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My Life’s Birds: #479

February 16, 2011
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August 9, 2008Weld Co, Co – How well do you have to see a bird before you count it on your life list?  Do you have to have it sitting in front of your for long enough to note the feather tracts and the color of the bare parts?  Is it enough to see one, distinctive though it may be, field mark?  In each of our life lists we definitely have birds that can be described, in the words of one of the birding mentors in my youth, as BVDs.  Not the underwear, but Better View Desireds.  Those birds that, while identified, hardly procure the sort of lingering, appreciatory looks that you want.  It may be that the circumstances prevent close study, or that the species itself is notoriously difficult one to get on, but this is the nature of birding.  These birds torment us, and for many the drive to get better looks of already ticked birds is as strong as the drive for the next lifer.  We don’t just want to see birds, we want to see them well.

The drive back from Yellowstone was an all day affair, diagonally across the vast and, but for the Pronghorns, desolate state of Wyoming and towards the Colorado border and Denver, where I would board a plane back to North Carolina.  Along I-25 between Cheyenne and Denver, in what after a look at an atlas I would peg as Weld County, Colorado, we ran into some road construction.  The interstate was backed up as far as we could see (which is a looong way in eastern Colorado), and like many travelers we pulled off to follow some frontage roads in the hopes that we’d make better time.  Along one of them I glanced up from the road map to see a sandy brown bird with a plain black tail flush from a barbed wire fence.  I pegged it as a Say’s Phoebe, the last lifer of my trip west.

You may ask, then, and not entirely unreasonably, why did I count it with such a poor look?  I admit it’s not pretty, not the sort of thing from which books, or even blog posts (personal ads?  Twitter statii?) are easily inspired, but I had several circumstances in my favor.  For starters, Say’s Phoebe is not a rare bird in the area, nor was the habitat, pasture land and hedgerows, out of the ordinary.  Habitat and probability are as legitimate as field marks as the brown back and the black tail when it’s all said and done.  Sure I would have liked to scream “stop the car!” and seek the bird out, but that wasn’t an option.  As such this Say’s Phoebe, still the only one I’ve ever seen, is firmly established in the BVD category.

I’ll have to wait for that SSV, the Soul Satisfying View, that is sure to come, but when I do it’ll be almost as if I got a lifer again.  And that’s not such a bad thing at all.

SAYPHO via wikipedia

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One Comment
  1. February 16, 2011 11:00 am

    I have, once or twice, refused to count a bird as a lifer based on a (really) poor look. The first time I saw roseate spoonbills, a flock of them were so distant in my scope that all I was sure of was a pinkish tinge. My birding companion was sure of the ID but I didn’t feel right about counting that look as my lifer. So we spent the next hour on a muddy road, hoping not to get stuck out in the middle of no-flippin’-where until we could get close enough for a decent look. I can commiserate with your say’s phoebe. Here’s hoping you get that great look at it soon.

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