[CT Birds] READ THIS!! Birds of spring: tales of caution and the top 5 mostmisidentified (long)

Mark Barriger whitewash88 at live.com
Thu Mar 22 09:08:14 EDT 2012

Currently I am dropping my kids off at school and YES the Kingbird is here! As of now it is behind the fire station (next door). Again, this is Cook Hill School off of Schoolhouse rd in Wallingford. After work I will be back to try for a quick photo.


On Mar 21, 2012, at 9:34 PM, "Greg Hanisek" <ghanisek at rep-am.com> wrote:

> If you're really interested in being a good birder and you passed over this, I highly recommend you go back and read it. Excellent, timely and apropos.
> Greg Hanisek
> Waterbury
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Thomas Robben" <robben99 at gmail.com>
> To: <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
> Cc: "Marshall Iliff" <miliff at aol.com>
> Sent: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 8:28 PM
> Subject: [CT Birds] Birds of spring: tales of caution and the top 5 mostmisidentified (long)
> Dear CT birders,
> If you have not seen this interesting article, posted in Mass and NH
> tonight, it is worth the time and effort to scan it….
> Tom Robben
> Glastonbury CT
> =====================
> Subject: Birds of spring: tales of caution and the top 5 most misidentified
> (long)
> From: Marshall Iliff <miliff AT aol.com>
> Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2012 14:04:04 -0400
> Massbird,
> As we all know by now, we are experiencing a record-breaking spring.
> Perhaps the warmest spring and winter on record, we are now seeing a
> record-early spring arrival for many species. Although arrival dates for
> migrants have been kept for many years, these have done a good job
> documenting just the endpoints of migration...not the whole bell curve.
> eBird, for the first time is now documenting the entire arc of migration,
> so I'd like to personally thank everyone who is reporting to eBird and
> providing such valuable information to actually quantify how exceptionally
> early this year's arrival dates are.
> As just one example of this full illustration of migration, and a very
> simple one, look at this eBird graph for Eastern Phoebe (showing 2012 in
> progress compared to 2011 and 2010). It shows not just when the first
> phoebes are reported, but when they reach their peak occurrence and when
> they become widely reported enough to be considered "arrived" (maybe 10-20%
> of their max frequency, for example, where the bell curve gets steep). You
> can do these graphs for any year, and only 2010 even comes close to this
> year's arrival curve for Eastern Phoebe, which is shifted a full 2 weeks
> early! Note that the frequency peak (i.e., % of checklists with phoebe)
> that was reached during the week of 15-21 March 2012 was not reached until
> 8-15 April in 2011!
> *http://tinyurl.com/79lnssm [*Try clicking on "March" from the bar chart
> (seasonal histogram) at the top of this page to restrict the date instantly
> to just March 2012]
> As spring continues to heat up and more and more birds start to arrive, I
> thought this was a good time to remind birders to be cautious with their
> identifications, especially for their "FOY" birds. Jeremiah's post a few
> weeks ago did a great job highlighting how even carefully-studied rarities
> -- like Pacific Loon -- can be repeatedly misidentified when people chase
> birds with an "expectation bias" (i.e., that we know it is present, because
> so-and-so reported it, so they expect to find it). In spring, this problem
> can be even worse, since new migrants are arriving and being widely
> reported and people might think "well, Pine Warblers showed up just
> yesterday so reporting a Magnolia Warbler is not that surprising...". In
> fact, even in the warmest springs Pine and Magnolia arrival dates are apt
> to be separated by up to a month.
> Caution: I will be talking about misidentified birds here. I don't intend
> to single out any individuals at all, just to acknowledge that we know that
> birds are sometimes not identified correctly and that the error rates vary
> from species to species. This is a reality of birdwatching and of any
> project that uses field identifications as data. I truly don't mean to
> offend!
> Below are some bird species that I have a lot of concern about with eBird
> data, but they apply to birders statewide (and countrywide!) regardless. It
> is frankly quite easy for eBird's data quality processes to prevent January
> Acadian Flycatchers and misidentified Pacific Loons from making it into the
> public data output. They tend to be errors that are easily caught but
> processes like (show all Pacific Loons East of the Mississippi; or show
> all January Acadian Flycatchers for the USA [there are none!]). Two common
> species, like Song and Savannah Sparrows, surely have high
> misidentification rates, but that backgrund of error does not adversely
> affect the status as shown in data except at very fine and local scales.
