Thursday, November 21, 2013

Recording birds with digital images

Digital photography is becoming the norm for recording new bird sightings against the conventional methods of describing by notes and sketches. New members to this hobby will most likely own a digital camera, the conventional notes and sketches will be resorted to only after failure to capture decent images of their subjects. Digital images are convenient media, they save you the trouble to compose descriptive notes, where you might miss some fine details needed to nail the identity in the process.

A seasoned bird watcher will likely ask whether there are any images when confronted with assertion of new and rare bird sighting by fellow hobbyists.

I exclusively take photos and do not make notes and sketches, my birdlist only account for birds that I managed to take decent images.

However, digital images can be tricky at times.

When looking at the above images, it seems that there are more than one individual in the series, but the images are of one individual only. See that the lighting conditions can play tricks on the images, thus care must be taken in assessing the identity when viewing digital images.

Positive ID based on digital images alone might not be sufficient in certain cases, as more birds are now split based on DNA rather than morphology.

Sometimes bird sounds, habitats, and habits need to be noted to aid in identifying the birds positively. For example, the subject bird in this post, which is most likely (over 99% ) an Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis, might very remotely (less than 1 %) to be a Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus xanthodryas, however, I think they can only be positively identified by calls/songs, but I heard no call when taking these photos.

Happy birding.

Photodocument of the wild birds of Borneo.

Standard references for my blog.


Choy Wai Mun said...

I agree with you, Wong. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

digdeep said...

I'm glad you have brought up this topic again Wong! While no one would deny the huge importance of photos in documenting rare birds (and Records Committees increasingly rely on these to provide proof), I don't think photos 'save the trouble to compose descriptive notes' - rather, they should complement descriptive notes. Just as some details may be missed if we ONLY take notes, others are undoubtedly missed if we ONLY take photos. Your series of photos in this post are a perfect example - unless you had noted that all pics were of the same bird, anyone looking at the photos might wrongly assume that there was more than one bird. Photos only tell one part of the story - the field impressions of the observer are essential to supplement these.

digdeep said...

To give a recent practical example - when I saw 3 Oriental Skylarks last week (a potential national 1st record) - I concentrated on getting photos first. Then, when they flew off, I watched them in flight with my binoculars, making a mental note of the call as they flew past me. As soon as they had gone, I pulled out my pen and notebook, and wrote down everything I could remember about the call and flight pattern (eg lack of white trailing edge to the wings), feeding behaviour, general impression of size and shape, etc. I didn't bother writing detailed plumage notes becuase I was sure my photos would have captured these. So - that's how I use both the camera AND the notebook in the field. Too often, I find that people intent on photographing a bird forget to make a note of call and behavioural details - which, as you mention - can be the crucial factor in determining identification

John Holmes said...

A picture is certainly worth a thousand words... but we can all "add value" with a few well-written lines as well, as Dave said.