One of These and One of Those

Greetings all!  Since I’ll probably not be posting again until after Thanksgiving, I’d like to wish everyone a happy Turkey Day (well, guess not so much from the turkey’s perspective) and safe travels if you are out and about.  Today’s post is a two-for of sorts.  Not only do you get to see a … umm a “this” but you also get to see … uh well umm a “that”.  As you can tell, I’m not entirely sure what they are.  There are a few guesses but, in truth, hoping my highly knowledgeable and gracious readers (the butter-up) can help out.   Begging is an option if needed – my pride is already dashed from flipping through bird books and slogging through the web for a staggering amount of time.

The first bird comes to us from Banner Marsh back in September.  We were heading down to Emiquon to catch the pelicans that were migrating through.  We had some time to spare so hit the Marsh first.  As soon as we pulled in I noticed something wading far out in the water.

It kind of looked from the shape like a stilt (link here) but it was clearly at the max reach of the Beast even with the Tele. Hand holding that glass on such a distant subject is difficult at best and not conducive to crispy shots.  My apologies, but these are the best that could be done with them in the digital darkroom – I did not want to mess up any coloring on the bird since it hasn’t been really identified yet – also had to do some major cropping just to make out the bird.

Hit the jump to start the guessing on this bird and to view the second subject of this post

Okay, so any guesses at this point?  Long orange legs, long straight beak, white to spotted breast, spotted feathering and long toes.  It surprises me how hard it is to identify this bird since it has some pretty unique features.  The problem is the combination of them doesn’t fit right on most and the rest doesn’t fit the region specs.  First guess was the Plovers.  Definitely not a Killdeer (link here).  Those have a more stout body.  Of the samples in the reference books they also have smaller beaks and the grey colored ones (such as the Black-Bellied Plover and the American Golden-Plover) sport black legs.

The stilts have much longer legs and the orange legged ones (Black-Necked Stilt sport more solid black coloring).  Next up was the Sandpipers.  Now this looks a lot closer.  Their beaks line up correctly and in some cases like the Green Sandpiper and Upland Sandpiper even have similar coloring.  Alas, the black legs on Mr. Green knock it out and Mrs. Upland has a different head structure.  I discounted the Spotted and Common on coloring alone.

To be honest, the Willet was darn close, but again, the dark legs and the region make them highly skeptical.

There is the Marsh Sandpiper which checks on the legs and beak characteristics, but my reference shots show a solid white breast and not the spotting in our subject.

Any ideas yet?  The more investigating that was done, the more frustration levels escalated.  The next shot is fuzzy (of course) but it does give a good profile shot of the bird.  It also shows the head coloring better which was a tipping point for my final suggestion.

Discounting the region for a moment, I narrowed it down to … drum roll … a Yellowleg.  Stay with me here for a minute.  Per the NatGeo Complete Birds of North America, there are two types – the Greater and the Lesser.  They both sport orange legs – check – spotted neck down to a white breast – check – spotted feathering – check – and long beaks – check!  That is significantly more checks than the rest of the options.  Now the Greater has a curve in the beak and the straighter one (the juvenile) has more defined spotting on the head.

Now to the Lesser.  They do not sport a curve on their beak and the coloring is dead on for their winter colored subject.  All that was left was to check the region.  Well, the summer in Northern Canada but Winter in the deep south with a slight hike up that touches just below Illinois.   This is slightly off of the Marsh location, but it is their migration period and the assumption is they have to come down through us to get to their destination.  That’s my guess at the moment, but very open to any ideas.  Here is a final shot of the back plumage to provide some additional help.

Whew, that was a lot of work, but the fun is not over.  Probably should have broken this into two posts but the title was already set and figured if you were already doing some checking might as well kill two birds with one stone.  Next up is another bird shot at Banner Marsh the same day.  This one was a chance encounter.  I was just coming back from hiking out in the Marsh chasing down an Egret fishing in a secluded spot when a strange sound caught my attention.  It took awhile but the ol’ stereo ears eventually located the source.

The arms were fatigued from shooting the Egret which likely contributed to the crispiless (my newly coined word as a cool name for fuzzy) shots coupled with less than stellar execution.   So features of note are the deep black line connecting eye to beak, the tuft, thick but shorter beak and one other feature that should have made this identification a breeze.  Here is a tighter crop which gives a little better view of the head coloring.

Let’s start with the tuft.  Cardinals have them, Blue Jays have them, Bulbuls definitely have them, and of course the flycatchers, Phainopeplas and the bird that always illicit my high school humor the Tufted Titmouse.  Even suburbanites can tell none of those fit based on coloring alone.  Did you notice the other feature I hinted at earlier?  There is a yellow highlight on the tail feathers.  From the pictures that were taken, there doesn’t look to be much other yellow on the body which might indicate a female, juvenile or some fall color change like the Yellow Finch.

Surely that can be used to narrow the scope down.  This forced a resolve to go through every single page of the reference book (after the water and large bird sections) to check for a match.  Page turn after page turn turned up nada.  Eventually the page turned to the Waxwings.

Both the Bohemian and the Cedar sport the yellow highlight on the tail feathers.  In addition, they do have a very defined black line out of the front of the eye.  The downsides are they tend to have significantly more coloring and the Bohemian tends to spend it’s time further West.  At this point my money is on some female or juvenile version of the Cedar but this would be a small bet.  As with the previous bird, here is a full back shot to complete the visuals.

Sorry for the limited info on these feathered specimens.  The good news for me is that whatever they are.. they are NEW to me and mean more checks in my Bird List.  Once again Banner doesn’t let me down.  If you are a birder in the area I HIGHLY recommend spending some time down at Banner Marsh.  If nothing else, if the subjects are sparse you can just jump in the car and take a few minutes to get over to Emiquon (down in Havana) to check out all they have to offer!

2 thoughts on “One of These and One of Those”

  1. Cedar Waxwing for sure, and I don’t even have to look it up. The color, bright yellow tail tip at the end of the dark tail, the black band across the eye and the crest all do the trick. Supposedly the wings have a waxy look to them, but I’ve never been able to discern that. Without looking it up, I think I recall that the color of the wings is likened to cedar. An extremely high frequency “wee” call, too. We have quite a few of them up here now and then, seen often in small groups getting drunk on berries in the spring. In fact, they are noted for getting drunk and wobbling around. Or maybe that was me watching them.

    The other bird is new to me, like most waterfowl. But I did a Google image search and I think you nailed it, unless there is another bird that is absolutely identical except _fatter_. BTW, it’s called a Lesser Yellowlegs rather than a Lesser Yellowleg.

    Thanks for the puzzles!



  2. Score – it looked like a match on the Cedar Waxwing, but again, it was a lot duller than the colored ones in the reference books – the tail tip and black eye line were my keys as well. So that is a new one for the list – yeah

    So you are on the same page as me with the Yellowlegs. It is definitely out of region for us beyond the migration so that makes it even a better check mark. I have to hand it to Banner Marsh – that place is wonderful for bird enthusiasts. Not a lot of people and you can get right up to the water with very little obstructions .. unless you have to hike into the marsh to see the Egret.

    Once again thanks for the assist!


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