1999 Public Comments

Hello All,
Think I'll stay away from the jay, but would like to add my 2¢ on the wren.

First thought was Marsh Wren - and I wouldn't even have considered House if someone else hadn't brought it up. Closer examination of the image though shows a shorter more stocky bill with a less slender base than that I typically see in (AZ) Marsh Wren, and a distinctly curved (blackish) culmen. Even if this bird is slightly turned away from the lens I don't think this structural difference should be discounted.
I would cite, as contributing evidence, that the postocular stripe seems more in keeping with Sedge than Marsh in that its more of a smudge than a line; the auricular that does not appear to have the contrast with rest of the face as it does in Marsh due to a poorly defined malar stripe - but these factors are much more susceptible to changes in light, fluffing of feathers, age of bird, etc, and its the chunky bill that pushes me to vote Sedge Wren.

Roger Radd <kiwi@sedona.net>
Cottonwood , AZ USA - Monday, December 20, 1999 at 20:00:29 (PST)
Greetings All

I believe that the wren is a imm. Marsh Wren. The appearance of the dull cap with somewhat obscure supercilium matches the appearance of some young birds that I see in Washington. The dark lateral crown with a vague pale area in the central forecrown is particularly reminiscent of these immatures. Though there is some speckled appearance to this bird's cap, it does not appear as well-marked as I remember Sedge Wren to be (though I only get to see one or two of the little buggers annually, and am not familiar with imm. plumage). Also, I remember Sedge Wrens as being much buffier on the chest than the quiz bird.

Regarding the jay, I could easily buy Island Scrub Jay. It looks alot like the photo on my wall from Sta. Cruz Island, including bill shape. I am still wary of actually identifying these birds in the field, though. If the bluish vent/thighs is a reliable mark for Island Scrub Jay, then it should be made more widely known.

Happy new year, decade, century, etc.

Steve Mlodinow

Steven Mlodinow <SGMlod@aol.com>
Everett, WA USA - Sunday, December 19, 1999 at 13:49:43 (PST)
I highly suggest that the mystery wren is a Sedge Wren. The light frost on the crown...someone else suggested that it was late in the season. I agree with them considering that the bird might have worn feathers. Since there have been records of Sedge Wrens in California, I strongly suggest that the mystery bird is a Sedge Wren.
Christopher Saville <birdsone@aol.com>
Corona, CA USA - Sunday, December 19, 1999 at 13:34:07 (PST)
If the bird is indeed a marsh wren, I'd have to agree with it being a Sedge Wren. I like the blackish concentrated in the forecrown as opposed to the more solid dark cap of a Marsh Wren. I also find Marsh Wrens have a darker line extending back from the eye, outlining the whitish eyeline. I don't know if this is less obvious in paler western birds than in the birds I find locally, but it probably is. As we can't use the photo for comparing bill to toe length ratios, is there a useable ratio between the diameter of the eye and bill length? I don't have enough images to work with, but maybe somebody can check it out. Sheepishly, I'm not 100% sure it's a marsh wren. This image points out how much location and habitat sometimes colors our identification of a bird. If we viewed this bird in life, we'd be sorting pre-set possibilities through our minds depending on where we were standing: cattail marsh, wet meadow, backyard tangle, or wet coniferous forest.
Matthew Kenne <meekeckk@rconnect.com>
Algona, IA USA - Wednesday, December 15, 1999 at 19:15:01 (PST)
Hi Joe and all others:

I'm leaving the jay alone to concentrate on the wren. My first impression of seeing the wren picture was that it was a Sedge, but since the pix that Joe puts up are often misleading, I let it go, waiting for others to comment.

First off, the posture. To me, it looks like the bird's body is mostly facing the screen, but that the head is turned to the side. This is because if the bird were parallel to the screen, then we could see the rest of the body much better than we can. If the back is visible, it is only just so and any identifications on back pattern are dicey, at best (I think).

Secondly, the bird is obviously fluffed up - its legs are partly covered by its breast plumage and the feathers on the sides are elevated, blocking our view of the near side wing. One can see side feathers blocking the view of the near wing between the upside-down "V" formed by the vertical branches.

So, with no back or wing patterns available, we're left with just the head! To me, the head pattern looks fairly typical of Sedge and differing in many respects from what I think of when thinking about Marsh Wren (if it is a _Cistothorus_, which I believe it is; if it's not, I've gone WAY wrong somewhere). Marsh shows a solidly-colored crown that is much darker and contrasts strongly with a strong, white supercilium. The bird in the picture shows pale/white spangles on the crown which I believe to be the white tips of many of the crown feathers, typical of Sedge. If this picture were taken later in the plumage cycle rather than earlier, the insignificance of this tipping could be explained by wear.

In Marsh, the super often/usually peters out in front of the eye, but is almost always strong over the eye. The bird in the picture appears to have a super that doesn't contrast strongly with the crown and which is broken over the eye - that is, the white is replaced by the same color buff as in the auriculars.

I'm a bit concerned by the lower white eye arc, as my remembrance is that this is usually shown more strongly by Marsh than by Sedge, but it has been quite a while since I've seen a significant number of the latter. On my screen, I couldn't quite see the middle toe well enough to measure its length and compare to the culmen measure (see Pyle 1997), but it might have worked.

All in all, I believe that the preponderance of clues support my initial impression, though I've been known to be wrong.

Enjoy all.

Tony Leukering <greatgrayo@aol.com>
Brighton, CO USA - Tuesday, December 14, 1999 at 17:49:33 (PST)
I believe the jay is an Island Scrub-Jay, based on three characteristics. 1) the color is intense blue, contrasting with the very white throat 2) even the thighs are blue. Island Scrub-Jays are blue around the vent, up to and including the thigh 3) the bill is large and thick.
Bill Principe <principe@soca.com>
La Canada, CA USA - Saturday, December 11, 1999 at 22:14:20 (PST)
Finally, some land birds. Yaay! I think the wren is most likely a Marsh Wren of the subspecies plesius or pulverius, breeding in the Great Basin/Rocky Mt. region and wintering commonly in southern California, at least. I base this on the apparently uniformly whitish underparts (the coastal subspecies usually have a buff or brown breast band) and the rather pale brown mixed with blackish on the crown. I think the Scrub Jay is either the southern California subspecies obscura or insularis from Santa Cruz Island. The blue looks too dark for the northern California subspecies californica. If I'm proved wrong, I blame the quality of my monitor. Thanks, Joe and Peter, for some fun pictures.
Philip Unitt <unitt@attglobal.net>
San Diego, CA USA - Saturday, December 11, 1999 at 17:52:42 (PST)
Can't comment on the Jay, but the wren looks like a Marsh Wren. Note the fact the crown is darker than the rest of head, a typical feature of Marsh Wren. Also you can see white streaks on the upperparts. I think Sedge Wren would be rather more buffy on the underside and show a streaky crown.
Nick Lethaby <nickl@coware,com>
Milpitas, CA USA - Friday, December 10, 1999 at 16:48:56 (PST)
My immediate response to the wren is that it looks like a Marsh Wren. Bewick's Wren always has a broader white supercilim than this bird, and the face is just wrong for House Wren (especially the blackish color I see on the forehead/crown. Not all Marsh Wrens show a broad white supercilium (although they do in the field guides, and most show more of a white eye stripe than this bird does). I don't think this is a Sedge Wren. My limited experience with that species would lead me to expect more streaking on the crown, browner underparts (especially on the flanks), and strong barring on the wing panel (a small part of which I think I can see through the foliage).
About the jay--The Island Scrub Jays I've seen were a very intense blue like this bird, with very park cheek patches, again like this bird, but I don't think I could tell an Island Scrub-Jay from a brightly-colored mainland counterpart. Fortunately a problem we don't have to deal with in the field since the two are allopatric. But I wonder what other birders think--are the two separable by plumage characters? I wouldn't feel comfortable identifying a bird in a photograph by relative size (no source for comparison) and relative size of bill.

John Mariani <redknot@pacbell.net>
San Jose, CA USA - Friday, December 10, 1999 at 14:03:47 (PST)
The left hand bird looks to be a brightly colored Scrub Jay. I have not been to Santa Cruz Island, so have no first hand experience with the Island Scrub Jay, therefore my comments are based primarily on the new NGS discussion and my experience with Western Scrub Jays. The underparts appear to be very pale for any form of Western Scrub Jay, but the bill does not seem to be unusually large likd the one pictured in the NGS guide for Island Scrub Jay. So I suspect this is a coastal form of Western Scrub Jay which is a little pale on the belly.
The right hand bird seems too gray ventrally to be a House Wren, although there is no white supercilium to indicate that it might Bewicks. The bill is slightly decurved, and the mandible seems to be nearly the same color as the maxilla, and I think that House Wren should show a little more contrast here and slightly less decurvature. However, the bill may be within the normal range of both species. Could this be a hybrid between these two species? Or is it an immature Bewick's? Do they develop the white supercilium later? I'm not sure. I wish we could see a little more of the bird. I'm babbling like a typical politition on this one, but at least it might get the discussion started. Just to stick my neck out I'll vote for immature Bewick's!

Gary W. Potter <gwpott@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Wednesday, December 08, 1999 at 20:50:47 (PST)
I have found the comments on the geese very interesting.

I cannot add anything on the right hand bird: I have not actually seen Canada x Barnacle, but I would have no hesitation in presuming this to be one.

The left hand bird is very similar to the handful of Canada x Greylag that I have seen (the most recent a couple of months ago). It differs in two respects, firstly the pale markings on the head and neck are rather more extensive and paler on this bird than on those I have seen (though some of this may derive from the lighting effects in the photograph), and secondly the bill looks somewhat different, partly because of the apparent grin and partly the lumpiness of the upper mandible. I just wonder whether it might involve one of the domestic forms of Swan Goose instead of Greylag.

Peter Wilkinson <pcwilkinson@clara.co.uk>
Wheathampstead, Herts England - Wednesday, December 01, 1999 at 07:56:46 (PST)
Greetings Again

I have another comment or two regarding the left hand bird. I can definitely understand placing one parent as a Blue Goose. However, I've seen birds like this a number of time. They usually occur in dubious places, such as city parks, and almost never in a location that looks wild. Given the locations these birds have been in and the number of such birds that I've seen(and their enormous size), I think it is unlikely that they were Blue X Graylag. In all honesty, I can't remember the bills on the ones I've seen, so I cannot promise that they were identical to the bird pictured. But, as pointed out in David Sibley's article in Birding a few years back, hybrids sometimes show characteristics not seen in the parents, and I can see a Canada Goose (black bill) X Graylag Goose (pink bill) having a bill similar to that in the photo.

Ahhh, waterfowl
Steven Mlodinow
Everett WA

Steven Mlodinow <SGMlod@aol.com>
Everett, WA USA - Sunday, November 28, 1999 at 17:06:03 (PST)
Hello Geese-watchers,

Again someone from the Netherlands. It's THE country of geese hybrids I think... I think the right bird is an obvious Barnacle x Canada hybrid (like many before). Of course, it should be one of the palest Canada races (or, as Dutch Birding puts it: species). The left bird looks like the birds we see here which are often called "Blue Geese" (which they never are). It does seem to have a bit of a white forehead, so could it be a Snow x White-front? With both species occurring in North America, it might even be a wild bird!

Good luck,

Jan Hein

Jan Hein van Steenis <steenis@chem.leidenuniv.nl>
Leiden, NL - Tuesday, November 23, 1999 at 08:41:10 (PST)
I see some other dutchmen have finally found this fine site!
Greetings, Remco and Roland.
As for the geese: on the right a hybrid Barnacle. Several people suggested one of the smaller Canada Geese as the other parent. Back pattern suggests Canada. However, the fuzzy way the black neck fades into the light belly is not like any Canada x Barnacle I have seen. This made me think of a combination even weirder: F1 or F2 Barnacle x Ross or Snow. I haven't seen anything like this though and don't know how dominant either parent's pattern and coloring would be. To be on the safe side I'll go for Barnacle x hutchinsii Canada.
The goose on the left looks like a rather bulky Greylag hybrid. The bill makes you think the other parent was Snow (probably Blue phase), but maybe he's just eating something that creates the snow-goose-bill-look. I can't tell the color on the head because of the light. Most likely a Greylag x Snow hybrid though.
In Holland we also see a lot of hybrids Emperor x Greylag (I think it's Emperor, I mean the brown bodied, brown hind neck, white front neck and head geese) These are often mistaken for Blue-phase Snow. I say they should forbid aviarians (is that a word?) to let fertile geese escape: they only confuse matters!

Jan-Joost Bouwman <Jan-Joost.Bouwman@comsys.nl>
Zeist, The Netherlands - Wednesday, November 17, 1999 at 09:14:16 (PST)
Hi all, from my limited experience with Snow and Blue Geese and their hybrids, I would say the left hand bird is a Blue Goose. It does not seem very bulky, but I rather leave it at this.

The right hand bird is defenitely a hybrid of Barnacle Goose with probably Canada Goose. 'Real' Barnacles never show such a pale lower neck, but instead always a sharply demarcated black neck. Further, I think that hybrids with Brent Goose would probably never show such a pale lower neck either, which leaves the other parent being some form of Canada Goose. But which one? This is of course a wild guess, but the paleness of the lower part of the neck suggests an eastern form, while the short neck suggests a northern form, so possibly hutchinsii. In the Netherlands we encounter all kinds of hybrid Barnacle x Canada Geese, sometimes accompanied by their parents, and hybrids between Barnacles and large forms of Canada Geese are often quite large, noticably larger than the Barnacle parents. They have also have long necks, again more like their Canada Goose parent. Therefore, a hybrid Barnacle x Canada with a short neck (like this mystery bird) should have had a parent with a short neck.

I realize that this small northern form must be rare on the West Coast, but they are (probably?) not in aviaries.

Roland van der Vliet

Roland van der Vliet <r.vdvliet@rdij.rws.minvenw.nl>
Hoevelaken, Netherlands - Tuesday, November 16, 1999 at 07:07:36 (PST)
Hello there, I just spotted your page for the first time and was intriqued by the weird goose pictures. I am a grad student in Fairbanks working with arctic geese. For the goose on the left, I agree with the snow goose (Blue phase) influence with the "lipstick" and dark color, however, I disagree with the idea of a Bean goose or graylag influence. First off, let alone the rare occurence of a Bean goose in North America, but also of breeding with a snow snow is even rarer. In addition, blue phase snows aren't present as breeders until you reach the central Canadian arctic. The goose on the right definitely shows some Canada Goose influence, but I highly doubt the possibly of it coming from Branta canadensis minima (Cackling Canada Goose) because the Cackler nests on the Y-K Delta in western Alaska. I would give it the smaller size due to the other species involved, which I would guess as either a Barnacle goose, or to a lesser chance, a brant. I would advise caution on using the white "eyebrows" as any indicator, as this is a very common trait in many subspecies of Canada geese, especially the giants, B.c. maxima. Thanks for the photos.
Chris Nicolai <ftcan@uaf.edu>
Fairbanks, AK USA - Monday, November 15, 1999 at 19:13:10 (PST)
Hi all,
I haven't anything to add concerning the left bird, but as to the possibility of hybrid Barnacle Goose X B. c. minima, some may recall we had a Barnacle Goose with the cackler flocks in California during 1985-86. I saw a Barnacle Goose, presumably the same one, with cacklers in Ugashik Bay on the Alaska Peninsula in October 1986. If not the offspring of that bird, the mystery bird could still very well a cackler crossed with another (presumed) escaped Barnacle Goose.
Bruce Deuel

Bruce Deuel <bdeuel@dfg.ca.gov>
Redding, CA USA - Monday, November 15, 1999 at 17:04:32 (PST)
Left hand: Blue goose.

Right hand: Barnacle Goose.

Either could have hybrid influence, but there's no reason to assume that either is an F1 hybrid. I think the variations seen are within the range of individual variation that is possible, but since the latter does not normally occur in the region, and is widely kept in captivity, I think assuming some other species a few generations back is probably valid.


Barry Kent MacKay <Mimus@Sympatico.ca>
Markham, ON Canada - Monday, November 15, 1999 at 14:51:11 (PST)
Hi all,

I would like to give my comments on these two geese. To start with the right one: to me this looks like a clear hybrid Barnacle x Canada Goose Branta bernicla x B. canadensis. Here in The Netherlands we scan our flocks of up to 10,000's Barnacle Geese for rarities like Red-breasted Goose B. ruficollis and Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus, and we regularly encounter these type of hybrids. Because of all kinds of escapes, and a large number of (species of) geese, we see a lot of variety amongst hybrids. But the one that is encountered most is the Barnacle x Lesser Canada Goose B. canadensis minima - hybrid.

