Saturday, 20 August 2011

Panama Flats Birds and Mysteries Revealed

Least & western sandpipers
Found some time this afternoon to squeeze in a trawl around the Panama Flats area. The pools continue to resemble the moon's surface, cracked and mostly dry, although a couple of small muddy puddles still seem to be holding a few birds.
Least sandpiper were the most numerous with 37 birds present, while just 10 western sandpipers were seen. A single greater yellowlegs continues to hang on in, as does a spotted sandpiper. The latter was in the creek on the eastern edge of the site. A noisy quartet of purple martins came in for a while, feeding over the dried out pools, before heading off west.
In the lush vegetation near the creek there were a few passerines busily feeding, and a Lincoln's sparrow was trailing along with a flock of bushtits. 

Mysteries Revealed

OK - I got a bit behind with these... apologies to anyone who might be desperate for the answers!

We'll start off with the last one. As 64% of voters all went with olive-sided flycatcher, I shall reveal that of course, that's what it was. I thought a few more might be tempted to go for other species, thanks to the unusual posture shown in this pic, but I really should know better than to underestimate you all!
Briefly, the other choices were gray catbird (11%) - this can be eliminated as the undertail coverts are clearly visible and lack the obvious rufous colour that would be visible. Similarly, catbird's black cap would show, and the overall colour of our bird is too subtle, catbirds are a striking slate grey.

Northern mockingbird garnered 23% of votes - I was expecting more to be honest. But, again the overall colour just isn't right, our bird is too brown and lacks any greyness. A mockingbird would have appreciatively shorter wings too, and a strikingly longer tail, among other things.
All voters ignored western tanager and eastern phoebe, and quite right too, as it looks nothing like either.

The previous mystery bird was clearly a wader (or shorebird, as is the preferred term in North America). 

Again, one species took the lion's share of votes. Ruff attracted a whopping great 75% of thumbs' up.
Upland sandpiper fooled just one voter (actually, that was me trying to throw you off the scent...), pectoral sandpiper seemed like a fair bet for 21% of you while no-one was inclined toward buff-breast.
So, was it a pec? What about leg colour? Our bird has orange legs, not yellow ones as one would expect to see on a pectoral sandpiper. Slightly decurved bill, with an orange base certainly seems good, but doesn't that also fit adult ruff? And how about those bold white marks around the eye? And those clearly barred tertials? All things that point squarely to ruff. And so it was.

The new mystery bird should prove interesting - you might need to think outside of the box (to use a tired and frankly irritating phrase) with this one... 

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