They’re not all Gems!… the answers!

text & images (sorry) by Jeff Bouton, Manager Birding/Nature Markets, North America

Leica dealer Out of This World, Mendocino, CA

Leica dealer Out of This World, Mendocino, CA

On a recent trip to Leica Dealer “Out of This World” in Mendocino, CA, I took many beautiful wildlife images on the spectacularly, scenic headlands that lay right in front of the store, and nearby sites.

The amazing view of the Mendocino headlands from Out of This World

The amazing view of the Mendocino headlands from Out of This World

The images used for this quiz were photo fails from my late July Mendocino trip & were destined for deletion! Normally, I don’t flaunt these flubbed images, but in this case I thought it might be fun to challenge our readers with another photo quiz from these recent photo fails! ;) Below, I provide the correct answer for each image, with a second better/more revealing image and short explanation of the markings that help cinch the ID. In many cases it is the same individual bird in both images.

Quiz #1

#1 starting easy - a "look-away bird"

#1 starting easy – a “look-away bird”

#1-  male House Finch

#1- male House Finch

#1 is a male House Finch. Purple Finches are more “wine” or purple-colored (as the name implies). Both Purple & Cassin’s Finches will show more color through the back and tend to have more peaked heads as well. Also, a House Finch has a more curved “culmen” – the surface of the upper mandible of the bill.

#2 the famed headless bird shot

#2 the famed headless bird shot

#2 – Even with no head visible, the adult gull above is wholly identifiable!

#2 - Western Gull

#2 – Western Gull

Adult Western Gulls are large birds with dark medium gray mantles (backs) and wings. They average darker than Herring Gulls, Mew Gulls, etc. and have a large chunky bill. The broad white band along the trailing edge of the spread wing  folds neatly to separate the slate gray back and dark blackish wing tip on the folded wing.

#3 is another look away bird at challenging angle

#3 is another look away bird at challenging angle

#3 is again being furtive and looking away, wholly dissing the photographer. Challenging side lighting adds more challenge.

adult Red-tailed Hawk, rufous morph

adult Red-tailed Hawk, rufous morph

Red-tailed Hawks are highly variable but even poorly lit, you can note the reddish tail of this adult bird here. It is smaller billed than an Eagle as well.

#4 - here I am... psych!

#4 – here I am… psych!

Contestant #4 (above) threatened to offer a mind-numbingly good photo and then at the last possible second leapt out of the frame! The bane of the wildlife photographer. :)

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

The Chestnut-backed Chickadee really doesn’t require explanation as to how it gets its name… This shot was taken with a Leica V-lux 4 camera. A small flock fed right at roadside along main street in Mendocino!

#5 - How do you like my backside?

#5 – How do you like my backside?

#5 – Another bird photo classic, the “I’m out of here” image showing a bird flapping straight away or in this case flapping and paddling.

Brandt's Cormorant

#5 Brandt’s Cormorant

This was a tough one! Three species of cormorant can occur side-by-side on the headlands: Pelagic, Double-crested, and Brandt’s Cormorants. Pelagic Cormorants are slight, with long skinny-looking necks. They also tend to appear more glossy as adults at least. This bird’s neck is too thick for that species leaving just the two larger species. The easiest way to separate Brandt’s vs. Double-crested Cormorants is through the facial pattern (not visible), Brandt’s also show comparatively shorter tails and fly differently (both impossible to see in this photo). The only other VERY subtle hope for assistance in ID here is that Brandt’s show slightly less bulbous & more rounded heads than a DC. Sibley actually depicts this subtle difference in his full-sized guide showing pics of “True Cormorants” (Great, DC, & Neotropic) vs. “Pacific Cormorants” (Brandt’s, Pelagic, & Red-faced) from behind and displays the former as having broad heads & and the latter as narrow. However, a subtle, subjective difference like this requires great skill and with this image and a bit of luck as well likely!

#6 - "peek-a-boo" birdy

#6 – “peek-a-boo” birdy

#6 – At other times the “perfect image” is thwarted when the perfectly posing bird decides it has an itch or wants to preen it’s breast feathers, always as you capture the image. (Happily cameras have shutter burst modes to combat this).

Bushtit  with its head up!

Bushtit with its head up!

