Or Maybe that Bird is a Cordilleran Flycatcher?

Hammond's Flycatcher (7 of 3)Or maybe that bird we thought might be a Hammond’s Flycatcher is actually a Cordilleran Flycatcher?  A reader named Keith thinks it might be a Cordilleran and he may be right.  (His comment is attached to the last post.) We are posting two more photographs of the bird today, so he and you can have another look.

All of which brings up another point about identifying birds:  It is difficult to do it with nothing in front of you but a photograph.  (Obviously that does not apply to all birds but it does to the ubiquitous “Little Brown Jobs” (LBJ’s) which inhabit our world.  Some are almost impossible to distinguish when you are looking at them in the flesh, let alone looking at a marginal photograph.  In fact, our preference for field guides is that they not have photographs.  We want the art of Sibley or Peterson or Kaufman or the National Geographic in our field  guides rather than photographs.  Artists can be more careful about color and can put more detail into a bird than a photograph.  While that may be a departure from reality, it is a better learning tool.

The age of digital photography further complicates identification by photograph.  Modern digital cameras can take marvelous photographs but you can never be absolutely certain about the colors.  Some cameras may saturate the colors more than nature does. The process of rendering the digital image onto the computer screen, changes the colors more.  And every computer monitor shows them slightly different than any other monitor.  Every browser mangles the color as well.  Most important,  All cameras see the world differently than the human eye and brain.

Here are examples.  Every digital camera has a control called the “white balance” which is simply the color temperature of the ambient light the camera perceives.  But you can change it for every photograph you take.  And here is why it makes a difference.  Look at the three photos below.  It is the same photo but with three different white balance adjustments.  Because the identity of this bird depends, in part, on how much yellow it has, you can see that the white balance alone makes a huge difference.

Photo as it came out of the camera

Photo as it came out of the camera

Because of all the green in the background it is difficult to tell if that is yellow on the lower breast of the bird or merely reflection of the predominant green in the background.

Photo Adjusted to "Auto" in Adobe's Lightroom

Photo Adjusted to "Auto" in Adobe's Lightroom

And, here is the last example”

Photo adjusted to "Daylight" in Lightroom

Photo adjusted to "Daylight" in Lightroom

Then, and finally, we  run into the fallibility of human memory.  In my memory this bird was not showing much yellow, but my memory may be wrong.

That is why no substitute exists for the experienced birder.  If you are a casual birder and want to be better at identifying birds, you simply must go out with someone who knows what he or she is doing.  As an example, take this bird:  Keith would have nailed the identity in a flash, told us, and we would have remembered. As it is, we may never be certain.

And, as we always remind you:  The bird doesn’t care what you call it.  All you really have to do is see it and you’ll be more than a casual birder.


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