What is wonderful about watching birds is that you can enjoy them anywhere you go in the world and you can also enjoy them in multiple ways! I have some friends who are just backyard birders and they just want to be sociable with others. Then I have those friends who are “listers” and will travel multiple miles just to see one species of bird that accidentally shown up in their state. Most birders fit somewhere between those two extremes and of course I am not sure where I fit!! I spent multiple months studying them via the Ornithological side (which is more the job side of birding) but I do enjoy the sociable and recreational side of birding (which is the fun side of birding). It seems like the Ornithological side always gets in the way when I am just trying to enjoy the bird around me. This is exactly what happened to me today!
I needed to travel to Olean to purchase some double-sided tape (for putting up plastic on my windows – snow tomorrow)! Driving along the Allegheny River, I came across multiple Bald Eagles which put some smiles on my face! Some were adults but most were younger birds (not to brag but they are quite commonly seen around here). I then came across an eagle that appeared to be extremely large, dark in coloring and in an area that was unusual habitat for a Bald. Of course the bird was also a bazillion miles away and I couldn’t tell if my eyes were playing tricks on me (or not)!! Could this be a Golden Eagle (looks like one)?? I called a friend and left a voice message “Tim, I could possibly have a Golden out in the field, you know the area where we had the Brewsters Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler”! I took a couple pictures (see above) and started to wonder if I was 100% sure this was a Golden (Ornithological devil now sitting on my shoulder )!! I started watching it for a while and then started flip flopping on if it was a juv Bald or Golden! Everything I was looking at told me this was a Golden Eagle! Now I am really starting to get excited! Then the bird took flight! White was in the wrong area of the under-wing! Crap! I called Tim back and said “Hi, its Tom again, the bird ended up being a Bald Eagle”!! 😦
Yes, It is very easy to wish for a particular bird to become something that it isn’t! Take this photo above that Young Naturalist J posted on flickr. Say they were together in the tree and as quick as you located them . . . . they flew away! Your first guess would have been Male and Female Blackpoll Warbler! Look closer! Could this bird on the right be a Bay-breasted, Black-poll or Pine Warbler?? Is the one on the left a Blackpoll or Black-and-White Warbler? Maybe it is something else?? We many times have to make a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) decision on their identification and then hope we are right!! Lucky we were holding both of these birds and with close inspection able to identify them (without using SWAG)! We (as birders) need to remember not to use emotion or to be clumsy with our identification with the birds we find. I could have easily said “Golden Eagle – CHECK” and continued home with a year bird to blog about. But instead I waited for the crows to put this bird up in the air and try to capture some more field marks for the birds proper identification. I also took pictures of the bird for future reference and study it closer via the computer.
We all can easily make a mistake when identifying these birds that are around us with some hope that it is something unusual. When you do find an unusual bird . . . . please take the time to look for any additional field marks that can help you with your identification of that bird (and don’t just drive away).
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