Sunday, October 26, 2008

A little NJ birding with an interesting question

A pause from the Australia bird posts (oh, there's more to come!)... Today I led my quarterly "Birding for Beginners" walk at Sandy Hook. Of the six people I had signed up for the trip, only ONE showed and she wasn't even on my list! So, my one participant got a personal tour of Sandy Hook. It was a beautiful day with birds to be seen. The highlight of the day was a Common Moorhen in North Pond - a freshwater area on Sandy Hook. Common Moorhens are less than annual at The Hook and this was the first I've seen there. Cool bird. I was able to get my one participant on the bird for her life Common Moorhen.

Then she asked me a tough question, "How did you know this was an unusual bird?" and she followed it up with, "Why isn't it a duck?" The answer to the first question was simple enough, "It takes practice, knowing what to expect where and when, and just being familiar with the local birds." The second question took some referencing to the field guide, bill comparison, leg comparison, and general shape comparison. Still, when I peered through my binoculars at the moorhen swimming in the water, I could clearly see how one might look at the duck section of the field guide first. It's one of the challenges of being a new birder. I always find myself pointing out cormorants, loons, and grebes and describing them as duck-like but then trying to explain why they're not ducks.

Sorry, no pics today. My photographer, AKA my wife, was ill. She's good now though.


John said...

Faced with that question I would start with the bill and head shape, and maybe move on to the feet and body shape. I imagine that it was a great experience for your participant to get a personal tour of the Hook.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the Hook! I miss it this time of year.
I always tell people to look at the bird's back: Common Moorhen's hold their wingtips up and the tail cocked, giving them the appearance of a paper boat rather than the flat-backed profile of a duck. So far nobody's mentioned the sails on the wing of Mandarin or King Eider....

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know how to use apostrophes in English--just don't always do it! Sorry 'bout that.

Patrick Belardo said...

Rick, that's an excellent way to describe it, but how dare you misuse punctuation on my blog!?! :)

Have you ever read "Eats Shoots and Leaves"? It's a fun read about the proper use of punctuation.

John, I'm sure it was a fun experience for her. Of course, I wish I had more participants.