This was the query Steve posited me a few weeks ago in California. The bird was an Allen's Hummingbird. The bird was most likely an Allen's Hummingbird. There was a pretty good chance that the bird was an Allen's Hummingbird. To be honest, there were like 10 or 15 of them, and they were all juvenile/female type birds. Thus, I couldn't rule out the possibility of them being Rufous Hummingbirds, as unlikely as that may be. And that's what kills me. It's why we're here today.
Would you have counted the bird? No pressure; it's your list. No judgment. I'm just curious. I couldn't do it. We all have our different and specific criteria for what we deem countable. Here are some common counting conundrums.
1. Heard only birds - some people count them, others don't. I have a couple owls, a rail, and a nightjar on my heard only list. Not optimal, but I'll see them someday. I'm not stressed.
2. Exotics - this can actually get kind of nasty. The ABA has added a lot of exotics to the checklist over the last few years; the tricky thing is that to count them, you have to see them in the ABA specified area. From the ABA Recording Rules and Interpretations:
"an introduced species may be counted only where and when it meets the ABA Checklist's definition for being an established population. An introduced species observed well away from the accepted geographic area is not counted if it is more likely to be a local escape or release rather than an individual straying from the distant population"
|But, is Monk Parakeet really all that different from Rosy-faced Lovebird?|
4. Hybrids - Some birds hybridize quite extensively, and there is often some sliding scale of hybridization making a bird look a lot like one of its true species parents. I struggled with this a few weeks ago with a Glaucous-winged Gull in California. Throughout north central and central Texas, there is a corridor of Tufted x Black-crested Titmice. There are varying degrees of cinnamon on the foreheads and dark grayish to back crests. These birds are not countable.
|Classic Tufted x Black-crested Titmouse|
1. First, we have the selasphorus hummingbird mentioned above. What are you going to do? Juvenile/female type Rufous/Allen's are just about impossible to separate in the field. It's not the only complex like this. Willow and Alder Flycatchers, Cordilleran and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, these are a couple examples of birds where range is the primary clue to identification. But, it's not 100%.
2. Scripp's Murrelet. On the California pelagic last year, Steve (again, goddamnit) called out Scripp's Murrelets. I saw the birds, although very briefly. They were black and white and they were flying directly away from the boat at a high rate of speed. Unfortunately, there is more than one possible species of bird that is small, black and white, and would be flying away from a boat in the Pacific Ocean. I can't rule any of them out, so I can't count it.
3. Snow Bunting. Last winter, I visited my family in Iowa. One exceptional aspect of the trip was the fact that it was not uncommon to find flocks of Lapland Longspurs foraging just off the side of the road. One of the flocks I found was big and active. I scanned the birds for 10 or 15 minutes, snapping off some pictures. I was actively trying to pull a Snow Bunting out of the flock, but could never find one. That evening, I checked in at a Best Western in Kansas, and since it was in Kansas, I had nothing to do but sort through my photos. Sure enough, there was a photo of a Snow Bunting. I didn't identify it at the time, so I'm not counting it.
|Highly cropped Snow Bunting that I photographed but didn't see. Ouch.|
Update: As I was finishing up this post, I saw that the recently resurrected ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee has updated the recording rules. Check them out here.