Monday, December 19, 2011

Quiz #430 (2011-4-12) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

Happy New Year! The 2011 year saw 1214 responses to the CFO Photo Quiz from 96 individuals. The CFO webmaster tells me, however, that the quiz received much, much more traffic than suggested by the number of responses. So, all you lurkers out there, consider sending in an answer or two this year.

The best-laid plans of mice and men! This quiz was intended, primarily, as a nomenclatural quiz, though I thought that at least a few might have difficulty with the identification aspect. I'll get into the ID aspect first, then come back to the nomenclatural problem presented by the quiz picture.

Our quiz bird is in the process of diving, or is tipping up to feed. Either way, the primary feature that we need notice is the feet, particularly the incredibly long toes. The only real possibilities for such long toes in the ABA area are species with scientific names of Gallinula americana, Porphyrio martinica, and Jacana spinosa. The last of these is not known for diving, foraging on floating vegetation. That species also has gray legs, unlike our bird's yellow legs with orange-red basal rings, nor does it have a mix of black and white on the undertail coverts. The middle of these three species has yellow legs, but lacks the quiz bird's basal rings and sports more white in the undertail coverts than does our bird. American Coot (Fulica americana) is ruled out both by the non-lobed toes of our quiz bird and by those orange-red basal rings, that are often visible on swimming birds.

Now, back to the nomenclatural problem, which was succinctly expressed by Aaron Brees in his submission:

"The second problem is a matter of rule interpretation. CFO Photo Quiz rule #4, states:

All answers, to be considered correct for the purposes of the competition, MUST be presented in the form of a full species name (no forms, no subspecies, etc.) and in the exact current nomenclature (including hyphens and spacing) delineated by the American Ornithologists' Union and as presented by the American Birding Association (ABA).

"The AOU has accepted the split of Gallinula chloropus and changed the name of the New World representative to Common Gallinule (Gallinula americana). The ABA checklist, including the most current published supplement, still lists this bird as 'Common Moorhen.' So, the AOU has 'delineated' the name as Common Gallinule, but how has the ABA 'presented' the new name if it hasn't published a supplement since the split? What, exactly, does 'presented' mean in this context. It seems like 'adopted' would be a more appropriate term, but I digress.

"Hopefully, the answer to this seeming contradiction created by quiz rule #4 is this statement at the bottom of the ABA Checklist Committee Bylaws:

English names: The ABA-CLC will cease to 'pre-approve' AOU decisions but instead will automatically adopt any such decisions.

"I interpret 'automatically adopt any such decisions' to mean that no vote or publication is necessary. When the AOU published the name change, it instantly became the official ABA name as well. So I'll stick with 'Common Gallinule' for my answer."

Thanks, Aaron, for a thorough, and novel, approach to the problem that I encountered upon finding that as of late December, the ABA had still not incorporated any of the AOU's 2011 changes in nomenclature and taxonomy into the online version of the ABA checklist, which is what I use as the final arbiter of such for the CFO Photo Quiz. The quiz was intended to note whether respondents were keeping up with nomenclatural changes, such that answers of 'Common Moorhen' would have been precluded from being correct for the competition, as that name should not have been present on the ABA checklist. [As an important aside, Aaron also noted that the AOU has not acted on a recent Alaska record of the Old World species and Peter Wilkinson noted that, given the view in the quiz photo, the two species are not separable.] So, despite the publication in the ABA's flagship print publication, Birding, of the ABA's changes to the checklist (in November 2011), these were not incorporated into the online version until too late to do me any good. And, I had delayed the use of this picture to the very end of the year, specifically because I was informed that those changes would be made in November. Again, "the best-laid plans of mice and men!"

I was forced to make a decision about acceptability of the two types of potentially correct answers received, and chose to accept them both as correct for the competition, as any other decision would have penalized participants for a problem not of their making. However, one respondent's submission neglected the capitalization of the species' second name; that answer was precluded from being correct for the competition.

It is time to award two prizes, one each for winner of the quarterly and annual competitions. In the quarterly competition, the award of a year's membership in the Colorado Field Ornithologists (and receipt of its excellent quarterly journal, Colorado Birds), goes to one of the three respondents scoring 11 of 12 quizzes correct: Bryan Guarente, Thomas Hall, and Peter Wilkinson. As they all had the same number of incorrect responses and of bonus points, I had to go through the random-selection process to come up with the quarter's winner. Congratulations, Thomas!

For the annual competition, two Californians tied with 39 correct responses in 2011, Robert McNab and Pam Myers. Pam is a fairly new player at the CFO Photo Quiz and won the first quarterly competition of 2011, while Robert is always amongst the leaders, but has yet to break through to win either a quarterly or annual competition. The first tie-breaker, incorrect responses, was a wash, moving them to the second tie-breaker, bonus points. At 11 bonus points to nine bonus points, Pam Myer wins the 2011 annual CFO Photo Quiz competition! Congratulations, Pam, and I hope to see you at the 2012 CFO convention in Trinidad, Colorado, as your prize for winning is free registration to the convention!

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Northern Jacana - 1

Congratulations to the 26 of 27 getting the quiz correct. Particular congratulations to those (indicated by *) that noted that the AOU had split Common Moorhen and that they knew that the new name (actually, a return to an old name) for the New World representative is now Common Gallinule:
Tyler Bell*
George Cresswell
Peter Wilkinson
Pam Myers*
Robert McNab*
Christian Nunes*
Patty McKelvey
Jeff Thompson
Thomas Hall*
Brenda Beatty
Bob Archer
Megan Miller
Nick Komar
Su Snyder
Aaron Brees*
Kirk Huffstater*
Bryan Guarente*
Josh Parks
Margie Joy
Joe Bens*
Marcel Such*
Joel Such*
Sean Walters*
Margaret Smith
Diane Porter*

Answer: Common Gallinule

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quiz #429 (2011-4-11) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

This one was a toughie. Had I not known that previously, the diversity of species in answers this week would have driven the point home, as seven species of four families were submitted in response to the quiz. All species provided as answers share the quiz bird's general features of brown with dark-centered feathers on the wing and streaks on the flanks; most also sport white outer webs to the outermost rectrices.

Our quiz bird's tail rules out a couple of the submitted options: Sky Lark's tail has the middle feathers on each side blackish contrasting with paler central tail feathers and Le Conte's Sparrow's tail is shorter, spikier, and lacks pale outer webs to the r6s. Savannah Sparrow is quite similar to the appearance of our quiz bird, but has buff or cream sides to the tail, not white.

The bird's right wing provides most of the best clues as to its identity. It lacks rufous lesser coverts, a distinctive feature of Vesper Sparrow. Le Conte's and Savannah sparrows both have a darker, more-even-colored wing, which results in the median and greater coverts not providing such strong contrast, and Le Conte's lacks our bird's distinct wing bars created by extensive buff tips to the black-centered greater and median coverts. Lapland Longspur has even darker wings, such that the rufous greater coverts contrast paler. Sky Lark's wings are an even-colored grayish-brown lacking in any obvious contrast. Red-throated Pipit has white wing bars on a relatively non-contrasting dark wing and with the greater coverts, if anything, paler than the rest of the wing.

The quiz bird's back provides the final clue: there are wide, buffy braces (long, contrastingly pale streaks) that are a feature of fairly few bird species. All of the above features, in combination, rule out all but the correct answer. Another picture of the same individual is provided below to prove the point. Tom Johnson took these pictures of a Baird's Sparrow flying away at Willcox, Cochise Co., AZ, on 4 May 2011.


One of the incorrect answers, even if correct, would have been precluded from being correct for the competition due to nomenclatural issues.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Vesper Sparrow - 5
Lapland Longspur - 4
Red-throated Pipit - 1
Savannah Sparrow - 2
"Eurasian Skylark" - 1
Le Conte's Sparrow - 1

Congratulations to the 4 of 18 getting the quiz correct:
Josh Parks
Bryan Guarente
Devich Farbotnik
Thomas Hall

Answer: Baird's Sparrow

Monday, December 5, 2011

Quiz #428 (2011-4-10) Solution


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Solution by Bryan Guarente and Tony Leukering

Bryan Guarente provided an interesting and enlightening tack to the correct answer, so this solution will start with his words.

"We have a duck. There are only four ABA-area duck species that have black breast and vent with a white mid-body: Canvasback, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, and Lesser Scaup. I think we will see that a hybrid is not indicated because of the purity of the features on this bird. There is little that would indicate any other genes in the pool. The vermiculated back rules out Tufted Duck and Canvasback, leaving us with the conundrum of the scaup/scaups (sp?).

