Saturday, 8 May 2010

Mistaken identity

Show me a birder who claims not to make mistakes, and I will show you a liar. All of us get an ID wrong once in a while - sometimes it might be a close call, at others it could be a howler. One of the few drawbacks of working on a birding magazine is that any such error that makes it into print is amplified massively. Whatever mistake you have made is there for thousands to see, and however unintentional or understandable it can't be undone in a hurry.

I hold my hand up to say that we were responsible for a few such episodes on Birdwatch in the early years, but fortunately we were not alone. Other magazines have had their share too - from hoaxes like a new Phylloscopus warbler named in honour of the Rarties Committee chairman (British Birds) and a hand-painted model of a vagrant accentor in a Derbyshire garden (Birding World) to simple typos like 'underpants' instead of 'underparts' (Dutch Birding) and numerous photo caption errors affecting many titles.

To remind us all of our vulnerability in these matters, a recent example of this last problem has surfaced in the birding press. One periodical which should remain nameless recently identified a Mediterranean Gull in a photo caption, even ageing it as a second-winter. However, as can be seen here, questions have inevitably been raised about the identification (it's far too dark, for one thing, but the four legs, mane, dark coat and size also don't seem to fit).

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