Monday, February 20, 2017

Lousy birding

I am a lousy birder. I love to watch them; I attempt, mostly unproductively, to photograph them; and I can't tell them apart without a book in hand. Oh, gulls are gulls, peeps are peeps, lbbs are lbbs. And bald eagles are bald eagles; those I know, even when they're a speck on the horizon. And I can find a coot halfway across the marsh in a flock of mallards. But a peep dashing about on a tide flat, or chasing the waves? They're peeps. No-name brand peeps.

So I take photos and compare them, point by point, against the photos in my bird book, and then against Cornell's All About Birds descriptions. "Ah," I say, "so those were sanderlings!"

But next time, against an impossible background, with little brown specks fleeing me and my camera, I can't distinguish them again. Just peeps.

These, after having gone through the slow process of identification, I think are black turnstones.

Black turnstones, Oyster Bay. They've seen me before I saw them, and are already running away.

And they're off!

A turnstone against the brown and black mud of Oyster Bay is a different bird altogether than a turnstone in the air. On the ground, they blend in, except for the flash of white belly. In flight, they show a dramatic white/brown/black pattern.

Zooming in, with the background faded out.

Bold wing pattern visible in flight, produced by white feathers at the base of the leading edge of the wing, a white wing stripe, and a white lower back.
White tail with black terminal band. (Cornell)

The black terminal band on the tail is visible while they're on foot; flying, the white tail is longer, and shows as a white terminal band.

Location helps for id purposes; the black turnstones are supposed to prefer noisy beaches.

In winter, found along high-energy rocky shorelines, on beaches near rocky coasts, and on jetties and piers. (Cornell)

Oyster Bay is anything but high-energy, but just across the rock breakwater, waves pound the stones. And in here, in the lagoon at low tide, they find a banquet prepared with their favourite treats: barnacles, mussels, crustaceans, with a side dressing of rotting plant material. Once the water comes back, they'll go back to the open coast, leaving the bay to the mallards, geese, and wigeons.


  1. My main problem here is the LBJs (little brown jobs) which is almost all of the smaller honey-eaters and fly-catchers.

    1. "LBJs". What I've been calling lbbs (little brown birds). Here, they're sparrows and wrens. And juncos, when they're moving too fast.


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