“What’s that bird?” “Heck if I know.”

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‘Confessions of an Experiential Birder’

I’ve often said that birding is like jury duty with feathers. (See “Jury Duty, Only with Feathers.”) Or that bridge is indoor golf. (See “Bridge? It’s Basically Indoor Golf”.) I also used to say that Hell is other people’s children. But I must be getting soft in my old age — or maybe I’m just craving grandkids — because other people’s children don’t bother me as much as they used to. Unless they are seated behind me on a plane. (See “The Four Seatmates of the Apocalypse.”)

One thing I haven’t said much is the name of a bird if someone asks me.

This is what one of our guides would call a “fancy bird.” Some kind of woodpecker; just don’t ask me which one

That’s basically because, unless it’s some bird that the asker probably already knows the name of — think “robin” or “blue jay” or “wren,” if you’re not too picky about the type of wren — I won’t know. I’m a birder, but I’m not the kind of birder who keeps track of names, much less genus and species and other technical whatnot.

I do keep track of funny signs. (See “Oh no, Danger Man!”) Like this one somewhere in Brazil indicating parking for those over 60

Why, I don’t keep track of anything about the birds. Unless it’s some really interesting experience associated with that bird. Like, on our Northeast Brazil trip, there was this macaw — the Lear’s, or Indigo Macaw — that lives only in a very specific type of canyon. You can read more about this macaw here, but basically, there are only a few hundred of them, they weren’t recognized as a species until 1978 — and, if you want to see them, you have to go to this one sandstone canyon via four-wheel-drive at daybreak to watch them come out of their nests and swoop around. Now that’s an experience — and that I remember.

Waiting around the sandstone canyon for the Lear’s Macaw to show up. They did. And so did some listers

I’m most definitely not a “lister.” Listers are birders who keep a list of all the birds they’ve seen. And, trust me, they care about that list. I’ve had encounters with listers a few times on our trips. Mostly, they’re okay. Though it can get a bit old to have someone constantly piping up “6499!” (the number of birds in their Life List just achieved) or “Lifer!” (meaning the bird just spotted is the first time the person has seen it in his/her life). Variations on this rack-’em-up theme include “day bird,” which is the first time that bird has been seen that day, and “trip bird,” same thing, only for the trip. “Day bird” can also mean a bird that’s been seen every day of the trip. On our most recent excursion, it was the black vulture. Which should tell you something about that trip.

Iguazu (or, in Brazil, Iguacu) Falls. Another terrific experience, especially with these swifts that go dive-bombing through the falls every evening

At the end of every birding day, the group gets together with their checklists and the guide/leader goes through all the birds seen that day. Fortunately for me, this happens at cocktail hour. I dutifully check birds off as I sip, say, a cold local beer or a  caipirinha.Three guesses what happens to the lists.

Paddling on a hot river where there were many caiman — and lots of cool birds too

So. If you see me after one of our birding trips, feel free to ask me about my experiences. (I have lots of good stories — like the one where we had to go to a water park on a Sunday to find a certain rare mannikin. The beautiful Brazilians in their bikinis didn’t quite know what to make of us.)

Just don’t ask me the names of any of the birds.

Amagansett, New York. April 2024

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4 thoughts on ““What’s that bird?” “Heck if I know.”

  1. roy edroso

    “6499!” makes me think of the Old Comedians Home joke: this fella gets taken to visit the Old Comedians’ Home, which looks like an English gentlemen’s club — very old guys sitting in club chairs, sipping drinks, reading, dozing. Suddenly one calls out, “47.” There is a general appreciative titter. Another calls, “27.” A milder response. “What’s this?” the guest whispers. “These comedians have been in the business so long,” says his host, “that they’ve given numbers to all the jokes, in order to save themselves the effort of telling them out loud.” Then a comedian calls out, “36,” which gets some warm laughter — except for one comedian who absolutely howls and doubles over with laughter. “What’s with him?” asks the guest. “Well,” says the host, “I guess he’s never heard that one before.”

    • OMG, Roy! And LMAO too. Did I ever tell you about my brother who thought LOL meant “lots of love?” He once wrote to a friend: “So sorry your cat died. LOL.” But back to the Old Comedians’ Home! I guess you could call out “36,” because I’ve never heard this joke before (!) Thank you! It’s going to be my new favorite. Speaking of jokes, have you ever seen that documentary called The Aristocrats? About that dirty joke of the same name?

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