"Let's start at the front of the bird and move to the middle to determine what this bird is. The nail of the bill is small and black with no apparent stretching of the black in the horizontal along the edge of the beak (score: Lesser 1 :: Greater 0). The head color is purplish not greenish. It is hard to score lots of points for that because lighting can be especially tricky with anything iridescent (score: Lesser 1.5 :: Greater 0). The eye sits relatively far from the top of the head (score: Lesser 2.5 :: Greater 0). The highest point on the top of the head is well behind the eye and even shows a bit of a crest. Occasionally, Lesser can show a rounded head like Greater, but that usually occurs in actively diving birds, and Greater never seems to show a crest; the change typically goes the other way, where Lesser seems to have more of a rounded crown (score: Lesser 3.5 :: Greater 0). Only when you have good to great close-up views of scaup can you see the difference in the vermiculation density and extent. I can't say that I am confident in writing about the vermiculation on the back, but supposedly, Lesser shows fewer bars that are heavier than on Greater Scaup. More important to me, Lesser has vermiculation that extends beyond just the back, as the sides have vermiculation on them near where they meet the back. This only occurs in Lesser and is usually only visible in great specimens without much wear and usually manifests as a slightly dirty-looking side for Lesser versus Greater (score: Lesser 4.5 :: Greater 0). [Beware of over-exposure of photos like in the back of the white sides of this bird where the sensor is saturated; dirtiness disappears very quickly.]

"I don't see anything that would point to hybrid. We are sitting in a close battle (HA!) with Lesser Scaup way ahead. There is nothing Greater here that I see. I'm going with Lesser Scaup."

Indeed, Bryan covered most of the points, but I will expand on a couple. Head shape in the two scaup species is different in many more ways than simply the shape of the crown. As Tyler Bell noted, I wrote one of my In The Scope articles for Colorado Birds a while back on this very topic. Greaters have blockier heads that tend to look longer (deeper; forehead to nape) than tall with the high point in front of the eye and with very noticeable jowls in a head-on view. Lesser Scaup has a smaller head that usually appears taller than long with the peak behind the eye and with minimal jowls (unfortunately, not visible, here).

The big difference between the two in crown shape is that Lesser either typically holds its crown feathers more erect or they are simply longer. Or both. Thus, there is more head above the eye in Lesser than in Greater, with the eye just about centered top to bottom on Lesser and placed noticeably closer to the crown than the chin in Greater. As Bryan noted, this feature goes out the window with actively foraging Lessers, as they depress their head feathers before diving and may not re-erect them upon surfacing if they are going to immediately head back under the surface. I cannot tell you how many times that I have thought myself looking at a distant Greater Scaup, only to have it cease diving and turn into a Lesser.

Bryan and others also noted that our quiz bird's flanks are overexposed, a feature that I hoped to take advantage of in this picture, because Greaters do tend toward whiter sides/flanks. However, this feature can be tricky, because immature male Greater Scaup can take quite a while to completely replace brownish side and flank feathers in their preformative molt, which can extend into March. Additionally, as obliquely referred to by Bryan, worn male Lesser Scaup may have no apparent vermiculations on the sides, presenting a bright white appearance. So, in late fall and early winter, a male scaup showing bright white sides/flanks is almost certainly a Greater, while such birds in March and beyond could be either.

Finally, while many Greater Scaup have the black of the bill nail extending onto the bill proper in a trapezoidal shape, many have the black restricted to the nail, as in Lesser Scaup. I took this picture of an adult male Lesser Scaup on 2 March 2009 in the Palo Alto Baylands, Santa Clara Co., CA.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Greater Scaup - 2

Congratulations to the 20 of 22 getting the quiz correct:
Kirk Huffstater
Tyler Bell
Robert McNab
Pam Myers
Margaret Smith
George Cresswell
Patty McKelvey
Peter Wilkinson
Christian Nunes
Nick Komar
Josh Parks
Claire Mix
Margie Joy
Jennifer Courtemanche
Thomas Hall
Bryan Guarente
Joel Such
Marcel Such
Sean Walters
Devich Farbotnik

Answer: Lesser Scaup

Monday, November 28, 2011

Quiz #427 (2011-4-09) Solution


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Solution by Margie Joy and Tony Leukering

Margie Joy submitted a detailed answer that covers most of the bases, so we'll start with that.

"This week's quiz bird is a diving bird: grebe, loon, or duck. Since I can only see the bird's back and sides, I'm using the pattern on the back (very dark with crisp, randomly-arranged white speckles) to collect possibilities for the ID. Some grebes and diving ducks show an indistinct scaly pattern, but it's usually gray on gray, never the sparkly effect shown in the photo; I'm going right to loons.

"Several ABA-area loons show similar patterns to that of the quiz bird. Common and Yellow-billed loons in breeding plumage show bold black-and-white spots that are arranged in a tight checkered pattern. Non-breeders and juveniles of these two species show more indistinct patterns. Arctic and Pacific loons in breeding plumage show larger white patches in a barred pattern. Non-breeders of these two species show very indistinct patterns, while juveniles show small pale areas arranged in a distinctive scalloped pattern. That leaves Red-throated Loon. Non-breeding adults have the same sparkly pattern of white on dark gray or black that's shown on the quiz bird, so I'm guessing that this bird is a Red-throated Loon. To confirm my guess, I have found other marks that are good for Red-throated: white sides and speckled rump."

Thanks, Margie. To round out this solution, I have some disparate comments. All loons have black primaries and all have long wings such that they sport fairly extensive primary projection. Unfortunately, The Sibley Guide illustrates Red-throated with the wingtips obvious, but with those of the other loons not. Juveniles of all loons other than Red-throated have pale fringes to the scapulars and coverts forming a scalloped pattern to the upperparts on swimming birds. Red-throated Loon shows such in no plumage, with the pale marks on these feathers being restricted to well-defined spots or short bars on the interior of the feathers, not on the edge. Thus, the species, as Margie described it, looks sparkly. Like stars, which may be the cause of the species' specific epithet being stellata (meaning "starry").

Peter Wilkinson noted that he "hadn't realised how hard it can be to
distinguish from juv Northern Gannet." Indeed, the patterns on the scaps and coverts are remarkably similar. However, a Northern Gannet with that pattern on the wings would not have bright white sides. Finally, as noted by multiple respondents, the bird's legs are set well back on the body, unlike that for Northern Gannet.

I took this picture of a diving adult Red-throated Loon in basic plumage at the Cape May ferry terminal jetty, Cape May Co., NJ, on 18 February 2011.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Common Loon - 1
Arctic Loon - 2

Congratulations to the 14 of 21 getting the quiz correct:
Robert McNab
Tyler Bell
Jeff Jones
Nick Komar
Pam Myers
Christian Nunes
Kirk Huffstater
Thomas Hall
Bryan Guarente
Josh Parks
Patty McKelvey
Margie Joy
Al Guarente
Liston Rice
Marcel Such
Joel Such
Margaret Smith
Sean Walters
Peter Wilkinson
Devich Farbotnik

Answer: Red-throated Loon

Monday, November 21, 2011

Quiz #426 (2011-4-08) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

As noted by Robert McNab, using only a single field mark, this bird would be impossible to separate from Nutting's Flycatcher! Yes, the quiz bird and Nutting's Flycatcher share the character of orange mouth linings, but I don't think that anyone actually thought that this bird could be a flycatcher!

We don't have a lot to go on to winnow the possibilities, but the generally white coloration with, apparently, gray wings, webbed feet, and dark eyes and legs might plop us into the Laridae, home of the gulls and terns. Dark legs are not common in gulls, but relatively so in terns, so let's start there. With the foreshortening of the bill due to the picture angle, determining bill length is problematic. However, bill color is accurately gauged: yellow with a dark tip. That greatly whittles the possibilities among the tern species recorded within the ABA area, as only Least Tern sports such a bill pattern, though Large-billed might at times. However, neither of those species sports black legs, so into the gulls we go.

ABA-area dark-legged gull species include Ivory, Franklin's, Laughing, and Heermann's gulls and, of course, Black-legged Kittiwake. The gray wings of our quiz bird rule out Ivory Gull and the white body does the same for Heermann's Gull. The paleness of the wings and the bill color rule out Franklin's and Laughing gulls. However, it should be noted that even ignoring the black legs, the unmarked white underparts on an immature gull (note the black on the tail) actually rule out nearly all options. Steve Mlodinow took this picture of a 1st-cycle Black-legged Kittiwake -- one of an amazing two present -- at Windsor Lake, Windsor, Weld Co., CO, on 5 May 2011. One of the birds had been present since early April!

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Ring-billed Gull - 2
Mew Gull - 1

Congratulations to the 18 of 21 getting the quiz correct:
Thomas Hall
Pam Myers
George Cresswell
Peter Wilkinson
Patty McKelvey
Robert McNab
Jennier Courtemanche
Christian Nunes
Ira Sanders
Tammy Sanders
Josh Parks
Margie Joy
Su Snyder
Devich Farbotnik
Nick Komar
Al Guarente
Kirk Huffstater
Bryan Guarente

Answer: Black-legged Kittiwake

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quiz #425 (2011-4-07) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

This week's quiz bird resulted in answers citing six species of blackbird. In blackbirds, eye color is useful, so we'll start there. Our bird's dark eye should rule out most Boat-tailed and Great-tailed grackles (except for females of some Gulf of Mexico populations of the former) and adult Common Grackles and Bronzed Cowbirds. Granted, that leaves a lot still in the possible solution set, but we can narrow things down from here. Knowing our bird's age would help tremendously, but ageing many blackbird species in the field is quite difficult, if not impossible, as they generally conduct extensive preformative molts, thus immatures are very similar in most respects to adults.