This right bird shows the lack of contrast between the black upper belly and the pale lower belly, which is a good feature for true Barnacle Goose, and besides that the dark bars on the mantle and wings are not as well-defined as on Barnacle.

Although the photograph is not ideal (as on most mystery bird photographs), I would guess, like many others have done before me, that the left bird is a hybrid (Blue) Snow Goose x Greylag Goose Anser caerulescens x A. anser.

It shows the bulkieness (is that a correct word?)of many of the Greylags, while the head, neck and bill are all typical of Snow Goose. But I most say, that my experience with juvenile Snow Geese is limited (if not, non-existent).

Remco Hofland <remcohofland@hetnet.nl>
Leiden, ZH The Netherlands - Thursday, November 11, 1999 at 06:56:06 (PST)
The black grin patch on the left bird suggests some form of Snow Goose. But the bird looks big and bulky. If it really is this big and bulky, I agree with Steve Mlodinow that it is likely a hybrid domestic Graylag, but that the other parent is most likely a blue morph Snow Goose. If, however, the bulky appearance is an artifact of the way the photo was taken, which it may be, then I think that it is most likely a juvenile "Blue" Goose moulting into adult plumage.
The small goose on the right looks like it could be a hybrid Barnacle Goose x one of the smaller forms of Canada Goose. Do these hybrids occur? I believe that their "normal" breeding ranges do not overlap, but a vagrant or escapee could interbreed with a native Canada Goose. Also, to my knowledge, most North American records of Barnacle Goose are from the east, and it is unlikely that a Goose from the east coast would end up in California. If this bird did not have the white patch on the forecrown it would look very much like one of the smaller forms of Canada Goose, perhaps with a touch of leucism.
I'm just taking a semi educated wild guess that the left bird is a "Blue morph" Snow Goose and the right bird is an aberant Canada Goose.

Gary Potter <gwpott@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Sunday, November 07, 1999 at 23:16:27 (PST)
Greetings All

The large motley goose on the left is of a type that I have seen several times in various places (CA,WA,IL). The basic structure and pattern is similar to that of a domestic Graylag, but the pale facial pattern makes me wonder if there is some Canada Goose involved. Also, this bird has a rather prominent grinpatch, a feature that I usually don't see on such birds. The meaning of this is not clear to me. Some birds similar to the one shown, have white around the base of the bill, leading to WF Goose as a presumptive parent, but the huge bulky body leads back to domestic Graylag, some of which can have a white face similar to that of a WF Goose.

The goose on the right initially looks like a Barnacle Goose, but note the pale chest, which is wrong for Barnacle at all ages. Also, I would expect a Barnacle Goose to show a more highly patterned wing. I would guess Canada Goose as the other parent, but that is just speculation.

Steve Mlodinow

Steven Mlodinow <sgmlod@aol.com>
Everett, WA USA - Thursday, November 04, 1999 at 07:40:05 (PST)

Just a correction on the first section of my fragmented message. Regarding American Golden Plover, they do not show much body moult before reaching the ***wintering*** grounds, I wrote breeding in there.

sorry for the confusion.

Al Jaramillo <alvaro@sirius.com>
Half Moon Bay, CA USA - Wednesday, October 20, 1999 at 11:44:42 (PDT)
Whoops, sent it off before I was done.

To continue:

The three birds have moulted mostly their underparts, and still retain the majority of their head and neck/breast feathers. If these were American Golden Plovers you should still be able to see ghost pattern of the full breeding plumage. Even accounting for the fact that females do not show as bold a pattern as males I think the following would show if these were Americans:
- wider supercilium
- supercilium that flares out towards the back.
- white neck stripe that is much wider than the supercilium.
- white, wider patch at the breast sides, obviously wider than the neck stripe.

None of these are visible, to my eye, which makes me think they are not American Golden Plovers.

On structure, these birds look long-billed and long-legged to me, which is indicative of Pacific even thought the absolute differences in measurements are small and overlap. These birds do not look very long winged, particularly the left two. The right bird is missing tertials, and that is why the primaries look so long. I don't think they are that long personally.

have fun.


Al Jaramillo <alvaro@sirius.com>
Half Moon Bay, CA USA - Tuesday, October 19, 1999 at 21:18:54 (PDT)
I think these three birds are Pacific Golden Plovers. The two species differ markedly in their moult timing. Timing depends on age, and I see no reason not to call these birds adults (rather than Second Calendar Year). American Golden Plovers conduct their Prebasic moult in the wintering grounds, which are mainly in Argentina. Before arriving on the breeding grounds there is little active body moult. Pacific Golden Plovers begin their body moult, and sometimes their wing moult in the breeding grounds before migrating south. Body moult begins most strongly on the underparts, with the upperparts and face lagging behind. The moult state and timing of these birds STRONGLY suggests that they are Pacific Golden Plovers. I wonder if almost all our moulting adult Golden Plovers here in California are not Pacifics rather than Americans. Americans Golden Plover adults are difficult to see in the southbound migration as they undergo long non-stop flights which skip most of the US. Like Hudsonian Godwits, this type of migration should make them rare here in the fall and perhaps relatively more common in the spring (remember I am talking about adults here).

Al Jaramillo <alvaro@sirius.com>
Half Moon Bay, CA USA - Tuesday, October 19, 1999 at 20:52:38 (PDT)
In the past few years here in Yolo County (near Sacramento), I've seen about equal numbers of American and Pacific (1-3 each year). We just had one of each over the weekend, which allowed close study, though they were in winter plumage.

I'll comment on the supercilium, the breast wash, and the primary extension. I wouldn't expect a Pacific to show yellow in the supercilium at this early stage of moult; and they do have white superciliums in summer. On the Pacific we just had here in Davis, the supercilium appeared white from a front angle, pale buffy white from the side, and only buffy yellow from a rear angle, which was interesting.

The two birds on the left already seem to show a faint yellowish wash across the breast, typical of Pacific. The bird on the right is gray in the breast, like American.

The bird on the right shows a very long primary extension beyond the tertials, like American. The only birds show some primary extension, but not so much (though it's hard to tell).

Anyway, for those reasons (as well as some of the others), I'd say the left two are probably Pacific and right one is American.

Steve Hampton

Steve Hampton <shampton@ospr.dfg.ca.gov>
Davis, CA USA - Tuesday, October 12, 1999 at 13:56:31 (PDT)
I have seen many basic plumaged fulva in Stanislaus County, but only a few dominica during migration. The two birds with the apparently longer looking legs appear more slightly built. This would tend towards fulva. The chunkier looking bird with the shorter looking legs shows characteristics of dominica. However, I'm leaning towards calling all of them dominica. None appear warm enough colored in the face and back and they all have very white superciliums.
Jim Gain
Modesto, CA

Jim Gain <Gain.J@monet.k12.ca.us>
Modesto, CA USA - Tuesday, October 12, 1999 at 10:14:11 (PDT)
First of all, I'm probably wrong. These molting birds are tough. The bird on the far right looks a little more robust and larger-billed to my eyes. I think the tertials on that one look short relative to the wings on that bird, but it's in molt, so I dunno. When I've seen juveniles of the two species together the Americans looked slightly larger and much grayer to me--would the breast of the bird on the far right appear so gray if it was a Pac. Golden-Plover? The legs of the two birds on the left show a pretty long tibia, can't really tell on the other. So my guess is 2 Pacific Golden-Plovers on the left, Am. Golden-Plover on the right (or not).
John Mariani <redknot@pacbell.net>
San Jose, CA USA - Thursday, October 07, 1999 at 23:57:00 (PDT)
With such long legs and bills these birds seems to be pacific.
Nicolas Selosse

Nicolas Selosse <nicolas.selosse@skynet.be>
Mouscron, H Belgium - Thursday, October 07, 1999 at 23:05:04 (PDT)
I'm looking at these plovers from an eastern perspective (that is with a very shaky grasp of Pacific), but the first think that strikes me is that they look too long-billed for American, lacking that species' cute or benign facial appearance. They also look too leggy, especially the first two. The legs on the third bird are partially obscured by grass, but to me that one appears to have the largest bill. I think primary projection is tough to deal with in single photos, so I won't. They just don't look right structurally for Americans.
Greg Hanisek <ctgregh@cyberbury.net>
Waterbury, CT USA - Thursday, October 07, 1999 at 22:45:31 (PDT)
Hi all:

Well, Joe does it again! Another interesting, frustrating, illuminating quiz.

Until recently, I wouldn't have been able to supply much to this discussion, having only seen Pacifics on one date. Fortunately, I've recently remedied that situation. However, I still don't think I know anywhere near as much about this subject as the previous posters. I will offer my two-cents' worth (if even that much), but I wanted to respond to a couple points brought up by others on posture, molt, and primary and wingtip projection.

I agree almost to a T with Steve M.'s comments - I'm leaning toward Pacific on the left two (assuming those are Steve's "upper two") and toward American on the right bird.

I'm not convinced that a "relaxed" bird would show longer projection of the primaries. From having banded some 20K+ birds of some 240+ species (unfortunately, including no golden-plovers), I feel that it could go either way, but that, usually, projection should be shorter on a relaxed bird. I believe this is right as the wing on all birds is naturally concave (or convex, depending on your point of view), that is, the curve of the wing fits the body. To make it straighter, resulting in longer projection, the bird (or bander) has to apply force. Therefore, in my mind, a relaxed bird is going to have a shorter projection.

Primary and wingtip projection are certainly affected by molt of the overlying tertials (and/or of the underlying tail) as mentioned by Steve. However, they are also affected by molt of the primaries, as is readily seen on large gulls right now. Though I don't know much about molt timing in golden-plovers, I suspect that, both being long-distance migrants, they both molt remiges on the winter grounds. This would then be of no help in ID. However, if someone knows specifically that they do or can molt en route, then this would have obvious ramifications in ID.

One other tangential point that I have not seen mentioned, but seems relevant: aren't female golden-plovers less black below than are males? It seems to me I remember that female Americans have mottled sides in Alternate, thus throwing yet another monkey wrench into the mix. However, I just don't get to see either of these beasts in anything approaching full Alternate, so....

Bueno suerte to all those on the Left Coast that have to deal with this problem on a regular basis.

Tony Leukering <greatgrayo@aol.com>
Brighton, CO USA - Thursday, October 07, 1999 at 22:45:29 (PDT)
I won't hazzard a guess as to the species status of these three plovers other than to say that they are Goldens, not Black-bellied (duh!). I might however, clear up some of the confusion over which bird is which. On the Macintosh using Netscape, that I use at school at school, all three birds are side by side, but on my PC at home, using Internet Explorer, the right bird is shown below the one on the left. I hope this will help all to refer to the same individuals during this discussion. Cheers!
Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Thursday, October 07, 1999 at 22:19:48 (PDT)
Kathleen and I saw these 3 birds in mid-September and again in late September. The first time, we spent over an hour studying them through our scopes. Even then, it was tough getting close enough looks to see the primary projections, but I got very good looks at 2 of the birds. In both, the difference in length between P10 and P9 was much less than the difference between P9 and P8. You can see this difference portrayed clearly in Jonathan Alderfer's great plate in the new Natl Geo (p. 153). For us, this IDed them as _fulva_, but I am glad Steve Mlodinow reminded us that even Connors et al. couldn't ID all the golden-plovers they had in the hand! Also, the sides of the breasts looked more like _fulva_, with mottled black and white along the sides instead of solid black. This is a weak distinction on a molting bird, but it added to our ID. I am no expert on golden-plovers, but I believe these birds are _fulva_.
Bill Principe <principe@soca.com>
La Canada, CA USA - Thursday, October 07, 1999 at 22:03:32 (PDT)
As an observer who saw all three of these birds, perhaps I
can shed some light. To begin with, at first there were only 2 plovers present, birds 1 and 3. Both were identified by experienced observers (one who had also seen many fulva in Hawaii) as Americans. When I viewed the birds a week or so later (I believe it was the day those pictures were taken), I was already biased when I saw them that they were Americans. However, I left them unidentified, even after getting excellent, close-up views. A week after I saw them, I went back. The birds had molted considerably, and bird 2 had arrived. Again, I got excellent views in direct sunlight. Bird 3 was slightly more compact and stouter billed than the others, but what I found amazing was the lack of color on the bird. Other than some light yellow spangling on a few feathers on the back and a small patch of black on the lower belly, the bird was completely brownish-gray, unlike any fulva I had ever seen. I believe that bird to be a dominica, but I am still undecided on the other 2 birds.
Interestingly, a very similar looking bird appeared in a nearby marsh a week or two after that sighting. Primary length and other field marks were consistent with the other three birds, but the bird was heard calling, obviously a dominica.
Before this fall, I have never seen an adult dominica (I guess that's what happens when you only bird in one county!). Two of the four golden-plovers mentioned above I believe to be definite dominica, the other two I am not sure of. These birds seem to structurally very different from the juv dominicas I have seen. Most notably, the primary extension was not as great (from wear?) and the birds were not as chunky (less body fat?). I really don't know about these factors. Can others shed light on this? Is this normal for Americans to be so variable?? Will Batman be able to escape the Joker this time???

Steve Tucker <pintail@jetlink.net>
Ventura, USA - Thursday, October 07, 1999 at 18:33:53 (PDT)
I'm a bit rushed but couldn't resist the temptation to look at molting golden-plovers. Single photos of these birds can be very misleading and I have made mistakes with them before. These birds, in my opinion, represent a classic problem in California: molting Pacifics at the end of August. Such birds are routinely misidentified as Americans (at least that is the way I see it!). I am not as confident about the third bird, but there is nothing that makes me think any of these are Americans. They look like your typical assemblage of molting Pacifics in Hawaii to me. The long-legged, long-necked, long-billed, lanky look of Pacific is at least somewhat evident in all the photos. As Steve pointed out, American looks like a little dainty Black-bellied (Eastern birders probably balk at this statement, but it is very true after looking at mostly Pacifics for many years (okay, I haven't been alive for many years, but you know what I mean).
One thing that has always perplexed me is the idea that Pacific's wingtips generally fall about even with the tail. I am not sure where this originated, but it is not at all unusual for their wingtips to extend an inch or so beyond the tail tip. I have found wingtip vs. tail-tip to be variable whenever I have looked at it seriously in any species pair, and I am generally skeptical as to its usability as a field mark. It may be that wing position affects this in the way that Steve mention - a more relaxed wing could appear longer.
In the end I don't really have anything solid to eliminate American, and I agree that many of these birds are as well left unnamed. But again I do not see any reason to suspect any of these birds are American, a bird that seems to me to be truly rare in most parts of California. I look through lots and lots of Pacifics here before I find a bird that I am happy calling American, and when I do it is generally a no-brainer. Of course this sort of attitude does little to further our knowledge of distribution, but this website is here for speculation, right? Someone could go out and shoot some plovers, but if 7% aren't identifiable that way, then we're probably better off going by jizz in the field! :)

Bert McKee <mckee@southcoast.net>
Pescadero, CA USA - Thursday, October 07, 1999 at 15:10:13 (PDT)
I'm a bit confused by Steve Mlodinow's comments, because on my screen the three birds are next to each other, not above and below. I agree wholeheartedly with Steve that identification of adults in molt is especially tricky, so I tend to pass them off as Golden-Plover, sp. But if I were to make a hopefully informed guess, it would be that the two left-most, spindly-legged-looking creatures are Pacific, based not only on that, but also on the seemingly short wings relative both to the tertials and the tail tips. It also looks to me as if the white stripe on the upper flanks, typical of ad. Pacific, is still outlined on those two birds.

The third, right-most bird is really tough, for all the reasons Steve mentioned. Some evident characters suggest American, but like Steve I'm suspicious of photo angle, degree of molt, etc. I don't think we help ourselves by trying to attach specific names to every bird we see like this. Paulson (1993), for example, indicates that the limited measurement data available suggest that there is a difference (with some overlap) in both the dates and tracks of these species' migrations in the West.

I'd like to see less guessing, more data, involving birds like these, so that we don't create false patterns.

Bill Smith <pwsmith@techline.com>
Ocean Shores, WA USA - Wednesday, October 06, 1999 at 20:02:09 (PDT)
Greetings All

All three of these birds are changing from alternate to basic plumage. And to use a thoroughly unscientific term, this plumage is "icky." Alternate American/Pacific GPs are best identified by the distribution of black on the underparts and by the primary extension past the tertials. These marks, however, are obscured by the ravages of moult in Joe's quiz birds. Furthermore, remember that Connors et al. (1993- Auk 110:9-20) couldn't identify 7% of adults in full alternate plumage in the hand, and they were the ones who did the work leading to these species being split! So, if I was on a rarities committee where both of these species are vagrants, I doubt I would vote in favor of any specific ID based on one of these photos alone.

