Archive for the ‘Identification Challenges’ Category

Pine Siskin (again)!

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Look what idbirds got a shot of this morning:

Image 248250

You can’t see much detail, because the light was low, but I’m pretty sure the folks on the cam at the time were right that this was CONE Welder’s first Pine Siskin!

A few minutes later grrrich got this shot:

Image 248258

…and a few seconds later idbirds got this one:

Image 248259

It would be nice if we could see the yellow on the wings, but especially with that first shot, I’m comfortable calling this a siskin. I said “again” in the title of this post, because we also got some shots of the Pine Siskin back in the CONE SF days (see Pine Siskin!). Here are the shots from that post, for comparison purposes:

Image 14377

Image 14381

Image 14382

Congratulations to idbirds and grrrich for getting shots of this elusive bird!

The Little Lady Is Back

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Look what showed up on Craig’s deck yesterday:


Pretty sure that’s a female Western Tanager, which makes me wonder if it’s the same bird that bluebean photographed on May 7, 2007, and that I talked about back in Well, hello little lady and Two that got away.

Little Tyrants

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

There were a bunch of interesting birds photographed yesterday, including the following little guy (or gal) who hung around for a nice series of shots:

Image 194375

The shot above by txbird is my favorite, I think, but click through and browse the whole sequence. I’m comfortable calling that an Empidonax flycatcher, but beyond that I don’t even want to guess. Judging by the range maps in Sibley, I could see that being any of Acadian, Yellow-bellied, Willow, Alder, or Least. Any experts want to weigh in? It would be the game’s first Empidonax, but unless they give us an “Empidonax (spp.)” ID, I don’t think it’s ever going to be counted.

Right after that a kingbird gave us some nice views. Here are shots by leacox, txbird, and leacox (respectively):

Image 194382

Image 194383

Image 194401

A few of them were ID’d as Western Kingbird, which I certainly have no objection to. It almost looks to me like there are white outer tail feathers in that first shot, which would help with that ID, though it bothers me that they don’t show up in any of the other shots.

Anyway, congratulations to everyone who got shots of these great, if tantalizing, birds.

Favorite Shots from the Last Few Days

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

It’s been fun for me to get back into CONE Welder lately. I’ve been on vacation, so I’ve had more time for it, and maybe it’s the time of year and the drought bringing all this interesting stuff past the camera, or maybe it’s just always this interesting and I’ve been guilty of not noticing, but there really seems to be a lot happening at Welder lately. Anyway, here are some of my favorite shots from the last few days.

I didn’t previously post this amazing photo that txbird got of the alligator snapping up something along the edge of the pond:

Image 190963

txbird’s shot is currently the top-rated photo of the alligator. It’s also in a six-way tie for the 14th-most-popular image since the game began (though I think it might place higher in the all-time rankings if people were using the ratings as much now as they used to).

I think this shot by judy10 also deserves a mention:

Image 191239

This is the last shot we got of the alligator, at 8:24 p.m. CONE time on that one very exciting Day of the Alligator.

There have been a number of other shots lately that, while they aren’t necessarily the clearest shots, are interesting as records of species that are rarities, at least in the game. Take this shot by birdbrain, taken August 5 at 5:20 p.m.:

Image 190387

It’s one of a series of four shots of a bird that was ID’d as house finch (at least it was in the other three shots, though not in this one, ironically, even though I think this might be the clearest shot of the four). A house finch isn’t much to get excited about in my backyard, or probably in most birders’ backyards; I believe it is the most commonly seen feeder bird in the country. But believe it or not, house finch is one of the rarest birds in CONE Welder; this is only the third date on which one has been photographed with the system.

A similarly rare bird, at least in CONE Welder terms, was the blue-gray gnatcatcher that user lynch was lucky enough to get two shots of back on August 9 at 5:15 a.m.:

Image 191268

Gnatcatchers have been photographed on only four occasions since the game began, and this is actually one of the best shots of the twitchy little species we’ve managed to get with the birdcam.