The streaky blackbirds (Red-winged, Tawny-shouldered, and Tricolored) are eliminated by the lack of streaks; any individual of the two species that isn't obviously blackish would have streaks. Common Grackle never shows such pale head and underparts, particularly the former, and because of the latter, it does not show the contrasting dark feather centers of the underparts of our quiz bird. Brown-headed Cowbird can be ruled out by our bird's lack of contrastingly pale throat bordered by dark lateral throat stripes. Female Shiny Cowbird is never this cold-colored gray-brown and the bird is not a juvenile Shiny because it lacks streaks and wingbars. Our quiz bird is not a Bronzed Cowbird, as that species never shows even this prominent of a pale superciliary, particularly in front of the eye. Additionally, that species has a deeper and shorter bill than sported by the quiz bird. The large-tailed grackle species are just that, large-tailed, which our quiz bird is not.

That leaves us with the Euphagus problem. Though field guides may make Rusty and Brewer's blackbirds seem relatively simple to separate, the two are often quite similar, with some individuals probably best left unidentified. However, this bird is not one of those. Even the dullest and youngest of Rusty Blackbirds would show a much more obvious superciliary, while only the very youngest would still show a dark eye, but should not upon completion of its preformative molt (which is true of this bird). Additionally, female Rusty Blackbirds show auriculars more sharply-defined as a patch by rear and lower borders that our bird lacks. Finally, the bill's depth is a good indicator of Brewer's Blackbird, but, perhaps, not definitive. However, something not shown in field guides is the distinctive upright-and-head back strutting of Brewer's Blackbird that I find very useful in identifying the species, even separating it from Rusty Blackbird. Our quiz bird illustrates that behavior as well as any static picture can.

Peter Wilkinson tops the leader board with a perfect 7-for-7 score in this quarter's competition, with Al Guarente and Thomas Hall being one correct answer behind. As for the yearly competition, two Californians -- Robert McNab and Pam Myers -- lead with 35 correct responses, with Marcel Such and Peter Wilkinson right on their heels with 34 correct, and Bryan Guarente two back at 33.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Bronzed Cowbird - 1
Shiny Cowbird - 2
Common Grackle - 1
Brown-headed Cowbird - 1
Rusty Blackbird - 2

Congratulations to the 14 of 21 getting the quiz correct:
Thomas Hall
Robert McNab
Al Guarente
Patty McKelvey
Richard Jeffers
Christian Nunes
Margie Joy
Peter Wilkinson
Josh Parks
Margaret Smith
Bryan Guarente
Nick Komar
Sean Walters
Devich Farbotnik

Answer: Brewer's Blackbird

Monday, November 7, 2011

Quiz #424 (2011-4-06) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering and Peter Wilkinson

As noted by Christian Nunes, one of the best clues to this week's quiz bird's identity was provided by the substrate. The smooth bark with the yellowy-green cast makes the tree identifiable as an aspen. From there, we'll go to some of Peter Wilkinson's thoughts on the bird:

"Those flank feathers reduce it to an Otus owl pretty quickly, so we have Flammulated and the three screech-owls, Whiskered, Eastern, and Western" [though the A.O.U. now considers the screech-owls to belong to Megascops, while Flammulated still resides in Otus].

I agree with the above and note that all ABA-area nightjars can be eliminated by the fact that the wingtip that we can see well extends well past the tail tip and because of that flank-feather pattern (with a strong black shaft streak crossed by weaker blackish bars). Back to Peter.

"I think that you can eliminate Whiskered as it apparently doesn't have a rufous morph and this bird clearly has at least a little rufous in the wings."

Again, I agree. The hint of rufous can be see in the primary coverts of the left wing. Peter.

"After that I haven't a clue. I've gone for Flammulated as:
- apparently even gray ones still show traces of rufous in the wings;
- the morphs of the others, while intergrading, don't seem to be as contrasty as this bird; and
- that way, I don't have to worry about hyphenation and capitalisation of screech-owl (though, come to think about it, that's probably why you set this one).

Only one respondent (Josh Parks) noted the key feature in separating Flammulated Owl from the screech-owls and it has to do with migration. The three screech-owls are residents, with individuals dispersing short distances, but undertaking no regular migration. Flammulated Owl is a fairly long-distant migrant, with the species emptying out of the ABA area to winter south of the border from central Mexico to Guatemala. In most groups of related birds with differing migration strategies, with all else being equal, the migrant species/subspecies will have relatively longer wings than will the resident forms (and, extending the argument a bit, longer-distance migrants will have relatively longer wings than will shorter-distance migrants within the species). Flammulated Owl sports relatively longer wings than do its resident congeners, except that Whiskered Screech-Owl also has relatively long wings. On Flammulated and Whiskered, the wingtips extend well beyond the tail tip, while on Eastern and Western, the wingtips typically fall short of the tail tip, though with some having them extend just beyond the tail tip.

As far as the three screech-owl species, all are relatively low-elevation species, with Whiskered associated most often with oaks, while Western and Eastern screech-owls are typically species of riparian habitats or other habitats with broad-leaved tree species. Yes, both species are found in other habitats, but, in general, they are most widespread and common in the habitats that I've noted; aspen is found higher than are the habitats that most Eastern and Western screech-owls utilize in either or both of elevation and latitude. Flammulated Owl is considered by some to be an inhabitant of older seral stages of conifer forest, particularly Ponderosa Pine. However, in my experience, the species is most closely associated with aspen. That is because most woodpecker species within the breeding range of Flammulated Owl seem to be associated with aspen when nesting. That is because it is easier on woodpeckers to construct cavities in aspens than in any other species of tree in their ranges. Flammulated Owls use woodpecker cavities for nesting, so....

Tree species and relative wing length prove the case for this Flammulated Owl photographed near San Isabel, Custer Co., CO, 11 June 2011 by Brandon Percival.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Western Screech-Owl - 3
Eastern Screech-Owl - 3
Common Poorwill - 3
Whiskered Screech-Owl - 2

Congratulations to the 8 of 19 getting the quiz correct:
Thomas Hall
Kirk Huffstater
Christian Nunes
Josh Parks
Sean Walters
Peter Wilkinson
Bryan Guarente
Joel Such

Answer: Flammulated Owl

Monday, October 31, 2011

Quiz #423 (2011-4-05) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

Yes, it's an oddity and was a nice learning experience for me! It was obvious to respondents that the quiz bird is a member of one of the Centurus woodpecker species. (Quick note: Centurus used to house all of the zebra-backed woodpeckers, and was the genus I learned when I started birding, until that genus was lumped into Melanerpes, though the term is still quite useful in separating the zebra-backed species from the other members of that genus, all ABA-area members of which are quite different: Lewis's, Acorn, and Red-headed woodpeckers.) However, the quiz bird's odd head pattern, in combination with our inability to see the bird's rump provided much cause for consternation.

First off, as with many birds, we might be best served by ageing the thing at the outset. While the primaries look paler than black, I would be leery of going out on that limb to support the contention that the bird is a youngster, due to questions of lighting and the fact that we can see them all that well. However, we don't have to go there, because the head provides all we need to age the bird. None of the Centurus woodpecker species sport any black on the crown in anything but juvenal (=first basic) plumage, and that black is rare enough even in that plumage.

Because this bird is sporting odd head coloration and pattern, we should really check out the other useful bits to see if they'll be helpful. Of course, at this point, we can really bemoan the lack of view of the rump, as the three ABA-area Centurus species are readily differentiated on the strength of just that one feature. However, we only need to look a bit lower down to find a very useful feature: the tail rules out Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Or, at least, rules out the form of Golden-fronted that occurs in the ABA area (some subspecies in Mexico have banded middle rectrices). Hmm, then why is there yellow on the bird's nape and red on the crown? But if it were a Golden-fronted, why aren't the nasal tufts yellow? Could this be a hybrid?

Recall that some juveniles -- of both sexes -- of other species of woodpeckers (particularly Downy and Hairy woodpeckers) sport red on the crown, despite the lack of such in older plumages. So, the seemingly-anomalous red on the crown may not be anomalous in juveniles, even in Centurus woodpeckers. Yes, that might bring Golden-fronted back into play, but recall the tail pattern. What we can see of the underparts coloration -- that single bit by the right leg -- looks white, not tan as in Gila.

Now, let's make a more-careful scrutiny of the various barring on this bird, as that is a useful, though subtle, feature in separating the possibilities. The back barring looks as if the black bars are too wide for Gila, possibly even for Golden-fronted. However, the central rectrices have white bands noticeably wider than the black bands, which is good for Red-bellied and wrong for Gila.

