LBJ. Little Brown Job. My field ID skills with sparrows are poor. I have honed those skills some over the years. Everything sparrow is not simply "LBJ" for me anymore, but I find that if it is not Song, White-throated or Chipping, then I am either stumped, or very unsure.
The camera helps. If I can take photos of it, and those photos are reasonably clear, then I can spend lots of time comparing my pictures to other people's pictures. I no longer have to rely on my (highly fallible) memory of the LBJ and its seemingly infinite brown patterns. I can let the picture remember for me.
So it was with my trip to DGCA this past February. There were plenty of sparrows around. Most were White-throated and Song. There was another variety, however, that I knew was neither of those two, but that I could not identify in the field. Nothing rare or spectacular. Just me, taking one more step on the path of improved sparrow identification. I recognized enough differences from what I was used to seeing to not pass them over as the tried-and-true Song or White-throated.
I took a guess (that turned out to be correct). To test my guess, I used the "Bird ID Help Line" thread of the Field Guide: Birds of the World group within Flickr. The answer I got there matched mine. My tiny personal struggle was with the little ol' Savannah Sparrow. Here are two photos of two different Savannah Sparrows, plus a third of a Song Sparrow for comparison. Unfortunately, all three were taken from above the bird, so the markings on the breast are not completely visible. In looking at these pictures, I find it hard to believe that I used to see Savannah Sparrows and likely dismissed them as "just another Song Sparrow". The difference in tail alone is substantial. Next time I am out in the field, I am hoping that I can confidently carve one more sparrow species from the giant, generic pile of LBJs.