Monday, September 28, 2009

Birds in the hand - what it does for your bird ID skills

Now that you've seen the process of bird banding, lets take a closer look at some of the birds. Keep in mind that since it's fall, these birds are no longer in their breeding plumage, which will make for some tricky ID work, especially when it comes to the warblers. (My Peterson's guide has several pages devoted to "confusing fall warblers" which I didn't really appreciate until now!)

By the way, I would just like to clarify that I did not handle any of these birds personally. All birds were banded and handled by the trained staff and volunteers of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. This was all part of a public banding demonstration.

We'll start off with the thrush triple play that I mentioned a few posts back. Two of these birds were lifers for me.

We start off with the Wood Thrush, a denizen of our woods each spring and summer. The prominent identifying marks here are the bold white eye ring and the rusty coloring.

I have to apologize for the lighting on the next few pictures...

Grey-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes (from left to right), both life birds for me. It's unlikely I would see them in my neck of the woods as they both breed far north into Canada. It would be a rare treat indeed to see them pass through on migration on this patch of land.

Both the Swainson's and the Grey-cheeked are more olive colored (especially compared to the Wood Thrush), but the Swainson's has a more visible eye ring than Grey-cheeked.

Here's the Grey-cheeked, perhaps the most drab of all 3 presented here. (Again, I apologize for the dark photos.)

Swainson's and Wood Thrushes side by side. Here you can really see the drab olive coloring of the Swainson's on the left versus the rust (some might say ochraceous) coloring of the Wood Thrush on the right.

And here, if you will indulge me in one more comparison, you can see the subtle differences in the spotting of the chest on the Swainson's on the left and the Wood Thrush on the right.

Okay, moving on to the warblers!

This is the Common Yellowthroat, which I never would have guessed the identity of in a million years. The BSBO folks said it's a hatchling-year bird (sex unknown), which is a likely explanation for the lack of the diagnostic black mask.

This little gem is the Magnolia Warbler. Again, a far cry from his boldly streaked plumage during breeding season, but still identifiable by the presence of wing bars and, more tellingly...

... the white band across the middle of the tail feathers.

Another thing that stuck out in my mind was the faint necklace of white between it's chin and chest. Oh yeah, this was a lifer for me.

Black-throated Green Warlber. Aside from the wing bars, only the faintest hint of black remains in the throat to give away who this is. Kelly and I tracked one of these down at Cedar Falls in the Hocking Hills back in July.

Nashville Warbler (lifer). Pretty plain as warblers go, this is distinguished from the Connecticut Warbler (which we did not see) by the fact that it's throat is yellow (the Connecticut would have a olive/bluish head AND throat).

Finally, we will conclude with some little sprites:

The Winter Wren and House Wren (left to right). Both life birds for me, and very good for me to see because I had no idea exactly how small they are. Compared to a Carolina Wren, well, these guys are tiny.

Comparing the tails of the House Wren (on the left) and the Winter Wren (on the right). Everything about the Winter Wren is compact, including it's stumpy little tail!

Here you can also compare the somewhat curved beak of the House Wren (left) to the straighter beak of the Winter Wren (right). Also, notice the eyebrow stripe on the Winter Wren.

I just want to put him in my pocket and carry him around with me all day - he's that cute!

Seeing all of these birds so close, having these pictures to study at my leisure, and comparing the photos to books and online field guides has greatly increased my likelihood of being able to identify these tricky birds in the future. I am grateful to the knowledgeable staff and volunteers at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory for pointing out so many of the field marks that I mentioned here.

This concludes my official "report" about my experiences at this year's Midwest Birding Symposium. I still have some random images I'd like to share, but I do have some other things I'd like to get posting about. If you found any of this info about the symposium even remotely interesting, keep September 2011 in the back of your mind for the next one (hopefully at Lakeside!).

Happy birding!


Kelly said...

...great post. I love all the fall ID tips. I would never have ID'd the Common Yellowthroat different from his spring/summer plumage (he still has that yellow throat, thank goodness!). In the spring, we get a lot of Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes migrating through on the Little Miami river near my house...and Nashville Warblers too. This spring the little Nashville became one of my favorite birds. I saw him so often on the trail singing...I miss seeing those little fellows!

Monika said...