In fact, this is a juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker, photographed 4 Aug 2007 in Lamar, Prowers Co., CO, by Dave Leatherman, to whom I give thanks for recognizing the oddity of the plumage and sending me the picture for possible use here. This individual combines three odd head-plumage traits -- yellow nape, black on crown, red on crown -- that are found singly in a smallish percentage of juveniles of the species. A picture that I found on Flickr shows another juvenal-plumaged Red-bellied with black -- and just a bit of red -- on the crown. The take-home message is once again, pay attention to more field marks, even on readily-ID'ed birds. Knowing the common species cold is the best route to becoming an excellent birder.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Gila Woodpecker - 4
Golden-fronted x Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker - 2

Congratulations to the 17 of 22 getting the quiz correct:
Nick Komar
Margaret Smith
Rudi Nuissl
Devich Farbotnik
Kirk Huffstater
Christian Nunes
Pam Myers
Robert McNab
Margie Joy
Patty McKelvey
Al Guarente
Su Snyder
Thomas Hall
Liston Rice
Peter Wilkinson
Diane Porter
Bryan Guarente
Sean Walters

Answer: Red-bellied Woodpecker

Monday, October 24, 2011

Quiz #422 (2011-4-04) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

Usually, when the quiz picture is a difficult one or when there's a gull involved, the number of responses for the week is relatively low. So, one can imagine my surprise at the good number of responses to this week's quiz when not only is there a gull involved, but it's quite difficult! Though it's quite difficult, nearly any ABA-area gull addict would have gotten it correct. But, that is because the important characters are ones that lariphiles know and most birders don't.

We'll start with the individual in the picture that caused very little consternation, the bird of which the image was intended, until the gull flew in front of the camera at Goleta, Santa Barbara Co., CA, 28 February 2010. The seasonality of the picture may very well be determinable from the subjects. The cormorant is in high condition, what with its bright orange supraloral and gular patches. The apparent four-year gull is not molting, at least, not apparently so. Both features are consistent with early spring. And that will come into play with the gull.

As noted by those respondents submitting rationales for their ID decisions, the head pattern on the cormorant is definitive for Double-crested. Neotropic, which can show orange in the supraloral region, never has so extensive a gular patch (it extends past the chin onto the upper throat on our quiz bird). The separation of the bright color by a dark loral line (and the extensive gular patch) rule out Red-faced Cormorant. All the rest of the cormorants have dark bills.

Features that at least some of the respondents used to ID the gull included tail color, bill pattern, darkness of the greater coverts, and (for one) the pale trailing edge to the secondaries. While the bill has an extensive pale base, it is not nearly pale enough nor demarcated enough for a nearly one-year old California Gull. Any Cal Gull with that little pale would be much younger and exhibit extensive juvenal (=first basic) plumage on the upperparts, which our quiz gull does not. Additionally, the greater coverts appear a bit too pale, relative to the darkness of the secondaries and to the median coverts for our bird to be a Cal Gull, which sport greater coverts closer to the color of the secondaries, rather than the median coverts, not the more-intermediate color expressed by the quiz bird. Yes, California Gulls of this age sport a pale trailing edge to the secondaries, but so do a couple other options.

Herring Gull was the overwhelming choice for the ID of the gull, perhaps due to its large range and relative familiarity to most ABA-area birders have with the species. Additionally, the vague dark-and-pale bill pattern is practically perfect for Smithsonian Gulls (the New World form of Herring Gull) of this age. Unfortunately, formative-plumaged Smithsonian Gulls have pale greater coverts that contrast not at all with the median coverts, and very strongly with the secondaries. They also have a pale wing panel, created by the paler inner primaries that are not exhibited by our quiz bird. Finally, they do not sport such a pale trailing edge to the secondaries; at least, not so wide, not so white, and not so obvious.

Thayer's Gulls of this age have nearly entirely black bills and sport secondaries with dark outer webs and pale inner webs, unlike the apparently all-dark secondaries of the quiz bird. Additionally, many Thayer's Gulls of this age are still sporting at least some juvenal feathers among the scapulars; our bird seems not to have any such scaps.

So, as far as big, dark gulls go, we have only two remaining options. Yellow-footed Gull is, despite its size, a three-year gull, thus at this bird's age, it would have a gray saddle. By process of elimination, then, we are left with the correct answer: Western Gull. But, what about the bill pattern? All the field guides show first-winter Western Gulls as having all-dark bills. Well, if you're talking about "regular" field guides, the ones that treat all of the species of a given region, then yes. However, those guides don't have anywhere near enough space to show much of the variation in appearance inherent in any species, nor the various intermediate stages between the appearances that they do illustrate. "Second-winter" Western Gulls are depicted in those guides as having strongly bi-colored bills, and those bills don't just suddenly become that way. As in smithsonianus Herring Gulls, Western Gull bills transition, slowly, from all dark to bi-colored, and this week's quiz gull is somewhere in the middle of that process. And that pale trailing edge? That is what creates the skirt in Pacific-rim gull species.

Gull ID is relatively straightforward (ignoring, for now, hybrids), however it is a more complex game using features that are not part of the ID process for most other taxa (such as wing panels and the obvious pale trailing edge of Cal, Yellow-footed, and Western gulls) and requires a lot of practice and being able to focus on more than just one or two features. I note that one of only two respondents getting this week's quiz correct lives in coastal California, where Western Gull is the gull. The other is a Brit, and we always expect better things out of them!

One response provided only one species, taking a pass on the gull.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
California Gull - 3
Herring Gull - 19
Red-faced Cormorant - 1
Thayer's Gull - 1

Congratulations to the 2 of 26 getting the quiz correct:
Robert McNab
Peter Wilkinson

Answer: Double-crested Cormorant, Western Gull

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quiz #421 (2011-4-03) Solution



Solution by Tony Leukering

Bryan Guarente started off his response with an appropriate exclamation:

"Holy primary length, Batman!"

Indeed, that feature was the primary (forgive the pun) reason for using this photo and I'd guess that the one respondent heading off in the wrong direction overlooked it. As suggested by Bryan, with primary projection that long and considering the habitat, longspurs and larks are the best bets to fill out the potential solution set; any other options in this habitat with this general color pattern would have considerably shorter wings. The dark nape and strong back pattern rule out Horned Lark and the darkish legs and strong rufous panel in the wing eliminate Sky Lark from consideration, leaving us with the world's four species of longspurs.

A quick nomenclatural and taxonomic aside: As noted by Peter Wilkinson, one of the four longspur species is of widespread occurrence in the Old World and, in fact, was described from there and has been called Lapland Bunting in English (sensu stricto) for a long time. When the British colonized the New World -- obviously, none of the serious birders of the day were amongst the colonizers, they willy-nilly applied names that they knew to species present on this side of the Pond, most of which were unrelated to the source species of those names (e.g., blackbird, robin, warbler, flycatcher). Interestingly, we kept the first name of Lapland Bunting, but decided that a new second name was in order, for whatever reason, and longspurs have been known as such here for quite a while. The longspurs have been housed among the Emberizidae for as long as that family has existed, but recent genetic evidence encouraged the American Ornithologists' Union to separate them in their own family, the Calcariidae. More interestingly, they moved the longspurs away from the Emberizidae, placing the family immediately before the warblers!

Now, I return you to our regularly scheduled program.

Once among the longspurs, primary projection quickly divides our options into two groups, the arctic breeders and the prairie breeders, and excises the latter from our potential solution set. As noted by Tyler Bell, the spacing of primaries in the wingtip (wing formula) easily separates the two arctic breeders, with Lapland showing regular spacing and Smith's showing a large gap or two (see illustration in The Sibley Guide). So, other than general coloration and habitat, we didn't need to look at much else on our quiz bird other than the primaries in order to arrive at the correct ID. Of course, one-features IDs are not to be trusted, but various and sundry other field marks visible in the quiz pic support that ID. I took this picture of a Lapland Longspur at Cape May Point S.P., Cape May Co., NJ, on 7 November 2010.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Savannah Sparrow - 1

Congratulations to the 28 of 29 getting the quiz correct:
Al Guarente
Jennifer Courtemanche
Joel Such
Christian Nunes
Thomas Hall
Pam Myers
Devich Farbotnik
Peter Wilkinson
Robert McNab
Ann Reichhardt
Margaret Smith
Josh Parks
Patty McKelvey
Kirk Huffstater
Su Snyder
Donna Nespoli
Sean Walters
Liston Rice
Tyler Bell
Rudi Nuissl
Richard Jeffers
Adrian Hinkle
Margie Joy
Diane Porter
Marcel Such
Bryan Guarente
Chishun Kwong
Joe Bens

Answer: Lapland Longspur

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quiz #420 (2011-4-02) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

All of this week's respondents arrowed to the correct genus, with the lion's share of those selecting the correct species. The genus Chordeiles is a small one (only three species), all of which occur in the ABA area, but with most of that area being visited by only one. Or none. Identification of nighthawks is quite difficult, particularly for perched birds. In fall, accurate ID often requires first ageing the bird in question, as variation in plumage across the broad range of Common Nighthawk can swamp the differences between species, so eliminating some of that variation by determining the bird's age is most useful. With this week's quiz bird, we are in luck, as the bird is not only readily aged, but sexed, too.

