Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I'm a shit birder.

Eastern Wood-Pewee by Henry McLin.

Among my friends, I'm a birding genius. Among my birding peers, I'm tall and have tattoos. See, my friends don't know anything about birding and therefore I seem to know everything about it. But I'm going to make a confession to them. I suck, SO hard at birding. And punctuation I guess. A few weeks ago, with a brief early summer, people were seeing birds ahead of schedule. I was hearing them. I'm walking down main street Orono and I clearly hear a Pewee. Peeaweee, peeaaa, he sang. Impulsive as ever and thinking you all hang on my every tweet, I posted it. I was promptly corrected and told this was impossible in March. Like never has happened in history impossible. But it was that song. There've been no sightings of Mockingbirds on main street that I know of, not lately anyway. Still, the entire Ontario birding world would have descended upon me if I were right. I found the starling the next day singing from the top of a neighbour's. If I knew the lyrics to a culling song, that starling would've taken a dirt nap that night.

Alder Flycatcher by jerryoldenettel.

A few days later I see a flycatcher in the tree behind my home (to be fair, I had no bins and it was a good 45 ft away). A good birder would've went right to Eastern Phoebe based on where and what date. A shit one like me went right to Empidonax flycatchers upon hearing it sing to make an ID. Of course, like an arse, I tweet that I have a Alder Flycatcher in my yard. Not paying enough attention to the call, which would've put me squarely on Eastern Phoebe. Again I'm politely corrected. Much eye rolling I'm sure by several good birders nice enough to give me the time of day, despite my clear and monumental retardation.

Eastern Phoebe by kenschneiderusa.

Anyway, I could go on about stupid mistakes in ID that I've made if you have a few days to spare, but instead, I'll focus on how severe and public embarrassment is a great learning tool. Those two mistakes alone will help me ID three birds correctly from now on (four if you count the starling). I guess the key to learning bird ID is f**king up the first few times.

European Starling by Kelly Colgan Azar.

Punk Rock Big Year
Paul Riss


  1. i hear ya man. great post. I know my list would be huge... but if I'm not 100% certain, i can't list it.
    damn birds ;)
    also, i saw your name in the birds and blooms mag the other day

  2. Man, by your definition, we're ALL shit birders, or have been, on our way to becoming good birders. I've made some howlers that make the mistakes you describe above seem like polite scholarly differences.

  3. Thanks Scott, people keep telling me about that story in Birds and Blooms. I just don't have the issue. I have a love hate relationship with listing. I try and not be a crazy lister but when something cool shows up, I can't help it.

  4. OC, I can't explain how awesome your comment makes me feel. I sometimes feel like I'm the only one that claims to be an avid birder that makes mistakes like that. There's been worse but I'll leave those to quietly fade into the past.

  5. Hey Paul,

    I enjoyed reading your confessional. At least you have the guts to post it and learn, one way or the other. If I'm tepid on a species I usually just let it lay, never really improving (this could be laziness and much as cowardice).

    At any rate, I will publicly admit that I once looked at a "Black Vulture" for a good 5 second, through my binoculars, before realizing it was one of those hefty black yard work bags blowing by.

  6. Thanks Laurence, sorry for the delayed response. This blogger thing sometimes leaves comments in the 'awaiting moderation' black hole. We've all been fooled by a plastic bag at one time or other. Any birder that says otherwise is also a lier.