I am a terrible bird watcher. I hate getting up early in the morning. The older I get, the less I care about distinguishing flycatchers (yet, oddly admire those who live for it). I hate birding in the rain–even if it is a life bird that I may never, ever get the chance to see again.
But when I’m forced to get up early in the morning, I’m generally rewarded with cool birds like the above horned lark skulking out on a gravel road above. Rewarded so long as it isn’t pouring down rain. I enjoyed having that moment with the horned lark, watching it skulk out of the grasses, keep an eye towards the sky for a an aerial predator and go about its business of being a lark.
As one gets older, I think you take stock of what you can no longer do. I grew up with the notion from my mother that I could do whatever I set my mind to, I think a lot of US kids get that: This baby could grow up to be president, a movie star, a sports star, a Playboy Bunny–or all of them! As you get older, you realize certain things. For example, I remember thinking at my 27 birthday, “Oh wow, I’m too old to pose for Playboy, huh.”
But the one thing that hurts the most as I get older is the realization that I won’t see every single bird this planet has to offer–no one has. I even get a little down when I realize just based on time and money that I’m not going to be able to visit every country or even every US city the world has to offer. To see all the birds species in the world is a perilous pursuit, just check out the “famous birdwatchers” on the Birdwatching Wikipedia page and it lists all the horrible deaths (and even gang rape) of people who have attempted such a challenge–not to mention some of the bitterness that can come from family as you choose travel over family time. And truth be told, as much as I lament my husband’s lack of birding interest, I genuinely enjoy his company and find leaving him behind a big fat bummer.
If time is running out, money is in limited quantity and I can only see so many birds in this lifetime, I do feel much better about not wasting energy on all the flycatchers that look exactly alike and focus on the ones I really find interesting. And, not being a field guide author, the pressure is off for me to care about flycatchers that look the same.
As much as I hate getting up at 4 am, I do appreciate things that force me up at all hours and give me great moments. And more and more, I find myself content to spend time with birds that I’ve seen several times before but still give me great views. Above is a savannah sparrow that had a nest near where I was stationed. I think that’s why digiscoping appeals to me. Sometimes I’ll glimpse a brown bird in a gorgeous green background and I want to save that, the green only enhances the subtle beauty of the sparrow.
This pair of savannah sparrows scurried past me several times with beakfuls of squishy bugs for hungry nestlings. I see this species in several states, but I enjoy their familiarity, much the same way I enjoy red-tailed hawks. They also have a sweet, delicated and I fear under appreciated song.
Like the horned lark. This is really a common bird, but many new birders find it evasive and don’t realize that the brown bird with black tail stripes they flush as they drive down gravel roads is a potential lifer. But, if you plant yourself on a gravel road, they come out. When you get a chance to see one, they really are striking with the black horns, mask and bib. Horned larks surrounded me not only on the ground, but in the air too. Their territory song serenades me overhead as I note and count certain bird species.
And so I may not get to see every single bird there is out there, but I am content to sleep in as much as I can and smile while a horned lark takes a dust bath in the middle of a gravel road a few feet from where I’m standing.