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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Oct 27, 2011

Bird identification and the color of legs, feet and bill

American Black Duck

          In order to identify a bird accurately many things need to be taken into consideration, such as body, bill, wing and tail shape,or eye stripes, crests, spots and streaks, color etc. Some birds however are especially difficult to distinguish from other species of birds, either because they appear to be almost identical to another species, or they have very few identifying field marks.

          This is where the color of a bird's feet, bill or legs can come in handy.  Some birds have very bright and colorful legs, like the American Black duck and the Lesser Yellow legs, and some have lightly colored legs, such as pink, gray and even green.  The same holds true for bills and feet.

Lesser Yellowlegs
          With the more difficult to identify species, the coloring of legs, feet and bill can make positive identification of a species possible.  The Dark-eyed Junco, for example, has an apparent twin at first glance.  It's name is Black Phoebe and it has the same light and dark color pattern.  However, they can be separated.  Although I do not as yet have a photo of a Black Phoebe, the Black Phoebe has a black bill and legs, while the Dark-eyed Junco has a pink bill and legs.

Dark-eyed junco on fence
Dark-eyed Junco

          Herons are another family of species that it are sometimes difficult to distinguish accurately, especially since several species have a white morph variant in the family, like the Great Blue Heron and the Reddish Egret.

           The Snowy Egret has yellow feet and black legs, and is affectionately called Yellow slippers in some parts of the world.  The Great Egret, on the other hand, has a yellow bill, and black feet and legs.  A white morph Blue Heron has a yellow bill and pale legs, and the Reddish Egret in white morph has a dark or bi-colored bill.
          Notice that I simply labelled the photo above as Egret.  This is because the image is unclear and I do not have sight of the whole bird.  Although it seems to have a bi-colored bill the, bird is partly in shadow, and I can't see the legs accurately at all, so it makes it difficult to tell.  Unfortunately it is the only photo I have and my camera equipment at the time did not produce the greatest images.  Hopefully I will see this bird again in the future.


Oct 20, 2011

Alberta Birds: October

The trees are almost completely bare, although the flowers in my flower beds are still valiantly trying to produce more blooms.  This means that lately I'm not seeing very many birds.  Even the Juncos and White throated Sparrows seem to have flown, although I still hear Geese flying over the house at night as they continue to migrate.

The birds that are left have been mostly quiet when I have gone out on bird watch, and seem to stay hidden.  This is a tense time of year for the bird species that do not migrate, since there are many more predators seeking to feed themselves as they follow their prey south, as well as predators who simply take advantage of the lack of cover for these birds.
Northern Flicker
On the bright side, this is a perfect time of year to see Woodpeckers.  I'm also hoping to see species of  Hawks which I don't usually see in the area, which is why I continue to go out on bird watch.  However, this week's sightings makes for a very short list, but include one lone Mallard duck and a Solitary Sandpiper.

Solitary Sandpiper at dawn
Blue Jay
The photos I present here represent the bird species on that list.
Murder of Crows

The Crows in the tree above were actually only a few in the huge murder that I saw.  I have noticed over the years, that whenever large numbers of crows gather in the fall, the winter that follows is usually very cold.  I'm really hoping that I'm wrong, since I don't enjoy winter much, and plan to go out more this winter in hopes of catching sight of bird species that might come down from the north to winter here.


This time of year Blue Jays and Magpies are everywhere.  They are the only birds that are seen out in the open almost all of the time.  You will hear the House Finch and Nuthatch occasionally, but even they are unusually quiet.

House Sparrow

I caught this photo of a House Sparrow just as I headed for my front door, reminding me to fill my bird feeders and to purchase some suet to hang in the tree for wintering birds.  Please don't forget to do the same.


Oct 15, 2011

One second with Nature: Oct

When I am out and about in nature I see a lot of wonderful, amazing and delightful things, plant-life, glimpses of scenery and/or creatures.   It just seems natural to me to share what I see and hope that you will share it as well.  The world around us in beautiful after all.

Gorgeous Rainbow

I thought I would begin with this rainbow, which symbolizes hope and promise.  As a child I always looked for a rainbow after the rain.  It made up for being cooped up inside at the insistence of my parents.

Oct 13, 2011

New bird: a mystery for me

The forest is silent and feels empty, so it's kind of strange being out on bird watch, especially when you realize that the birds that were going to leave are surely all gone.  Sometimes there are stragglers though, and some birds coming  from the north might over winter here, or try to, because it is somewhat warmer.  Still, I was surprised when this week's bird watch outings presented me with both a new bird and a mystery rolled into one.

When I first saw this bird, perched at the top of a very tall tree in the distance, I thought it was a crow, after all Crows seemed to be numerous and everywhere at the same time at this time of year.  But there was something different about this bird that nagged me, so of course I had to start taking photos.  As soon as I began taking photos, I realized the bird's shape and posture was all wrong for a crow.  This bird's wings were too long, either that, or it's tail was shorter than that of a crow.  So I started circling the little forest to try to get closer to it and get some shots in better light.

