Monday, April 5, 2010

Quiz #343 (2010-2-01) Solution

Click the picture for a larger view.

Answer by Tony Leukering and Peter Wilkinson

I start here with a portion of Aaron Brees' response:

"It's often the quizzes that seem easiest that make me nervous. Would Tony really give us one this obvious, with no unfamiliar plumage, no bird in the background to overlook, and not even too strange a camera angle? Just letting everyone start off the quarter on a positive note before bringing us back down to reality in a couple weeks, I'm guessing!"

Actually, Aaron, while your guess might have played a minor part in this picture's selection, I was more interested in, again, using a picture to point out a field mark that is very obvious, but, in my opinion, overlooked and/or under-utilized by birders.

Many birders looking at this week's quiz photo may have quickly recognized the species and not put much work into actually identifying the bird. Some will have analyzed size, shape (overall and of parts), and plumage characters to get to the right answer, or not. But, unless respondents provide some indication of the tack they took to get to their supplied answer, I have no way of knowing whether they used -- or even noted -- the feature(s) that I tried to exhibit.

This week's quiz bird is apparently fairly small (compare it to the size of the buds on the tree), with a longish tail, a dark eye on a plain face, pale underparts, and a hint of orangish on the flank. Various individual features of these field characters might take one to various places in the ABA checklist, but the combination should really send one straight to the titmouses (the flank color should rule out the next best option, Bushtit). Sure, we cannot see the bird's head shape, but that was by design -- and you don't know how many pix that I took of this bird before I got one where the crest was hidden!

Once among those crested parids, Bridled is easily ruled out for obvious reasons and the flank color should eliminate both Juniper and Oak. With no view of the top of the head, separating Tufted from the recently re-split Black-crested can be a mite tricky. Our bird's pale face and the resultant very strong contrast to the dark eye makes a strong case for Tufted over Black-crested. The clincher is the color of the forehead: black. Tufted Titmouse has a black forehead and a gray crown, while that pattern is reversed in Black-crested. To return to my original point, that black forehead is distinctive for smallish gray birds in the ABA area.

All that said, Peter Wilkinson made a pointed comment well worth reading:

"Hmmm! Anomalous. Almost everything screams Tufted Titmouse from the start, until you look at the black bit on the upper throat, just below the lower mandible. Since when does Tufted Titmouse show that? None of my five North American field guides shows anything like it, and I had to wade through something like 17 pages of Google Images of the species to find even a couple of birds that are like this (assuming that it isn't just an artefact of the photo or the lighting, which I don't think it is). I did, however, eventually find a couple, so I think that this is just an uncommon variant, rather than, say, a "chickmouse," as a putative Black-capped Chickadee x Tufted Titmouse was dubbed recently on ID Frontiers. Apart from the little bit of black, I can't see anything else that might need explaining as not Tufted Titmouse."

Thanks, Peter! I took this picture of an aberrant male (it was singing and guarding his mate while she inspected a potential nest cavity) Tufted Titmouse at Villas WMA, Cape May Co., NJ, on 3 April 2010.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Bushtit - 2
Gray Jay - 1

Congratulations to the 24 of 27 getting the quiz correct:
Tyler Bell
Al Guarente
Kevin Kerr
Matt Bristol
Peter Burke
Chris Warren
Bryan Guarente
William Velmala
Su Snyder
George Cresswell
Margie Joy
Buzz Schaumberg
Nick Komar
Thomas Hall
Aaron Brees
Judi Owens
Chuck Carlson
Robert McNab
Louie Toth
Joel Such
Marcel Such
Joe Bens
Andrea Smith-Guarente

Answer: Tufted Titmouse