Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Polioptela caerulea


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Above and below, male Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in breeding plumage, with the dark stripe extending from the bill back behind the eye. I photographed these two birds in the same place in Arastradero Preserve, the bird above at beginning of April 2013, the one below toward the end of June 2012. The extra two months plus had the bird below with considerably less snazzy plumage, but he had also already fathered a clutch of young birds, one of which is shown further down, begging from this bird. The 2013 bird above had just arrived at the nesting grounds when I took this photo, and was singing away busily courting a female. These little birds are regular but scattered nesters on the edge of chaparral in the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, readily identified by their distinctive whiny squeaks.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Above, this male sang from this perch in March of 2014, in the same spot in Arastradero Preserve as I had photographed the males in the top two pictures in the previous two years. A month later I found a pair I found a pair nesting there. That same day I photographed the male shown below a few hundred yards away at Arastradero Lake, possibly half of a nesting pair there, and taking an aggressive stance toward me.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Above, an adult male being begged by a recently fledged juvenile in June of 2012; this is presumably the same male seen above in the second photo from the top. It was a pleasure to find a family group of two adults and four fledglings, and to watch them foraging and feeding over two days.


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
More fledglings from the 2012 Arastradero family group. The yellow gape of a juvenile is obvious on the bird above, much less so on the bird below, which also has the solid blue-gray plumage that could mean an adult female. But the fresh feathers in June mean it has to be a juvenile. Birds of this species vary substantially in color from blue-gray through ordinary gray to brown.


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
In non-breeding plumage, above and the two below, the sexes are indistinguishable, with a plain gray (or blue-gray) cap, which females retain through breeding plumage while the male adds the dark stripe above the eye.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Above, a relatively rare overwintering bird in the Bay Area; below, a wintering Blue-gray in Florida, where they are year-round residents. The Eastern and Western types of this species have minor differences in plumage, and more obvous distinctions in vocalization.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher