Gray Flycatcher, Empidonax wrightii
The Gray Flycatcher is one of three similar Empidonax species that breed in the mountains and high deserts of the American West, the others being the Hammond's and Dusky Flycatchers. The Gray is the most distinctive of the three, recognizable by its phoebe-like tail wag, a slow lowering and return to horizontal, where all other Empidonax flycatchers flick the tail up. Gray most closely resembles Dusky, but is distinguishable by its bill, which is longer, and has a unique lower mandible color pattern, dark in the tip sharply separated from orange or pink in the basal two-thirds, as the bird in the top three photos clearly shows.
The bird shown in the top three images was found at Sunnyvale Bayland Park in Santa Clara County in November 2016. It was in active molt, and birds of this species always molt on their wintering grounds. This was far north of the usual wintering ground for the species, which is in Mexico and southern Arizona, reaching into southeastern California. In the past and again in recent years, there have been winter sightings of Gray Flycatchers in coastal Southern California, and with climate change the wintering ground can be expected to expand northward; this bird may have been a precursor of such an expansion.
This bird was photographed at Kyburz Flat, north of Lake Tahoe in the Sierras, where
Gray Flycatchers regularly nest. The bird's all gray head and underparts compbined
with a longish bill, and especially the lower mandible color pattern described up this
page, identify it as a Gray.