Thursday, March 16, 2006

More on Mike Collins and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Well, I sort of hate to wade into the muck on this one, but I think it's necessary. I have been getting a ton of requests from people for info on Mike Collins, and I have had a ton of hits today from search engines from people searching for info on Mike. Not sure if that is related to the BirdForum thread or if there is something else going on here. Some of these searches are from people in, let's just say, educational or governmental positions. I know this is a bit hard to read, but go find the whole thread for yourself if you want to read the whole story.

So, without further comment, here is an old e-mail from Mike that involves a "first state record" MacGillivray's Warbler, and some of what people are whispering about on BirdForum and other places:

Mike Collins

I previously mentioned that some of my reports have been questioned.
I think a certain amount of skepticism is a good thing. My razzing of
Kurt Gaskill in a post earlier today was motivated by some grilling
I received from him last month. Some of the other skepticism and
criticism I've been receiving lately has gotten to be a bit tiresome,
including the dialogue appearing below. I've only been birding for a
few years and don't take criticism lightly. So I'd be interested to
know how other birders feel regarding the identification of some of
the species in question. By the way, isn't it true that Connecticut,
Mourning, and Brewster's Warblers and Philadelphia Vireo are regular
migrants through our area? It's my understanding that these species
are rare but regular. I'd also like to pass on some advice that I've
learned the hard way: If you see a MacGillivray's Warbler in this area,
don't dare to mention it to anyone!
Mike Collins
Annandale, Virginia

>When you
>reported your MacGillivray's on MD Osprey, you neglected to inform people that
>it was an adult. In fact, you neglected to mention any details of the birds
>description. I think people were quite leery of your report because you
>reported it without details. I did ignore your report becase it was an
>extremely rare bird (first state record) and had no details. I did not ask
>you for details because the last time I did, you gave details that described a
>waterthrush better than a sedge wren. When I asked you for clarification, you
>ignored me. I figured you had no interest in giving details to accompany your
>rare sightings. I suspect that some others on Osprey were leery of the
>MacGillivray's report because it was a report without any details. Most
>birders will give at least a brief description of a rare sighting. It lends
>credibility to your report. Without it, I think many people just delete it.

I never received such a request from you. Did you send it to me personally?
As I recall, I mentioned that the key field marks on the Sedge Wren were the
dark markings on the back and the well defined (but relatively short) eyebrow.
I interpreted your question as to how we decided between Marsh and Sedge since
those would be the logical pairs to separate. The dark back is to me the most
obvious difference. In particular, the Sedge lacks the dull rufous patches on the
back and shoulders of the Marsh Wren. At any rate, I wanted to let Howard Youth
provide most of the details as a courtesy to him since he was the one who spotted
it. I only provided my comments so people could hear what both observers had to

Regarding the MacGillivray's Warbler, copies of my two reports are below. Exactly
what further details would you suggest that I include? A gray hood with a large
broken eye ring pretty much narrows it down. We're talking about an extremely
trivial identification here. We're not trying to differentiate something as tricky
as Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers. Since I didn't have much time to
prepare the first report, I submitted a follow-up report with additional details
in which I emphasized that the break in the ring was very large and that the ring
was very thick.

*** Original report to the Voice (also posted to MDOsprey)
At the risk of losing all credibility, I'd like to report a MacGillivray's Warbler
that I saw at Wakefield Park this morning. I was birding with Edna Aaron and Larry
Cartwright along the powerline cut that has been good for Connecticut and Mourning
Warblers this fall. We were on the west side of the cut a short distance south of
the tennis courts. There are willow thickets in the cut in this area. A few birds
flew from the cut into a tree on the edge of the woods. One of them was an early
junco. I was able to lock onto the other bird for about a second and clearly saw
the gray hood, large broken eye ring, and green on the back. I've seen dozens of
MacGillivray's out west and was sure of the ID. But I must admit that I was a bit
reluctant to call it out until the others saw it, too. Unfortunately, the bird
flew immediately and neither Edna nor Larry were able to get a good look at it.

*** Follow-up report to the Voice
This is a follow up to the MacGillivray's Warbler report of Sept. 19. I wanted to
provide more details, which I didn't have the time to do over the weekend.
Although I only saw the bird for about a second before it flew, it was at close
range and I was able to lock onto it and get a good focus. I clearly saw the gray
hood, eye ring, and green on the back. The eye ring had a very large break and
was very thick as in a typical MacGillivray's. The back was a rich, dark green as
in a typical MacGillivray's. The underparts were obscured by leaves. Although the
other observers, Edna Aaron and Larry Cartwright, did not get a good look at it,
Edna mentioned seeing a lot of white on the head, which was presumably the eye
ring. We immediately tried to relocate the bird without success. I searched the
willow thickets in the area later that day as well as the past two mornings
without success.

>Yes, I sent it to you personally.

I never received it. I don't ignore email messages. If anything, I have spent
way too much time for my own good giving people detailed directions how to get
to Wakefield Park and where to look and escorting them around the place. Just
this morning, I went out in the pouring rain to show someone around.

