Utah Birds
Photo Quiz Answer

      Quiz # 002  (July 2010)




Well this quiz ended up being a lot harder than I thought it would be. I think that the hardest part of the quiz was what I wrote in the introduction “nothing tricky about this one.” A lot more people might have gotten it correct if I had wrote “this one is a lot trickier than it looks so BE CAREFUL.” I didn’t mean to trick anybody with that, I just meant that it wasn’t a shot of the back of the bird like last month.
Anyway, looking at the photo, it looks like a thrush. Specifically it looks like one of the Catharus thrushes, in Utah represented by the Hermit, Swainson’s, or Veery (rare). If the ID of this bird was going to be decided by votes than it would be a Hermit Thrush winning by a landslide, with Swainson’s Thrush as a distant second (nobody picked Veery). Even when I took this photo 1 member of the group who started yelling “what is this thrush?” The spotted breast & eye-ring both make you think Hermit or a Swainson’s Thrush, and between those 2 choices this bird could go either way. But what if it isn’t a thrush after all?
Look how clear white the breast and belly of this bird is. Not smudgy gray or brown. Not buffy either. As far down the sides as we can see it is still bright white. The spots are crisp, dark, and extend as far down the sides as we can see. Pull out your favorite field guide and check out the thrushes. They can both be quite variable and both have several races, but I the books don’t show either species having this bright white of a breast with this crisp of streaking. I recommend checking out the photos on the uthabirds.org website. There are good photos of both species and all of them show some color on the breast and the spotting fades out the farther down the bird you go, especially along the sides.
Now let’s look at the face of our bird. It has a large eye-ring, a white moustache stripe with a dark malar stripe below that. The thrushes in question both show these characteristics as well to some degree. But is you compare our bird to the thrushes the eye-ring appears too large and the white moustache/black malar too obvious.
The bright white under parts, crisp spotting, large & uniform white eye-ring, and the white & black stripe on the cheek are not what birders normally use to ID this species, but if that is all you can see it will work. I photographed this Ovenbird in June, 2010 in Maine.
I recommend taking another look at the photos on the website. Compare both the thrushes with the Ovenbird photo. It will help show all the characteristics I am trying to describe.
Thanks to everybody who gave some details about their decisions – especially those that I put on the spot and asked to take a look at the quiz or asked why they answered the way they did.


Correct Answers (in order received):
  1. Brandon Percival
  2. Darren Shirley
  3. Hallie Mason
  4. Eric Huish

Incorrect Answers:
  1. Hermit Thrush – 15
  2. Swainson’s Thrush – 6
  3. American Pipit – 1
  4. Wood Thrush - 1