I saw an odd-looking bird at Paul Rushing Park yesterday and just couldn't work out what it was.
After poring over Sibley, I decided the closest match was a Dickcissel, a bird I haven't seen yet this year. To check, I posted photos on http://www.birdforum.net/ and asked for help.
I was embarrassed when several people immediately replied "Female Red-winged Blackbird," a bird that I often see and that's really nothing at all like a Dickcissel.
So how did I go so wrong? Well, my first mistake was to be hoping for a Dickcissel and therefore willing the "mystery" bird to be one. But my real mistake was to focus on specific fieldmarks rather than looking at the bird as a whole. If I'd done the latter, I'd have noticed right away that the bird was way too big for a Dickcissel; it was almost the size of the Eastern Kingbird which was sitting a few feet away. I would also have noticed the beak and the breast streaking were not right for a Dickcissel. Instead, I got obsessed with the head and throat markings. Memo to self: Look at the whole before focusing on the details.
It isn't the first time I've been led astray by a female Red-winged. For some reason, I just can't seem to store their image in my memory and I'm almost always confused when they appear. Perhaps I should start assuming that every streak-breasted bird is a female Red-winged until I can prove that it isn't.