Birders warn that they very first bird you observe in a new year serves as an omen for
the upcoming year. I don’t have nearly enough years of birding under my belt to support this theory, but my sample size of one certainly suggests this is true! On January 1 of this year, I took an early morning walk around San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. As I approached Pond 1, a glittering ruby gem caught my eye. A male Vermilion Flycatcher perched and posed quite nicely, introducing joy into some of my first moments of 2017.
Vermilion Flycatchers are striking birds, with a brilliantly bright scarlet body and crown that contrasts with a black mask through the eye and black/brown wings. Like many flycatchers, they behave like sit-and-wait predators – they forage for small insects from an open perch and catch many of their flying prey mid-air. While perched, they frequently dip and spread their tail in a manner similar to phoebes. Taken together, they are quite entertaining to observe while hunting!
Vermilion Flycatchers are fairly widespread and common in Central and South America, and seem to be moving into North America’s southwest with increasing frequency, including scarce breeding populations in parts of Southern California. Following my first-of-the-year sighting, I observed VEFL several times at Prado Regional Park and with regularity at Irvine Valley College.
Vermilion Flycatchers are quite easily found at Prado Regional Park and I saw several during both March and June visits. Male Vermilion Flycatchers perform impressive breeding displays, performing a flight song 20–30 m above the canopy while simultaneously bouncing across the sky. I have yet to witness this display, but did observe this male’s attempts to unabashedly flaunt his scarlet brilliance to this perched female. She seemed unimpressed, but I do appreciate how these two photos catch the moments that they were moving their heads in sync.
It is quite lucky that a Vermilion Flycatcher has taken up residence at Irvine Valley College. Several times a week, as I make my way onto campus, I spot a male VEFL in his usually spot – flitting between the fence along the soccer fields and a parking sign, in pursuit of insects. I am always on the lookout, and spotting him never fails to bring a smile to my face.
So, as 2017 comes to an end I find myself revisiting my year in birds. Was this flashy Vermilion Flycatcher an appropriate omen? Well, it certainly is a dramatic bird and this has certainly been a dramatic year!
UPDATE: Just a couple more days until I can happily leave 2017 behind, but not without gratitude. It seems to have been a universally challenging year, but I am so grateful for those experiences that are moving me forward with clarity, acceptance, and a big ‘ol heart that is still wide open. I am heading out to the desert for a few days, so went on my final Orange County bird walks yesterday. I stopped by San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary with the intention of purchasing a few gifts in their shop, but decided to take a quick loop before going to search for some parrots in Santa Ana. This beautiful Vermilion Flycatcher perched in a trailside Sycamore, doing his characteristic flycatching thing. On the other side of the trail, a female followed suit. This vibrant male posed so beautifully in the bright light of midday. Ahhhhh…..my first bird to usher in the year and now, on the way out, to remind me of how much beauty and love I had the opportunity to experience this year, even in the midst of it all! It was, in fact, the Year of the Vermilion Flycatcher.
I need to find one more species in the next two days to get me to my goal of 300 California birds in 2017. Wish me luck and stay tuned! (And, who will be my first bird of 2018???)
eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S33350226
2017 Bird #: 1