This afternoon a Plegadis, sp., ibis was reported on the north side of Armitage 
Road in the partially flooded field west of Olmstead Road and east of the Clyde 
River & Erie Canal swamps. This is in Wayne County, in the southwest corner of 
the Town of  Savannah. The bird was close to the east end of the field and 
about halfway from Armitage Road to the far dike, foraging in a non-flooded 
part of the muddy field and sometimes in an adjacent weedy strip. At least one 
Canada Goose was not in a sharing mood and caused the ibis to walk extra and 
even fly a short distance.

If anyone can say based on extensive experience and seeing this bird or photos 
of it whether it is a Glossy Ibis or it is a White-faced Ibis, I am interested 
in an ID and the basis for it.

I believe it was a juvenile bird just starting its first winter, based on the 
general lack of contrast of the plumage of the body & folded wings. It was 
fairly dark brown on the body with only a small amount of slight green 
highlight on the wing coverts that I saw. The head & neck were tan and lighter 
on the side of the head. The legs were all dark. The bill appeared uniform 
gray. There was no indication of red on the facial skin nor any pale edging 
(indeed I could not see any facial skin), nor any red to the eye. I suspect it 
was too young to develop any of these field marks. Perhaps the low heavy cloud 
cover, and the distance to the bird made such subtleties too hard to discern 
even at 60x with a scope steadied against the brisk wind. That’s my 
observation, but others may have seen things differently.

I think the gray bill suggests White-faced. The lack of pale edging to the 
facial skin would also suggest White-faced, but as I said, it may be too young 
for that feature of Glossy to develop. I’m pretty sure this is too early in the 
season to expect the red eye or red facial skin of White-faced to be present, 
so their absence would mean nothing. I believe red legs would only be on the 
breeding plumage White-faced. I thought the tan head & neck might suggest 
White-faced as well, but I could be wrong about that. As for the overall body 
color, I thought Glossy should be darker, but I can’t claim enough experience 
to be certain. Maybe if this bird sticks around for some sunshine, then someone 
can judge the colors and highlights better. 

Other observers present while I was there included Ann Mitchell, Kevin McGann, 
& Wade & Melissa Rowley. Wade in particular had the impression that the overall 
tone of the body was dark, suggesting Glossy to him. He has traveled through 
the White-faced Ibis’ range during the winter, so he has more experience than I 
do, but he still doesn’t claim to be an expert. He took plenty of photos, 
although my impression was that the bird was lighter in color in real life than 
at the least the one photo he showed me. If anyone does want to claim the role 
of expert, here’s an opportunity. It may be that birds of this age are just too 
hard to tell apart unless both species are side-by-side. I have heard 
second-hand that Kevin McGowan had also observed this bird quite a while, taken 
lots of photos, and not yet reached a conclusion, and perhaps that’s as good an 
expert opinion as we can expect.

Similarly, I am interested in others’ observations of details of this bird, and 
what they may or may not suggest as to its ID, regardless of any conclusion or 
claim of expertise. It’s an interesting puzzle.

It would be nice to settle on a species not just for my own and others’ 
personal lists, but for the 2017 edition of Cayuga Lake Basin First Records 
list which I have maintained on the Cayuga Bird Club website. There were two 
other all-dark ibis sightings this year, a single bird over Tschache Pool and a 
small flock over Cornell University, and both times the observers  assumed them 
to be Glossy without any details to distinguish the birds from White-faced, the 
former observation being a shaky, distant, and much-magnified video, and the 
latter observation being a naked-eye view of birds in flight at 75 yards. I do 
not doubt each were ibis, but I think one cannot assume that just because we 
are closer to the usual range of Glossy that they are overwhelmingly more 
likely to stray west from their coastal breeding range as opposed to 
White-faced straying east from their breeding range. Indeed we once had one of 
each side-by-side at Benning Marsh. Anyway, I counted both of those 
observations as Plegadis, sp., and I’m looking for an observation of a bird 
which is distinctly either Glossy or White-faced before I put it on the year’s 
list.

- - Dave Nutter


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