Seeing patterns in this

We live in an age of wonders! No, I’m not talking about the Pizza Hut hot dog stuffed crust pizza or Jimmy Dean’s frozen chocolate chip pancake and sausage on a stick. I’m not talking about the Hop Rod motorized pogo stick, or even the truly useful, countertop-saving Kenwood two-slice toaster/radio.

Screenshot of Merlin bird photo ID tool from The Cornell Lab

Screenshot of Merlin bird photo ID tool from The Cornell Lab

It all started with what became yesterday’s Photo of the Day—a great bird photo submission but with no caption identifying the species–delivered up via a post on our Facebook page. That left me with a couple options. I could select another photo, but this one was really nice. I could ask Martha Foley, my go-to for wildlife and botanical IDs, but she was in a meeting. I could have crowd-sourced the question, but I like to get the POTD up early. I could even have reached out to the submitter via Facebook, but being a geek I only do that interpersonal stuff as a last resort.

So I was about to use the geek’s one true friend, Google, to do a photo comparison search. That can be a little chancy. For example, never try to do a photo comparison search on the Venus de Milo with “safe search” turned off. There are “photos like this” that you can never unsee again.

But Jon Sklaroff had a better idea–ask a wizard, or more particularly, ask Merlin. And he sent me a link. And that’s the wonder I’m talking about. Merlin is a genius bit of pattern recognition software and much easier to operate than a motorized pogo stick.

It works like this. Drag and drop your bird photo into Merlin. Pick a rough location for the photo (northern New York) on a map. Click on the tip of the beak, one eye, and the tip of the tail. And voila, Bohemian waxwing. As a check, it provides several other photos of the species submitted in previous searches. “This is too good to be true,” I thought. So I started going back through POTD archives for other bird photos. Merlin knew them all—saw-whet owl, wild turkey, osprey, great blue heron—right every time. Some were in profile, some were head on, some were twisting around. Some were in flight, some perched. Wowsers!

All of which explains why I am once again doing work on Saturday morning I should have finished Friday afternoon. Now I’m hot to get that app that recognizes bird species by the sound of their songs.

Found anything totally wowsers in recent technology? Sing its praises in a comment below.

Tags: ,

2 Comments on “Seeing patterns in this”

  1. atrip says:

    I think it is a cedar waxwing, however a great picture, congratulations to the photographer.

  2. ncpradmin says:

    The Cedar waxwing is less red and more tan at the head, and fades to a lighter tan in the body. The Bohemian waxwing is more red in the head fading to gray in the body–not from my own meager knowledge, but from comparing photos in the wikipedia entry for “waxwings.” Dale Hobson, NCPR

Comments are closed.