BIRDING BY HINDSIGHT: A Third Look at the Last Ten Years

Given the breaking news at the time of this writing. I was briefly tempted to entitle this Hindsight installment as "A Second Look at Ivory-billed Woodpeckers!" There's even a video of it today on someone's website, as the bird appears quite ghost-like, appropriately enough, as it vanishes into the Arkansas swamp. (It actually looks much like a primitive special effect from some vampire movie of the silent era.) But talk about hindsight! A look at a species no one had positively seen in several decades? Now there's a headline to sell this magazine like proverbial hotcakes off the newsstand.

The Loon, however, is not one of those rags you see at the supermarket check-out with accounts of UFO and Elvis sightings. So perhaps it's better to stick with a less sensational headline on another subject from out of the past. As reported in the previous installment of this series (, there are now ten years' worth of Hindsight articles out there. It might seem easier, though, to wade through an Ivory-billed-infested swamp without getting lost than to navigate through all the information found in these articles. Thus the index in the last issue.

But things obviously change after a decade, and as I compiled that index I occasionally noticed bits of information which could now use some correction or clarification. So, before we proceed with another ten years of Hindsight insights, here's an update of the past ten to keep the ID information as current and accurate as possible.

[Author's Note, August 2016 – There have been additional ID references published since this 2005 article which are not cited here; some of these are included in]


Shorebirds  •

Solitary Sandpipers have finely spotted upperparts, of course, not "under-parts" as stated (this was one of several errors introduced during the editing of this article). In addition to their unique tail pattern, be sure to note that Solitarys show blackish underwings in flight; no other Minnesota shorebird shares this field mark.

Stilt Sandpipers in basic plumage also bear a strong resemblance to Dunlins; note the Dunlin's darker overall plumage and leg color.

Gulls  •

A juvenile or first-winter Little Gull, due to its black nape bar and/or blackish "M-pattern" on the wings, can also be mistaken for a Black-legged Kittiwake. (Note that several observers faced this problem in September 2004 at the Superior Entry in Duluth-Superior.)

First State Records I  •

Since that article was published, Smew, Wood Stork, Black Vulture, White-tailed Kite, and White-throated Swift were all added to the state list. [Author's Note, August 2016 – Other species included in the article (i.e., Brown Pelican, Black Guillemot, and Inca Dove) have also been added to the state list.]

Three additional and recommended articles on Slaty-backed Gull ID were published after that article: see

A Roseate Tern in second-year plumage has as much potential as a juvenile or adult to appear in Minnesota. It can be identified by a combination of its red legs, relatively long black bill, tail streamers extending beyond the folded wing tips, and a dark carpal bar (note that some field guides erroneously state that it lacks a carpal bar at this age).

Western (and Eastern) Sandpipers  •

A third reference book on shorebird ID was published this year and is highly recommended: Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide by Dennis Paulson.

The feather edges on the upperparts of juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers can appear quite reddish and Western-like (they do not necessarily "look more buff than rusty" as stated). It is disconcerting that hardly any references stress or illustrate this, and thus little wonder that such Semis are so easily mistaken for Westerns.

Ducks  •

When visible, a narrow whitish or buffy area on the side of the tail on a female-plumaged Green-winged Teal will serve to distinguish it from a Blue-winged; note, however, this mark may not always be visible or easily seen.

Females of both Lesser and Greater scaup can show obvious scoter-like head spots; it had been thought that only Greaters have this feature (see

First State Records II  •

Since this article was published, Eurasian Collared-Dove has been added to the state list (and is now Regular in status).

Field identification of female-plumaged Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, and Allen's hummingbirds would be difficult, but not as "impossible" as stated. (Such IDs are covered in the two new hummingbird field guides: see

Couch's Kingbird, as well as Tropical, would have potential as a first state record; note that these two kingbirds are safely separated only if the bird is vocalizing or examined in the hand. [Author's Note, August 2016 – There is now a Minnesota record of Tropical Kingbird.]

Hawks  •

The tail bands on some immature Red-shouldered Hawks can appear to be wavy or uneven; as a result, such Red-shouldereds have been mistaken for immature Northern Goshawks. Also note a field mark visible in the secondaries of immature Red-shouldereds: they have alternate dark and light banding, unlike typical immature Broad-wingeds which normally have solidly brown secondaries (see

Bird ID Books  •

Several additional ID reference books of note have been published since this article (not included here are those mentioned in

• Fortunately, the originally proposed title of David Sibley's field guide ("National Audubon Society Master Guide to Birds") was never used.

• A similar guide to Kaufman's A Field Guide to Advanced Birding was recently published and is recommended: Identify Yourself: The 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges by Bill Thompson et al. The chapters, which expand on a long-running series of articles in Bird Watchers Digest, include in-depth discussions and color illustrations of several ID difficulties.

