For twenty years I've had to review claims of birds in Monterey County as county coordinator (subregional editor) for American Birds/Field Notes; as co-compiler of the Monterey Peninsula Rare Bird Alert; and as author of Monterey Birds (1985; 2d ed. in progress). From this experience I've gained a perspective on which mistakes are made commonly (and which are not -- although I've had reported "Painted Redstarts" prove to be Spotted Towhees, that's not a common error!). Its not much fun being the one to tell folks that this or that particular identification is questionable, so perhaps this page will give you an advantage in avoiding some common pitfalls.
Identification mistakes are made by all of us (including me), and the way to approach them is to learn something from the experience. In this list there are some common mistakes made by beginning birders (the "Ring-billed Gull" mistake) and some more likely made by experienced observers (the vagrant "Sage Sparrow" mistake). Intermediate birders, trying to find a rarer species, are the ones more likely to make the "Thayer's Gull," "Virginia's Warbler," or the "Semipalmated Sandpiper" mistakes. Many errors come from not knowing about local distribution or timing, and "expecting" the wrong bird. This can lead one to think they see something that is not there. Only those visiting California for their first time are likely to make the "Herring Gull" mistake -- easterners and mid-westerners are used to seeing lots of Herring Gulls and they know they occur here, so they just assume they are widespread. These visitors don't understand the variation in our resident species, and don't realize that Herring Gulls here occur only in specific locales. Misidentified gulls are common on lists from pelagic trips as well.
Given the abundance of gulls here in winter, it is not surprising that
three most-commonly misidentified birds on the Monterey Peninsula are large
gulls (and the discussion on these pages barely ventures into hybrids....).
The order below does roughly approximate how often facts come to light
showing that a particular mistake is being made (it is likely that Ruby-crowned
Kinglets are mistaken routinely for Hutton's Vireos, or vice versa, but
I rarely hear about this problem...). Click on the word "NOT!" to bring
up a page of identification discussion and larger photos. These discussions
are not meant to be comprehensive but may just be helpful.
#1: "Ring-billed Gull"... NOT!Other recent problems which vied for one of the top places were:
#2: "Thayer's Gull" (the pale one half-hidden behind)... NOT!#3: "Herring Gulls"... NOT! #4: "Black Scoter"... NOT!#5: "Craveri's Murrelet... NOT! #6: "Bank Swallow"... NOT!#7: "Semipalmated Sandpiper"... NOT! #8: "Virginia's Warbler"... NOT!#9: "Sharp-tailed Sandpiper"... NOT! #10: "Sage Sparrow"... NOT!
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