Monday, June 25, 2012

Meanwhile, Back in the Swamp. . .

[Female Summer Tanager, Bear Swamp, Cumberland County NJ yesterday.]

Counter-intuitively, bird identification is usually easier in the field than in the hand. In the field, you have lots of extra clues, even if you don't get a perfect look. You can consider posture, shape, movements and mannerisms, feeding behavior, and more. In the hand, it's just you and the bird. And field marks look different when they are 12 inches away.

Like with the tanager above, when I saw it in our MAPS station net I thought immediately it was a female Summer Tanager, but somehow in the hand the bill seemed too small. Bill size and shape is a great way to tell female tanagers apart, with Summer's being longer - but I learned to judge that in the field, not at a foot. Indeed, even as I look at this picture I think the bird has a big bill, but in the hand I questioned. If you're interested, an eastern race Summer Tanager's bill measures 12.0-14.7 mm from nares (nostrils) to tip, while Scarlet's is 10.5-12.1 mm. Hardly any overlap, and our tanager above measured out at about 14mm.

Another mark that often jumps out with female Summer Tanager is color. It often doesn't look yellow, or greenish (like a Scarlet), but rather orangy yellow, and the wings don't contrast with the rest of the bird the way a Scarlet female's wings look darker (and a non-breeding male Scarlet's, black.)

Oh, and the tanager bit quite well, a good indicator that when the AOU declared that temperate tanagers are actually cardinals, they were right. Cardinals hurt more, however.

[A new male Kentucky Warbler, Bear Swamp yesterday.]

Very excitingly, not only did we recapture the male Kentucky Warbler we banded two weeks ago in Bear Swamp, meaning that one is on territory, but quite nearby that bird's territory we caught a different male Kentucky. I had been hearing one male singng away and a second Kentucky chipping, and assumed it was a female, but now suspect it was this "floater" male, looking to get lucky with the resident bird's mate.

 [This Blue Grosbeak was chipping continuously, and nervously, near the South Cape May Meadows, NJ parking area last evening, toting a dragonfly from perch to perch to feed its obviously nearby young, perhaps still in a nest. It would have been neat to find a Blue Grosbeak nest, but I decided to  move off and leave it to its business. I think the bug is a Spangled Skimmer, but can't be sure - and friend and "ode" enthusiast Tony Leukering concurs, we can't see it well enough. Pretty neat that a grosbeak caught a dragonfly, you wouldn't think this big-billed, sturdy bird would be catching aerialist insects. Probably grabbed it from a perch?]

[Two Roseate Terns (left and top, with Forster's Terns) have been hanging around Cape May, and yesterday were first reported by Kathy and Roger Horn at Bunker Pond in Cape May Point State Park at 6:39 p.m. They lingered there on the wooden walkway extending into the pond until 8:04 p.m - I watched, studied, listened and learned for an hour or so, especially enjoying their unique "cheevik" calls, a good sound to dial in on. I was all set to pontificate on tern molt patterns, but it's getting late and you've heard enough about bird i.d. with the tanagers anyway. Check Pyle or Kaufman's Advanced Birding guide if you are interested. . . .]

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