Friday, January 11, 2013

Confusing Identifications

I have come to the conclusion that identifying the birds I see everyday is not an easy task.  Sure I know more birds than your average Joe and there are some that come easy to me.  The common ones I have memorized and can I.D. by sight or sound.  But then there are some real challenges, like trying to I.D. birds that are very similar, or too far away to get a good look, or fly by so fast, you don't get a chance to see their features.

A new yard bird for this week presented a challenge.  A couple of days ago when I looked out my back window, I saw a large bird fly into one of the snowy trees in the back woods.  I ran and got the binoculars and tried to locate it, but couldn't seem to find it.  Finally, I opened the window, looked and listened, and I could hear that it was either a raven or a crow.  Grabbed my iPhone and geared up my iBird app to listen to the calls of the raven and the crow to see if I could distinguish between the two and what I had heard.  Difficult to say the least, I determined at that point.  A little while later, I was letting the little dog (my chihuahua Jack E. Cheez) outside, and there was the crow/raven in the tree right there in front of me.  It looked at me, and I looked at it.  It let out a few caw, caw, caws.  I'm thinking it is a Common Raven, but then again it could be an American Crow.  We exchanged a few glances, the dog a few barks.  I was downstairs at the time, and all my 'gear' was upstairs.  So back upstairs I went, hoping to view it in the binoculars or get a quick snapshot, so I could further analyze it on the computer.  But no, it was gone by then.  Later, I could still hear it in the neighborhood, so out came the iBird app, and I love turning on the sound bites and flirting with the neighborhood birds!  Out on my balcony, in the snow, caw, caw, cawing with the crows!  But, after playing my bird games, consulting my bird apps, I concluded it was a Common Raven, bigger than the American Crow and known to hang out in the area.  The iBird recording and the back and forth between the bird and I was the clincher   Sounded just like a Raven, and not quite like a crow.  So adding to my Yard Bird List for 2013 is "The Common Raven".  I really think he was eyeing the little birds at the suet feeders, seeing if they would make a tasty little snack for a great big black bird.  The nuthatches and Downy took off until trouble left the hood.  Although I am confident that this I.D. was accurate, honestly when I only see a quick glance of a big black bird, I do my best to distinguish between the two, but can't be 100% sure.

I decided since I needed to go to the grocery store, that I would do some birding while I was out and about.  First hotspot near my home is the Walter and Betty Davis wetland about a mile from my home.  The lake is totally frozen now except for a small area at this wetland.  There were about 25 ducks there, a few easily identifiable, the rest, not so much.  Yep, another identity challenge!   I determined I really need a set of binoculars to leave in the car.  There were a pair of Common Mergansers, a male and female I am assuming.  They were apart from the rest of the group.  Also, some Mallards, and then there were the dozen or so unidentifiable ones.  So I took a few fuzzy snapshots in hopes I could I.D. them later after scrutinizing them on the computer.  I did discover several of them to be Ring-necked Ducks.   I have been questioning my I.D. of the American Coots just after New Year, and wondered if they were something else, and now I'm thinking they may have been the same group of mixed ducks, which included at least one coot with the rest of ducks. Still I'm not sure on some of the other ducks.  The females are even tougher to identify.  I'm thinking about posting a couple of the shots on Google+ in my birding communities to see if I can get some help identifying them.  This is where a better quality camera and nice zoom lens would come in handy.  Oh a bird lady can dream can't she?

*After finally going to bed at 2:45 a.m., I'm up with the hubby as he gets ready for work at 4:45 a.m.  Again looking at the fuzzy pictures I took at the wetland yesterday of the ducks I was having a hard time identifying.  I figured it out, after consulting my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds.  Funny how a different reference can cinch the I.D.  Anyways, I am happy to report that there were several American Wigeon along with the Mergansers, Mallards, American Coot and Ring-necked Ducks.  And that is a new life bird for me!!  My first new bird of the year!
Ring-necked Duck and an American Wigeon
I didn't see many Red-tailed Hawks out today, just one actually, which is unusual.  I normally see several on a trip into town between Clayton and Wandermere.  Just after I saw the Red-tail, a Red-shafted (Northern) Flicker flew by that I identified by it's flight pattern and coloring.  A couple of those big black birds were cleaning up a deer carcus along side of the highway.  I assumed they were Ravens, and not the smaller American Crows, but it was just a quick id, as I was driving.

