Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ghosts from the Past

I get the impression that some birders go to great lengths to ensure they do not let it out that they have ever - or will ever - miss identify a bird. I thought I would buck the trend and pull out some old ontbirds postings where I've unquestionably made some mistakes. Not only that, but the level of confidence I had in some of my misfires is interesting in itself. If I were to put my OBRC hat on, I can also spot some items that would raise some red flags despite the claimed rarities. Let's take a look -

Baird's Sandpiper- Smithville Sewage Lagoons- Jun 2nd
Sun Jun 2 21:22:33 EDT 2002

   Today, June 2nd there was a breeding Plumaged BAIRD'S SANDPIPER in the

smallest pond of the Smithville Sewage Lagoons. Also in the pond were 14
WILSON'S PHALAROPE's and many other small "peeps".  Some of the Ducks in the
pong included an American Widgeon, a female Lesser Scaup along with many
Blue and Green winged Teal and Northern Shoveler's.

    Good Birding

Brandon Holden


I don't think I could tell the difference between Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers for a few years after this post, so the thought of calling a Baird's Sandpiper in spring is pretty ridiculous. 13 years later I still haven't seen a Baird's in spring. Many birders know that Baird's are a longer-winged peep than Semi or Least, so the assumption would be that I had goofed on a similarly long-winged White-rumped Sandpiper. Knowing the observation as I do, I think I was looking through my pages of the Sibley Guide, and just thought a very close (and sharp looking) Semipalmated Sandpiper matched the scaly pattern shown for Baird's in the book....

It is also easier for me to say this on my own post, but anytime anyone writes "Widgeon" instead of "Wigeon" my suspicion-o-meter goes up sharply.


Probable BARN OWL at La Salle- July 14th
Mon Jul 15 21:45:49 EDT 2002

    Yesterday, July 14th, I was at a Wedding at the Pavillion at La Salle

Park in Burlington. I was standing outside talking to realitives when a
white-undersided Owl, slightly smaller than a Ring-billed gull, Flew past me
at 10:56pm. By the flight style, size and colour the only bird I can think
that it was is a Barn Owl.  But considering the short look I had (and poor
Look) I can't be 100% certian.

I will look for it again tomarrow morning, and hopefully I will see it


Good Birding

Brandon Holden


It was a Ring-billed Gull. I have since learned that RBGU's flying around a night have a very owl-like GISS... White-undersided Owl - no... White-undersided Gull - yes.

Also - I have thankfully learned how to use the spell checker since this time.


Royal Tern: Long Point

Sun Sep 22 20:46:52 EDT 2002

    Today, September 22nd, my Mother and I decided to stop at Long Point
before going to Hawk Cliff. We got to Big Creek at about 7:20am and we
slowly walked to the viewing platform. Here I believe I saw a ROYAL TERN,
description below.

At roughly 8am I noticed a large Tern hunting in a small pond roughly 40
meters west of the Platform.

First I will note that the bird was an adult, because of the uniform gray
above its wings.

I immediately noticed the amount of white on its forehead. There was an
entirely white patch from the top of its bill, to behind it's eye. After
that, there was a black band around the back of its head.

I also noted that the birds bill was a dull red, almost orange. Not the deep
red of many Caspian's.

Also, the bird's wings had very little, almost no, black on the tips above
or below. There was a little bit along the outer edge of the wing tips, but
that was all.

It later flew close to a Caspian Tern, and then chased the Caspian for about
30 seconds. I noticed then that the bird was a very little bit smaller than
the Caspian. It also appeared to be a bit more slender as well.

The tail was notched. But I did not notice if it was more or less forked
then the Caspian Terns.

It flew about the pond for about 40 minutes. It hunted the entire time and I
had the chance to compare it with both Caspian and Forster's Terns. It
eventually moved to different ponds, hunting for a short time in each one
until it moved out of sight. We had excellent lighting conditions because of
the clear morning and the suns position.

Good Birding

Brandon Holden


Pretty good description for a Royal Tern - if I were to read this as if someone else wrote it. Since this time, I've seen enough (slight) Variation in Caspian Terns to learn that sometimes it's hard to see the black on the underwings of these birds, some in the fall have a LOT of white on their heads, and one bird can appear slimmer than another. Today I do not think (at all) that I have seen a Royal Tern in Ontario...


Sat, 20 Sep 2003 19:23:59 -0400 (EDT)

    There was a Juvenile LEAST TERN, at the foot of Prospect Point Rd. West of 
Fort Erie along the Lake Erie shoreline. I saw it at
around 10:45am, and no sooner than 2 minutes later it took flight, heading to 
the east. (which was very disappointing). While it may
not be seen from this location again, it might show up somewhere along the Erie 
shoreline with groups of gulls.

Good Birding



It' hard to pass judgement on this posting - which has virtually no information - but I think my only criteria used was "boy, that tern looks really small". I think I went as far as NOT submitting an OBRC report due to the brevity of the sighting (true story, a local homeowner came down with pressing questions about Pink Swans when the bird flew away and wasn't seen again). This was right after Hurricane Isabel, and the bird was in rough shape (presumably having weathered the high winds locally) but I have virtually no reason to believe/understand why it wasn't just a Common or Forester's Tern.


Well there we have it. I had a lot of fun pulling some old posts... Now that my reputation is ruined, we'll see how my birding-career plays out going forwards. I am quite certain I had once posted to ontbirds about a "flock of Harlequin Ducks" from Van Wagner's Beach - which were unquestionably Surf Scoters - but I can't find it!


  1. Great post! I've made mistakes before too, like this one time when I thought I was wrong, but I wasn't...

    PS. I've posted a "Widgeon" to the local bird list here twice this year alone. Just seems right to me.

  2. Certainly a worthwhile topic for all conscientious birders to consider, and I expect we've all made honest mistakes. No one is perfect! Thanks for raising this topic, Brandon.