Journal archives for October 2019

October 01, 2019

September Summary and What to Expect in October

It is October eve and so comes the day I add the summary for the month. I am proud to say that this project has reached a whooping 386 observations so far, which is far more than I expected. All I can say is, keep up the good work. Here's some of our stats for the month.

Top Five Species Observed (Overall)
Red-tailed Hawk: 139 obs
Swainson's Hawk: 47 obs
Cooper's Hawk: 30 obs
Osprey: 28 obs
American Kestrel: 24 obs

Top Five Species Observed (September)
Red-tailed Hawk: 59 obs
Cooper's Hawk: 14 obs
Turkey Vulture: 12 obs
American Kestrel: 11 obs
Sharp-shinned Hawk: 11 obs

Total Species Observed (Overall): 24 species
Total Species Observed (September): 20 species

Species Still Not Sighted: (11) White-tailed Kite*, Broad-winged Hawk*, Rough-legged Hawk, Barn Owl, Flammulated Owl*, Western Screech-Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Spotted Owl, Barred Owl and Gyrfalcon

  • I'm putting these species on the high alert list. If we miss these species during the month of October, our chances of seeing them otherwise is slim because of migration. Help us find these species.

Counties Still Needing Observations: (5-- 1 in WA and 4 in OR) -- Ferry County (WA), Sherman County (OR), Gilliam (OR), Morrow (OR) and Wheeler (OR)

What October Has To Offer: I probably say this every month, but this month should be great for raptors. October will offer the first of the winter raptors including Rough-legged Hawks, Harlan's Hawks and for those really lucky Snowy Owls and Gyrfalcons. Owling is still going to be a huge thing too and will be so until the end of the year. If you are willing to take the time, go 4-wheeling your local forests after dark and listen to owls. For the most part, if any surprising raptors migrated through the two states, they're probably already gone but if it is still possible to get wintering Eastern and Northern Red-tails, so keep an eye for thin patagial or dark bellyband Red-tails. Merlins will also start becoming a common sight in certain areas and if you see one, check the subspecies. Though most are Taiga subspecies, I've had a few Prairie (aka Richardson's) and a Black Merlin in the search zone. Good luck raptor watchers!

Posted on October 01, 2019 04:36 AM by birdwhisperer birdwhisperer | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 18, 2019

Annoyances with Identifiers

So I'm going to get on a little rant about the identifying stuff but I don't want to put anyone on the spotlight and the reason for this journal post.

In the last three or weeks, I've received a new string of comments in regards to I can't identify bird subspecies by range because my id is an assumption and it really doesn't amount to scientific accuracy. Well, I'm going to explain why that argument is invalid.

Let's say you're hiking at Mount Hood in Oregon, and you come across a female Blue Grouse (Genus Dendragapus) in the middle of the trail. Now answer my honestly, who here is going to immediately say Sooty Grouse? Nearly everyone right. But yet I think we ignore the fact that only a handful of years ago, the Sooty Grouse was once a subspecies of the Dusky Grouse in the Rocky Mountains. In fact, Cornell even states "Dusky Grouse occur mainly in the Rocky Mountains of North America; they have very little range overlap with Sooty Grouse. Females are very difficult to tell apart in the field. Now seriously, who is going really going to try to find the subtle differences between species even though there might not be a chance you can even see the features needed to make an id. So if a birder on iNat submits a female "Sooty" Grouse in the Oregon Cascades, it is not an id made from range? The very thing I'm told NOT to do?

I can come up with a few other examples of this. How many birders submit their sighting as a California Scrub-Jay just because it's the expected species? How many of us actually look for features on the bird supporting our id? To further support my point of view on this, I helped an ebird reviewer the other on a scrub-jay sighted near Los Angeles. It was originally reported as Woodhouse's but was switched to Cal. And I explained to reviewer why it was California Scrub besides range because the bird was a juvie and it looked more Woodhouse-ish then it should've been.

You might think the Scrub-Jay example might be on the far end of the identifying by range spectrum but how about this? Are you sure the magpies you see are Black-billed? I mean, are you sure it's an Eurasian Magpie? How do you really know and don't tell me it's because they are an Old World species.

More examples include, I report my Red-tailed Hawks as Western (calurus) because after 3 years of watching hawks, I know that's 99.9% of what I'm going to see. I will only report it to just species level if I see features that don't support the subspecies. So how is that not acceptable when I bet nearly all birders on the West Coast id their sandpipers as Western because the look-alike species the Semipalmated is uncommon or rare.

Lastly, in the Blue Mountains a Western Flycatcher is left at simply Empidonax sp because Pacific-slope and Cordilleran look too much alike. Yet birders will have no problem identifying a Pacific-slope on coastal Washington or a Cordilleran in Colorado because it's the "expected species". But do you really know?

So pretty much what I'm trying to say is, I don't care if you identify my observation to species level but if you're going to lecture me on not identifying subspecies by range, first make sure you don't identify species by range.

Posted on October 18, 2019 12:12 AM by birdwhisperer birdwhisperer | 0 comments | Leave a comment