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Photo Quiz: December 2016 Birding

The December 2016 Birding is winging its way to ABA members right now. While we wait for the mail to arrive, let’s take a look at the featured photo in the December issue. Here goes:


This mystery bird was photographed in Ohio in early October. Analysis of the photo appears in the December 2016 issue of Birding magazine.

This is a nice photo showing many field marks. But what’s missing? What are some things you’d like to be able to see (or otherwise sense) that aren’t shown in the photo?

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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

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  • Neil Gilbert

    To start with, I’d like to know what side of the country we’re on.

    • Ted Floyd

      Oh! That’s weird! I thought we’d put that in the photo caption. But evidently not. Sorry ’bout that. Anyhow, the photo is from Ohio in early October.

      • Ted Floyd

        Neil, we’ve got than info in the caption now. Thanks for noting the lapsus.

        • Neil Gilbert

          Ah! In that case, a recording of the call note!

  • Beth Ann Doerring

    the top of the head, it’s song, how high in the tree it is, its rump color

  • Kathi Hutton

    I’ve seen everything I need for an ID. Should I post my guess?

    • Ted Floyd

      Go for it!

    • Kathi Hutton

      I believe it is a first winter Kirtland’s Warbler

  • Diane Porter

    I’m going with Pechora Pipit.

    • Ted Floyd

      You are so suggestible… 😉

      • Diane Porter

        Always happy to oblige…

  • Kathi Hutton

    first winter Kirtland’s Warbler

  • DEBirder

    I think it’s pretty easy to narrow this bird to a Kirtland’s or Magnolia warbler, and I’m going to say Magnolia. The fact that it has eye-arcs instead of a complete eyering is a little odd, but other than that I see nothing that would suggest Kirtland’s (full disclaimer, I have no personal experience with KIWA, all of my knowledge of the species is gleaned from books).
    Before we get into plumage, let’s start with the basics: size and shape. Kirtland’s is a big, bulky warbler with a long tail and thick bill, completely unlike this bird. Magnolia on the other hand, is smaller, and more compact, with a thinner bill; a perfect match for the quiz bird.
    Now on to plumage: right off the bat several things are inconsistent with Kirtland’s warbler. First of all, the necklace; as far as I know, Kirtland’s does not show a necklace in any plumage, but magnolia does in almost all plumages.
    Second, the wing bars. I cannot find any photos of KIWA showing wing bars this distinct, but they are quite consistent with those of MAWA.
    Finally, the flanks. Don’t quote me on this, but Kirtland’s always seems to have white flanks with black streaking. The quiz bird has solid yellow flanks like a Magnolia.
    Of course I could be completely wrong and it’s neither species. The streaked flanks are consistent with Pechora Pipit 😉

  • Terry Bronson

    Looks like a first-winter Cape May Warbler to me, and almost a textbook one at that. Pale underparts with muted breast streaking, clear throat, white undertail coverts, white wing bars, grayish head with eye arcs, though the arcs are a little more prominent than I’d expect. Ohio in early October is certainly the proper time for Cape May. Doesn’t look remotely like a Pechora Pipit to me, plus in Ohio? At any time? Kirtland’s and Magnolia would be much yellower below, and Kirtland’s is spotted, not streaked.

  • John Gluth

    Not that eBird data is the final word on distribution and migration timing, but there are currently no records of Kirtland’s Warbler in Ohio in October, this year or over the past 10 years. In fact the only record of Kirtland’s in October in the continental U.S. over the past decade was one from western North Carolina in 2008. Most Kirtland’s should be in the Bahamas by October. That being said, having never seen a KIWA in the field I wouldn’t rule out the possibility based on what can be seen of the quiz bird, albeit its bill seems a bit dainty for Kirtland’s. Magnolia seems to be the only other plausible alternative. As for what’s NOT in the photo that I’d like to see, perhaps a glimpse of the greater habitat behind that curtain of oak leaves.

    • Caleb Putnam

      John, geolocator data now show that many KIWA do not depart the breeding areas until early to mid October, when no birders are looking for them. So date is not enough in this instance. Cheers.

