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 Good catch, honestly I just overlooked the 4th one assuming they were all the same!  #lazzybirder

Edited by TooFly

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Wouldn't hurt to see more photos of 4, not that it would help me much. The bill looks like the tip of a pencil. Most of those empids have some yellow on the underside but, I'm guessing you can't see that.
I thought there'd be SOME(just a little) bit of an eye-ring... 

more importantly...  I've always read and have been told not to bother trying to separate willow and alder without them vocalizing. Even the local experts here wont... and, I mean experts.

So what makes this one a willow so easily? Just curious. 
Willow is SLIGHTLY more common in PA but both are present right now.

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8 hours ago, millipede said:

Wouldn't hurt to see more photos of 4, not that it would help me much. The bill looks like the tip of a pencil. Most of those empids have some yellow on the underside but, I'm guessing you can't see that.
I thought there'd be SOME(just a little) bit of an eye-ring... 

more importantly...  I've always read and have been told not to bother trying to separate willow and alder without them vocalizing. Even the local experts here wont... and, I mean experts.

So what makes this one a willow so easily? Just curious. 
Willow is SLIGHTLY more common in PA but both are present right now.

Yes, a lot of experts and banders will tell you that they are completely unidentifiable but that's not fully true. Older birders tend to be stuck in the mindset that they are inseparable from the time they were one species.  

Typical Alder and Willow have fairly distinctive looks. Classic Willow here has a more crested head, more dull colored back with some brownish gray tones, wingbars tend to be less strong and less white, and a weak to no eyering. 

Alder typically has a flat head unlike typical Willow, more olive greenish overall with little to no brownish gray, stronger white wingbars, and a stronger, often complete eyering.

GISS (general impression of shape and size) tends to be very useful with empids. With empid experience, you'll get a strong Willow or Alder impression on a bird.

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I see the words "typical" and "classic" a few times there. Is that really reliable? A person can get an "impression" of a bird and be wrong fairly easily.
not trying to be difficult here.  There are quite a few birds that are VERY difficult and trick anyone out there..  It was just a bit surprising to see what seemed like an easy answer.
Is this information in the field guides these days? 

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1 hour ago, millipede said:

I see the words "typical" and "classic" a few times there. Is that really reliable? A person can get an "impression" of a bird and be wrong fairly easily.
not trying to be difficult here.  There are quite a few birds that are VERY difficult and trick anyone out there..  It was just a bit surprising to see what seemed like an easy answer.
Is this information in the field guides these days? 

Yes. For experienced birders with empids, birds are indeed identifiable.

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1 minute ago, akiley said:

For experienced birders with empids, birds are indeed identifiable.

I've talked with several already on this subject...  1 of the older, potentially stuck in his mindset, that is extremely knowledgeable and leads all of our local audubon trips and he said that even in the hand the differences are not so noticeable and it's always safer to just go with emidonax sp if they don't vocalize.

Talked with a younger birder that has done some strong research on grassland birds, been studying/birding for 15 years now and said that the " Minnesota Ornithologists' Union quarterly journal doesn't even accept observations of Alder and Willow Flycatchers in the fall if the birds were silent "
 

I'm just curious... if the older pros aren't so keen on this idea, how certain are you that experienced birders(only younger ones?) can make it that easy? Where do you get your info and training? At least can you give me a recognized source that says they are indeed identifiable? 
just talked with another person that mentioned how plumages can vary for a LONG list of reasons. Can we take all of that into account?

Again, I am not TRYING to be difficult(I know it sounds like I am) I just question EVERYTHING.  All the experts I know(I know some VERY experienced birders) so far suggest this isn't so easy as you say.  I've seen EVERY one of the "experts" here disagree on quite a few species, and get some wrong. Every one of you. So when I see a "yeah, it's that easy if you know how" with species that are known to frustrate THE most experienced birders... My brain can't help but keep pushing til my curiosity is satisfied. 
I have NO doubt that the BEST birders of yesterday still have much to learn...  But this information sounds contrary to what all the sources I've ever checked with so I simply need to question it rather than accept it til I understand it better. If that makes sense.
I don't know you, I don't know your experience(even though you are one of the ones I'd be quick to trust here) and I don't know where you've learned what you know. So I weigh those things against what I've learned, seen, and heard from others.
 

