LBJ of Mystery!

With txbird driving, a little brown job was photographed in the bare tree beyond and to the right of the pond at 7:27 this morning (oops; yesterday morning, now). I’m pretty sure it’s a new species for the game, though it’s not immediately obvious what species it is. Photos were taken by annelizabeth, loughman1, rafa, txbird, and vanilla, though it looks like vanilla must have subsequently deleted hers. But rafa was clever enough to save all 14 of the original images, and nice enough to forward them to me, so I can display them all in this posting.

There were a number of duplicates (that is, images that were snapped at the same moment by two different players). When I consolidated those, I ended up with 10 images total. I stitched them together into a couple of GIF animations, which allowed me to get a better sense of the bird’s movements (and coincidentally, to shift the frames to compensate for the camera’s pan during the sequence of shots, so the bird stays relatively stationary in the animation).

Here’s my first try at an animation. In this one, each frame takes 1 second:

Here’s a second animation. In this one, I made the pauses between the frames match the (longer) pauses between the actual times when the original shots were taken. In other words, the timing of this animation matches the realtime movements of the bird:

In each case, the shot where the bird is facing mostly toward the camera is the first frame. The shot where the bird has hunched down and looks like it’s about to exit, stage left, is the last frame (though I just made the animation loop continuously). Note also that in the third frame in the sequence, the bird’s tail is partly cut off by the edge of the original image (the camera had been panned to the left). It doesn’t look like that in the animation, because I “cheated” by including the background from one of the other frames, but if you look closely you can see it. I only mention it because I don’t want people scratching their heads over the odd-looking shape of the tail in that one frame.

So, after all that, what do we have here? Speculation in chat covered quite a range, from female Indigo Bunting to Dark-eyed Junco to Ovenbird to Hermit Thrush. Speaking for myself, the first thing I thought was “wren”, and as I scanned through the images I kept hoping to see a light eye stripe that would say “Bewick’s” or “Carolina”. There wasn’t any such eye stripe, as it turned out, but in terms of the overall coloring, posture, and general proportions I really like House Wren. I noticed that birderbf thought the same thing, based on a comment on this image. There are a few shots where I feel like I can see a wren-like beak. At the same time, there’s no apparent barring on the tail, which I’d like to see for a House Wren, though maybe it’s just not visible because of the quality of the image.

loughman1 was leaning toward Hermit Thrush in the chat, and I have to admit that this bird’s coloration and posture both seem pretty good for Hermit Thrush. In looking at the realtime version of the animation, the bird’s sluggishness reminds me more of a thrush than a wren. There’s also that hint of mottling on the throat in the first image — could that be a low-resolution version of a Hermit Thrush’s spots?

One thing that would settle this is size: a House Wren would be noticeably smaller than a Hermit Thrush. My subjective sense of the scale of the image (based on my vague recollection of other birds of known size in that tree) is that this bird looks more wren-sized than thrush-sized, but I’d like to see some comparison shots of known birds in the same location at a similar zoom to be sure. Does anyone know of any such shots?

I guess I’m going to sleep on it and see how I feel in the morning before committing to an ID. In any event, thanks to txbird for finding this great bird, to all the players who got photos of it, and to rafa for saving and forwarding the full set of pre-deletion images. Mystery birds are fun!

Update: ottavia suggested I check out the following YouTube video of a House Wren. She thinks it looks like the mystery bird. What do you think?

One Response to “LBJ of Mystery!”

  1. birderbf says:

    I vote 100% House Wren. Here’s why:

    Size: I agree with Elanus that it seems to be quite small, and definitely more compact (short-legged, -tailed) than any thrush. I believe HETH can be eliminated based on:
    – size
    – lack of spotting on upper breast or at least any difference in tone between there and the belly (assuming the cam would be averaging black-and-white patterns to gray at that distance)
    – no tonal change around rump
    – and most importantly: STUBBY primary projection (this wholly eliminates all Catharus and Hylocichla thrushes!)

    All junco subspecies can be eliminated simply because non match this color pattern, beak shape and tail length.

    Ovenbird can be eliminated for lack of color underneath and crown pattern. Loughman also pointed yesterday that it is fairly uncommon to catch an Ovenbird up a tree in migration.

    Common Yellowthroat is a better match. Warm brown color above and white throat is not consistant with any plumage of yellowthroat.

    Female Indigo Bunting is also a fine idea, but being all white beneath is wrong for that species, and like DEJU, the beak shape seems inconsistant with those of sparrows (short, thick).

    PROs for House Wren:
    – overall shape and posture
    – short tail
    – short primary projection
    – consistantly warm brown above
    – white/off-white below
    – thin beak
    – plain face

    Proposed CONs for House Wren:
    – apparent lack of hyperactivity, but I have seem many placid House Wrens, and they don’t always have their tails cocked
    – lack of barring on tail or wings, but like I stated before with this resolution such a tiny detail like that is easily lost (just look at how poorly defined the eye looks!)

    No other species of wren likely in this habitat matches as perfectly as House Wren (winter would be darker and even stubbier, and probably wouldn’t be so far off the ground either). I believe this bird is safe to classify as Cone Welder’s first House Wren.

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