Yesterday morning I ‘found’ Canada’s first Lucy’s Warbler… in my inbox.
After reading my recent posts about rare birds, Cathy Mountain (whose redpoll photos were featured here last winter) sent me a series of pictures of a warbler that had been in her yard in Fort McMurray, northern Alberta, from November 8-10, 2008.
After rejecting the possibility of a drab Yellow Warbler, she thought it might be a Virginia’s or Lucy’s Warbler, as did other local birders who saw the photos, but they were reluctant to call it since both of those species were so unlikely.
This photo is not the sharpest in the series, but it is the best for showing the identifying features: the small pointed bill, plain gray color, pale lores and eyering, and dark rusty rump just showing under the wings. (and Yes, that is snow.)
This highlights another line of evidence in the debate about how many rare birds we miss – the number of rare birds found and identified only because they are photographed. This bird, like West Virginia’s Great Knot in August 2007, and countless others, would have been lost in the swirl of ambiguous possibilities if not for photography. And without the internet to allow immediate sharing, even photos might have laid in a drawer with a very low chance of ever being identified.
Imagine the chain of events that led to this discovery:
- In all of northern Alberta, this warbler landed in the yard of a birder (maybe not entirely random since Cathy probably has some landscaping to attract birds, but still… northern Alberta’s a big place)
- She had to notice it and take some pictures
- She had to realize it could be something noteworthy and go to the effort and the risk of showing the photos to other birders to try to identify it
- When it remained a mystery she had to continue pushing the pictures out on the internet
Judging from her email to me, I think she knew what it was, and just didn’t have the confidence to say, but did have the confidence to keep trying to confirm her suspicions.
Now imagine if any one of the links in this chain had broken down. The bird didn’t land in a birder’s yard, didn’t stay long enough or simply wasn’t noticed, wasn’t photographed, or wasn’t ‘advocated for’. This Lucy’s Warbler could have landed unnoticed in dozens of yards on its trip from Mexico to Alberta.
The digital photography revolution, and the ability to share pictures easily on the internet, means that a lot more of these birds are found (meaning confirmed), which is fantastic. But this still must be a fraction of all the rare birds that are out there.
So get out there and find something!