Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spotting the Unusual

When I am out shooting birds, I am always on the lookout for a species I may not have seen before. I thought I would share some of the cues I have learned that have helped me do that. 

Just as I arrived at my friend's dock the other day to shoot bay ducks, I looked over to my right and saw four ducks flying that I immediately recognized as a species I have wanted to capture for some time.  The way they were flying caught my attention, being different than the other ducks I normally see down there. Their flight was very erratic compared to many of the bay ducks that fly straight as a bullet and it turns out that is one of the recognizable features of this species - it's "careening" flight. Unusual flight patterns have allowed me to zero in on other "surprises," the most memorable being a species of duck whose normal range is in Arizona!

As soon as I looked their way, however, I got a second cue to their being different in the long tails that they were sporting. A difference in general features is another quick cue to something you haven't seen before. On the same morning, I saw a duck that stood out because it had a reddish-looking head.  It turned out, this was another duck I hadn't seen before.  But, I'll get to that in another post.

That is how I spotted this American Avocet a couple of years ago. Of all the hundreds of small shore birds that were on the pond that morning, this one came to my attention because of it's unusual long bill. It was only after that I noticed the blue legs.  Turns out, this bird is a rare visitor and is not normally found on this coast. Over recent times, however, it has begun to establish a wintering range on this coast and so has been seen more frequently.

A bird's call being different than anything you have heard before, can alert you to a specie's presence. My attention was drawn to the most beautiful bird call one morning while I was at the river. If you can imagine having a little hollow, wooden box with a hole in it similar to a guitar and a small mallet like the ones used to play a xylophone with which to strike it so that it produced a very acoustic knocking sound - that is about the best way I can describe what this bird sounds like. I could tell by the call that the bird wasn't close enough for me to even spot it, let alone take it's picture. A little while later, however, it landed in the tree right next to where I was standing. Even if I hadn't heard it first, this bird would have stood out as something unusual with the unusual orange lower curved bill and the big white spots on it's tail. Turns out, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo can be found throughout the Eastern U.S., but I had never seen - or heard - one before. Have you? 

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