• The highly comprehensive two-volume reference on raptors by Brian Wheeler (Raptors of Eastern / Western North America) greatly expands on his two previous guides (these volumes cost about $50 each, however, and thus are not for everyone).

• As mentioned previously (, Paulson's new photographic shorebirds guide is recommended.

• Kevin Zimmer has updated and expanded his book on western birds: its new title is Birding in the American West.

• Now recognized as better guides than Jonsson's Birds of Europe are The Complete Guide to the Birds of Europe by Killian Mullarney et al. and Birds of Europe by Lars Svensson and Peter Grant. Other than the publication dates (2002 and 1999 respectively), I must admit I don't know what the differences are between them (it appears that most of these books' contents are the same).

Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman is another field guide on basic ID, and it may be better than the others of this genre (those by Peterson, Robbins, Griggs, Stokes, etc.).

Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin has some good illustrations, but there is little or no ID information which doesn't already appear in the field guides; the primary contribution of the authors, Bob Janssen and Daryl Tessen, appears to have been the information on status and distribution.

Maps  •

Lake Winnibigoshish, as well as Mille Lacs and Lake Superior, is a potentially consistent site for Pacific Loons sightings.

Golden Eagles occur as often in spring in Duluth (especially in March along West Skyline Parkway) as they do in fall at Hawk Ridge.

Songs IV  •

Both Eastern and Western meadowlarks give similar "wick" or "wink" call notes.

Ego, Id, and ID  •

Immature Red-shouldered Hawks may show banded secondaries, unlike typical immature Broad-wingeds, but use this potentially useful distinction with caution. This spring I studied – and puzzled over – an immature Broad-winged Hawk which showed noticeable dark and light bands on its secondaries.


ID References  •

Since this article was published, several additional ID articles have appeared and are recommended (not included here are those mentioned in

• swans –

• ibis – North American Birds 54:241-247 & 57:136-139

• Mississippi Kite – Birding 36:508-519;

• accipiters – Birding 32:428-433

• Broad-winged Hawk – Birding 34:176-180

• Red-tailed Hawk – Birding 33:436-446 & 36:500-506

• gulls – Birding 35:32-37

• Thayer's Gull – Birders Journal 9:25-33;

• California Gull – Birding 34:540-544

• Glaucous-winged Gull – Birders Journal 9:25-33

• sparrows –

• longspurs – Birding 35:508-514

• orioles – Birding 33:61-68

• redpolls – Ontario Birds 10:108-114

Sparrows  •

As mentioned in, the photographic guide to sparrows by Beadle and Rising is also recommended.

Observers in recent years have been turning up migrant Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows with increasing frequency, especially in fall (it is therefore misleading to state "this sparrow is hardly ever seen in the state during migration"). Remarkably, there may be a recently discovered specimen from Minnesota of a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus); if confirmed, this record would certainly complicate the status and identification of sharp-tailed sparrows. [Author's Note, August 2016 – It was later learned that this specimen was mislabeled.]

Field Notes II  •

There may be something in the water, as they say, in Thompson, Manitoba affecting warbler songs. In addition to that atypical Palm Warbler song, I heard and noted an unusual Cape May song there. I wrote it was "totally different and unrecognizable – a 7-note tweet, tweet, tweet..., like a slow Prothonotary." Another Cape May I heard recently (a spring migrant in Florida) also gave an entirely atypical song: it was a prolonged and disjointed series of soft notes, somewhat like a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher's full song. (It actually sounded more like what the Western Spindalis we were looking for is supposed to sound like!)

ID Resources  •

Although the range maps in the Eastern Sibley guide were revised, literally dozens of them still have noticeable errors in their shading in Minnesota.

Olsen and Larsson's thoroughly comprehensive Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia was reprinted in 2004; this printing corrected numerous editing errors included in the first printing in 2003 (which was withdrawn soon after publication).

Honkers  •

Additional information on this recently split species is presented in the last issue of The Loon (76:225-228). It includes an alternate arrangement of the forms of Canada and Cackling geese and reports there are apparently Minnesota specimens of three unexpected Cackling Goose forms: Branta hutchinsii taverneri, B. h. minima, and B. h. leucopareia. (It is not stated, however, what criteria were used to identify the specimens.) With good reason, no attempt is made here to present ID criteria to separate smaller forms of Canada Goose (especially B. canadensis parvipes) from Cackling Goose in the field, which is still very much a work in progress.

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Well, there you have it. I admit this article may not be as sensational as the current Ivory-billed news, but at least The Loon has more credibility than those magazines with all the latest on UFOs and Elvis. I'm sure they have some even more ridiculous stories on the way. You know, like the sighting of some extinct bird in an Arkansas swamp.