Random Reflections on Birding

Just saw a White Throated Sparrow! Saw it for a minute, grunted–the head stripes meant it was something I could probably find in the bird book, but I knew I was probably missing some vital indicator that would tell me which of a dozen nearly identical stripey-noggined sparrows it would be. And yup, I was right. White crowned? White throated? I hadn’t thought to see if it had little yellow patches on the stripe next to the beak. I sighed, put the book down, was turning away from the window, and the bird landed on the railing again, with clear (albeit scruffy) yellowy patches. Cheered.

I’m a pretty crappy birder, granted that the vast majority of things I see are the ones outside my window, and don’t even ask me about the calls, but there’s still a certain exultation in seeing a new bird for the first time. I can see why people muck about with binoculars and Land Rovers and whatnot. I do not actually own binoculars, but I can sense the appeal. Since I began keeping a lifelist, (a whole 81 birds!) I’m simultaneously heartened by the numbers of new bird species I’ve seen and miffed at myself for not taking an interest years ago, when I was living in other areas. Since I’ve been as scrupulously honest as I can, and only noting down the birds from memory that I am 100% certain of identification on–mostly “Canadian Goose” and “American Crow” and “Bald Eagle” and that sort of thing, where I can’t possibly be mistaken, there aren’t many. I know there’s a whole slew of birds that I must have seen in my years moving hither and yon across the bloody country that I just didn’t pay any attention to.

On the other hand, I suppose there’s something to be said for observing a single area in the relatively exhaustive detail that I’ve come to observe the patch of green behind my house. At this moment, there’s a hermit thrush on the feeder, a brown-headed nuthatch opposite it, and the white-throated sparrow is back sitting on the rail. It took months before I saw any of these birds for the first time, and now I see them all the time. (I don’t doubt I’ll start seeing the white-throated sparrow every time I turn around.) And the numbers have changed, too–last winter, around this time, it was all cardinals and white breasted nuthatches and Carolina chickadees, and I don’t think I ever even saw a bluebird. New things keep showing up, and then I wonder if they were always there and I just missed them, or what.

Keeps me amused, anyway.

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