Date: 7/8/18 10:39 pm
From: David Irons <llsdirons...>
Subject: [obol] Re: Photo: Need help on identification
One might expect that a Google image search would randomly spit out a gallery of Least Sandpiper images that includes all the various looks that the species might present, but that is not how the Internet works.

There are a number of problems with expecting to find a Least Sandpiper that looks like Jim Leonard's online.

First, most folks who photograph birds focus on getting shots of birds in definitive plumages, often on breeding grounds or at sites where birds are present for many weeks or months at a time. Ratty-looking birds that are molting, or in some mixed bag of feathers transitional plumage are generally ignored as photo subjects. For example, most birders avoid even looking at "brown ducks" this time of year let alone stopping to photograph them. If you Google search "Mallard photos" you will be served images of mostly males in basic plumage with bright green heads and clean gray sides. There won't be many females and images depicting males in eclipse plumage or males transitioning into or out of eclipse (alternate) plumage will be fewer still.

As an example of what I'm talking about, I just finished writing the text for an upcoming ABA Photo Guide to the more common birds of Oregon. They publisher works with several well-known bird photographers to get the images used in this series of state guides and the author doesn't get to select the images that are used. When I received the galley proofs last week the photos of "female" Gadwall and "female" Eurasian Wigeon were actually young males in dull female-like plumages. This is the sort of thing most birders would never notice. I am one of those odd ducks who ignores the bright male ducks and instead focuses on the birds that everyone else ignores. I have hundreds of photos of brown ducks in all sorts of transitional plumages and very few photos of bright adult males.

Secondly, there is website optimization. Larger photo hosting websites and folks endeavoring to peddle their images online pay to make sure that when folks are searching for certain types of images theirs appear in the first few lines of search results. Does the average person Google searching a bird species want to see photos of worn midsummer second cycle California Gulls with bleached-out primaries that look like they went through a lawnmower? Probably not. I just Google searched Cal Gull and found no images of such birds.

Jim Leonard's bird is clearly in a plumage transition. The dark mantle and scapular feathers are considerable fresher and darker than the faded flight feathers (probably juvenile flight feathers). I suspect that it also might be a first-summer bird, many of which don't travel to the breeding grounds or migrate at all. We don't see many peeps in first-summer plumages in Oregon. We see after second-year adults on their way to and from the breeding grounds and fresh juveniles in the fall, and some fully basic-plumaged wintering birds, none of which look like this individual.

Not being able to find an online photo of a Least Sandpiper that looks like Jim Leonard's is proof of nothing. The face pattern and coloration looks like Least and the bird certainly appears to have pale or yellowish leg. The comparative bill length and shape also fits Least, a species that can be routinely found in Oregon every month of the year. Bottom line, it's very likely a Least. Dunlin are quite rare in Oregon June–August and I don't see anything on this bird that suggests Dunlin. Bill length is wrong, face pattern is wrong, leg color is wrong and the color on the mantle is wrong. Aside from northbound spring migrants in April and May, we really don't see Dunlin in transitional plumages in Oregon. Hatch-year birds molt out of juvenile plumage into an adult-like first winter plumage before they migrate south to wintering grounds. Is this an out of season Dunlin that doesn't really look like a Dunlin? Not so likely.

Finally, shorebird hybrids are actually pretty rare when compared to the rate of hybridization found in other bird families. In the absence of clear and obvious intermediate characteristics of two species (I am not seeing those on this bird) there is no good reason to suggest that it might be a hybrid.

In the end, some may never arrive at a clear identification of this bird, not because it is something really unusual or a hybrid, but because we have one image that doesn't show us all that we need to see to be certain of an identification. It's okay (and probably advisable in this case) to walk away and admit that we can't be sure of what it is based on this one image.

Dave Irons
Beaverton, OR

From: <obol-bounce...> <obol-bounce...> on behalf of Leith McKenzie <dmarc-noreply...>
Sent: Monday, July 9, 2018 4:43 AM
To: Obol
Subject: [obol] Re: Photo: Need help on identification

So here is the google image search for Least Sandpiper. Good luck finding a bird like the one Jim photographed.

Hard to tell from just one pic from behind, but this strikes me as a worn adult Least. They can be remarkably dark and plain looking.

Alan ContrerasEugene, Oregon

On Jul 6, 2018, at 10:04 PM, Leith McKenzie (Redacted sender "loinneilceol" for DMARC) <dmarc-noreply...> wrote:

My first reaction to the picture was Dunlin. That can't be right, but I think it's closer than any other species. I see it larger than a peep. Dark feathering of the upperparts is not explainable as a known species or known hybrid. Underparts appear to be stunningly white and unstreaked which fits nothing either. I think the bill looks better for Dunlin better than anything else. If I was free, I would put in some time to relocate this bird, as it may be important to science. My intuition is that DNA would show the parents are Dunlin, but expressed in a novel phenotype.

Date: Tue Jul 3 2018 8:40 amFrom: photojleonard AT gmail.comI was at Taverner's Marsh along Coville Rd. ("The Narrows") at Baskett Slough NWR yesterday and photographed this young bird. I need help with identification. It was larger than a sandpiper. The water is getting low so some shorebirds are showing up. I photographed a Western & Least Sandpiper and some Greater Yellowlegs. Click on link below for photo. Thanks for your help. Photo by Jim Leonard.

“Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull and an unlimited idea of freedom.”

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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