[CT Birds] Portland Eurasian Teal - a few helpful thoughts (long)

Comins, Patrick PCOMINS at audubon.org
Fri Mar 29 10:41:39 EDT 2013


Great post Keith, and as we've learned from this winter, both photographs and careful field study are essential when it comes to the gray area of gull identification!  And also sometimes no matter how many great photos you have and how many observers take notes and how closely a bird may resemble the textbook images, sometimes it isn't enough!  Some birds will just have to remain a mystery!

Patrick Comins, Meriden.

Sent from my iPhone

On Mar 29, 2013, at 9:54 AM, "kmueller at ntplx.net" <kmueller at ntplx.net> wrote:

> I generally like to avoid these opinion pieces, and I promised myself I would never do this. But with all the discussion that is circulating both privately and on the list, I thought this information might be helpful to some. Regarding the conversation about the Portland Fairgrounds drake Eurasian Teal(s) and the second (possible) intergrade/non-intergrade Teal discussion.
> 
> Trying to identify birds from photographs can be extremely difficult for many reasons. I have a few suggestions that might make this easier. Of course studying the bird through your binoculars or scope and keeping accurate field notes is unmatched for correct identification. Photos of course help, but not without (possibly) added challenges.
> 
> It?s really hard to identify a bird from a small image, but when I was in Portland on Tuesday, I saw two adult drake Eurasian Teal; one was in full plumage and the other was not in complete full plumage. I only reported one drake because I needed to evaluate my images to come to a correct identification conclusion. Question?- Didn?t you just state that you should identify a bird by studying it in the wild and not always relying on images? Answer, yes I did, but if you understand the difficulties in relying on photos for identification, they can actually enhance your visual field identification skills, as long as you understand and take into consideration the factors of analyzing photographs.
> 
> Identifying a species from images alone can be difficult. On Tuesday, I studied the second bird and was 90 percent confident it was a second drake Eurasian. The difficulty in the identification came as the duck was at a distance and quartering away from me at an angle. It remained in that stationary position for only a few minutes until it flew off,  I only had a quick look at it and was never able to see the bird in profile. But I was able to see and study three critical filed marks which made my identification as a second drake acceptable. However, I still wanted to be 100 percent convinced. I was able to capture both males together in the same image. Later, I looked at the images carefully and was able to confidently identify the bird as the second male. The drake had a diffused white lateral scapular stripe, but also had the correct shape and area coverage of the lower tail coverts, and a correctly located and brighter white auricular line below the eye patch.
> 
> When I use to keep wild waterfowl in my aviary I had quite a few GW Teal both American and Eurasian. Not all the drakes reach full plumage maturity at the same time in the spring. Some of the birds would never reach full plumage and would keep their less developed plumage through their moult cycle. This is also very common in drake Northern Shovelers; you will always find a few spring drakes that are peppered with post eclipse type feathers in prime breeding time.
> 
> As far as identifying birds from photos only:  I (and many others) are very skeptical when trying to identify important species information from photographs only, especially when the subject bird is small in the image. Birds photographed at a distance lose critical details in the images making correct identification challenging, difficult and/or impossible all together.
> 
> There are so many variables to photos and photography beyond the obvious: distance, light conditions, etc. Sunlight can wash out and bleach color and/or add unnatural variations including highlights and shadows, color influences, color changes, etc. Overcast days can diffuse colors, muddle colors and tone colors to grays values, etc. All these results can and often will distort and change the natural look of the bird?s color which could (and often will) confuse correct identification.
> 
> Light conditions can play a large role in influencing the natural plumage colors and values. Then there is the camera- produced and printed images can also add unnatural influences based on the cameras settings. If the white balance or color balance is not set correctly, it will influence the outcome of the images. And even with the correct settings, the camera sees the subject the way it interprets it which is often different than our eyes do. The result being, birds can appear washed in blue and violet on sunny days, and green or gray on overcast days.  In my experience photographing my carvings and sculptures, digital cameras also slightly alter perspective which can produce unnatural length/width perspectives, which in the case of birds can look longer, wider, heavier and thinner than they actually are. Then there is the post-processing which can further alter the original natural look.
> 
> I have taught color theory for many years as it relates to my art field. Along with color theory comes color influences both natural and unnatural. I have always suggested to my carving and sculpture students to correctly see the color values and influences as it relates to a birds plumage, look at it in Black and White. By looking at a bird in Black and White, you are forced to 'look' and 'see' the bird without the distraction of color. B and W images make you look at plumage markings, patterns, form, shape, feather structure, etc. etc. It is much easier to identify a difficult comparative species by evaluating critical plumage variations than getting distracted with color. Once you begin to feel comfortable with black and White tones you will be able to 'see' the color simply by the gray tones, white values and black shades in the image.
> 
> If you are looking at a bird in images you took?.go to your photo shop and change the images to B and W, you will be surprised what you will ?see?!
> 
> Hope that helps.
> 
> Regards,
> 
> Keith
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