Date: 6/13/18 9:00 am
From: Bob Bethune <bobbethune...>
Subject: [birders] Essential birds for the beginning field ornithologist
The beginner needs guidance on which birds to study so as to be able to hit
the ground running when starting to conduct field observations, where quick
and accurate identification of common birds is such a timesaver. I’ve given
the matter careful thought. Here is my list of the birds one must master as
soon as possible.

1. The stick finch. Commonly seen on the ground under trees where it breeds
prolifically. Grey to brown in color, generally nondescript. Remarkably
thin. Can remain completely immobile for astonishingly long periods of
time. Emits a short, sharp snapping call when stepped on. Not known to
sing. Probably the same species as the twig sparrow, which is arboreal, but
otherwise similar.

2. The mud pigeon. Most often seen on well-travelled paths and dirt tracks
after a rain. Has a round, irregular, rather humpy body. Hides its wings,
feet and head so well many observers insist it has none. Makes a soft
sploosh or splop call when stepped upon, but maintains amazing immobility
even then.

3. The bush pheasant. Common in fields left fallow over extended periods.
Green to brown, plumage presents an irregular, indeed unkempt appearance,
so much so that the feathers resemble leaves. Waves its wings in strong
winds; otherwise remains stationary.

4. The log swan. Dark brown to black in color. When feeding, which is
constant, the bird lays its body horizontally in the water. Even careful
observers can conclude that it simply does not come up for air; gills,
however, are not observed. May be stationary or seem to drift slowly with

5. The rock thrush. Brown, gray, reddish or even sandy in color, the color
pattern usually matches local outcrop patterns superbly, providing
remarkably effective camouflage. Larger variants, such as the boulder
turkey, are found erratically. Leads a remarkably slow-paced, even static

6. The cottonwood hummingbird. The smallest of all hummingbirds. These
tiny, fluffy, highly active, pure white birds gather in flocks near certain
mature trees, particularly genus Populus. Unlike other hummingbirds, they
fly in random, indirect patterns in large flocks, leading some incautious
observers to conclude that they merely drift with the wind.

While other candidates may be offered as well—the clump dove and the shadow
bittern come to mind, along with the ever-present bark vireo—these six will
provide an excellent start. I recommend heartily that all beginners study
them carefully.

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