I'd love to be able to know with certainty how accurate this way of judging these birds are as it would benefit me, eventually, if I can learn it too. I just want to make certain what I'm learning is THAT accurate. So any information that could put my mind at ease... established websites or books that share these details, etc... would be helpful to me.
Sorry for making this such a long discussion. There are MANY IDs that can be made where I can look at an answer, look in a book, and then say "yeah, that makes perfect sense."  This one just goes against what I've been taught so far so, I find myself stuck, unsure of what to believe and what to do with that.

Interestingly... this thought might make sense in a moment, I haven't seen many empids this year. Seen some least flycatchers... Have seen and heard an acadian and there are pleanty of pewees around but those commonly confused empids haven't been as present as previous years at this time. I'm thinking about that now because I'm thinking, I need to try harder to collect more photos of vocal empids for comparison so see if I can personally see such differences in the birds I can ID by sound. That would, sadly, also depend on me remembering which photos I took of which birds... AND me finding enough of them... AND them sitting still enough for photos.  HA

Anyway, again, sorry for the length of this.There's nothing personal about this, I just automatically question ALL new information and test it out. LOTS of people learn wrong things from people they trust and they can spend years being wrong because of it. I learned things IN school as a child that, as an adult, I learned were wrong. So, I NEED to know what I'm learning. 🙂

I hope I'm not being a pain. Just trying to learn more confidently. 🙂

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We (both of us Bird Nuts) learned the subtle differences between the Alder and Willow by listening, observing, and studying photographs of them.  I'm sure akiley did the same.  What akiley wrote about the differences is consistent with what we've learned.  However, I still don't like to report a Willow or Alder without hearing it first.

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Talked with another local birder... This guy is younger, a college student, and on the field trips, our local audubon trip leader defers to him for a lot of ID's and counts as he's VERY observant and can hear birds that some of us can't so well. He was a LITTLE supportive of ID'ing by sight but with some words of caution...

Quote

It is definitely possible to get a "strong Willow or Alder impression" with prolonged views in ideal lighting conditions. Whenever I get good looks at a Traill's type empid that doesn't vocalize, I usually ID it tentatively based on the features mentioned in your post(the field marks Akiley mentioned). In my experience, this kind of visual identification tends to be accurate around 60-70% of the time. On a couple of occasions, I have convinced myself that the bird in front of me was an Alder Flycatcher, only to hear the characteristic "fitz-bew" song of a Willow Flycatcher a couple of minutes later. I have also seen vocalizing Alder Flycatchers that appeared to have "crested" heads and upperparts with strong grayish-brown tones. Therefore, I tend to be extremely cautious when I identify/report Traill's type empids. 

I'm sure I could be wrong but, I don't think ID'ing by sight is going to be 100% accurate. That's my "opinion" and what I'm going with. I might be wrong, MAYBE you guys can be right about those birds 100% of the time. AND it wouldn't hurt for me to learn these marks just to get better impressions. But I don't think I'll ever completely rely on the visual appearance of either as a positive ID. I'll continue to list the silent birds as empidonax sp. 
I am okay with being uncertain as it feels better than being completely certain only to be mistaken... which happens to me, and the VERY best of birders. That's one of the fun things that helps me feel less incompetent as a birder... knowing that even Sibley and other leaders will still make mistakes or have birds that they just can't ID sometimes. Brings a smile to my face when a couple of you that I look at as VERY experienced have different opinions on a bird. Helps me remember that sometimes, when I struggle, it's not that I'm JUST inexperienced, some of them are just THAT tough. 🙂

anyway... Thanks for letting me ramble out my thoughts on this. No hard feelings anywhere in any of that.

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They were all different birds (taken in different areas) I was pretty sure the 4th was a Willow, I had heard one calling in that area. Thanks. 

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