Don’t believe everything you read in a book is one of those expressions that you should take with a pinch of salt. In prep for recent our big pelagic (see previous post) I’m sure we all read the books and watched the videos, educating ourselves for the unfamiliar. That when the unfamiliar actually appeared, and that we didn’t recognise it immediately but that it did ring a somewhat muted alarm bell, speaks volumes for the value of experience. I’m talking about the *Audubon’s Shearwater seen, and retrospectively identified from photographs, on said pelagic.
We all remember the bird flying in, it didn’t fly that differently from Manx, the books say they do! We all remember it looking a little different to Manx, but without the obviously observable differences we expected, dark undertail coverts, thick dark trailing edge to the underside of the wings. It didn’t look particularly long tailed, but then, it was cheating by moulting and it didn’t look small and fine but then it was close to on the fly by and with nothing in direct comparison. I always reckon I learn at least one new thing every time I go birding, sometimes many more. With this experience I hope I’ve added more pelagic wisdom to my limited store, not least the value of risking being wrong. We all noticed something but we didn’t stop the boat.
I have a suggestion to fix problems such as this, problems most often encountered when a group of birders get together and nobody wants to look a prat. We should use the term ‘second look’ for something suspicious. Second look can have no connotations, no claims attached, it just means that we should collectively give a bird seen a second look. It should stop a boat, it should attract attention but it should only mean that something may, or may not be worth a second look, what do you think.
I expect my bruises to subside over the next few days, bruises that came about from the constant kicking of myself for not picking up the *Audubon’s immediately. Those who ‘felt uneasy’, ‘discussed it later’, ‘convinced themselves that what they had seen was not quite right’ and even thought Audubon’s at the time but the camera images didn’t seem right, probably all have similar bruises. We get over it and go forth armed with greater knowledge. Now I’m sure that we all want to go and test that knowledge again, get it right the second time, call it in the field.
The whole exciting chapter shows just how important digital photography has become, it is part and parcel of our birding now making our identification of tricky birds more reliable, the data more accurate and the event a shareable feast. It may seem inconceivable to some (not present) that we did not call the Audubon’s in the field and there are no doubt a few that would have, but the bird was somewhat atypical and the photos showing the intrinsic detail required for identification taken and greater than 500th of a second, certainly faster than many can process an image mentally.
*Post writing this the an image of the Audubon’s Shearwater was post on one of the Facebook sea birding sites and an experienced sea birder has raised the possibility of it being a Boyd’s Shearwater which may go some way to explain plumage issues and impressions. I think such a small shearwater as one from the ‘little’ complex would have stopped the ship immediately, however, all possibilities must be investigated.
I have no photos of the *Audubon’s, you can check out the eBird checklist that features them here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38491985
Alix d’Entremont did a great analysis and write up here: http://alixdentremont.blogspot.ca/2017/08/audubons-shearwater-in-nova-scotia.html
Just to have photos on the post, here is a Red Crossbill (#unknown as it barely called), from Sandhills PP on August-6th 2017 and a manky Common Grackle from the yard, plus a Short-billed Dowitcher from Blanche, same day.