Click the picture for a larger view.
Answer by Tony Leukering and Joel Such
Joel Such provided a good answer to this quiz, so we'll start there:
"This week's quiz bird looks like a diving duck. I can eliminate eiders, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, scoters (except for Black Scoter), and alcids, because the quiz bird's wings are closed while diving. The aforementioned duck species all dive with their wings out and alcids dive with their wings out and their feet sticking out of the water. All the Bucephala ducks and the mergansers dive with their wings closed. The quiz bird has red legs, a black back, gray sides, white scapulars, white belly, some white vertical spots on the side, and a hint of rufous color toward the head. Those field marks match those of Red-breasted Merganser."
Joel probably noted my brief discussion for one of the ABA quizzes on diving style (www.americanbirding.org/photoquiz/quizans66.html); I'm glad someone is reading my answers and using the information. Additionally, just to round things out: LEG COLOR! I've noted this facet in this venue any number of times, but I don't know that I'm making any impression and leg color was quite useful in this week's quiz. Both goldeneyes have orange legs, while White-winged Scoter and Horned Grebe both have blackish legs. Those guessing Bufflehead might be excused a bit, as pink can be fairly similar to red, but on my monitor, the bird's leg is decidedly red, not the bubble-gum pink of Bufflehead. Besides, our bird has too much white in the wing for female-plumaged Buffleheads.
I took this picture of an actively diving adult male Red-breasted Merganser on 8 February 2008 at the Cape May ferry terminal, Cape May Co., NJ. Note that I called it an "adult male." Like other merganser species, Red-breasted Merganser exhibits delayed plumage maturation -- that is, males wear a female-like plumage for much of their first year and, in February, would still look mostly or completely like a female in plumage. I have provided, below, the picture that I took immediately prior to the quiz photo that shows the bird in all its glory.
With two quizzes to go in the quarterly competition, two out-of-staters, Tyler Bell and Peter Wilkinson (both with 10 of 11 correct), share the lead. Two Coloradans, Nick Komar and Christian Nunes (each with 9 of 11 correct), are breathing over the leaders' shoulders.
Tallies of incorrect answers for quiz species:
Common Goldeneye - 1
Horned Grebe - 1
Barrow's Goldeneye - 2
White-winged Scoter - 1
Bufflehead - 4
The 15 of 24 respondents answering correctly:
Answer: Red-breasted Merganser
Monday, December 8, 2008
Answer by Tony Leukering
All respondents provided an answer including a falcon species, with most picking the correct one. The wing-open bird certainly has pointed wings and a raptorial beak. The only good candidates for such a beast with the heavy underparts streaking, regular rows of white spots on the remiges, and such a wide and dark subterminal tail band are American Kestrel and Merlin. However, neither sex of American Kestrel shows both heavy underparts streaking AND that wide subterminal band, so our bird must be a Merlin. In fact, it is an adult male taiga race (columbarius) Merlin that I photographed at the Cape May hawkwatch, Cape May Co., NJ, on 21 October 2008.
Now, onto the second bird.
"What second bird?" you might ask. Why, the bird that the Merlin is carrying. Most respondents (in fact, 22 of them) got the Merlin correct but did not provide an answer for the prey, so their responses were scored as incorrect (see the rules).
Merlins do often have a paler vent region, but it's never so white as what might appear to be that feather tract in the picture. That is because that white area is the underparts of a smaller bird in the grasp of our Merlin. We can see the head at the left end of the white patch, and the crown looks fairly green, metallic green. We can also see the unlucky second-subject-of-the-picture's wingtips (or, at least one of 'em) sticking below the Merlin's tail and the dark feet/legs against the white belly. The wings, then, are quite long if they're reaching near the end of what looks like a very short tail. If we look closely, we can see the area around the eye is blackish and obviously darker than the crown, without any paler area behind the eye. So, there are only two species recorded in the ABA area that have such long wings, a green crown, black mask, and white underparts from chin to undertail coverts, but one of them is an extreme ABA rarity (Mangrove Swallow), so our second bird is a Tree Swallow.
As I forgot to have Rachel (our webmaster) put the caveat on the photo at the outset, I would have accepted Mangrove Swallow as a correct answer, as I don't think that there is any way to rule out that species from this single picture. However, since only three respondents (of the 11 received before the caveat was put on the photo) provided answers including any swallow species, with only one of those incorrect and not of Mangrove Swallow, I feel that no adjustments in answers was necessary.
Tallies of incorrect answers for quiz species:
American Kestrel - 2
Cave Swallow - 1
Snow Bunting - 2
Congratulations to the 6 of 33 respondents answering correctly:
Answer: Merlin, Tree Swallow