Tuesday, January 7, 2014

ID: Long-billed Dowitcher and Short-billed Dowitcher in winter

Long-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher. San Elijo Lagoon, California. December 15, 2013. Greg Gillson.
Dowitcher identification is one of the keystone species challenges separating advanced birders from the pack. Now I don't want to start a "beginner versus advanced birder" debate, or "there's nothing wrong with just enjoying birds even if you can't identify them all." There's nothing to be gained from such a discussion.

But even wanting to identify dowitchers to species level indicates reaching a certain level of seriousness in bird identification that many bird watchers simply never attain.

I created an identification page for dowitchers that is now about 7 years old. If I was to recreate the page today I'd use Humphrey-Parkes molt terminology, but the pages are still valid. Short-billed Dowitchers do not winter as far north as Oregon, so previously I didn't have any basic-plumaged birds to compare. But with these photos I now do!

Again, ignore the bills (because there is a bit of overlap; although admittedly no Long-billed Dowitcher would ever have a bill as short as the assumed male Short-billed Dowitcher below). Look at the smooth gray breasts of the Long-billed Dowitchers above, and the speckled breast of the Short-billed Dowitcher below. It's that simple in winter!

Short-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitcher. Mission Bay, California. December 22, 2013. Greg Gillson.