A source to help with tough IDs
I was birding around Borrego Springs yesterday, and came across what I thought might be an Olive-sided Flycatcher near the start of the Palm Canyon trail. But it was a back view; no view of the breast.
I’d like to briefly explain how I determined that it was in fact a OSFL, as that might help others who have not yet discovered this source, and have only a view of a bird to work with that is not shown in any field guide.
The source is the Macaulay photo library, easily accessible on the Internet. I had only a only a few seconds view of the subject bird (par for the course), and it was only the backside view of a gray-blackish bird, but which, when it turned its head 90º, showed a snow-white upper throat area. The only other markings were three short faint white streaks probably on the primary feathers (further back than where wing bars would be). When I got home, I went straight to the computer and pulled up the Macauley photo library, and there on the first row of photos, amidst all the dozens of frontal views of OSFLs, was a photo of one that almost just like the view I had been seeing in the field.
To see how this works, take a look at this same picture by Googling: Olive-sided Flycatcher identification, and then opening up "Olive-sided Flycatcher Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab” (possibly the first entry). Below the top three photos, find a small box that says “See more images of this species in Macaulay Library”. Click on this, and dozens of OSFL photos will appear. The second photo in the top line shows an OSFL almost exactly as I saw mine yesterday, except my look was more of a back view. I could’t have asked for a better confirmation.
Also, while you’re there, notice how many different ways the front view of an OSFL might look!
But, I also got a second even harder bird ID’d the same way. I had a similarly short view of a medium-sized, half hidden by foliage, frequently moving bird that was mostly gray and light yellow, with bright yellow undertail coverts. The GISS (general impression of size and shape) was wrong for an oriole, so I guessed maybe a juvenile or female Western Tanager (too late for a winter male, plus it had a grayish belly). Long story short, I again found an almost exact photo of the bird I saw in the trees by getting to the Macaulay library collection of WETA pics from the Cornell Lab’s WETA web page. Amidst the dozens of photos of males in breeding plumage (really, you need forty pics of breeding male WETAs?), there was one photo, in the middle of the fourth line, of my bird, gray belly and all.
If you’re not yet a user of the Macaulay Library, I highly recommend it.