You know that feeling when you're walking down the street and you find $100,000 in large bills on the sidewalk? Well, neither do I. However, if I were to find a stack of 100 $1,000 bills on the street, I imagine my heart would skip a beat or two before my disbelief vanished and everything suddenly became real again. That's exactly how I felt when this guy flew into the feeder array this morning.
***Click to enlarge, its worth it***
I have actually never before photographed House sparrow.
A new species for my collection - seriously!
Since I had found my only target bird for the day, I really took my time riding in the afternoon. I altered my route so as to explore the Croom tract of the Withlacoochee Forest. This area looked nothing like the other areas of Florida in which I have birded. It had some swampy cypress areas, some open pine areas, and, most surprisingly, mixed deciduous woodlands that I more typically associate with my Northeast roots. I was able to locate in these woodlands several flocks of warblers, vireos, and gnatcatchers. It actually felt like spring as I hurt my neck trying to identify small, fast-moving warblers at the tops of huge trees! It will be nice to make the transition from the waterbird-heavy Florida birding to the passerine birds I expect to find in Lousiana and Eastern Texas. It will also mean another big bump to the year's species list. During my ride through the Croom tract, I saw a number of areas that look perfect for Bachman's sparrow. I am going to return to this area very early tomorrow morning to see if I can find some singing birds. This will, again, represent a 20-mile detour, so I really hope this works out. In the afternoon I plan to ride to Ocala where I will spend tomorrow night watching college basketball.
67 miles total with some unmapped riding
Actual big trees in Florida - who knew?!?!?
HOLY @#$%^&*! An Eastern whip-poor-will (#248) just called outside the house where I am staying! This is a bird about which I was starting to worry as I am migrating north faster than they are at the moment. Bill Pranty said that the areas along side of railroad tracks can often be good for this species. As luck would have it, the bike path on which I finished my day was built on an old railway bed. I thought the path looked perfect for Whip-poor-will, and I was going to make a predawn run down the bike path (en route to search for Bachman's sparrow at the Croom tract) to look for Whip-poor-will tomorrow morning. It is nice to know that they are around, and I am even more motivated now to go out and see one. While I originally counted many birds as heard ("H" on the running bird list) when I first encountered them in 2014, I have now seen all heard birds minus this Eastern whip-poor-will and King Rail. Yes, "heard only" birds are a bit of a disappointment compared to species actually seen, but this feeling is lessened by the fact that they are on on the year list nonetheless.
I now want to turn to something about which I thought much today: when does passion turn into obsession? One of the reasons that I returned to look for the Budgerigar today is that I personally cannot stand leaving anything unfinished. For those that have been reading this blog for the last few weeks, you will recall my behavior during my Mangrove cuckoo search. I rode many, many extra miles to find this one bird (which I never did, at least by my own standards). The problem in the birding equation is that the diligence of the birder is only one of the two main variables - the sought bird being the other. Scientist Louis Pasteur once said that "Chance favors only the prepared mind." Basically, you have to put yourself in position in order for something fortuitous to occur. To some degree this is certainly true; Zero rare species will be observed from you sofa. However, even infinite time in the field cannot guarantee a sighting of a rare bird; It's not how probability works. There is always going to be a degree of uncertainty in birding, and no mater how hard any individual "birds", this amount of uncertainty will never reach zero for those most desired species. Knowing then that there is such a large amount of chance in birding, why do I (and many other birders) take it so personally when desired species were missed. Why do we get upset about outcomes over which we do not have total control? This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just a critical point about which I spent a lot of time thinking today.
To go one step further, I realized that my previous career in science is much like birding. I would spend hours upon hours in my lab doing experiments that would hopefully permit me to conclude something meaningful and novel about the cellular processes which I was investigating. The problem, again, was that much of this was dependent on chance. Given a list of 50 genes to investigate, how does one pick the 1 or 2 that are ultimately going to be at all interesting? 90% of scientific investigations are uninteresting dead ends, so how does anyone know to work on the interesting 10%? Pasteur's postulate here holds water as well, but surely chance cannot favor every prepared mind. That only happens in that fictional place where all children are of above average intelligence. I spent nights in the lab, gave up my weekends, ignored friends, and eventually drove myself crazy trying to produce meaningful and interesting data. I eventually became so frustrated with the inherent chance that dictated success in science that I left altogether. Birding is also driven by large chance, so why have I not hung up my binoculars as well? Driving 13 hours round-trip (in snow!) to Montreal only to miss Ross' gull is actually unlikely to deter me from doing it again for the same bird. Why is this?
The only answer at which I could arrive is that birding, unlike scientific research, isn't only about results; The process is as important as the results. At the end of the day, the story of the bird chase has to be enough since we acknowledge ahead of time that there is a very distinct possibility that desired bird will not be found. My scientific obsession really hurt my mental health and my outlook on the world. My birding obsession has done exactly the opposite. Each bird I chase is not just another tick mark, but also another potentially interesting story and set of personal contacts that I might make. Ultimately, the real rewards reaped from birding materialize without feathers, and this is why I permit myself these crazed indulgences that others might might see as completely overboard. My current obsession is opening many more doors than it is closing. For that reason, I'll continue on the path that I am currently riding.