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New Photo Quiz: September/October 2013 Birding

It’s photo quiz time!

We’ll get around to the New Photo Quiz–September/October 2013 Birding in just a moment. But first things first: the answers to the July/August 2013 photo quiz. Here you go:

Scroll down to the bottom of the post, past the quiz images, to where it says “Spoiler Alert.”

Alright, back now to the issue at hand. The new photo quiz is a bit of a departure from standard operating procedure. This time, we’re giving you two photos of the same bird. Our quiz bird was photographed this past summer in Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota.

An answer and analysis (plus credit to the photographer) will be provided after a little while. But let’s first see what we can figure out on our own. Take a look at these photos, and let us know what you think. Have at it!

Quiz 1Quiz Photo A.


Quiz 2Quiz Photo B.

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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. He is the author of more than 100 magazine and journal articles, and has written four recent books, including an ABA title, the ABA Guide to Birds of Colorado. Floyd is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and state ornithological society meetings, and he has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Mainly, he listens to birds at night.
Ted Floyd

Latest posts by Ted Floyd (see all)

  • Michael

    In order, male Mourning and Connecticut Warblers, non?

  • Buckstopper

    Hybrid McGillivray’sXMorning.

    The bird has the broken eye ring of a McGillivray’s but lacks the gray hood on hindneck and has the black on upper chest of a Morning.

    Michael read the intro – it is two pictures of the same bird.

    • Jack Rogers

      Has this hybridization ever been recorded?

      • Ted Floyd

        Good question, Jack. MacGillivray’s x Mourning is, in fact, pretty common:

        • Mary

          But you’re not giving us the answer, right, Ted? Or are you …. ?

  • Mary

    I think this is a male MacGillivray’s Warbler, not a hybrid. This is based on the long tail and tail projection past the UnTC, and the way the gray sort of mottles into the black on the breast – almost scaly looking. Mourning would have a shorter tail with short proection, and I think a more clean line between the black and gray. I think the missing gray hood in the nape area is because this is a fall bird, and possibly a young fall bird. There are two other problematic areas – the eye arcs seem weak, and the black lores, I can’t really tell if they connect over the bill. This could be lighting, but what I’m going to guess is that these things are also because of this being a fall and/or young bird.
    I have no experience with this species, so …. I’ll wait and see what the answer is.

    • Mary

      Aw, shoot, I see the photo was taken in June. Hmmm … not a fall bird. Still, seems to be within the normal range of variation for MacGillivray’s, to me. I’ll stick with that. Though the eye arcs and lores aren’t exactly right, I do see a bit of black reaching around and meeting in front of the bill when I look at the photos in print. Just a bit.

      • Mary

        I’m going to avoid saying hybrid at all costs only because Ted posted the article about hybrids, and that would almost seem to make it too obvious. I could be wrong. But it’s more fun this way, I think.

        • Mary

          Okay, I’m having fun now. I’m changing my answer. I think this bird IS a hybrid, just not the obvious one. I’m going to go out on a limb – even more than I already have – and say this is a Connecticut x Mourning Hybrid. Final answer.

          • Jacob Socolar


          • Ted Floyd


            For what it’s worth, some very good birders agree with Mary’s assessment that the bird is a Connecticut x Mourning hybrid. But I’m with Jacob on this one: Why?

            By the way, I hope it doesn’t look as if I’m picking on Mary. Indeed, I’ll come out and say that her previous analysis was superb, factoring in age, sex, lighting, structure, plumage, etc.

