Saturday, January 25, 2020

None Of My Birds Are In The Field Guide

I'm a really shitty birder.

But I am a birder. That's why I trip over sidewalk cracks and drive into the ditch at two miles an hour. Birds are always doing something more interesting than I am. But I can't put two new things in my head at the same time without evicting something else. If I learn one bird, another one is going to fly out. It's a problem. I've only got room in there for about thirty species, and female red-winged blackbirds are four of them.

But hawks. For Pete's sake, I should know my local hawks. Birds of prey have distinct shapes. And it's not like there are a million choices. If I see something hawkish, I should be able to pick it out from the small list I'm likely to see in this area. Shouldn't I? There are all those helpful guide books with the hawk silhouettes all stretched out for you. This should be a snap.

Not, of course, if it is a Cooper's hawk or a Sharp-Shinned hawk, which are functionally the same dang bird, and don't believe anything a real birder tells you otherwise--take it from me, the shitty birder.

Today I saw a bald eagle. Pretty sure about that, since it's common here and looks like an ironing board in the sky. Yup, they're pretty much a big straight plank, and they hardly ever flap. This one was getting closer, close enough to zoom in on the white head and tail. I'd alerted my friend to it and we were eager to see it pass overhead.

But it didn't have a white head or tail. My companion was disappointed. Oh, I said knowledgeably, it must be an immature bald eagle. He bought it, too, but the fact  is until it starts making fart noises and flicking boogers I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.

Phases are little bird jokes. They can't stay basic. They've got to have a juvenile phase and a second-year phase and a Libertarian phase before they're all grown up.

I've got one more large hawk in the brain bank. And that is because it has distinctive white buns and glides a certain way and usually close to the ground. I totally know that bird. It's a harrier. The problem is I can never remember "harrier" and always want to call it a goshawk. This leads real birders to think I don't know what I'm talking about. It would be like if I identified a human as "one of those skinny little blond jobs, you know, a Samoan."

So I was very excited indeed to get a great view of a hawk overhead at Rocky Butte. Rocky Butte is one of our raggedy old municipal bonus volcanoes--we've got lots--and a nice high, windy spot to see hawks. It was an exceptionally windy day. The kind of day when you might spot a hawk and then watch it tip to one side and wheel off ten miles distant in three shakes of a rodent's tail. And there is my hawk, hanging motionless right over my head in a friggin' gale. It was amazing. He just sat there like he was posing for a painting and I was even able to locate him in my little point-and-shoot camera and get several sharp shots even though he was ten miles up. I am telling you people he didn't move at all. And I thought: I don't know who he is, but I have a photo of him now, and he has a fat head and fat short tail and real pointy wings, and that means I can look him the heck up. As soon as I get  home. For once in my life I will be able to look him the heck up.

So I did. Um.

I think the Lesser Antilles is missing a hawk.

Okay, there is no hawk shape in the book for my bird, who otherwise looks as crisp as if he belongs on a coat of arms. I realize now, and very much admire, that he has sculpted himself down to the very last wing finger into the precise scoopy shape that will allow a forty-mph wind to roil around him and hang him up motionless in the sky. He is remarkable, whoever he is. I have decided to call him a red-tailed hawk, aerodynamic-genius phase. A real birder will most assuredly chime in if he's really a Samoan.

Incidentally, the Greater Antilles can be told from the Lesser Antilles by its more annoying voice and slightly longer bill.

38 comments:

  1. Hmmm... I looked it up in my Peterson's guide, where they have the "overhead" view. It looks to me like it might be a short-tailed hawk in its dark phase. (Man, they have more phases than a moody teenager!) Same squat look, white on wings, and short, squared, striped tail. Trouble is, they like to hang out in Florida and points south. But, hey, I've seen west coast birds turn up here in the east occasionally, so maybe he just has a really, really poor sense of direction.

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  2. I have held most hawk species found in the Midwest in my hands, but still have trouble identifying them in the air. Harriers and kestrels sometimes hover giving me half a chance, but the rest just zoom by. Maybe some are just drones dressed up to look like birds.

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    1. My favorite part of their zooming is when they're just hanging around and then they tilt slightly and all of a sudden they're in the next county. Without flapping.

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  3. That's a gorgeous dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk, both from the verbal description and the picture.

    You're welcome.

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    1. Thank you. I am willing to accept this although if different votes come in there might be a challenge.

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    2. Update--I thought I'd added in another photo but I must have spaced out. I just put it in, in case it's helpful.

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    3. Well, let's break it down.

      Shape, tail length, and wing proportions say that it's a Buteo (not a falcon, accipiter, kite, or eagle).

      Buteos in your area in winter would be Red-tailed or Rough-legged generally, with Ferruginous or Red-shouldered rarely, but still possible.

      Behavior (hovering in place in a breeze) is a common Rough-legged thing, but Redtails can also use this trick. Ferruginous and Red-shouldered Hawks don't. So it is likely one of the former two species.

      If you lighten up the image to compensate for the backlit underexposure, you can see that the outer primaries are no banded. Rough-legged trait. Head is relatively small, rounded, with a smallish bill. Rough-legged, again. Finally, you can see that the legs are feathered down to the toes. Eponymous Rough-legged trait.