New bird in the distance
New bird a little closer

I followed a small trail into the forest, through some brambles and under some bushes and trees to get to a little clearing, where I was hoping to have better light and a clear line of sight.  Here I took a few more photos, but the light still wasn't good enough and I decided I needed to get closer still.   Now in order to do that I had to be very careful where I put my feet, since there was no trail.  And that's when the bird decided to move to another perch.   Although I managed to keep him in sight, I missed the chance to get a photo of him in flight.  By this time I had myself nearly convinced that this might actually be a woodpecker of some kind., because his bill was long and slender, and it seemed to me, slightly curved.

Closer  view from below
New Bird calls  out
However, as you can tell from lower of the two photos near the top of this post, if you click to enlarge it, his tail is the wrong shape.  It doesn't have two points which would mark him as a woodpecker.   There was also the fact that he seemed to have yellowish, clay colored wings when viewed through the camera in the right light.

New bird on different perch
Assuming new posture

When the bird landed on his new perch, he was lower down and in somewhat better light, but that didn't help me identify him.  In fact it made things worse.  First off he was again further away and  a side view only served to confuse me more, since now he seemed to have taken on a reddish/purple hue, with a dark spot just under the throat which is lightly colored.  Or lighter than the rest of him in any case. He also had black or dark patches at the shoulder.  This is when I began to wonder if the bird's feathers were iridescent.

Just before the bird took flight again and I lost sight of him altogether when he dove down into the forest, I got the biggest shock of all.  This bird is bearded, as you can clearly see in the photo just above. He made  to sing, or otherwise use his voice to make himself heard, and the beard feathers stood out and away from his throat.  Now I could also see by his posture that his wings are clearly very long.  So what bird did I have recorded on my camera?   I went home and immediately searched all my favorite websites and all of my books, and came up empty.  Naturally, I am totally stumped. So if you happen to know what species of bird this might be please message me.  Thanks.


Oct 10, 2011

Guni4's photostream

song sparrow dP5141200P9295411-1Red winged black bird femalePicture 166 boat tailed grackle femaleP9245111-1 Admiralst thomas butterfly
P9254790 Sept 25 Tennesse warblerP9244850-1 yellow rumped warblerP9244828-1 mourning warbler femaleP9244792-1 White throated sparrowP9213909-11 (2  Says Phoebe)P9213801-11 (2 Says Phoebe)
P9184451-1 greater yellowlegsP9245070-1 painted ladyP9255338-1P9173302-1P9114065-1 Wilson's warblerP9114020-1 audubon's warbler
P9113948-1 chipmunkP9112543-11  American RedstartP9112496-1 (2 magnolia warbler)P9103381-1 bird1 warbling vireoP9103207-11  Common yellowthroatP8221162-1 Olive  sided  flycatcher
 As you may all know by now I love taking pictures of wildlife.  So I decided to upload some of my images to share.  Just follow the link below.
Guni4's photostream on Flickr.


Oct 6, 2011

The trouble with young birds

Juvenile Downy Woodpecker

Bird watching can be challenging at times, but hey, if it wasn't, it wouldn't be any fun, and we wouldn't learn anything besides.  Having said that, I was lucky enough this year to see several different species of juvenile birds.  While most juvenile birds typically look like the female of their species, juvenile birds can make bird watching very confusing on occasion, because many don't look anything like their parents and/or can be easily mistaken for another species altogether.  

American Redstart Male
Take the American Restart for example.  This is a bird that caused me some serious confusion for quite some time, especially after I caught a juvenile on camera.  The male of the species is easily identified with his black and red coloring.  The female can be mistaken for another species because her coloring is so different from the male, yet so similar to that of other species of birds.   However she is also very unlike most other female birds,who are typically drab in color.  When you throw a juvenile into the mix, well, lets just say identification can become even more tricky.   Here are some photos.   Just click to enlarge them and you will see what I mean.

American Redstart Female
American Redstart Juvenile

Some juvenile bird species are not the least bit difficult to identify, like the Downy woodpecker at the top of this post.  Then there are those juveniles that can leave you puzzled, if only for a short time, unless you see them next to the adult. These do have some markings that are similar to the parent to help identify them.  The Cedar Waxwing juvenile below has the parental mask, as well as the beginnings of a crest to help identify him as a species.  However, they also have a darkly streaked chest and sides and their color is not quite the same as their parent's.  This can cause an identification mishap, if by chance you fail to see the mask, hear their voice, or notice the crest.
Cedar waxwings- adult and juvenile
Cedar waxwing juveniles
To make things really interesting, some birds are colored in their parents non-breeding plumage when young, or simply have a different  pattern of  markings and/or color  altogether.  If you have never seen the parent in non-breeding plumage this can be somewhat troublesome.  Also again, if you do not see the young one with the parent, you would not make the proper identification connection. Below are a couple of examples.

Horned Grebe with young
Golden-eyed duck with young
When I first saw the young Horned Grebe, I was puzzled as to it's species until the parent arrived from beneath the surface of the pond a to help me put two and two together as it were.   The same thing happened when I spotted the young Golden-eyed ducklings briefly on their own.  As you can clearly see neither species of young closely resemble the parents, except perhaps in shape.  The young Horned Grebe will grow into it's parent's non-breeding plumage during the first year of it's life.  But since Golden-eyed ducks do not change their plumage during courting season, the young ones will grow into the male or female coloring for their species only completely upon maturity.   More on this topic in another post.