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It generally goes something like this:
“Is that a….wait a minute, I think it’s…could it be?”
I have only been birding for six years now and it didn’t take me long to figure out that identifying a bird is not an easy task, even among the more seasoned birders. Especially when it’s a sparrow. It’s like trying to tell the difference between the Kardashians. I couldn’t tell you who is Kourtney, Kim or Khloé. Or even Kris. (That’s the mom, right?) They all look the same and their behavior is the same. (Withholding “immature” comment here.)
Snarkiness aside, my point is that often the differences among birds of the same species are so subtle that were it not for my husband and a bevy of experts out there, I’d miss the differences right before me. I’d think every sparrow was just a sparrow, genericizing it to the degree that it marginalizes each individual bird’s character, whether it be the coloring, the song, or even it’s behavior. In Corporate America we call that commoditizing: When your customer doesn’t recognize any difference between your product and the competitor’s. It’s what every business person wants to avoid. So I imagine it’s probably the same in the bird world. For heaven’s sake, I like to be recognized for my differences, why wouldn’t a sparrow?
Admittedly, my experience with correctly ID’ing a sparrow is limited. I can pretty much tell a White-crowned Sparrow from the rest. And a House Sparrow. (I know those guys too.) But the rest? That’s when I need an expert (read: husband). And a camera. That way, we can snap a photo so we can examine it, zoom in on it when we pull it up on the computer, and flip through our field guide to compare it. Yes, compare it to the gazillion other little sparrow guys who all look the same. I often feel like I’m looking at a police line up or police photo book. (Enter Law and Order music now.)
But alas, awesome little Golden Books field guide notwithstanding, while in Southeast Arizona a couple weeks ago we found the following guy and we were convinced it was a Rufous-winged Sparrow, which would have been a lifer for both of us. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Going throughout the day we were hoping he was the Rufous-winged Sparrow, but hadn’t fully committed to it. No sense committing yourself to something that just may not be so. I had a few other photos besides the one above but we were still puzzled even after pulling up the photo on my laptop back at the hotel and flipping back and forth in our field guide. Was he the Rufous-winged Sparrow or perhaps a Brewer’s Sparrow? An immature? Couldn’t tell.
So, I tweeted out the photo, posted it on Facebook and also sent an email to blogger Laurence Butler, who is from the area since folks from the area are often the best experts, as they have sharper eyes for the resident birds. Here’s his responses:
Hey Lisa,I don’t think this is a Rufous-winged Sparrow since it lacks to two dark lateral throat stripes and the eyestripe on the Rufous-wing should also be rufous unless it’s a juvenile, but there wouldn’t be any juveniles this time of year and they’re much more mottled than this bird.The thin black eye stripe, the bold, wide, white supercilium, and the single stripe on the throat, with the softer white malar stripes, point to non-breeding Chipping Sparrow for me. The other possibility, to my eyes, is a funky Clay-colored Sparrow, but they’re more buffy and have a wider eyestripe, as well as a more buffy supercilium.I think Chipping in the best bet here, but of course it’d be good to cross-check this bird with other folks. Chippers have this really nasty habit of mixing in with other flocks too down there in the southeastern corner, when there are so many other Sparrows to already keep an eye on.
Thanks for the additional photos Lisa.There’s a bit of buffiness on the sides of the bird’s face, but that dark, narrow eye stripe, prominent supercilium, and now more evident lack of dark malar stripes on the throat, plus the clean breast rule everything out but Chipping Sparrow. They’re buggers.
I also posted this on my other blog, Baby Aspirin Years. I felt that it should live on both blogs. (Apologies if you subscribe to both.)
It’s the last day of 2012. There have been a lot of wrap up posts floating around and I kept thinking how I would wrap up this year. A year of pictures, showing one per month? A list of things I learned? A list of all the fantastic things I did? Others have written eloquent posts going down memory lane. Me? I kept drafting one and then I felt like I was creating something akin to the ol’ Christmas Letter.
Today Steve and I visited Antelope Island. It’s the last day of the year and the last full day we have together before he heads back to Calgary tomorrow. For me, it’s the perfect wrap up of my year.
It was perfectly white. Perfectly peaceful and perfectly sums up how I feel about this year: A balance of harshness and beauty. Challenges and triumphs. But mostly, it’s where Steve and I go to escape the world and spend quality time together.
View the gallery by clicking on any one of the photos below. They look yummier that way.
The first time I went to Hawaii with my husband, Steve (the true birder in the family), I thought we’d see loads of fantastic birds. Why wouldn’t we? It’s warm and tropical and usually when we go to warm and tropical places (ala Mexico, Belize, Panama) we see many varied and colorful bird species. “Not so with Hawaii,” Steve said in preparing me for the trip. ”About 75% of the native Hawaiian bird species are extinct.”
Extinction. They’re gone. Never to be seen again.
So we went, scuba dived and saw a couple of birds. It wasn’t a birding trip. I didn’t even try to look for birds.
Before our recent trip back to Hawaii, someone on Twitter wrote me, “Hope you see lots of birds!” to which I thought “That’s not going to happen,” feeling a little bummed that Hawaii’s not a very birdy place. (Yes, the great irony is that there are worse things to feel bad about, and going to Hawaii should never be one of them, I realize.)
But this time around it was different. Why not try to find some interesting birds still? Without doing any hard-core birding (the get-up-around-dawn kind of birding with a local guide) we were able to spot 24 bird species with nine of them being lifers (see in bold below in the list) during our four days on the island of O’ahu. The Pacific Golden Plover seemed to be everywhere, as he was wintering in Hawaii. (See my previous post, Aloha to the Pacific Golden Plover.)
A good place for spotting birds is the Waimea Arboretum and Botanical Gardens found on the North Shore of O’ahu. We had arrived an hour before closing and had we been able to spend more time there, I’m certain we would have spotted even more birds.
- Great Frigate Bird or ‘Iwa
- Black-crowned Night-Heron or ‘Auku’u
- Koloa / Mallard
- Common Moorhen or ‘Alae’ula
- Black-necked Stilt or Ae’o (endemic race)
- Pacific Golden Plover or Kolea
- Sanderling or Hunakai
- Wandering Tattler or ‘Ulili
- Common Peafowl at Botanical Gardens
- White-rumped Shama at Botanical Gardens
- Red Junglefowl or Moa (rooster)
- Cattle Egret
- Spotted Dove
- Rock Dove
- Zebra Dove
- Common Myna
- Red-vented Bulbul
- Red-whiskered Bulbul
- Red-crested Cardinal
- Brazilian Cardinal
- House Sparrow
- House Finch
- Common Waxbill
- Chestnut Munia
Yes, my list isn’t very long. And you’ll noticed the list is predominantly introduced species not native to Hawaii. Aside from the Rock Dove, House Finch, House Sparrow, mallard, Stilt and Rooster, the birds in my list are not birds I would find where I live. A little bummed that my list isn’t longer? Of course. Annoyed that 75% of the Hawaiian native species are extinct? Yes, definitely. But going to Hawaii and seeing birds I normally don’t see everyday is exciting. If gives you a sense of place—that you’re somewhere different. And isn’t that what travel is all about?
I’m trying to think about how we get people to care about the birds of Hawaii. Even the American Birding Association (ABA) had a survey earlier this year asking its members if Hawaii should be added to the ABA area. (See George Armistead’s blog on the ABA site for his Top 10 Reasons to make Hawaii part of the ABA.) My feeling is that Hawaii should be added. If not for the reason to help locals as well as visitors to the island appreciate the importance of birds.