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

kmueller at ntplx.net kmueller at ntplx.net
Fri Mar 29 09:53:54 EDT 2013

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  

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  

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  

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  

Hope that helps.



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