Embarrassment of Riches

I took a brief detour on my way somewhere this morning to check out a location that members of the FLORIDABIRDS-L mailing list reported as having a Western Tanager in recent days.

I stopped there and bumped into a list member, Earl, who was looking for the bird as well. I spent about 20 minutes or so, but the tanager never appeared. We did see some other birds, which I will list below.

On my way back to the car, I saw a very pale colored bird fly up from the brush along the roadside and into the top of a nearby tree. Perhaps it was the residual heady excitment of a Snowy Owl being reported near Jacksonville this winter that got into my head, but my first thought was, “Oh my goodness, that’s a Snow Bunting!” I took a few photographs of it before it flew away. I made the “honest” mistake of immediately going to the “SNOWBIRDS” page of my Peterson guide and looking at the Snow Bunting illustration to confirm my sighting. I didn’t once think to look at any potentially similar species.

My excitement was unabated until I reached my destination, and then used a laptop to upload the photographs to Photobucket and then fire an e-mail off to FLORIDABIRDS-L asking for verification of my Snow Bunting.

The responses I got were both ironicaly funny and ego-deflating. What I had seen was an American Goldfinch in winter plumage! 

Mildly embarassing, yes, but it was also funny and illustrative of the confirmation bias common in birding and in many other instances of our lives.

Here’s the otherwise rich list of birds seen this morning in 20 minutes of birding:

  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Northern Harrier
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Palm Warbler
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Purple Martin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Mourning Dove
  • American Kestrel
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Bald Eagle

The unofficial 2014 species count is 48.

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