I photographed this Greater Yellowlegs last winter sometime. I don’t remember the exact date. I do remember it was in “K-mart Creek” doing some foraging. I edited and filed it away, printing myself an 8×10 before doing so. I claimed it was a Greater Yellowlegs and I still do. Click image to enlarge.
My previous post was about identifying Sandpiper type birds. So before publishing that post, I carefully went over each of the six images that I had culled to put in the article. I compared all the markings, colors, etc., with the information in my Sibley’s guide book.
I checked out the Greater Yellowlegs. Everything went fine, until I noticed that according to Sibley, the bill should be slightly upturned. Oops! The bird in my picture showed a straight bill, and matter of fact, there is a slight downturn on the tip of the bill.. Hmmmm. Must be a trick of light. I pondered a bit, didn’t think much of it. After all, I am a novice birder and I probably wasn’t looking at the picture right.
Then I noticed a little note at the bottom of the next page. It said that the Greater Yellow legs rarely had bright orange legs. Oops again! My bird has bright oraange legs. I then started looking through all of the sandpiper pages and couldn’t find any thing else that resembled my picture until – uh oh! What is this?? A Spotted Redshank. Right on the next page to the Greater Yellow Legs. Bright yellow legs - check. Straight bill with a tiny downturn on the tip - check. But no! It simply cannot be. Spotted Redshanks are thousands of miles away. Not a chance that this was one.
What to do. What to do. After all, I am a novice birder. Us novices simply don’t have the knowledge about these things, so it had to be something else. I have embarrassed myself a few other time by jumping to conclusions and I am not jumping to conclusions here. But I also didn’t want to mis-identify any picture in my post. So, I simply swallowed my pride, and even though I KNEW it was a Greater Yellowlegs (what else could it be?) I opted to confirm it with the experts.
First I e-mailed the picture to three local people that I knowwould know, and they probably wouldn’t laugh too hard at me for asking such a preposterous question. Then for good measure, I e-mailed Mark Lockwood, with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and is a darned good bird expert. I got a prompt back from Mark, who confirmed that it was a Greater Yellowlegs. Of course, I should have known that! Before I heard from the other three, I promptly e-mailed and thanked them for their time. Therefore, I didn’t have to read their e-mails, telling me that I erred again and were stifling their snickers.
So I KNOW that it is a Greater Yellowlegs. How do I know?? Because the experts told me so, and by the way, I am not trying to discredit these people. They are all friends of mine and they are experts in their field. And it is too far-fetched to believe a Spotted Redshank would ever show up here. I am definitely not saying it is one of those. I would be laughed out of town and not get asked to the Annual Birders Ball.
But how do they know it is a Greater Yellowlegs? No slightly upturned bill that I can see. Bright yellow legs. The mystery deepens. (cue eerie music here) What have I missed?? Danged if I know. So the mystery is, how in heck do they know??