      • John Gluth

        Very interesting. Thanks for the new knowledge!

  • Matt Beatty

    How about a strangely lit Yellow-rumped Warbler?

    • brian0918

      This was David Sibley’s conclusion. (I’m the photographer to blame here.)

      • cestma

        Well, then, definitely my conclusion, too. 😉

        And definitely one of those “think horses, not zebras” situations.

  • Sarah Sargent

    I initially thought Cape May, but now am leaning towards some version of Yellow-rumped. They are so variable, and the October time frame makes them highly likely. I don’t see anything that it rules out.

  • ramanauskas

    Well, I’d like a better look at its tail, especially the underside. That would confirm or reject Magnolia right off the bat. If I can’t get that, I’d like to see its back, and hear its note. A more sideways view would help with the bill size and tail length–there might be a perspective issue with them in this photo.

    Better view of the surroundings would be nice, but is less important than those–a bird in migration could easily be in atypical habitat.

    Anyway, I think it’s a Magnolia.

  • I still think it’s a YRWA. The image is underexposed and getting a yellow cast from vegetation reflection. Lighten the image and you start to see the real color of the birds undersides in the flanks. Color correct for the yellow cast (blue/cyan adjustment) that you can see on the branch, and the branch loses it’s yellow, as does the bird–BUT, the trees stay green. If the image were true to color, the trees would turn bluish with the color adjustment.

  • Pingback: Birding Online: December 2016 « ABA Publications()

  • Joseph Mosley

    Here is my current thoughts and ramblings on this bird, first off my gut instinct – Yellow-rumped Warbler (this was before I saw any comments), then I thought maybe Magnolia when I saw it mentioned. As for Kirkland’s and Cape May, I don’t have any experience with Kirkland’s and only fall males for the Cape May (not many out here in western Missouri), and will refer to books for these two. Anyway, neither Cape May or Kirkland’s really have bold white double wing bars like this bird. Then in my opinion the eye arcs are too thick for Cape May, and finally according to most pictures Cape May’s have the streaking extend up into the throat somewhat from the breast. That leaves YRWA and MAWA. Now about the lighting of this picture, the more I zoom in on my phone, the more yellow I see, but viewing normally shows very little actual yellow, but the undertail coverts are pretty white for this theory and that is the clearest evidence for MAWA in my mind. As some have noted, bold eye arcs again point away from a Magnolia assuming we are dealing with either a young bird or female (probably both in my opinion). Then finally looking at the throat I see pretty dark lores clearly defining the white throat and contrasting the rest of the head. This is something I see a lot of on young female YRWA here in Missouri in the fall. My vote is Yellow-rumped Warbler.

  • David Sibley

    Hi Ted and all,

    I realize this is an old discussion, but not seeing any resolution I thought I would chime in. I took another look at this photo and confirmed my feeling that it’s a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

    Starting with the reasons it is not a Kirtland’s:

    *any streaking across the center of the breast of Kirtland’s should be limited to tiny triangular spots

    *streaking on rear flanks should be thinner than on sides of breast

    *winter Kirtland’s Warbler should have base of bill flesh-colored (see photo here and others online)

    Magnolia Warbler should also show a pale bill base, never shows bold upper and lower eye arcs, and any Magnolia Warbler showing such bold streaks should also show very broad white wingbars.

    Cape May Warbler should have more of a dark eyeline pattern, not bold eye arcs, and the wing covert pattern (wingbars) are not right, among other things.

    Even though it doesn’t give a first impression like a Yellow-rumped Warbler, that is the only species that fits, and looking at each detail there is nothing I can find that is obviously wrong for Yellow-rumped Warbler, so I don’t even think we have to invoke hybridization.

    I’m not troubled by the yellowish color. I’m happy to dismiss that as a photo artifact enhancing the faint warm off-white color shown by many fall Yellow-rumps.

  • Dominic Cormier

    I would like to see the bird in real life, as the lighting is playing tricks on us. A quick look at the face and throat in good light will tell if it is a Myrtle or Audubon’s.

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