I was wondering if this was going to come up in the forum so I’ll explain what I’ve been doing. I have absolutely no interest in anything other than civil conversation about these issues. To be clear @birdwhisperer and @sedgequeen, my degrees are real last time I checked. I asked for advice with this problem in the following thread, but I was given many conflicting viewpoints and no real solution to what I see as a major problem:
Here was my introduction to this person while doing some identifying:
A bird that is clearly a gnatcatcher, but Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is out of range and I personally cannot be persuaded there is sufficient evidence in the photo to identify it as a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. I left it at Gnatcatchers and tried to coax out the right identification, but this was ignored so I deleted my comments and identified it as California Gnatcatcher.
Here’s the next one:
A misidentification of a difficult group of Andean flycatchers that I have a lot of experience with, in which the identifier admits that they have zero experience. When I explained why I didn’t think it was the correct genus it was met with another misidentification.
And another one:
A difficult group of tanagers identified to subspecies when species-level identification using the photo provided is only possible by the world’s experts in this genus (if possible at all). Misidentifications are fine, understandable even with these difficult birds, but I noted a lack of interest in contrasting viewpoints and unwillingness to change an identification based on additional information.
There were a bunch of other subspecies-level identifications on other observations with some back and forth, mostly me offering some information without response.
I noticed a possible fall migrant Song Sparrow on the coast of California identified as the subspecies merrilli:
As an undergrad and grad student and now as a collections manager it has been a part of my job for the last 20 years to identify specimens to subspecies so I understand that it is difficult for many groups even with an excellent reference series. I don’t believe that all specimens, even within the breeding range of “Merrill’s” Song Sparrow can be correctly identified to subspecies. Ridgway thought the subspecies was not real and couldn’t be distinguished from intergrades between two other subspecies. So the idea that one could identify a fall migrant to this subspecies based solely on a photo that doesn’t show the entire bird is a difficult one to swallow, even amongst Song Sparrow experts. Note that I correctly identified it to Song Sparrow, as I did with the majority of the observations being discussed here. Also note that the subspecies definition followed by most in ornithology is that they must meet or exceed 75% diagnosability from other populations, so by definition upwards of 25% of a subspecies is not necessarily identifiable, even with a specimen.
So I saw the following observation identified to subspecies and I was a bit shocked:
If I just put Song Sparrow nothing changes and it stays a Research Grade identification of Merrill’s Song Sparrow, so I put Perching Birds as my identification. Note, not incorrect, just too coarse for everybody. I also answered the question that “No, I do not think the evidence in the photo is sufficient to identify it as Merrill’s Song Sparrow” honestly, but I guess that’s why somebody flagged it. I withdrew my identification because I started receiving personal insults (not from @birdwhisperer).
In the photos you mention of the birds being held I can only see part of the bird’s head. I cannot identify a bird based on what I think the observer knows or is seeing but I’m not seeing, I just can’t as a scientist. I have to evaluate the information presented.
What I really can’t understand here is that anybody can join and identify tons of observations, many incorrectly, with little or no comment on the observations. But, I identify ~500 observations at a coarser scale based on the photo I’m looking at (I believe correctly) and I don’t immediately explain myself it’s a major problem. I’m primarily interested in preventing incorrect or inaccurate information from entering the databases and subjecting researchers to weeding these unidentifiable or misidentified observations out of their datasets (as I have to do in my own research).
I had hoped that if @birdwhisperer wouldn’t listen to me about toning down the subspecies identifications then they would listen to others, particularly others that had agreed with their subspecies identification but then had to give it some more thought.
I noted in trying to tone back some of their identifications, particularly of difficult female hummingbirds with terrible photos, that others were doing the same. So, some of the top identifiers on this site spend part of their time correcting the over-precise identifications of a single person.
I’ll stop identifying because this is the third time this has happened, where I run up against an identifier identifying thousands or tens of thousands of observations incorrectly and then I focus on trying to figure out how to stop all of those spurious data from migrating to GBIF.
Apologies if I upset you, @birdwhisperer, I wish you the best of luck and hope you heed some of the advice given by others on this forum and the site about subspecies identifications.