Even with the best of views, a Bushtit doesn’t offer a whole lot by way of  “field marks” to latch on to. A drab, brownish-gray ball of fluff with a long tail (not visible at this angle). All you can see is a bit of a puffy bird, the lack of field marks and the color pattern; a lighter gray-brown breast contrasting with a darker, dingy-brown head. They are smaller than chickadees, reminiscent of a chubby gnatcatcher perhaps. They always travel in little packs and are highly vocal.

#7 up the back once again

#7 up the back once again

#7 – taken more to capture the color band combination than for artistic composition, this bird again shows just enough to allow you to make the ID.

adult White-crowned Sparrow

adult White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows get their name from the white streak through the center of the crown on the adult birds. They are a chunky, long-tailed sparrow with grayish, unstreaked belly & breast and a darker brown body. While these birds were all over on the headlands, I actually photographed this particular individual at the Presidio when I stopped briefly to pay homage to the bridge in full tourist style! I wanted to capture the band sequence to identify the individual. For those interested in subspecific variation, this is the “Nuttal’s” subspecies of White-crowned. They have buffer underparts and duller upper parts, they lack a black line between the eye and bill, and the bill itself is a yellowish-orange color.

#8 - just a piece

#8 – just a piece

At other times you are only able to catch but a piece of a bird in this case a single feather. Despite the lack of overall bird though, #8 shouldn’t be too difficult given the unique color and patterning shown!

Steller's Jay in coastal CA

digiscoped Steller’s Jay in coastal CA

The cobalt blue, long tail with lack of bands near base and heavy barring toward the tail tip is classic Steller’s Jay!

#9 - the classic vent shot

#9 – the classic vent shot

#9 – what could it be?… combine the few hints of color, pattern and habitat to come up with your ID!

Wandering Tattler

Wandering Tattler

Dull gray, unpatterned back, yellow legs & feet, feeding on the rocks with grayish barring on the flanks and under tail = Wandering Tattler! Leica V-lux 4 camera.

#10 - birds from above

#10 – birds from above

Odd perspectives whether straight above or straight below (as shown by #10) always make birds look much different from our preferred full profile shot.

Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone – digiscoped on the headlands with iPhone thru Leica APO Televid spotting scope

With a more typical angle, the bird is a LOT easier to identify. Dark brown “rock piper” with orangish legs & feet, the Black Turnstone! The short, flat-tipped bill is key to ID! If it had separated its wings a bit in the upper image, the tail pattern and white patch on back would have made this one a lot easier.

#11 - another take on the headless bird

#11 – another take on the headless bird

#11 – ever notice how a bird without it’s head can look just like a football?!?…

Black Oystercatcher on the rocks

Black Oystercatcher on the rocks

Those who noticed the large orange bill flashing underwater in the top photo, had an easy task of identifying that bird as a Black Oystercatcher. Both images were digiscoped on the Mendocino headlands using the iPhone 4s mounted to the Leica APO Televid 65 mm spotting scope!

#12 - bogey bird

#12 – bogey bird

#12 offers another “out of here” view. Birding really can be challenging!

Pigeon Guillemots roosting on the headlands.

Pigeon Guillemots roosting on the headlands.

The jet black plumage with large white patches on the upper wing coverts and bright red feet can only belong to a couple birds. Members of the Alcid family, the “Puffin-cousins”… Guillemots. Only the Pigeon Guillemot is typically found off the California coast. It can be separated from the similar Black Guillemot by the dark line passing through the white patch ~1/3 up from the bottom.

#13 - too far, too much noise, and not enough bird

#13 – too far, too much noise, and not enough bird

Lucky #13 combines a bunch of our favorite image-ruining variables. The bird is too distant and the atmosphere too unforgiving, it was taken with a cell phone rather than a camera with larger (and more forgiving) sensor, it’s fully shadowed, the bird preened and is largely hidden behind a rock. In this case, the photographer should have just shown better judgement and passed on this image, but because I’m a glutton you now have another photo challenge! ;)

Pelagic Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant

And the final bird in our Photo Flub contest was an awful image showing almost nothing. One person appropriately noted I don’t see a bird (it was the black blob at center) while another correctly identified it to species. Great job on that but the way! In good lighting, properly exposed a Pelagic Cormorant will show a glossy green sheen that others in similar lighting won’t show. They are the slightest of Cormorants with comparatively thin necks and inconspicuous facial skin. Just a small patch of red on the gular pouch is typically visible.

Thanks all for trying this challenging photo quiz!