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Here are some bad pictures of a good bird ...
It's OK to have bad bird photos, if they are of a very good bird.
The key is that it is identifiable. That some crucial marks show
that make the ID irrefutable. You may have heard of a certain
Woodpecker footage causing much arguing recently.
The rarer the bird, or the harder to identify, the better the
photos must be. I personally specialize in finding the rarest
things that are the hardest to identify and getting the absolute
worst possible but identifiable pictures. Here is an example ...
The Smith's Longspur is the rarest and most sought after of the
4 longspurs. The nearest a few might be seen in winter is northeast
of Austin. Actual flocks with dozens are no closer than the Dallas area.
They usually show up in late November, and stay until early spring.
There is a central TX coast record for Oct. 23, the earliest ever
arrival in the state, and one of the furthest south ever. Another
amazing record is for Big Bend. It has never been recorded from
Uvalde Co., or any neighboring county.
I was stunned to see one eating seed in my front "yard" Sept. 6, '05, and
miraculously obtained these images at a 1/30th of a second. If one were
to claim seeing a Smith's Longspur in Utopia in early September,
every bird record committee in the country would reject your claim,
out of hand, faster than you could fill out the rare bird report forms.
In fact it is so extraordinary, that if you held the bird in your
hand and described it, there can be little doubt that it would never be
accepted. If you said it was on a rocky juniper covered slope, they
would question your records for a year. If you said you had it sitting
on a wire next to Lark Sparrows at one point, well, you probably
would have to quit reporting birds and find something else to do!
Unfortunately I did not get a picture of that!
Part of this lies in the belief that we've figured it all out,
and there can't be one at latilong 99 x 29 on 9/6. Another part is that
essentially no experts would recognize your description as the bird is
almost only seen in winter plumage, and summer plumage (on the tundra),
and no field guide shows the plumage as it is in these photos.
***SPECIAL UPDATE NOTE***
Besides some nearly 50 expert grade birders that looked at these photos,
and agreed with my ID, As usual there is *always one nincompoop* that has
suggested this is not a Smith's Longspur. The suggested ID was female
Pin-tailed Whyda, an African bird never seen in the wild in TX before.
The suggestion was only possible because this individual ignored the facts
presented here that did not match his conclusion. What was ignored was as stated
below this bird had a notched tail with 2 white outer tail feathers and called gooeet.
I am most disturbed by those who to pick and choose certain facts,
while disregarding others, calling it science. If you disregard half a
description, you can make anything into anything you want. For what purpose?
It is not science. If you can not take into account all the facts
presented (notched tail with white sides and gooeet call) you are not competent
to make any proposed identification that should be seriously considered.
The field marks to note shown above are first the caramel butterscotch color
on the underparts. Note the extension of that color across neck to nape.
Then note the faded black diamond on the cheeks. In breeding plumage this is
crisp black and white, here it is molting out, but clearly discernable.
There is no other North American bird with that pattern. The most interesting
thing to me is the molt of the crown, shown in the two shots showing the
back of the head. Note the nice symmetry as the black of the crown is lost
and filled in with a nice caramel matching the underparts.
Other things I saw that do not show in the photos were the dark straw legs,
two (no more, no less) white outer tail feathers, a few fine reddish-brown
streaks on the sides, and I got to hear it call when it flushed, a unique
gooeet, unlike any other bird.
You have now virtually seen a Smith's Longspur in Utopia, Texas!
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