>Was it a break in the eye ring, or two crescents, one above and one below the
>eye? Also, you failed to mention the blackish mottling on the upper breast.
>Also, when I write-up a bird, I find it counterproductive to mention
>fieldmarks "as in" a specific species, especially if I am saying "as in" the
>species I am trying to describe.

The crescents were large as in a typical adult male MacGillivray's Warbler.
In other words, the bird did not merely have, for example, an abnormally thick
broken eye ring of an immature Mourning Warbler. They were the large crescents
that are unique to an adult male MacGillivray's Warbler. Furthermore, the bird
was definitely an adult male since it had a dark gray hood. I did not see the
dark markings on the breast because the vantage point was about 8 o'clock. As
mentioned in my report, however, I did see the rich, dark green of the upper
part of the back. This is a subtle feature, but I find it noticeably different
from other Oporornis warblers.

>I disagree. Any state record should not be taken trivially. Perhaps
>trivializing it is why it was not received very well.

I was referring to the fact that an adult male MacGillivray's Warbler
is trivial to identify. You don't have to get down to intricate details
to identify this bird. Any birder who is beyond the training-wheel
stage should be able to identify one at a glance.

>If you are willing to presume that "a lot of white on the head" was in fact
>the eyering, then that makes mentioning it useless. Nashvilles and
>Connecticuts have big eyerings. She could have seen the eyering of another
>species and still made the same comment.

That's true, but so what? I mentioned what the other observers saw just to
describe the event more completely and as a courtesy to the other observers.

>The key fieldmark to separate the marsh and sedge wren is the white streaking
>on the back of the bird. Marsh does not have any on its head, sedge does have
>it on its head. You never mentioned the white streaks. Howard did. Without
>doing so, it is a somewhat thin description of sedge wren.

The most obvious difference to me is the dull rufous patches on the back of the
Marsh Wren, which was prominent on each of the many birds I've seen. This
difference shows up well in the photos in the Stokes field guide. So what if I
didn't mention every detail of the bird? You asked how we identified the bird,
not for a detailed description of every feature.

>You if you are so certain of the ID, why were you reluctant to call it out?
>This makes no sense to me. If you are certain, you are certain. You were the
>first person to doubt your own sighting.

I didn't doubt the sighting. As I stated in my report, I was sure of the
identification. I was reluctant to call it out or report it merely because
people hadn't even believed my reports of regular species such as Philadelphia
Vireo and Connecticut, Mourning, and Brewster's Warbler. I could imagine
how people would react if I were to report a MacGillivray's Warbler. And I
was right. My reports to the Voice and MDOsprey were ignored. Not one birder
tried to relocate the bird. Not one birder even asked questions about it until
I mentioned that my report to the Voice had been ignored.

Later on, I developed a certain uneasiness about the sighting, which I
admitted in my report to the state records committee. It is possible to
have such feelings even when you are certain of the identification.
I had it when I heard a Mourning Warbler singing at Wakefield Park this
spring. Since I had read that they have eluded some birders for decades,
I never expected to find one in migration and couldn't believe I was so
lucky. I knew it had to be a Mourning Warbler because I had seen many of
them in Canada and knew their unique song well, but I still had a funny
feeling until the bird popped into view. I had the same feeling when I
started seeing Connecticut Warblers this fall. By all accounts, this was
supposed to be an extremely difficult bird to find. So I couldn't believe
my eyes when the first bird I saw the first time I went out this fall was a
Connecticut Warbler. I got excellent looks at the first three birds that I
saw, including the complete hood and bold eye ring. Since these field
marks are diagnostic, there was never any question of the identification.

Neverthless, I still had an uneasy feeling. I only became fully comfortable
after seeing one of them walking and then getting a good view of its
undertail coverts. Although it's possible to identify a MacGillivray's
Warbler in a fraction of a second, I'll bet that most birders would be left
with an uneasy feeling after seeing one in Virginia for only a second.
I'm extremely busy this week and don't have time for further lengthy
discussions about my sightings.

>Don't worry Mike. After a couple of the liberties you take with field
>identifications, as well as "facts" about birds, (especially deeming Philly
>vireo, Connecticut, mourning, and Brewster's "regular species") I wont be
>asking you about any more of your sightings.
>You have absolutely no interest in hearing about better, more diagnostic field
>marks to identify a bird, or regarding birds. You have a set of beliefs about
>birds and birding that is unbending.
Sound familiar?


Mike's Soap Box said...

Did Mike Collins hear the Mac. warbler call? I mention this because Mike has stated on his website under his Texas trip journal that he knows all the bird calls in North America.

Peace out!


Anonymous said...

Knowing the scientific and financial value of a clear and indisputable picture/video of an IBWP, what kind of idiot would expend the time, money, and effort traipsing around in swamps with a crappy camcorder KNOWING that if he did get a recording, it would be contestable? If I really believed I was going to see an IBWO, I'd make sure I had suitable audio video equipment. That is unless I just wanted to deceive people. Let's all chip in and buy Mike a new camcorder. Egads....