Slight Setback

Beloved Birders!

I got ahead of myself a few posts ago, when I marvelled at my newfound abilities to recognize a few birds by song. Call it hubris, call it being human, call it wishful thinking.

All that to say that, unsurprisingly, I have been humbled, brought back to earth, so to speak. This weekend, upon arriving at Sam Smith park, I heard a bird I thought I recognized and immediately smiled to myself and said, Eastern Phoebe. There could be no doubt — I knew the song of the phoebe, the way the bird utters its own name, accented on the second raspy syllable. Well…It turned out to be an American goldfinch.

The worst part isn’t so much the misidentification — that happens all the time — but what gets me is the certainty with which I said it. I can almost hear the smugness in my own voice.

For a minute, I felt myself shrinking in my seat, thinking how could this STILL be happening, how could I STILL be making the same mistakes. And then I straightened up and laughed to myself. A few years ago, I couldn’t distinguish a goldfinch from a warbler and I didn’t even know what a phoebe was, let alone be able to describe its call.

What does one do in the face of such birding setbacks? Here’s a partial list:

  1. Smile. Get over it. Eat a peach. Have a donut.
  2. Review the songs when you get home. Laugh at your error. Marvel that the two songs ever sounded remotely alike in your mind.
  3. Ponder the possibility of scientific discovery: perhaps you witnessed a unique situation of a goldfinch impersonating a phoebe? Maybe the goldfinch you heard was in the throes of an identity crisis?
  4. Recall that Downy woodpecker call you heard a few minutes after the erroneous ID and remember your correct ID. Smile. One day can contain multitudes.
  5. Remember this day in all of its vivid clarity; a few years from now you’ll be stunned that such a mistake could have taken place. You’ll be on to other, bigger, brighter, more astonishing mistakes.
  6. Have an ice cream sandwich. Make plans to go birding again next week.

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