Monday, May 30, 2011

Paul, John, and Anna

Orange-crowned WarblerOrange-crowned Warbler (lutescens), Beaverton, Oregon, 4 May 2011 by Greg Gillson.


A previous post on subspecies (Why I disagree with Roger Tory Peterson) generated quite a dichotomy of viewpoints on the local birding listserv. It seems that a good number of birders are not anxious to observe so intently as to identify subspecies. They want to, if I may paraphrase, enjoy the beauty of birds without the burden of making it study. Such work would take away their fun.

Of course, I take the opposite view. Learning something new is the ultimate joy, and nothing is more fun than knowledge gained through intense, rigorous study, thought, and observation. I love puzzles and brain teasers. And bird identification can be such a fun mental challenge!

The difference between certain species and subspecies can come down to little more than the annual opinion of a small group of persons on the AOU checklist committee. So, rather than get too technical with subspecies, I will instead treat the birds pictured here more intimately.

Thus, the bird above is not an Orange-crowned Warbler of the subspecies lutescens. This is a photo of Paul. Paul Lutescens.

Paul and his family all look very much alike. While generally olive-green, they are more yellowish throughout than others of their relatives. They are very young-looking; they never turn gray-headed. They always show a broken yellow eyering.

The men in Paul's family are known for their singing. Actually, the other relatives kind of make fun of them. Paul's family sings their little weak trill faster than other relatives do.

Paul and his family build their little summer nest on the Pacific Coast, anywhere from California to SE Alaska. In winter they travel to western Mexico. One year they even visited Guatemala for their winter vacation.


Orange-crowned WarblerOrange-crowned Warbler (orestera), Cooper Mountain, Beaverton, Oregon, 12 May 2011 by Greg Gillson.


The bird above is John Orestera. Though to many bird watchers he and his family looks just like Paul Lutescens, John is happy to set things straight. His family genes makes his family slightly gray-headed--not too much, mind you--just the right amount. Some of his family members have yellowish eyerings, some white.

John and his family are taller than their relatives. And they have longer noses. (Don't stare--it's impolite!)

John has a proud family heritage as Mountain Men. His family spends the summers in the Rocky Mountains or Great Basin ranges. He doesn't travel as far south in winter, only going down to Arizona or Texas, or into northern Mexico. One year the family even went to Disneyland for the winter!


Orange-crowned WarblerOrange-crowned Warbler (celata), Newport, Oregon, 14 May 2011 by Greg Gillson.


This is Anna. Anna Celata. She and her family have their ancestor's very gray head and white eyering. She takes pride in the fact that someone once mistook her oldest daughter, Jenny, for a Tennessee Warbler. Imagine!

Anna and her family don't like the summer heat. They spend the summers in the cool boreal forests, anywhere from central Alaska east to Quebec. Later in fall than other of their relatives, her family travels south in winter to Florida or the Gulf Coast, Texas, Baja, or sometimes southern Mexico.

Paul, John, and Anna all traveled through western Oregon this May on their way to their summer homes.

Now that you know a little more about them you can be friendly. The next time you see the families of Paul, John, or Anna, don't be snooty and pretend you don't recognize them. "Oh, it's just those Orange-crowned Warblers." You know their full names and what they look like.

Say hello for me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Foto: American Robin portrait

American RobinAmerican Robin, Beaverton, Oregon, 8 April 2011 by Greg Gillson.


The white marks on the face of American Robin don't correspond exactly to full feather tracts as named in the "topology" or "parts of a bird" as listed in your field guides.

There is a white spot on the supralorals, another above and to the back of the eye, and a third below the eye, but beyond the limits of an "eye ring."

Telling male from female robins apart by plumage is not always easy. On average, the head of the male is darker than the female. The bill is usually all yellow on the male, while the female's bill has a dark tip (not always easy to tell after the bird has been digging around in the mud with its bill).

We've discussed American Robins in more detail in the past.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:

Western Meadowlark Western Meadowlark at Newport, Oregon on 7 March, 2010 by Greg Gillson.


We have now concluded the Seven methods of identifying birds.
[Answer to Quiz 7: Turkey Vulture]

To improve your bird identification skills you will want to practice using all 7 of these clues that birds give to you.

