Sunday, August 10, 2008

Identifying Birds

It took me an especially long time to identify a wading bird I had seen at the Charles River about three weeks ago. We were going through a dry period and the river was very shallow. The dam near Watertown Square was a prime spot for viewing herons and other wading birds. I took several pictures of two small birds that I guessed were sandpipers or something in the same family. I kept putting off identifying them in favor of posting pictures of other birds from the trip that I was sure of (the black-crowned night heron, eastern kingbird, juvenile wood ducks, juvenile downy woodpecker). It's not to say I was lazy during this time, it's just that sometimes it takes me a really long time to identify a bird.

I thought it might be interesting to share my methodology:

1. Upload the pictures from my camera

2. Delete the blurry pictures

3. Move the good pictures into a sub-folder labeled "Keepers"
4. If I don't have any good close-ups I'll zoom in and crop a picture using MS Paint. Those edited pictures will also get moved to the folder "Keepers"

5. Next, I'll work on identifying the birds I am not sure of, beginning with my Sibley Guide:

6. If I don't have any luck, I'll do Google searches for the the species that are the closest matches.

7. First I'll do a Google Search and then when the engine suggests browsing Image results I'll click on those.

8. When I click on a Google Image result I am quick to click "See full size image." rather than let the Web page load completely.
Birding blogs tend to load very slowly because of the number of images on the page, and depending on the number of posts on the page, it can be rather long, and I don't want to waste time scrolling through the images. That's why I click the short-cut Google gives in the frame at the top of the page. That way I can see the image from the thumbnail right away.

9. If I don't have any luck with the leads from my Sibley Guide I'll turn to my second bird guide, a book I picked up at Marshall's actually. It's "The Complete Encyclopedia of North American Birds" by Michael Vanner.

I find it helpful because it features pictures rather than illustrations. It doesn't offer the full range of male/female/juvenile images, but it's still helpful in verifying a hunch from a Sibley illustration.

10. If I get any good leads from the Encyclopedia I'll do additional Google Image searches.

11. If I'm still having trouble I'll reference my National Geographic Birder's Journal, which is very comprehensive, but these illustrations are in black and white and don't have details like size.

12. My final step for verification is one last Google Image search to confirm my identification.

I went through all 12 of these steps in fact to get to the identification of the two Spotted Sandpipers I saw teetering across the rocks at the dam.


J said...

Wicked cool post!

Birdinggirl said...

Yes I know- I'm a nerd. :)