Mathew Lowe, Collections Manager at the Museum of Zoology, writes:
One of the great joys of travelling whilst working for a Museum is encountering animals in the wild you have encountered before – but only in the collections.
So it was with the Vermillion Flycatcher, an eyecatching dash of scarlet that I had walked past dozens of times in the Museum’s Bird Room. Initially I had not given this little creature much thought, other than to admire its brilliance, and hadn’t even learnt its name or range.
Whilst visiting relatives in Arizona, my partner and I decided to take a day trip out to Tumacacori, an extremely photogenic 300 year old crumbling Spanish Mission. We arrived on a beautifully sunny and warm morning and as I walked away from the car I heard a persistent clicking noise which I took to be the car engine cooling down. However, I soon realised the noise was coming from above and as I peered upwards I saw a familiar flash of red flitting past.
Although I didn’t know what to call it yet, the bird I was looking at was absolutely living up to its name, vermillion in colour and snapping its beak catching flies. The Vermillion Flycatcher lives in parts of the southern US and Central America (a subspecies can even be found on the Galapagos Islands), typically in desert scrubland close to water. It likes to perch briefly before launching itself into the air to catch another tasty morsel.
It was during one of these brief pauses, whilst perched on the end of a branch preening itself, that I managed to take a quick snap with my camera. I’ve since seen the Vermillion Flycatcher many times, tracked down where I can almost guarantee a sighting and spent many an hour trying to top that first image which I thoughtlessly snapped as quickly as the bird itself plucks flies from the air. No luck so far but I’ll keep trying!
Now when I walk past our stuffed specimen in the bird room I’m reminded of my random encounters with this and other equally colourful creatures. In a room with 30,000 dead animals it’s easy to think negatively, but the bird room doesn’t have that effect on me. Rather I see it as a reminder that there’s so much life out there, waiting to add a dash of colour to your day when you least expect it.