          • Mary

            Okay, here’s why. It’s about Minnesota – and eBird.
            I checked on eBird and it turns out there are no records of any in Minnesota. I am not that easily deterred (you can check with my local eBird reviewer on that!). It could’ve been a first state record that was still in review (I have a 2nd state record that is also in limbo, so I know. It happens.) But my search didn’t turn up a single news story about a first state record of MacGs in Minnesota. But I did discover that one was collected there waaay back in 1958 (or something like that, ’53?). Anyway, it was a looong time ago. Still, second record held in limbo not unheard of (especially by me!). But it would’ve been talked about somewhere along the line, I believed and I couldn’t find anything. This made me have strong doubts about my initial assesment (thank you, Ted, by the way).
            So, what else could it be? That head was bothering me. But what else would be hybridizing with a Mourning Warbler. What could it be?
            Then, then, I remembered that I had recently read something. There was something about taxonomic updates in eBird. I wanted to look at that for a clue. There on the list of newly added hybrids – there it was! Connecticut x Mourning Warbler! I looked at that bird again, and that would certainly explain the missing gray hood on the back of the neck. But, gulp, there is very little in the literature about what this hybrid might look like.
            But this makes perfect sense to me. This is more deductive reasoning than bird knowledge, I admit. For it to be a MacGs x Mourning hybrid would be too obvious (that wasn’t in eBird either for this year!), as I said earlier. But for it to be either MacGs or Mourning with MacGs features would not make sense. I’ve read that they can be impossible to separate in the field! But, to have a bird that can highlight the new taxonomic changes in eBird. Well, that makes perfect and beautiful sense to me. I laughed out loud when I figured it out … well, I think I’ve figured it out anyway.
            And, it was fun! Even if I’m wrong, I’ve learned a lot!

          • Mary

            To clarify my second sentence – there are no records of any MacGillivray’s in Minnesota on eBird.

  • Jacob Socolar

    I really don’t think this is a pure MacGillivray’s (which shouldn’t have such a well demarcated black breast patch, and if it ever did, should surely show a lot more black around the bill than this bird does).
    This is not a young fall bird, by the way–too much black on the breast, and the photo was taken in summer.
    I agree that it ticks the boxes for a hybrid Mourning x MacGillivray’s, but before we reach that conclusion I want to scrutinize the eye arcs a bit better. They actually go further around the eye than I would expect on a MacGillivray’s, especially in front. I don’t want to make any strong claim here, but is it impossible for a 1st summer male Mourning Warbler to show this much white around the eye? I know first spring males can have broken faint eyerings, but I agree this is a bit extreme…
    Lastly, the hybrid zone between Mourning and MacGillivray’s is said to be narrow. Minnesota is a long way from the breeding range of MacGillivray’s, and this picture was taken in the summer.
    In sum, I guess I’d call it a possible MacGillivray’s x Mourning Warbler, and definitely at least half Mourning.

  • Brian

    If you are thinking hybrid, why choose a species not found in the area first? Why not MourningXConnecticut? That would seem a bit more plausible if it is a hybrid, and it does have characters of both.

  • Cathy S.

    I’m not ready to take a guess yet, but did come across the full article on Mourning x MacGillivray’s Warblers hybrid study: for anyone else that might be interested.

  • Mel Cooksey

    This bird is quite likely an adult or second-year male
    Mourning Warbler, a few of which show eye arcs like this bird.

  • Peter Pyle

    I’d go with first-summer (SY) male Mourning Warbler, though certainly it could have some MacGillivray’s genes in there (we’d never know this). First-alternate male Mournings can have white around the eye (Pitoccheli, 1990, Auk 107:161-171), a carry-over of a typical character of first-fall (formative) Mourning Warbler plumages. While this one has more white here than usual, the shape of the eyering is too tapered for typical MacGillivray’s (Pyle and Henderson, 1990, Birding 22:222-229) and the breast patch better for Mourning. It’s an SY due to the worn brown wings and tail, and brownish wash to the primary coverts. The white around the eye supports SY for Mourning as well.

  • Cathy Sheeter

    I’m going to take this a new direction and say that this bird is an intersex Mourning Warbler – thus a bird showing sexual traits of both male and female. The eye ring appears similar to what is found on a female Mourning Warbler and does no seem as distinct or bright as MOWA X MAWA, nor what I think a COWA X MOWA would show (though could no find no photos of that hybrid). It seems like females are more green on the back often extending up towards the head, which could plausible give the more expansive cape of green on the back of the head that this bird shows. MOWA X MAWA images also show that that hybrid does not show as crisp and clear, nor as expansive of black on the chest as what this bird shows either (which looks pure MOWA).