> But the real issues comes in for species where one is much more common than
> the other, or where seasonal transitions involve switches in the species.
> In these cases, keeping the edges of the dataset clean is a real challenge.
> In the below cases, I think a refined understanding of seasonal,
> behavioral, and even molt (eeek!) patterns can be really helpful to
> becoming a better birder and reporting more consistently correct
> identifications to eBird, Massbird, or wherever.
> The first tow issues are primarily winter problems that are fading out now;
> the other three are issues that are likely to arise within the next month.
> COMMON MERGANSER -- In Massachusetts, Common Merganser and Red-breasted
> Merganser are both very common, but they separate out almost entirely by
> habitat with Commons preferring fresh water and Red-breasteds preferring
> the open ocean and large estuaries. In Middlesex county, Red-breasted is
> actually rare, occurring regularly only on the lower Mystic and Charles
> Rivers. The eBird process works well in allowing us to carefully check any
> Red-breasted in an inland county. Where it fails almost entirely is in
> defining the eastern limit of Common Mergansers. Seeing a Common Merganser
> on salt water is extraordinary, and when it happens, they are usually
> displaced migrants. It is probably true that almost all eBird reports of
> Common Mergansers on Boston Harbor, open waters of the Atlantic of Cape Cod
> Bay, or other decidedly saltwater or estuarine environments are actually
> misidentified Red-breasted Mergansers. Please think about habitat when
> reporting Common Mergansers coastally. Tasting the water might be an easier
> clue to the merganser's identity than the field marks, since females are
> very tough to tell apart. Look for the well-defined white throat and sharp
> division between the reddish head and gray chest on Common, as well as
> Common's thicker bill and less shaggy crest. If you are unsure, eBird has
> "merganser sp." for just these types of situations.
>         I think the majority of saltwater records on the eBird map are in
> fact misidentifications. You may have to zoom in the map and click "show
> points sooner" to see the points. click the points to see the observation
> details:
> http://ebird.org/ebird/map/commer?neg=true&env.minX=&env.minY=&env.maxX=&env.maxY=&zh=false&gp=false&mr=1-12&bmo=1&emo=12&yr=1900-2012&byr=1900&eyr=2012
> DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT -- Here in Massachusetts, cormorant identification
> is a major issue. Specifically, understanding just how common
> Double-crested Cormorant is in winter is a real challenge. Great Cormorant
> clearly predominates, but a few Double-crested Cormorants winter (or
> attempt to winter) in sheltered harbors. This year, one or two last until
> early February at least in Gloucester Harbor, and each year a few persist
> in Plymouth Harbor, at harbors on Cape Cod, and in southern Bristol County.
> How many of these successfully overwinter is unclear. A good tip for
> cormorant identification in winter is that if you think you have an adult
> Double-crested, double-check yourself. Almost all overwintering birds are
> pale-breasted immatures. Another tip is that although they like such
> habitats in summer, winter Double-cresteds rarely (if ever!) use rocky
> headlands or offshore islands, which are areas preferred by Great
> Cormorants. Unfortunately, the eBird data quality system is overwhelmed
> with winter Double-cresteds from both plausible and implausible locations.
>         I strongly urge extreme caution in reporting winter and FOY
> Double-cresteds to help us sort through the significant ID issues with
> cormorants in Massachusetts. I currently do not trust the eBird output on
> maps like this one:
> http://ebird.org/ebird/map/doccor?&gp=true&bmo=1&emo=2&yr=on&byr=1900&eyr=2012
> Since Double-cresteds will be arriving en masse in a few days, the
> identification issue will be swamped by the real arrival of tens of
> thousands of Double-cresteds. When they arrive, notice that the fresh
> arrivers are the all black adults; immatures do not arrive until several
> weeks (or maybe a month) later, so an immature seen in late March could
> well be an overwinterer. Properly aging your cormorants should be the first
> step in any identification of them, in winter or summer. If you are unsure,
> "cormorant sp." is always available.
> EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE -- Every single year, in most eastern states, Eastern
> Wood-Pewee is reported up to a month earlier than any documented record.
> Here in Massachusetts, the species should be reported with extreme caution
> anytime before 1 May (or even 5 May). The primary culprit? European
> Starling. Singing starlings mimic Eastern Wood-Pewee a lot and birders who
> are good with bird sounds, but not aware of this problem, regularly get
> ensnared by starlings singing Eastern Wood-Pewee songs. A good rule of
> thumb, track down your FOY pewee ad check it visually!
