Open Letter to a Young Birder (Part 2)

Just because you are young, and the hottest birder around, doesn't mean that you can be sure of what you see in quick glimpses, especially when you half expect to see something rare at any moment. If you see something briefly, and it looks like an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, or a vagrant Yellow Wagtail, or a pteranadon–well, you know the pterandadon is a slip of the imagination. But what about the other two?

Quick glimpses of rare birds do not count. Period. Really, they shouldn't even be reported, except to your close friends, but even then as curiosities. What if tales. Fishermen call these "the ones that got away" and love to talk them up. Birders are usually more circumspect. Unfortunately, that means we often don't talk about our mistakes or relish those ones that get away. They don't count, and we don't want people to think we're rarity crazed, so we don't talk about them. If its all in good fun, it should be OK. But for most experienced birders, when they hear someone adamantly state that they were able to make out all the important field marks of a rarity in a split second, or in five seconds (which is often birderspeak for a split second), they just shake their heads. They may be respectfully quiet. But what they're really thinking is that you've lost it, crossed the line, slipped into a rarity-fever induced delirium.

Now I have no idea what's really going on down there in the Choctawhatchee. But when I read about a sighting of a bird flying through the trees for a few seconds, maybe flapping its wings eight times a second, and banking briefly to show the perfect Ivory-billed Woodpecker underwing, or flying quickly off a tree in the rain, the words of a much wiser and more experienced birder than myself come back to me: "You didn't see it long enough. You can't be totally sure of what you saw in that short of time. And you don't have any proof."

I know it isn't polite to say this. I was really ticked off that nobody believed my stint. Six months later I even put it on my state list for awhile. But if I'm thinking it, a hundred other birders better than me are thinking it. You're a bright kid. By all accounts a great birder. You could probably run circles around me on a big day. But do yourself a favor. Next time you see something flash by in the woods, and you think its an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and you don't get a photo. Take a deep breath. Swear if you must. But don't tell a living soul, unless you can laugh it off as "one that got away."

Good luck with your search and your birding. I admire your drive and ambition. You're welcome to crash at my place any time you're in or around Philly. I'd love to go birding with you anytime. You want to be a superbirder, and chances are you will be. But the sooner you learn that your brain is way faster than your eyes really are, the sooner you'll get the trust and respect that you crave.

Be safe out there.

You can visit Rob Fergus's blog at http://birdchaser.blogspot.com


2009-03-23T09:57:55+00:00