Friday Feathers- Tropical Flycatchers

Rusty-margined flycatchers, parent and baby and lots of noise and drama out of these guys. Note the pink-lined mouth of the begging fledgling. Watercolor over pencil, drawn through scope, S&B Alpha Series 8 1/2" x 11".

Rusty-margined flycatchers, parent and baby and lots of noise and drama. Watercolor over pencil, drawn through scope, S&B Alpha Series 8 1/2″ x 11″.

There’s a vine-covered tree mass beside the lab building which I’ve tried to tease apart, unsuccessfully, in botanical terms. It’s like untangling cables without using your hands. Two trees side stand by side in the clearing, one identified for me as Leuhea seemanii, the other still a mystery. Vines, lianas and bromeliads web the trees, fighting to smother each other under masses of tendrils, flowers, foliage and fruit. This vegetable war is aided and abetted by birds. I’ve been watching comfortably, sketching from the sidelines.

Common tody flycatchers, no bigger than a bee sting, built a hanging nest of balsa fluff and plant fibers. Shortly after I made this sketch, they moved- building a new nest with a better canal view. Location, location, location. Watercolor over pencil on S&B Alpha series 8 1/2" x 11".

Common tody flycatchers, no bigger than a bee sting, built a hanging nest of balsa fluff and plant fibers. Shortly after I made this sketch, they moved- built a whole new nest with a better canal view. Watercolor over pencil on S&B Alpha series 8 1/2″ x 11″.

Flycatchers swarm over this plant mass like drosophila buzzing over a banana (of which, by the way, there’s a good patch nearby). They nest, they swoop, they dive into the wild tangle. They sing from the canopy, nest in the midstory and plummet for crawling bugs in the grass. I’ve checked off 9 species of flycatcher moored to this little island of diversity: yellow-crowned tyrannulets, common tody-flycatchers, Panama flycatchers, lesser kiskadees, great kiskadees, rusty-margined flycatchers, social flycatchers, streaked flycatchers, and tropical kingbirds. The plants benefit the flycatchers, but the flycatchers reciprocate, and not just by eating herbivorous insects, either. They’ve helped create their own ideal habitat.

Streaked flycatcher, mouthing off at the rest of the world. Flycatchers are nothing if not talkers. Watercolor over pencil on S&B Alpha Series 8 1/2" x 11.

Streaked flycatcher, mouthing off at the rest of the world. Flycatchers are nothing if not talkers. Watercolor over pencil on S&B Alpha Series 8 1/2″ x 11.

From the lab balcony yesterday I watched a social flycatcher in the vine/tree complex. The bird parted its bill and disgorged a shiny white pearl of a seed, which hit the branch and stuck. After a moment of contemplation, the bird opened its bill and let another pearl drop. It rolled off the branch and was caught by a thread of saliva which stretched like a bungee cord from the branch to the seed, halting it in midair. The flycatcher wiped a third seed onto the branch, then a fourth and a fifth. By the time the flycatcher let go its final pearl, eight were glued to the branch or dangling below.

Social flycatcher dropping pearls of wisdom, er, seeds from some plant, possibly a vine or bromeliad. Watercolor over pencil, S&B Alpha series.

Social flycatcher dropping pearls of wisdom, er, seeds from some plant, possibly a vine or bromeliad. Watercolor over pencil, S&B Alpha series sketchbook.

Flycatchers don’t just catch flies, they eat fruit, too, dispersing seeds around the forest.  A seed attached by a bird’s spit to a bare branch might sprout and become the next fruiting vine or bromeliad. It’s a nice little positive feedback loop, one that nourishes future flycatchers and grows more plants. Sweet deal all around.

Happy Friday.

About these ads

About zeladoniac

Debby Kaspari travels the world with sketchbook and binoculars, drawing and painting in wild and not-so-wild landscapes. Norman, Oklahoma is her home base, and she lives there with her tropical ecologist husband and a mackerel tabby named Gizmo.
This entry was posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, birding, birds, Drawing, field sketching, Nature, Panama, rainforest, Science, Sketching, travel, tropics, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Friday Feathers- Tropical Flycatchers

  1. dinahmow says:

    Our sunbirds Cinnyris jugularis build a nest like the tody’s. Often under the house steps or dangling from wind chimes or shade shackles. Makes houeswork a low priority!

  2. Corienne says:

    So lovely and so glad you’re in Panama.

  3. Becky Way says:

    Beautiful. Of course.

  4. Chris Marsh says:

    You’ve really captured the personality of these birds! I love the way you always tie them to their surrounding through dropped seeds, etc.!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s