Photo quiz: An interesting dowitcher

Photos 1 & 2: I spotted this interesting lone dowitcher at Fernhill Wetlands. Although in alternate plumage
it was fairly clear chested. One would expect Long-billed Dowitcher to be heavily barred on the chest and sides.
This bird showed only very limited spotting on the sides of the breast. The bill looked fairly short. With
entirely pink underparts, the choices are Long-billed Dowitcher or the hendersoni race of Short-billed Dowitcher.
The expected race of Short-billed Dowitcher on the West Coast is caurinus, however, which is heavily barred
on the chest, with a white belly.


Photo 1, above: Dowitcher, alternate plumaged adult: 13 May 2006, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon


Photo 2, above: Dowitcher, alternate plumaged adult: 13 May 2006, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon

However, if you look very carefully at the following photo you can see several field marks that help the ID.


Photo 3, above: Dowitcher, alternate plumaged adult: 13 May 2006, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon


Photo 3a, above: The throat is actually faintly, but densely spotted, correct for Long-billed Dowitcher.


Photo 3b, above: The scapulars show rufous edges and white tips.
Significantly, the white tips are cut off from traveling very far up
the edge of the feather. The pale edges on the scapular feathers of
Short-billed Dowitchers form a long tapering 'V'. The scapular
feathers on this bird are correct only for Long-billed Dowitcher.


Photo 3c, above: The bars on the belly have wispy white tips. This
is unique to Long-billed Dowitcher in very fresh alternate plumage.


Photo 3d, above: The primary tips (A) reach only to the end of the tail (B). This is correct for all dowitchers
as they have short wings (not reaching past tail). The tertial feathers (C) reach all the way to the end of the
primary feathers (A). This is correct for Long-billed Dowitcher as they have shorter primary extension (how far
the primaries stick out past the tertials). Usually on Long-billed the terials are as long or longer than the
primaries and cover them up when wing folded just right. [Note that the tertial feathers on this bird are
old basic plumage and very worn. You can see the bare feather shaft extending at least to the second furthest
primary feather. New tertials will molt in soon.] Thus, the primaries and tertials reach to the end of the tail.
There is a considerable indentation on the lower back (D), a trait of Long-billed Dowitcher.

Now take another look and see what you think.


Photo 4, above: Long-billed Dowitcher, alternate plumaged adult: 13 May 2006, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon

Conclusion: The shortish bill and rather unmarked orangish breast and belly with only a few spots at
the sides makes one immediately think of the hendersoni race of Short-billed Dowitcher from the Great Plains.
However, this impression is wrong. This bird is an alternate plumaged adult Long-billed Dowitcher as
can be proved by the following points:

1) Densely spotted throat (Photo 3a);
2) Rufous edged scapulars with cut-off white tips (Photo 3b), (See figure 23 in:
New advances in the field identification of dowitchers by Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch on Surfbirds.com);
3) Frosty white tips to the breast feathers (Photo 3c);
4) Short primary extension (primaries do not extend much, if any, past tertials) (Photo 3d).

Those above points prove Long-billed Dowitcher.

Additional supporting marks include:
1) The shallow loral angle and resulting rather straight eyebrow, (See Figure 5 in:
New advances in the field identification of dowitchers by Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch on Surfbirds.com);
2) The indentation on the lower back;
3) Rather straight bill


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