Sunday, February 12, 2006


It was on my list for almost 12 years. But as of tonight, it has been removed. Cassin's Sparrow is no longer a Life Bird for me.

I've been doing some background prep for planning a trip to SE Arizona this coming May. This means creating a target list, as well as revisiting sightings on earlier visits. I have very good recollections of most of my sightings, but was piqued by Bird #83, a Cassin's Sparrow observed sometime in March of 1994 in Tucson. Unlike the other birds I recorded on that trip, I have no memory whatsoever of when exactly I saw that bird, nor where.

In the case of Cassin's Sparrow, I find that problematic. For a number of years after I began birding, I relied pretty heavily on bird range maps in Peterson's Guide to help me determine what bird I was seeing, in cases where there were 2 or more competing possibilities. That's not a practice I believe in anymore, but I have to admit that it played a fair part in several IDs I thought I'd made in years past. I'd already corrected most of those (e.g., Hutton's Vireo), but this one had remained.

I try to be very careful in tinkering with my lists when it comes to revisiting very old observations, and I am cautious not to overly second-guess my IDs. But I am aware of how my identification skills have grown over time, and I honestly don't think I could have truly known for sure that I'd seen a Cassin's Sparrow in lieu of, say, a Brewer's, based on the way I know I used the Petersen's Guide at the time, and my awareness (or lack thereof) of the likelihoods of seeing certain species in certain locations. It may well be, of course, that I did in fact see one, even if I don't remember when or where. But it troubles me that I supposedly made such a careful ID of a tricky bird at a time when I really wasn't attuned to such things, and that I remember nothing about the sighting; and knowing that I'd now have trouble picking one out of a sparrow lineup, I just don't feel comfortable leaving it on my Life List. So, I removed it tonight, lowering my Life, AOU, and ABA totals by one.

I do feel confident that I'll be able to put it back sometime this year. I just want it to count, to identify it from its characteristics, not from deductions or extrapolations from likelihood. Yet another manifestation of how I'm changing as a birder.

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-llm. said...

Interesting. As a new birder, I am sure that I will face similar decisions/dillemas in my future. For now, when I am in doubt, I won't add it to my lists -- just write down what I think it was. I've already had one confirmed that I saw what I thought I saw -- but it was sad. My husband told me he'd seen a dead bird in our yard. I checked and it was the Varied Thrush that I thought I'd seen very briefly a week before. I'd rather leave a bird off my list than confirm it that way. Anyway, good luck spotting the Cassin's in the near future and being sure!

Eric said...

Yeah, I much prefer this approach too. I may have been a little too "desperate" in the past, as if I somehow needed the bird on the list to validate myself. Showing patience by waiting for a more gratifying observation is a sign of greater self-assuredness.

There, that's your psychobabble quota for the day. :^)