In the plumage shown by the quiz birds, primary extension past the tertials is very tricky. I was in Hawaii during March, and the PGPs were moulting from basic to alternate. Most birds showed huge primary projection past the short tertials. So, if a moulting bird shows long primary projection past tertials, then it could be either species. If the projection is short, then it should be a Pacific. I have a hard time, in the quiz photos, of determining where the tertials end, but the upper two birds appear to have a relatively short primary projection beyond the tertials. The bottom bird appears to have long primary extension, despite at least one tertial that seems fully grown. (To add another caveat, the bird's position can alter the primary projection, and I like to watch a bird for a while to judge true primary projection. It seems most accurate when the bird is in a relaxed posture). The pattern of black underneath seems thoroughly obscured in the quiz birds. In theory, a few big blotches on the sides of the belly (up against the folded wing) should rule out Pacific. Both of the upper birds look like they might show blackish flank blotches, thus indicating that they are Americans, but I think in this motley plumage, I would not make much of such smudges.

I have occasionally seen observers make IDs of moulting fall GPs using supercilium color. In this plumage, both Americans and Pacifics typically show white superciliums, so there is little specific indication from this character.

There are other ways of separating American and Pacific GPs. In Pacifics, the primary projection beyond the tail is very short or zero. In Americans, it is a bit longer. I am not sure of how moult effects this, but probably very little usually. The upper two birds seem to have primary projection beyond tail like that of a Pacific. The bottom bird looks more like an American in this regard. Again, though, on the one view provided by the photographs, it is hard to be certain.

Also, I find that Pacifics often look more upright than Americans. This is, I believe, due to Pacifics' longer legs and shorter wings. American's often look more like Black-bellies in profile (ignoring bill features). All three birds look relatively long-legged to me, but the upper tow really give this appearance. Finally, Pacifics are supposed to be a bit larger billed than Americans, I have difficulty using this mark in the field. To me, all three birds look rather large billed for GPs, though the upper right bird may have a marginally smaller bill.

After all of this rambling, my conclusion is that the upper two birds are quite likely Pacifics. For the bottom bird, a lean a bit towards American, but would not be shocked if it was, in fact, a Pacific.

Pacific vs American GP is a tough ID in any plumage. During moult, it is one of the toughtest IDs in North America. I often leave birds like the quiz birds as golden plover sp?

Steven Mlodinow
Everett WA

Steven Mlodinow <SGMlod@aol.com>
Everett, WA USA - Sunday, October 03, 1999 at 12:10:01 (PDT)
Greetings All

Sorry for joining the fray so late, it has been an exhausting September. I agree with Martin Reid on both birds. The right hand bird seems clearly a Least. Martin's analysis re: the left hand bird is excellent. I have found that occasional Semi Sands do not have the classic tubular bills, and I think that the "unclassic" bill may be more common among birds in the eastern U.S. Also, though this bird is a bit brighter than average on the scaps, some of the "rufous" Semi Sands are distinctly brighter than this bird (I have only seen one or two such Semis). Re: RNST, this bird also lacks an interupted supercilium. Most juv RNST show an interupted supercilium while most juv Semis have an uninterupted supercilium, like the quiz bird. Also, many juv RNST have a gray-hooded effect. This was nicely shown in a photo note by Paul Lehman in Birders Journal a couple years back.

Steven Mlodinow

Steven Mlodinow <SGMlod@aol.com>
Everett, WA USA - Monday, September 27, 1999 at 21:03:48 (PDT)
I feel that the bird on the right is a fairly "standard" Least Sand, for reasons stated by others. The bird on the left is a timely reminder of just how difficult the black-legged peeps can be. First of all I am certain that this is a juvenile, due to the overall freshness of the feather-edgings and pattern. The bill is not too short for a WESA, but the shape seems just a bit too straight and evenly-tapered for WESA, plus the cheeks and lateral crown area (above the supercilium)are really too dark for WESA, plus the wing coverts are not gray enough for most WESAs (although the occasional individual has darker coverts). LIST is ruled out, I feel, by the dull, cleanly-whitish-edged wing coverts and tertials, strongly anchor-shaped internal pattern to the lower scaps, and the bill shape, which is just to deep-based and straight along both edges; note that "grey-morph" LISTs do look closer to this bird but the edges to the wing coverts are broader and less-defined, plus there would be no internal anchor-marks in the scaps. We are left with RNST or SESA. Some have remarked that the bill shape is inconsistent with SESA; I would say that while it is closer to typical RNST than typical SESA, I regularly see a few SESA with bills shaped like this, thus it is inconclusive. The other strong RNST feature is the primary projection, but again a few SESAs can show such a projection (I have photos on just such a bird, so again it is inconclusive. The anti-RNST features are the darkness of the lateral crown and the pattern of the lower scaps and inner lower greater-covert, both of which have fairly well-demarkated anchor patterns: while most RNST do have paler lateral crowns, some do not (i have photos by Paul Lehman of a such a bird from Alaska) - and while most SESAs are dark in this area, I have recently seen a few that do have striking pale lateral crown bands - again inconclusive. From my limited experience with RNST, I doubt that the pattern of the lower scaps is ever seen in RNST, and as such this feature alone makes this bird most likely to be a SESA, but it is possible(?) that an exceptional RNST may have such scaps. The extent of rufous in the upper scaps is on the dull side for RNST and more typical of many SESAs; the sharpness of the pale fringes on the wing-coverts is more typical of SESA, but a few RNST seem to have similarly clean fringes. In conclusion: without seeing the presence/absence of toe-webbing (tough to see even in good conditions), this bird is best identified by where it was seen - in North America I'd call it a SESA without to much pondering; if I were in Japan, I'd call it a RNST, but I would be concerned about those lower scaps.
Martin Reid <upupa@airmail.net>
Fort Worth, TX USA - Wednesday, September 15, 1999 at 06:38:38 (PDT)
Not the easiest group, but certainly an interesting selection. I'll try to ignore the earlier comments.
On the bird on the right: light legs, all black, slightly curved bill, (which isn't very long or thin)rather brightly patterned back: looks like a choice between Least and Long-toed. Not easy to tell by one photo, but the bird doesn't seem to show a whole lot of neck, and seems to stoop in Least-fashion. Head pattern suggest Least. I have little experience with either, but I'll go for Least.
The bird on the left: a lot of more knowledgible birders than me suggested Semipalmated. However, in Holland we know this bird as "grey sandpiper" for a reason. I am not familiar with a ginger-orange morph of Semipalmated. I would like to see a darker face on Semipalmated, esp. the auricular and crown. I also would like to see a chubbier bill on a Semipalmated, as I would like on a Red-necked Stint. And call it imagination, but I think I see tertials with orangy linings and white stripes on the mantle. I also like the sharp contrast of the white belly. Concluding: I think the left bird is a Little Stint.

Jan-Joost Bouwman <Jan-Joost.Bouwman@comsys.nl>
Zeist, The Netherlands - Sunday, September 12, 1999 at 15:28:38 (PDT)
Thanks Joe for the fine puzzle.
I'm not convinced that the bird on the right has yellow legs, and it seems to have too little breast coloring for a Least. Also, the bill looks pretty long to me, though this could just be the photo angle. It could just possibly be a Western.
As to the guy on the left, it looks brighter than any Semipalmated Sandpiper I've seen in California, and the bill looks too tapered for a Semipal, so I'm stuck, since I'm not comfortable enough with the rare peeps to hazard an informed guess.

Courtenay Peddle <capeddle@there.net>
Oakland, CA USA - Friday, September 10, 1999 at 15:11:53 (PDT)
I don't buy the argument that the yellowish look to the leg and foot of the right hand bird is not real. The left foot (the viewer's right) which is under water shows this yellowish color as well as the bit of the leg which is above the water line. Sunlight reflecting from a wet surface of the leg might look yellow, but I doubt that the foot under water would be so distorted. The other foot and leg look darker because they are in the shadow. Therefore I agree with the majority that the right hand bird is a juvenile Least Sandpiper, not one of the dark legged peeps/stints. In addition to the plumage characteristics which favor LESA over Long-toed Stint, I think that the foot under water, even with the distortion which water would give it, would show longer toes if it were a Long-toed Stint.
The left hand bird is more of a problem. As Michael Patten stated, there is an exposure problem, and the photo is slightly out of focus. Also, I have no personal experience with any Stint, and only limited personal experience with Semipalmated Sandpiper, so I'm offering my opinion based entirely of book knowledge. The bill seems too short and straight for Western Sandpiper, and although it is about the right length for a Semipalmated, it tapers to a rather fine point which I believe elminates the Semipalmated. I also think that most juvenile Westerns would show brighter rufous on the scapulars in late August. The straight maxilla and the fine tip to the bill seem to be within the range of both Little Stint and Red-necked Stint, as is the pale rusty scapular stripe, but the breast seems too plain for Rufous-necked Stint, and I think the mantle area looks finely streaked which I believe is more typical of Little Stint than it is of Red-necked Stint, so my conclusion is that the left hand bird is most likely a Little Stint.

Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Thursday, September 09, 1999 at 00:01:54 (PDT)
Nice Photo's of a juvenile Semi-palm on the left and a Juvenile Little Stint on the right. Even though the legs or feet look light in color, I would bet that they are blackish instead.Oh, thanks Joe.
Todd Easterla
USA - Tuesday, September 07, 1999 at 21:47:07 (PDT)
I agree with Bill and Angus concerning the right-hand bird. It appears to be a fairly typical juvenile Least Sandpiper. I do not see anything on the head/face pattern that suggests a juv. Long-toed Stint to me. In particular, there is no hint of a "split" supercilium, the forehead appears to be largely white, the loral stripe is rather straight, the bill is long and lacks a pale base to the mandible, etc.

The lighting is somewhat poor on the left-hand bird, which will add to identification difficulties. I do not think that the bill is "too short" for a male Western Sandpiper, although I agree that it is not blunt-tipped or "tubular" enough for a Semipalmated Sandpiper. Based on color/pattern of the scapulars (largely rufous, contrasting with the gray coverts) and tertials (dark, but not black, with thin buff-rust fringes), the bird appears to be a Western Sandpiper. I do not think it is brightly-colored enough (esp. on the tertial fringes and mantle feathers) to be a juv. Little Stint, and it does not have the golden pattern that species usually shows on the coverts. The crown does not appear to be particularly dark to me, and the bird seems to be fairly gray overall (and quite white below), which makes me think it is not a juv. Red-necked Stint.

Michael Patten <patten@citrus.ucr.edu>
Riverside, CA USA - Tuesday, September 07, 1999 at 12:46:57 (PDT)
The bird on the right looks like a fairly obvious juv. Least Sandpiper. Head and mantle pattern, and lack of a yellow base to the lower mandible, eliminate Long-toed Stint. The breast appears well streaked, eliminating juv. Little Stint, the most similar of the other peeps/stints.

The bird on the right is, to my mind, clearly a juvenile, not an adult. I feel it it looks a good match for one of those gingery-orange morph juvenile Semi-palmated Sandpipers. The long but straight bill looks good. A clincher, in my view, is the lower scapular pattern. These show the classic 'anchor' pattern of Semi-P, as do the wing covers. Red-necked and Western tend to be a lot plainer and grayer. I would expect a Little to show much more obvious mantle 'Vs' and brighter rufous edgings to the tertials.

Nick Lethaby <nickl@coware.com>
Milpitas, CA USA - Tuesday, September 07, 1999 at 12:40:21 (PDT)
Joe: Congratulations on another very useful/thought-provoking quiz. For the two small sandpipers (Sept. 1999), I will opt for worn alternate-adult Semipalmated Sandpiper (Left) and Least/Long-toed Stint (Right). Beginning with the left-hand bird, I think there is too much patterning on the head for a juvenile Red-necked Stint (too early anyway) and the dark centers (anchor-marks) to the lower scapulars look wrong for Little Stint. In fact, the lower scapulars look more like those of Semipalmated Sandpiper although I couldnít rule out Western on this feature without reference to photos/specimens. The length and shape of the bill also seems acceptable for Semipalmated Sandpiper. Although the image is slightly over-exposed, I canít make out any chevron markings on the flanks, again arguing against Western. The row of rufous scaps are in my experience perfectly within the range of Semiís.

Regarding the right-hand bird, there is a clear hint of dull yellow to legs thus eliminating several peep. The long, gradually down-curving bill looks good for Least/Long-toed. I am actually not certain of the age but would guess, worn adult alternate. As I understand it, separation of this species-pair would be very difficult based on a single image (not even a broadside view) without supporting details. The hunched posture seems typical for Least Sandpiper, however the pale Ďspotí between the bill and the supercilious reminds me a little of Long-toed Stint. There is a hint of a split supercilious but I donít think that is too unusual for Least. Unless the bird was photoed in Australasia/SE Asia, I lean towards Least Sand.

Angus Wilson <wilsoa02@endeavor.med.nyu.edu>
New York, NY USA - Saturday, September 04, 1999 at 11:28:49 (PDT)
I guess I will be the first to go out on these two limbs. The right-hand bird seems to me to qualify in every way as a juvenile Least Sandpiper: entire upperparts boldly patterned with bright fringes on all feather groups; white mantle lines; bill tapering, fine-tipped, culmen straight but curvature to lower mandible; light band of fine streaks across breast. I can even convince myself that I see a tiny bit of the near leg out of the water and it is yellowish. I rule out Long-toed Stint on the basis of the white supercilium apparently crossing broadly over base of bill, no definite extension of dark crown to bill base (although there is shadowing in the photo from crown to bill on the far side) and also lack of transocular line behind eye, only some vague pale shading on auricular. The left-hand bird is a juvenile black-legged stint -- not a Semipalmated Sandpiper (bill is short, straight, but too tapered and fine-pointed; mantle and wing feathering too variegated, with mantle lines and not enough of a uniform fringed or scaly pattern; also too much primary extension beyond tertials) or a Western Sandpiper (bill too short among other things). Based on book knowledge and not personal experience I am guessing Red-necked Stint based on bill shape and length plus fairly bright reddish-fringed scapulars contrasting with dull gray, obscurely fringed wing coverts (lower half of visible wing). OK, let me hear what's wrong!
Bill Rowe <wr@tjs.org>
St. Louis, MO USA - Friday, September 03, 1999 at 14:31:30 (PDT)
My guess is that the tern is an immature Common. The under-wing pattern seems to best fit Common or Arctic, and the bill seems too oong and slender for Arctic. The shortness of the tail lead me to believe that in is an immature.
The bill of the shorebird looks typical for a Semipalmated Sandpiper. The late August date is just right for migrating Semipalmated. I'm not sure that anything in the photo completely eliminates Little Stint or Red-necked Stint, but it seems that Semipalmated Sandpiper is the most logical identification.

Gary Potter <gwpott@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Wednesday, August 11, 1999 at 17:07:17 (PDT)
I find the discussions about the tern and the shorebird enlightening and well put. I would only add quickly that a friend of mine read my regrettable initial post and--with marvelous tact--inquired politely if I had perhaps 'bumped my head'. No, Dave, but I certainly did after realizing I should not have tackled the quiz immediately after returning from a long boat trip. Of course the bird is not a Sanderling. Time to go change the cold compress I applied to my cerebral cortex. We need to be Wrong sometimes to fully savor the moments when we are Right.
David Fix
Arcata, CA USA - Monday, August 09, 1999 at 13:55:00 (PDT)
I see no reason why the shorebird is not a peep. I really don't see anything that suggests Sanderling. A Sanderling would show a much rounder bulkier body, a longer bill and would not have a solid brownish crown like this bird. I agree with Nick that the bird is a transitional Semipalmated molting from alternate to basic plumage. The bill, shape and posture of this bird are classic Semi to me. The primary extension is also right. The remnant alternate feathers in the back that Nick points out give this bird a strange look. The solid brownish crown set off against the relatively bold supercilium points to Semi. The rich reddish auricular patch is more suggestive of a Western but the bill is far too short and the wings are not long enough for a Western. Also the remnant dark feathers on the underparts are restricted to the breast. When I have seen transitional Fall adult Westerns they almost always retain a few of the chevrons down the flanks. The overall grayish upperparts point to a basic plumaged adult. The bird lacks the overall browner qualities and buffy feather edgings typical of a juvenile. Here in the West virtually all our experience with Semis involves fall juveniles. A transitional fall adult on August 29th would stick out like a sore thumb among the swarms of juveniles one would expect on this date.

