Saturday, October 25, 2008

Please Help with Bird I.D.

I found my first wren yesterday. I’m sure it was a wren; small, with lighter under parts, short wings it kept flicking a bit (reminiscent of the American Redstart but to a much lesser degree)…and a tail it sort of cocked up. The bird was in my front yard, on the fence where the Virginia Creeper’s autumnal colors are fading as leaves fall, leaving bunches of dark, nearly black berries shriveling in the sun of a crisp, pre-winter day.

I watched the little bird for several minutes; quite sure I’ve never seen one like it before. I remember I saw it wag its tail up over its back in that classic wren posture. I thought it odd that the bird tried, without success it seemed, to remove berries from the vine. It must have been too light to pull hard enough.

I phished and clicked at the bird, it watched me for awhile, then went back to jumping from fence to vine, hopping through to hanging berries; tugging on one while jumping to a spot on the ground and then back up to the vine for yet another try. My impatient dog, rearing up like the pony he nearly is, became too rambunctious in his greeting to me and finally scared the bird away.

I didn’t have my glasses on, I didn’t have binoculars in my hands and I had arms full of groceries; no, I didn’t go chase the bird. But I did note as much as I could, hurried into the house, gave my dog a hug and went straight for Sibley’s book to discover wrens.

This bird’s tail was not overly short, and while I didn’t notice an ‘eyebrow’, I did note almost a speckling under its face. I think noticed the tail was darker than the back. And that the belly was decidedly lighter than the head and wings. There were no bars on the wings.

Having done my homework, I believed I saw a Bewick’s Wren…based on where I saw the bird, where I live, how it sounded (sharp little ‘spiks’ in answer to my pshing); but the length of the bill is troubling. So was the fact that that bug-eating bird was observed eating berries. Suddenly, I’m not so sure. Darn, I wish I’d had my glasses.

On a hunch, this morning I grabbed the binoculars and headed for the front porch. I found the bird!

I’ve posted two photos I quickly snapped through a window. One gives a fairly good picture of the bird, the other at least shows that ‘speckling’ I’d noticed under its chin. This is no wren, me thinks. But what; a warbler? A sparrow? Veros have eye-rings, but not speckled or streaked throats. It was more gray than brown…and quite small. To give you a perspective on size, the hog-wire fence, as its called, (which the bird is sitting next to), has a wire grid of 2” x 4”. The bird left when another showed up; the two mixed it up a bit and flew up to the trees. I’ll watch for more photo ops.

Your comments would be greatly appreciated!

[Addendum: I appreciate all the comments left here...and helping me determine exactly what the bird was that I'd watched that morning. As an update, I finally found an excellent photo of a Hermit Thrush, from from the digital repository of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, that I'm allowed to share here.]


NW Nature Nut said...

I am not familiar with the birds in your neck of the woods. I would say no to sparrow because it has the long bill. I'm sure one of your readers will know what it is. Glad you got a new bird!

Bosque Bill said...

Good job with your photo. I'd say you've got your first Hermit Thrush. The tale pumping is a common behavior. Also common is the way the bird is holding its wings so the tip stands away from the body.

There is an remote chance it could be a Swainson's thrush, but they are even more elusive and usually keep to wet, even marshy, areas. Maybe someone more expert than I will gainsay me, but I'd say you could feel confident marking your list with Hermit Thrush.

Go listen to the sounds online, those two species are frequently identified by song. I wouldn't expect much singing this time of year, however.


Beverly said...

Funny how we think, huh? At first I thought it was a wren…and realized its bill was too short. So, I began to think of the bird as having a short bill.

You are quite right, Ms. Nut…it has a long bill! Just NOT the bill of a wren! LOL I should go re-watch that fabulous clip below…we sure do see what we want to see…

Beverly said...

Well, the bird did not sing for me…but I think that you are spot-on, Bill!

I read that wrens say ‘spik’, but really; how much different does that sound from ‘chup’…when one doesn’t really know what they’re listening to? LOL

Here is what I read in “Identify Yourself”, Thompson’s book on the 50 most common ID challenges:

…the hermit thrush has a grayish back and a rusty-brown tail (check), it is the only brown thrush with this color difference.

…it has a huge breeding range…including nearly all of the wooded, mountainous West. (check)

…Its rufous tail is notable not only for its color, but the bird’s habig of flicking it upward and slowly lowering it back down. (check)

…Hermits respond to pishing (check)

…close-up you can see the hermit thrush’s noticeable and complete eye-ring (check)

…On its upper breast, the hermit thrush has dark spots that fade out toward the belly (check)

I’ve also read it may be a bit smaller than the olive-backed Swainson’s found in this part of the world, and that thrushes eat berries (doh!). Also that the Hermit’s ‘spots’ are quite distinctive. Looking at photographs in our new Smithsonian…’my’ bird is clearly a Hermit Thrush!

Thanks again, Bill! I'm looking forward to hearing it's apparently quite melodious song.

Michele Wassell said...

Beautiful photos... I enjoyed your posts.. I am not familiar with the different types of birds, so unfortunately, I can't help you in the I.D... but I do love birds and think they are beautiful and interesting to watch at times...

Kitt said...

Bill got it! I wouldn't have been able to say what particular kind, but my first guess was a thrush. It has a robin-y look to it.

Beverly said...

Michele, after looking at your photos, you are being very kind about mine! LOL I do not have a decent lens…and half the time I’m photographing through a window; but I am learning a lot and having fun, to boot.

Thanks for visiting…come back; I’m working on a piece about Jays! I love those Corvids!

Beverly said...

Robin-y? Ya think? Hmmmm… I was too busy thinking about its tail, and I’ve never seen a robin flip its tail up like that. Plus…while I understand thrushes run around, stopping short and appearing to ‘listen’; this bird was in the vines and trying to pick berries (though I’ve watched Robin’s do that, as well.) Robins are pretty big and I had the idea all thrushes were; not so! But…it did have that Robin-y eye ring.

[sigh] Nope…after thinking it’s bill wasn’t big enough to be a wren, I’d decided it wasn’t big at all…and I never even considered a thrush! Sheeshhhhhhhh

Good call, Kitt! I’m so happy all you folks visit…and help me out when I've gone off on the wrong tangent. LOL

Beverly said...

And now I think I'm going to watch that 'Awareness Test' one more time...and then go rake leaves into my little perennial garden and over my new (own root) roses. Whoever invented the thornless roses I found, has my vote!!!

Birdnerd said...

What a nice find! I'm late in viewing the post but Bosque Bill always takes care of you and your new birds. I've had thrushes occasionally come to Himalayan Honeysuckle and Flowering Currant berries but I don't have much else to offer them. They're sneaky and secretive. Good for you!

Beverly said...

Hmmmmm…really? Sneaky and secretive? Well, this little one, and a pal, spent much of the morning the next day still eating from that Virginia Creeper. I got to watch them at length…and got a better look at that gorgeous, spotted breast! Of course, I was raking leaves and my camera was inside. LOL

It was awesome to get to watch it…and to spot a new bird, as well. I’m tickled pink. I did see three very dark geese fly over…but I’m just going to assume they’re young snow geese, huh? I haven’t really begun to try to discern water-birds.

I’ve been watching your October list grow…good for you! I sure would love to see a Fox Sparrow.

Thanks for visiting!