I was on travel for work this week which mean any blogging or work on my website was delayed. When I returned, I had an email that was thanking me for my “Difficult Bird ID” page, where you can find information on differentiating between commonly confused species. There was also a request to add another page, discussing how to tell apart the three North American goldfinch species. I don’t normally think of goldfinches as a particularly difficult group to identify, but then again, here in eastern South Dakota, we only have the one species. Overall, geography is obviously a huge part of identifying goldfinches, as in the eastern half of the country, the only species of goldfinch you’ll find are American Goldfinch. However, if you happen to find yourself in parts of the southwestern US, you have three goldfinch species you may potentially encounter, with Lesser Goldfinch and Lawrence’s Goldfinch join the party.
The woman who sent the email lived in California and specifically was trying to figure out how to easily identify female goldfinches. That does represent more of a challenge than differentiating male goldfinches, and given that my Difficult Bird ID pages are some of the most visited pages on my entire website, I thought tonight I would go ahead and create another page that talks about ID keys for the three species.
As with many “difficult” IDs, for birders I think that difficulty melts away with experience, particularly when given keys to look for. Creating a page such as this helps me as well! I don’t run into Lesser Goldfinch, for example, unless I travel, but I don’t know if I could have identified a female goldfinch as either Lesser or American in the areas they overlap in range, until creating this page. Now I’ll know what to look for (bill color, and undertail covert color are giveaways).
A bit of a pain to create these pages, but as I said, they are frequently visited. Click below for the new Goldfinch ID page.
Females of the three North American goldfinch species. Males in breeding plumage? Piece of cake. A little bit harder for the females (particularly American and Lesser), but not bad when you know what to look for.
A Green-throated Carib, one of 24 new “lifers” for 2015. This was in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
I told myself 2015 would be a “big year” kind of year for birding. I started well! I had intended to see how many species I could see within South Dakota during the year. I started early, getting all the winter birds you could reasonably expect around here, then really hit it hard in spring. During spring migration I did a lot of birding, and had reached 200 species in the state by mid-May.
And I ended with 221 species. Part of it is the obvious…that it gets harder and harder to find new species as the year goes on. Part of it was health. Starting in June, I started having all kinds of eye issues, and birding just wasn’t at the top of my priority list. 221 within South Dakota is still a nice year though. Throw in a trip to Arizona in November for work, where I took a couple of personal days to bird, plus a week in the Virgin Islands on vacation, and my yearly list was closer to 300. A mere 5800 or so fewer than Noah Strycker saw on his year-long quest to set a new world-wide birding record.
For the year in South Dakota, I only saw a handful of new species. I’m not even sure how many I have lifetime in the state. Overall there have been about 435 species seen in the state. For 2015, new ones included the incredibly strange Great Kiskadee that was found in November near Brookings, Violet-green Swallow (I don’t get to the western part of the state much), Gray Jay (see previous comment about traveling west), and a Black-necked Stilt. Only the Kiskadee was a life bird, as I’d seen the others before out of state.
Lawrence’s Goldfinch, another 2015 lifer. They can be tough to find, even in range. Sometimes they move into Arizona in winter, and I was lucky in finding several in Tucson in November.
Thanks to my birding in Arizona and the Virgin Islands, I did have several new lifers for 2015 other than the Kiskadee. 24 in total, with the new ones for 2015 including:
- Elegant Trogon (Florida Canyon south of Tucson – HUGE highlight for me, particularly finding one in November when they’re tough to find)
- Scaled Quail (SE of Tucson)
- Hammond’s Flycatcher (Florida Canyon south of Tucson)
- Plumbeous Vireo (Florida Canyon south of Tucson)
- Lawrence’s Goldfinch (Within Tucson itself, a really nice one to pick up given how hard they can be to find)
- Cassin’s Sparrow (SE of Tucson)
- White-tailed Kite (SE of Tucson)
- Rufous-winged Sparrow (SE of Tucson)
- Hepatic Tanager (Madera Canyon south of Tucson)
- Black-whiskered Vireo (Virgin Islands)
- Caribbean Elaenia (Virgin Islands)
- Magnificent Frigatebird (Virgin Islands)
- Scaly-naped Pigeon (Virgin Islands)
- Mangrove Cuckoo (Virgin Islands)
- Zenaida Dove (Virgin Islands)
- Green-throated Carib (Virgin Islands)
- Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (Virgin Islands)
- Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Virgin Islands)
- Gray Kingbird (Virgin Islands)
- Pearly Eyed Thrasher (Virgin Islands)
- Bananaquit (Virgin Islands)
- Black-faced Grassquit (Virgin Islands)
- Antillean Nighthawk (Virgin Islands)
A new species for me! In honor of my achievement, I hereby name this species “Lawrence’s Goldfinch” in honor of my father!!
This morning I bravely ventured out in search of a “new” species. I heard rumors of a mysterious creature wandering Tanque Verde Wash on the northeast side of Tucson. With nothing but a camera and my wits, I ventured forth, braving frigid morning temperatures (hey, 35 degrees at dawn is dang cold in Tucson!!) in search of the elusive creature. Others of my ilk (aka, “birders”) have ventured forth in search of this rare creature, only to come back empty handed. For example, a nameless colleague who has birded his whole life…let’s just call him “Jim” for the sake of argument…has tried…and failed…to find this mythical creature.
Would I be deterred? Would I fail? I WOULD NOT!! Despite overwhelming odds, despite the incredibly harsh weather, I found the elusive creature foraging in the shrubs at Tanque Verde. How shall I commemorate this historic achievement?
I SHALL TAKE THE FIRST RIGHT OF NAMING!! I HEREBY DECLARE that from this day forward, this species shall be called “Lawrence’s Goldfinch”, in honor of my father. In the words of Ramses II (From the movie “Moses” anyway)…SO SHALL IT BE WRITTEN! SO SHALL IT BE DONE!!
Already, I hear a revisionist history being whispered by those jealous of my mighty achievement. I hear vague rumors that others have seen this species long before I had. I hear whisperings that “Lawrence’s Goldfinch” has LONG had that name, and that it has nothing to do with my father.
LIES!! DAMNED LIES!! Curse the jealous mob who cannot appreciate my achievement! As for you, casual blog reader, believe what you will! But in my heart, whenever someone utters the words “Lawrence’s Goldfinch”, I shall think of my father, and remember this historic day!!