>        The other problem though is the very real challenge of telling
> Eastern Phoebe from other flycatchers. Lets face it, when April and May
> roll around, we are all rusty on our flycatchers, since they have been gone
> for the whole winter. Eastern Phoebe does wag its tail a lot, has no face
> pattern at all, has a stubby black bill, and pretty dull wings and
> upperparts. It behaves like a phoebe too, and is conspicuous and often
> around bridges and eaves of houses.
>        This issue is not limited to pewees either. This year has already
> had a few reports of Willow Flycatchers (which never arrive in Texas before
> 20 April...and never arrive here before 15 May at the earliest!). Empidonax
> should be identified with care always, but first establish that it is an
> Empidonax. Focus on the strong wing bars, inconspicuous behavior except
> when singing, timing, and habitat. Frnakly, there is just one flycatcher
> likely to be seen before May -- Eastern Phoebe. In the very last days of
> April, three others (Great Crested, Least, and Eastern Kingbird) become
> possible, but almost any other flycatcher would be extraordinary. In fact,
> Scissor-tailed is MUCH more likely in mid-April than an Eastern Wood-Pewee!
> YELLOW WARBLER -- Yellow Warbler seems like one of the easiest warblers to
> identify, but every year we get reports well before the actual arriving
> front of Yellow Warblers. These are almost invariably misidentifications
> involving either Pine Warbler (males are very bright yellow)  or, ore
> likely, Yellow Palm Warblers. Since Yellow Palms usually arrive in early
> April (and are sure to hit the state in late March this year), we should be
> ready for them. They wag their tails a lot, have white tips to the outer
> tail feathers, rufous caps, and patterned faces. But when seen poorly, they
> ofte get recorded as Yellow Warblers, especially by people who aren't
> paying attention to migration timing. In a "normal" year, Yellow Warblers
> arrive two weeks after Palm Warblers, hitting the state about 22 April or
> even a bit later.If you think you see one earlier than that, please
> double-check yourself and ask why it isn't a Palm or Pine. If it is March
> or early April, a photo would not be overkill and might be required for
> acceptance! To make sure you are getting your Yellow Warblers right, be
> sure to look for a short yellow tail (the tail spots are actually yellow on
> Yellow Warbler) and a blank face, with no eyeline or eye brow. the songs
> help too, with Pine and Palm giving trills and Yellow giving its ringing
> "Sweet sweet I'm so so sweet" song. Every year we see these
> misidentifications occur, so please consider them as you go out.
> CHIPPING vs. AMERICAN TREE SPARROW -- The seasonality of these two species
> means that we can effectively filter them quite well (i.e., only let valid
> records through) during 9-10 months. In summer we have Chipping Sparrows,
> and in winter we have American Tree Sparrows. Although Chippings sometimes
> overwinter, this is rare and away from expected spots (like Marconi Beach,
> Cape Cod), it is fair for us to require convincing documentation for all
> winter Chippings. Summer American Tree Sparrows are almost unheard of, and
> it is likewise fair for us to require documentation then. But in the
> transition zone (April and October), defining the beginning of Chipping
> sparrows and the end of American Tree Sparrows is much harder. In a typical
> year, the first Chippings are seen in the first week of April and the last
> American Trees in the last week of April. Spring American Trees change
> their plumage to get brighter caps and paler chests, so impatient observers
> regularly report them earlier than they should. And eBird is powerless to
> catch some of these, since both species occur commonly during a narrow
> April window.
>                  In the past week or two there have been a number of
> Chipping Sparrow reports from areas where they did not winter, and I am
> concerned that American Tree Sparrow was not fully eliminated. The eBird
> map for Chipping Sparrows in March 2012
> http://ebird.org/ebird/map/chispa?&gp=true&bmo=3&emo=3&yr=on&byr=2012&eyr=2012
> shows the arriving front of Chipping Sparrows, and they are clearly "in" as
> far north as northern New Jersey and maybe the first birds are reaching
> southern Connecticut.