    So for what it is worth (relative newbie to birding (one year) and zero experience with MOWA) intersex bird is my guess.

    • Cathy

      Sorry – wrong initials (MAWA) should be MGWA

    • Cathy

      And COWA should be CONW… (See…newbie!!)

    • Ted Floyd

      This is a fascinating conjecture.

      There are so many ways a bird can look “different.”

      The first way–perhaps the most popular way!–is for it to be a rarity. Thus: “This bird looks different, so it’s a MacGillivray’s Warbler!” [MacGillivray’s Warbler would be quite notable in St. Louis County, Minnesota, in June.]

      The second way–probably the most common–is just to dismiss it as the common species. Thus: “Well, there are Mourning Warblers here, and it’s a decent-enough match to Mourning, so that is that.”

      The third way is the H-word. “I can tell that it doesn’t match what’s in the picture book, so it must be a hybrid.” I confess, I’m sympathetic to this third way. I’m persuaded that there are far more hybrids out there than we realize. (I think this viewpoint comes from having lived for 15 years in the two great avian hybrid zones in North America: the east flank of the Sierra Nevada and the Front Range of the Rockies.) In particular, I’m intrigued by how many avian hybrids go unnoticed as such. How often, for example, do we see a “normal” MacGillivray’s or Mourning, and not realize it’s a hybrid? Here’s a sobering photo essay on the matter:

      But there’s a fourth way. How about a bird that looks weird, but isn’t a rare vagrant species, and isn’t even a hybrid? How about any of a number of other explanations? The effects of wear and molt can make spring Blue-headed Vireos look like Cassin’s Vireos, and fall Cassin’s Vireos look like Blue-headed Vireos. Think of how different Vesper Sparrows look throughout the year. How about Ring-billed Gulls that turn pink because of what they eat? Or, indeed, how about a bird showing both male and female traits? This isn’t all that uncommon: It’s widespread in Western Tanagers, Wilson’s Warblers, and I’m sure lots of others. Why not Mourning Warblers?

      Would an intersex Mourning Warbler show the traits of this bird? I don’t know. But it’s great to consider such possibilities before leaping to more “obvious” conclusions (rarity, hybrid, “just” a “normal” bird, etc.).

      All that said, I haveta say, that MacGillivray’s Warbler they just got in South Carolina sure looks like the real deal… 🙂

      • Mary

        Four ways to look at a bird, and every bird has to fall into one of those categories! It’s either the normally occuring with unusual traits (that’s #4 combined with 2), rarity (in this case MEGA), or a hybrid. Is there another option?
        For your separated out “weird” looking bird, Ted, what would it be a weird version of? The rarity, the common bird, or the hybird?
        When there are only three or four choices, they all seem a bit obvious.
        I suppose there’s also the possibility of a previously unknown species.

  • James

    100% Mourning has the broken eyering,and the black on its throat and gray hood.definitely not a Connecticut

  • Frank Izaguirre

    The most challenging part of this ID is imagining how the photographer got such great shots of an Oporornis.

    Ted, I hope you’re planning to share the various differing opinions you mentioned on the Facebook thread.

    • Ted Floyd

      Three things, Frank:

      1. Oporornis is now a monotypic genus, consisting only of Connecticut Warbler. MacGillivray’s and Mourning (and, for that matter, Kentucky) were banished to the lowly yellowthroat genus Geothlypis.

