(Copyright 2003, Dee Fairbanks Simpson. Originally published in SCAS Limpkin)
As your recently re-elected vice president, after two years of holding this office, I feel it is time to come clean and confess: I am a terrible birder. I guess the main reason is my lack of observational skills. Those of you on the Audubon e-mail list are familiar with what has now become known as "The Ulumay Incident," but for those of you who are not aware of it, I will share my journal entry from a year ago on the subject:
Saturday, May 31, 2003: I have heard that observation is one of the key skills for being a birder. Today, I decided to go up to Ulumay to do some sketching. To be honest, I've never really seen the attraction of Ulumay. I mean, it's just a 1/4 mile dirt road that dead ends into a pier. I've been there about six times and have never seen anything other than a few Ospreys in the nests along the road. Today, while walking down the dirt road, I came across this big yellow gate... and then noticed trails and birds and water. In my own defense, as big yellow gates go, it's not a HUGE yellow gate... I mean anyone could have missed it (and hence the ENTIRE sanctuary)... repeatedly... over the course of three years... Also, in my defense, I wasn't wearing my glasses (which I guess doesn't really explain how I missed the ENTIRE SANCTUARY my first five visits...).
Now, lets fast forward a year to last Sunday. Having spent most of the last year cavorting with one of the greatest birders in Florida, I thought that I was finally starting to get the hang of this observation stuff. I went out on a solo trip to the Viera wetlands to see what I could see. I quickly recorded the big, obvious birds (Cara Cara, Great Egret, White Ibis, Tri-color Heron) and some of the floaty type birds (Coot, Moorhen, Pied-bill Grebe, Blue-wing Teal) but then I saw...something else. It was a smallish, pointy bird, which I quickly narrowed down to some type of Tern. I immediately ruled out Royal Tern as it did not have that male-pattern baldness thing going on; I ruled out Caspian because it did not have the wicked red-orange beak. I watched the bird for a long time, remembering all the things I should look for, What color is the beak? (black) What shape is the beak? (stabby) What markings does it have? (black eye patches) Finally, I opened my Sibley's guide, and felt that the only thing it could possibly be was a juvenile Forster's Term. I was ever so proud of myself, and positive that I had correctly identified it all on my own.
Then I drove on. A large bird flew beside my car and I watched it intently for a moment, and quickly wrote down, "Great Blue Heron," a no-brainer. There's not too much that you can mistake for a Great Blue Heron after all, even if he is in flight. And the lighting isn't good. And uh, you aren't wearing your glasses... The Great Blue Heron landed on top of a dead snag in front of my car (okay, that should have been my first clue.) As I drove up beside it, I started to realize, that it was in fact, not a Great Blue Heron. In fact it wasn't a Heron at all, it wasn't even a shore bird. Did I mention that I was not wearing my glasses? It was, in fact, an...
(Note: Those of you who voted to elect me vice president of a birding organization might want to stop reading at this point. Those of you left reading who have told me that in light of the company I've been keeping, my birding skills should REALLY be improving, please promise that you will not hold the following against him or take this in any way as a reflection on his teaching skills.)
Now, again, in all fairness to me, I am used to only seeing Osprey in the Ulumay parking area.