I have to agree with Fix on the tern. I have been "handed my lunch" on more than one occasion trying to ID small Sterna but this bird seems reasonably straight forward. The combination of reddish feet and legs with an all dark bill immediately point to a first year bird. Forster's is quickly eliminated by the head pattern (extensive black connecting across the nape). Roseate (not too likely anyway) lacks the strong black carpal bar shown by this bird. That leaves only Common and Arctic as candidates. Three things lead me to believe this bird is a Common. The contrast between the black carpal bar and the pale upperwing is very strong, to me Arctics usually appear darker gray above and the dark lead edge of the wing is not so obvious. Secondly the underside of the primaries show a broad area of black at the tips. Arctic should show a narrower amount of black without the smudgy quality to the underside of the wingtip.
Finally, the bill of this bird looks too long and heavy to be that of an Arctic. Actually the bill looks more like a Forster's in this picture.

Dave Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene , OR USA - Saturday, August 07, 1999 at 10:24:24 (PDT)
Hello Birders:

Thanks again Joe for going through the work of putting this stuff up for us!

Well, terns are tough and if anyone has them all figured out. Free beer/food to come here and teach me. Foolish as it may be I shall give it a shot. I think its a Common Tern, and its an immature. My guess would be that it is not in first basic since it lacks dark secondaries, but it may just have pale secondaries. The other option is that it is in its first alternate / second basic plumage. I would have to dig up Humphrey/Parkes to figure out how to properly name a plumage when there is a fall body moult and a winter primary moult which appear to be of the same moult cycle. The other contender is Forster's Tern, particularly since this individual has a bulky structure, silvery wings and a thick bill. However, there are several plumage features that rule out that species. The dark outer edges to the outer tail feathers are typical of Common Tern. Forster's Tern would have a less noticeable tail pattern and a pale outer edge to R6 with darker grey or blackish on the inner edge. The secondary covert bar is bold and blackish, as it should be on a Common Tern. Forster's Terns have greyish secondary covert bars, not nearly this distinct. There appears to be too much black on the head for an October Forster's Tern but keep in mind that some invidual terns keep an entirely black cap for the whole winter - individual variation. In October I would expect a Forster's tern to be in active primary moult either starting or finishing, depending on the age of the bird while Common Terns should not show wing moult at all in October. What is troubling are the pale silvery upperwings. You would expect an immature Common Tern to show darker primaries, particularly the outer ones. I am not sure if this is an illusion due to the sun or not. This bird has too much black on the primary tips, and the structure is too bulky for an Arctic Tern.

The shorebird gives the initial impression of a Semipalmated Sandpiper. I don't get Sanderling from it, due to the slim build and short bill. The small bill is what suggests Semi rather than Western. I would expect the stints to show longer primaries, and perhaps they can't be entirely ruled out by anything in this photo. On closer inspection, the bill looks somewhat fine tipped and maybe even downcurved. Also the back is rather pale, and there appear to be a few retained streaks on the lower breast/flanks. These points all suggest a short-billed (male) Western Sandpiper as opposed to Semipalmated. Logic tells me its a Western, but the initial impression is of a Semipalmated. Maybe I should leave it at that.



Alvaro Jaramillo <alvaro@sirius.com>
Half Moon Bay, CA USA - Friday, August 06, 1999 at 22:05:46 (PDT)
I don't know enough about tern I.D., so I'll leave this one alone.

The plumage of the shorebird really suggests Sanderling, there is a hind toe visible on the lifted food, which would eliminate Sanderling.

Looks like a Semipalmated Sandpiper to me, the bill especially fits. It's mostly in basic plumage; there's still some non-basic scaps visible, which have black centers. Are these old adult feathers?

Nick Barber <semisand@hotmail.com>
Mayfield Hts, OH USA - Thursday, August 05, 1999 at 19:06:52 (PDT)
I am unsure what either the tern or the shorebird is. I'll guess a first-summer Common Tern and a juvenile Sanderling molting into basic. Pretty wild huh. Make the birds move for me and I think I would generate a more educated opinion.
David Fix
Arcata, CA USA - Wednesday, August 04, 1999 at 15:36:27 (PDT)
I will admit a bit of a bias against this critter being a Common Grackle since the description was first sent to me a couple of months ago. Fortunately, seeing the photographs have not changed that bias! For the excellent reasons already stated by Garrett, Jaramillo, and Heindel (and Marantz in his write-up), I concur that the bird is not a Common Grackle. It certainly does not fit any of subspecies I have seen, including _Q. q. stonei_.
I do wish to add a couple of important points about the possibility of this bird being a Great-tailed Grackle x Brewer's Blackbird (which I am essentially certain it is). Marantz played a tape of some of its vocalizations for me a while back and, to my ear, they were a close match for most male Brewer's Blackbird vocalizations. They did not sound anything like a Common Grackle. I understand that the bird gives far more varied and different calls than what I heard on the tape, but still none that sound correct.
Secondly, there is a specimen of a Red-winged Blackbird x Great-tailed Grackle hybrid in the museum at the University of California at Santa Barbara, so there is some precident for pioneering grackles to mate with local blackbirds should the urge arise. Cheers, Michael

Michael Patten <patten@citrus.ucr.edu>
Riverside, CA USA - Wednesday, July 14, 1999 at 15:36:44 (PDT)
Thanks to Joe for putting these up for study and conversation. If Mr. Icterid (AL) says it is weird, I am not going to argue. His conclusion, also reached by Curtis is his analysis) seems the most likely to me. As Kimball states, with the increase of GT Grackles, we need to be prepared for this type of thing.
It also points out the continued need for caution. Some folks made some pretty far-reaching rationalizations to call this a Common, even though the plumage doesn't fit what we know of for the expected (if you can call it that) race. Congrats to Curtis for his work on this. A fun one.

Matt Heindel <mtheindel@aol.com>
Irvine, CA USA - Tuesday, July 06, 1999 at 16:00:34 (PDT)
Joe, thanks for putting these photos on the net.

After hearing so much about this bird, we get to see some nice photos of the thing. It is truly a weirdo, I am sure of that. This is no regular icterid from what I can tell.

First, why is this not a Common Grackle? Well, the structure is off. From the behaviour which was noted by some observers and posted on the net, this is a male. It was seen displaying to female Brewer's Blackbirds I understand. A male Common Grackle would show a stouter bill than this as well as thicker legs. Now, male grackles during the breeding season keep their tail in a distinct keel at all times. The mystery bird does not show a keel worthy of any _Quiscalus_ grackle. Common Grackles show the shallowest tail keel of any grackle, and the mystery bird does not hold the tail keeled to the extent of that species in these photos, even though the tail is cocked. Purple and Florida grackles (the two non-Bronzed Common Grackles) show a distinct change in colour between the head and back which shows up as a line, this is not visible on the mystery bird. Also, these birds have multiple colours of iridescence on the back making it appeared oddly barred, this is also not seen here. The head is bluish in colour, not purple or purple-blue as expected for these forms. The structure of the mystery grackle is most similar to that of a female Common Grackle, not a male. However, it is too glossy for a female Common Grackle of any type.

In some ways this bird looks a bit like a gargantuan Brewer's Blackbird but it does have an odd posture, drooping the wings and fluffing the body plumage which is definitely more grackle-like. The head is too blue green, lacking the purplish-blue expected on Brewer's Blackbird. In addition, the bill is more grackle-like than Euphagus-like, it looks like it would hurt if it bit you.

This display posture with a cocked tail, shallow keel, drooped wings and fluffed body plumage is actually more like that of a Great-tailed Grackle than that of the Common Grackle. The Common Grackle is the least extreme of the grackles in terms of display, and seldom fluffs up the plumage when walking around, and does not droop the wings unless in full dislplay with a female in front of him. Great-tailed Grackles are more extreme in their displays, and sometimes walk around fluffed out and drooping wings as if they are ready to give a 'ruff-out' display at any point.

The postures shown by this bird, the structure and iridescence colours make the hybrid combination of Brewer's x Great-tailed Grackle the most attractive option. If I had to guess I would say it was a female Brewer's and a male Great-tailed Grackle based on their behavioural tendencies.

Here is what my friend Peter Burke from Ontario, Canada had to say about this bird:

"Well, what a wierdo. When I look at the photos, I see a Common Grackle that has the wrong tail and a glossiness that doesn't match any of the subspecies. That's my gut reaction to it. The head and bill shape seems fine, as does the posture (including the tail cocking), wing length and general size compared to a Brewer's and Great-tailed Grackle (although I would be talking about an adult female Common Grackle, not a male).
I don't necessarily dismiss a hybrid combination of GTGrackle X Brewer's though. I could see a combination of these two species resulting in the appearance of the bird in question. The gloss seems to best fit that. I would say that the description of the gloss doesn't fit any of the Common Grackle's subspecies at all, including quiscalus and stonei. I do on occasion see versicolors that seem oddly glossed versus other birds present, but not like this bird.
The tail is just wrong for either sex of Common Grackle. At this time of year, there should be much more keeling than what this bird shows. It certainly would have to be a female rather than a male, but then the body gloss seems too strong for female. Females would be dull dark brown on the underparts.
I don't get the feeling that its a big Brewer's. The head and bill is wrong (the hook at the tip for example) and the coloration not nearly as bright and violet versus turquoise like I expect on a Brewer's."

Alvaro Jaramillo <alvaro@sirius.com>
Half Moon Bay, CA USA - Monday, July 05, 1999 at 21:32:01 (PDT)
Re: Grackle. Since the discussion will undoubtedly center around Great-tailed Grackle X Brewer's Blackbird hybrid, I thought I might add an indirect observation of what might have been this combination in Los Angeles. This involved a female Great-tailed Grackle feeding a fledged young grackle/blackbird several years ago along the Los Angeles River near Elysian Park -- Brewer's Blackbirds nest commonly in this area, but I never saw a male grackle in the area despite weekly surveys (and therefore deduced that the offspring was likely a hybrid with Brewer's -- the birds were across the river, so I couldn't see details of the young bird's appearance). This is by no means documentation of such a combination, but I bet it happens not too rarely where a handful of grackles have spread into the range of Brewer's. [G T Grackles are now somewhat more numerous in the Los Angeles area, nesting at numerous locations in and around the L. A. basin.] My assumption that the bird in the present set of photos is such a hybrid is based on its intermediate size and its coloration (which is much like a Brewer's). It certainly doesn't strike me as a Common Grackle (and as many have pointed out, its plumage eliminates the only "expected" Common Grackle in CA, Q. q. versicolor).
Kimball L. Garrett <kgarrett@nhm.org>
Los Angeles , CA USA - Tuesday, June 29, 1999 at 17:18:50 (PDT)
There seems little doubt that both your birds are Double-crested Cormorants. It may be worth mentioning that the small Eurasian form of Great Cormorant P.carbo sinensis shows more extensive and often more orange loral and gular skin than P.c.carbo. A few sinensis also show restricted chin feathering, so a good clue is the colour of the lower mandible (whitish in sinensis, yellow in Double-crested, as the swimming bird shows). Sinensis is a strong migrant and its population in Europe is exploding, so it is a candidate for vagrancy to at least the eastern states...
Richard Millington <richard@birdingworld.demon.co.uk>
England - Thursday, June 03, 1999 at 12:02:11 (PDT)
Luckily I looked at the previous comment first, because Michael Patten has taken the words right out of my mouth. My experience is that orange lores are diagnostic of Double-crested, so both mystery birds appear to be that species. The size of the gular patch is also helpful to me; on Neotropic it seems smaller, sometimes almost absent, confined more to the chin alone (and dagger-shaped when clearly visible). Clearly neither bird is any other North American species.
P W (Bill) Smith pwsmith@techline.com

Bill Smith <pwsmith@techline.com>
Ocean Shores, WA USA - Thursday, May 27, 1999 at 13:40:04 (PDT)
Nice Double-crested Cormorants. The one of the right is a particularly good example of the identification problem that young Double-cresteds can pose. Many show a distinct white or whitish border to the gular, which lends the appearance of a Neotropic. Also, depending on wear, feather wetness, etc., the shape of the gular can change from rounded to squared to pointed. In this case, however, the orange lores are the clincher. I was a bit distressed to see that the latest NGS guide did not mention this field mark, one that I believe is the single best for identifying immatures of these species. Double-crested Cormorants of all ages (even juveniles) have orange lores, often connected directly with the gular. Neotropic Cormormants have dark feathering on the lores, which contrasts with the gular. I have examined thousands of both species in the field and a fair number of specimens of both and found this mark to be consistent (hence my short note on the matter in Birding in 1993). If others have differing experience I would love to hear about it, but I think it works. Cheers, Michael
Michael Patten <patten@citrus.ucr.edu>
Riverside, CA USA - Thursday, May 27, 1999 at 10:55:42 (PDT)
It first glance I thought that this quiz was pretty straight foreward. These Cormorants look like Double-crested on the left, Neotropic on the right. Then I thought, "Am I missing something here?" Probably!
After further study, I think that it is obvious that neither of these birds is an adult, because the head and neck is not dark enough on either of them. The white border at the back of the throat pouch of Neotropic is supposed to be a breeding plumage characteristic, so the white area may not be indicative of Neotropic in this plumage. At first glance, the tail of the right bird appears to be long, but when measured on the computer screen with the rest of the bird, it is only about half of the body length. I think it should be more like about 3/4 the body length on a Neotropic. Also the throat pouch on this bird looks rather dark orange-yellow more like a Double-crested (but this may be due to color reproduction on the computer screen). Also the bill on the right bird looks heavy. All this said, I must admit that all of my experience with Cormorants has been in California, except for a couple dozen Double-crested that I saw during a brief visit to Sabine WLR in Louisana and a bunch more in Florida. So with no experience with Neotropic, I'm really sticking my neck out, but I think that these are both juvenile Double-crested Cormorants.

Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Wednesday, May 26, 1999 at 22:43:30 (PDT)
First of all, I want the answers to the lark/longspur quiz.
As for the cormorants, I'll go with my initial gut reaction: Double-crested on the left; Neotropic on the right. Both seem to show a defined white border to the throat patch that I associate with Neotropic, but on the left bird it's vertical, whereas it should be angled in. This is hard in
these photos: on the left bird the colors are hard to see; on the right the angle is hard because the head is turned. The tail on the left bird looks too short for Neotropic.
How about Kenyon's Shag?

Steve Hampton <shampton@ospr.dfg.ca.gov>
Davis, CA USA - Wednesday, May 26, 1999 at 13:00:43 (PDT)
Ok, having looked at the pictures numerous times, and a number of books as well I have decided to go back on my initial thought that the bird on the right is also Skylark. I still don't have any field experience with Smith's Longspur, but I can see why people would go for Smith's Longspur. I have decided that my somewhat silly sounding remark on bill shape is based on my crappy lap top screen. Actually I cannot see the bill sharply. I must say I am amazed that some people can actually see color in wings that are absolutely absent in my view! Maybe I should try a differnt screen setting!
Jan-Joost Bouwman <Jan-Joost.Bouwman@comsys.nl>
The Netherlands - Monday, May 17, 1999 at 14:46:01 (PDT)
I agree with Tim Manolis. Skylark on the left and Smith's Longspur on the right. Even after several looks. Coastal records of Smith's Longspur in California, to answer Bill Princepe's question, include a bird at Moss Landing, the first for California if I'm not mistaken, and a record for Pt Reyes. Smith's Longspur has been reported on the California desert on only two occasions.
Michael J. San Miguel, Jr. <sanmigliz@aol.com>
Glendora, Ca USA - Thursday, May 13, 1999 at 14:56:14 (PDT)
When THE Skylark showed up in California, I had just married a non-birder, and I didn't get to see it. I know this is a horrible admission, but I can't help it. I will accept the judgment of others that this is a lark.
The right bird looks like Lapland Longspur (sorry, Bunting) on my screen. The breast is buffy, but fall Laps can be quite buffy, and I can't tell how much is feathers and how much is shadow. And I THINK I see a little chestnut in the wings. Also, the throat looks white, and I believe Smith's should be buffy all the way up the throat. Finally, the only Smith's records that I can recall in California occured in deserts, and the vegetation doesn't look right to me. (This may be wrong, and is probably cheating, but you have to use all your tools.)
I vote for Lapland Longspur, with Smith's as my second choice.

P.S. I'm now married to an avid birder. All's well . . .

