Date: 5/22/19 9:27 am
From: DAN SCHEIMAN <birddan...>
Subject: Re: Question for the empid experts
Read that forum response carefully. "More" "less" "stronger" "weaker" are relative terms. When you see a lone empid, what are you comparing it to? How much does the bird's posture, lighting and other factors Butch mentioned play a role in your apparent perception of those features? I could see a good GISS being developed by birders who live where both Willow and Alder breed so they can use voice and habitat as confirmation of the impressions. But here in AR their numbers are low; encounters brief; individuals alone, out of habitat, and often silent. Also note in that response that multiple field marks are used in conjunction, which is the rule for IDing nearly any bird. A single photo may not show enough or the right field marks, and suffers from lighting, image quality, etc. So we may never know for sure on any given bird. Even in Birding magazine's photo quiz they don't always have the answer, so they encourage discussion online. In life as in eBird, use of slash and spuh taxa may be the best you can do.

Dan Scheiman
Little Rock, AR

> On May 21, 2019 at 8:37 AM Daniel Mason <millipede1977...> wrote:
> So I visit a bird ID forum semi-frequently... I use it to get ID's from
> time to time as well as help others with ID or simply watch a few
> conversations and TRY to pick up better skills. I learn better in the
> field still but, it's interesting and I try to remember what I learn.
> I was "taught" something today that surprised me a bit... that empids
> aren't really that difficult once you get used to them... more
> importantly that you don't need to HEAR a willow or alder to tell them
> apart. I've always read and heard that you shouldn't bother trying and
> have seen many very well experienced birders leave their sightings as
> empidonax sp if the bird doesn't vocalize. This is what I believed to be
> absolute truth so, I never bothered looking at them carefully. (One of
> these days I'll try and study the newer field guides better...)
> So on this forum, someone asked for flycatcher IDs and, one of the
> pics... someone just said it was a willow flycatcher. Someone agreed
> just as quickly so, I asked about that. How did they know? I looked in
> the field guides and I can see some subtle differences but, they're
> subtle. One was the eye-ring, the bird in the picture really had none
> that I could see in the photo at all. Anyway, this is the response I got.
> "Yes, a lot of experts and banders will tell you that they are
> completely unidentifiable but that's not fully true. Older birders tend
> to be stuck in the mindset that they are inseparable from the time they
> were one species.
> Typical Alder and Willow have fairly distinctive looks. Classic Willow
> here has a more crested head, more dull colored back with some brownish
> gray tones, wingbars tend to be less strong and less white, and a weak
> to no eyering.
> Alder typically has a flat head unlike typical Willow, more olive
> greenish overall with little to no brownish gray, stronger white
> wingbars, and a stronger, often complete eyering.
> GISS (general impression of shape and size) tends to be very useful with
> empids. With empid experience, you'll get a strong Willow or Alder
> impression on a bird."
> If this is true... if you can get such an "impression" and have it be
> reliable, well even then it will take some time for that to help me in
> the field. I mean, those things don't stay still very often. Up, down,
> left, right...  where did you go?  HA.    But if this information is
> fairly accurate, it may help me learn to ID some from photos better,
> provided I get better photos.
> For now, of course, I'll stick to hoping they make a sound I can use.
> But I wanted to get some other opinions on this information. Looking at
> a field guide the other night I can say that there did appear to be some
> visual differences between the two. I'm just kind of questioning how
> reliable that is.  So... anyone that might be "stuck in their mindset"
> or a newer learned birder(that might know this info) have any thoughts?
> I always err on the side of caution and, that's not going to change...
> but if I can learn new things, well I'll sure try.
> Daniel Mason
> ---
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