Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tuesday Morning Expectations

Over the years I've learned that when I'm out birding, the fewer expectations I have, the more I enjoy myself. Birds are so mobile and unpredictable that if I go out looking for 1 or 2 target species I usually don't find them, and then I feel disappointed. I know this intellectually, but it's one of those lessons I have to re-learn every now and then for it to sink into my emotions. Yesterday (Tuesday) morning was a good example. When I led my neighborhood bird walk on Sunday, there was a stretch of tall grasses by the creek that was loaded with native sparrows. Native sparrows are mostly just in the neighborhood during the winter. I hadn't seen very many yet this season so I was excited to find all these birds. But sparrows are hard to see. They pop up from the grass briefly and pop back down. Or they pop up and fly further away out of view. Trying to see them can be discouraging to beginners and first-time birders, who I try to cater to on my bird walks. So I didn't spend much sifting through these small obscure birds with my group.

But I took yesterday off and returned by myself to this stretch of tall grass to really do some serious sparrow'ing! I could re-find that Grasshopper Sparrow and get a better photo! Maybe there'd be a Le Conte's Sparrow! Who knows what I'd find hidden in the tall grass! (Click below to continue...)

Well actually, it was kind of dead. Where'd the birds go? I missed my chance! So there I was, on vacation, outside during a beautiful morning,  on my beloved birding patch... and I was disappointed. I half-heartedly continued upstream out of the tall grass to the last dam on the creek. I spent a few minutes scanning the creek, watching the trees, sullenly thinking this morning was going to be a bust. (It's never a bust, but I often think it's going to be a bust.)

Then I heard a quick jumble of high fluting notes coming from a dense area of trees and brush by the small bridge. What was that? I heard it again. Was that a Winter Wren? I walked over and played a Winter Wren recording on my iPhone. That was it! Soon the bird responded with quick chatters and emerged into view above me. This was a bird I've only seen a handful of times anywhere. I got this mediocre photo.

Winter Wren

As I watched and photographed the wren, several Northern Mockingbirds were also responding to the recording, hopping in and out of view, chasing each other around, making noise. Then one of the mockingbirds looked much darker and kind of small. It was a Gray Catbird! They usually just move through our neighborhood during spring and fall migration. And a minute later, boy that mockingbird has a long curved bill... and it's brown. It's a Brown Thrasher! A winter resident in our neighborhood, Brown Thrashers are rarely seen because of their skulking habits and preference for low dense brush. I got this poor photo of the catbird, but missed the thrasher.

Gray Catbird

So from one spot I saw 3 species of birds that I was very excited to find. What a morning! I wasn't disappointed any more. Why did I even let myself feel disappointed in the first place? Because I had specific expectations. I was set on finding sparrows. And while I focused in on sparrow possibilities, I tuned out the others.

I bird best with no expectations. Expectations narrow my mind. I tend to look for the target birds, and I'm not as receptive to the infinity of other possibilities.

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