Birding 101 According to Bob

This ought to be a lot of fun.  I was surprised to get several comments in my previous post, that several of you were surprised that we had seen so many birds.  I am flattered that you think that it is such a big deal.  Actually, many serious birders will be saying, ” You spent four days and saw only 38??”.  (Note: My original post said 35, but after going through our notes, we discovered that we had left three off the list.)

Let’s start at the beginning.  About three or four years ago, I was just photographing any thing that came to mind; air shows, balloon fests, animals, scenics, etc.  Then I happened to be visiting some close friends, and I happened to shoot pictures of some birds in her front yard.  The photos came out pretty well, but I couldn’t  identify what they were.  That is not a good thing for a photographer, not to know what he is photographing.  So I got hold of some books on birds to see what the heck I had.

Then a local lady that I know here in San Angelo saw my photographs and tried to talk me and Ann into going “birding” with a group at San Angelo State Park at, get this, 7:30 AM in the morning.  I said, “Are you nuts?  Looking at birds at 7:30 AM??  It’s cold out there here in January”

So, about two months later, when it got warmer, she asked us again and we somewhat reluctantly decided to go.  I thought, what the heck, they can see all the birds they want and I’ll photograph them.  And that is what we did, and we actually enjoyed it, albeit we didn’t know a pigeon from a parakeet. 🙂

But, you know what?  We got hooked.  We started keeping our “life lists”.  Each time we saw a bird that we could identify on sight, that got added to our list.  Of course, I tried to photograph each one, too.  In fact, it was important at first, that when we saw a new bird, that we had a photograph that we could check with in our bird guide.  It made identifying them easier.

My personal “life list” is now at 236.  I added two new ones, the Olive-sided Flycatcher and a Black-chinned Sparrow, on our trip to Big Bend.  I didn’t get decent, (publishable) photos of them, but good enough pictures of them to make identification.  There is one bird that is native only to the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park.  The Colima Warbler.  It can be found if you can take the Lost Mine Trail into the mountains.  I can’t take the hike anymore, but there is always the chance one of the birds may wander astray.  I haven’t seen one yet.  That would be a “lifer”. 🙂 By the way, out of the 236, I have photographed perhaps 150 of them.

So it goes.  Ann and I go birding around here in San Angelo whenever we get the chance.  Our goal is to see how many we can see in a day.  Ann keeps up with the list, and I have my cameras.   One day we may see only 20, another maybe 37 or more if we’re lucky.  Really, really good birders may see 65 in a day, with a yawn.

On one trip, Ann and I were going to join Sid and Suzanne Johnson on a birding trip to Lake Ivie, about 60 miles away.  We started about 8:00 one morning, and we always watch for birds on the way.  By noon we had made only 30 miles to Ballinger, Texas.  We ate lunch there, and decided to take a different route to return home.  Again with birding on the way, we made it back by 4:30PM with a total of 47 different bird sightings.  We haven’t made it to Lake Ivie yet. 🙂

Each time is a new adventure.  We never know what we might see.  We might see one that is a new bird for us.  After all, in our area there is a total of 358 different species, somewhere out there.  I sure haven’t seen them all.    But with a set of binoculars and a camera, and a handy bird guide book, it may come easier.

So all of you, grab your binoculars, head to your back yard, and you may see something new.  If you do, snap a picture, e-mail it to me and we will see what it may be.  Try these for practice.  I took two photographs of each of these two birds.  I am not sure what they are.  The first two are of what I think can be an Eastern Phoebe, an Eastern Wood Pewee, or an Olive-sided Flycatcher, or maybe something else.  I don’t know what it is and I need help.

What is it????

What is it???

The next one is, I think, some kind of sparrow, but which one is it.  Sibley’s Guide to Birds says there are 36 different types.  I don’t know.  I hope one of you can help.

What is it???What is it???

What is it??

 As you can see, sometime even photos may not help, as they don’t always show enough detail.  These photos were snapped not under the best conditions.  But you can click on them to enlarge them and maybe one of my serious birder blog readers can help me.  Or maybe you can.  I am anxious to see what kind of comments I receive.

I am hoping that some of you get hooked on this addictive hobby.  It can be great fun.  Happy Birding!!

(UPDATE:  H. J. Ruiz over at Avian 101 has identified the first one as an Eastern Phoebe, as I had already surmised it to be.  However, he also IDed the second one as a female Red-winged Blackbird.  I dropped the ball on that one.  I was researching sparrows, and never considered it to be any other.  But the markings definitely point to the blackbird.  The bird was at a distance and I mis-judged the size.  Thank you, H. J.)

