The Eureka Moment

I have been birding almost five years. I usually go out Saturday morning until noon and Sunday afternoon for a few hours. Plus a few times during the week if possible. The schedule fits my family and work schedule.

Since I haven’t been birding my whole life, there are many, many people that have more knowledge and field experience than I do. Put simply, there are a lot more knowledgeable birders than me. I have a lot to learn.

But on the other hand if you pay attention, listen to other birders, learn from your mistakes, you can learn a lot in five years. So I put myself in the middle of the vast spectrum from beginner to experienced birder.

When I look back I see I made almost every rookie mistake someone can make. As in all aspects of life I think you need to make these mistakes. (as long as they don’t harm you) But the one thing that stands out is the time wasted in searching for uncommon birds because the literature isn’t specific enough.

First example. My first winter birding, 2009, had a small eruption of White-winged Crossbills. I had already figured out that I liked being nudged in the right direction to find birds. Not to be given an exact location. The local listserv kept talking about finding White-winged Crossbills in certain types of evergreens. They stated the types of trees, so I looked them on the Internet. That was no help. I had immersed myself in learning birds, not trees. I figured I would circle back in a few years and learn trees. I needed something different to help me.

Second example. The next winter people were talking about Northern Sew-whet Owls and where they were finding them. In the different parks and forests. No real help there.

Now it’s the third winter. Matt Fraker on Illinois Birders Forum was talking about the Northern Sew-whet Owls he found on his farm. He showed a few pictures of the owls. AND HE HAD A PICTURE OF THE HABITAT TAKEN FROM 50-100 YARDS AWAY.

Matt Fraker NSWO

(Here is a link to Illinois Birding Forum post where the above picture by Matt was taking the following year.  I couldn’t locate the one from 2011)

http://www.ilbirds.com/index.php?topic=51927.msg81102#msg81102

The light bulb went off in my head. He had shown the picture to demonstrate how easy it was to miss seeing the owl. But it was exactly what I was looking for. A picture of the habitat for an uncommon bird. Why wasn’t there more pictures of the habitat and less of the birds?

At that point I didn’t need to see another picture of Northern Sew-whet Owl. Or the need to know the exact location of a uncommon owl. But a picture of the habitat was what I needed to find uncommon birds.

So one of the goals of this blog will be to hopefully show habitats for uncommon birds. And hopefully birders from other locations will share habitat pictures.

Epilog. Using Matt’s pictures as a guide to a similar location, I played a Northern Sew-whet Owl tape for a minute or so. I immediately had two fly in and start with the hoot call which I recorded. After 3 minutes of hooting they stopped when three or five or more Barred Owls appeared above us in the trees and started calling loudly. One of my best birding experiences. And it all happened because Matt posted a pictures of habitat which I immediately linked to habitat in my local area.

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