Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Remembering My Field Marks

A tern flies by beating its wings and I bring it into view. I sit twenty two birds birds shy from breaking into the 200 species zone for Georgetown County and Caspian Tern is one of those twenty two. But where do I look? The bill? Oh wait it's hard to tell if that is the deep red I am looking for in a Caspian in this terrible light. Moving on, the wings? If the wings are my best bet, will primaries be my best option? Upper Surface or undersurface? Man, this is TERN-ing into a big headache. Oh wait, it's already far enough down the beach where I can hardly make out that bird I just saw was a tern!

These are similar questions that run through my head when the opportunity to put an ID on a bird I've been tirelessly pishing too: a sparrow finally sticks his head out of the grass, a warbler appears out of the canopy, or a shorebird flies by. What do I look at first? Well, here are my thoughts: if birders can keep a list for every species we encounter in small counties to our entire life, why can we not make a numbered list of field marks on a species to help us remember? Something as simple as notes you write down on a scrap sheet of paper folded up in your pocket with any sketches that help. Field guides and apps are convenient, but sometimes I feel like they speak a whole other language with too many colors that are too "ishy" and clumped together with descriptions in blocks of paragraphs. Taking the time to note the field marks and dictate your own words in a language you understand on paper, just stick better with me and now I have a reference to refer too.

I attempted to make a list of helpful field marks of the Caspian Tern and comparing it to a similar species like the Royal Tern.
1. Wingtips (Underside of Primaries)

Caspian Tern with whole primary feather dark on the underside. Seen today at Huntington Beach, as well as other terns pictured on this blog.

Royal Tern, with only the edges of primaries dark on the underside.

2. Bill

3. Head Pattern
I kind of butchered the bills on the terns, so don't laugh too hard.
Caspian Tern with the streaked head.
The best would be to make another list of field marks with similar species to make sure you don't generalize too much and misidentify a bird such as , "I did see some darkness on those underside primaries, so it must be my bird, the Caspian Tern" because the darkness on the underside primaries of the Royal could be enough to make you think think Caspian, especially if you are looking for one like I was.

Trying to keep a list of field marks to look for can turn into a well kept journal with a chance to practice sketching and learn from your own birding experience that you can always look back on for quick reference when you encounter that species again. You might even want to turn your list of field marks into the next best-selling field guide.

Here are other photos that highlight my trip to Huntington Beach State Park today. There was a GREG fallout, along with many other wader species, due to a large number of fish. Mullet Pond was bleached white with Egrets and storks.

Least Tern Taking a dive.

Tricolored Heron
Clapper Rail

Black-crowned Night Heron

Something's fishy

Wood Storks

Female Black Scoter

Clapper Rail

Sandwich Tern, you can barely see the mustarded tipped beak.



Glossy Ibis

Least Sandpipers