This shot of the common grackle that I got on August 10 is interesting to me not because the species is especially rare in CONE Welder, but because it’s rare at this time of year. Although we got lots of photos of this bird last winter, we’ve had few shots at any other time, as you can see if you look at the chart on the bottom of the bird’s species page in the Dashboard.

Image 191993

Besides rarities, some shots are interesting to me because of the behavior they depict. I liked this closeup I got of a white-tailed deer foraging for spilled feed (I assume) near the white feed-storage box on August 10:

Image 191987

Dr. Glasscock has talked about what a rough time deer are having during the current drought, and I felt for this deer as it struggled to find something to eat.

On a more-cheerful note, I really liked this shot eyes23blue got of two common ground-doves mating:

Image 191479

Common ground-doves are also something of a rarity in CONE Welder, making this action photo doubly impressive.

Rarities and interesting behaviors are fun, but really gorgeous shots hold a special place in my heart. This shot of the male painted bunting that rafa took on August 9 is a good example:

Image 191548

I also loved this shot of the scissor-tailed flycatcher’s beautiful salmon underwing that loughman1 took on August 10:

Image 191938

This shot by birdbrain of the female orchard oriole catching the rays of the setting sun on August 10 was my favorite of a whole series of shots that really took my breath away:

Image 192019

Finally, I want to thank the people who devote so much of their time and energy to making CONE Welder the fascinating window on nature that it is. I include in that category the people at the CONE project and at Welder who created the system, and the other users on the system who bring it to life. But I want especially to thank the people who make the journey out to the site to fill the feeders, clean the water features, mow the grass, and climb the ladder to give the camera housing a much-needed cleaning:

Image 191956

Image 190443

Image 190448

You guys (and gals) are my heroes.

Blue Birds of Happiness!

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Wow! What an amazing day on the birdcam. Mourning doves, chipping sparrows, great-tailed grackle, bronzed cowbird… and all of them upstaged by not one, but two gorgeous blue birds, with one of them being a new species for the game.

vanilla got the fun started with this shot of the indigo bunting at 10:45 a.m.:

Image 147749

She also got this lovely shot at 10:48:

Image 147754

Notice, by the way, that indigo bunting field mark: the blue is darker on the head than on the rest of the body. That’s going to be important later on.

At 11:04, rafa got this shot of a blue bird feeding on the ground. Another shot of that gorgeous indigo bunting, right? Or is it?

Image 147763

Here’s another shot by rafa 10 seconds later:

Image 147767

We’ve zoomed in some, and have a better view of the head, which certainly seems to be a lighter, rather than a darker, shade than the rest of the body. And what about that beak? It’s on the large size for a bunting, don’t you think?

Now check out this shot taken by rafa five seconds later. That sure looks like a chestnut stripe on the bird’s wing:

Image 147769

Finally, check out this shot, also by rafa:

Image 147775

That’s no bunting beak. Ladies and gentleman, we have blue grosbeak!

The fun wasn’t over. Between 12:04 and 12:35, loughman1 and rafa got a great series of shots of a whole flock of indigo buntings feeding in the grass. Here’s a shot by loughman1:

Image 147808

I love the way the bunting in the lower right is craning his neck to reach a tasty seed. Notice that we’ve got a female bunting on the righthand edge of the shot, too.

Here’s another cool shot by loughman1:

Image 147811

I almost think that could be a grosbeak, rather than a bunting, at the upper left. It certainly looks like a different shade of blue than the male bunting hanging out next to that female at the bottom. But after examining it closely, I’m really not sure.

This shot, taken by budgieface at 12:53, is currently identified as blue grosbeak. I think the ID is probably wrong, though, and that this is actually an indigo bunting:

Image 147817

Finally, I really love this shot of what I believe is the grosbeak, taken by rafa at 2:45:

Image 147857

Does it look to you like it has something in its beak (besides its ginormous beak, I mean)? Nesting material, maybe?

