Category Archives: Bird Identification

Topics related to bird identification

Identification – Greater vs. Lesser Scaup

Greater and Lesser Scaup

Greater and Lesser Scaup (click to see the larger version)

Greater and Lesser Scaup can be challenging to identify. Seeing the two together makes the differences between them easier to compare. On January 25, I saw and photographed an adult male Greater Scaup with an adult male Lesser Scaup inside Montrose Harbor. The photo nicely shows the main differences, namely the fuller, more rounded head of the Greater and the narrower, more pointed head of the Lesser. Also note the purer white sides of the Greater compared to the grayer sides of the Lesser. If you get the chance to compare two similar species side by side, take the time to study them closely. More photos of these birds are at my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

eBird Checklist
January 25, 2021

California Gull, May 4, 2019

California Gull

California Gull on the right, with Herring Gulls (click to see the larger version)

Continuing the trend of unusual gulls this spring, a first cycle type California Gull joined the Herring Gulls at Montrose Beach on May 4. California Gulls are rare at Montrose, with only about four previous records. Also, this is the first immature bird for us, the other records consisting of adults. I identified it as a California Gull by the darker gray upperpart feathers, rounder head, and downturned gape crease. More photos and a detailed description are at the link below.

eBird Checklist

Cliff Swallow, July 16, 2013

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow (click to see the larger version).

Several Cliff Swallows have been hanging around the dunes at Montrose with the scads of other swallows. I photographed this juvenile on July 16. Young Cliff Swallows are highly variable in terms of head pattern, much more so than our other regularly occurring swallows. Some can be dark headed like this individual while others can have white spotting on the forehead and throat. The dark head and dark centers to the undertail coverts identify this Cliff Swallow, vis a vis Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows.

Northern Rough-winged and Bank Swallow Comparison Photo

Bank and Northern Rough-winged Swallows

Bank and Northern Rough-winged Swallows (click to see the larger version).

Montrose Dunes has been excellent for swallows lately. On July 15 I photographed a juvenile Northern Rough-winged Swallow next to a juvenile Bank Swallow on the yellow rope that cordons off part of the south end of the Dunes. These 2 “brown” swallows can look alike from behind.

In the photo to the right, note the narrow whitish edges to the tertials and primaries and the lack of rufous in the wing coverts of the Bank Swallow (left bird). The juvenile Rough-winged has duller edges to the tertials, and rufous edges to the primaries and wing coverts. The Bank Swallow also has a paler rump than the Roughie and pale edges to the tail feathers. I wasn’t aware of this later feature until I noticed it yesterday, and I’m not sure it’s a completely solid field mark but I didn’t notice it on any of the Rough-winged Swallows I looked at.

Confusing Sterna Terns

Forster's Terns

Forster’s Terns. Photographs by Mike Miller (click to see the larger version).

Mike Miller photographed these Sterna terns on Montrose Beach in late May. Both birds are Forster’s Terns and I think both are in their third calendar year, that is, they were born in 2011. The top bird has white underparts, a broad white area between the lower edge of the dark cap and bill, and a tail that extends past the tips of the folded primaries. These are Forster’s field marks. The bill also looks stout and the legs look long to me.

The second bird has a gray tail and a white outer web to the outer pair of tail feathers. These are also Forster’s field marks. Except for the dark outer 5 or 6 primaries both birds look like adults, but adult Forster’s Terns in late May should still have silvery white primaries, so that’s why I think they are in their third calendar year. Immature terns molt their primaries earlier than adults and when tern primaries become worn they darken. The dark primaries of these birds are really the only clue that they aren’t fully mature.