Well, the trees are in full bloom ’round these parts, abuzz with bees and their ilk, and I, whilst a pork tenderloin cooked in indirect heat on the barbecue, went out bird watching for the first time. Dixie bought me binoculars for my birthday, along with The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, and I was putting them to use.
I discovered, first of all, that Otterburne may fall into the Eastern region of the continent, at least in terms of bird-books. The dividing line seems to travel through Manitoba. We are, at best, in a transition region.
My first sightings were difficult. A jay of one kind or another might be a better find for a rookie, but I spotted some kind of blackbird. It looks to me like we have quite a large flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds in the tree line across the field from us. This is not entirely a confident assertion, because judging by the pictures and details in both Sibley’s and my older copy of the Stokes Field Guide to Birds (Western Region), male Brewer’s Blackbirds and Rusty Blackbirds are nearly indistinguishable. Subtle differences–e.g. slightly longer beak, slightly shorter tail–are not helpful when both birds are not standing side-by-side.
It doesn’t help, either, that the two guides seem to differ on their descriptions. Where one describes a bird as “drab in colour”, the other pictures the same bird as having quite deep, shiny colour. And what, pray tell, is the difference between “check” and “chick” in terms of bird calls?
Having said this, the Brewer’s Blackbird is common (the Rusty is uncommon) and its habitat seems to fit our surroundings here. So I’ll say it’s a Brewer’s Blackbird until someone corrects me.
There’s a third party involved: the Brown-headed Cowbird, which is often found among blackbirds. Unfortunately (again), the Brown-headed Cowbird looks a lot like the female Brewer’s Blackbird, though the latter is slightly lighter than the former.
What I’m really interested in figuring out is which of the two birds occasionally makes a sound akin to a soft sneeze. The Blackbirds’ “chick” or “check” could sound like this, but so could the cowbirds’ “ch’ch’ch’ch”.
It seems that bird identification is, like translation, an art as much as a science.
Incidentally, the legend of the painted pigeons was repeated to me on the weekend, as an explanation of the campus mystery bird. I haven’t spotted that flock since before the snow melted (Dixie thinks she may have hit one with the van), but I hope to get a closer look. I don’t have good lens to get a picture, but my binoculars are quite powerful.