As noted by a number of respondents, our quiz bird is an adult male, determined so by the distinct and fairly wide white subterminal band on the tail. So, we don't have to deal with the multiplicity of juvenal plumages. However, in some instances, it might have been better -- or, at least, easier, had the bird been a female, because that wide and bright white primary patch would have eliminated both Lesser and Antillean from consideration. But, alas, because it's a male, all three species are still in the possible solution set.

Returning our gaze to the primaries, that white patch on the primaries looks to be too proximal to be that of the patch of a Lesser Nighthawk, but the angle at which we gaze might make that assessment a bit problematic. However, looking at the other end of the primaries, we can see that the wingtips extend well beyond the tail tip, confirming our excision of Lesser Nighthawk from the solution set; Lesser's wingtips just barely reach past the tail tip, even in adult males (which have longer, more pointed wingtips than do females; juveniles have even shorter wingtips -- in all species). The bright white underparts provide the third and final nail in the coffin of Lesser Nighthawk as a possibility.

Antillean Nighthawk is even more similar to Common than is Lesser; the two were even considered conspecific for a while. The two species share a wide and more-basal primary patch, but Antillean shares the buffy underparts of Lesser and adult males sport a narrower subterminal tail band than shown by our quiz bird. I took this picture of an adult male Common Nighthawk south of Midway, Baca Co., CO, on 30 May 2011.

One respondent's answer neglected capitalization, so was precluded from being correct for the competition.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Antillean Nighthawk - 1
Lesser Nighthawk - 1

Congratulations to the 24 of 26 getting the quiz correct:
Tyler Bell
Thomas Hall
Su Snyder
Nick Komar
Kirk Huffstater
Pam Myers
Patty McKelvey
Jennifer Courtemanche
Rudi Nuissl
Josh Parks
Margie Joy
Al Guarente
Liston Rice
Devich Farbotnik
Bruce Cyganowski
Diane Porter
Richard Jeffers
Ted Cooper
Peter Wilkinson
Marcel Such
Margaret Smith
Bryan Guarente
Chishun Kwong
Joel Such

Answer: Common Nighthawk

Monday, October 3, 2011

Quiz #419 (2011-4-01) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

The incorrect responses this week serve to highlight the importance in the ID process that all of us place, consciously or not, on size. The respondents would certainly not have made these mistakes in the field. However, our bird's very long tail is also matched by long wings. Additionally, the tail's pale tip is complete, that is, each rectrix is tipped buffy-white, which rules out one of the species with pale tail tips provided as an incorrect response.

We can also see some whitish on the upper wing coverts and some pale shaft streaks on scapulars and some seemingly oddly-placed streak of white near the back of the wings. That white is on the long, nearly-wispy lower scapulars. Because the picture is not focused, we might ignore the appearance of pale bars on at least one of the central rectrices, but the other one seems to have at least a suggestion of same, so perhaps we might want to consider what it would mean if that appearance were reality. So, a long-winged, long-tailed blackish bird with white on the upper wing coverts, white shaft streaks on the scapulars, pale bars on the central rectrices, and buffy-white-tips to same leaves us with only one option. The picture that I took of the quiz bird immediately prior to the quiz picture is provided below.


I took these pictures of a male Anhinga at the Viera Wetlands, Brevard Co., FL, on 27 January 2010.

With one quiz down in the final quarter of the year, Marcel Such and Pam Myers are tied for the annual competition with 32 correct responses; Robert McNab is breathing down their necks with 31.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Lark Bunting - 1
Red-winged Blackbird - 1
Eastern Kingbird - 1
Gray Jay - 1

Congratulations to the 13 of 16 getting the quiz correct:
Devich Farbotnik
Tyler Bell
Thomas Hall
Robert McNab
Nick Komar
Bryan Guarente
Al Guarente
Marcel Such
George Cresswell
Margaret Smith
Pam Myers
Peter Wilkinson
Liston Rice
Joel Such
Richard Jeffers
Margie Joy
Joe Bens
Sean Walters
Chishun Kwong

Answer: Anhinga

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quiz #418 (2011-3-13) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

Though this week's quiz bird low over the water sent a few respondents into the seabirds for a solution, one managed to get unstuck from that initial assumption to get to the correct answer.

The bird is flying away from us banking hard right. We can see buff-orange wing linings, an orangish belly, and disinct white spots in the rectrices (a large one on each of the middle four tail feathers on each side). For those understanding photographic effect and posture, the long and forked tail were notable. There is only one ABA-area species that sports these features. The very long tail with very large white spots point to the bird being an adult male. I took this picture of an adult male Barn Swallow over Lily Lake, Cape May Point, Cape May Co., NJ, on 22 April 2011.

One respondent included an incorrect assessment of age/plumage directly in the answer, so that person's response was precluded from being correct for the competition. Please read the rules.

With this being the final quiz in the 3rd quarter, it is time to award the prize of a year's membership in the Colorado Field Ornithologists (one perk of which is receipt of the organization's excellent journal, Colorado Birds). Though it was a close-fought battle, Diane Porter pulled it out at the end with 12 correct answers (followed closely by Robert McNab and Marcel Such, each with 11 correct). Congratulations, Diane!

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Sooty Shearwater - 1
Heermann's Gull - 1

Congratulations to the 1 of 15 getting the quiz correct:
Devich Farbotnik
Tyler Bell
Kirk Huffstater
Pam Myers
Su Snyder
Diane Porter
Al Guarente
Ann Reichhardt
Bryan Guarente
George Cresswell
Barn Swallow
Josh Parks
Peter Wilkinson
Bobbie Tilmant
Christopher Hinkle
Thomas Hall
Marcel Such
Nick Komar
Chishun Kwong
Jim Nelson

Answer: Barn Swallow

Monday, September 19, 2011

Quiz #417 (2011-3-12) Solution


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Solution by Tyler Bell and Tony Leukering

The fact that this week's quiz bird was a tern was, perhaps, one of the reasons for the light response rate, as many/most birders are uncomfortable with tern ID. I know that it took me a long time to really work things out for the species that I see a lot, and still am very uncomfortable with the ID of a couple species that I've seen, but not really been able to study in numbers. This quiz picture allows me to discuss two aspects of ID, the one of more generality -- tern ID, the other more specific -- molt. Since Tyler Bell worked through the problem in exactly the way that I would have presented the solution (though I would have been much more wordy), we'll start with his response.

"I suppose that the two dark outer primaries are going to throw people off. If you start looking at terns with pale inner primaries and two dark outer primaries, you'll be stumped. But, it looks like the wing is in a transitional state, with P9 and P10 being irrelevant to the "normal" wing pattern depicted in field guides. The color of the bill, orange at the base and dark at the tip, and the black around the eye with the blocky shape toward the nape, are spot on for Forster's Tern."

Thanks, Tyler. Now, more words. We should notice that the two dark outer primaries are longer -- obviously so -- than the adjacent very pale primary, a feature not typical of birds. One feature that can often come into play in bird ID is actively-molting birds. Thus, knowing how many feathers are supposed to be in a particular tract -- especially the primaries -- for a given species can be most helpful in the ID process. If we count inward from the outermost primary, we should only come to nine (two dark, seven pale) before running into the chunk of grayer secondaries. Since all terns have ten primaries, we can discern that one is missing. This fact, in combo with the obvious step in primary length -- which would be partly filled if p8 weren't missing, are excellent clues that the bird is in active wing molt.

In terns, unlike the confamilial gulls, primaries get darker as they wear, rather than paler. This is because terns have a powdery bloom covering blackish primaries that wears off leaving the underlying actual dark coloration of the feathers. So, darker primaries in terns are older than are paler primaries, a very important feature of tern ID. In fact, the distinctive wedge of dark outer primaries in Common Tern is due to the fact that the inner primaries were replaced more recently than were the outer primaries; the same with the smaller wedge of darker feathers on Roseate Tern.