Congratulations to everyone who participated, and congratulations to CONE Welder itself for getting its 75th species.

Update: Oops. I now realize that some shots were taken yesterday, April 14, of the blue grosbeak. So it wasn’t new today; it was new yesterday.

A Special ‘Mystery Bird of the Day’

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

I think I’ve mentioned before that one of my other obsessions besides CONE Welder is the “Mystery Bird of the Day” at grrlscientist’s Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) blog. It has the virtue that one can indulge the addiction in a relatively small amount of time each day, unlike certain other all-consuming addictions that shall remain nameless.

Yesterday’s mystery bird was different: Just a bunch of feathers that someone found during a recent Christmas Bird Count in the Canadian Rockies.


When she posted it, grrlscientist mentioned that we probably wouldn’t be able to identify it. Of course, that was like waving a red flag at a bull. My own contribution was a small one, and most of my speculation was wrong, but by the time we got the curator of the LA Natural History Museum’s bird collection to chime in, that bird didn’t have a chance. 🙂

What’s That on the Pole?

Friday, January 16th, 2009

With most of the feeders empty, there have been pretty slim pickins, bird-wise, the last few days. But on Wednesday, January 14, several users got some interesting shots of what looks like the shadow of a large bird perched on top of the camera pole. These are by leacox, birdbrain, and lynch, respectively:

Image 127053

Image 127057

Image 127058

My guess is that that’s a Red-shouldered Hawk. The size and posture look right (especially in the middle shot; that looks like a Red-shouldered hunch to me), and perching on a pole to watch for prey is a standard Red-shouldered hunting strategy. There certainly are other possibilities (an up-past-its-bedtime Barred Owl?), but that’s my favorite.

What do you think?

Update: User lynch wondered in chat if we might get the Welder people to put a mirror in the field of view, aimed to allow us to see the top of the pole. I don’t imagine that that’s going to happen (and if it did, we’d then be constantly complaining that the mirror needed cleaning), but it’s a really neat idea.

And then, maybe a second mirror angled to give us a view up the full length of the bare tree in the middle distance, the top of which we can’t see currently, but where we know (from Chris’s forwarded photo) that the Red-shouldered Hawk likes to perch, too. Or maybe a mirror with a servo actuator, so we can adjust it in realtime to point where we want! Or maybe we should put the camera on a Mars-rover-style ROV, so we can drive it around and go visit the river! Or…

Hm. Or not. 🙂

Cooper’s Hawk

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

In response to Loughman’s request for identification assistance, she received this message from Jill Harley at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory:

What a funny posture you caught this bird in! This is an adult Cooper’s Hawk – as you guys noted it has it’s hackles raised so the head looks flat, which Sharpies rarely do. Also, that darker cap on the top of the head, with the distinct line at about eye-level above which it’s darker is typical of Coops – Sharpie’s caps will appear to be all one color.

I agree that the darkness under the chin appears odd, but I think most of that is just because we are looking at stills where the bird’s head is turned, so that the gray on the side of the face appears to stretch down to the chin. There’s a few seconds in that top movie, right when the bird turns to face forward and looks up, and you can see that there is streaking under the chin, that it’s not all gray. And in that second photo down, the head is not quite as turned, and when you look closely you can see streaking under the chin. Though I agree there is usually a more distinct line between gray cheek and streaked upper breast! It is probably a combination of the bird being heavily streaked all the way up to the chin, along with the weird posture and resolution of the photo.

Accipiters can be very difficult to tell apart! And there is individual variation in the amount of barring and streaking they can have. I get a lot of emails asking for ID help, I’m going to paste in below some of the most reliable field marks I tell people to look for. But working with pictures is often difficult – in this case the head is giving the only clues. Ideally you will be able to use a combination of field marks instead of relying on one or two.

