Sunday, January 29, 2006

Rare Birds

Looking out the window today, idly watching a small bird work its way up the trunk of a tree at the edge of the yard, I suddenly realized that I didn't know what I was seeing. Luckily binoculars were at hand, and I was able to see that the bird was a brown creeper!

This is only the second time in my life that I've seen one of these birds although they overwinter in this part of the world, as well as breed here. They are just so small, and so well camouflaged, that they are not easy to see. Lately I've noticed on the Ontario birder listserv I subscribe to and on blogs I read (see for example "brown creeper" at Bootstrap Analysis or "A Beautiful Day" at A DC Birding Blog or "Creeping Along" at Woodsong) many reports of the creeper. I've gotten over feeling hard done by that there are so many reports of snowy owls around this year and I've yet to see one. But a brown creeper, when there are so many around all the time, it didn't seem like too much to ask.

I feel much better now.

But it made me think about a post I read at Birding is NOT a crime!!!! recently about a smack down by an experienced birder of a newby, for carefully reporting as if it were a great find the sighting of a common bird. And it made me think of a comment Mike of 10,000 Birds left on a post here about my first sighting of a red-bellied woodpecker.
I just wanted to say how enjoyable it is to hear your excitement over a bird I take for granted. Red-bellies are extremely common here in New York, the product of their long march northward. I often drool over the boreal/arctic birds you and the Canadian clan (Clare and Trix, take a bow) see, so it's nice to see the shoe on the other foot!
Context is everything. In the case of the red-bellied woodpecker the context is region--a new bird to me, a regular further south. The context of my brown creeper, and lack thereof--probably level of experience. As I said, they're hard to see, but as birders learn as they grow, what couldn't be seen before, with more experience turns up all over the place. When you start out--first start to take seeing and identifying birds seriously, everything is new, everything is rare. I remember the amazement I felt when I first identified a black-billed cuckoo--perhaps only matched by that I felt when I learned that the black-billed cuckoo is quite a common bird (though sneaky, and pretty quiet, so somewhat hard to see). I remember and I enjoy seeing/reading about others going through the same learning process.

The example of an oft-reported commonplace given at the end of the post at Birding is NOT a crime!!!! is the sighting of four cardinals in the Illinois backyard. I don't know about Illinois, but really, four??!!! I've never seen four cardinals all at once--and if I did, I'd be sure to tell someone about it.


Anonymous said...

It'll be a sad day when people dismiss everything not novel. What's wrong with appreciating and taking delight in what's common, everyday, familiar? Sure, it's a buzz to see something rare and unexpected, but there's so much to entrance us, all around us all the time. Look closely and you'll see the texture of the feathers, the way the bill meets the face, the way feet grip the branch, the way the wind ruffles plumage; listen carefully to what the bird's saying, in context... this could be a bird you see many times every day.

Watching birds is not stamp collecting. Looking at a bird doesn't mean you see it.

Anonymous said...

Wish I could say it half as elegantly as you Pete. My comment was much less poetic.

Anonymous said...

But just as true, Clare.

Pamela Martin said...

Thanks for the comments.

Very nicely said Pete--expresses so clearly why "seeing" the brown creeper meant so much to me. The snowy owl would be great fun to see, but it will soon be going back home --really what I like best is getting to know this little bit of eastern Ontario better and better.

And I agree that Clare's comment at BINAC made the other point that needed to be made very well.

Anonymous said...

wonderful, you got your brown creeper! Each year when migrants arrive, it's like seeing old friends, but friends I never tire of watching or listening to. Listen for the tinkle-bell sound of the creeper.. very soft, but very unique... and like the creeper, so very sweet :)

Pamela Martin said...

Thanks for the comment Cindy. I'd love to hear a creeper. My ears get better at picking out new songs--as my eyes do--hence, I believe, allowing me to see the creeper this time. So maybe this spring....

Anonymous said...

Yes, we all know how nice it is to spot something new or rare or odd, but if it weren't for the hum-drum sparrows and busy little juncos I surely wouldn't love birds. These everyday birds and their actions are what drew me to birding in the first place and if I never record or note it or write it down again it is because I simply too busy enjoying their presence.