This bird will be identified towards the end of this post. Any guesses as to what it might be?
One of the really super fun things about my job is helping people with bird identification. Between me and my staff there isn't a photo of a North American bird we can't identify, we are truly a staff of experts. We love a good grainy photo to try and determine species, sex, age or whatever a customer wants to know. Once a customer brought in a box of bird parts that she found in her yard and wanted to know if we could id it--it was a green heron. Green heron bills look a lot smaller in the hand than in the bush.
Well, the other day Stiv Stevland stopped in and mentioned that he took a photo of a bird in Grand Marais over Memorial Day Weekend and so far no one has been able to id it. I told him to bring it in. Sure enough, two days later he brought in the photo. I looked at it and was familiar with the area he had taken the photo, near the coast guard station.
At first I thought pipit, but realized pretty quick that there wasn't any streaking on the places it should have streaking. As I flipped through the pages of a Sibley guide I noticed that another species resembled the bird. Hmmm, there were only one or two state records for a bird like that in Minnesota and I quickly dismissed that idea. I got out all of our field guides in the store and tried to turn it into anything but the species I was suspecting, but all the field guides were pointing to that. Finally, Stiv voiced what I was thinking, "I've tried awful hard to turn that into a wheatear but that really isn't found in Minnesota and the only record I could find was for a different county than I was in."
I decided that I needed to call in reinforcements but my big guns, Denny Martin and Bob Janssen were not working that day. Stiv left me a disc with photos and I emailed them to Tony Hertzel editor of The Loon (a very cool publication put out by the MOU) with a subject asking, "Is this a wheatear?" and I swear I have never received such a prompt reply from the man. He confirmed that it was a female northern wheatear and this would be a third state record of that species in Minnesota. How fun to tell Stiv that the bird he saw was in fact a wheatear and that many other listers were going to be pea green with envy over his find. He felt bad that he didn't know at the time anyone to contact so others could see the bird, but alas as many of us know that sometimes that's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.