North American Birds

VOLUME 69 No1 2016

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithological Record Published by the American Birding Association. The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent’s birdlife.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 47 of 179

N O R T H A M E R I C A N B I R D S 46 T H E C H A N G I N G S E A S O N S : O U T P O S T S to add to our arsenal, Better Birding, by George Armistead and Brian Sullivan (2016), which treats identifcation of several particularly chal - lenging groups, among them longspurs, using beautiful digital photographs. Even advanced birders have, well, little insecurities, details that are rusty or misremembered—right? As most are aware, Empidonax fycatchers are still routinely misidentifed and like jaegers probably due for a luxurious, ultra-modern publication that is copi - ously illustrated. But the sixth edition of the Na- tional Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Dunn and Alderfer 2011; currently in revision for a seventh edition) covers the basics well, and Kaufman (2011) provides more depth. And again, we believe that advanced birders have made real strides in identifcation of birds in this genus, and many are teaching others what they have learned. It is of real comfort that vagrant Empidonax receive more skepticism and scrutiny than ever before. In fact, Britain's frst Acadian Flycatcher in 2015 was ultimately veri - could certainly see some support (plumage tones in the New Mexico bird; bill structure in the Ontario bird) for the identifcations. But there will be many, many uploaded images that while "supportive" will not be defnitive for identifcation. Currently, eBird reviewers make judgments about bird reports based on many things (feld notes, experience of observer, pres - ence of evidence, presence of multiple observ- ers, etc.), and so "supportive" images might be just part of a nexus of information that reviewers take into account when evaluating reports. But how many of those elements can stand the test of time? Future birders will not know the social network of today and will only be able to work with the evidence. How will state and provincial (and country) records committees play a role in this now-centralized repository of evidence? How will the material be curated in the Macau - lay Library, which has agreed to "accession" the material, referencing contributions with unique codes? We look forward to learning how all of these new relationships and functions will work. Of course, the situation with jaegers is not different from that with other genuinely diff - cult groups: Empidonax fycatchers, peep/stints, sapsuckers, juncos, not to mention the dreaded "large, white-headed gulls," whose identifca - tion in so many cases rests frmly in the realm of conjecture (or blood sport), if not science. Some of these taxa are treated in Kaufman's up - dated Advanced Birding (2011), particularly the Empidonax, and we will soon have a new book Dan Zetterström in The Complete Guide to the Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al. 2000) marked a turning point in our ability to perceive differ - ences in the three species in a terse, two-page spread. Multiple references now address jaeger identifcation with "modern" photographs of fying birds (Blomdahl et al. 2003, Behrens and Cox 2013), but there is still room for a magnum opus on this group, with more copious spreads of mouth-watering photographs showing a fuller range of variation and diffcult ("pitfall") individuals. So we are now at something of a crossroads, a good one, in the history of North American birding. We have—now that eBird permits the direct uploading of audio and photographs to document records—the opportunity to study archived images associated with records. In the past, such images would have been buried in dozens of state archives, accessible in most cases only by visiting the archive. So the revo - lution has fnally arrived: we can see into the archives with a mouse-click. What will we dis - cover when we look at photographs of jaegers, for instance (Figures 22-24)? Even stunning im - ages of individual birds can sometimes leave us wanting a bit more, as identifcation of younger jaegers is based on a suite of features, includ - ing overall structure, shape of central rectrices, bill structure and color, pattern of upperwing and underwing, primary tip pattern, and overall plumage tones. If we were reviewers for birds labeled Parasitic in Figure 22 or Figure 23, we Figure 22 (top). Three Parasitic Jaegers, all apparently dark- morph juveniles, were documented in New Mexico in autumn 2014, including up to two at Brantley Lake, Eddy County, 23 (here 24) August through 1 September. Photograph by Jerry R. Oldenettel. Figure 23 (left). This Parasitic Jaeger was picked up in weakened condition along the Ottawa River, City of Ottawa, Ontario 8 Sep- tember 2014; despite being treated at a rehabilitation facility, it did not survive. Photograph by Giovanni Pari. Figure 24 (right). Easily the rarest of the jaegers in Central America, two juvenile Long-tailed Jaegers were reported in fall 2014, one on mudfats at the tip of Punta Ratón on 30 August, Honduras's frst, and this one, of Punta Mala in Panama 25 October 2014. Photograph by Jan Axel Cubilla.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of North American Birds - VOLUME 69 No1 2016