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My Life’s Birds: #397

June 9, 2010
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October 1, 2006 – Jordan Lake, NC – Nearly all of us have them on our lists.  Those birds for whom memory hazes and doubt creeps in.  Those bird for whom you have some reason to question your mindset at the time.   A lone observation out of many that causes one to pause and re-evaluate exactly what was going on in your head when you saw it.  This is one of those for me, though it only occurred less than four years ago when I should be able to bring the details to mind if I wanted to, but perhaps I’m subconsciously protecting myself from the harsh truth.  That in keeping this particular bird on my life list I’m committing the cardinal sin of the “good” birder, to not jump the gun unless the evidence is overwhelmingly in your favor.

See, I was riding a high from a couple weeks prior, when I surreptitiously picked up a group of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels on Jordan Lake following the passage of Tropical Storm Ernesto.  The endorphin high from that legitimately great find was still coursing through my veins every time I headed out in the field, and I had probably convinced myself at the time that I was a slightly sharper birder than I really was.  I considered myself sharp enough that when I spotted a flocking group of terns fishing on a far arm of Jordan Lake, I found at least one that I was comfortable calling Common Tern, rather than the more expected Forster’s.

Now Common Tern is not a state rarity by any means, but it’s somewhat uncommon this far inland where Forster’s Terns move through the area in some numbers in mid-fall.  This is where the memory gets a little hazy, because I don’t remember what specifically about the birds in question led me to this conclusion.  Perhaps I really did see a grayer body, a bright red bill.  There was, definitively, a black cap at a time when most Forster’s have transitioned to their bandito mask so perhaps I was on the right track, but there’s really no way of knowing for sure.

So what to do?  It’s not as if removing this particular sighting interferes with my life list, it merely pushes the date of my first Common Tern down the road a few months.  The only potential issue is that this remains my only Common Tern in Chatham County and, as a new-found county lister, that’s no small thing anymore.  So do I cut my losses and throw up my hands, or do I trust that my past self knew what he was doing and stick with it?

For now the bird stays on the list, but no promises for what the future holds.

COMTER from wikipedia

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4 Comments
  1. June 9, 2010 7:34 am

    I do not believe you had a Common Tern…I think it was an Arctic.

  2. Nate permalink*
    June 9, 2010 11:31 am

    @Corey- That makes so much sense now.

  3. June 9, 2010 11:36 am

    Argh, I’ve got a sighting or two like this on my life list. Usually it comes when I see a bird but do not hear it vocalize, which would clinch it. Luckily it’s only one or two… but who knows when it’ll happen again! o_o

  4. June 9, 2010 6:30 pm

    My figuring on these is if they were seen after the point that you were aware that it was a difficult field problem then you probably got it right and keep it on there (and hope for another).
    Great reminder to take notes about everything the least bit unusual (and that includes staked-out birds, don’t end up like me and describe the entirety of your first Boreal Owl as “just sitting in a tree”).

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