How did you do on the quizzes? They were designed to be fairly easy and to show that you already use these 7 methods to some degree.

Remember that your view may not allow you to identify the bird to species with each method. In some cases you may get to just the family, such as nuthatch or gull.

Obviously, if the bird doesn't sing or fly while you observe it, you can't use that method this time.

Let's review, using the bird in the above photo.

The Western Meadowlark in the photo above can be identified using all 7 methods.
1: Color and pattern-- The yellow breast with black breast band instantly identifies this bird as a meadowlark.
2: Structure-- The flat head with sharp pointed bill nearly as long as the head, plump body, and short tail identify this bird as a meadowlark.
3: Feather-by-feather-- The yellow on the submustachial stripe identifies this bird as Western Meadowlark, rather than Eastern Meadowlark. Also, if you could see the outer 3rd tail feather, it would have much less extensive white on it than an Eastern Meadowlark.
4: Sounds-- The flute-like song of Western Meadowlark is quite different from the rising and falling whistle of Eastern Meadowlark.
5: Expectation-- No Eastern Meadowlark has ever been found in the Pacific Northwest. Any meadowlark here must be Western Meadowlark--though you are certainly welcome to look.
6: Behavior-- Lone or paired pudgy, short-tailed birds sitting rather horizontally on a fenceline or telephone wire in open country will separate most meadowlarks from similarly sized and shaped birds, including starlings.
7: Flight-- Meadowlarks fly distinctively in rather level flight with periodic bursts of flapping and brief glides on rounded wings.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:
#7: Flight style

This post continues the discussion of the Seven methods of identifying birds.
[Answer to Quiz 6: American Dipper]

Flight style

Flight is such an important behavior that I consider it separately. How fast are the wing beats? Are the wing beats continuous or with a pause between bursts? How far above and below the body do the wing strokes go? Is the flight progression straight, undulating, or irregular? Are the wings rounded or pointed? Are the wings held straight out or forward at the wrist and swept back?

Does the bird fly in a flock or singularly? Is the flock 'v' shaped, rounded, or a straggling line?

For more information see the article on separating Cedar Waxwings and Starlings in flight.

Quiz) This bird soars unsteadily for long periods of time, with its wings in a dihedral.

Next: Conclusion

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:
#6: Behavior

This post continues the discussion of the Seven methods of identifying birds.
[Answer to Quiz 5: Western Meadowlark]


Observing how birds behave can quickly narrow down a bird to the correct family. Then, even if you don't see all the plumage field marks, you can still identify it based on minimal plumage patterns, but well-seen behavior. For instance, though Hutton's Vireos and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are very similar in plumage, their behavior is enough to separate them.

Does the bird walk or hop? Does it flick its wings or wag its tail? Does it pick at the surface or probe deep into the mud? Does it hitch itself up the tree using its tail as a prop or walk freely?

Quiz) A bird bobbing on a rock in the middle of a mountain stream in the West, walks into the water and disappears below the surface.

Next: Flight style

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:
#5: Expectation: Status, Distribution, Habitat

This post continues the discussion of the Seven methods of identifying birds.
[Answer to Quiz 4: American Bittern]

Expectation: Status, Distribution, Habitat

When you see a bird it is not usually necessary to compare it with every bird in the world in order to come to a reasonably accurate identification.

Each continent and bioregion has primarily unique bird species.

During the year, the amazing miracle of migration will mean that at some times of year, certain birds are just not present locally at all, even if common at another time of year.

You wouldn't look for a rail in a tree, or a woodpecker diving into a lake.

Quiz) A flock of meadowlarks in Montana.

Next: Behavior

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:
#4: Sounds

This post continues the discussion of the Seven methods of identifying birds.
[Answer to Quiz 3: Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers]


Some birds sing to attract a mate or declare their territory. Some birds have alarm calls, feeding calls, and flight calls--all different. In woodpeckers, drumming takes the place of song, and the drumming pattern of many woodpeckers are unique. Certain birds make distinctive sounds with their wings or tail feathers.

Some people do have poor hearing. But most people just need practice listening. You already know some bird sounds, even if it is only Old MacDonald who has a duck that goes "quack, quack." Build from there. Find a sound you don't recognize and track it down. Add it to your auditory birding repertoire.

Quiz) A deep, resonating, bubbly "oong-ka-loonk" coming from a grassy marsh in spring.

Next: Expectation: Status, Distribution, Habitat

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:
#3: Feather-by-feather analysis

This post continues the discussion of the Seven methods of identifying birds.
[Answer to Quiz 2: American Avocet]

Feather-by-feather analysis

In several families of birds, identification is aided or clinched by noting either individual feathers or feather groups. Such is the case for gulls and shorebirds. Sometimes in-field study of the specific feather group patterns can determine age, which then eliminates other certain species at the same or different age.

When you are discussing scapulars or tertials or molt, you are using this method of bird identification.

Quiz) The internal pattern on the tertials of juveniles of this long-billed shorebird easily separates these two species.

Next: Sounds

Friday, May 13, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:
#2: Structure

This post continues the discussion of the Seven methods of identifying birds.
[Answer to Quiz 1: Western Tanager]


The end plates of the Peterson field guides are silhouettes: "Roadside Silhouettes" and "Shore Silhouettes." These show size and shape among most of the different orders of common birds.

The section "How to Watch Birds" in Peterson's field guides gives an excellent primer on structure of bill, tail, and wing. Don't skip the introductory material in field guides!

Earlier this spring I wrote a post, Dabbling duck silhouette quiz, which uses shape alone to identify female ducks.

Quiz) This medium to large slender bird has extremely long legs, very long neck, and long, thin, upturned bill.

Next: Feather-by-feather analysis

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:
#1: Color and pattern

This post continues the discussion of the Seven methods of identifying birds.

Color and pattern:

This is the basis of the "Peterson System" of bird identification. The Peterson System illustrates birds all in the same pose, with patternistic drawings. Arrows then point to the unique area of color or pattern on a bird that separate it from similar species. Wing bars, eye rings, eyebrow stripes, tail spots, and all such feather groupings are used in a stylized way to aid identification. Ingenious.

Newer birders start here. Sadly, many never advance because they don't learn the remaining methods of identifying birds. And it doesn't help that some "field guides" are arranged by color, effectively preventing bird watchers from advancing further.

Quiz) A yellow bird with black wings and tail and red face.

Next: Structure

Monday, May 9, 2011

Seven methods of identifying birds:

Western Meadowlark Western Meadowlark at Newport, Oregon on 7 March, 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Are you amazed at the skill of some birders in identifying quickly-viewed and distant birds? Whether they know it or not, they are likely using a combination of up to 7 different methods in identifying birds.

Would you like to improve your bird identification skills? Then you will want to use all 7 of these clues that birds give to you.

In fact, you may already be using these methods to a small degree.

In each of the discussions that follow there will be a quiz example of each method. See how many of the quiz birds you can identify. Then practice and hone your skills by concentrating on using each of these different methods on every bird you see.

Next: Color and pattern

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What makes Mount Tabor such a good place for migration?

Dusky FlycatcherDusky Flycatcher, a rare spring migrant west of the Cascades, Mount Tabor, Portland, Oregon, 7 May 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Yesterday I talked about Mount Tabor park in Portland, Oregon. I asked: "What makes Mount Tabor so good for Neotropical migrants? When is the best time to visit?"

The information here applies specifically to spring migration in the lower valleys west of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest. But it also applies more generally to the entire the West Coast.

The insectivorous Neotropical migrants that breed in or migrate through the Pacific NW--warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, buntings, grosbeaks, flycatchers, and others--winter in western Mexico or central America. As days become longer and spring arrives, with trees leafing out and insects hatching, bird migration begins.

The first migrants arrive in mid-April (swallows by April 1), but many do not arrive until early May--each species is different (and predictable). Migration is usually over by the first week of June. In most species, adult males arrive first, adult females a few days later, and first-year birds (hatched last year) often a bit later.