>                 One tip on these is to carefully check bill color. Spring
> arriving birds tend to be in full breeding plumage (this applied to almost
> all species, not just Chipping Sparrows). A breeding-plumaged Chipping
> Sparrow will have an all black bill, while all Tree Sparrows have bicolored
> bills. If you are unsure, and can get a good look, this should almost be
> diagnostic in April in Massachusetts, but it is good to back it up with
> other field marks like song (long trill in Chipping, musical melody in
> Tree). The oft-cited field marks of cap color and supercilium strength
> (whiter in Chipping) are good, but can lead people astray as the familiar
> American Trees acquire breeding plumage. Better is to make sure your FOY
> Chipping has a black line all the way through the eyes and including the
> lores (this works in winter too)!
>                I would very much like for the Massbird and eBird
> community to help define exactly when Chipping Sparrows arrive this year.
> It is sure to be record early and coud happen in the next few days if
> patterns appearing within Eastern Phoebe and Pine Warbler (i.e., 2+ weeks
> ahead) hold true. The above eBird map shows the advancing front...which
> will soon be upon us! If you get one of the earliest ones, please please
> provide some notes with your report to ensure that we now you considered
> and eliminated American Tree Sparrow, and why.
> These aren't the only issues, of course. I have posted before about
> Accipiters (our collective tendency to identify Cooper's Hawks as
> Sharp-shinneds and to "want" Northern Goshawk and misidentify actual
> Cooper's as goshawks). Here are a few others to think about this spring:
> - Greater and Lesser Scaup -- The Tufted Duck on Manchester Reservoir last
> year was an indication that many scaup are being misidentified, since many
> reports came in of Greater Scaup in the flock with the Tufted. When in
> doubt, please use Greater/Lesser Scaup; these birds are REALLY hard!
> - Broad-winged Hawk -- Be careful with identifying Broad-wingeds before
> mid-April when they come back. Immature Red-shouldereds and even other
> hawks are regular sources of confusion.
> - Murres -- Although murres can sometimes be seen from shore in
> Massachusetts (regularly off Race Point recently), many reports seem to
> pertain to Razorbills, including birds in Gloucester Harbor and
> Provincetown. Murres should always be identified with great care in
> Massachusetts. Check tail length in addition to bill structure and plumage;
> murres don't cock their tails!
> - Pectoral Sandpiper -- Actually pretty scarce in spring; should be
> identified with care.
> - Catharus thrushes -- These are the spot-breasted, brown backed thrushes.
> A major issue. Hermit Thrush migrates in April, but most other thrushes
> don't migrate until the very end of April. Any report of any spotted thrush
> before 25 April should very carefully eliminate Hermit and Swainson's and
> Gray-cheeked Thrushes should not be expected before 5 May. timing helps
> here, so use it, but also use "Catharus sp." if you have any doubt.
> - Rusty Blackbird - Although they passing through now (March to early May),
> many records pertain to misidentified grackles. Identify with car and focus
> on the slender bill, square tail, and calls of Rusty; iridescence can be
> hard to assess depending on lighting.
> - Purple Finch and House Finch --  A perennial and major data quality
> concern with birder data. Think twice about urban Purples or House Finches
> in the deep woods; otherwise, please study your field guide, learn the call
> notes, and use Purple/House Finch if unsure. But if you find these hard,
> you are not alone--this is perhaps the most confused species pair in North
> America!
> I hope this preparation is helpful for people and prompts us all to take a
> bit of extra time to think about our reports and to do our best to make
> them as accurate as possible, and to use the "I don't know" categories --
> like peep sp., Buteo sp., Greater/Lesser Scaup, Catharus sp., Accipiter
> sp., warbler sp., and Purple/House Finch liberally.
> I'd very much like to hear other's thoughts for identifications to be
> careful about as our summer birds return.
> Best,
> Marshall Iliff
> -- 
> ****************************
> Marshall J. Iliff
> miliff AT aol.com
> West Roxbury, MA
> ****************************
> eBird/AKN Project Leader
> www.ebird.org
> www.avianknowledge.net
> Cornell Lab of Ornithology
> Ithaca, NY
> ****************************
> =====================
> _______________________________________________
> This list is provided by the Connecticut Ornithological Association (COA) for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut.
> For subscription information visit http://lists.ctbirding.org/mailman/listinfo/ctbirds_lists.ctbirding.org
> _______________________________________________
> This list is provided by the Connecticut Ornithological Association (COA) for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut.
> For subscription information visit http://lists.ctbirding.org/mailman/listinfo/ctbirds_lists.ctbirding.org

More information about the CTBirds mailing list