Fast forward about 40 years and I'm facing the same issues with birds. Not only are there hundreds of "little brown birds" (LBB), but it can be nearly impossible to identify the specific species. Case in point. I was
I posted the best of the photos to two of my Facebook birding groups, not only to share the photo and record the sighting, but also hoping someone would say, "What an amazing shot of _________________." Only no one did. They said "amazing shot" and "nice capture" but no one mentioned the type of bird.
So, pull out the field guides. I noted the small size and the short tail. I noted the field marks like yellow-orange throat and supraloral (the area between the eye and the beak). I noted the striped feathers on the flanks and belly. And of course the brownish eye stripe should help. Another shot of the bird showed me a white crown stripe. Of course I also took into consideration the area (South Texas) and the terrain (scrubby trees and grass near water). Based on the size, I started looking at wrens and sparrows. .
|Le Conte's Sparrow (USGS photo)|
Distraught, I posted the photo to Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Facebook page and begged for help. What did the experts conclude? Eastern Meadowlark. Immature.
Trying to learn, I looked at images of the Eastern Meadowlark. Field marks include a black patch or V on the breast, which if it appears on my bird is very very faint and streaked (indicating a juvenile bird). The illustrations in Sibley's are more similar to my bird than I see in the photographs on websites like WhatBird.com, where the birds look brighter and more yellow. To add further to the debate, given the region of Texas where this bird was seen, it could be a Western Meadlowlark. The only discernible difference is their song. The Eastern Meadowlark trills, "see-you-see-yer" while the Western croons "shee-oo-e-lee shee-ee-le-ee." Got it? Me neither. This isn't much better than chemical differences between monkeys!