Birds migrate first through the warmer lowlands, then move north or upslope as it becomes warmer. So, for instance, migrants may appear on the coast first, western valleys next, east of the Cascades later, and the mountains lastly. In years with heavy snow pack, mountain breeders may remain unseasonably late in nearby lowland areas (into June).

In general, a species of bird will arrive in Eugene, Oregon a week before Portland. Then a week later they arrive in Seattle. It seems there are always a few scouts--individual birds well in advance of the main movement. Finding these first of year (FOY) migrants is a fun challenge for many birders.

These birds migrate primarily at night. They don't want to fly into strong headwinds, thus wait for winds from the south. In the Pacific NW, that means unsettled weather in spring. Clear skies in spring are accompanied most often by cold winds from the north, impeding migration.

If a cold front is over you at dawn, all migration will stop at this front--you'll have an incredible "fall out" of migrants. So, wise birders watch the weather and weather maps in spring.

Migration proceeds in "waves" as the weather promotes or impedes migration.

But why is the city park of Mount Tabor so good for migrants?

Mount Tabor's top is just over 600 feet elevation. This old volcanic cone, now covered in trees, rises sharply 400 feet higher than the surrounding city of Portland. When dawn ascends, migrating birds over the industrial, commercial, residential landscape of Portland see the green slopes of Mount Tabor and land there. It is an island effect.

As the sun hits the eastern part of the mount first, insects wake up and warm up there first. As the warm air rises, insects move upslope. So migrant bird activity is often most observed first on the east and southern exposures near the top of such hills where the tired and hungry birds have a needed food source. In order to see birds best, it helps to have openings, such as a clearing or parking lot near the top of such hills.

So, what time of day are we talking about? Soon after dawn. In early May, arrive by 7 am on cloudy days, earlier if sunny. By 9:00 am, activity may be over. Birds have eaten, so they sleep the rest of the day away, preparing for the next night's migration to continue on their journey.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A visit to Mount Tabor, Portland, Oregon

Birders on Mount TaborBirders enjoying spring migration on Mount Tabor, Portland, Oregon, 7 May 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Today I joined an Oregon Field Ornithologists' public field trip to Mount Tabor, in the middle of Portland, Oregon. Shawneen Finnegan and Dave Irons led the trip, and it was joined by almost 20 others.

This was my first visit to Mount Tabor, thus I was glad to have experienced local guides showing us the best birding areas.

The purpose of the field trip was to view Neotropical migrants. Migration is best with unsettled weather. Today was such a day, with 95% cloud cover and occasional sprinkles. Birds were actively moving through the tree tops, backlit by the overcast skies. Thus, while it was good bird migration weather, it was not good bird photography weather.

We didn't have a "fall out"--a spectacular migration event with thousands of birds of scores of species arriving overnight. Still, we did have good numbers of birds.

I saw several species for the first time this year, including several flycatchers: Hammond's, Dusky, and Olive-sided. The Dusky is a rather rare migrant west of the Cascades. But some migrate through the west side lowlands and then move upslope as spring advances up the mountains. We also saw a couple Pacific-slope Flycatchers.


Olive-sided FlycatcherOlive-sided Flycatcher, Mount Tabor, Portland, Oregon, 7 May 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Other birds included a rare west side (of the Cascades) Calliope Hummingbird, which I did not identify. I heard, but never saw, a Western Tanager. There were various sparrows on the slopes, identified as migrants as they weren't in habitats or areas that they would be found in during winter or breeding season. A couple of Warbling Vireos were evident in the budding big leaf maples. Numerous Hermit Thrushes were present, as was an early Swainson's Thrush.

Most conspicuous were the warblers: I saw perhaps a dozen Nashville Warblers, 30 Orange-crowned Warblers, a couple MacGillivray's Warblers, numerous Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, several Wilson's Warblers, and a single Hermit Warbler. These birds sing and call during migration, making warbler watching an enjoyable annual spring event.

Bird list on eBird (52 species).


Townsend's WarblerTownsend's Warbler, Mount Tabor, Portland, Oregon, 7 May 2011 by Greg Gillson.