So, as Bryan Guarente and Tyler Bell noted, the head pattern of our quiz bird is just not found on any other ABA-area tern species. I took this picture of a molting Forster's Tern on 26 July 2011 at Cape May Point S.P., Cape May Co., NJ.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Roseate Tern - 1
Gull-billed Tern - 2

Congratulations to the 13 of 16 getting the quiz correct:
Tyler Bell
Peter Wilkinson
Al Guarente
Kirk Huffstater
Patty McKelvey
George Cresswell
Pam Myers
Margie Joy
Devich Farbotnik
Marcel Such
Bryan Guarente
Diane Porter
Chishun Kwong

Answer: Forster's Tern

Monday, September 12, 2011

Quiz #416 (2011-3-11) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

Respondents were split with this week's quiz bird between Empidonax flycatchers and vireos, with most opting for the latter, though with four species of vireo submitted as answers. Presumably, the thicker bill with a strong point and no yellow on the mandible and the bluish legs were features that those in the vireo camp used to arrive at that destination. Empidonax tends to black legs, with Least and Gray having decidedly black legs. The strong gray and white tones to the bird encouraged most respondents into the Plumbeous/Gray/Bell's trichotomy (Cassin's always shows yellowy-green flanks, at least), with the majority selecting the correct option. As Thomas Hall noted, "The double broken eye-ring leaves only one choice."

Yes, focusing on the face, we can see that the bird has a white supraloral area -- which all three sport to some extent -- and a very thin dark eyeline splitting the eye ring both in front and behind and creating eye arcs. Plumbeous' eye ring is split only in front and Gray's eye ring is complete. So, two breaks = Bell's; one break = Plumbeous; and zero breaks = Gray.

Steve Mlodinow took this picture of a Least Bell's Vireo near the tip of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Mexico, in March 2011.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Least Flycatcher - 1
Gray Vireo - 5
Plumbeous Vireo - 2
Gray Flycatcher - 1
Cassin's Vireo - 1

Congratulations to the 15 of 25 getting the quiz correct:
Tyler Bell
Patty McKelvey
Devich Farbotnik
Diane Porter
Pam Myers
George Cresswell
Su Snyder
Josh Parks
Christian Nunes
Jim Nelson
Peter Wilkinson
Thomas Hall
Robert McNab
Marcel Such
Chishun Kwong

Answer: Bell's Vireo

Monday, September 5, 2011

Quiz #415 (2011-3-10) Solution


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Solution by Peter Wilkinson and Tony Leukering

While all respondents agreed that this week's quiz bird was a raptor, there was wide disagreement as to exactly which species, which is a common theme of this quiz and of birding. Raptors are not well-known, particularly perched ones. Peter Wilkinson submitted an excellent answer, with which I'll start this solution.

"Ah, a bird of prey (those feet, that bill), but from an unusual angle (to say the least). The basic clues we have are tail shape and pattern, the colour of the underparts, and the pattern of some wing coverts on the left wing, which are, fortunately, enough to go on. The tail is extremely useful. The shape of the individual feathers makes it clear that the bird is a buteo of some sort. Then there is the pattern of a large number of wide pale bars separated by thin dark bars, with no obvious broader dark sub-terminal bar (though one should probably not bet too hard on that). Fortunately, many of the buteos show quite distinctive tail patterns and the only real candidates showing such a pattern are juvenile Swainson's and Red-tailed hawks. Given the colour morphs of both species and the variety of subspecies of Red-tailed the underparts are probably not going to help us much, though it has to be said that what we can see is classic for pale-morph Red-tails. Fortunately, there is a clincher. We can see just enough of some wing coverts on the left wing to make out that they are barred. These are diagnostic of Red-tail, being plain in Swainson's."

Chishun Kwong used an old saw to get to the correct answer -- it's surprising how often it works!

"This week's quiz bird is a Red-tailed Hawk, because every hawk (well, buteo anyway) is a Red-tailed Hawk until proven otherwise, and I can't."

I would like to reiterate a point that Peter made: tail pattern rules out most ABA-area buteos. Additionally, Red-shouldered Hawk never has this pale of a throat, not such white underparts. Juvenile Broad-winged Hawks with breasts this unmarked would also have the rest of the underparts mostly unmarked. Juvenile Swainson's Hawks are exceedingly variable in appearance, but they tend to cream-colored of buffy ground color on the underparts, except when quite worn and bleached, a time at which birds with bright white chests also sport fairly white heads. If one found oneself in the falcon camp (though, as Peter noted, the width of the individual tail feathers rules out that option), Prairie Falcon shows streaks (juveniles) or spots (adults) on the underparts, not broad bars. Finally, the pale throat, distinct belly band, dark auriculars, and nearly unmarked leggings point to the widespread eastern subspecies borealis.

One respondent got the species correct, but proposed an incorrect estimation of form directly in the answer, so was considered incorrect (please read the rules!). Steve Mlodinow took this picture of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk at Boulder, Boulder Co., CO, in April 2011.

With three quizzes to go in the quarter, the competition leader board is headed by Robert McNab and Diane Porter with 9 correct responses.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Krider's Red-tailed Hawk - 1
Prairie Falcon - 1
Osprey - 1
Broad-winged Hawk - 3
Swainson's Hawk - 1
Red-shouldered Hawk - 1

Congratulations to the 15 of 23 getting the quiz correct:
Nick Komar
Devich Farbotnik
Ira Sanders
Tammy Sanders
Dave Elwonger
Al Guarente
Su Snyder
Diane Porter
Pam Myers
Thomas Hall
Kirk Huffstater
Robert McNab
Peter Wilkinson
Chuck Carlson
Chishun Kwong

Answer: Red-tailed Hawk

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quiz #414 (2011-3-09) Solution


Click on picture(s) for a larger view.
Respondents need identify only the flying birds; an extra bonus point will be given to those with the correct ID of the swimming bird; no penalty is attached to incorrect attempts at that ID.

Solution by Tony Leukering

Though I usually avoid such for this venue, the hidden bird in this week's quiz is right in the middle and not hiding at all. Of course, the posture of the bird does not allow much in the way of showing off ID characters, but there is enough to go on. So, before you read further, go ogle the picture to see if you can find the hidden bird.

Most of the birds in the picture are readily identifiable to a particular species, as they sport the distinct white wedge in the outer wing, black tips to the outer and middle primaries, and pale gray upperparts of Bonaparte's Gulls. Please note that though a bird here and there may seem to exhibit dark on the underwing, that is all an artifact of shading; none of the small gulls are Black-headed Gulls. At least seven of the birds show the black robber's mask, uncontrasting pale wingtip, and/or the narrower-winged look of basic-plumaged Forster's Terns, with all seven of those birds being in the left half of the photo. Note also that all of the terns are smaller and more pointier-winged than are the Bonaparte's Gulls.

Skipping ahead, the caveat with the quiz photo asks for the identity of the one swimming bird, but with no penalty for incorrect responses. That is because the bird is out of focus and large white-headed gulls are hard enough to ID without an out-of-focus and small image. However, I believe that the whitish head on an obviously immature bird in winter, the extensively black and large bill, and the fairly short wingtips all point to Great Black-backed Gull. In fact, I know that is the correct ID, as I took the picture in my back yard in Villas, Cape May Co., NJ, on 1 March 2011.

Now, on to the hidden bird right in the middle. Below, I have cropped and enlarged the middle section of the quiz that includes the swimming bird and the hidden bird. The hidden bird is not all that hidden. I have indicated three Forster's Terns (FOTE) in the left side. Note the bird smack dab in the middle that is small and pale like a Forster's Tern, but with wingtips that are even more rounded than on the Bonaparte's Gulls. Also note that there is no contrasting white wedge in the wingtip, as shown by the Bonaparte's Gulls, and the fairly short tail. This combination of features allows us to identify the beast as an adult Little Gull (LIGU). Ross's Gull is ruled out by the tail length and shape.

This picture points out one of the items that I stressed in the gull-ID workshops that I gave in Colorado: Identify every individual; don't assume that all birds in a flock are of the same species.

Ten respondents provided no incorrect species for the flying birds, but did not provide enough correct answers, with most of those missing the Little Gull. Interestingly enough, one of them missed the Forster's Terns, but I do congratulate that respondent for finding and correctly identifying the Little Gull! Excellent work, there! Five respondents got the extra-credit question correct.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Black-headed Gull - 3
Gull-billed Tern - 1

Congratulations to the 1 of 15 getting the quiz correct:
Devich Farbotnik (who also got all fours species correct)

Answer: Bonaparte's Gull, Little Gull, Forster's Tern with Great Black-backed Gull

Monday, August 22, 2011

Quiz #413 (2011-3-08) Solution


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Solution by Bryan Guarente and Tony Leukering

I am quite pleased with the responses this week, as at least three included mention of the field mark that this quiz photo was attempting to point out. This week's quiz bird, with its extensive black on chin, throat, and upper breast; bright yellow face; and distinct black streaking on the sides should take us straight to the Parulidae. This combo of characters should also tell us that the bird is in alternate plumage and must be a male. From there, I will let Bryan Guarente's words take us down the ID track for a bit.

"The possibilities are Black-throated Green, Townsend's, and Golden-cheeked warblers. Where to go from here? I initially went to the face as lots of birders do and there noted a thin, black eyeline. That feature cuts out Townsend's Warbler, which has a more extensively black face. However, we don't even need to do that, as we can head toward the other end of the bird for our answer. Most warblers can be identified by looking at the tail area. In this case, the vent, the feathers around the part that would vent any gases. (I don't get to use that joke very often, so I had take advantage of the opportunity.) These feathers are tinged yellow, which clinches the ID: Black-throated Green Warbler is the only one of the warblers in our list that sports this characteristic."

