Date: 4/10/17 8:48 am
From: Wayne Hoffman <whoffman...>
Subject: [obol] Oregon birds looking least like their field guide illustrations.
Hi - 

I asked for feedback on this question on March 28, and got some very interesting responses.  I forgot to ask at the time, so have decided to keep the responses mostly anonymous.

Vesper Sparrow: The only bird named in 2 responses (including by a curmudgeon).  This one surprised me because I learned to identify them so many years ago that I haven't studied recent field guide depictions, but now that I look, I have to agree - could be done a lot better.  Sibley made it too contrasty - too distinct stripes on too clean white background.

Gadwall:  Another oldtimer cited the Robbins et al, illustration as particularly bad.  

Dark tubenoses:  an aficionado of Cruise Ship repositioning cruises responded that Murphy's Petrels, Ashy, Black, and Least Storm-Petrels, and Sooty and Short-tailed shearwaters do not look much like the illustrations.

He also pointed out that Temmink's Stint, many dowitchers, and hybrid gulls are not well-illustrated.

He also named Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Willow/Alder Flycatchers, Western/Cordilleran Flycatchers, non-adult kingbirds,  This group shares a common problem for illustrators.  The North American species of Tyrant Flycatchers have a single molt per year in the fall, after the breeding season.  Some species have this molt just before migration, others just after.  In most species the fresh plumage after the molt includes a strong yellow wash on the underparts (exceptions Eastern Kingbird, Black Phoebe, etc.)  Some species (kingbirds, Great Crested Flyctcher) stay pretty yellow throughout the year, but most progressively fade toward white, so that in spring much less to none of the yellow remains.  So if the artist can only show one view, they usually show spring birds, with less yellow than fall birds, and fall vagrants tend to look very different.

One respondent responded that the description of Black-capped Chickadee songs is incorrect.  This is because in western Washington and northwestern Oregon these chickadees have a different song than in the rest of the country,

Nobody named the species that caused me to pose this question:  Long-tailed Duck.  I have seen at least 12 different individuals this winter, and all of them differed in some ways from the field guide illustrations.  Long-tailed Ducks have the most complicated molt schedules of any waterfowl, and I think most of the ones that make it to Oregon are first-winter birds.  They all look scruffier than the illustrations, and have head patterns that do not really match.  Even the very comprehensive waterfowl guide by Sebastien Reeber doesn't really capture the range of variation I am seeing.

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