What makes Mount Tabor so good for Neotropical migrants? When is the best time to visit? That's a topic for tomorrow.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Foto: Western Bluebird

Western BluebirdWestern Bluebird, Cooper Mountain Nature Park, Beaverton, Oregon, 19 March 2011 by Greg Gillson.


See a previous article on Western Bluebirds.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

eBird and the State of the Birds

On May 3, 20011 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman released the 2011 State of the Birds Report.

The report overview states:
This year’s report provides the nation’s first assessment of the distribution of birds on public lands and helps public agencies identify which species have significant potential for conservation in each habitat. The state of our birds is a measurable indicator of how well we are doing as stewards of our environment. The signal is clear. Greater conservation efforts on public lands and waters are needed to realize the vision of a nation sustained economically and spiritually by abundant natural resources and spectacular wildlife.

You can read the full report at:

The State of the Birds report is written by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee:

American Bird Conservancy
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Bureau of Land Management
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Department of Defense/DoD Partners in Flight
Klamath Bird Observatory
National Audubon Society
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Park Service
The Nature Conservancy
University of Idaho
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USDA Forest Service
U.S. Geological Survey

Best of all, birders themselves contributed to this report by recording their sightings in the citizen science program eBird.

The report has this thank you side bar.

"Thank You to eBird Volunteers"

Our understanding of bird distributions has greatly improved thanks to the thousands of bird watchers who have contributed observations to eBird ( This effort is especially important for tracking seasonal and fine-scale changes in bird distributions, which is not possible with other bird-monitoring programs. However, even this massive observation network provides only imperfect information for assessing the year-round status of birds on many remote public lands across the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii, and island territories. We urge birders to submit more observations to eBird from public refuges, parks, forests, and wilderness areas. We also urge agencies to support the submission of current and historical records to eBird and other data archives.

What do I have in common with Spiderman?

Myrtle WarblerMyrtle Warbler, Oregon, 29 April 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Blank stares.

I might as well as have been speaking a foreign language. Perhaps I was.

This birding couple was looking at a dozen or so warblers flitting about in the oak tree. They were obviously not just "eagle watchers." They were birders.

The birds were all singing the same sweet rolling song: weevee-weevee-weevee-weevee-swee-swee-swee-swee.

Wanting to be friendly I approached this birding couple.

It was a simple enough statement. I said, "All I hear are Myrtle Warblers."

Then I got those blank stares.

"Myrtle Warblers. You know, the white-throated form of Yellow-rumped Warblers?"

"Oh," they said. And then to themselves, "Butter-butts."

As they turned and walked quickly away they said, "We don't identify birds by song." Was that a disdainful tone? I must be mistaken.

Why do I feel like Peter Parker?

Peter Parker: Some spiders change colors to blend into their environment. It's a defense mechanism.
Harry Osborn: Peter, what possibly makes you think I would want to know that?
Peter Parker: Who wouldn't?
- - - - - - -
Spiderman (2002)

Who wouldn't want to know every field identifiable form of bird?

Who wouldn't want to learn to identify birds by ear?

So, what do I have in common with Spiderman? Only Peter Parker.

Move over Peter Parker. Make room for another nerd.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why I disobey Roger Tory Peterson

White-crowned SparrowPuget Sound White-crowned Sparrow, one of 3 subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows in the Pacific NW, and one of 5 subspecies in North America--all easy to tell apart, Newport, Oregon, 15 September 2008 by Greg Gillson.


"Subspecies have no definite entity, but merely represent subdivisions within the geographic range of a species. They are races, usually determined by morphological characteristics such as slight differences in measurements, shades of color, etc. These subdivisions, generally discernible only by comparison of museum series, are seldom apparent in the field and should not concern the field observer.... No one but an expert comparing specimens would detect the difference. So forget about subspecies."
Roger Tory Peterson
A Field Guide to Western Birds. 1969.

My 1969 Peterson Field Guide is well worn. The pages and binding are barely held together with several types of tape. Every page of that treasured "obsolete" field guide has annotations--new birds added to the North American list, key field marks underlined, changes in bird's names, additional ID pointers and my personal voice descriptions added in the margins.

That field guide is also full of annotations of "lumps" of formerly considered full species into subspecies, as well as "splits" of formerly considered subspecies into full species.