Bill Principe <principe@soca.com>
La Cañada, CA USA - Thursday, May 13, 1999 at 08:31:41 (PDT)
I'll go along with Tim Manolis. Actually, I have little
experience with either species-- I saw lots of Skylarks in
Norway but never analyzed them like this. The two birds
do have significant differences in face pattern. The bird
on the right lacks any line under the eye, has a broader
rear supercilium, and has a more complete auricular border.
The chest streaking is also finer (I don't know if it's in
the range for Smith's). Regardless, the differences in face
pattern lead me to think these are two different species.

Steve Hampton <shampton@ospr.dfg.ca.gov>
Davis, CA USA - Tuesday, May 11, 1999 at 12:53:57 (PDT)
My first take when these popped on screen was THE Skylark on the left and Smith's Longspur on the right. After second and third takes, that's still my call. I have seen specimens of Smith's Longspur with similar underpart pattern, and the face pattern is correct (and not like the facing Skylark).
Tim Manolis <YLightfoot@aol.com>
Sacramento, CA USA - Saturday, May 08, 1999 at 20:47:27 (PDT)
Although I had heard the story before, I think it was good that Don retold the Sky Lark tale in response to Dave Irons' unavoidably nth-hand version. How often the events of even the recent past become mythologized or simply altered during the course of retelling and recollection.// I would say the left-hand bird this month looks unlike any bird I've seen and so I'll guess it was The Lark. I'm not buying the argument that the right-hand bird is the same individual. To my eye it just has a different 'look' to it, as if it might posture and move differently in life, and hence then appear to be in fact a different species. The shape of the head and bill do actually recall the only Smith's Longspur I've seen (but that one was an alt. male, with ice floes and an old grain elevator looming in the backdrop...so guess where I must have been in June '96...). I can't stay in this game with the hand I have, so I'm pushing back my chair.

David Fix
Arcata, CA USA - Wednesday, May 05, 1999 at 10:46:17 (PDT)
Something on the suggested lesser short-toed lark: I would expect those to be a lot less buffy(I find the bird on the right to have a bit of a buffy tone to the breast), but more of a grey tone.
Lars Johnson quote: "Short-toed lark: looks always 'light'. Lesser Short-toed lark: like short-toed lark, but darker, grey-brown, heavier striping on chest and flanks (like small sky lark)" But sky lark warmer tones (?) Again, don't know the eastern most races.

Jan-Joost Bouwman
Zeist, Holland - Tuesday, May 04, 1999 at 14:49:54 (PDT)
Expecting an American bird I didn't think of skylark immediately, but when I saw the suggestion it all fell together. The left bird is to me indeed a skylark, I won't comment on the subspecies. The right bird actually looks a lot like the left bird. Unlike some others I see no chestnut on the breast. I see stripes which doesn't fit Lapland Bunting (sorry, Longspur)(description says: barred or blotched) which is suggested by some.
Anyway, on the basis of the bill I wouldn't be thinking about Buntings anyway. Note the apparant curve in the culmen! One of the general field characteristics of bunting is the apparant straightness of their culmen. Also the thick bill has a blunt point, which points to larks rather than buntings. My guess: also skylark, possibly the same bird.

Jan-Joost Bouwman <Jan-Joost.Bouwman@comsys.nl>
Zeist, Holland - Tuesday, May 04, 1999 at 14:42:08 (PDT)
David Irons may have gotten his Point Reyes Skylark history a little bit off, but I strongly suspect that he is right on about the identification of the pictures. My first impression was that the right hand bird was a Chestnut-collared Longspur, but when viewing it on another computer screen, the chestnut patch disappeared. This computer is the same one which made me eroneously call last month's Curlew a Bristle-thighed, based on tail color. I am amazed at the difference in appearance of the same bird on my PC with Internet Explorer, and the Macintosh with Netscape Navigator that I use at school. Getting back to this month's birds, however, the breast markings and general patterns look pretty good for Skylark, at least to me who has never seen one except in field guides and photographs!
Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Monday, May 03, 1999 at 21:59:43 (PDT)
Just a note to comment not on Joe's brilliant quiz, but on "oral history." It is interesting how oral history develops in the birding world, and a good example is the California skylark story. Dave Irons recites some of what he recalls that he has heard about the story, and I've heard others "tell" it. Yet the story Dave heard, and others tell, is not anywhere close to what happened. I know. I was there.

The Pt. Reyes skylark was found on 16 Dec 1978 on the Pt. Reyes Xmas count. Initially, it was reported as a potental Smith's Longspur. From our view now, some 20 years later, we lack the perspective to recognize that (1) nobody even considered skylark a potential vagrant to California while (2) Smith's Longspur was considered by most to about the single "most likely" species to next occur in the state (indeed, a poll of 5 top experts -- Binford, Dunn, Lehman, McCaskie, Stallcup -- published by Jehl in 1980 in W. Birds 11: 103-110 considered it the unanimous choice for "most likely" next Calif. bird). So Skylark was never considered, to the best of my recollection, let alone an debate about the presence or absence of crest! And the correct i.d. was made within a few days after the initial faux pas -- nothing about a spring molt changed anything...

After the initial find and tentative i.d., the bird was studied over the next few days by a host of state listers, including me (I have detailed field notes for 18 Dec 1978 on the "Smith's Longspur" -- a species I had never seen), and all agreed with that the tentative initial i.d. was correct. There were numerous features of the bird that matched the literature descriptions of Smith's Longspur. But beware that style of i.d......

I quote my handwritten field notes (in part) for 20 Dec 1978: "Last night Laurie Binford called me to discuss the Smith's Longspur. He suggested it wasn't a longspur at all, but probably a lark, because (1) the white belly, (2) lack of white spot in ear coverts, (3) lack of wingbars, (4) streaked supercilium, (5) brown on central tail, and a number of other points [including bill shape]. I disagreed, arguing it must be a Smith's Longspur. However, when he suggested possible Lesser Short-toed Lark and a check of field guides gave no indication that it wasn't one of them, I went out today again. He (Laurie) asked I not mention his doubts.

I arrived with [names withheld] -- Laurie was already there and had had good views. He took me aside and wrote on a piece of paper '100% lark.' And indeed, with use of a scope, it all because clear [to me].

After everyone there was satisfied with their life Smith's Longspur, about an hour later, Laurie got ready to leave and, with all gathered on scopes staring at the bird, said: 'I have an announcement to make. It's not a Smith's Longspur. It's not a longspur at all. It is a lark. I don't know which one -- you can figure that out -- but it is a lark.'

Of course, there was mass consternation and confusion. Already, 7 members of the Rarities Committee had identified it as a Smith's Longspur (names withheld) as had (other names withheld... a list of 16 in all) plus about 50 others. Laurie would call it 'the greatest case of mass hysteria ever' and he was right."

Those are my exact notes written 21 years ago. That is how the bird was initially re-identified. My notes go on for pages of more details about plumage, including this about that bird: "The bill is thin, flat, and pointed -- not conical shaped as a longspur... The eyestripe is buffy yellow (more white in front) and finely streaked.. The lower breast and belly are white.... The undertail coverts are white....." [these might, or might not, be applicable to the quiz photos].

My notes continue: "[Names withheld] and I visited MVZ, U.C. Berkeley, after viewing the bird for several hours. There we easily eliminated Smith Longspur (by bill, buffy belly, wingbars, back pattern, ear coverts, and many lesser points).... Lesser Short-toed Larks are too small, have a shorter thicker bill (more like Trumpeter Finch), are much grayer, and unlike the bird in question. Most Skylark races seem larger and brown, but birds labelled Alauda arvensis quelparte, taken in Nov. in mid Korea, match to near perfection. #134882 is most perfect. The size is smaller than most skylarks, the bird is very buffy on the face & breast, and fits the above description. It [the Pt. Reyes bird] is clearly an eastern Asian Common Skylark."

The "mass hysteria" to which Laurie referred was contributed to by the fact no one seeing the Pt. Reyes bird had experience with Smith's Longspur and no one by Laurie (curator of bird at Cal. Academy at the time) had ready access to specimens. Plus there were our expectations at that time fo what was possible (or even likely) and what was not.

My notes for 20 Dec 1978 conclude this way: "Important lesson: carefully identify a new species by one's own criteria and study, not by the opinions of others, no matter how famous or expert, IF they, too, lack the necessary experience."

May I conclude this note by saying those are still valid sentiments, applicable to other situations that arose later (e.g., "Solander's" v. Murphy's Petrel), but that the flip side is also worth noting: those WITH experience with a species are often worth listening to. I have not always learned the lesson of which I wrote in 1978, and I know that happens to others as well, but I also see a tendency in some to ignore experience as well. There are lessons that many of us could still learn.

Don Roberson <creagrus@montereybay.com>
Pacific Grove, CA USA - Sunday, May 02, 1999 at 22:23:11 (PDT)
Greetings All

Well, I have smashed my head against the wall on this quiz. Perhaps others will find it obvious. The left hand bird is fairly straight forward, and is, indeed, a Sky Lark (formerly Skylark and Eurasian Skylark, and perhaps in the future, Larksky-- who knows?). It is fairly buffy and may well be the famed Pt Reyes bird that was determined to be of Asian origin. Joe M. wrote a fine article on this bird (see Morlan and Erickson, 1983, in Western Birds 14:113-126). It was seen during seven consecutive winters (or just fall) at Pt. Reyes. Longspurs are eliminated by the narrowish bill, the somewhat flat head, and the face pattern (note the dark line under the eye ring and the incomplete dark border to the face).

The right hand bird is confusing to me, but it is a longspur. It is either an odd individual or some colors may not be true (despite my true color). This bird seems to have chestnut on the collar. This should eliminate McCown's and Smith's. The chest and upper belly look rich buffy. This should eliminate McCown's and Lapland and would be somewhat odd for CC (though there have been a couple CC recently mis-identified as Smith's that I know of, so perhaps CC can be this buffy). The face pattern, however, looks far to contrasting for CC. So, what is left? Nothing. So somewhere, I must be mistaken.

If the chest was not so very buffy, I'd be inclined to go with Lapland. The pale auriculars in a dark frame is good for Lapland. CC and Smith's both should have darker auriculars (and thus contrasting less with the frame) and often show a pale white spot towards the rear of the auriculars (but inside the dark frame). Also, Smith's usually shows a bold eyering, which this bird lacks. I am also not sure that Smith's should have a throat (and upper chest?) that should be so white in contrast to the chest. As for CC, I do not believe that a female CC should show the chestnut nape, and a male should have smudging on the chest, not just fine dark streaks. On the other hand, all that buff underneath is hard to explain. I've not seen anything like it on a Lapland. So, I don't know. I would not be shocked if it turned out to be a Smith's. Could I see a side view, please?

By the way, for those interested in Longspur ID, you should look at Jon Dunn and David Beadle's article in Birders Journal: Longspurs- Distribution and Identification in Basic Plumage. Volume 7, pp. 68-93. If you don't get Birders Journal, you should probably think seriously about doing so. It is a fine magazine. Subscription info can be obtained from Phill Holder at holder@netcom.ca

Steven Mlodinow

Steven Mlodinow <SGMlod@aol.com>
Everett, WA USA - Sunday, May 02, 1999 at 10:52:23 (PDT)
If I am not mistaken these are photos of Eurasian Skylark that spent something like 27 straight Winters on Pt Reyes. I am really no expert on the plumage variations of skylarks. As I recall the first year this bird showed up many thought that it was a Smith's Longspur. The photo on the right is highly suggestive of that species with the exception of the streaking on the breast. If my fading memory serves me correctly the bird originally appeared as an immature and the predominant argument came down to Lesser Short-toed Lark and Smith's Longspur. Most observers eliminated Skylark because the bird showed no real crest like the race that had been introduced on Vancouver Is. Finally serious consideration was given to other races of Eurasian Skylark. Again if my memory is correct the bird molted into adult plumage before leaving in the Spring and it became apparent that the bird was indeed a Eurasian Skylark. In the more modern era of improved field guides and reference materials such a struggle seems unimaginable but I remember the arguments raging for several months on this bird. My guess is that these two pictures were taken of the same bird in different years.
Dave Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Friday, April 30, 1999 at 20:06:11 (PDT)
I am not sure why I am chiming in about the flycatcher and Whimbrel as others have spoken well and I m likely to be redundant. The empidonax is washout by photography, a little hunched, so color hues seem unreliable. The structure, however, is more to the point. For me, it went something like this: bill looks large enough to rule out western empids. In combination with long primary ext. I came up with only two candidates, Acadian and Willow. The bill looks proportionately large enough to consider Acadian (ignoring plumage) but the contrasting wing pattern and apparent body shape is wrong. I see nothing out of line for Willow and further "eliminate" Alder (I've spent many hours in northern VA studying both side-by-side singing) by bill size and color. Alder tends to be darker of bill and usually looks smaller and shorter without a strong hook (recalling Least). The length of the primaries seem to indicate Eastern Willow. The single caveat for me is that one photo from flash on a computer screen leaves only guess work!
David Abbott <dfabbott@compuserve.com>
Ashburn, VA USA - Tuesday, April 20, 1999 at 14:23:47 (PDT)
This flycatcher has become greatly interesting to me. Thank you Alvaro and Steve for opening my eyes. I see that I was wrong in relying only on (..seemingly tarnished) mental images of empids in believing it was a Least. Rather than marinate in the chagrin of realizing I blew it, I decided to educate myself. It was fun. I remembered the value of "The Empidonax Challenge" series in Birding (Whitney & Kaufmann, serially, 1985+) and I then quickly understood my error. Briefly, at Vol. 17:278-279 Least is treated and WIFL/ALFL is at 18:154-155. Plates #3-4 at WIFL/ALFL show the same peculiar pattern of bunched upper primary tips and then more widely-spaced outermost three tips--which one would intuitively take to be probably consistent and therefore useful. Least, plate 1 shows five tips, generally amputated effect, with what looks like really even graduation from tip to tip. I also find my search image (admittedly with but few studied Least) to have been flawed because I had recalled Least's bill to be considerably more substantial than photos indicate. So hey I learned something today.
E. Ting Crow
Arcata, USA - Tuesday, April 13, 1999 at 12:06:15 (PDT)
The flycatcher is the one I found intreguing for this month's photos. I have been looking at it for the last couple of days, and everytime I think Willow but the colour isn't right. The bill alone is enough to eliminate Least for me, that is a honking Trail's/Acadian flycatcher bill. One can easily see that even though its a side view, the lower mandible is dark towards the tip. This excludes several empids, including Acadian. The extent of the dark looks typical for Willow in my opinion. The fact that this bird was shot with a flash makes me wonder if some of the colour and contrast shown in the photo is an artifact, or real - who knows. In any case, I bet the eyering is not so obvious without the flash. Nevertheless, its not uncommon for Willows to have eyerings as bold as this, and I do have photos that show this. One feature that birders do not tend to look at is the primaries on empids. This bird has long primaries, noticeably longer than a Least should show. The primary spacing is pretty good for Willow, except it shows a longer gap between P7 and P6 than is normal. The pattern shown approximates Pacific-slope Flycatcher, but not quite and is way too small (the gap) for a Hammonds. LEast Flycatchers do not show such a long gap between P7 and P6 typically but keep in mind that these are untested field marks. Thus, I am inclined to say that this is a Traill's Flycatcher, but that in colour and perhaps primary extension it does not match Western Willow perfectly. Perhaps its an Alder, or an Eastern Willow but I don't think you can make that call based on this photo.
On another point, in the fall it is dead easy to age most empids (other than Hammonds in the west). Remember that these species perform their definitive prebasic moult in the winter quarters, thus a southern migrant adult will be very worn. The bird in the photo is so fresh that it might as well have a "Wet Paint" sign on it, check out the fact that the primaries are finely fringed pale and the rectrices have buff tips. This is without a doubt a juvenile. Also look at the nice point on the rectrices. I trust colour/pattern differences on these fall juvs. Spring birds are the ones you want to watch out for since they are not fresh.

The curlew is a Whimbrel for reasons other pointed to.



