[CT Birds] Not a Sprague's Pipit: Been there, done that.

David F Provencher david.f.provencher at dom.com
Thu Sep 6 08:38:25 EDT 2012

This is an excellent example of a phenomena we all are susceptible to, seeing what we expect to see.

I would like to start with giving cudos to whoever first called it a Sprague's Pipit (Paul was it you?). That shows "rarity awareness", a very good thing to possess. Secondly, I like to say I have mislead myself on identifications before as well, and been mislead by other's incorrect identifications too. This is just part of being human.

A number of years ago a birder friend found a bird at Hammonasset that she identified as a LeConte's Sparrow. She then found Greg Hanisek and I and got us on the bird. Greg and I trusted her id before we saw the bird (we knew she deserved our confidence due to her experience) and when we saw the bird we also turned it into a LeConte's Sparrow in our heads. It was in fact a fresh plumage Grasshopper Sparrow (at least we had the genus right!), a plumage we seldom observe in Connecticut. It was only later when Greg and I had gone our separate ways that we both started to second guess the identification and we both came up with the correct identification.

In birding, as in life, we learn much more from our mistakes than from our successes. I learned that the best way to identify a rarity is try very hard to turn it into a species that isn't rare. If you can not disprove the rarity despite your best efforts, than your much much closer to getting the call correct! But being human, we will all continue to make mistakes till we die. It's easy to see why this bird was thought to be a Sprague's Pipit, and they do occur in the east (I've seen one in Massachusetts). Credit should also be given to Paul for getting the word out quickly, rarities that show up in stormy weather often disappear very quickly indeed. The hope is we make fewer and fewer miscalls as we get wiser (and by wiser I mean "older"). I'm pretty sure I'm going to get everything in life figured out, about 90 seconds before I die. My last words will probably be something like "Ohhhhh, now I know what that was!" Either that or "Hey guys, watch this!"


David Provencher

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