Where Was I?

(This column was first published in the July 16, 2001 Buffalo News.)

Several recent issues of a birdwatchers' newsletter carry a different kind of identification problem. In each a number of bird species found at a single location is listed and the reader is asked to determine where the observer was located. This tests the reader's knowledge of the ranges of various birds.

I offer here a personal example of this type of puzzle from a recent visit away from western New York. On my list, however, I will include not just birds but also two butterflies, a shrub and two trees as well. Note that the fact that this was a "recent" trip should not be missed. Birds and even butterflies migrate so the information that this is a summer listing is significant.

Here then are some of the species I saw or heard within a 20-acre plot on July 4: a mockingbird imitating its neighbors from a crepe myrtle; a ruby-throated hummingbird dashing down from a water oak to sip at a porch feeder; at night a chuck-will's widow and in the daytime a black-billed cuckoo, a white-eyed vireo and a prothonotary warbler all calling from the same woodlot; a brown-headed nuthatch and a Carolina chickadee inspecting branches of a longleafed pine; a dickcissel and a blue grosbeak singing from perches in a nearby field; and pipevine swallowtail and cloudless sulphur butterflies feeding in a butterfly bush.

Now those of you who are puzzle addicts -- as I am -- can try to determine this location before reading on. Just identifying the general region of the United States -- northeast, southeast, southwest or northwest -- scores fair; reducing that area to five states, good; two states, excellent; and the part of those two states, outstanding.

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Here is one way you might zero in on the solution.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are generally restricted to the eastern United States so we have already eliminated half of the country.

Water oaks are southern trees. Their range only includes the Gulf states (Texas, Louisana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida) as well as Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri. Longleaf pines have a similar range; however, they don't occur in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. So we are now down to nine states and by locating our target in the southeast we have already earned a fair rating.

Several of the birds confirm this southern locale. Blue grosbeaks, chuck-will's-widows, Carolina chickadees and brown-headed nuthatches are all southern birds and although mockingbirds, prothonotary warblers and white-eyed vireos are recorded on the Niagara Frontier, they are more common in the southeast, So too is the crepe myrtle, that lovely lilac substitute of our southern states, and the cloudless sulphur butterfly, which similarly replaces our clouded and orange sulphurs.

The pipevine swallowtail butterfly plays a somewhat different role. It is not common in the Buffalo region but it is occasionally found here. Not in early July, however. It is between broods in Buffalo -- in an egg, larval or pupal stage -- but adults are abroad in the south at this time.

Two species help still more: The dickcissel is a midwestern bird and its range eliminates Virginia, the Carolinas and even Florida. We're now down to five states: Texas, Louisana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Score: good.

Although the yellow-billed cuckoo is common throughout the east, the black-billed cuckoo is a more northern species. It is not found in Texas, Louisana and Mississippi. We're left with Alabama and Georgia. Score: excellent.

In fact, this cuckoo is found only as far south as the northern parts of those two states. Score: outstanding.

Where was I? Visiting my in-laws' farm in Hartselle, Alabama.-- Gerry Rising