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Friday, November 2, 2012

Spanish Bird of the Week #14: Sardinian Warbler

By James

Previously, I’ve mentioned why I enjoy bird photography so much. The challenge, the frequent failure and the eventual rewards all make it an incredibly enjoyable hobby. A fortuitous byproduct of photography is that is really helps out with identification. This doesn’t happen as often anymore, but when I was a traveling novice birder, I would often identify birds by scrutinizing the photos on my computer. Usually I have my hunches and am able to confirm them in the field, but from time to time I completely misidentify a bird.

For instance, I have no real memory of seeing my lifer Purple Finch. Robert and I made a stop at Dairyland Road two winters ago to look for White-crowned Sparrows. I snapped a picture of a bird that I must have written off as a House Finch at the time, but when I got back to the computer I saw the picture and realized I had made a mistake. But hey – free lifer!

Upon further review - much more different!

An even more unusual situation is when I have a similar realization while viewing my photos on the computer, but it comes months or even years after I snap the picture. This has taken place only twice: once in Nicaragua with an Orange-chinned Parakeet (which I originally assumed was a more common Crimson-fronted Parakeet) and once in the mountain town of Ronda in Spain where I got my lifer Sardinian Warbler.

To be fair, it would have been easier to ID if we had a good Nicaragua bird guide.

Fortunately I have a much clearer memory of finding the Sardinian Warbler than the Purple Finch or the parakeet. The town of Ronda has one major tourist attraction – a gigantic stone bridge spanning a chasm nearly 400 feet deep. I was hiking down into said chasm and, of course, birding along the way. Spring was right around the corner, which meant the birds were quite active, and I ran into European Goldfinches, Red-billed Choughs and a Common Raven.

Looks like something out of Lord of the Rings!

I came around a bend and saw this small black bird sitting on a branch. Unfortunately I only got one shot of the back of the bird, hiding (for the most part) the bright red eye ring that would have been a dead give away. I assumed it was one the very common Blackcaps, which is a pretty embarrassing misidentification as there would be no white throat, and the back would be grey.

A lifer is a lifer!

That remained my identification until last July, almost a year and a half after the picture was taken, when a random bout of nostalgia led me to flip through some of the pictures from my semester abroad. After gaining more experience with Blackcaps during the course of my stay, I instantly realized I had made a mistake in my first month of Spanish birding and that I’d actually seen a Sardinian Warbler! And that is why I will continue to take pictures first and ask questions later… even if it’s sometimes much later.


  1. Funny, I was just looking through my old birding photos and I think I found a pine Siskin among a flock of winter goldfinches. Take pictures first, ask questions later. That's my motto,too!

  2. Keep an eye out on those finch flocks this winter. With any luck we'll get crossbills and Evening Grosbeaks!

  3. Beautiful Shots... I have featured your work in my journal.