What a treat to be able to compare those birds up close! Without the direct comparison in the back of your mind, field guide statements like "more olive" or "with a straighter beak" than some other species aren't much help! Although it's amazing how similar they still look even when held up right next to each other! Thanks for sharing.

Ginnymo said...

You are so lucky to be able to hold those birds!!! I think I've seen those little wrens around. But they are so small and fast I never get a photo of them. This is a great post Heather!! Thanks!! Beautiful photos!!

Heather said...

Kelly - You are lucky to see so many migrants along the Little Miami. I don't know if the Hocking River sees as much migratory action or not... I'm going to have to make it a point to hang out there next spring to find out!

Monika - Yes, you're right, those phrases like "more olive" can be a bit vague, especially when the bird is many feet away, hidden behind foliage, etc. One of the banders at the demo mentioned that this is one of the BEST ways to learn bird IDs because you can examine the bird for all those field marks that can be hard to see in the field!

Ginny - I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I bet those little wrens are fast... it seems like the smaller the bird, the more they flit about and are harder to see. Also, I wanted to clarify that I did not actually hold any of these birds myself. All the hands seen in these photos are those of the staff and volunteers at the observatory. They did offer to allow members of the public to help release the birds, though.

James said...

What a great opportuity to see some of these birds up close. I'll have to see if there is anything liek this in my area. Thanks for sharing this.

The Early Birder said...

Excellent post Heather, clearly showing the comparison ID features. If I had seen this before attempting an autumn visit to Cape May & Texas some years ago it would have made my life so much easier. FAB

Shelley said...

I wish I could've gone! Aw!! Maybe next year...
Loved these photos - so nice to see these birdies up close and learn about banding. I would've been tempted to pet all of them on the head!

Meg said...

I remember the first time I saw bird banding going on--we stumbled across it at Rocky Mountain National Park. They caught a hummingbird in their mist net and some little something--I was amazed to see those little birds so close up and still. They're normally always moving, you know!

A great set of posts about your trip. Fascinating details. (And I think the brown thrasher in the previous post looks a little pissed, actually--her eye looks half-lidded and I can hear her saying, "when I get loose, you just wait, people." hee hee!

Larry Jordan said...

Great post Heather. Very informative and excellent photos as well. I really like the close up of the Grey-cheeked Thrush.

All those tough bird IDs just got a little easier for you and the rest of us, thanks to you.

Heather said...

James - Yes, it was a fantastic opportunity. I hope you can find something similar nearby!

Frank - Thanks, I'm glad it was helpful. Now if I can just remember it all myself come this time next year, I'll be in good shape!

Shelley - We missed you at the symposium! It's a biennial event, so maybe in 2011! I would have loved to pet them on the head myself, but I was too busy clicking away.

Meg - Yes, it is definitely a strange thing to see the birds being still (mostly) in one place, even for a short period of time. It really allows for good, close investigation. And the staff was so good about pointing out the field marks! That poor Thrasher... she's really getting accused of being a bad girl!

Larry - Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad this was of value to you (and everyone else). Gotta spread the knowledge around, you know?

Anonymous said...

Nice blog site.
I must however correct the identification of the yellowthroat. They do not lose their black masks, although a small proportion can lack black after the 1st prebasic moult (Pyle). Some hatch year/second year Yellowthroats have a partial alternate plumage, but this would not account for a loss of the mask There is some extreme wear seen March to July making it tough to distinguish females of different ages, but the males wouldn't "lose" their black auriculars. I believe that the bird in the picture is either a female (most likely) or a young male. Young males are not always easily separated from females.

Hope that helps,

Anonymous said...

Looking at the bird again, I might be inclined to call it a young male! There looks to be a defined auricular area. Very difficult looking at a photo, and without seeing other moult (etc.) characteristics.
Do you know what the banders aged/sexed it?


Heather said...

Julian - Hello, and thank you for stopping by my blog. I appreciate your input here. Since I don't have much knowledge of non-breeding plumages, I will admit that I just assumed that the lack of a black mask was due to molt into non-breeding plumage - thus my stating that it had lost the mask. I just checked my notes from that day, and I see that they mentioned that it was a hatch-year bird, but the sex was unknown. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. I will revise the copy to reflect the age of the bird and remove the "lost the mask" bit.

I hope you will come back and visit again. I always welcome any and all feedback about the stuff I post. I'm still learning a lot of this stuff! Do you have a blog or website of your own that I could check out?