      Nice bird!

      And for the phone app lovers in the audience, there is a free app called Raptor ID, for both Android and Apple phones, from the folks at Hawkwatch International, that is really helpful for identifying raptors in North America. Check it out!

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  4. I'll take anyone's identification of a hawk over my own. Harrier? That's still a Marsh Hawk, to me - lol.
    Cop Car
    P.S. I think Albatrossity is onto something there.

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  5. I tried to learn some of the birds that were attracted to our feeder a couple of years ago, and finally gave up. Now I just sit and enjoy watching birds flap and flutter and glide and circle and have conversations (or arguments) among themselves, and don't let a thing come between me and that enjoyment. What a relief, because I'm an even worse bird-identifier than you claim to be (which I don't fully believe you are) ...

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    1. Oh, you must believe it. There are witnesses. Although I will not vote for subpoenaing witnesses...

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  6. It is the myriad of little brown jobs which do me in. Relatively big lbjs, small lbjs, titchy lbjs.
    Whatever their names are, I enjoy them all.

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    1. Little Brown Jobs. And I extend my definition of LBJ to include any small bird or any colour whose identity is a mystery to me.

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    2. I must confess that I occasionally can identify some of the lbjs that used to confound me. There is hope.

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    3. We call them lbbs (little brown birds).

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  7. Here to second dark morph rough legged hawk. They have a penchant for hanging motionless. And check out the tiny little feet and even tinier bill. That’s because they eat voles. Very very nice.

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  8. I just learned that there are 149 species of frogs in Costa Rica. And they all have names.

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  9. And I care not a flying flipcake because *for the first time* since the bird feeder went up on Christmas Day a bird came! It was Studley Windowson's cousin Frostley. Dang cute. He came four times before I crowbarred the husband out of his easy chair and to the kitchen sink for a viewing of this miracle. But Frostley doesn't like audiences of two apparently, and did not return. But there's al w a a a a a y's tomorrow. (sniff) I can't tell one raptor or hawk from the next either unless it is sitting right in front of me, and half the time not even then. My bird list goes like this: I've seen that one before (I think). That's it. I'm not a details person.

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    1. Cousin Frostley! Tell him "hey" for us. The entire family always takes one seed and bops off to a branch to work it over. It might not be personal.

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  10. Evolution has helped us in Australia. We have the Wedgie.(I'll leave it for someone else to pick up...) which is unmissably distinctive in flight. And the Forky, my most prevalent raptor (central Queensland coast). I am still not convinced that evolution didn't take the fork from one and swap it with the wedge from the other.And I can easily ID from sight and sound the Cleopatra Birds ( OK I'll help you out - Entomyzon cyanotis)When we moved here from NZ I had no idea what half the feathered things were, so until I bought a bird book I called them what they looked like. Kiddies, you either have to ask your Granny or Youtube for Elizabeth Taylor's Celeopetra make-up. OK?)

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    1. Oh, I looked at the pitchers--it's the kohl eye makeup, isn't it?

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    2. Yep and I've got a whole new string of folks calling them Cleopatra Birds!
      But the wedge-tail is know all over this country as a wedgie.

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  11. I find the names can be annoying. Some of them are accurate and descriptive, but others are blatant lies

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    1. Like "flicker." More like Driller.

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    2. Or the red-bellied woodpecker, which looks exactly like the flicker, but minus the neck band. It has that big patch of red on its head, and just the faintest hint of reddish feathers on its belly. And yet, they call it a red-BELLIED woodpecker.

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    3. That one always kind of got me, too.

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  12. I just call them all hawks and that's that. Unless I definitely recognise a wedge tailed eagle, but I haven't seem one in years except that one at the wild life zoo about 7 years ago and he was just perched on a branch. I also love the way they can just hover seemingly forever, then tilt and be gone way across town.

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    1. Most people want to be able to do that. But I don't care for heights, so--back in the burrow I go!

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  13. As the World’s Laziest Birder, I can attest to this. The only 2 birds I can always ID in flight are Golden Eagles— they look like B-52 bombers, so that's easy-peasy, and my spirit bird Buzzards. Heck, we even named our property Buzzard Crest (didn’t want folks to confuse it with Falcon Crest, for god’s sake).

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    1. I think we have buzzards but call them something else.

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  14. Oh my goodness, I love this! I paddle in Jamaica Bay and I did my first Christmas Bird Count with an experienced birder friend. We were the Jamaica Bay Boat unit. I do recognize a fair number of our common locals - brants, bufflehead, long-tailed ducks, common loons, Canada goose, snow goose, etc. this time of year - but I realized pretty quickly that if I wanted to be more useful next year I need to introduce myself to the concept that I should spend some time this year getting better at gulls and sandpipers - I genuinely don't know one from another in those 2 groups.

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  15. mmmm...Samoans....is it Girl Scout Cookie Season yet?

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  16. Với mức lương này có thể phù hợp với những bạn sinh viên vừa mới ra trường, khi mà chưa có trong tay nhiều kinh nghiệm thực tế và kỹ năng làm việc. Chính vì vậy,công việc kế toán trong các môi trường giáo dục rất phù hợp để các bạn thử sức và trau dồi thêm kinh nghiệm.

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