My husband just came back from Mexico today (the ABA conference in Veracruz) and as soon as he was unpacked (and the laundry machine was going), I eagerly began to examine his photos. Beautiful, striking birds appeared before me on the screen. And then along came this bird. Given the context--exotic birds my spouse got to see and I didn't--and the bird's general shape, especially the cut-off rear end, my initial reaction was "ah, some species of rail that I don't know." (In my defense the preceding picture was of Gray-neckedWoodrail--so I clearly had rails on the brain). Fortunately, I quickly realized that in fact this was one of my old friends: Great-tailed Grackle, missing its tail feathers. The eye, too, of course is pale and the bill just doesn't fit a Rail bill. If I'd been paying better attention, I would have realized that the habitat was more typical of a Grackle than a Rail, too--mowed lawn and concrete. I know what a Grackle looks like and what a Rail looks like, but thinking about Mexico and expecting something exotic, I merged the two and came up with that centuries old treasure: the Grail -- in bird form, of course!
I have been birding for several years. I am sure there are many birders like me who are easily able to identify the family of a bird, but then have difficulty with the more sophisticated distinctions among species. IBIS, my weekly blog, is intended to help me learn these differences and to share with others my frustrations and my small triumphs.