Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tertial Talk

Glacial Drumlin Trail crossing Rock Lake, Jefferson Co, WI
Yesterday I went birding sans camera other than having my iPhone. I have been opting to do this more often since my bloody DSLR with a zoom lens can feel quite heavy after a few miles. With that being said this blog post will be relatively void of photos.

I visited the Glacial Drumlin Trail in Lake Mills, WI in hopes of seeing some fall warblers. Being this was only my 3rd time out for fall warblers and having seen a paucity of them this season, I was still feeling a bit rusty with identifying those drab and sometimes confusing fall warbler plumages.

Birding was slow and I was out for an hour before I happened upon my first warbler. And what should it be? A hatch year Cape May Warbler which I did not recognize as such on first glance. I thought to myself, "Great this will be the only warbler I see today and I can't identify it." I immediately found myself wishing for my camera which I consider the cheaters method for bird ID. I admit I am guilty of such practice on occasion.

At first glance the bird appeared to be a plain grayish bird with a faintly streaked breast...hmm, Yellow-rump? No. That species is always obvious to me in the drabbest of plumages. So what the hell is it? I went to task to refind the bird and frame my observation in what I've heard Richard Crossley term "tertial talk." I find this approach to birding seems to be of greater necessity in the fall when "jizz" birding just can't get you there. By the way, who? WHO ever came up with that term? "Jizz?" Really? Only the nerdiest of birders with the cleanest of thoughts could have thought this acronym could possibly be a term to throw around in earshot of nonbirders who could only be wondering why geeks with binoculars are talking about...Well you know what I'm getting at (or maybe you don't).

Upon refinding the bird, I confirmed thin wing bars, the now defunct Dendroica white in the tail (I can't keep up with all the silly changes), there was no hint whatsoever of any yellow on the flanks or rump and the face pattern and size of the bird were not correct for Yellow-rumped. The clue to this bird's ID came with sizing up its fine "arse." I observed a green wash on the rump as well as on the edging of the primaries. The pale neck was observable too. Having seen most of the other confusing warblers on past outings this fall, process of elimination quickly narrowed my field of candidates to Cape May even though my faulty memory was not recalling this green rump feature on a first year bird. But then again, I really don't spend much time birding warblers in the fall as they definitely lose a shit-ton of there sex appeal this time of year and thus my interest. I'm also questioning, with my limited fall warblering, if I've ever seen this plumage which would explain my lack of familiarity. In checking my handy little Sibley Guide app in the field I confirmed what I suspected, I was beholding a fine example of a hatch year Cape May warbler. I later found another bird with the more classic female Cape May appearance that is more familiar to me. These birds were loosely traveling together and made for some nice opportunities to compare the plumages.

This experience set the tone of the rest of my birding for the morning. It propelled me into contemplation about how much better my learning and retention of fall warbler plumage is when I think and approach identification from this "tertial talk" perspective. I reflected on how much easier birding in the spring is when the plumages are so much more distinctive and I have the benefit of clearly IDable songs as oppose to no sound or an array of warbler chips I'm just not patient enough to try and discern.

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain
I do still wish for the purposes of my musing about this here and now that I had a photo of the bird. However, I am also grateful I didn't have it handy to take the lazy road to learn (on the shallowest of levels I might add) its identity.  Oh and I did go on to find a handful of other warblers totaling a measly 5 species.

Regardless of the low bird activity, it was a pleasant morning to be out with little wind and a slight crispness to the air. I also found some Turtlehead blooming and the leaves of a Downy Rattlesnake Plantain orchid which are plants I've seen in Michigan, but are firsts for Wisconsin.

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