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Blog Birding #370

Dave Brown of Birding Newfoundland shares some tips on identifying sparrows, one of the most intimidating groups of birds in North America but not terribly difficult once you know what to look for.

I’ve seen lots of photos posted in the last month or two of various species of Sparrows and people asking,  ‘what sparrow is this?’, or identifying it incorrectly, or just seemingly not knowing where to start with the identification in the first place. In light of all of that, I’ve decided to write this article, which is intended to be an introduction to Sparrow ID.  I will cover the basics; provide a few key identifiers that tell you the bird you’re looking at is a Sparrow and I will also provide you with a road map to lead you towards the correct species identification.

Spring 2018 in the Gulf Stream is in the books, and it was a pretty spectacular season. Brian Patteson of Seabirding wraps it up.

The conditions did not seem to affect the more expected species as much, however.  We had a good showing of Black-capped Petrels, and our lowest counts of 11 and 22 were a far cry from the single digit counts we’ve had a few times when the Gulf Stream took a queer turn.  The Gulf Stream has done just that a few times this winter and spring, and on some days the water out in the deep was greener than usual.  The Leach’s Storm-Petrels didn’t seem to mind this green water, however, and we saw a total of 142 on ten trips in May with a hight count of 55 on May 30.  We also had some rainy weather in late May and that did not deter the Leach’s Storm-Petrels either.  Band-rumped Storm-Petrels were found in modest numbers, and the majority that we saw were molting winter breeders.  We also saw some sharp looking Band-rumps that we surmised were summer breeders.  As far as the AOU or ABA checklist is concerned these are all the same, but more likely these are cryptic species that will remain a challenge to identify at sea.

New research, summarized at The AOU-COS Publications Blog, attempts to explain why crows seem to be the dominant species in their relationship with the much larger raven.

Cornell University’s Ben Freeman and colleagues used more than 2,000 publicly collected and submitted observations from across North America via eBird to analyze the interspecific aggression between crows (American and Northwestern) and Common Ravens. From these records, it was determined that crows were the predominant aggressor. Crows primarily attacked in small groups rather than one-on-one confrontations with ravens. The breeding season was when most of the attack observations were made, suggesting that nest predation by ravens influences this behavior.

At Birdwatching Daily, Matt Mendenhall highlights a New York Times article that suggests the future of birding is younger, urban, and more diverse.

The Times writes: “Younger urban birders — yubbies? — like those led by Ms. Adams are the new faces in the birding world. They use social media to track their ornithological marks, with digital assists from apps like iBird or Merlin and websites like eBird — the data collection site run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology — which have replaced old-fashioned Sibley guides to aid in identification (though Sibley has an app, too). They are drawn in by the visual seductions of Instagram, as well as a desire for community inflected by environmentalism.”

Bruce MacTavish at The Newfoundland Birding Blog shares the experience of seeing a rare Little Egret on the Avalon Peninsula.

All the rest of the pictures were taken on 2 July as it fed in the tidal flats by the Trailway (abandoned rail bed made into walking trail). Note the two white spaghetti noodle head plumes and bluish-gray lores.  At least one of these features is visible in every photo separating it from a Snowy Egret. The lack of yellow running up the back of legs and the impression of a larger bill are lesser features to look for.
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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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