Next I was headed up to Mt. Spokane High School to see if I could see Henrietta, the Snowy Owl that I was lucky enough to encounter last November.  The school's newsletter said she likes to hang out between 7-9 a.m. and 2-4 p.m.  I showed up about 3 pm, and she wasn't there.  On the barn that I saw her roost upon last time, I saw three medium sized birds roosting, but couldn't make them out. Looked a bit like pigeons to me, and I thought I saw them there last time too.  Geez, if I had some binoculars, I could probably have an easier time!

A little further up the road is the Feryn Ranch Conservation Area, that I discovered when I originally came to look for the Snowy Owl.  It is part of the Great Washington State Birding Trails.  On the way, I saw an American Kestrel eating some prey on a light pole at the roundabout on Bruce Rd. and Hwy 206.  To get to the Feryn Ranch, you turn off the highway and go 3500 ft (that's what the sign says) to a parking area.  Along the way, there is a farm home with a bunch of ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys in a fenced in area just off the road.  I stopped and took some photos of the big ol' Tom Turkey that was strutting around showing me his stuff.
Black Spanish Turkey
A pregnant lady came out of the home to see what all the ruckus was about.  I said "I hope you don't mind if I take some photos of your ducks" and mentioned I was on my way to the birding trail. She was nice, and didn't mind at all.  We chatted for quite some time, and I asked about what kinds of ducks they were, hoping to score some birds for my list.  But how does that work with domestic ducks?  If it isn't in my bird books, then I won't count it.  But of course, I am still interested in any birds, not just 'the count'.   There were Toulouse Geese,  The turkeys were Black Spanish Turkeys.  She told me one of them was a Harlequin Duck, which would have been a score if it wasn't a Mallard.  I wasn't gonna argue with her.  I looked at the pics when I got home, just to make sure, and it's a Mallard all right.
When I got to the parking lot for the birding trail, the snow was starting to fall and it was windy out.  So I didn't get out of my car.  I read the signs about the Feryn Ranch Conservation Area and how the water gets there.

The grasses are tall around the parking area, so it's hard to see without getting out of your car, but I did see an old barn and what looked to be a small stream or water of some sort amongst the rolling hills of farmland.  I just spent a few minutes, and then went back to the main road, where a sweet little American Kestrel, one of the three little hawks I saw in that area, sat and posed for me for several pictures.

Still no Henrietta the Owl at the school, but I did see a couple of Black-billed Magpies in the area, and that was about the last of birds for the day.  I went shopping shortly afterwards, and even tried a couple of stores looking for binoculars, but only found a cheesy pair, so that will be a project for another day!

As I'm finalizing my post today, I am adding a Dark-eyed Junco to my Yard Birds and Year Birds.  Just one lone Junco checking out the other regulars at the suet.

Sherrie's Lakefront Yard Birds
1. Red-breasted Nuthatch
2. Downy Woodpecker
3. White-breasted Nuthatch
4. Black-capped Chickadee
5. Common Raven
6.Dark-eyed Junco

Sherrie's 2013 Big Year Birds
1. American Crow
2. Red-tailed Hawk
3. Black-billed Magpie
4. Rock Pigeon
5. Herring Gull
6. American Kestrel
7. Canada Goose
8. Common Merganser
9. Mallard
10. Ring-necked Duck
11. American Coot
12. Wild Turkey
13. Black-capped Chickadee
14. Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker
15. American Wigeon

Total 21 species for Sherrie's 2013 Big Year!


  1. Oh I like the last photo :) PRETTY!

    1. Thank you Jana. I love them little hawks! This fella just sat there and watched me take photos of him.