Photo of Yellow Warbler

Photographing the Yellow Warbler and Thoughts on Bird Identification

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Yellow Warbler Identification

Yellow warblers are bright little birds that are not the easiest to ID or photograph. Often, I see a little yellow blur flying fast and furious, and when it lands in the dense foliage, it quickly weaves in and out of view. Unless I get a clear shot, (if I’m able to lock down focus at all), this warbler can easily be confused with other yellowish warblers.

Photo of Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler, Singing his Heart Out.
ISO 250; f/9; 1/1000 Second.

The Warbler Guide

For my birthday, I received The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. It’s a wonderful, thick book with dozens of distinctive photos of all angles of male, female and juvenile warblers, in all seasonal plumages. Warblers are one the most challenging birds to ID. It’s important to be very precise when reviewing the color and shape of any discernable eye rings, the color and location of streaking on the breast, the length of tail feathers and edging on the wing feathers, the body shape, the bill length, eye color, feet color and on and on.   Oh My!

The Warbler Guide is a great book with which to sit down and relax, learn new things about warblers, and sort and compare my photos with the guide’s photos. After spending some time comparing back and forth, this with that, I may finally feel sort of comfortable that I have a good ID. However, if I get a feeling that my ID may not be quite right, I go ahead and upload my photo to for the experts to give me final confirmation.

Facial Recognition of Birds

Wouldn’t it be cool to have sight and sound recognition DSLR cameras…. a digital camera with an artificial intelligence ID chip built into its computer that would be able to identify the bird on which the lens is focused?

This marvelous invention can not be that far into the future because scientists at Columbia School of Engineering have already developed an visual recognition bird ID app and are working on incorporating a bird recognition ID chip into binoculars.

Photo of Yellow Warbler
Lovely Yellow Warbler. I uploaded this photo to BirdSnap app on my Phone.
It came Back with Several Possible IDs.
Yellow Warbler was the Top Pick.
ISO 800; f/9; 1/1250 Second
Photo of Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler Hopping From Branch to Branch.
ISO 800; f/8; 1/1000 second

Birdsnap- An Advanced Digital Field Guide

Currently, birders and photographers can download a free app call “Birdsnap”. Once installed on your smart phone, all you need do is upload a clear, full bodied photo of a bird into the app and follow the prompts to point out the locations of the tail and eye of the bird. Birdsnap will then scan your photo, compare it to its database of 500 bird photos and come up with possible matches.

A future enhancement for this app is under development that will incorporate voice recognition…the various bird songs, whistles and calls that match the bird photos. To ID a bird by song, (hypothetically) users will only need to engage the recording component of their smart phones while the unknown (and possibly unseen) bird is vocalizing, and then upload that file to the app.

Right now I have two GPS enabled apps on my smart phone that allow me to view multiple photos of a bird species, hear their vocalizations, and map their summer, winter and migratory range. But these apps require that I see the bird (or a photo of the bird) or hear the bird, then make a judgement as to whether or not the bird ID info I’m viewing in the app matches the bird I am seeing and/or hearing.

Birdsnap is programmed to do what computers do best: Sort through massive amounts of data, make computer based distinctions based on facial and birdsong recognition, and then select one or more matches. Human judgements will still be necessary to determine if the selections made by Birdsnap are correct.

Photo of Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler, Tucked Behind Foliage.
ISO1000; f/8.0; 1/2500 Second

Warbler ID Tools

I still love my Warbler Guide, It has fascinating information and endless details on the characteristics and lifestyles of 50+ warblers. The Birdsnap app is a good tool to turn to first for Warbler ID. That way, I have possible warbler names to take to the book index and start my search.

Some day, I will be quick and competent at bird ID, but that day is not today.

For more information on the Birdsnap app, click this link.

To read my post about auditory bird ID, click this link.

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