My inquiry for help on Chilean bird identification got me thinking about how I am learning birds in Chile versus how I learned to ID birds in Montana (and perhaps try to explain what should have been a pretty easy ID!).
Although my experience birding in the United States certainly helped me as I continue to learn the birds of Chile, much of my experience learning to ID birds in Chile has been without the benefit of birding with a birder skilled in the Chilean avifauna. There have been times when I have been able to bird with other North American birders, which really helped, and once with a Chilean birder but we were busy with non-birding guests and it was late in the season. In addition, most of my time in Chile was on my way to or from Antarctica which meant I was birding either really early in the season or late in the season when I could snag a quick trip out of town or when I was traveling with non-birding friends for a few days. On top of these limitations, the only field guide I had was the Guia de Campo de las Aves de Chile by Braulio Araya and Guillermo Millie (entirely in Spanish) with mostly black and white line drawings and no range maps. I did learned a fair number of Spanish words related to colors and body parts! When Alvaro Jaramillo produced the Birds of Chile field guide, my ability to ID a number of Chilean birds increased dramatically. If you can only carry one book for Chile, Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands this is by far the best book you can get.
My Chilean experience is in direct contrast to my experience learning birds in North America where I had a number of good field guides to use, I started young and had my Dad to teach me, I often birded with other very good birders (and still do), and I can bird during the peak birding times of the season and better yet, all year.
I knew this one was a Bar-winged Cinclodes!
It shows. In Chile, I struggle with what should be fairly straightforward identification because I don't have the benefit of an experienced mentor and I often don't have the time to really spend studying the birds I have questions about because I am leading a group of non-birding guests. I would like to thank Alvaro for taking the time to answer my email concerning an ID that is probably pretty straightforward for him (and hopefully will be a bit easier for me when I finally do get to see a miner in Chile).
All of this really points out to me the benefit of birding with other skilled birders in learning bird identification. I am still a beginning birder in Chile. I keep working at it and asking questions and hopefully one of these days I will feel more confident of my birding skills when dealing with some Chilean birds. I guess it helps reinforce my belief that one of the best ways to get better is to bird with other good birders no matter what your current skill level is.