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 by birdwhisperer birdwhisperer, October 18, 2019 00:12

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