…or, how critical are you in twitch or dip situations?

Here is one example. In the Old World, Horned (Slavonian) Grebe breeds in a wide belt stretching from Scandinavia to Kamchatka and it spends winters along sea coasts, from Japan to China and from Norway to France, plus the Adriatic and the Black Sea (west and east of the Balkans, respectively). To those unfamiliar with the Old World geography, this means that these grebes breed way north from the banks of the Danube, where I reside, and overwinter by the coasts, away from land-locked Serbia. As a consequence, this species is only a rare vagrant in Serbia. And, last Sunday, one such vagrant was photographed on the Danube in Belgrade.

Hence, this Friday, I sat at the Danube riverbank with Swarovski STX in front of me, scanning the vast expanse of water: a Ferruginous Duck, three Velvet (White-winged) Scoters, Little and Great Crested Grebes… but no Slavonian Grebe.

Two days earlier, on Wednesday I used a different approach, searching by canoe after my grebe and five miles later, I had Common Goldeneyes, Pygmy Cormorants, Black-necked (Eared) Grebes, Great Crested Grebes, even a White-tailed Eagle, but no Slav Grebe.

Again, two days earlier, on Monday – the day after the initial discovery (photo record by Snezana Panjkovic, ID by Geoff Laight), I was at the Danube riverbank with a scope in front of me, scanning the vast… you know that part by now. One Red-throated Loon, two Little Grebes, one Great Crested Grebe, two Black-necked Grebes and one… yes, the Slav! But I said I’ve dipped it?

Horned among Eared Grebes S.Panjkovic 2015 BelgradeThe Horned (Slavonian) Grebe among Black-necked (Eared) Grebes, Belgrade. Photos (2) by S. Panjkovic.

The bird had that strong black and white contrast on its neck, stronger than the nearby Black-necked Grebes (obvious in some photos, but supposedly not important at all), very pointed face (which is important), almost straight line between the white cheek and the dark cap above the eye and, at some moment when BNGs were close, it appeared longer-necked and bigger than them. So, I’ve seen it, how did I dip it?

This bird would have been a lifer for me and so I am particularly critical of its identification, despite the fact that I know what am I looking at. Furthermore, the Slav Grebe was seen at that very spot two hours earlier in the company of the two BNGs – the same scene I observed.

Yet, I saw it against the dark background of willow scrub that was also shading the water, which prevented me to clearly see the head shape because the dark cap melted into the dark background. And BNGs also had bright white cheeks, but they most definitively were Black-necked Grebes which I was able to confirm when I observed their rounded heads against the sunlit Danube surface, further away from the willows.

So, my Slav was a bit different from other grebes, but I wasn’t able to see it well enough to be positively and absolutely certain, without any shade of doubt, although everyone else confirmed the ID. But, beside Geoff, they had no previous experience with the species and most were not as critical as I was. Which costed me a lifer. Which I’ve seen, but, technically, haven’t seen.

Ironically, if this was a research, I would have no problem writing the Slavonian Grebe in the report – it was confirmed, and yet, it is not a good enough observation for my life list! How critical are you in such twitch or dip cases?

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Written by Dragan
Dragan Simic is obsessively passionate about two things – birding and travelling in search of birds, and that has taken him from his native Balkans to the far shores of Europe and the Mediterranean, southern Africa, India and Central America. His 10,000 Birds blog posts were Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards. Birder by passion and environmental scientist by education, he is an ecotourism consultant, a field researcher and a bird blogger who always thinks that birding must be better behind that next bend in the road, and that the best bird ever is – the next lifer. He tweets as @albicilla66