Date: 2/13/20 4:38 pm
From: <rcech...>
Subject: RE: [nysbirds-l] (Over)Certainty in eBird reports (Brooklyn Painted Bunting info)
I wasn't going to comment on this, even although Doug's post (and several
that followed) were excellent and thought-provoking.

But then Shai's comment came along, and that prodded me.

I sent some shots of the Jones Beach bird awhile back (not on eBird, so Doug
may not have seen them). I included the bunting along with a number of
other 'young males' in odd plumages that make the early winter period
interesting. By including the bunting in this post, it was clear I thought
it was a male, although I provided no justification.

What I didn't say was that I thought the bird was a young male because of
the bluish tone on its nape region. (Another birder, well known to you all,
came to the same conclusion at the time). This coloration was more visible
on site than in later photos, but I thought it still showed, see below. (I
did not know the ratio of young male vs. female northward strays at the
time, that's very interesting.)

But no, I didn't write that out in my post, because (1) it's a subtle and
mistakeable mark, and (2) because my own field experience with the species
is limited to occasional contacts here and in the SE, some long ago. Maybe I
should have said something, because these conversations are how group skills
develop, but experience suggests that care is required in engaging such
conversations on a listserve. (When all is said and done, it has been noted,
more will have been said than done.)

Apologies, Doug and Shai, for shirking citizen science responsibility. I
agree that where id ambiguities exist dialogue is preferable to check-boxes.
I also agree that we shouldn't be too stringent with one another on
listserve postings. as much of the error variance will come out in the
statistical wash (and some info is better than none) - although that
argument can cover a multitude of sins, and it only goes so far.

That's it, just a few thoughts,

-----Original Message-----
From: <bounce-124372670-3714678...>
<bounce-124372670-3714678...> On Behalf Of Shaibal Mitra
Sent: Thursday, February 13, 2020 11:41 AM
To: NYSBIRDS-L@cornell edu <NYSbirds-L...>
Subject: RE: [nysbirds-l] (Over)Certainty in eBird reports (Brooklyn Painted
Bunting info)

Doug's message is important and deserves careful attention from all
contributors to citizen science. People should take care to be objective,
accurate, and interpretable in their conclusions.

But I would also stress that this shouldn't mean giving up and omitting
analysis altogether when, as is usually true, one doesn't feel 100%
authoritative and certain. For instance, instead of checking boxes in the
age and sex drop-down tables, or typing unqualified terms like "female" or
"immature male" in the species comments, make an effort to describe the
actual features you observed and to explain how you are interpreting them.
This way a future user--or your future self--will be able to understand both
what you actually saw and what you thought about it. This is what I mean by
striving for interpretability in one's comments. Many new discoveries in the
frontiers of identification have been achieved by the patient application of
this method. In contrast, simply clicking a box in what amounts to a guess
has almost zero value and can even confuse matters.

On a similar topic, I'm concerned about many of the breeding bird atlas
codes I'm seeing in eBird checklists. Being asked 20 or 30 times per
checklist to "Choose the highest code..." is appealing and addictive to many
of us, but, like the age and sex tables, this kind of game-ification is
destructive to understanding. Just as in assessing age and sex, assigning
breeding codes depends on prior knowledge and accurate judgement. Common
Goldeneyes perform courtship displays on Long Island in winter; Herring
Gulls copulate miles away from their actual breeding sites; White-throated
Sparrows sing day after day on their wintering grounds; etc. A bird is
either going to breed in a given block or it isn't. If you have good reason
to know that it will NOT, it is best to refrain from assigning any breeding
code, even if the wording of the codes seems to allow for it.

Shai Mitra
Bay Shore
From: <bounce-124371160-11143133...>
[<bounce-124371160-11143133...>] on behalf of Doug Gochfeld
Sent: Wednesday, February 12, 2020 8:16 PM
To: NYSBIRDS-L@cornell edu
Subject: [nysbirds-l] (Over)Certainty in eBird reports (Brooklyn Painted
Bunting info)

While the specifics below directly pertain to one individual vagrant, the
overall take home message should be valuable to anybody who tries to
classify natural organisms.

This winter's incursion of Painted Buntings into the region has brought
delight to many New York birders. All three of the lingering Long Island
individuals are green. The bunting that was found at Brooklyn Bridge Park by
Heather Wolf in late December has been seen by hundreds of people at this
point, and eBirded perhaps a couple of hundred times.

Of those reports, many have comments regarding the age or sex of the bird,
and of these, a not-insignificant portion refer to the bird with certainty
as a female and a an immature male, virtually none of which have any
discussion as to why it is being classified as such.

In January, I E-Mailed Peter Pyle some photos, to see if he could make sense
of it. He sent me a detailed analysis, which I have pasted as the bottom of
this E-Mail, but the concise version is this: The bird IS an immature
(hatched in 2019). It CANNOT, in its current plumage, be visually identified
to sex, and it seems most likely that it is a young male (as so many
vagrants are) if he had to guess.

On that note, and given that eBird reports become a part of the permanent
record, it would be great if the comments, when people look back years from
now, were not just consistent, but accurate. Rather than having the very
careful and earnest eBird moderators (a wholly volunteer and typically
thankless job), in this case Sean and Shane, whom many of you know, reach
out to every single person who writes "female" or "_ male" in the comments,
it would be great if those reporting the bird going forward make comments
that reflect only the highest level of certainty, rather than assumptions or
guesswork. Also, if you have gone to see the bunting, please also check your
prior observations to see if your comments can use some amending.

In the meantime, the young Painted Bunting does indeed continue at Brooklyn
Bridge Park, seemingly becoming more acclimated to passers by as time goes
on. Here are some photos and video of it from a couple of days ago, where it
seems, though it may be my imagination, that there are some brighter green
feathers and a bluish tinge starting to appear around the nape:

Full text from Peter Pyle:
"So you are correct, this is a first-winter bird (SY now). The rectrices
have been replaced during the preformative molt, so shape and condition of
these are no longer useful for ageing. However, you can see molt limits in
the remiges indicating an "eccentric" preformative molt, which confirms SY.
It looks like p5-p9 and s5-s9 or s6-s9 have been replaced leaving p1-p4 and
s1-s4 or s1-s5 as juvenile. I can't quite decide on s5 in the photos you
sent but the limit is easiest to see on image 3563 between the green
tertials/s6 and the browner s1-s4. The limit in the primaries is also
subtle here but seems to be between p4 and p5.

So, reliable sexing in formative plumage is not really possible, but its
brightness and the relatively big bill suggests male to me. If it winters,
keep an eye out for some blue and/or red featherd to come in within the next
4 months. These would probably be accidentally lost and replaced feathers
rather than molt. If it gets away without replacing any feathers like this,
best to leave it as sex unknown.

Hope this helps and feel free to re-post these comments."

Good Birding,
-Doug Gochfeld. Brooklyn, NY.

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