Developing confidence in the field: a note from experience…

This up-coming migration period, try getting out birding with birders with more field experience and mention ahead of time that you’re looking to work on (enter bird group name, i.e.: shorebirds or fall warblers) and call some of the ID’s, but would prefer to have them vetted for accuracy afterwards.

Recalling my early days in the field, I was blessed to bird with mega talents and each one of them had mythical qualities: vast knowledge base from many years of field experience, a history of finding/correctly identifying rare and vagrant birds, a squeaky-clean reputation with very few noteworthy field blunders, and no apparent dishonesty in the field. It took me a long while before I could even speak about birds around them, let alone speak with authority! Little did I know at the time, an important sifting and grinding process was occurring. Never did it feel particularly good (tripping over ID’s and getting called on it (in a friendly, constructive way); racing to conclusions in an excited state, then back-peddling, then racing forward again…then getting called on it; and, the most painful: providing an explanation for an ID call and having the ear of an expert tilted in, listening intently!) but these were very important steps to developing a true sense of authority in the field. For example, in late April of 2013, while birding in Prince Edward Co., I asked my highly-skilled birding partner to not go easy on me and I would see how well I would fare. I rated the day 75/25 in his favor but I still snuck a few solid ID calls in. I went home that evening with a smile on my face and thought “I got a few good ones in on ‘im!” It’s in those moments that I began to develop confidence in the field and, at the time, what was a distant, flickering light of authority.

I guess what I’m getting at is, in my development as a birder, the act of frequently toeing the line in the presence of experts was equally important to  simply being around them, soaking in their vast, personalised field knowledge. I always kept an open mind, held no prejudice over my identifications and took blows right on the chin; only a handful of times I internalised an identification correction, went home and sat down and sulked, but quickly I would snap out of it, go upstairs, flick on my study light, slide a reference guide under it and get back down to work.

So, why not start with fall warblers? ;). Like any good student, study, study, study now before the big test in only 4-5 weeks’ time. If you’re shy, the field lessons are all the more potent in their ability to ‘transform’ your abilities, so get out there and raise your birding game!

Photo: A first basic (first year) female Blackburnian Warbler. Britannia C.A., Ottawa. 22 August 2014.