Just paging through, here are some that I recorded or remember....

Pacific Loon split from Arctic Loon
Clark's Grebe split from Western Grebe
Black-vented Shearwater split from Manx Shearwater
Nazca Booby split from Masked Booby
Green Heron lumped with Striated Heron to form Green-backed Heron
Green Heron and Striated Heron split from Green-backed Heron
Bewick's Swan and Whistling Swan lumped into Tundra Swan
Cackling Goose split from Canada Goose
Common Teal lumped with Green-winged Teal (America's only)
Black Scoter split from Common Scoter
White-tailed Kite lumped with Black-shouldered Kite
White-tailed Kite split from Black-shouldered Kite
Harlan's Hawk lumped with Red-tailed Hawk
Blue Grouse split into Sooty Grouse and Dusky Grouse
Lesser Golden Plover split into Pacific Golden-Plover and American Golden-Plover
Wilson's Snipe lumped with Common Snipe
Wilson's Snipe split from Common Snipe
Yellow-footed Gull split from Western Gull
Thayer's Gull split from Herring Gull
Long-billed Murrelet split from Marbled Murrelet
Screech Owl split into Western Screech-Owl and Eastern Screech-Owl
Whip-Poor-Will split into Eastern Whip-Poor-Will and Mexican Whip-Poor-Will
Red-shafted Flicker, Yellow-shafted Flicker, and Gilded Flicker lumped into Common Flicker
Common Flicker split into Northern Flicker and Gilded Flicker
Red-naped Sapsucker and Red-breasted Sapsucker split from Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Couch's Kingbird split from Tropical Kingbird
Traill's Flycatcher split into Willow Flycatcher and Alder Flycatcher
Western Flycatcher split into Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Cordilleran Flycatcher
Scrub Jay split into Western Scrub-Jay, Florida Scrub-Jay, and Island Scrub-Jay
Plain Titmouse split into Oak Titmouse and Juniper Titmouse
Brown-throated Wren lumped into House Wren
Winter Wren split into Eastern Winter Wren, Pacific Wren, and Eurasian Wren
Bicknell's Thrush split from Gray-cheeked Thrush
Solitary Vireo split into Cassin's Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, and Plumbeous Vireo
Myrtle Warbler and Audubon's Warbler lumped into Yellow-rumped Warbler
Bullock's Oriole and Baltimore Oriole lumped into Northern Oriole
Northern Oriole split into Baltimore Oriole and Bullock's Oriole
Great-tailed Grackle split from Boat-tailed Grackle
Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, Black Rosy Finch, and Brown-capped Rosy Finch lumped into Rosy-Finch
Rosy-Finch split into Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Black Rosy-Finch, and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch
Rufous-sided Towhee split into Spotted Towhee and Eastern Towhee
Brown Towhee split into California Towhee and Canyon Towhee
Oregon Junco, White-winged Junco, Gray-headed Junco, and Slate-colored Junco lumped into Dark-eyed Junco

If subspecies "have no definite entity" and differences "are seldom apparent in the field," then why were 36 of these non-entities turned into full species, complete with definite field identification characters?

On average, since I began birding in 1972, nearly one subspecies per year in North America has magically become a species from its former status as a non-entity!

Frankly, there are many more subspecies that will likely become full species in the near future. Splits are likely to come from within Warbling Vireos, Fox Sparrows, Marsh Wrens, Yellow-rumped Warblers (again), Western Scrub-Jays (further), Leach's Storm-Petrels, and more.

So, though I respect what Peterson started, please forgive me if I disobey his advice on this topic and continue to identify White-crowned Sparrow or Canada Goose subspecies or Fox Sparrow groups when I am just as sure of them as I am of Clark's Grebes, Black-vented Shearwaters, Western Scrub-Jays, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, and Spotted Towhees--all former subspecies. [See David Sibley's list of field identifiable subspecies.]

And please pardon me when I take notice and document subspecific variation in Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, or Spotted Towhees--even if I can't tell for sure what subspecies they are. After all, such exercises help improve my identification and observational skills.

Peterson would approve of that.