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A different sort of quiz this month depicts two species, though we're told what one of them is: Lesser Yellowlegs. This means that at least one of the birds in the quiz picture is of a different species; they all look so similar. Well, as a good friend of mine has been saying for well over 20 years, that second species is "a birder's bird." What Vince Elia means by that, is that it is a species very similar to other, more common, species (at least on the East Coast where Vince lives) and easily overlooked by those without the skills, knowledge, and/or interest in identifying seemingly look-alike bird species.
While everyone knows that the ABA online quiz asks for only one species each month, I see two general tacks that respondents might take to get to the correct answer: 1) find all the Lesser Yellowlegs and identify the first bird that takes her/his fancy that is not a Lesser Yellowlegs and 2) systematically identify every bird in the picture. The latter tack is the one that I would choose because, hey, maybe the quizmaster screwed up and there are actually three species present! Actually, I would taken the latter tack because I firmly believe in not letting birds go unidentified if I can help it. A lot of times, I cannot help it – birds are too far or seen just too briefly for me to ID, but I believe that always endeavoring to ID every bird provides two benefits: 1) one is forced to actually look at every bird, which greatly assists in learning the common birds cold and 2) one has a much smaller chance of overlooking something "good." In this month's quiz, that "something good" is the species that was not identified for us when the quiz was posted. So, let's get to it!
All birds in the picture have yellow legs, and longish thin bills, as expected of Lesser Yellowlegs. However, note that the left individual of the two center birds and the bottom right bird have more-than-longish bills. In fact, we might go so far as to say/write that they have long bills. On the East Coast where I currently reside, the most common long-billed shorebirds that aren't bigger than Lesser Yellowlegs are Dunlin. That species, however, is easily ruled out by size: Dunlin should appear considerably smaller than Lesser Yellowlegs and, of course, they sport black legs. The two dowitchers species are larger and much plumper than are Lesser Yellowlegs, so those are out, too.
Though we could quickly get to the correct answer by process of elimination while considering all the medium-sized shorebirds with long bills (and there aren't all that many), I'm much more interested in driving home the point of this quiz picture: underwing pattern. Lesser Yellowlegs exhibit a fairly unremarkable underwing pattern, with the wing linings being mostly white and contrasting little with the pale gray remainder of the underwing; the lower left bird shows that pattern well. The upper right bird has its wings partly folded, so doesn't show that pattern to such great extent, but what we can see of unshadowed underwing on that individual matches that of the lower left bird. We cannot see the underwing pattern at all on the right individual of the two center birds, but the face pattern and bill size and shape agree with an ID of Lesser Yellowlegs.
The remaining two birds both show their underwing pattern well, sporting a mostly gray underwing with a distinct white stripe running through the wing and encompassing the median coverts and some lesser coverts, a pattern that none of the other ID contenders exhibit. Vince Elia would have immediately gotten the correct answer to this quiz, because Stilt Sandpiper is a birder's bird and Vince is certainly a birder! I took this picture on 14 September 2010 of three Lesser Yellowlegs and two Stilt Sandpipers, juveniles all, as they flew over the Cape May Hawkwatch platform, Cape May Point S.P., Cape May Co., NJ, where Vince has expounded on "birder's birds" more than once after seeing exactly this sort of event.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the October Bird Photo Quiz—Stilt Sandpiper:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.