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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Flycatcher?

What Is That … Flycatcher?


Thank goodness the great heat of July has passed by and with it the multitude of biting insects.  Have we mentioned before how much we hate deer flies?  We do not know if it was our imaginations or imperfect memories but in 2020 there seemed to be more deer flies at the cottage than ever before. It is possible we are just becoming old and less tolerant, or our psyches are COVID-stressed.  In any event, our bug hoods are no long required.

Deer flies have a place in the great web of life, as food for some of our favourite wildlife including three bird species we love to see at Three Mile Bay.  It seems the great crested flycatcher plays such an important role controlling flies that the powers-that-be even added the word flycatcher to the bird’s name.  White Lake is near the northern limit of their summer range, but we have seen them often enough that we have finally learned to identify them.  And we saw juveniles twice this year!  Domm tells us that great crested flycatchers nest in natural tree cavities up to 18 feet above the ground.  Someday, we hope to spot one.  The photo below of a juvenile was taken July 27th, 2020.

The two other species of flycatcher we see at the cottage are the eastern kingbird and the eastern phoebe.  We usually see the eastern kingbird, sitting high on a tree branch overlooking the lake, waiting to strike out at a passing fly or other flying insect.  We see kingbirds more regularly than the great crested flycatcher perhaps because the kingbird’s summer range extends north to James Bay, and our cottage is smack-dab in the middle of the range.  A couple of times, we have seen a kingbird strike out at a much larger passing osprey or crows, we assume in defense of its territory. We were also lucky enough to see juvenile kingbirds in the nest in a cedar at the water’s edge two years in a row.

The smallest and most numerous of our flycatcher friends, the eastern phoebe we see every year because they usually nest under the deck or the eave of the cottage.  This year, we have two nests and two families, one in each of their usual locations.  What joy we derive from watching an adult sally out from the nest to sit with its tail bobbing up and down on a branch of the lilac or a nearby young maple and listening to the plaintive, begging squawks of the juveniles demanding to be fed.  From those perches the parent will swoop to capture a passing fly, taking it back to the brood, quieting at least one young for a moment.  ‘Our’ phoebes usually hatch three eggs and raise two families each summer, although Domm tells us they may lay up to six eggs.  A nest full of juveniles is quite enough to keep the adults busy from dawn to dusk.  Unfortunately, we have yet to get a decent nest photo to use here, but here is one of our favourites taken June 27th this year of an adult looking back over its shoulder at us.

We absolutely love most aspects of our cottage at the lake, but not the biting flies.  Without those insects, though, we would not get to see many of the birds we love and be entertained by their aerial acrobatics as they snap flying insects in mid-air.

For this article we referred to Jeffrey Domm’s Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds.




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