When I was 12 or 13, I was given a hand-me-down camera, and started taking pictures, It was at this point, or at least very close to it, that I started pointing camera at birds. To this day, there is still that one early photo, a Forrester’s tern, caught beautifully in flight, every feather in amazing detail, that is the basis for my start. Birds, and my photography have been linked now for nearly 50 years, and I am just starting to feel like I am on to something. Working my way thru college towards a wildlife sciences degree, and ever since, rarely has there not been a bird book close at hand. For a lot of those years, I was able to get some pretty good images, mostly due to my knowledge of the bird behavior. Now that my photography skills have improved, with much credit to my wife Jeanne, who really is a professional photographer, the percentage of quality images has risen substantially.
Now it is time to go back to the books. I have been making a concerted effort to post all my observations on eBird, and am super careful to get everything correct when I do. About the second posting there, I got what I refer to as a “nasty-gram” about one of my observation. I had listed a bird that turns out to be very rare in my area, and they wanted some more information. I had listed both the Laughing Gull as well as the Franklin’s Gull, here on the southern Baja. I had double and triple checked the guides, and confirmed the difference in the width of the eye-arcs. I sent them a photo, but never did hear back, so I guess they agreed.
Flash forward to last weekends observation report. In fact you can go to last weeks BBotW on this site, as well as my personal bird blog. In all of theses, I was so excited to not only see, but get some really good photos of a pair of Clapper Rails Rallus longirostris. Then, a very nice man, Gerardo, from eBird sent me a note to let me know that my observation of the Clapper Rails, were most likely the Ridgway’s Rails Rallus obsoleteus. The What? I am pretty sure that I don’t own every bird book ever published (give me time), and I certainly do not consider myself to be the knowledgeable birder ever, but I do a reasonable amount of research and studying. I am willing to admit that my location can add a bit of confusion, at least as far as the guides go. We are close enough to the US border that most of the standard guides work just fine. I also have a good selection of Mexico bird guides, but they are strongly biased towards the mainland Mexico and Central America. Despite all of this, I had never heard of the Ridgway’s Rail. Sibley’s, Van Perlo, Peterson, Strokes, Howell & Webb, they all fail to even mention the Ridgway’s Rail.
In a return response to that exact question, Gerardo was kind enough to point out that the AOU had split this bird away from the Clapper Rail in the 55th Supplement to The American Ornithologists’ Union Check List of Birds. Dang, now there is some reading that will keep you awake at night.
I have jokingly commented that I am a photographer first, and a writer third. I guess it is time to hit the books, and go back to being a student for a while.