Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lost Lifer

I learned a harsh lesson last week visiting the Tonaquint Nature Center in St. George. I've birded the area several times previously and it's a pleasant and productive area for a relatively brief stop - not too large to be unmanageable in less than an hour, but not so small or plain that it doesn't attract a range of birds. In fact, in the 45 minutes or so I was there, I positively identified 17 different species, with really spectacular views of many of them. The ring-necked duck was particularly nice to see, and the Abert's towhees are always fun to watch there, as are the brazen white-crowned sparrows.

It was the one bird I couldn't identify that broke my heart, but it's entirely my fault. So casual was I about this brief stop along the road - the area is conveniently close to I-15 - that I didn't check my field bag as we left the truck, and my trusty Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America was left sitting in the back. After we'd watched the varied waterfowl on the pond, strolled the scrub trail, and trekked through the open flats at the back of the property, I heard an odd thudding from a small section of deep brush. Closer observation showed an industrious woodpecker, obviously not a downy woodpecker or a hairy woodpecker, both of which I'm familiar with. I was fairly confident it was a red-naped sapsucker, and as I've seen them in the area before, I failed to watch too closely but did snap a couple of quick photos. We finished our walk and I didn't think more of it until returning to the truck and my absent field guide.

A quick turn to page 217, however, and my heart sank. That was no red-naped sapsucker I'd seen. Puzzling over the rest of the woodpecker pages and comparing it to my all-too-inadequate photos, it's likely the bird was a ladder-backed woodpecker, which would have been a new addition to my life list. I'm picky, though, and because I couldn't identify the bird in the field and couldn't confirm all the field marks, I do not feel justified in adding it. It's my fault - it's my field guide I left behind.

It's a mistake I've never made before and one I'll never make again. One lost lifer is enough.


Jose n' Analee said...

That stinks. :( Definitely a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. I was there a week before you and snapped a few shots of him. He was a lifer for me too.

I can't wait to go back this summer when Lytle Ranch is open.

Happy Birding

Birding is Fun! said...

Photo looks good for a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. There are only a couple other woodpeckers with that barred black and white back and any other species would be far out of their usual range.

More important than the field guide is your observation. I too have dismissed many a bird thinking I knew what it was only to realize later that I didn't take the time to observe it better and couldn't make the positive i.d.. Fortunately you have a photo!