Date: 7/11/18 10:45 pm
From: Paul Sullivan <paultsullivan...>
Subject: [obol] Re: A modest suggestion for photo ID discussions
I'd like to second Joel's comments about photo ID discussions and add a
couple comments.

I came to birding in an earlier time. Someone interested in birding 30-40
years ago hooked up with a local bird club and went on FIELD TRIPS with
knowledgeable leaders. You got to see a variety of birds in a day's
birding. You saw them in their habitat: treetop Hermit Warblers and lower
MacGillivray's Warblers. You got to see a bird from all angles. You saw
relative size. You saw behavior. You saw it next to other known species.
You heard it sing.
Beginners could ask ID questions: "What's that bird singing?" "What's that
bird on the wire?" The leader could point out multiple field marks to 20
people in a few minutes. The leader could quickly explain why that oversize
streaky bird was not a sparrow, but a female red-winged blackbird. She
could explain why that plain brown bird was a female house sparrow, a female
cowbird, a young starling, a female lazuli bunting, or a female house finch,
and not one of the others.
As Tim Rodenkirk suggested, getting out there and puzzling over a bird,
putting together all the habitat, behavior, song, and plumage clues makes
the identification you arrive at stick, because you worked for it.

Now we are in the digital age. Folks are getting lots of information over
the internet, a good share of it conflicting "information." New folks are
coming to birding via digital media. So we have people learning by asking
photo ID questions. That has its benefits and drawbacks. This discussion
has highlighted some of them.

A single photo shows only one view of a bird. Size, behavior, habitat, and
voice are missing. Context is missing. To reply takes someone 20+ minutes
to type an essay to answer each inquiry.

I'm not good at birding-by-photo. Often I'm stumped. I don't have the
context I would have in the field. I don't have the energy to sit and type
and edit a long essay. I leave that to others who are quicker and better at

I don't find a lot of these photo ID exchanges educational. Sorry. I just
don't. If I were going to study-up on some difficult ID question, I'd go to
my library of good books and pour over them, going back and forth between
text and images to see what the author is saying. I'm a creature of the
printed page, not the digital screen.

I'd be more than happy to take you birding, and I could share a lot more
than identifying just that one bird photo in a lot less time. Corny puns
are thrown in for free, and maybe a beer, too.

Hope this doesn’t' sound grumpy or snarky. It's just the way things are.

Good birding,

Paul Sullivan

[obol] Re: Is this a Western Watch-a-ma-callit? A modest suggestion for
photo ID discussions
• From: Joel Geier <joel.geier@xxxxxxxx>
• To: Oregon Birders OnLine <obol@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
• Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2018 18:06:17 -0700
Hi all,

I suggest it would be best if we all assume that everyone who commented
on the Western Wood-Pewee/Willow Flycatcher thread was commenting with
good intentions.

Like others have expressed, I value Jim's high-quality photos and I
appreciate him sharing them with the group. It takes a lot of patience
to get shots like this. Once in a while Jim has asked me for an opinion
on grassland bird photos, and he often has tough questions (which shows
that he's thought about these photos before asking for a second

I think Tim makes a valid point about the benefits of working through an
identification, and taking it as far as you can go, before putting it
out there for others to comment on. I didn't think he was being snarky
but I think it was a mistake to make this comment in response to a
particular individual's posting. Tim has apologized and I think we
should let that rest.

Thinking about how to make photo ID discussions more productive, I'd
like to toss out a few suggestions here for discussion:

1) When you post a photo, try to give a tentative identification based
on your own efforts (I think Jim did this by suggesting Western
Wood-Pewee in the subject line).

2) Please try to include information about habitat and behavior. Where
did you see the bird? What kind of tree or shrub was it in? What was it
doing? How big did it seem in comparison with "standard" birds like
Robin, Killdeer, etc.?

3) For birders who respond, please explain WHY you think it's a
particular species, pointing out the key field marks. It can be helpful
to give a link to a more detailed discussion (as Dave Irons did),
especially if you include a brief mention of what you think are the key

4) For birders who don't respond, please understand that the relatively
small subset of birders on OBOL who respond to ID requests get a LOT of
similar requests, and they are humans too. Sometimes people get cranky
or otherwise are not in top form.

5) To me, it seems like a lot of these ID discussions are unsatisfying
from an educational point of view, because there's no wrap-up
discussion. A lot of people chime in with opinions, some of them
contradictory. So the result sometimes can be confusing. Also, a lot of
times the original poster ("OP," in internet-speak) might get feedback
from people who don't post to OBOL.  

It would be nice if the OPs could post a brief synopsis of what they
learned. Not just a "democratic" summary of how many votes for one or
the other alternative, but a summary of the key ID points that were
cited in favor of the identifications. This could be a good way for the
OPs to share what they've learned in the process of sharing their
photos, with the full community.

Happy birdwatching,
Joel Geier
Camp Adair area north of Corvallis

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