Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher

A lot of birding is about being in the right place at the right time. Some people are really lucky and manage to find really great birds (either uncommon or rare for our area) on a regular basis; however, I am not one of those people, and tend to see mostly the expected species, even if they are great to me. On May 21st, however, I managed to be in the right place at the right time, and spotted an uncommon but fantastic bird at the Eagleson storm water ponds – an Olive-sided Flycatcher! These birds pass through Ottawa during migration but show up sporadically – I had great views of my lifer at Mud Lake in August 2015, and poor views of my second one two years later, also at Mud Lake. The bird I found today was entirely silent but very cooperative, sitting in the same tree and returning to it again and and again after sallying out to catch an insect.

I started my walk hoping to find shorebirds – good numbers are being reported at the eastern lagoons, and a few different species show up at the ponds each migration. My first good bird was a Black-throated Blue Warbler singing in the trees of the peninsula. I’ve heard several this spring, but have only seen one female, so I spent some time tracking it down. This male was cooperative, perching out in the open – but not in the sun where his brilliant blue, black and white colours appear most striking.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Four other warbler species were present, represented by only one individual each: Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and a surprise Blackburnian Warbler were all found foraging in the trees surrounding the ponds. Both the Blackburnian and Wilson’s Warblers were new for my Eagleson Ponds list; I heard the Wilson’s Warbler singing, but didn’t recognize the song and tracked it down until I got a good enough look to identify it.

The only shorebirds I found in the southern pond were a Killdeer and a Spotted Sandpiper, which are both regular summer residents, but when I checked the mouth of the channel I found three Semipalmated Plovers on the western bank and two Least Sandpipers and a fourth Semipalmated Plover in the circular bay on the eastern bank. Two Killdeer were calling in alarm, and a third one – possibly the one from the southern pond – flew in and joined them.

From there I headed north toward Emerald Meadows Drive where I noticed this robin tugging at a worm on the ground – it picked it up and dropped it several times.

American Robin with worm

A muskrat was swimming around the circular pond, and climbed up onto the bank to munch on the grass.


I walked all the way to Emerald Meadows Drive and then headed back south toward my car, stopping when I spotted a medium-sized bird perching silently atop the birch tree in the northern grove of trees. It was unfamiliar to me, and the fluffy white and dark feathering reminded me of a Gray Jay (now called Canada Jay), although I knew it wasn’t a jay. However, the patches of white along its wings left me entirely uncertain as to its identity, so I turned on the camera and started snapping pictures.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

It took flight a few moments later, but I was relieved when it only swooped around the opening and flew back to the birch tree, landing on top. This time it revealed its white belly, dark vest, and distinctive flycatcher head and I realized I was watching an Olive-sided Flycatcher!

These birds are more often seen in fall migration than in spring, as they breed in the northern portion of the Ottawa 50-km circle where woodland openings close to swamps or beaver ponds have sufficient snags for flycatching. They prefer similar habitats during migration, but are often found in scrubby areas such as the sumac field at Mud Lake, a repeat spot for this species.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

I was hoping to hear this bird sing as I have never seen one singing before; birders often render its song as “Quick, three beers”. However, the bird was intent on catching food, darting out from the birch to snag an insect every now and then before returning to the same tree. I didn’t realize it had caught a wasp of some sort until I saw my pictures at home later.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

This surprised me, as I thought that only birds that are specialized in eating bees or wasps would eat an insect with a stinger, such as bee-eaters and tanagers; however, most flycatchers are opportunists, and will take wasps and bees as well as flying ants, dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles, moths, butterflies, and flies. Olive-sided Flycatchers are also thought to eat fruit, particularly berries, while migrating or on their winter grounds, as other large flycatchers do; however, there are few such observations.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

It was a real treat to see this Olive-sided Flycatcher so close to home, bird no. 145 on the Eagleson Ponds hotspot list and bird no. 125 on my own personal list for this location. It can be a difficult species to see in Ottawa, and finding it in such an unlikely spot just serves as a reminder how important and worthwhile it can be to keep checking your local patch or favourite under-birded park or conservation area.

One thought on “Olive-sided Flycatcher

  1. Pingback: Birding: The uncommon but fantastic | Arlene Somerton Smith

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