Tips for Bird ID: 4 Birds in St. Pete Beach

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  • Northern Mockingbird. If you've never seen one before you might be surprised at how drab they are. They are among the most romanticized birds (thanks, in part, to Harper Lee and that "Hush Little Baby" song). Tips for identifying: remember that when birding, always go for shape and size first, not colors. The long tail and skinny bill are best for spotting this bird. Personally, I'd rather ID this one from song. Many birds mimic other birds (and frogs, in this case) but the Northern Mockingbird always repeats a phrase 2 - 6 times. If you can only hear the bird and cannot see it, make sure to listen for a couple of minutes. Brown Thrashers repeat phrases 2 times as do Grey Catbirds, who sound nasally and garbled.
  • Mourning Dove. Another bird that is much easier to identify from its vocalizations. Sometimes, beginner birders hear doves and mistake them for owls because doves say "who, who, who" much more clearly than most owls. Mourning Doves call in intervals of who's at a particularly low-frequency. Once you know the shape of a dove or pigeon, it is easy to identify them, even by silhouette. My advice for this easy-to-recognize bird is to pay attention to where you are casting your gaze. Good places to look for Mourning Doves: power lines, fences, and other man-made structures.

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  • Red-bellied Woodpecker. Though the name includes a color, it is still important to first identify the bird as a woodpecker by shape and behavior, THEN you can proceed to figure out which species you're dealing with. Let me show you why. Here is a female Red-bellied Woodpecker that I spotted outside of my accommodations in St. Pete Beach.

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If we just ID from the name, we expect a very Woody The Woodpecker-esque bird with a bright red belly, do we not? And then if we examine the above photo, we are inclined to re-name the bird to something including a red head. But that's already another species of woodpecker. With a complex family like the woodpeckers, look for dead giveaways like that forked tail and sturdy long bill. But more importantly, have a look at what the bird is doing. Is it darting around the trunk of a tree or utility pole quickly examining the surface with its bill? Probably a woodpecker. If you're lucky, like me (it's actually a mixture of luck and patience) you'll get to glimpse the red belly of this species.

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Not much red to speak of. The dappled black and white back and the red on the head are good indicators, but not great. So how do you win with this woodpecker? You learn by looking at your field guide. And also by making yourself aware of birds' ranges. The Red-bellied Woodpecker is found year-round in all parts of Florida so I can immediately cross off other woodpeckers that might look similar but belong to other parts of the world.

  • Bird #4 is a trick question.

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Hart's Basin (Part Dos)

I thought I might start the second part of my Hart's Basin birdwatching trip blog off with some information. Fruitgrower's Reservoir is actually considered the best water-birding location in all the western slope of Colorado. When the reservoir gets low on water, it exposes mudflats. These mudflats are perfect nesting ground for shorebirds (Willets, American Bitterns, etc.) and waterfowl. The mudflats also attract animals besides birds. Muskrats, cottontails, jackrabbits, coyotes, foxes, minks and mule deer also access this unique valley watering hole. And the lizards, don't forget about them. 20130515-DSCN0193

This one was trying to hide from me, a Plateau Striped Whiptail. His striped back camo mimics dry grass which is found in abundance at Fruitgrower's Reservoir. And while previous photos may have led to the illusion that this unique place is right on the brink of the Rocky Mountains, it isn't. It's somewhat of an oasis really. For miles around Hart's Basin is an adobe desert full of anthills and sage brush. Beautiful in its own way but not necessarily an environment one would associate with lush green marsh land.

Recent estimates say that about 500 people per year visit this spot. I would recommend it to anyone, birder or not. And speaking of birds, let's get back to them.

I'll start with a classic little guy that I've found flitting around in a multitude of places. He's never picky and always has a sweet song to sing. He's the Song Sparrow, of course.

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When I was very first learning about birds, I recall that my ornithology professor told us that there existed a large category of songbirds which some people like to refer to as LBB's. Really, this category belongs to sparrows because they comprise nearly all the LBB's (Little Brown Birds). This is a joke. Because they get tricky to ID when the only difference is a slight hue of brown. But my next new bird sighting contestant made it easy on me. This sparrow has an interesting facial pattern that doesn't leave the mind's eye. A Lark Sparrow.

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Marinate this phrase in your mouth for a second: tyrant flycatcher. It's another group of songbirds that all boast the talent of being incredible acrobats in the air. And all just to follow the (seemingly) unpredictable flight patterns of their favorite cuisine, insects. This beauty is often found sharing power lines with Kestrels and Mourning Doves in CO, the Western Kingbird.

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And I'd like to close on the little guy I would refer to as pocket-sized if I was generous enough to give him lots of wiggle room in that pocket. The Black-chinned Hummingbird. I miss these birds greatly during the Newfoundland summer because, alas, they have not made this island their home. I think, secretly, hummingbirds believe that they're peacocks. They always sit just as stoic and proud as possible and even though they're micro, they're every bit as colorful.

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Keep an eye out for more bird photographs from my visit home to Colorado!

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