Bryan is correct about the yellow vent strap in Black-throated Green Warbler, an excellent field character in all post-juvenal plumages of the species, and one that even many experienced birders don't know. Other characters that rule out the other species of the virens complex species include the bit of yellow below the bib (rules out Golden-cheeked and Hermit warblers), the streaking on the sides is much too extensive for Hermit Warbler, and the lack of dark streaking on the undertail coverts rules out Townsen's Warbler. Note that this individual is readily identified with multiple characters south of the legs.

I took this picture of an adult male Black-throated Green Warbler at the recently renamed Cox Hall Creek WMA (formerly Villas WMA), Cape May Co., NJ, on 1 May 2011.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Golden-cheeked Warbler - 1

Congratulations to the 18 of 19 getting the quiz correct:
Thomas Hall
Dave Elwonger
Chuck Carlson
Kirk Huffstater
George Cresswell
Burke Angstman
Tyler Bell
Margie Joy
Robert McNab
Pam Myers
Al Guarente
Chishun Kwong
Diane Porter
Su Snyder
Christopher Hinkle
Peter Wilkinson
Marcel Such
Bryan Guarente

Answer: Black-throated Green Warbler

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quiz #412 (2011-3-07) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

Once again I neglected to put in the intended caveat with a quiz picture, so I suspect that one of the five birds present scared some number of people away from responding to the quiz. Four of the birds were apparently thought to be quite easy, as no respondent missed them, what with the obvious black on the bellies and the bright bubble-gum-pink legs. However, three respondents neglected the second hyphen in "Black-bellied Whistling-Duck," so their answers were precluded from being correct for the competition.

I received answers claiming that fifth bird as Gadwall, Mallard, Mottled Duck, Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, and Blue-winged Teal, though a number of respondents did not even try (or, perhaps, did not think it a different species). However, I had intended to provide the caveat that respondents need not attempt ID of the bird lacking bright pink legs, but that bonus points would be awarded for its correct ID with no penalty for incorrect answers. Though I forgot it, I scored things as if I hadn't, giving one bonus point for the one respondent getting the ID to the wrong one of a tricky species pair (particularly tricky given this view) and two bonus points for the correct answer, because I didn't really see much in the way of definitive features to separate the two species here.

On the tricky bird, the belly is just too pale to be one of the dark Mallard-like dabblers and lacks a white tail, so Mallard and Northern Shoveler are eliminated from consideration. As the bird is noticeably smaller than the whistling-ducks, that, too, would rule out the Mallards and Mallard-like species and provide at least one strike against Gadwall, wigeons, and Northern Pintail. The extensive spotting on the belly provides the other two strikes against the wigeons and another strike each against Gadwall and Northern Pintail. The pattern on the flank feathers sends both Gadwall and Northern Pintail back to the dugout, as both species have more complex patterns there. Just to add insult to striking out, the quiz bird's squarish tail is a fourth strike and the leg color a fifth strike against an ID of Northern Pintail, which has a pointed tail and dark legs.

The bird lacks the distinctive pale wedge on the side of the undertail coverts that is so distinctive of Green-winged Teal, nor does that species have orangish legs. That leaves us, among the common ABA-area dabbling ducks, with that tricky duo, Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal. Though Cinnamon Teal averages warmer-colored and less-distinct markings on the belly and undertail coverts, I'm not convinced that the feature is diagnostic at the colder, more-distinct end of things, but I do know that the bird was not a Cinnamon Teal.

Doug Gochfeld took this picture of four Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and one Blue-winged Teal at the South Cape May Meadows, Cape May Co., NJ, on 19 September 2010. Particular congratulations to Christian Nunes for getting both species correct, even if it was just "a gut reaction."

Incorrect species provided as answers:
none

Congratulations to the 16 of 16 getting the quiz correct:
Al Guarente
Tyler Bell
Pam Myers
Su Snyder
George Cresswell
Thomas Hall
Kirk Huffstater
Margie Joy
Diane Porter
Peter Wilkinson
Robert McNab
Joe Bens
Christian Nunes
Marcel Such
Chishun Kwong
Bryan Guarente

Answer: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Blue-winged Teal

Monday, August 8, 2011

Quiz #411 (2011-3-06) Solution


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Solution by Bryan Guarente and Tony Leukering

Bryan Guarente supplied a good answer, so I'll start with that.

"In a Birding photo quiz, our CFO quizmaster has gone over what I think is this set of confusing juvenile sparrows. The bird is a sparrow as indicated by the pink legs, longish tail, and generally brownish tones. It is a juvenile as indicated by the streaking on the chest. The crispness of the streaking also lends one to believe this is an early-season bird. The Spizella sparrows (Chipping, Clay-colored, and Brewer's) and Cassin's Sparrow seem to fit the bill, as is mentioned in the solution from Leukering's Birding photo quiz answer.

Cassin's Sparrow would have a rounded tail unlike our bird's notched tail (note the central tail feathers are shorter than the outer tail feathers). It would also sport large dark centers on the scapulars which our quiz bird does not sport. We're down to the three options.

"By habitat, one might expect this to be Chipping Sparrow with a lesser probability of Clay-colored Sparrow. Brewer's seems to choose sagebrush or low willows above treeline depending on the subspecies. This oak microhabitat is at odds with the normal habitat of Brewer's so I may be willing to drop that, but I think there is more to go on. I was hoping I could go farther and find out that the oak in the picture is one of an eastern species, but to my chagrin, I believe it is a Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelli), the only lobed oak native to the southern Rocky Mountains. That didn't seem to help much and put me back in the Brewer's Sparrow and Chipping Sparrow hole, due to range considerations.

"The overall colors on our quiz bird are rather bright. This is not necessarily due to photographic effects since some of the leaves are overexposed which would make one expect the bird to be overexposed as well dulling the colors. Clay-colored and Brewer's both typically show duller colors than our quiz bird which shows bright reddish brown tones, which seems to point again to Chipping Sparrow. The eye stripe is rather dark which is said to be good for Chipping Sparrow, but I am uncomfortable with that since the rest of the facial pattern doesn't seem to show the markings I would expect of a juvenile Chipping Sparrow.

"At this point, I usually have found a solution to the problem and can give a solid answer. This time, I am hopping all over the place. Should I just go with Spizella and leave it at that? Why is it such a struggle to just leave a bird as unidentified?

"I think about what I am doing to identify this bird and find myself weighing the identification characteristics that I have already mentioned. The notched tail, chest streaking, and facial and crown pattern should put this bird squarely in Spizella. After that, I feel like the color of the bird sticks out as the most important factor. The eye stripe is, to a lesser extent, important. The habitat can always be tricky, seeing as Chipping Sparrows are migrating now through the state and can seemingly be anywhere, habitat-wise. I don't have as much experience with Brewer's and Clay-colored on migration, but assume (yeah there is that word) they act similarly, migrating early and working all sorts of different habitats."

Thanks, Bryan, for showing us all that hunches can play a part in correct identifications, but only with experience. The eyeline, however, is one of the key features to get us to the correct ID of Chipping Sparrow, once we've gotten into Spizella, that is. It really does eliminate all congeners. American Tree Sparrow is ruled out by the presence of oak in the picture, as that species molts out of first basic (=juvenal) plumage before migration. Additionally, one would be hard-pressed to find a juvenal-plumaged American Tree Sparrow in a green- and lobe-leaved oak, much less a Gambel Oak. Finally, the quiz subject sports rufous-fringed scaps that similarly-plumaged Vesper Sparrows don't have and even juvenal-plumaged Vesper Sparrows exhibit a more complex facial pattern than shown by our quiz bird. Glenn Walbek took this picture of a juvenal-plumaged Chipping Sparrow in Castle Rock, Douglas Co., CO, in July 2007.

With just about half the quarter gone, Robert McNab, Diane Porter, and Marcel Such are tied at the top of the leader board with perfect 6-for-6 scores.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
White-crowned Sparrow - 1
American Tree Sparrow 2
Vesper Sparrow - 3
Brewer's Sparrow - 1
Dark-eyed Junco - 1

Congratulations to the 11 of 19 getting the quiz correct:
Robert McNab
Thomas Hall
Ira Sanders
Tammy Sanders
Adrian Hinkle
Christian Nunes
Pam Myers
Christopher Hinkle
Marcel Such
Diane Porter
Bryan Guarente
Answer: Chipping Sparrow

Monday, August 1, 2011

Quiz #410 (2011-3-05) Solution


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Solution by Margie Joy and Tony Leukering

Margie Joy provided a fairly in-depth answer, so we'll start with her words.

