Umber Flycatcher

The discovery of Umber Flycatcher in Thailand was a big surprise. This cryptic and little known bird was previously thought to occur only in the lowland forest of Borneo. However, photos of a bird from Perdik posted in an excellent blog by Dave Bakewell in 2013 spiked our interest in this species. Finally, photos of a bird from Sipo Waterfall in Narathiwat emerged in 2020, confirming the existence of this rare bird in Thailand. That bird was photographed on 8 January 2020 by Paosi Hayiseng, a local park ranger, who happened to snap a few shots of the flycatcher without knowing what it was. The bird was only identified months after the sighting. Since then, more reports came from both Hala-Bala and Bang Lang forest complex showing that it might be more widespread than we think.

Adult Umber Flycatcher in worn plumage

Taxonomic-wise, the Umber Flycatcher (Muscicapa umbrosa) is still widely treated as a subspecies of either Brown-streaked Flycatcher (M. williamsoni) or Asian Brown Flycatcher (M. dauurica), even though it is a very unique taxon. I believe that it will soon be split in the near future. I will not discuss much about the identification of this species as it has already been well explained in Dave’s blog, but the most diagnostic features of the Umber Flycatcher simply includes the long tail and short primary projections.

This post will focus more on my observation of a nesting pair that was recently found near Toh Moh gold mine in Sukhirin, Narathiwat in May 2022. The pair was first seen by Ingkayut Sa-ar and Jakapat Vanichanan on 30 May 2022. I then made a brief visit to observe the nest and the fledged juveniles between 15-17 June 2022.

One of the adult Umber Flycatchers, likely a male, that was feeding near the nest. Note the upright posture and long tail. The plumage was heavily worn, but the diffused streaking on the underparts was still quite prominent.
Apart from the long tail, it also has much shorter and less pointed primary projections compared to other Muscicapa flycatchers in the Thai-Malay Peninsula.
Wing and tail when spread
Another adult bird, likely a female, spent much of the time sitting on the nest. During my visit, the birds were already using the nest for a second brood.
Plumage of the presumed female was less worn than the assumed male. It also appeared slightly warmer and more rufescent brown.
One of the 2 recently fledged juveniles that were still seen around the nest. This individual was still in a complete juvenile plumage with buffish spots all over the upperparts and dark scales on the breast.
Another juvenile had a slightly more advanced moult with some adult feathers growing on the mantle, rump and tail. Note the unique structure that separates it from other Muscicapa flycatchers even when in juvenile plumage.
One of the juveniles showing the heavily mottled throat and breast.

The pair of Umber Flycatchers found by Ingkayut and Jakapat was first seen feeding a recently fledged juvenile in a rubber tree plantation near the entrance of Toh Mo trail. It was later found that there were 2 juveniles in total. Even though both juveniles had already fledged, the adults were still seen visiting the nest regularly. It was suspected that they might use the same nest for a second brood, and it turned out to be true. During my visit, one of the adults, assumed to be the female, spent most of the time sitting on the nest, so I suspected that the eggs were already laid. On one occasion, the male also brought food back to feed the female at the nest. Both fledged juveniles were still seen feeding in the vicinity of the nest, and though they were still begging for food, the adults didn’t seem to care for them anymore.

The presumed male perching above the nest. The nest was cup-shaped, placed directly on a horizontal branch and made almost entirely of moss.
The presumed male sitting on the nest with the female sitting on the right waiting to get on the nest.
The presumed female arriving at the nest and preparing to incubate the eggs.
The presumed male on the left with a large insect catch.

I don’t know if the second brood was successful or not. Not many birders went to observe the nest since I left. However, more juveniles were photographed from other locations in Hala-Bala, so I guess that it was quite a successful breeding season for this little known bird. Hopefully, the pair at Toh Mo will return to nest in the same area again next year.

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