Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dowitcher Identification

Dowitcher identification has always been a headache for me. A notoriously hard identification in general, the two prove quite variable, adding to the complexity. If you are familiar with their calls, you can identify the birds readily, unless they don't call.

I recently found an article by Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch titled "New advances in the field identification of dowitchers". They have figured out a few details that can really help nail down a silent dowitcher, or at least get you most of the way there. How I missed this article before is beyond me (don't judge).

The identification tip I liked most was the pattern of the greater and median coverts in alternate plumage; squared off white in Long-billed Dowitcher while the white extends up the side of the feather in Short-billed. Sure wish I knew about this feature a long time ago!

Just so happens that some of the Dowitchers here in Florida are molting. On 3/31 I photographed this Short-billed Dowitcher at Bald Point State Park. It was part of a flock, and the birds were calling. I didn't get the call recorded, but luckily the covert pattern tells all.

Molting Short-billed Dowitcher
Have a closer look at the covert pattern:

Short-billed Dowitcher covert pattern with white extending up the sides of the coverts (not squared at the tip like in Long-billed Dowitcher).
And that makes 270 photographed on the year with plenty of birds left in Florida. Keep checking back. My friend Andy Bankert just got into town and we, along with a couple other friends, have BIG plans for Saturday.

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