A Bird Call for Help

Hi all! We are in bonus time thanks to some heavy lifting earlier in the month. This isn’t so much a post as it is a call for help.  As with any bird post, a third of the time is usually spent pouring over reference books and pounding Google with every possible search string in hopes of identifying whatever winged creature happened to be featured in the upcoming post. Luck typically wins out and I find a match to confirm the identification… or I take the closest option and go with it .. or I just lie and wait for someone to call me on it (ha). That process has worked okay so far but that is usually with one or maybe at worst two birds on a given shoot. The first day at Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve left me with FIVE birds that left me stumped. Thus the need for some assistance. Rather than force you to start from scratch, I went ahead and added all the information (links) obtained during my research but feel free to opt in a different direction if you think I’m all wet. I will also apologize ahead of time for some of the poor pictures (errr style yea, that’s the ticket).

Sooooooo, here we go

It is surprising this particular bird gave me such a hard time thinking the flycatcher type crown would be a lock for identification. It didn’t help that I failed to execute on my bird photography principle to capture as many angles as possible. All the shots were from the back providing no insights into breast coloring which is always handy in the classification process – bad Bri, very baaad. After searching far and wide there were two options that made it through to the end. The first is the Western Wood Pewee. Depending on which image you happen to find it will either match almost perfectly or be so differently colored (usually greyer) that you’ll almost write it off.

Here are the best matches from the Internet

All About Birds (link here) – more dull/drab than the image below

Flicker (link here) – not bad, but a little lighter in the neck area

Utah Birds (link here) – lots of options to choose from

Wild Photos Photography (link here) – not the BEAR! … look further down

On the Wing Photography (link here) – too grey

Based on those samples, just not sure. Back to the drawing board. A few pages further I came across another possibility, the Black Phoebe. This is DEFINITELY one of those situations where the breast coloring would have confirmed or knocked it out immediately. The neck is at least solid black which solves that issue, but the tail seems thicker on these birds. Although, the white piping on the Phoebe wings seems a little sharper

As before, here are some of the reference images.

National Zoo (link here) – lots to choose from

SDakota Birds (link here) – damn close … again just the amount of white seems off

Rich Ditch (link here) – not a good comparison angle but does show the all black neck

Birds and Nature (link here) – very close in my opinion

All About Birds (link here) – another bad angle, but the profile in the neck area looks good

Hit the jump to see the other 4 in question

Moving on to the next stumper. Historically, these medium sized white water fowl always drives me nuts. The larger Swans.. no problem, Egrets no problem. But these birds never turn out the same – not sure if this is due to a pension for”strange” or randomness of the genetic mutation. Much like sparrows, when it comes to these birds (or anything that comes close to that category).. I go with Snow Goose. Stokes was all over the board with their shots of this Goose but most sported an orange bill.

White Goose Black Bill Google Images for White (link here) – did I mention the word random?

Birds of North America (link here) – lots of orange bills

Ummmm, for those of you that like to consider context in their classification process I’ll give you this additional shot. It was basically following those Geese around – a role reversal for the ugly “duckling”

On to specimen three… “Three shall be the number thou shalt count” . I was joking with my brother about asking for help and he threw out the guess it was probably some blurred shot of the sparrow family. A good guess since I’m always whining about how hard it is to identify anything in that family. I think this one is a little easier based solely on the eye line. Most of the sparrow family that came close had the line coming out of the back of the eye angling down the head profile. This particular specimen has the line going straight back if not slightly upward.

Add to that the very orange beak and I’m pretty much left with the White Crowned Sparrow… 1st Winter coloring

Then there’s this version which looks like the standard coloring which is more gray but lacking the strong white striping on the crown

Something tells me I’m going to get a “it’s a Barn Swallow” back on that one.

How about an easier one.  In spite of some awful execution on this bird, I am almost 90% sure this is a Toxostama Crissale.  You might have notices, this is one of the rare times I have referenced the scientific name instead of the more common name – I am not exactly fond of Latin which is where a lot of those names originate.

In this case, it was basically handed to me thanks to this link that directly referenced Henderson.

10000 Birds (link here)

Ironically, they executed just as bad as I did.  I’ll be trying to correct this when we head out there again.  For now I have to go with what I have – a light check mark on the Crissal Thrasher.

Last and clearly the worst execution of the lot I bring you number Five (” Five is right out”).  I distinctly remember firing a few shots of this bird when I noticed it out of the corner of my eye in the midst of trying to shoot a Road Runner.  Three quick shots is all I could afford thanks to how fast those runners are.. and I wasn’t about to miss getting that prize check mark.  I also thought it was just a Warbler at the time but clearly on second look it is significantly longer than that species.

After a flipping page after page in the various manuals only two birds really rose to the top of the list.  My guess at this time is the Western Kingbird or maybe the Cassin’s Kingbird.  Definitely not to sure on either of those so any recommendation will be seriously considered.  Not a lot of characteristic details thanks to the hand jitter (more like exhaustion from chasing down that Road Runner with an 8 pound glass).  It does look like it has a sleek body with a yellowish breast.  Also looks like a pretty definite white line across the wings.

I even tried an advanced search in hopes of finding something close

Yellow Birds at Bird Nature (link here)

but really nothing stood out as a definite match.

I guess if there is a silver lining in all this, I did discover a brand new identification resource at.

Bird Photography (link here)

Talk about score a cool web address!

That’s all I have at the moment – thanks in advance for any help you can give me.

3 thoughts on “A Bird Call for Help”

  1. Thanks for the help John! I’m pretty much with you the Phoebe (still kicking myself for not getting the front shot) It shows it up at the tip of Nevada on the region map which is fairly close to where we were just outside of Las Vegas. I looked up tree sparrow (actually missed that in my Stokes book) and the link you provided. Pretty darn close. The only hesitation I have is in the beak coloring – my book and your link both show more of a dual coloring (top darker than bottom) where the beak in the one above is fairly constant orange. Definitely close. I’ll work on #5 when we head out there – sounds like Kingbird is a the top guess at the moment.

    Appreciate it the validation!


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