The Mysteries of Bird Identification


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.

Greater Yellowlegs

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??  🙂