Overall, Sharpies are smaller, but since female hawks are larger than males, the male Cooper’s Hawks just barely overlap in size with the female Sharp-shins. There are a few good ways to tell them apart, especially if you have a picture – Cooper’s Hawks tend to have a fiercer-looking face – their eyes are set farther forward, and they often raise their hackles (feathers at the back of their neck), giving them a more square-headed appearance. Sharpies have a smaller, rounder head with the eye more in the middle of the head, giving them a wide-eyed, surprised look.

Of course, normally you would not be able to see that in flight very well. Cooper’s hawks tend to have more stable flight with a straight front edge to their wing (in a soar) and a larger head. Sharp-shinned Hawks tend to flap a bit more, and be a bit more unsteady (especially fighting the wind), and often soar with their wings hunched forward a bit, which makes it difficult to see their smaller head. The tail can be a good clue as well – Sharpie tail feathers are all about the same length, so their tails look square, where the outer tail feathers on a Cooper’s Hawk are shorter than the inner ones, make their tail look rounded at the end (this can be hard to judge depending on how they are holding their tail…).

The juveniles have the brown upperparts and streaks on the underparts. Adults of both species have gray upperparts (can appear fairly brown in some lighting though) and have orange barring on the underparts All have the bands on the tail – Coopers tend to have more white at the tip of their tail than Sharpies but again that is variable…

Thanks for the email Kay! Good luck with the webcam. We are working on updating our website (long overdue!) so be sure to check back, we’ll have much more useful ID help on there soon.

You may also want to post these links to ID tips for Accipiters – the top two are white papers by Rich Stallcup, a naturalist and research associate with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. The other two are ID tips from the USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter for Sharpies and Coops.

Take care,

Jill Harley
Research Assistant/Office Manager
Golden Gate Raptor Observatory

Accipiter! (and now, Cooper’s Hawk — see update)

Friday, December 5th, 2008

I know it disturbs some bird-lovers, but I get a kick out of it when birds of prey are attracted to all the tasty little snacks at the bird feeder. And today rafa and txbird got a series of shots of a fantastic bird that I have to believe was looking to have lunch with some of our smaller feathered friends. Check out these pictures (all of which were taken by txbird, though there were some good shots taken by rafa as well):

Image 122420

Image 122421

Image 122426

Image 122429

I love the look the bird has in that last shot. Did it hear the camera moving? It’s certainly looking right at us.

Here are a couple of videos made by rafa. They let you see that the bird actually stared at the camera for a good long time:

So, what species are we talking about? I feel pretty comfortable that this is either a Sharp-shinned or a Cooper’s, but I’m not very sure beyond that. The head does look relatively large, though, and as idbirds pointed out in chat, it has more of the flat-topped Cooper’s look than the rounded Sharp-shinned appearance.

I guess on balance I’d probably favor Cooper’s for the ID. In any event, great camera work from txbird and rafa. Thanks!

Update: loughman1 talked to some folks she knows at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, who provided a detailed explanation of why this bird is a Cooper’s Hawk. And now folks in the game have ID’d it, so it’s official. Yay!

Here’s a chat transcript:

[10:57:57] txbird: take camera?
[10:59:02] rafa: !!!!
[10:59:25] txbird: do you want cam?
[11:00:17] rafa: no, go ahead
[11:01:26] txbird: i need to delete! CIF
[11:05:24] rafa: cif
[11:13:19] rafa: amazing!
[11:13:40] rafa: mitc?
[11:13:41] txbird: where did it go?
[11:13:46] txbird: yes
[11:14:17] rafa: sure it’s on the top of cam pole
[11:15:59] rafa: cif
[11:16:21] rafa: did you find it there at the brush pile?
[11:18:04] txbird: yes. on the ground.
[11:18:53] rafa: hehe, the rwbl. all gone.
[11:19:29] txbird: …and all other birds too.
[11:20:32] txbird: sq is gone
[11:22:38] rafa: cif
[11:24:21] rafa: did you id it?
[11:24:49] rafa: new sp. for cone
[11:25:37] txbird: not yet. i want to look in the sibley first. ok, thanks for the clue!
[11:27:04] rafa: i’m not sure of the id. first time for me too. but i’d say genus Accipiter.
[11:29:18] txbird: when i saw it crouch and saw those eyes, i had to in. that might have been time to zoom out, but it seemed to just disappear. it was so fast i don’t think we could have captured the departure.
[11:29:44] rafa: yeah
[11:29:45] txbird: *had to zoom in
[11:31:16] rafa: it just changed position a little and the disappeared
[11:32:41] txbird: it didn’t move on the ground for the complete 20 minutes either.
[11:35:15] rafa: could ypu please show me the place where it was?
[11:36:11] rafa: oh, yes. thanks!
[11:41:12] elanus: oops. my bad.
[11:41:18] rafa: Hi, elanus!
[11:41:23] elanus: hi.
[11:41:32] rafa: are you good with Accipiters?
[11:41:36] elanus: accidentally clicked on the panorama.
[11:41:46] elanus: heh. no, but I’m willing to learn. 🙂
[11:42:04] elanus: I bought that “hawks in flight” book, and it’s been helping me.
[11:42:22] rafa: check the last shots, please
[11:42:45] elanus: whoa!
[11:46:47] rafa: txbird, i’d say it ws perched on a branch of the brushpile, not in the ground.
[11:48:10] elanus: I’d have a really hard time distinguishing between cooper’s and sharp-shinned, based on those photos.
[11:48:50] rafa: yeah, i agree. both are listed as “U” on Welder checklist
[11:49:35] txbird: yes, the branch is there.
[11:50:25] elanus: about all I can see to go on is head size (cooper’s head should be bigger). but the only way I know of measuring that is by looking at how much the head projects forward of the wings in flight. and we don’t have that view to look at here.
[11:51:26] rafa: my impression is that was small enough to be a Sharp-shinned but we all know how difficult is to see the size there.
[11:51:31] elanus: I don’t suppose anyone got video?
[11:52:04] rafa: yes, i got a few. but there isn’t much more.
[11:52:43] rafa: a little of preening and a little more of looking around
[11:53:07] elanus: if you post it to youtube I’ll embed it in the blog item I’m working on.
[11:53:34] rafa: ok
[11:55:25] elanus: I love that last shot (122429)
[11:58:22] idbirds: nice accipiter you guys caught, rafa and tx
[11:59:05] idbirds: has the stance of a penguin… LOL
[11:59:35] txbird: i had that same thought.
[12:00:05] rafa: elanus, they are uploading. in a few minutes go to and choose the one you want.
[12:02:05] txbird: CIF
[12:02:26] idbirds: I would say Cooper’s, since sharpies don’t have a flat=looking head
[12:08:33] rafa: idbirds, txbird caught it. i went into CONE sithe and there it was when i turned cam on.
[12:10:13] idbirds: wonderful find, tx!!

American Goldfinch!

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

The game’s newest species is American Goldfinch, with a number of shots having been taken between November 24 and November 26. The first identified shot was this one, taken by txbird, with a Chipping Sparrow thrown in for good measure:

Image 116994

I also liked the view of the lefthand bird’s wings in this shot (also with a Chipping Sparrow), taken by idbirds:

Image 117003

I thought this shot, also taken by idbirds, was pretty interesting:

Image 117442

I thought it was interesting because that bit of white at the base of the primaries made me wonder if that was actually a Lesser Goldfinch, rather than an American. (Those two species have always confused me, except for the rare, happy occasions when I’ve had both of them right next to each other on my feeder.) But after consulting my smaller Sibley guide (the big one is at home; I only have the Western guide with me on the vacation I’m currently on), I agree that all of these shots are probably American, rather than Lesser.

Great shots of a great bird! Congratulations to everyone who got a photo.