Thanks Mel as always!
The house finch really threw me off with the tail that seems banded unless what I see as a banded tail is not part of the bird.
With the banded tail, I didn't even know which category to start from.
As for the Lincoln, like you say, I might have found it if I try to little harder. The buffed hair or peaked crown wasn't on the primary description but on the 3rd photo from allaboutbirds.
Right now, I am using the Peterson and the Sibley field guide and with my non-existence level of knowledge, Peterson seem to be directing me better when I was trying to learn the shorebirds. I will try to find the Stokes as well from the library and try it.
The hardest thing for me as a novice is to learn the basis of reference. For example, how small is small has a certain term of reference like lesser yellowlegs as compared to greater yellowlegs or when it is on its own. I am slowly catching on. Yesterday, another birder explained about the slight curve of the long bill on the greater yellowleg really helped.
It is going to be a long and challenging journey but I am inching forward. Thanks everyone who helped along the way. BTW, for those of you with flicker accounts, if you label your birds, it really help novices like me learn. I use it like a flip card, make the guess, then move the mouse over to confirm.
Mario (Started birding 2016 with lots to learn)