Alvaro Jaramillo <alvaro@sirius.com>
Half Moon Bay, CA USA - Monday, April 12, 1999 at 22:53:50 (PDT)
Greetings All

The curlew is a Whimbrel of North American heritage. BTCU is indeed eliminated by the relatively small pale markings on the upperparts. Also, the pale tail bars are too narrow for BTCU. Furthermore, the legs are rather thin for BTCU. On the otherhand, viewers should note that a Whimbrel-like curlew with a nicely spangled back is not necessarily a BTCU. In fall, juv WHIM occur and they can closely approach BTCU in upperpart pattern. A curious point on this photo is the tail. BTCU and variegatus WHIM tend to show more contrast between the pale and dark tail bars. In this regard, the pictured curlew is more like BTCU or variegatus WHIM. BTCU is eliminated, however, by the previously mentioned features, and variegatus WHIM are really quite gray, lacking the photographed bird's distinctly brown hues. So this must be a WHIM with an unusually contrasty tail. Another noteworthy point is that all WHIM have flank bars through the rear flanks, but not all readily show such in the field on a quick view, perhaps hiding the bars by drooping the wings. That explains why the flank bars are not visible on the quiz bird. Most BTCU lack flank bars excepting on front most flanks.

Identifying an Empid with a prolonged view at a variety of angles, in good light, and not blurred by a computer monitor is a tough task. One view on a computer screen is much more challenging. I thus feel quite anxious about trying to ID the quiz empid. First, I have to say that I would eschew judging the shape of an empid based on a snapshot. These birds are fairly plastic, and during prolonged views, I find them assuming a number of shapes. Overall shape impressions are a conglomerate of a multititude of snapshots. Similarly, I have had no success with using bill shape from a direct side view. Having said what I feel I cannot use to judge this bird, I think several clues are present. First of all, on my screen, the eyering seems quite narrow and faint. Secondly, the primary extension is quite long. Third, the tertial tips are prominent and contrast quite strongly with the tertials. Fourth, the upperparts seem relatively uniformly green and the underparts somewhat lacking in color, but the color is blurry enough on my screen to make me somewhat wary of placing confidence here.

Assuming that what I see in front of me is what the bird looked like, I feel that the weak eyering is outside the range of Least (and Acadian and YB, etc.). Also, the primary extension looks quite long for a Least. Western Willows are eliminated by the contrastingly marked primaries and tertials as well as by the primary extension. The primary extension does seem to fit with Eastern Willows and Alders (as so nicely shown by Phil Unitt at the last WFO meeting). These taxa also have the contrastingly marked tertials shown by the quiz bird. Phil's presentation showed (as I remember it) that Eastern Willows also have a grayer head/nape contrasting with a greener back whereas Alder is more uniform. This bird appears more Alder-like. Thus, if I had to guess, I would say Alder. Second choice would be Eastern Willow. Third choice would be Least. If the eyering truly was bolder, I would likely change this order. The same is true if the upperpart color was not really fairly uniform.

Steven Mlodinow
Everett WA

Steven Mlodinow <SGMlod@aol.com>
Everett , WA USA - Monday, April 12, 1999 at 21:32:14 (PDT)
The flycatcher looks like a Willow hunched up because it's
cold. But, given the small tail and contrasting tertial
edges and wingbars, I wouldn't be surprised if the bird
called, "Che-bek".

As for the curlew, BTCU shows very large pale spots on the
coverts and tertials, giving them a nearly checkered look
compared to the finer spotted, almost tweed look, of
Whimbrels. This bird is closer to the latter. As for the
tail, I haven't studied that. I don't see that we can
say anything about the rump, as it's not visible at all.

Steve Hampton <shampton@ospr.dfg.ca.gov>
Davis, CA USA - Monday, April 12, 1999 at 11:18:49 (PDT)
On the flycatcher I am inclined to agree with David Fix. To me this bird looks like a small Empid. The bill does not look long enough to be a Willow/Alder type. The head seems porportionally largish and very rounded. His comments about the lack of squared off hindcrown (suggestive of Contopus) I have to agree with. The tail seems much too short and narrow to be a Willow/Alder type. The contrast of of the dark between the wingbars with the relatively crisp pale wingbars seems very much like Least. The eyering, while on the thin side, is within the variation I've seen on Leasts as well. I, like David, am very reluctant to rely heavily on a single impression of any Empidonax especially in the fall. However, my very initial impression of this bird upon seeing the photo was that it was a Least.
Dave Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Saturday, April 10, 1999 at 22:40:44 (PDT)
As always, I'm wary of identifying a bird in a difficult group from one image. However, a general 'look' can be discerned here. This look is, to my eye, that of a small Empid. I am prepared to be wrong, and if I am, I can hope that I will learn something from more experienced birders. I do not perceive that this bird is a Willow Flycatcher nor even in the Willow/Alder group. It looks disproportionately big-headed. The tail is brief, like a thin little stick, with minimal apparent basal constriction and no flaring or lanky effect. The bill is broad for its length, seeming rather triangular; there is high contrast between the dark wing panel and off-white wing-bars; the tertials are blazingly pale-edged, and the eye-ring is within what I think are the bounds for Least Flycatcher. Willow and Alder convey to my mind (in some views, in some lights, etc.) a vague resemblance to Contopus, and this bird has no wood-pewee sympathies at all. Why is this not a Least? Having never seen Bristle-thighed Curlew, I will pass on the shorebird, but will wonder (without thumbing a book) if an Old World Whimbrel, say N. p. variegatus, might show such a tail pattern (with the whitish rump not visible).
David Fix <dfxjcp@humboldt1.com>
Arcata, CA USA - Friday, April 09, 1999 at 13:25:13 (PDT)
I'm willing to give the Empid a "first impression" comment. If this were a rarities committee record, one might be more cautious and thorough. My impression was that this was clearly in the "Traill's" Flycatcher category. Although colors are somewhat washed out by the flash, the throat is very white and so appear the rest of the underparts, the bill is appropriately large with an all-yellow lower mandible, and the eye-ring is very very thin. I think the big head/fairly short tail look is just fine for "Traill's" and the primary extension (I can see 6 primary tips and I assume a 7th is underneath the longer one) is right on. Yes, I'm content to be in this category. Date & locale is perfect for Willow Flycatcher in Calif.

However, this is quite a green bird above, suggestive of Alder, and other points that suggest Alder are the loral spot and the fact that the eyering, while thin, is in fact complete. This doesn't look like the typical brewsteri Willow we see on the coast... it is one of the greener ones that cause trouble.

Phil Unitt gave a very informative paper at September's WFO convention in Arcata on this topic. If I am recalling correctly, the real problem is separating out eastern nominate Willow from Alder -- both birds are greener than western Willows. An important point on brewester Willow (again, if I'm recalling the talk correctly) is a contrast between the grayer nape and greener or browner back; I don't see that contrast on this bird. Phil Unitt was also emphasizing ageing of the birds; I think the buffy wash to the two wingbars make this a HY bird (again, I could be recalling wrong).

If the bird is properly aged, there are apparently consistent differences in the tone of the upperparts with Alder being a uniform green crown to rump but even eastern Willows have some contrast crown vs. back. Perhaps Phil will correct me on these points. I see a slightly different color to the crown than the back on this bird but not much contrast on the nape. Therefore I lean towards eastern Willow over Alder.

Of course, this is actually a hopeless task without call notes or without Phil's muti-million-dollar machine that calibrates colors and turns them into digits. The flash may be altering color considerably. Possibly this bird cannot be identified, but I had fun with the analysis. Thanks. [I doubt the curlew is a Bristle-thighed... I don't see even orange in the tail ... but haven't spent much time on it.]

D. Roberson <creagrus@montereybay.com>
Pacific Grove, CA USA - Thursday, April 08, 1999 at 22:01:11 (PDT)
To me, the Empid has the short, stocky, "big-headed" look of a Least Flycatcher. I think the primary extension appears shorter, like a Least, not longer. I don't think the bill is large enough for a Willow/Alder, and the contrast of the tertial edging and wingbars is too strong. The relatively inconspicuous eye-ring isn't as Leastish as I'd like, but the eye-ring isn't always as wide and obvious as it's made out to be. The washed out colors in fall are good for a Least as compared to a yellower and greener Yellow-bellied.
Matthew Kenne <meekeckk@rconnect.com>
Algona, IA USA - Thursday, April 08, 1999 at 07:11:38 (PDT)
The Empid appears to be a Willow Flycatcher. The white throat, pale lower mandible, long wing extension, olive brown back and especially the very narrow eye ring lead me to this conclusion. A typical Alder Flycatcher would probably be a little darker on the back and more grayish than brownish. The one thing that bothers me is that I have seen these images on two different computer screens. Mine is not as clear, and the colors are not quite the same. The bill looked longer on the clearer image than it does on my home computer, and I think it looks wide also, although this is difficult to access in a side view. Any empids other than WIFL or ALFL would have either a heaver eye ring or some darker coloration in the lower mandible, and also a darker or more yellowish throat. The only problem is that this photo was taken in the fall when feather wear is greatest, and colors and patterns are less distinctive. All this said, I think that the characteristics add up to Willow Flycatcher.
Based on the tail color which appeared buffy with brown cross bars, the general proportions of the bill, and the facial pattern, I think the wader is a Bristle-thighed Curlew. The only other curlew with a similar head pattern, and bill proportions would a Whimbrel, but the baring on the tail would be narrower, grayer and less distinct than that on the mystery bird. So, in spite of the fact that it is extremely unlikely to show up on Goleta Beach, I feel confident that the bird is a Bristle-thighed Curlew.

Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Wednesday, April 07, 1999 at 22:29:27 (PDT)
The grebe appears to be an Eared for reasons pointed out by others. I am always impressed with the pale tip to the thicker bill, absent on this bird.
The grosbeak is interesting (and you ought to know the oddballs that photographed it!) It seems to be a Rose-breast beyond debate. But, the interesting part is, how does a Rose-breast show this plumage? A SY male Rose-breast usually looks like a dull adult male with less extensive pink in the breast and dull flight feathers. A female would have the heavily streaked breast but lack the all dark head. So, what gives? I do not know but would think it is either a very old female or a gynandromorph of sorts. Some females take on male characters as they go through hormonal changes, so that is one possibility. The easy gynandromorphs for the luck few who see them, are bilateral, being male on one half and female on the other. But, they apparently can show quite a variety of pluamges and I recently heard of one where the top half of the bird was male and the bottom half was female. That might be the case here with the body being that of a female and the head (and other parts?) being a male. I am not sure which argument would be most parsimonius as we are out on a limb. But, it is a neat bird and further evidence that you just can't study the common migrants enough. There is always something to study!

Matt Heindel <mtheindel@aol.com>
Irvine, CA USA - Tuesday, March 23, 1999 at 15:49:32 (PST)
Black Throated Gray Warbler/yellow facial spot
Darlene Feener <refeener@webtv.net>
Pembroke, Me USA - Friday, March 12, 1999 at 15:52:17 (PST)
I've had a chance to see the Grebe and Grosbeak on a computer screen with much better resolution than mine. I now think than the Grebe is definately an Eared, even though the plumage color is closer to Horned. The head and bill shape would much less variable than plumage!
Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Tuesday, March 09, 1999 at 21:45:58 (PST)
I concur with most comments regarding the grosbeak...immature male Rose-breasted. The field marks seem pretty good. The only thing I would like to add to the discussion is that I live near Crane Creek, OH (where the bird was photographed), and Rose-breasteds are very common in May, and a Black-headed would be an outstanding rarity. I'm not sure if Crane Creek has an acceptable record for Black-headed...certainly not in recent years. Not to say it isn't plausible, of course, but my money is definitely on Rose-breasted.

Greg Links
Temperance, MI USA

Greg Links <glinks@bgrcompanies.com>
Temperance, MI USA - Tuesday, March 09, 1999 at 07:56:58 (PST)
I am surprised that no one seems to have yet mentioned what I consider to be one of the best features separating Horned and Eared grebes when odd individuals are encountered: Horned has a black bill with a small but distinct white tip, while Eared's bill is uniform in color. This is an Eared Grebe on bill color.

The bill color of the grosbeak favors Rose-breasted... all light pinkish with, at most, a slight smudginess of dusky on the culmen. Bill color differences (i.e., Black-headed has dark upper mandible) was pointed out as an important feature in Morlan (1991) "Identification of female Rose-breasted and Black-headed grosbeaks", Birding 23:220-223. I, too, have photo'd Pheucticus grosbeaks in an odd state of plumage that I had thought suggested hybridization, but Ken Parkes loaned me specimens showing them to be basic-plumaged Rose-breasts.

Don Roberson <creagrus@montereybay.com>
Pacific Grove, CA USA - Monday, March 08, 1999 at 22:18:46 (PST)
Hi All,

Well I finally got down to lovely Santiago Park to see the odd warbler. Of course, the looks I obtained were immeasurably inferior to Larry Sansone's photos on this web page -- thanks so much Larry!

Regarding Tim Mountjoy's questions -- first, I think the separation between the anterior auricular and side of the neck IS truly narrow, but like Tim and others don't think this is very problematic for Townsend's -- see the photo of an immature ToWa on Page 139 of the Master Guide. This is also an instructive photo for the wing-bar question, as this young bird shows more extensive white tips to the greater coverts than, for example, those shown by the spring male on Page 314 of Dunn & Garrett's Warbler guide. What does bother me about the wings and the scapulars is the lack of olive tones. While this could be attributed to the use of flash in the photos, others who have viewed the bird in excellent light at close range confirm that the scapulars are gray white the rump and mantle show a definite olive cast. Weird!

Note that Brian Small's excellent photo labeled as an "immature female Townsend's Warbler" on Page 406 of the Stokes western guide is correctly identified on Page 325 of the Warbler guide as a ToWa X HeWa hybrid.

Regarding the question of the supercilium stopping well short of the bill, this may be due to the practice of wintering warblers in California pigging out in eucalyptus tree blossoms -- the bird has apparently developed a serious habit over the course of the winter, as the bill area is now quite black and messy.

Finally, I got to hear a nice series of "chip" notes from this bird and felt that they were mostly intermediate between Townsend's and Black-throated Gray. On my first brief sighting, the bird was about 60 feet up in a pine with
an overcast, back-lit sky -- in this light it was not possible to make out any yellow tones. The bird called a couple times, sounding very much Gray-like, to the point where I had to inquire whether there's a Gray known from the park (one was seen about six weeks ago but not since). This bird then vanished for a spell, and then reappeared in a sycamore at closer range (though still in poor light). It looked like the same bird I'd seen earlier, only now the faint yellowish coloration was visible. During the course of several minutes in the sycamore, the bird called about 20-30 times; to me, these calls ran the gamut between a flat Townsend's Warbler call to a couple that were basically in the range of Black-throated Gray. I had heard quite a few chips that morning given by proper Townsend's Warblers, both before and after hearing the mystery bird, and they all struck me as more clear and piercing than any of the calls given by the weirdo.

I'd love to identify this bird, but would have to defer to Kimball's statement that "this is unknowable, certainly at least in the absence of a specimen."

Robb Hamilton <robbham@flash.net>
Trabuco Canyon, CA USA - Sunday, March 07, 1999 at 12:00:38 (PST)
I haven't posted here in a while, so I'll add a couple quick comments. I agree with David Fix that the grosbeak is rather interesting...the extensive dark undertail seems to be a good clue for something, but I don't know what. The grebe looks to be a classic Eared, although a little pale. But upon second glance, the neck is a bit thick and the flanks a bit white and contrasty. Still, I think it's just one of those birds you may have to look twice at.
Steve Tucker <pintail@jetlink.net>
Ventura, Ca USA - Sunday, March 07, 1999 at 11:41:31 (PST)
As an eastern birder with little experience with either Townsend's or B-t Gray I feel hesitant to comment, but I do think this is a cool bird. My initial impression was that it fit an axanthic Townsend's quite well, but then I tried to explain away the details that didn't quite fit with a Townsend's minus most of the yellow, and I am not sure that I have been entirely successful. The narrowness of the pale 'surround' at the rear of the auricular patch is a bit bothersome, but I think I am most concerned with the anterior end of the superciliary. It seems to end quite abruptly at some distance from the base of the bill. Townsend's photos I have at hand consistently show the superciliary reaching the base of the bill, with only a narrow separation between the 2 superciliaries. Also, I wonder if the wingbar on the greater coverts isn't a little broader than typical of Townsend's? Any comments on these features from those who know the range of variation better than I?
Jim Mountjoy <j_mountjoy>
Lancaster, PA USA - Thursday, March 04, 1999 at 12:16:39 (PST)
The Grosbeak looks like a Rose-breasted. The black head looks like an adult male. The streaked breast looks like an immature or female. The background in the streaked area on the upper breast looks like the rose-red area on a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I think that this is an immature male which is still in the process of molting into adult plumage.
To me the Grebe is a bit more puzzling. The the straight culmen makes the bill look like an Eared, but it also looks just a bit too thick for an Eared's bill. The amount of white on the neck and head seems more like an Horned. The forehead appears steep like an eared, but to me it looks like there are raised feather tracts along the lateral edges of the crown resembling the "horns on a breeding plumaged Horned Grebe (or the head shape of a Red-necked). From the angle of the photograph, I think that the "horns" may create an optical illusion making it look like an Eared's steep forehead. In conclusion I think that most features favor Horned Grebe.

Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Thursday, March 04, 1999 at 12:00:56 (PST)
The grosbeak is very odd looking. Is it just the picture or does this bird really have an all dark head as it appears? The pale whitish bill heavy streaking on the breast and the white belly all point to Rose-breasted. There appears to be some hint of rose in the buffy section of the upper breast. A Rose-breasted showing this breast pattern should have a pale throat and streaked head rather than a solid dark hood.
Perhaps this is a young male that has molted into first spring head pattern while retaining the first fall pattern to the underparts.

I believe the grebe is an Eared. The straight culmen, very steep forehead and high forecrown all point to Eared. The lack of dark coloration wrapping around the front of the lower neck, excessive white on the flanks and around face all seem more like Horned but structurally this bird is shaped like an Eared Grebe.

Dave Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Thursday, March 04, 1999 at 09:00:40 (PST)
The grosbeak may prove this month's more challenging bird. The grebe looks to me like a total Eared, with the characteristic 'pleisiosaur' thin neck and doit pin head, pebble-shaped body, no tail, and 'turnstone' bill, the elements that I have in mind when seeing or imagining one.
David Fix
Arcata, USA - Wednesday, March 03, 1999 at 14:35:59 (PST)
I have responded privately to what Matt had to say, but thought it might be reiterated here. Although I basically with what he said about the call-notes of any species being variable, I believe this is just not the case with 'like call-notes' among birds of this Dendroica subgroup. I have not yet heard a Townsend's Warbler chip that I have initially taken to be a Black-throated Gray, nor have I heard a Townsend's that, as was Matt's experience, really sounded like a Townsend's only once in a series of calls. To my ears, the electronic and essentially single-noted 'tzp' note of Townsend's Warbler has always lacked the quality I associate with 'Gray: that note is lower-pitched, and is distinctly composed of two or three tones given simultaneously. In this respect it suggests (...only by dint of the multiple tones!) the chip of Yellowthroat, whereas that of Townsend's doesn't. Frankly, I would put some thought into looking at the odds of a bird that both (1) resembles, perhaps, a hybrid or backcross involving these two species--or some other parentage--and also (2) uttering a chip-note that doesn't sound typical of Townsend's. My pers. exp. has been in WA, OR, and CA and over 25+ yrs. of intensive ear-birding. So let's not disregard this report.
David Fix <dfxjcp@humboldt1.com>
Arcata, USA - Thursday, February 25, 1999 at 13:39:36 (PST)
Someone asked what the back looked like so let me add that. Other than the faint green tones visible only in good light, there are a few thin streaks. On the most recent visit, we felt they were rather sparse and thin. But they vary by age and sex, so I am not certain how meaningful this will be.
We also heard the bird call a number of times. You'll like this: we thought the calls were intermediate! What weaklings! The call was softer than typical Townsend's and only once really recalled that species. Yet, it was not the flat, hollow Gray note either. It is the first time I could be certain I was hearing the bird (as there are other Townsend's around) and none of us felt it was right for Townsend's. Now with that said, calls of any species are extremely variable and we have all chased down weird calls that miraculously turned into very common birds. So, as much as I want to cheer on the hybrid team, I think using this angle is only suggestive.

Matt Heindel <mtheindel@aol.com>
Irvine, CA USA - Wednesday, February 24, 1999 at 17:53:10 (PST)
The following comments are in regards to the Point Reyes warbler from 6 October 1977.

I'm really surpirsed at the number of people leaning towards Yellow Warbler. From what I can tell from this image this bird has a distinct eye-ring and an indistinct gray coloration on the ear coverts and the neck sides. It also appears that this bird has a white belly and yellow undertail coverts. All of which make this a good candidate for Nashville Warbler. Out of all of the first year Yellow Warblers I have seen I do not remember them being as nearly dark-backed as this bird and the white on the belly blended into the yellow on the undertail coverts and did not exhibit the demarcation that this bird appears to have.

As usual Joe has an excellent group of mystery birds.

I pass on making judgement on the hummngbird.

Terry Brashear <birdnird@geocities.com>
Minneapolis, MN USA - Wednesday, February 24, 1999 at 08:46:56 (PST)
I would be interested hearing from Matt, Kimball (or others who have seen this bird) about what the back pattern of this bird looked like in the field. Is the upper back streaked and is it as gray as it looks in the photos? Something else I noticed on the bottom photo tonight is the amount of white along the full length of the outer tail feathers. Any additional comments on either of these two areas would be appreciated. Thanks.
Dave Irons <Irons@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Tuesday, February 23, 1999 at 23:40:44 (PST)
I've puzzled over these excellent photos and also looked at the bird in life once (very good, though brief views). I think Matt has represented my views fairly, but I thought I would briefly reinforce them here. The bird is clearly not a Black-throated Gray Warbler, and even a black-and-white photo would show a number of fatal flaws, notably the crescent under the eye, and the supercilium that is broadly continuous with the pale supraloral area. Also, the dark auricular area appears entirely outlined with pale in at least one photo, and narrowly or very indistinctly continuous with the nape in most of the others. At best this is an intermediate character between Black-throated Gray and Townsend's, or is indeterminate. My feelings when first looking at the photos were along the lines of "why isn't this merely a Townsend's that is missing most of its carotenoid pigments (hence, "axanthic" or lacking in yellow)?" I agree with Matt and others that we cannot know the "answer" without taking the investigation to another level involving precise morphometric and genetic work; thus, our collective "thoughts" aren't really that important. But I see very little in this bird that suggests Black-throated Gray other than absence or great reduction of yellow pigment which gives a superficial resemblence to that species. I don't feel that the concentration of yellow pigments in the supraloral area is necessarily indicative of BT Gray: first, yellow pigments may have their greatest concentration in this area in Townsend's also and, second, the yellow is far more extensive posteriorly than it would be in BT Gray and thus does not correspond to that species' supraloral spot. Although the reduction in yellow could well be explained by hybridization, I guess I would just expect some intermediacy toward BT Gray in the distribution of melanins; the only place we see this is in the (possible) connection of the auricular to the dark hindneck. In summary, I remain firmly on the fence and resolve that this is unknowable, certainly at least in the absence of a specimen. But if pressed, I would lean toward the "odd Townsend's" end of the unknowable spectrum. [By the way, this bird's calls have been described as Townsend's-like, but an occasional call closer to BT Gray has apparently been heard -- we're dealing with subtleties here, of course; I didn't hear the bird for certain]
Kimball L. Garrett <kgarrett@nhm.org>
Los Angeles, CA USA - Tuesday, February 23, 1999 at 11:43:02 (PST)
Obviously my comments have been a burr in a couple of saddles, which is good because it has spurred a little more discussion and a post from someone who actually saw the bird in life (even better). I hope no one was offended by my rather direct method of asking for more explanation of their conclusion. I was not familiar with the term "axanthic". That potential condition of the bird certainly presents another possibility. I want to clarify one thing that both Gary and Matt seemed to grab onto regarding my original post. My suggestion about the black and white photo has been a little misconstrued. If you look at my original post it noted that the connection between the auricular and the nape is not quite right for Black-throated Gray and that the subocular crescent is a Townsend's and not a Black-throated Gray fieldmark. Obviously, when we all pulled up these photos they were labeled as a "mystery bird" so we all had our minds open and our focus sharpened. We were all definitely looking at the details, that's why we engage in this sort of fun. My suggestion was that if an average birder saw this bird photographed in black and white and tool only a cursory look they would likely conclude the bird was a Black-throated Gray because of the broad auricular. Obviously, a critical look at the face would not lead anyone to believe this bird is a pure Black-throated Gray. I for one appreciate the extra posts on this bird. Too often the first couple posts agree on the identity of a bird and then no one else chimes in and no further questions are posed. A good example was last month with the Sapsuckers, when the final poster was the first one to point out that the holes in the tree looked bright red. Hopefully we will see more good commentary on this warbler.
Dave Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Tuesday, February 23, 1999 at 08:39:56 (PST)
I have had the pleasure of seeing this beast in life on four occasions, most recently this past Saturday. Larry's pictures are excellent (as usual) and representative of what we see in real life. As Joe covers in the intro, there has been debate as to whether this bird is an aberrant Townsend's or a hybrid and I see that is already starting here. I think it is prudent to keep any opinions to the guess stage as this is largely unknowable. At least one of the comments has a tone that strikes me as a bit too authoritative, given the problem in front of us.
With that said, I am in the hybrid camp, although I am only betting a little over 50 cents on the dollar. I am not sure if Kimball Garrett is around at the moment, but when we saw the bird together, he lined up slightly on the axanthic Townsend's side. Neither of us were the least bit firm and both concede our conclusions have holes.
The bird, to me, looks like a BT Gray with a little color on close view and a bad face pattern (for gray). I do not pretend to have a scientific bone in my body and leave these questions to those that do. If this is an axanthic bird, meaning it lacks the necessary pigments for the yellow color, I do not understand why this lack of yellow would not be more uniform. Wouldn't it be either gray entirely or pale yellow? In this case, we have a region above the eye extending forward to the supraloral region that is rather bright. Could an axanthic bird have this? The same can be said for the back? The back and down through the rump are slightly washed with green only visible in good light. Yet, as the pics show, the lower scaps and lesser coverts are gray. Again, if it were lacking green, wouldn't it be uniform? Finally, on the hybrid side, this does seem to have a combination of characters, particularly the face pattern. The rear border to the auricular seems intermediate. It is definitely wrong for BT Gray and this, along with the eye cup, are good reasons why this would not be correctly ID'd as a Gray if this were a black-and-whte photo. (It also shows we all need to study common birds thoroughly on these little details!) But, I think it is premature to say this face pattern is out of the range for Townsend's. The adult males in particular seem to have a very clear line connecting behind the auriculars. but, I wonder if anyone has done a thorough search on the im. female end of the plumage to see how much it varies. I have seen variation but am not sure what it means.
So, I still think it is a hybrid, but try to keep my disagreements with Kimball to a minimum (to keep my mistakes to this same minimum). I do not think he is strongly against hybrid but his point is worth consideration. In addition to the eye cup and face pattern, this bird has at least some streaks on the undertail coverts. And, the hybrid camp uses this bright yellow in the suprloral area as a mark in support and yet the bright part of the yellow is far more extesive than would be present in a BT Gray. So, something different is causing this.
It is a fun one.

Matt Heindel <mtheindel@aol.com>
Irvine, CA USA - Monday, February 22, 1999 at 20:34:46 (PST)
I guess I need to respond to David Irons' question about the logic behind my suggestion that the bird might be a "partially leucistic" Townsend's. First of all I do agree that the bird is most likely a hybrid Black-throated Gray/Townsend's, for many of the same reasons given by David Irons in his original post. Particularly the auricular patch and the way it fuses into the gray on the nape, and the lack of greenish in the back. My suggestion that partial leucism needed to be considered refers to the reduced amount of yellow on many of the parts of a Townsend's which would normally be bright yellow. According to my understanding, leucism refers to reduced pigmentation. I have often seen the term "partial albino" in print. Since albinism is usually caused by a recessive gene which prevents the development of all pigment, I think that "partial" albinism is an impossibility. On the other hand, reduced pigmentation in the feathers a bird, or reduced pigmentation of any other organism for that matter, can run the gamut from slightly reduced coloration to nearly pure white. Therefore, I think that these partially white birds/organisms should be refered to as "partially leucistic" rather than "partial albino". I also have never seen albinism or leucism in wood warblers, but both terms are defined in the glossary of Jon Dunn & Kimball Garrett's, A Field Guide to the Warblers of North America. I'm not sure if they have any specific reference to either leucism or albinism in warblers. On one point I do disagree with David Irons. I think that the subocular mark would probably eliminate a "pure" Black-throated Gray even on a black and white photograph, but the ear patch would probably also eliminate a "pure Townsend's". Sorry for the confusion, in the future I'll try to explain my reasoning behind my hare-brained conclusions!
Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Sunday, February 21, 1999 at 23:37:57 (PST)
Partially leucistic Townsend's?????? I don't understand the logic. I wish when a conclusion like this was offered up that the poster would accompany it with some logical argument. If comments are not referring to specific markings on the bird in the picture their is little room for discussion or learning.

My understanding of leucism and the leucistic birds I have seen all showed a cream to tan coloration replacing the typical feather pigmentation leaving the bird devoid of any typical color or pattern. I see no part of this individual that I would characterize as showing such a pattern. I have not seen any species of wood warbler that was either albinistic or leucistic. If someone has I would be interested in hearing a description of the bird.

Dave Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Saturday, February 20, 1999 at 20:13:15 (PST)
It looks like a probable hybrid Townsend's x Black-throated Gray to me. But I suppose that without a DNA sample there's nothing to dispute the possibility that it is a partially leucistic Townsend's. It looks like a neat bird!
Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Saturday, February 20, 1999 at 17:42:12 (PST)
I don't see any reason to believe that this bird is anything but a hybrid between Black-throated Gray and Townsend's. On the surface it very suggestive of a typical immature Black-throated Gray only with yellow on parts of the face and breast.

In looking at this bird closer I see the following features that point to Black-throated Gray. First, the cheek patch does not taper at the rear and is not completely framed by yellow. It remains rather even in width all the way back, it is quite gray and connects with the gray on the nape. Secondly, the underparts are dominated by white and necklace of streaking on the upper breast seems irregular and incomplete. Finally the upperparts are mostly gray lacking the typical olive green or dusky greens of a normal Townsend's

Several features pointing to Townsend's include the obvious suffusion of yellow about the face and upper breast. The yellow crescent below the eye is also a mark shown by Townsend's and not Black-throated Gray. The amount of streaking on the upper breast and the flanks seems more suggestive of Townsend's to me. The connection between the cheek patch and nape is not as broad as I would expect it to be on a Black-throated Gray. Finally, the supercilium is broader all the way to the back of the head and does not taper and fade away like it would on a Black-throated Gray.

I'm surprised anyone would suggest that this bird is somehow an abberant Townsend's. If the photo were only black and white I believe most people would call this bird a Black-throated Gray. I believe the bird is probably an adult female and definitely a hybrid between the two species.

Dave Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Saturday, February 20, 1999 at 16:14:35 (PST)
This bird so strikingly resembles what one might imagine a BYWA X TOWA to look like that I find I can only agree with this tentative ID. The heavy, broad auricular which nearly reaches the nape, the black-and-white overall coloration, and the 'look' of the face are BTG features, while the yellow in the fore section of the superciliary, yellowish wash on upper breast and, particularly, the distinctive yellowish semicircular or crescentic 'tick' beneath the eye strongly point to Townsend's. Based upon general range overlap and the possibility of habitat dovetailing, one might think BYWA X HEWA would be more likely by odds, but the yellow in the breast doesn't support that, nor does the subocular tick. We cannot know if this is an F1 bird or a backcross. A point to be borne in mind is that some other mixed-species ancestry might conceivably create characteristics mimicking what we'd think a BYWA X TOWA would look like, but ... what? Logging pressure over the past forty-fifty years in areas where these species would ordinarily be somewhat segregated through altitudinal zonation has effected a broadscale mixing of early- and mid-seral forest regrowth with remnant 'pristine' Townsend's habitat, and so, with that concept in mind, perhaps the appearance of such a creature is not terribly surprising. What a strange-looking bird! Thanks Larry and Joe.
David Fix
USA - Saturday, February 20, 1999 at 13:26:18 (PST)
I fail to see why this hummingbird is not an _Archilochus_. One of the key distinctions between _Archilochus_ and _Calypte_ is the relative width of the inner primaries to the outer primaries. On this bird, the inner primaries are much narrower than the outer primaries. This is the hallmark of _Archilochus_.
Chris Sloan <chris.sloan@vanderbilt.edu>
Nashville, TN USA - Friday, February 12, 1999 at 11:19:59 (PST)
The hummingbird looks like a Black-chinned based on the coloration of the head, the white spot behind the eye, and the decurved bill. However, the underparts look a bit too immaculate, more like a Costa's. The tail also looks a bit short, and the outer rectrixes too rounded for Black-chinned. Maybe the answer to the question is that it can not be identified with certainty from this photograph. If it is identified as a Black-chinned, what eliminates Ruby-throated other than it was photographed in California?
As for the warbler, the photograph is out of focus, and the resolution on my computer screen is very poor, but I'm going to stick my neck out any way. I think that the eye ring is too white and too prominant for a Yellow Warbler. I also think that I see a few chestnut or orangish spots in the head. The tail appears short, but from this view I'm not sure how I can tell that. The under tail coverts look yellow, but the lower belly looks whitish. I think it is a Nashville Warbler.

Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Wednesday, February 10, 1999 at 22:46:49 (PST)
I don't see any reason based on the photograph why the warbler is not a Yellow. It shows the pale tertial edges. I often see very dull immature Yellow Warblers with obvious eye-rings. Occasionally these birds look grayish enough to require a second look to eliminate Nashville.
Nick Lethaby <nlethaby@ix.netcom.com>
Milpitas, CA USA - Wednesday, February 10, 1999 at 13:12:58 (PST)
As another "hummingbird idiot" I have no
opinion about the I.D. of the pictured bird. About the warbler, I would agree that it is most likely a Yellow. Like Orange-crowns they can be highly variable, and the eye-ring is a common feature. Years back I mistook a very grayish Yellow Warbler for a Virginia's because it had a crisp eye-ring and whitish underparts, which goes to show how widely they can vary in appearance. An immature Yellow Warbler will (always?) show broad greenish yellow edgings to the flight feathers, which I think I can see in this photo.

John Mariani <rednot@pacbell.net>
San Jose, CA USA - Wednesday, February 10, 1999 at 10:14:23 (PST)
Perhaps Costa's Hbird, imm.
Jack Dozier <jdozier@nettally.com>
Alligator Pt., FL USA - Tuesday, February 09, 1999 at 22:08:51 (PST)
I am basically a Hummingbird Idiot. However, at first glance, the bird suggests an imm. Black-chinned Hummingbird. The white postocular spot looks pretty good, as do the dusky auriculars. The crown looks rather dusky as well, and has some hints of green. The throat and underparts are clearly white. I do notice that the white extends up underneath the auriculars which is good for Black-chinned. I also like that the outer three rectricies are tipped white. The bill looks pretty good for Black-chinned as well. Could the bird be an imm. Ruby-throated? I'm not going there!

The warbler looks like a Yellow.

Michael J San Miguel, Jr. <sanmigliz@aol.com>
Glendora, ca USA - Tuesday, February 09, 1999 at 21:21:43 (PST)
I am by no means a hummingbird expert but I would call this bird an immature Archilochus. The assumption since it was photographed in California would be Black-chinned. I haven't kept close tabs on Ruby-throated records in California, I guess there are accepted records. I base my opinion on the following features. In general the bird is quite clean below with a crisp demarcation with dark greenish upperparts occurring right at the eyeline. The bird shows a small white teardrop behind the eye and lores that look blackish. There is some hint of greenish gray markings on the flanks but this is tough to see well at this angle.

I don't have a lot of experience with Black-chinned but I find the bronzish green cast more suggestive of Ruby-throated.

I agree with David Fix on the warbler. The clear crisp eyering is a mark I've often seen on fresh fall immatures. Also the pale edges to the secondaries and tertials gives immature and basic plumaged female Yellow Warblers a distinctive "shafted" appearance. The overall greenish cast to the back is also fairly typical of the species for this time of year. I admit the clarity of the eyering threw me off track right off, but there were no other field marks that would suggest Nashville, Connecticut or Chesnut-sided.
These are really the only species I can think of which would show such a distinctive eyering.

David Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Monday, February 08, 1999 at 19:19:59 (PST)
I'll leave the hummingbird to the experts. I will offer the opinion that the warbler looks very much like a Yellow.
David Fix
Arcata, USA - Monday, February 08, 1999 at 17:44:03 (PST)
The first thing that struck me about the first picture was
not the bird but the strange color of the (apparent) holes
that the bird drilled into whatever tree he is on. This may be a color flaw in the photo, but that arboretum tree appears to be exuding bright red sap. The color on the nape and face of the bird also appears to me to be a stain rather than actual pigment in the bird's feathers, especially since the red seems to splash irregularly onto the white stripe over the eye.
Could this bird be a yellow-bellied sapsucker stained by secretions from some odd imported tree (or even by berries)?
Now, as for the second bird, I have no idea.

Cliff Bernzweig <cb002g@uhura.cc.rochester.edu>
Rochester, NY USA - Monday, February 01, 1999 at 18:11:22 (PST)
Hi all:

I would agree with most that the left-hand bird appears to be a back-cross hybrid, potentially RNSAxRBSA. I am, again like others, more intrigued with the right-hand bird.

First a couple comments about plumages and coloration:

Though I have heard that YBSAs occasionally show variably red napes, I don't recall ever seeing such a bird. I do believe, though, that the bird pictured here is probably such a beast. As to the reddish color below the black frame noted by Matt, I'm not sure that I would put much weight in its importance for two (potentially related) reasons: 1)yellow and red in most birds are both constructed of carotenoid pigments and are exceedingly similar to each other. Very slight changes in molecular structure can change the color that is expressed (see orange-tailed CEDWs, yellow and/or orange HOFIs, etc.). So, the color exhibited by this bird may simply be a pigment abnormality. Even so, it is interesting, as I do not recall seeing any YBSA with reddish on the belly.

2) Perhaps a YBSA showing red on the nape would be more likely to show extra red elsewhere.

Additionally, I'm not convinced that the small whitish spot at the base of the bill is significant. It may very well be a white feather, but it could also be the base of a red chin feather or two that are not depressed. I have caught, banded, and inspected quite a few RNSAs (and a few YBSAs). The red feathers on the throat and the chin (particularly so) of sapsuckers have white bases, so if those feathers are ruffled, the white bases become visible. And, having handled some 20,000+ birds, I have found it interesting how many individuals have white feathers in tracts that aren't normally so, ranging from 100s of feathers (thus, obvious in the field) down to a single feather (thus, obviously not usually detectable in the field). I would estimate the incidence of at least one (abnormally) white feather on individual birds as 1-4%. So, I don't believe that one white feather necessarily means much.

I cannot imagine any RNSA having such a solid and wide black frame to the throat patch. It would certainly be nice if the bird were just rotated a few degrees so that we could see just a little bit of the back, because, obviously, the correct answer may very well become apparent. But, alas, birds aren't always obliging, thus requiring us to consider other field marks. This is a wonderfully educational picture. Congrats to Peter L.

A couple further comments on RNSA: A fairly large percentage of this species do not show as extensive a patch of red on the nape as the field guides illustrate. Many do, but many don't. Some have such a small patch, or the extent of red on individual feathers is so small, or both, that, in the field, some birds can appear to virtually lack red on the nape. We caught such a bird at Barr Lake in fall '98. A group of birders found a sapsucker that they thought, after long views, had no red on the nape. We caught it shortly thereafter and showed it to them and, to their amazement, it did have red on the nape. But, the red was restricted to the tips (about 1-2mm in extent) of a patch of nape feathers about 1/3 to 1/2 inch wide.

Additionally, I am still stymied by a not-insignificant number of them, as regarding their sex. I have caught quite a few birds that had entirely red throats, but a mix of red and white on the chin. What are these? I know that they're not consistently old females, as most were second-year or third-year birds (sapsuckers, and other woodpeckers, are readily aged to third year - sometimes beyond - by flight feather and primary covert molt patterns; see Pyle (1997)). Do some younger males retain white on the chin? Do some females have mostly-red chins? Unfortunately, I couldn't sex these by brood patch, as both sexes develop brood patches.

Keep these great quizzes coming, Joe!

Tony Leukering <cbotrends@aol.com>
Brighton, CO USA - Saturday, January 16, 1999 at 19:31:10 (PST)
looking at the two quiz birds, the best i can offer is that the one on the right may perhaps have a wide border to the throat as a result of williamson's somewhere in the lineage. the one on the left is a toss-up.
as an easterner i have the reverse perspective of those of you who sort through sapsuckers looking for a yellow-bellied. i can tell you that i've found two "red-naped" [yellow-bellied?] sapsuckers in louisiana, and that i was never able to come to a conclusion as to id for either. the first i believe was a yellow-bellied, as the nape was a thinly suffused red; the second had a much deeper red nape, was mostly black on the back, etc. though i telephoto-videotaped the second bird for a month and have hours of film on it, and submitted it as a red-naped, i had to reject it when the record came up for a vote because there is just too much ambiguity in purported field marks for these 'species'. review of museum trays and published photos have me convinced that for a possibly extralimital record, a bird better fit the description to a "t" or be left un-id'ed. because of the potential for mix-ups with adult males, i've always hoped for a nice female red-naped with a medium amount of red in the throat. males will almost certainly be rejected. btw, there are shots of the better-marked of the two "red-napeds" that i've seen in la at

i'd love comments from those of you whose everyday sapsucker is the red-naped.

having looked at thousands of yellow-bellieds, i find that width of the throat border, back pattern, richness of yellow on underparts, and unfortunately nape color are so variable within this species that there is no such thing as a typical ybsa, and that each individual feature has limited value as a field mark.

paul conover <conover@talstar.com>
tallahassee, fl USA - Wednesday, January 06, 1999 at 12:48:35 (PST)
After reading the comments by Matt, Robb, & David, I took another close look at the right bird. In my original post I said there was no white in the red chin patch. Obviously there is much white showing from the bases of the feathers on the upper half of this area, and I agree with Matt that there is at least one white feather near the base of the bill. Does this make it possibly a female, or as David suggested, is it a male just coming into adult plumage? I also think I see at least a couple of red/pink feathers in the otherwise rusty area between the black breast patch and the upper wing. Does this make it a partial hybrid with RBSA as Matt suggests? Also even though I previously stated that YBSA can have a red nape patch, I have never observed this either, but then being a life long Californian I haven't observed many YBSAs anyway. I did once see an otherwise typical RNSA with a pale pink nape patch, which supports the comments made by others, that sapsuckers can be quite variable.
Gary Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Wednesday, January 06, 1999 at 12:03:28 (PST)
Sorry, as I should have added this to the previous message. There are two minor comments on the second bird. First, I am not sure if this is from my monitor, but below the black breast, near the right shoulder, I feel like there is some pinkish-red. If this is real, we are back to a hybrid (no doubt one far removed as it looks very little like a Red-breasted). I would be interested in knowing if others are seeing any color here. Secondly, there is one white feather on the chin (I believe). My understanding is that some females (older ones?) have almost no white in the chin. Further, some females look more like males with age, so perhaps it is possible that some show no white in the field. If that one chin feather is not an artifact, it may argue that this is a female Red-naped. (That would explain the black frame a lot better!)
Matt Heindel <mtheindel@aol.com>
Irvine, CA USA - Wednesday, January 06, 1999 at 11:09:13 (PST)
I love saps (being one myself-sorry). In the desert of east Kern, strange stuff happens with their distribution. In many falls, assumed hybrids are as numerous as "pure" Red-breasteds. I use quotes and assumed as I believe we still have a very poor understanding of plumage limits in this complex. I have been looking at skins everytime I visit museums and leave feeling less confident with each visit.
On the first bird, I agree with Robb's assessment and feelings. We get a number of birds in this plumage in the Kern desert and affectionately refer to them as 'sap things'. It is possible that this is an extreme plumage of a particular species (in this case, Red-naped), but I suspect not. Similarly, we get some closer to what might be an extreme of Red-breasted (and many observers are unaware of the extent this species has of facial stripes) but, the quiz bird appears to be far too marked for a Red-breasted and too messy for Red-naped. (How is that for using scientific terms?)
The second bird is tough. I cannot identify this bird in this view. I was just asked to look at a sap found on the China Lake count and reported as a Yellow-bellied. I watched it from 10-15 feet and am not comforable naming it. It has two characteristics of YBSA and 2 of RNSA. I think we need to remember that if we are naming everything, we are surely in over our heads. With the CL bird, I just felt (in lieu of my portable DNA kit) we just need to leave it open.
Similarly, in this quiz bird, I feel we do not have enough to confidently identify it. The bird looks like it ran into a wall with a steep forehead and an unknown effect on its feather tracts. The black frame is bolder than is typically present on YBSA, and totally outside RNSA limits. Like others, I have not seen red on the nape of a YBSA but understand it happens. But, this sure is a boldly marked bird on the nape and head. I have been surprised to see whitish feathers (or bases) on throats on a number of specimens of YBSA, from various age groups, so I am not sure what little white showing there is meaningful. We can not get a good view of the back pattern but I feel I am seeing white near the top and bottom of the back. I am open to this being an artifact, but what I see looks better for RNSA. If there are other angles, perhaps this bird can be confidently identified, but I would leave this one alone based on this view.

Matt Heindel <mtheindel@aol.com>
Irvine, CA USA - Wednesday, January 06, 1999 at 11:00:44 (PST)
The left bird looks like one of many presumed Red-naped X Red-breasted hybrids I've encountered in southern California and Baja California. According to Kaufman's Advanced Birding, the surest mark for this hybrid combination is the presence of black on the chest of a bird with an obvious dose of Red-breasted parentage. His depiction of a RbXRn hybrid looks about 80-90% Red-breasted, with mere traces of the Red-naped pattern coming through. I've seen a couple of those types, but more often I see birds like the mystery bird -- mostly Red-naped with a variable wash of red through the white areas -- this bird shows so little red coloration that I'd expect it to be back-crossed.

The other bird's more troubling since (as noted by Gary Potter) a little red in the nape is reportedly okay for Yellow-bellieds. The color in this bird's nape looks to be more restricted than is typical for a "true" Red-naped, and the black throat border is really extreme. I'd have a hard time believing that a male sapsucker with that much black around the throat could carry the blood of a Red-naped. Sapsuckers are a bit of a mess, though, so it seems a bit presumptious to rule out hybridism (particularly for a life-long Californian like me), but I'm interested to hear what others have to say!

Robb Hamilton <robbham@flash.net>
Trabuco Canyon, CA USA - Tuesday, January 05, 1999 at 23:32:58 (PST)
After an 8-yr hiatus in the midwest (Indiana and Illinois) it is nice to see that sorting out the variety of sapsucker morphs is no less an exact science than it used to be.

The left hand bird has all the appearance of a Red-naped with exception of the irregular pattern of red feathers on parts of the head that are usually either black or white. I agree with Mr. Potter that the bird is either a Red-naped X Red-breasted hybrid or resulting back cross.

I find the right hand bird to be more intriguing. For the most part it looks to be a typical male Yellow-bellied in what looks to be a rather fresh plumage. The photo appears to show a few remaining white feathers in the throat patch indicating the bird might be just reaching it's first adult plumage. The rather small red throat patch surrounded by a broad black border is typical of adult male Yellow-bellieds.
The other feature I notice is the amount of black on the head particularly between the eye and crown. In my experience Yellow-bellieds have a lot more black on the head than Red-napeds and this bird has that look. Although Mr. Potter suggests that Yellow-bellieds can show a red nuchal patch I have never observed this in 8 years of trying to "find" a Red-naped in the midwest. I am more inclined to believe this bird might be a hybrid between a Yellow-b ellied and Red-naped.

While the sapsuckering in the midwest is much simpler it is far greater to both being in the west and having to deal with the sapsucker ID difficulties that this region of the country presents. I look forward to seeing the banter these photos incite.

David Irons <Irons5@aol.com>
Eugene, OR USA - Tuesday, January 05, 1999 at 00:45:14 (PST)
The back pattern of the bird on the left looks typical for Red-naped Sapsucker. The throat pattern also looks fairly typical for RNSA, assuming that what looks like a black area on the central throat is really a dark shadow caused by flash photography. The darkish mottling on the belly also looks fairly typical of a first winter Red-Naped Sapsucker. The red in the post ocular line and the extensive, diffuse red on the nape cause some problems. Has this sapsucker been feeding on the bloody carcass of some raptor's recent kill, or could it be a second or third generation back cross to a Red-naped/Red-breasted hybrid? At any rate the photo is so out of focus and the lighting is poor enough that I'm not really sure, but mostly it resembles an atypical RNSA.

I think that the bird on the right is a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, inspite of the red nape patch. The thick black border to the smallish red throat patch is typical for YBSA, and some YBSAs particularly males, (which this bird is due to lack of any white in the throat area) can have a red nape patch. It would be helpful if we could also see the back pattern on this bird, extensive white instead of two vertical white lines like those on the left bird, would clinch this as a YBSA.

Gary W. Potter <GWPOTT@aol.com>
Sanger, CA USA - Monday, January 04, 1999 at 22:19:58 (PST)