Thursday, September 22, 2011

Things are not always what they seem

Things are not always what they seem, and was reminded of that this morning while checking my Facebook messages and get one asking if I’d considered the sparrow I saw yesterday as a Savannah, vs. the Song which I wished were the Lincoln’s. I’d check my blog to study the pictures and decide to study it even further on the train into Boston as I was running late to begin with and needed to get to St Philips for a quick scan of what landed during the night as it’s on the way to the station anyway and really want that Black Duck or better yet a Great Egret, but who’s counting!

I’d get on the train grateful it was bare as I pulled out my Droid, my Sibley’s and the Sparrow’s of the United States and Canada field guides to get to work! I’d start with the Sibley’s and compare the field guide to the pics and then go to my sparrow field guide and have my “aha” moment I was waiting for (page 190-comparing it to the Song Sparrow) “Savannah Sparrow’s often has a central breast spot, but has THINNER, SHARPER STRIPING and a slimmer, PALER bill. It USUALLY has yellow in the supercilium and OBVIOUS PINK LEGS.” Duh, the pink legs, why I didn’t think of that!!

I’ll tell you why …It’s because I’ve become so focused on the field marks I’m comfortable with and if it doesn’t fit the bill (pun intended), I immediately discount it and move onto the next one. For me it’s always been the yellow supercilium, followed by the notched tail and since I didn’t see those, I disregarded it despite briefly considering the Savannah last evening when I saw the photos for the first time on my larger computer screen.

So let’s look at the photo one more time shall we?

-Central Breast Spot-check. I had seen it w/ my bins.

-Thinner, sharper striping-DING, DING, DING, we have a winner! This was the first thing I noticed about the sparrow when I first saw it, and what made me whip out my camera, as I’d never seen a Song Sparrow before with such pretty streaking.

-Slimmer, paler bill compared to the Song Sparrow- semi check-I’m not experienced enough to get a good feel on bill size between the two, but I did think it looked rather pale last night when I first saw it.

-Yellow supercilium-Not! This would be the most eye opening for me hence the all caps for USUALLY which means not always. It made me scratch my head some and rethink the way I’ve been studying birds.

-Obvious Pink Legs-Check!! What would be funny is that I’d notice this when I first looked at my photos last night, but figured it was due to how the sun was hitting the bird so didn’t consider it a valid field mark until this morning when I looked at it again.

So there you have it folks. The bird that I saw that I hoped was a Lincoln’s Sparrow, but then turned into a Song Sparrow now turns out to be Savannah Sparrow and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time as I need that bird for the list I’m keeping even though I’m not keeping a list or chasing birds at the moment. Ironic considering I spent over two hours bushwhacking in Grafton for the Savannah, only to get it without even realizing it until I got that FB email which caused me to look at the bird in a whole different way and focus on other things besides what I’m comfortable with as that can sometimes be mislieading. Thanks as always Kevin!

I should note, If this had happened a year or so ago, I'd have been mortified with my oversight as I’m a blogger and a birder, so mistakes are out of the question as perfection must be the rule. This pressure was starting to take some of the fun out of birding for me because instead of just enjoying birds for simply being birds, I felt as if I needed to immediately ID the bird in question and if I got it wrong, I was a failure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at lousy pictures of a bird in question and decide to put it in the recycle bin vs. putting it out on my blog and asking for advise on what it could be because to do so, would make me a lousy birder and the small reputation I have built as a birder would be ruined forever. I sometimes think we birders can be our own worst enemies when it comes to birding and gets worse the further we get into our hobby as we expect more from ourselves. Whatever happened to birding solely for the love of birding instead of getting out there and racking up a large list with 100% positive bird identification and hopefully a lifer or two? Isn't birding more about learning than it is perfecting?

I had that when I first started birding because I was so “green”, nothing was expected of me as the “Kitchen Window Birder” and was satisfied as the birds in my yard made for good company and easily accessible for viewing and study. There was no pressure, no formal lists, or inner voice always causing endless doubt. I’d try that approach again this spring and summer and while it worked for a while, I now realize that woman has changed. How can she not after being exposed to spring warblers, summer shorebirds and autumn migrating hawks and waterfowl. But then the Curious Birder has changed too and has decided to give herself a break which means getting out there and just birding and yes, even chasing, but realizing that it's okay to make mistakes and with every mistake, comes the opportunity to learn from it which in the end makes you a better birder which is all one can really strive for in the end.

Take care all

ETA: I was looking at my "You may like" feed and came across this post and LOL'd really loud. This is the Kitchen Window Birder in full action who took a photo of deer dung to ask for ID and had no issue with it what so ever. Who says I haven't come a long way as now I know what deer shit looks like. Ah, to be that new again, sigh.


Larry said...

I ent through the same thing with Sav. Sparrows a couple of years ago when I discovered that you can't always rely on that yellow showing etc.-It bothers me when I make ID mistakes-I decided that it's not necessary to be the perfect birder-just enjoy it as much as possible.-Loved this post!

Kim said...

Thanks for the reply Larry. Glad to see I'm not the only one. Seriously, the yellow showing and notched tail have always been what I've gone by so I just couldn't make the call without it.

The ID mistakes bother me too, but I've decided to make them and at times share them because it will help me to be a better birder in the end.

I like your philosophy about just enjoying it as much as possibe which is why I bought my 1st bird feeder in the first place. I bird to de stress, I don't bird to over analyze everything just to cause myself more stress. I need to remind myself of that sometimes. ;-)


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