Monday, April 07, 2008

The easy way to identify difficult birds

When it comes to identifying rare, unusual or difficult birds, they say there is no substitute for painstaking observation and rigorous attention to detail.
Tommyrot. balderdash and twaddle!
When it comes to identifying rare, unusual or difficult birds, there is no substitute for self-deception.
I give you now Allsop's Five Easy Steps to naming everything that crosses your path.
Do your birding in bad weather, either in very murky light or blindingly bright light. This way, plumage features can be manufactured at will, turning dark shades into light, brown into orange, and so on.
Always make sure you are upwind of your quarry. This way, there is no risk that you will hear its song, call or flight note.
High winds are good too, as they will explain any inconsistencies of flight, eg, a ponderous Crow transformed into a speeding falcon.
It is imperative to get only a fleeting glimpse of your quarry. Flying high overhead is good, as is diving into hedge, thicket or tall grass. The briefer your glimpse, the easier it is to go into self-deception mode.
If you have someone with you, and they dispute your identification after the bird has disappeared, don't panic. They were looking at a different bird. Easy-peasy.
Never consult a field guide - that way lies madness - but if you must, make full use of male/female adult/juvenile summer/winter differences, and of course races and subspecies. Oh yes, and "worn plumage" and "missing feathers" are useful dodges, as they can explain the absence of wingbars and other diagnostic features.

If none of the above solve your problem, there is one more step you can take in extremis, and that is not to see the bird at all. In this case, all you have to do is to identify its habitat, ie, even if it's not where it should be, you know where it should have been.

All this is because I have just come back from a wet and windy tour of the fen in search of Ring Ouzel, a passage bird through our area, a slim Blackbird with a white gorget, pale wing patches and furtive habits.
Did I find one?
Well, there was this bird that I caught a fleeting glimpse of as it flew over my head. Mind you, it was going like the clappers in the high wind, the light was bad (bad enough to supply pale wing patches!), but the habitat was spot on.
Pity I was upwind or I might have heard it call....

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