32 thoughts on “Birding 101 According to Bob

  1. Good post, Bob. The building of the life list really does enable the addiction because you can put something strangely tangible to an abstract thought like I’m out watching birds. My photographed/ID’d list is up to 116… I may catch up with you yet. 😉


  2. Bob,

    I sure understand your “addiction” to birding. And it is the kind of hobby that helps you to understand and better appreciate the wonderful world that we live in. And it also pairs up well with your other passion – photography. I never tire of reading your blog entries and looking at your photos. Thanks for the effort.


    • Thanks very much, Dave. You are so right, birding and photography complement each other. And with your new lens, I think you will appreciate statement even more when you make your Texas trip soon.

  3. That is something that I really admire about you, Bob – your enthusiasm! That’s also why I’ve come to love photography so much (quickly, too), it’s taken me to places I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise, and makes me notice the small stuff (things that normally get overlooked). Great photos – I love the background color on the last two, it really makes that bird “pop”!

  4. Bob,

    Your focus is incredible. I’m pretty sure the gray bird is an Eastern Phoebe. The sparrow-like bird appears to be a female Red-winged Blackbird. If you remember that the bird’s breast was striped, a Red-winged it was.

    Thanks for sharing, and welcome to Birders Anonymous. It’s a great addiction to have.


    • You are right on both counts, of course. I was pretty sure about the Eastern Phoebe. I failed at first on the blackbird, as at first I thought it to be a much smaller bird. H.J. Ruiz came up with the correct ID and corrected me. I put an update at the bottom of this post. Thanks for commenting, Bruce.

  5. Great post, Bob! It can be difficult even when having pictures to identify some species. Female Redwings do look like sparrows when you don’t have a size comparison to rely upon.

    I started birding in high school- I walked about 2 miles to school, cutting through fields and woods, enjoying the scenery, and I became interested in the birds I was seeing. Funny how the hobby bug gets a hold of you 🙂

  6. The sparrows I have seen, but the top one perhaps as suggested Eastern Phoebe is new to me. You are really giving all of us a good challenge..Katie is blessed to have the Juncos already..we have about 3 weeks to go before they arrive here..Thanks for always putting a smile on my face for the day with your birds..

    • I told Katie that I wished we had the Juncos in my yard. Check my updated post at the bottom, for the corrected IDs. I am glad I give you a smile eache day, Syl. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  7. Wish I could help with the ID, but I’ll just have to settle for having thoroughly enjoyed the story and admired the beautiful images. I’m particularly drawn to the first sparrow image with the lovely rosy background.

    • Thanks, Cindy. It was fun writing it. The images were just “grab” shots, spur of the moment trying to get anything I could. See my update at bottom of the post for the correct IDs. 🙂

  8. Enjoyed this post, Bob! Unfortunately, I have never seen the two birds you are needing to identify. I’m sure my husband I could easily get hooked on birding. We scramble to get the binoculars if we see an unexpected bird in the back yard. Enjoying beautiful bird photos on the web is the main reason I became serious about photography! I really wanted to attempt my own bird photos that were full of detail. I loved my hummingbird adventures of this summer. Now I just have to get out the door and see what I can find around north Georgia. I have a long lens – Canon 100-400mm, so I have the reach for most situations (I think). Your post has inspired me to take my long lens when we go leaf-peeping this week. Maybe I will come back with more than colorful leaf photos!

    • Hi Karen. Enjoyed your comment. I have the Canon 100-400mm and I have used it on about 90% of my photos. You can definitely use it for your leaf photos, too, besides the hummingbirds. The lens can really give you detail. I have added an update to this post at the bottom. H.J. Ruiz helped getting the correct IDs.

  9. Bob I think you have an Eastern Phoebe, unless the under-tail color is black then is a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher which is more abundant in the Southwest. The other bird has most of the characteristics of the female Red-winged blackbird but the size would have to be a medium size bird no small like a sparrow.
    You make your blogging into fun and amusement, good work my friend!

    • Pretty sure about the Phoebe. I hadn’t considered that the other may be a Red-winged Blackbird. You are right about the markings. At first I thought it was sparrow sized, and now I am re-considering that you may be right.

  10. Great post, Bob! I have feeders in my yard, but it’s small and in my location, I don’t get very many different birds here (read mostly house sparrows and house finches 🙂 ), but when I do, i love it. I was thrilled to see Juncos yesterday. 🙂 Hope you get responses on what those mysterious birds are!

    • Gee, I would love to see Juncos come to my feeders. I get doves, sparrows, grackles, and finches most of the time. As for my mysterious bird ID, I am pretty sure the top one is an Eastern Phoebe, but it will be interesting to see what other people come up with. Thanks for writing, Katie. 🙂

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