Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Birds Up Close and Personal

I am very fortunate to hold the federal and state permits necessary to band birds, as part of various research projects in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. During spring and fall migrations especially, I have been posting weekly updates to this blog with results and photo highlights since 2007. In the process of sorting through the photos taken to add interest to the blog, I frequently examine them at full size, which gives me the same intimate views of plumage and structure that I experience in the field when banding them, up close and personal. So, to fend off the beginnings of cabin fever as Michigan is under blizzard warnings, here are some of these photos showing things that perhaps many birders have never seen. Some of these photos are so close that you may not recognize the species. Others have an impressionistic art aspect. To allow you to quiz yourself, if you so desire, I have identified each below the photo rather than above. Click on each photo to view full size.

Even up close, the mechanism behind the red iridescent throat of an adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbird is invisible, and amazing.

The green back of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is dazzling up close.

Pulling back a little, it is interesting to see the small feathers around the eye...eyelashes of sorts.

The eyes have it. Several species have large, complete eye rings.

The gray crown might give away that this is a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Field guides say they have a white eye ring, but every Canada Warbler I've banded has shown an eye ring that is yellow on top and white below, subtly beautiful.

Extra long white feathers around the eye of this Connecticut Warbler make the eye ring quite bold.

The "teardrop" eye ring of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is actually broken on the top and bottom by the feathers encircling that part of the eye being dark olive instead of whitish.

The large eye is a good clue that this bird inhabits shady woods, and is active at dawn and dusk. The bold buffy eye ring connected to buffy above the lores is a good mark for Swainson's Thrush.

This broken eye ring may not be familiar as it is not the main field mark for the species, American Robin. Note the rather prominent "rictal bristles" at the base of the bill.

The eye ring of the Gray-cheeked Thrush is not prominent, is whiter, and the species also lacks the spectacled look of Swainson's. Also note the flesh-pink base of the lower mandibles, and the yellow gape corners.

A narrow whitish eye ring, without any pale area on the lores, is a good mark for the Hermit Thrush, along with the bolder malar streaks and breast spots.

Eye rings are not always formed with feathers. This blue and green fleshy eye ring on this Mourning Dove is quite beautiful up close, along with the bright pink gape corners on the bill.

Broken eye rings are common; this one is on a hatch-year male Northern Parula. Note also the orange lower mandible.

The broken eye ring is a very good characteristic to distinguish the Orange-crowned Warbler. Some subtle orange coloration can be seen in the crown of this male.

This broken eye ring is overwhelmed by a bright whitish supercilium, characteristic of the Tennessee Warbler.

One of the most difficult fall warblers to identify, many Blackpoll Warblers in fall are yellower than the very similar Bay-breasted Warbler.

The Bay-breasted Warbler in fall is often greener and buffier.

Colorful even in fall, the Magnolia Warbler also sports an incomplete eye ring.

There's no mistaking this beautiful spring adult male Blackburnian Warbler, even more breathtaking up close.

Immature male Blackburnians in the fall still show a lot of the pattern of breeding males, but orange is replaced with yellow.

Immature female Blackburnians are more muted in color, rarely with any bright yellow.

Another very bright, bold bird is this adult male Hooded Warbler.

The black mixed in with the greenish crown helps age this Chestnut-sided Warbler as a second-year.

One more broken eye ring is found on a bird that confuses a lot of people of the other main field mark is subtle, missing, or out of view. This is a female Black-throated Blue Warbler and her face pattern is distinctive.

Yellow eyes are very startling, as on this Brown Thrasher. On closer inspection, they're sometimes not entirely yellow.

When young, the eye color of some birds is different from the adults. This is a juvenile Common Grackle whose eye is turning from brown to yellow as it ages.

Yellow eyes, along with streaked underparts, are characteristic of juvenile Accipiters. This is a young male Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The nictating membrane is a secondary eye covering that is rarely seen in the field, and is even more rarely photographed. This is the same immature male Sharp-shinned Hawk as in the photo above. There is clearly much complexity in this membrane, as a network of blood vessels can be seen here. This membrane likely protects the eyes as these birds dive into brush piles at full speed after prey.

In general, as Accipiters age their eyes transition from yellow to a deep burgundy color. This individual adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk is at least two years old, based on molt.

This second-year female Cooper's Hawk (note the large bill) has an orange eye, but it could retain this eye color for at least another year or two, or it could turn burgundy in the next year.

Little Brown Jobs...

The long, curved bill of the Brown Creeper is pretty distinctive, but how often have you noticed that the lower mandible is fleshy-pink?

Stiff shafts on the tail feathers of the Brown Creeper resemble those of woodpeckers.

Brown birds are rarely just brown, as the intricate pattern on the wing of this Brown Creeper shows.

Another brown bird with an interesting wing pattern. Scroll down to the next photo for the ID.

The Lincoln's Sparrow is a very beautiful bird up close.

The wing pattern of this bird is very similar to the Lincoln's Sparrow above, but with much more rufous on the wing coverts.

The Swamp Sparrow is generally more boldly marked.

The subtle black barring pattern on brown suggests wrens to most birders.

This one happens to be a Winter Wren. I'm always intrigued by the interesting eye shape of wrens. Not round like most other songbirds.

Some adult female Red-winged Blackbirds can have quite a bit of pinkish on their heads, and some rufous edgings on their shoulders, especially older birds.

Most LBJs are sparrows. Identification of this one might be misleading as the rufous crown might suggest Chipping Sparrow. But the black-and-yellow bill clearly indicates it is an American Tree Sparrow.

In winter, Chipping Sparrows lose their rufous crowns and the black bills of summer turn pinkish in winter.

Field Sparrows also have pink bills, year-round, but are very plainly marked on the head with the exeption of a whitish eye ring.

Another sparrow with a blackish and yellow bill is the Fox Sparrow. Bill color, among other marks, distinguish the Fox Sparrow from the somewhat similar Song Sparrow.

The orange bill, along with the bold black-and-white crown stripes, distinguish the adult White-crowned Sparrow.

Another brown job, with bold head markings, can be distinguished by that monstrous bill...a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Crisp head streaking and especially a yellow eyebrow distinguishes the Savannah Sparrow.

Another brown bird, but with a different wing pattern.

But the black-and-white head stripes and yellow supra-loral are unmistakeable field marks of the White-throated Sparrow.

Impressionistic art...

The wing of the Blue Jay is even more beautiful close up.

The yellow-edged secondaries change to black as they meet the white-tipped greater wing coverts creating a wing bar; these adjacent to the primary coverts and the alula on the right. Wing of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

The Northern Flicker used to be called the Yellow-shafted Flicker, for good reason.

The black malar patch of this male Northern Flicker is more than just black feathers, it is almost like a patch of felt.

Adult female Red-bellied Woodpecker.