confusing them for anything else here, but I'm glad to know what it's like over by you. I look forward to seeing more of these posts and learning to see them in a new light!

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    1. That is an interesting perspective as well, Nicholas. They're here pretty much year round, though their numbers and movements do drop off in the colder months.
      It'd be great to get some good photos of all 3 species we have here, if I can find a Black-Capped down in Tucson next week at some point.
      Thanks for stopping by Nicholas, always a pleasure.

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  4. This bird is really interesting. In fact, I've been finding the smaller birds are much more interesting at times than some of the others. Trying to photograph the little buggers is difficult....I recently had that issue with a Vireo who allowed me to capture several shots that were okay.....I like your posts and that you are in Arizona. I'm learning a lot. Oh...and the Vermillion Flycatcher....red red red. Another tricky bird to film! Thank you for this post on a bird I need to add to my list:)

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    1. Thanks Chris. I find myself drawn to the little birds too, probably because they tolerate my presence a bit more and seem to do more, faster, for the impatient observers like myself.
      I've seen few Vireos and photographed even fewer; that's definitely another little buzzer I need to focus on.

      I'm expecting there are more and more Vermillions in the Tucson area now? I'll be looking forward to some of your shots, and hoping to get a few of my own.
      Thanks for stopping by and the positive feedback.
      Good Birding!

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    2. I am now ready to film this bird. I've located the birds by sound. Both the Gnatcatchers make different calls and I got my first one, the Blue-Gray, at Tumacacori(the mission). I heard the call and my head snapped right at the bird with the camera. I've been waiting to see these birds visually....and finally! I got my first pics:) The Black-tailed is next......

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  5. Fantastic photo series Laurence. Rare to see them in such detail. Love them, they are really cute little birds.

    dan

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    1. Thanks Dan. Catch them when they're feeding and they don't seem to find a close proximity at all. Getting them to sit still is another challenge...

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