Sooty vs Short-tailed and other ID discussions

To: Nikolas Haass <>, Chris Corben <>, "" <>, Paul Walbridge <>, Jeff Davies <>, Alan Gillanders <>, Raja Stephenson <>
Subject: Sooty vs Short-tailed and other ID discussions
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2012 16:26:28 -0800 (PST)
Hi all,
Yes a great discussion and timely for me too, as I was sitting next to Nikolas 
on the way out on the weekend's Wollongong pelagic and commented how the Port 
Stephens trips were going well...but that I was still not on top of the Sooty 
vs Short-tailed identification thing! It has always fascinated me how it seems 
to be something many observers take for granted but I have always grappled with 
it. Chris's comments below make me feel a lot better! I have been on pelagics 
where some of the most experienced sea-birders around have argued the ID of a 
shearwater that was confidently called as "Sooty" or "Short-tailed". 
Unfortunately I didn't see the bird in question but I do have to back-up what 
Nikolas said about flight pattern etc being important. Sometimes being there on 
the day can make all the difference and I think that the filtering-in-the-brain 
that Chris talks about is more likely to be confused by lighting than 
behavioual traits observed in situ. Maybe I'm wrong? Identifying from photos 
can be fraught with danger I guess is my point (not always, but I've seen 
numerous birds misidentified in images, especially Jaegers and Terns). I'm just 
not sure if I would agree that photos provide an unbiased view but I know what 
you mean by that Chris. But often any comparisons can be useful, even if the 
birds aren't necessarily very similar.
Currently a few of us are sorting out Swifts and Swiftlets from Christmas 
Island and I have to say that although it is a daunting group, being in a 
situation where there are clearly 'different' species above you flying around, 
having the luxury of comparing relative sizes and flight patterns etc gives a 
big headstart, ahead of what can often be picked up in photographs of birds 
like that.


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