To Check or Not to Check

I can’t believe it is October already!  Seems like this year is flying by way to fast – pretty soon it will be snowing in Denver.  What!?!  holy crap, it is snowing in Denver today.  Those Globull Warming dudes got some splaining to do.  I warned you on the last post we would once again be spending some time at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve  in the coming posts as I try to close out the second day of shooting there.  The good news is we are almost through that visit.. bad news is we had the opportunity to head back there a few months ago so we are far from over at that birding paradise.  To start the month off, I’m in need of some more help.  I am always amazed at how hard bird identification can be even with what I would consider unique features.  Two birds are featured here that gave me some troubles and thus not entirely sure if I have them right.  If I do, then there will be two new checks in the Bird List.  Always pleased when I can mark up the list and as you have seen in the past posts, this particular birding site was a goldmine of check marks.

First off I bring you this rather plain looking bird:

I suspect your first inclination is to ID it as an American Crow.  Pretty common bird around here so I have the advantage of seeing it just about every day.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time out in Yellowstone so I can definitely tell you how those compare to the mammoth Ravens out there.  But something just didn’t seem right about this one.  It was black (I can always get the easy ones) but the beak just didn’t seem to fit the large but blunter ones on the Crows around here.  The other part that was causing me some confusion was the tail.

It seemed to long and slender relative to the more stockier body frame of the Crow (and definitely smaller all around compared to those Ravens).  This concern sent me pouring over bird references looking for some other alternative.  Eventually I made my way to the Grackles.  Typically the Grackle is easy to distinguish due to the iridescent purple coloring when the light hits them right.  It is hard to tell in this picture due to having little sun at the moment this was taken but the shape is darn close from my perspective.  Post processing may have taken some slight shimmer out since I was thinking it was just a nicely posed Crow at the time.  The yellow eye definitely stands out which is a defining feature for the Grackle – the Crows and Ravens tend to have black on black eyes.  Now the hard part.. which Grackle.  The Common one is close but the images in the books definitely show more of a purple hue and/or more brownish than the full on black this one is sporting.  That left the Boat Tailed, but that is NO WHERE near where we were out in Nevada (more East Coast).  Could it be the Great Tailed Grackle?

To the web!

Take a gander at the set of images at AllAboutBirds.org (link here).  As mentioned, not positive, but it definitely looks similar to the Great Tailed Grackle shown there – and we can definitely dismiss the Common version. Would appreciate any help on this one.  I have no problem accepting that it is a Common Crow or possibly something I overlooked, but keep in mind that yellowish eye.  Definitely distinct.  Sorry I can’t give you any other angles, this was about the sum total of the shots.  With all the new birds there I likely didn’t spend much time on what I assumed at the time was a common bird.  Regardless of what the ID comes out as, the composition turned out nice especially with the first and this one.

The tail matched the twig angle and the head aligned with both the upper and lower branches giving a nice framing effect.  If you have time, take a stab at it and use the comments for any ideas.

Hit the jump for the second bird featured in this post!

Okay, time for specimen number two.  Unlike the larger frame of the bird above, this one possesses one of the smallest bodies in the bird family.  The Preserve had a bunch of Hummingbird feeders hanging in the trees outside the Visitor Center.  There wasn’t much action when we got there, but one did make its presence known as we finished the day.  While Linda was closing up shop with the tripods and other equipment a small green shimmer caught my eye in the neighboring trees.  This was a pretty dense thicket of branches so locating exactly where it was took a little bit of time and once spotted took even more time to find a workable path to take a shot.

This was handheld with the Beast so getting a focus point steady on the small body was a challenge.  A few came out decent enough to use on the blog.  At the time I figured it was just a Ruby Throated Hummingbird that can be seen any day of Summer hanging out at our porch feeders.  It did look stockier than ours but figured that neck would magically turn reddish if it moved its head any.  Not a single picture of the set showed any reddish hues when meant more time in the reference manuals.  There are definitely more Hummingbird species than expected.  On a quick count there is about 20 in the Stoker’s book.  Eight were missing the right region and another 9 were quickly dismissed for possessing a different coloring scheme.  Of the ones that were left, the Costas and Black Chinned Hummingbirds seemed the closest.  With it narrowed down a bit I could leverage the web to compare against some similar images.

A NYBirds.net site (link here) had a VERY similar shot labeled Black Chinned Hummingbird.  Ironically, this bird does not go anywhere near New York based on the region maps in Stokes.  Digging a little deeper I stumbled on this Utah Birds site (link here).  Once again, that is a VERY similar looking bird to my specimen and again labeled as a Black Chinned Hummingbird.  Of course, there is always the risk that the Net is wrong (say it isn’t so Mr. Gore), but based on the reference shots in Stokes this is what I was leaning to anyway.

These two shots were the only ones worth putting my name on so sorry about the lack of viewpoints.  Clearly there wasn’t a significantly better angle or I would not have settled for the twig crossing across the body like that.  Unless someone can come to my aid, I am going with the Black Chinned Hummingbird as the ID.  If it stands, pretty happy at taking the time to snap a few shots on the way out.  On a side note, those Ruby Throated ones that hang out here are ruthless to each other.  One will claim one or more of the feeders for itself and proceed to attack any other Hummingbirds that happen to comes to close to them.  Basically just rams that long spear into any unfortunately competitors.  They must be smarter than your average bird because the bullied  Hummingbirds will group up and send out one to distract the guard while the others sneak in to grab a few sips before they are discovered and chased away.  Overall counts of the birds was down over last year where we averaged in the 11-12 birds at a time.  This year was only in the 4 to 5 range.  Apparently this was the same situation noted by my other birding friends with Hummingbird feeders.  Not sure if there is a reason for that, but as of now there hasn’t been a Hummingbird seen in the area for over two weeks.  See you next year Rubies, there will be plenty of sugar water when you return.

2 thoughts on “To Check or Not to Check”

  1. I think you nailed both identifications based on the pictures in the links you provided!

    One nitpick: there is at least one Raven that has a touch of blood red in his eyes…

    Ron

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  2. Yeah! Hmmm a red-eyed Raven eh… sounds like a one of a kind bird, er perhaps demon spawn. Wonder if anyone has ever been able to successfully take a picture of it – would be quite the catch and likely to sweep all the fair competitions!

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