Saturday, December 21, 2013

First American Dipper in Canon City area this season

Every winter we have from one to a few American Dippers that move downstream along the Arkansas River in Colorado in cold weather to spend the winter in the mild Canon City area. This year I didn't see any until yesterday when I found this one in a location several miles east of Canon City which is a regular wintering locale and the furthest east location I have found them in Fremont County. We had such a terribly warm fall that this bird may not have thought it necessary to leave the higher elevation areas of the river until the recent cold weather. SeEtta

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Final on female sapsucker with close up video showing her drilling a sap well

So this female sapsucker that at first glance appeared to be a Yellow-bellied with her facial characteristics being more consistent with Yellow-bellied the other characteristics that are used by Project Sapsucker to identify hybrids (throat, nape, and upperparts) are all consistent with a hybrid Yellow-bellied X Red-naped Sapsucker. At least some identifications of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, including some of mine in the past, are made with more distant views that may miss such characteristics as the small amount of red feathers at the bottom of this bird's throat. Sapsuckers that winter in the Canon City and other areas of southern Colorado are unlikely to tolerate close approach for such views and flushing these birds from where they have sap wells is pretty intrusive. Use of spotting scopes with long telephoto lens is one good way to spot such characteristics and make accurate id's. Also long telephoto lens on cameras are good at revealing these difficult to view characteristics. This very short video clip shows this hybrid female sapsucker close-up as she works hard at drilling a sap well in a pine tree during that terribly cold weather on Dec 10---it had gone to 6 below zero F overnight in Canon City after days of below freezing temperatures and the temperature was in the single digits as she worked on this tree around 9 am that morning. The outer parts of that tree had to be frozen solid as she drilled away. SeEtta

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Female Sapsucker-what about her face?

The Birdfellow website has some discussion about the differences in sapsucker facial markings and this is posted by Dave Irons: "Generally speaking, the face of a Red-naped Sapsucker has a rather broad and nearly solid black auricular (behind the eye) stripe that is bordered above by a somewhat narrow white supercilium (above the eye) that tends to narrow anteriorly. Conversely, the dark auricular stripe on a Yellow-bellied is noticeably narrower and is often mottled with paler tipped feathers. The supercilium on Yellow-bellied is wider overall and tends to broaden a bit behind the eye. These differences account for the face of a Red-naped looking more dark than light, while the face of a Yellow-bellied tends to look more light than dark."

The top two pics are of the female sapsucker that has been the subject of these recent blogs. The third photo is a very typical male Red-naped Sapsucker I photographed in Canon City in the two weeks just as those above. And it shows the bird pretty straight on to reduce the distortions when a bird is angled from the camera. It certainly makes for some good comparison with the female sapsucker. This Red-naped has a very narrow white supercilium and it has the broad and solid black auricular stripe--both as described in the Birdfellow article as indicative of Red-naped. The female sapsucker has a somewhat narrower dark auricular stripe and it is invaded a little by some pale appearing feathers (not sure if pale tipped or white feathers. The white supercilium on the female sapsucker is certainly wider than the supercilium on the Red-naped and does widen behind the eye as it merges with the nape feathers that are also almost all white.

The bottom photo is a typical female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker I photographer in Canon City in 2008 (the photos of the recent Yellow-bellied are not good for this comparison). It really fits the Birdfellow article: narrower black auricular stripe with pale feathers in it and the white supercilium is clearly wider and gets even much wider behind the eye as described for Yellow-bellied. Still just a little more to come in next post. SeEtta

Monday, December 16, 2013

Female sapsucker--focus on her upperparts

The pattern of barring on the upperparts of sapsuckers is also important in distinguishing Red-naped from Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. As noted by the Project Sapsucker work from the Migration Research Foundation-McGill Bird Observatory Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers tend to have black and buffy/yellowish/whitish 'peppered'or mottled across their backs while Red-napes have the white in two fairly distinct and narrow rows down their backs. I wish I had a photo that showed the back without the bird having it's head turned to the side as this distorts the top of the back somewhat.  (I try not to flush these sensitive birds from their chosen trees and with the weather brutally cold when I saw this one I was especially cautious)  However, the white on the back of this sapsucker seems to start off in two distinct narrow rows with some black in the middle but becomes more diffuse or 'peppered' across the back. Here is the the chart for rating this from the Migration Research Foundation:
Again I would rate this bird's back as in the middle of the chart as 'two broad white lines' that are more separated at the top then come together. Another characteristic that the Project Sapsucker folks don't use (also not mentioned in Birds of North America online) is the buffy/yellowish tinge 'most often' found on the barring on the backs of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers that is found less often/less obviously (though there is an overlap) on Red-naped.   On one of my photos of this bird there was a buffy tinge showing and I also saw it through my binoculars--I think it is one of those problems with lighting and photos but it was a light tinge. 

Next I will post about the facial markings. SeEtta

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Female Sapsucker-what about the nape?

In the previous photos of the female sapsucker the nape area was not in view and this is an important area as we know for separating Red-naped from Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. As noted in several references " Male yellow-bellied sapsuckers can rarely show some red on the nape" (from; however, this is not noted for female Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. As seen in this photo, as well as in the field when I put my 40X Zeiss spotting scope on her, this sapsucker has a small amount of red on her nape. Below is the scoring examples from Migration Research Foundation-McGill Bird Observatory chart--I rate this again as right smack in the middle between "traces of red' and 'red restricted to about half-length or half width'.    
I will post a better photo for the back of this sapsucker in my next post as the bird is twisted a little in this photo which distorts the white on it's back. SeEtta