Monday, October 10, 2011

145 Shots and the Durned Bird Is...?

Swarms of small insects were flying about this weekend. As swarms go, this was a good one--no bites, no annoying tendencies to inhabit your eyeballs, no buzzing in the ears. In fact, the only sound I could hear wasn't produced by the insects at all.

Snap! Snap! Snap!

It was the beaks of a mini-swarm of .... warblers!

Oh, Goody. An identification nightmare.

Complicated by the fact that it appears we have two different species.

Now, let me be clear. I am DELIGHTED to have these little guys trawling my airspace. I never did get an accurate count of how many there were yesterday--I was planting a tree that had been sitting in a pot for far too long after it had come home.

The new tree, a sweet bay magnolia cultivar by the name of "Jim Wilson" Moonglow, had been a perching spot for the week while it was still in its plastic pot. The bird I had seen all this week was not the one pictured above left, but the one further down. The reason I know this (now!) was that in one of the 145 pictures I shot trying to get the magic one which would help me identify the bird, was a tail shot of the bird above. And his tail is not what I had been seeing all week.

Our cute little guy above, unless I am mistaken (and please correct me if I've got it wrong!), is a Magnolia Warbler in non-breeding/first year plumage. He would be migrating through to his winter grounds in Central America. My first source for identification is my Sibley guide, since the illustrations are frequently easier for me to use than the photos in my printed Audubon guide. They're bigger, for one thing, and my eyes aren't getting any younger. My second source here is AllAboutBirds-- Cornell University's online resource for the non-paying audience.

So let's see what we've got to work with. A small white eye ring. A grey head. The back is olive drab. Above the tail is a case of "butter butt." Two thin, white wingbars. A bright yellow breast and upper belly, with streaking of grey to black. A light grey "necklace." And the kicker, a nearly complete band of white in the middle of the tail feathers on the upper side--NOT just the side feathers. In the photo above, you can just see a spot of that white on the tail showing. In flight, it is quite distinctive, if you are lucky enough to be at the right angle to see it.

This second bird is obviously not the same dude. Much darker streaking on the flanks. Tail pattern is more typical, with white showing on the outer say, three feathers. Still yellow rumpishness. Blotchy face looks like she's not quite done molting into her winter gear. (I'm guessing at the sex, here.) A little white under the chin. In some ways, it resembles the immature male Cape May warbler (or at least, it looks similar to the photo at the Audubon Guides (online) that I just registered to use. Or the immature female Blackburnian. Palm Warbler? HELP!


Update!

And thanks to Twitter (and @bacco1 & @KennKaufman), we have an ID: a young male Cape May Warbler. Kenn referred to the wide upper wingbar and the yellow on the side of the neck in his analysis.

This exercise did get me excited about the new online guides at Audubon.org. I used the advanced search (after registering) and plugged in what I could about this little bird. It definitely gave me a shot I didn't have using just my printed Sibley guide, partly because of the linked "resembles" photos.

Try them out for yourself here!  And leave me a note if you have a clue what this bird is...please!

1 comment:

rebecca said...

Glad you got your ID! The black corners to the underside of the tail, just visible in your photo, could also have helped narrow it down - the Peterson book on warblers has a great plate comparing the undersides of all the species' tails.

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