by Don Roberson
all bird photos digiscoped in the wild
More DUCKS and SPARROWS . . .
all shots with an Olympus Camedia 560, 3.2 megapixel,
cheap automatic camera, though a Leica Trinovid scope
Red-breasted Mergansers in Monterey harbor,
19 Nov 2004
I like the composition of this digiscoped image; it is entirely accidental.
The two mergansers just happened to come up from dives in this particular
arrangement. I had, however, worked quite a bit to get to this point with
the sun behind me in the late afternoon, and the ducks less concerned about
my presence than they had been initially.
I had a great deal of trouble in trying to
age and sex these mergansers — and almost any other non-adult-male Red-breasted
Merganser that I encounter in late fall or early winter. It is becoming
more and more clear to me that birds we birders call "female" mergansers
in fall and winter are not always females. It now seems probable to me
that about the mergansers I've labeled as "females" over the year, and
especially vagrants, have likely been first-year males.
After studying this photo, I felt that the front
bird was a first-fall male because (a) there is some blackish feathers
appearing around the sides of the breast, (b) there are some blackish patches
appearing on the back, and (c) the white patches visible in the wing coverts
are widely distributed. I felt that the bird in back was likely a first-cycle
female because (a) it had none of the above features that suggested male
and (b) it had pale lores that suggested a first-cycle bird. I wrote Peter
Pyle to ask his opinion, and here is his reply:
"Mergansers are harder since most of the reliable criteria
are in the wings, not visible in the images. I agree with you that the
two birds in the first image are both HYs. The front bird is a typical
male at this time and the back bird is a female, with newer formative feathers
on the back being gray instead of dusky or blackish. I found that
the pale lores mentioned by Sibley and others for HYs (and shown
by both birds) is a fairly reliable age criterion, although there was some
Altogether a very instructive photo for me personally, and not a bad shot
either . . . .
Savannah Sparrow at Pt. Pinos, Monterey
Co., 21 Sep 2004
Mostly I digiscope to get close images of birds that show fine details.
This shot was an exception — I could tell through the scope that this image
was better at creating a mood than at showing characters of the sparrow.
This is a wide-eyed migrant just arrived off the sea, over which it had
presumably been flying during the night, and now landing in the first patch
of vegetation it can find on the mainland. There were actually lots of
similarly just-arrived Savannahs about in the early morning, and I like
the combo of background, the weedy stalks, and the sparrow. Not long after
taking this shot, I found Monterey County's first Yellow-bellied
Flycatcher nearby . . .
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Lincoln's Sparrow at Big Sur R. mouth,
25 Sep 2004
Here is the more typical digiscoped photo: an attempt to get a good close
image on which we can see details of specific feathers. This is a full-frame
shot. In retrospect, this is not a very good photo because of lighting
problems (overexposed background) but I like the picture anyway because
it is just so darn difficult to get any photo of this shy sparrow
"in the wild" (I have some nice ones from my home feeder, but that's different).
Yet, despite the fact we can see the fine
details of the greater coverts and tertials and scapulars, I'm not able
to age this individual with any confidence. Pyle's Identification Guide
(1997) relies heavily on the presence or absence of contrast (molt limits)
between the greater primary coverts and the greater secondary coverts,
and the shape of certain rectrices in the tail. We can't see those tail
feathers well. As to the greater coverts, we see the greater secondary
coverts very nicely but the greater primary coverts are essentially hidden.
I think I see only one of them, and it does seem to have the whitish-buff
tip that is shown on all the greater secondary coverts. But I am not sure
of this and lack the in-hand banding experience to have anything more than
'book-learning.' If I am right, it is a hatch-year bird but Pyle notes
that many intermediates occur and thus ageing Lincoln's Sparrow in the
fall is problematic.
As to subspecies, we know from specimens that Sierran
birds are not typically recorded in Monterey County (no specimens; see
Birds, 2d ed.) so we presume this is a migrant from Alaska or Canada,
thus gracilis or nominate lincolnii (both recorded many times
in MTY). Pyle (1997) says that gracilis is small, grayish-brown
with a buff tinge, and has broad blackish streaking above, while lincolnii
is medium in size, browner above with a reddish tinge, and has narrow,
blackish streaking above. This one does seem buff buffy and broadly streaked
with blackish above; I would guess gracilis (from coast s.e. Alaska
to s.w. B.C.) but we'd need a tray of specimens to compare to be surer.
Surf Scoter in Monterey harbor, 24 Dec
I am becoming addicted to digiscoping around Monterey harbor when the weather
is good. The sea surface, when calm, produces wonderful reflections when
the lighting is right. Here is just one example: it's a first-cycle male
(I think, although perhaps it's an adult coming out of eclipse? I need
more information). It does have a pale eye and bright red legs (visible
under the water). It is not a perfect shot because the wings are in better
focus than the face, but I rather like the 'puffin-like' bill reflection.
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