Don’t believe everything you read

I’ve been investigating a bird species from photos I’ve taken these past five years, a species I’ve seen here every winter for the past 30 years.

Using The Sibley Guide to Birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, and a plethora of other resources both published and online, I’ve come to one simple conclusion: Go with your gut and senses, for no resource available can give you the truth.

Why do I say that?

All of these resources say the American white pelican is nothing more than a migrant in Dallas.  I live only a few minutes from downtown, yet these birds have spent every winter at White Rock Lake for as long as I can remember (that’s four decades for anyone counting).

All of these resources say the double-crested cormorant only winters here, yet my nearly 40 years of personal experience say it lives here all year every year.

All of these resources say mallard ducks overwinter in North Texas but do not spend time here during the other three seasons.  I beg to differ, as do the photographs I’ve taken for many years showing them here in every season of every year.

All of these resources say great egrets spend summer here before disappearing for nine months.  Let me make one thing clear: Great egrets live here year round, and they have done so for my entire life.

All of these resources say the black-crowned night heron is a summer resident only, yet I have experiences and photos that show it lives here permanently and has done so for half a century.

All of these resources say the peregrine falcon doesn’t exist in North Texas, yet the one hunting outside my patio these past several years would call that a false assumption of the most dramatic kind.

Truth be told, I have yet to find an expert or resource that can tell the truth of what I know.

Based on that, I’ve learned to go with instinct as opposed to the self-proclaimed knowledge of others.

Yet I’ll add this: Seeing the very real lack of information and guidance in such matters makes it all the more difficult to put a name with faces that don’t have clear identifications pinned to their collars.  Still, it also helps me understand this: What I see is more real and more believable than what others tell me to be the truth.

5 thoughts on “Don’t believe everything you read”

  1. i’m not supposed to believe everything i read? I thought I was since it’s the "experts" that are writing. no wonder i don’t read much…

  2. Hi Jason,

    I highly recommend The TOS Handbook of Texas Birds, compiled by Brush Freeman and Mark Lockwood, two of the state’s most knowledgeable and experienced birders.

    It’s not a identification guide; rather, it’s a guide to the status and distribution of Texas birds. For each species, there is a map showing all Texas counties and the bird’s expected occurrence. There’s also a paragraph or two of text. An excerpt from the American While Pelican account, for example, reads: "White Pelicans are common winter residents in the southern half of the state, particularly along the coast, and locally on inland reservoirs in the northern half and the Trans-Pecos."

    Unlike the generalized (and often outdated) continent-level maps found in field guides, the TOS handbook contains a wealth of information based on decades of field observation and research in Texas. I have yet to find an account that strikes me as significantly misleading or wrong.

    Hope this helps,

    David

  3. That’s extremely helpful, David. Thank you! I’ll check it out.

    And while I don’t think any of these resources are intentionally misleading, I do believe a lot of their information is outdated–and that gets me in trouble. I discard possible identifications because I’m told that species doesn’t live here or isn’t found here at the time of year I find them (discounting one-off finds like the bald eagle [yes, bald eagle!] here this week). For someone like me who has a lot more learning to do on identifications, I need all the help I can get–and I’m looking for good, reliable help.

    Again, thank you so much for the suggestion. I’m certainly going to check it out ASAP. It never hurts to add another bit of ammunition to the arsenal.

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