Birding is not always an exact science.
Is that a black-capped or Carolina chickadee?
Did that sparrow have a rusty cap?
Sometimes you just have to trust your gut.
It was late afternoon or early evening when we were driving home and I thought I saw an owl in a tree. We turned around to look again, and my 12 year old saw the same bird.
"Hawk," he told me. "Red-tailed. A big one."
I thanked him and as we turned into a parking lot to turn around again, I saw this bird perched at the top of a tree. It was too small to be a buteo, and it didn't quite look like a Cooper's hawk. Maybe a peregrine, I thought. Or a kestrel?
I got out of the car and crunched carefully through the snow. We were at a cemetery so I could walk directly toward it. I got closer and closer and tried to note as many details as I could through my binoculars. I snapped these photos with my iPhone, knowing they'd be backlit, and that the bird could fly off any moment.
I entered my sighting in eBird. I can't know for sure, but I had to trust my gut.