I recently mentioned “I’ve been investigating a bird species from photos I’ve taken these past five years, a species I’ve seen here [at White Rock Lake] every winter for the past 30 years.”
Perhaps four inches/10 centimeters long, give or take, the little rascals are as small as they are ubiquitous: I see them at every time on every walk in every place I go.
But their size makes them difficult to photograph given they remain on the move. Still, they have little fear of people and don’t mind getting in close, so that helps.
Aside from trying to photograph a small moving target, another issue with identifying them has been the very real challenge of plumage: theirs matches several species (down to five if I use plumage, approximate size and time of year/location [the latter being a somewhat unreliable measure, but it helped narrow down the field to likely suspects]).
[See the update at the bottom of this post regarding that image.]
Whether scampering about the treetops, scurrying through brush or scouring reed beds, these indistinct avians vexed me. How could I not identify something I could photograph over and over again with such ease—assuming ease means snapping photos of virtually tiny and constantly moving targets?
I suppose there are people out there who could look at any one of these images and correctly identify this enigma. I am not one of those people.
My skills at identifying flora and fauna improve with time, and I’m rather good at remembering an identification once it’s made.
But if finding a name to go with the face presents a challenge like this one, I I have to put forth great effort investigating the tiniest of clues that might help.
Unfortunately for this species, that left me with a handful of possibilities which all look quite similar.
Size, plumage, location, habitats and activity narrowed the list to certain species of warbler, flycatcher, vireo and kinglet.
That’s where I got stuck.
More thorough investigation would ultimately provide an identification, I knew, but I caught a lucky break with one image that cleared up the matter once and for all.
See the identifying mark?
I realize that image isn’t the best one around. The bird was hanging upside down in a tree set against a bright blue sky, so contrast worked against me.
Perhaps this processed crop will help: I severely modified the highlight, midtone and shadow lighting to make the clue more visible.
Rarely shown and practically invisible, the hidden red crown made identification simple: this is a ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula). The one with the red stripe is a male, although some of the others could be as well if only they would have shown me the tops of their heads.
[Update] Much thanks to David for pointing out in the comments that I actually had two birds pictured in this entry. I’m embarrassed to say I should have noticed the differences right off, but I didn’t since the first photo was in a group of ruby-crowned kinglet photos; I assumed then that it was the same bird in harsher lighting. You know what they say about assuming…
Anyway, David graciously points out the telltale signs from the first photo that identify it as an orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata) and that differentiate it from the ruby-crowned kinglet in the last three pictures.
Now you see I still have a lot to learn about such matters…