Friday, June 17, 2011

The Challenges of Identifying a Female Blackpoll Warbler

 I have seen a number of male and female Blackpoll Warblers this year, many more than last spring and summer. Along with this experience has come the awakening that not all female Blackpoll Warblers look alike. It is strange how they can have distinctive markings and yet appear so different.

This first picture was taken last year and at that time I was certain that I could easily ID this bird.
 Then, spring rolled around this year and I found this little bird. I couldn't imagine that it was anything but a Blackpoll but it looked so different from the one above.
 When this bird tipped its head down and I saw the streaking on the head, I was certain that it was a female Blackpoll. Thinking, once again, that I had now mastered the identification of this species and gender, I felt confident.
 This female Blackpoll Warbler photographed last summer has clear and distinct markings but it is now becoming clear that this bird has significant seasonal differences. Some of the identifiers of the female Blackpoll are: olive-tinged color, streaking on the head, two white wing bars, yellow or bright orange legs and feet. a dark eye line and a yellowish brow. Keeping this in mind, the second bird in this photo series does not have the eye line or light color over the eye. Now, this is getting confusing.
 Last week I came across this female Blackpoll. With different lighting conditions, the birds look very different. Yet, the wing bars, the eye line, the lighter color above the eye, and the leg colors as seen in the photo below point to this being a female Blackpoll.
Despite all of these matching characteristics, I found myself wondering if this really was a Blackpoll. I asked for help and was told that I "knew" this was a Blackpoll. Well, I didn't have the confidence to say that I knew it. That made me begin to study this bird more closely. I think I probably should have known it.
Then to further confuse the issue, this little bird popped out in front of me a couple of days ago.  Here I go again:  It has a dark eye, it is greenish yellow, has at least one wing bar (probably two), has yellow legs and feet. Now, is this a female Blackpoll or not. It does not have an eye line or a lighter line above the eye. The head markings (despite my over-exposed photo) has a brownish color that seems to go well below the eye. 
 I have searched and searched for any similar female bird and cannot find one that matches this one. With the few matching markings, I am guessing that this is a female Blackpoll. If I am wrong, I welcome some help here.
Having gone back to my pictures of birds from last year, I found this one that, once again, I think is a female Blackpoll. The wing bars are right, the eye line is right, the color is right, the leg color is right, but.....what about those markings on the underside of the tail?  I haven't seen that on any other Blackpoll!

When I scroll back through all of these pictures, it is not apparent that they are all the same gender of the same species. As I work to learn the songs and calls of the different birds, I will have one more tool to work on the ID. Until then, I do a lot of "head scratching."

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