THE LEARNING CORNER
L"ThIs is a new sec+lon +ha+ your edl+or predlc+s will become one of +he most popular
par+s of THE SPOONBILL. We all can use help in Iden+lfication of birds, and In the
months to come we hope to present, through contributing members and subscribers, some
assisting hints beyond the field guides most of us are so dependent upon. We want to
deal with birds that are currently being seen at the time of publication of the item,
or wi11 be seen shortly afterwards. We are delighted to start things off with Fred
Collins' clarification of "hovering", and Ted Eubanks' assistance In "straightening
out" the loons. Please Join us In THE LEARNING CORNER as a contributor as well as a
Note .for February SPOONBILL from Fred Col I Ins '.-;-,-,-;
One of my New Year resolutions Is to become a regular contributor to THE SPOONBILL.
This first effort of the year Is stimulated by the new Christmas Count held by Tony
Gallucci on January 2 In West Houston. I covered the North WIIcrest-Westhelmer area
and was fortunate enough to find the Rough-legged Hawk, previously reported, and two
These two species are characterized by hovering flights. The Rough-legged Hawk is
often confused with the highly variable Red-tail Hawk. One "field mark" often considered is this undefined aspect of hovering. The Golden Press Guide BIrds of North
America states that the Red-tail "rarely hovers". Anyone that has spent more, than a
few hours watching Red-tails knows how misleading this statement Is. However If we
define hovering and contrast It with another type of stationary flight, fluttering,
the statement in the afore mentioned guide may be valid. With proper definition Red-
tails rprely, if ever, hover and consequently hovering can become a useful field
I consider hovering as that type of s+a+lonary flight in which the wings are held in
a plane near perpendicular wl+h the body. The mos+ familiar hovering bird In our
area is +he White-tailed Kite. The wings are held above the head pointing up In a
"V". The body Is dropped to a vertical position, and the tail Is turned down almost
perpendicular to the ground. This posture Is accentuated by the Kite dangling its
legs. The Rough-legged Hawk exhibits the same features In its hovering posture.
Similarly, the body proportions are similar to the Kite, narrow wings and relatively
The Red-tail when fluttering holds a stationary position but keeps the body In a horizontal plane, the same as the wings. The tips of the wings move, the Inner portions
maintain a soaring position In the wind. The +all never falls far below the body
plane. The wings are relatively broad and tail proportionate. It Is noteworthy that
Roger T. Peterson doesn't list the Red-tail as a similar species in
the Rough-1 egged.
his account of
Winter Identification of Texas Loons by Ted L. Eubanks Jr.
A) Common Loon- The Common Loon, Gauia, JmmeA, is by far the most abundant loon in the
UTC during winter. This loon begins arriving on the wintering grounds near the first
of October, and lingers as late as the middle of May. The Common Loon on the UTC
usually frequents salt or brackish water, favoring such spots as the HL&P cooling
ponds, Texas City Dike and Offatt Bayou, Key Identification marks for the Common
Loon are as follows:
(1) Large body size, nearing the Double-crested Cormorant (a species with which It
associates In winter) In total body length. Many Common Loons, however, are considerably smaller than this "text-book" size, so the body size in itself does not
constitute a reliable fieldmark.
(2) Massive bill, particularly in regards to the thickness at the base.
(3) White feathering above and anterior to the eye, often giving the impression of an
(4) Nape and back are uniform In their charcoal-gray coloration.
(5) An overall heavy-headed appearance,
much greater than the neck Itself.
(6) The Common Loon typically holds its head low and close to the body, the bil
lzontal, in a configura+ion that +o me resembles "crouching".
B) Arctic Loon- The Arctic Loon, Gavia. aActica, is a western species which rarely
ventures Into Texas. In the UTC most of the substantiated records come from the Texa:
City Dike, the most recent being this year (bird photographed by H. Hobart). In many
aspects, particularly in size, the Arctic Loon, resembles the small race of Common
Loon. With careful a++en+Ion +o the entire series of fieldmarks, however, this
dth the diame+er of the head being obvlousl