      2. The “East Coast” view, if you will, is that the old-school Oporornis warblers (Kentucky, Mourning, Connecticut) are skulkers who won’t even respond to pishing. Here in the West, it’s a bit different. Macs love pishing, and even without pishing, they’ll often hop up on a exposed perch or something. If a proclivity for perching in the open is a heritable trait… 🙂

      3. Regarding the differing opinions I mentioned on the Facebook thread, well, I hope I didn’t give away *too* much. But here’s the deal. First, I’m sensing that this thread is trending, although broadly and wafflingly so, in a certain direction. Second, last I heard, the photographer, the author, and one of the world’s greatest bird ID experts are trending in another direction. Third, I’m going in yet another direction; you might say that’s just “Ted being Ted,” and, to some extent, you’d be right, but I actually formulated my opinion before this thread began and, in fact, before I even saw the provisional answer and analysis that will appear in Birding.

      3, cont’d. This kind of quiz, in my mind, is the best of all. The identity of this bird may simply be unknowable; Peter Pyle, in providing a fairly unequivocal analysis (“unequivocal” does not necessarily mean “correct,” which point I’m sure Peter would support me on) nevertheless says “we’d never know this.” Perhaps we’ll never have the satisfaction of knowing what this bird is. True, but we’ll have the greater satisfaction of having learned about the fascinating warblers in the genera Oporornis and Geothlypis. (I’m pretty sure we’re restricting it to those two genera, but it somebody wants to call this an Oreothlypis or a Gray-cheeked Fulvetta, be my guess.)

      I can’t resist. The first time I ever saw a Gray-cheeked Fulvetta, everybody in my group–birders from three continents–said, in effect, “Gee, that sure looks like a Nashville Warbler.”

      • Frank Izaguirre

        Definitely did not know Mourning, MacGillivray’s, and Kentucky had been moved. Good to know.

        I also didn’t know MacGillivray’s is less shy than the others. When Mike Lanzone gave his talk on warbler flight calls here in Pittsburgh, he told a pretty cool story about how the MacGillivray’s was the one warbler they hadn’t been able to record during their entire project, until a miraculous last ditch effort proved successful. That story, and at least one other article I read somewhere online, gave me the impression they were just as retiring.

        Wow, that fulvetta does look like Nashville. Who knows, a Code 5 vagrant gray-cheeked fulvetta could’ve gone misreported right here in Schenley. Check your Nashvilles.

      • Mary

        “The identity of this bird may simply be unknowable” – true. There is so much overlap between Mourning and MacGillivray’s, and nothing here rules out the other. Except for those two things I mentioned in my original analysis: the tail-to-undertail covert ratio and the olive hindneck. Those seem to point more to MacGs. If this was a fall bird, I’d be in that camp hook line and sinker – but I might still be wrong : )
        But there are too many things to explain away, too much doubt. I feel the least amount of doubt in CT x Mourning hybrid – though the long tail still bothers me.
        I really can’t wait to see the analysis.

  • Marcelo Brongo

    Normal Mourning Warbler. Some can show eye-ring. It would have been much more obvious on a male MacGilivray’s Warbler. The black part of the bib limited to the bottom is also a good feature for Mourning.

  • Laura Mott

    Mourning Warbler

  • Laura Erickson

    DId the photographer hear the bird singing and/or lure him out with playback? The question of ID by photo is a fun exercise, but identifying warblers in June in northern Minnesota involves more than just visual features. For the record, I see nothing about this bird that would raise my “rare bird” radar–looks like what Sibley calls Mourning Warbler Variant. But if the call note or song were off–that would be another thing.

    And it’s not that hard to get photos of Mourning Warblers on breeding territories. You just stand around near a singing male for a half hour or so and you’ll easily be able to figure out where his favorite song perches are.[email protected]/7275726732

    • Ted Floyd

      Good question, Laura, and a good insight. Now that the November/December 2013 issue is in ABA members’ hands, I can share with y’all this snippet from Tom Johnson’s “official” answers and analysis:

      “[The finder of the bird] remarked that the bird sang and called, and that both vocalization types sounded typical for Mourning Warbler.”

  • Pingback: Birding Online: September 2013 « ABA Publications()

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