Yesterday I saw a bird I've never seen before. In itself, that's nothing special. I'm sure lots of birds inhabit my area or even just migrate through and I've never noticed. I enjoy finding new birds, such as egrets, sandhill cranes, or even turkeys, which haven't been here before, and now suddenly are. So what was this one?
It was perched on a fence post on the side of a road. Passing birds at 55 mph is not the best way to identify them, but it happens often enough that I've learned to try to memorize certain features instantly, fixing them in memory as the birds themselves recede. So, category: hawk. Size: small for a hawk, perhaps pigeon sized. Coloration: startling. I know, not helpful, but it's what drew the eye in the first place, shouting, "New! New!" Head and body were light brown, even in color rather than spotted, speckled or striped. The brown belly was a surprise. I'm used to whiter bellies in raptors, keeping the bird from being seen by prey below it while it's getting ready to swoop. But while different, that wasn't the startling part. The wings were. Black all through, very vivid against the light brown, but with even more vivid white all through. I'm not talking little flecks, but chunks of white. And not stripes, either.
Nothing I've ever seen before.
While I'm driving further down the road, mulling it over, I pass another one! Whatever they are, I've gone from zero to two in 15 minutes. This one, however, was clinging to the side of its fence, rather than on a post.
Weird. But it's just another little helping of weird at the start of a very busy day. Some time later I decided to call my brother, the bird expert of the family. He came up with three possible hawks I might have seen, using his own field guides as a reference, but wondered whether I hadn't seen a woodpecker? I insisted on backing my initial impression of raptor.
At home last night I looked through the field guide. Nope, not a female harrier. Not a red shouldered. Not a ... what the heck was the third bird? Well, I knew last night, and that wasn't it either. Oh yeah, broad tailed. Not one of those. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Pouring through the descriptions for variations wasn't helpful either. About to give up, I recalled the position of the second bird and my brother's question about woodpeckers. Why not check?
Wow, this book is old! It still references the ivory billed woodpecker! Oh my, 1980. Put a new one on the shopping list. Later. And as I thought, red heads, red heads, red heads, white speckled bellies...
Would you look at that.
Much as I want to swear I was seeing hawks, the immature red bellied woodpecker matches my birds' color scheme, thought the black and white wasn't quite a fully striped as shown in the pictures.
But I'm ready to believe.