"After attempting to sort out the dramatic pose and determining that the bird is upside down, I can see that this quiz bird shows the bold black-and-white underwing pattern of Swallow-tailed Kite (and a few other birds), with some additional clues as to its ID. Those distinctively-patterned wings are pointed and slightly kinked, with a straight trailing edge. The body and undertail coverts are white. The head is in heavy shadow and looks like it is bent back so that I am looking at the throat and the underside of the bill, which could be short and dark if I’m seeing it right. Or, maybe the head is swiveled around so that I am looking at the top of the bill and the eye. I cannot really tell for sure; messing with it in Photoshop doesn’t really help. Either way, I’m going for a white head with a short dark bill. The tail is black with long outer feathers, leading me to think that it’s forked, although I can’t really see enough of it to be certain. The fork doesn’t look as deep as field guide illustrations (all in normal positions) show, but this could be a young bird or maybe it’s just the perspective. The legs are short and gray, with darker feet. These marks fit with my guess of Swallow-tailed Kite, unless I’m missing something really obvious."

Indeed, Margie, you are not missing anything, and your second thought about the tail is correct: it is spread wide in the severe maneuver that the bird is conducting, thus reducing the apparent deepness of the fork. I took this picture of a Swallow-tailed Kite in West Cape May, Cape May Co., NJ, on 29 April 2011.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
none

Congratulations to the 19 of 19 getting the quiz correct:
Peter Wilkinson
Thomas Hall
Kirk Huffstater
Al Guarente
Tyler Bell
Adrian Hinkle
Robert McNab
Christian Nunes
George Cresswell
Chuck Carlson
Pam Myers
Margie Joy
Su Snyder
Bryan Guarente
Christopher Hinkle
Diane Porter
Shane Blodgett
Marcel Such
Joel Such

Answer: Swallow-tailed Kite

Monday, July 25, 2011

Quiz #409 (2011-3-04) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

The flock of herons in this week's quiz photo are obviously poorly lit -- perhaps due to the lateness of the day, though the upperparts of various of the individuals are well-lit enough that we might take the apparent dark color as representing reality, particularly the lead bird in the bottom row. There also appears to be little or no difference in structure across the flock, so we might be dealing with only one species. In addition to the overall darkness of the upperparts of various of the birds, the first and last birds of the five in the bottom row show a distinct lack of coverts-remiges contrast, suggesting that our birds are not very poorly-lit Great Blue Herons showing no paleness on the head. That is because that species shows strong contrast between its blackish remiges and medium blue-gray median and lesser coverts, as does Gray Heron. Additionally, the long-necked Ardea herons have a distinct and obvious bulge hanging below the front of the body, which is the coiled neck -- much like that of Great Egret and different from all the medium-sized herons, with Reddish Egret being somewhat intermediate in this respect. However, given the uniformity of size and shape in the flock and the near-lack of any dangling of neck in some of the birds, Reddish Egret is probably also ruled out. The legs are simply too long for these birds to be Green Herons or any species of night-heron.

The above should mean that we have our solution, but let's deal with a few plumage and soft-parts color aspects. Reddish Egret has medium-toned plumage on the head and neck, pale facial skin, and a pale basal half or so to the bill, the last contrasting with a distinctly black bill tip. Our quiz birds show neither the neck/body color-tone contrast, nor the one on the bill. The bellies are obviously not white, nor are the chins, ruling out Tricolored Heron and Western Reef-Heron, respectively. Additionally, there is no underwing contrast that is so typical of Tricolored Heron. Finally, the middle bird of the left column of three and the one immediately behind it both have a strong suggestion of blue on the front of the head, either the facial skin or the base of the bill , and that provides any final clincher that we might need. Rachel Hopper took this picture of 12 adult Little Blue Herons at Tulum, Quintana Roo (keen-tah-nah row-oh), Mexico, on 11 March 2011.

Three respondents provided answers in the plural form: "___ Herons." Since official names of species are not plural (except for things like 'yellowlegs'), the two responses with the correct species were precluded from being correct for the competition; the other response presented an incorrect species.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Green Heron - 1
Great Blue Heron - 2
Reddish Egret - 1

Congratulations to the 16 of 20 getting the quiz correct:
Robert McNab
Tyler Bell
Pam Myers
George Cresswell
Al Guarente
Adrian Hinkle
Margie Joy
Thomas Hall
Ali Iyoob
Su Snyder
Kirk Huffstater
Chuck Carlson
Joe Bens
Diane Porter
Marcel Such
Joel Such

Answer: Little Blue Heron

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quiz #408 (2011-3-03) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

This week's quiz bird has both colors, black and white (apologies to "The Blues Brothers"). While there is a good variety of birds that have black or blackish bodies and black-and-white wings, the precise distribution of the black and the white on the underside of the wing is the critical factor in this quiz.

What we can see of the torso of the quiz bird is entirely black, as is the tail; the wing linings are entirely white. Additionally, no feet are visible. Thus, while not necessarily definitive, California Condor (and its big, pale feet) is probably ruled out. In fact, the only two options with these considerations are the two species most-frequently provided as answers by respondents: Muscovy Duck and Pileated Woodpecker. However, let me point out a feature that one of these two camps did not note: the remiges are only MOSTLY black -- please note the adverb!

The brighter white bits on the bird's right wing are the bases of the inner primaries, which, if we could see such in this picture, would show from above as a basal-primary patch of white. The whiteness is due to the fact that there are no other feathers betweeen that white and the sun, while the wing lining white is duller and grayer because the sun is not shining through that white due to the opacity of the intervening bits (skin, muscle, topside feathers). The brightness of the white on the left wing is due to the fact that it is facing the sun and being directly lit.

So, the upshot is that this basal-primary patch is something that the duck does not sport; nor does California Condor, which shows a basal-secondary patch of white. Steve Mlodinow took this picture of a Pileated Woodpecker in February 2011 in Monroe, Snohomish Co., WA.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Swallow-tailed Kite - 1
Muscovy Duck - 4
California Condor - 1

Congratulations to the 12 of 19 getting the quiz correct:
Tyler Bell
Christian Nunes
Su Snyder
Adrian Hinkle
Al Guarente
Kirk Huffstater
Robert McNab
Christopher Hinkle
Diane Porter
Nick Komar
Marcel Such
Joel Such

Answer: Pileated Woodpecker

Monday, July 11, 2011

Quiz #407 (2011-3-02) Solution


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Solution by Tony Leukering

What an odd-looking bird. The extreme patchiness and irregularity of the white bits suggest an abnomality of plumage in this week's quiz bird -- a good time to rely on our understanding of structure and posture! And, of course, the "good" field marks that we can see.

Before heading down the solution road, I want to state that this bird is not an albino, nor is it a "partial albino," which is an impossibility. For a fuller explanation of those terms and others, one might check out the 5 December 2010 post on the Cape May blog (you will have to scroll down to the date).

The bird is standing on the ground with head held a bit above horizontal. What isn't white on the head is black and the medium-length bill is a bright orange-yellow. The upper chest has some rusty or maroon color, as do the feathers on the upper leg. The non-white bits of the upperparts are all gray and what is not white in the tail looks black. The one leg that we can see is an odd, pasty bluish-white color, but the eye that we can see is dark. The bird has a fairly long primary projection (extension of the wingtip beyond the tip of the longest tertial) and the wingtip falls beyond the tips of the uppertail coverts -- so, a fairly long wing, particularly considering that the tail is not short.

The structure and posture point to a thrush of some sort, and the overall coloration (sans the white bits) sends us to the genus Turdus. While the bill looks orange enough to be that of Rufous-backed Robin, that species does not sport our quiz bird's black head or tail, and, obviously, has a rufous back. (As an aside, why did the AOU exempt only this species and American Robin from the recent change from "Robin" to "Thrush?" Rufous-backed Robin is not even the second-most common Turdus in the ABA area! Clay-colored Thrush is and it breeds in the ABA area!) Fieldfare does have a black tail, but also exhibits a gray head and brown back, and lacks rusty on the leg feathers. Redwing has grayish-brown upperparts (including head and tail) and lacks rusty on both the upper breast and the leg feathers.

So, nothing for it but to go with what was probably the obvious answer to most. Steve Mlodinow took this picture of a piebald American Robin at Drake Lake, Boulder Co., CO, in April 2011. I will leave to the reader to determine which form of leucism is expressed in this interesting bird (see cited blog, above).

One response lacked capitalization of "robin" and another included an incorrect guess as to the condition of the bird directly in the answer; both responses were precluded from being considered correct for the competition.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
none

Congratulations to the 22 of 22 getting the quiz correct:
Su Snyder
Tyler Bell
Thomas Hall
Robert McNab
Al Guarente
Bryan Guarente
Chuck Carlson
Pam Myers
Joel Such
George Cresswell
Marcel Such
Ali Iyoob
Peter Wilkinson
Julie Rouse
Margie Joy
Diane Porter
Margaret Smith
Chishun Kwong
Burke Angstman
jody1310 (Please provide your full name when submitting responses to the quiz)
Kirk Huffstater
Joe Bens

Answer: American Robin