My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

Proper Identification

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!

eagle in tree
Eagle photo from my spotting scope!.

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”!! 😦

Confusing Warblers

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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21 responses

  1. Birdbander11

    LOL, The top image does look very much like a Golden Eagle. I remember the dark Bald Eagle that I had a few years ago. I called mine a Golden and am still unsure if it was or not to this day! I know what the fall warblers are but I am going to give more people a chance. The only reason I know is because i was there! I would be pulling out a field guide if I was not there. Great picture of the Bald to.

    5 November 2007 at 6:26 pm

  2. Marg

    I’m still not guessing either just because how much fun would that be if the first one was right (lol) And I did pull out my field guide! In the summer we went to the Canadian National Exhibition and there was a raptor display and there was an amazing Golden Eagle there-would you believe I didn’t have my camera? But here’s my daughters shot

    5 November 2007 at 7:31 pm

  3. What a great gadget a spotting scope would be! It looks really cold in that picture of the eagle. We are getting the weather now, hail and rain today, snow tomorrow. I think the birds will hurry fast to the south now. Do bluebirds stay in our area all winter?

    5 November 2007 at 7:34 pm

  4. Awww, too bad it wasn’t a golden, Tom! But it gave you something to blog about to remind us to be careful with id, and thanks for that! You & your photos rock, as always! 😀

    5 November 2007 at 7:43 pm

  5. Tom, I’ve seen those beautiful Golden Eagles at the Raptor Center but…those bald ones are marvelous, too.

    Since I’ve been paying close attention to birds, over time, it’s becoming more difficult for me to ID them. Warblers, Sparrows and Finches kill me. Not much else left, ey?

    Scientific Wild Ass Guess, SWAG –


    5 November 2007 at 7:49 pm

  6. Lisa at Greenbow

    A new word for my vocabulary…SWAG. I really like it.

    I find that those juvenile Bald Eagles as well as confusing fall warblers can make me emotional and clumsy feeling at times.

    I am sure I will think of this post the next time I am swaging. 🙂

    5 November 2007 at 8:03 pm

  7. I would be thrilled to see a Bald Eagle! It is my goal to see one of the few that over-winter in our area between Dec and March.

    5 November 2007 at 8:55 pm

  8. Kaz

    OMG!!! I did not know that there were Bald Eagles out that way. Some of my family lives in Olean. I snapped a juvi last summer here at Beaver Island as it flew overhead and scared the bajeebies outta me. I knew something big was around cuz all the little birds were making a heck of a collective ruckus. I’m glad you stuck around to check it out and make an absolute positive ID. Would I find these in the Salamanca area too? We often go driving on the weekends lately it’s been to Ellicotville, Salamanca.. and nearby areas to there.

    5 November 2007 at 9:24 pm

  9. Kaz

    p.s posted a few of my wild bird shots at my blog. I have more, but these were the quickest ones I found. -Kaz

    5 November 2007 at 9:44 pm

  10. You will find your Golden Eagle, I’m sure of it! Nice detective work and patients as well, it’s hard not to jump to conclusions when you’re excited and want it bad, I know the feeling.
    We might get snow tomorrow too, I can’t wait!
    SWAG – WHAAA, HA, HA, HA I’m going to use that one later, LOL!
    PS How do you feel about binoculars with a camera built in? It’s much more affordable than a digiscope.

    5 November 2007 at 10:02 pm

  11. It’s hard to tell the difference between a juvenile bald and any golden at that range and in that lighting. So I would probably just have passed it off as a bald (or generic eagle) without a second look.

    Regarding the different sides of birding, I find that sometimes the sociable side gets in the way of the ornithological side, though it depends on who I’m birding with.

    5 November 2007 at 10:49 pm

  12. good post. neat to learn about how to identify a golden eagle. ~nita~

    5 November 2007 at 11:11 pm

  13. Well, I suppose the majority of us are true SWAGgers… lol! Kudos to you for waiting for more proof Tom. I do wish it had been a Golden for you. :c)

    6 November 2007 at 6:35 am

  14. I also love the new word SWAG!
    Banding with Sarah was a great experience because even with bird in hand we had to get out the books for a more clarified identification on a couple of birds. I know I’ve moved beyond backyard birding and not sure where I’ll end up. Thanks Tom for all your education on your blog.

    6 November 2007 at 8:14 am

  15. Golden eagles are more common than Bald eagles in my area, although neither is particularly common. I’d be happy to see either, as so far this has been an eagle-less year for me!

    Regarding warblers, I find there are relatively few non-confusing ones! 🙂

    6 November 2007 at 11:13 am

  16. @ Birdbander – I was almost fooled! I thought the warblers were a good addition to this discussion today. Thanks
    @ Marg – LOL, Those goldens are amazing for sure, thanks for the link!
    @ Erie – Ugg, snow for sure! Can’t believe it! We do have a few bluebirds all year long!
    @ Pam – after almost being fooled, I knew I had something to blog about! Thanks
    @ Mary – They are great birds for sure! We get them in the park this time of the year which is the reason I thought “maybe”! They can be hard to ID but looking at the field marks help! But then again you need to study the field marks!
    @ Lisa – thanks and the eagles can be hard!
    @ Ruth – Hope you get to see some and they show up again! They are very common in our area! At times we (locals) forget how great they are!
    @ Kaz – that is a great picture of the juv (I checkit out already). You could find them all along the Allegheny River including Olean, Salamanca and Reservoir.
    @ Chicago – We get them in this area and just have not seen one yet this year! We are getting snow also, flakes are in the air now! I would be willing to give it a try (camera in binocs)! But, do love my Nikon as is!
    @ John – I so agree and after seeing them all day long, something was different about this bird! Was also using those instincts but did find myself mistaken for sure!
    @ Nita – it is great to remember to make sure what we are seeing is really that, thanks!
    @ Jayne – Just as long as we are not guessers! So many times I see people check their checklist and move on without studying the bird! There is a great deal that we can learn from them!
    @ Toni – being a painter, you need to look at those important details! I bet it is a blast for you spending time with Sarah!
    @ Adam – The Goldens are showing up more and more in this area but without a doubt the Balds out number many other birds here! Hope you get to see one this year! Thanks

    6 November 2007 at 11:38 am

  17. Birdbander11

    You welcome Tom! And also the Robin-Hood, I got a 100 on it!

    6 November 2007 at 4:08 pm

  18. between you and I Tom? I am constantly saying, “Oh my gosh… golden eagle…!” It makes me so relieved that you also (much more qualified than I btw) comes up with the same comment. (p.s. sometimes I think I was right but mostly? I was sadly, so very wrong.)

    8 November 2007 at 1:59 am

  19. Neat post Tom, the little warblers are cool, take care 🙂

    8 November 2007 at 1:43 pm

  20. @ Birdbander – congrats on your 100! Very much deserved!
    @ aullori – they can be tough for sure! Thanks
    @ Bernie – thanks

    8 November 2007 at 5:34 pm

  21. Grace

    Did you know that the EXPERTS originally classified juvenile balds as a separate species (the Washington Eagle) until they studied them a while?

    12 November 2007 at 10:26 am

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