Classic For the Birds: Much learned; much to learn

Here’s a For the Birds column from 15 years ago. Yes, I’ve been writing it for that long, and even longer. Enjoy …

Photo by Chris Bosak A Snowy Egret looks for food in Norwalk Harbor.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Snowy Egret looks for food in Norwalk Harbor.

It’s funny how things that seem so difficult at the beginning eventually become so easy.
It can be said of just about any hobby, but it certainly applies to birdwatching.
I can remember struggling with differentiating great egrets from snowy egrets. It seems somewhat silly now. Great egrets are markedly larger, have yellow bills and black legs and feet. Snowy egrets, aside from being much smaller, have black bills and yellow feet.
The differences are clear and obvious now. But, as a beginner, I saw only tall white birds and telling them apart was a challenge.
Similar experiences occurred with wood thrushes and hermit thrushes, downy and hairy woodpeckers, black ducks and mallards, house finches and purple finches. Now these are all fairly easy to differentiate.
But just when you think you’ve got this birding thing down, there’s something to knock you down a peg or two to show you how much more there is to learn.
Sure, wood thrushes and hermit thrushes are easy now, but what about if you throw in Swainson’s thrush and gray-cheeked thrush? What about northern waterthrush and Louisiana waterthrush? Common tern and Forster’s tern? Least sandpiper and semipalmated sandpiper?
Unless you are an expert or have a special birding gift, there will always be something to learn. There will always be something to throw you for a loop just when you start feeling a little too confident.
It’s easy to get frustrated when that happens. “Semipalmated sandpiper or least sandpiper? Geez, I should know that by now. What’s wrong with me?”
When frustration sets in, it’s important to look back on how far you’ve come, even though that’s not so easy when the frustration is at its peak. That’s good advice for anything in life, really.
I thought about that the other day as I watched a lone great egret and lone snowy egret hunting the same hot spot along the Long Island Sound.
As the waders crossed paths and briefly stood right next to each other, the differences were glaring. The great egret towered over the snowy and the snowy’s yellow feet glowed like beacons.
I love watching egrets. I slow the car when I see them along the roadside, and take time to enjoy them when I’m birdwatching or simply taking a walk. Seeing egrets reminds me of how far my birdwatching skills have come.
There are plenty of reminders out there about how far my skills still have to go, so I may as well cherish the ones that show the progress I have made.

1 thought on “Classic For the Birds: Much learned; much to learn

  1. It is the same with the hairy & downy woodpeckers. They are hard to tell which is which until they are in the same tree together. Wow! We have trouble with the shore birds…and be live in Florida. I have my Sibley’s with always & often take pictures of birds, not for the shot but so I can identify them later. Perfect description of a life as a birder.

    Liked by 1 person

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