A while back a friend very excitingly sent a photo around of a Meadowlands bird that he later realized he misidentified. He felt very badly about his slipup and saw a need to apologize for it. I explained to him that there was really no need since every birder makes mistakes, only nowadays our blunders make it all over list serves, twitter, websites and Facebook just to name a few.
A wise old birder once told me that the only difference between an experienced birder and a beginner is that the expert has misidentified more birds. But my friend’s apology got me thinking. I often wonder what If I had to apologize for every bird I misidentified? What If I had to make amends for every warbler I spotted darting through the trees I was wrong about? Since I attended Catholic school growing up and got pretty use to making confessions over the years and I also retained my deep sense of guilt I thought I would just say my act of contrition now and say I am sorry for all my past, present and future birding bungles.
First I should say I am sorry for all the Mourning Doves I thought were American Kestrels, in fact I probably will continue to make this mistake because I really enjoy watching Kestrels and I want to make every Dove into a Falcon. A few times I even wrongly ID’d a Kestrel as a Mourning dove. I have not decided if I need to apologize for that one.
I better say I am very sorry for making Northern Mockingbirds I would very much like to make into Northern Shrikes. I know Shrikes are a rarity, especially here in the Meadowlands. But If I keep thinking all the Mockingbirds are Shrikes sooner or later I am bound to be right. And now let’s see, I am not sure how many Red-tailed hawks I thought were Rough-legged Hawks. I think Red-tails just impersonate them to throw me off, but I guess I am sorry for all those mess-ups too.
I also confess to thinking a floating bleach bottle was a Common Merganser; funny how they look the same, especially in winter. A few weeks ago I thought a stick with white paint stuck in the mud was a Black-crowned Night Heron, but when I looked in the scope it wasn’t to be, so I am sorry about that one too.
A while back we had a group misidentification. Someone looking though a spotting scope swore they had a Great Horned Owl. Two more of us expert birders looked and agreed. Yes! A Great Horned. But a few hours later when the Owl didn’t move a feather and began to change colors we realized it was just a shadow made by the leaves in the tree. We looked in Sibley’s to see if there was a new species of Leaf Owl but no such luck, so I better say I apologize for that one also.
I better just send out a blanket apology now for all the shorebirds in the past, present and future I have and will misidentify. They are pretty tough. I better add some of the fall warblers also and for good measure just add the spring ones to my list also. And I will save a lot of time later if I mention the Sparrows. I am sure I will mistake a Song for a Savannah somewhere along the line at the very least.
Birding above all else should be fun. If we can’t make mistakes then how can we learn? Why would they make field guides that only point out more of our mistakes if birders didn’t screw up on a regular basis?
Let’s go out into the fields and woods and enjoy ourselves. We can figure out our mistakes later, and by the way no need to apologize, I am Ok with it.