Confessions of a Rookie Birder: Wonderful and unique

Watching a Hairy Woodpecker, my first ever, with birding friends Miki McBride and Craig Taylor. (Photo by Bob Williamson)

I’ve got a high type-A personality. I’m all about the tasks that need to be done and how I’m going to do it. Back in the 80s when collecting Beanie Babies was the craze, I got hooked when I found out there was a list for all the collectible animals. Armed with that list, I scoured stores in Atlanta, New York, and even London, looking for ones I had missed. My collection numbered in the hundreds. Sadly, the daughter I bought them for didn’t want to take them into adulthood. I was stuck with something no one wanted any longer and ended up donating them to send to soldiers in Afghanistan to give to the children they met there. I’m certainly not saying that they were wasted because the soldiers were grateful to have something small to share with the children, however, I did let the act of finding the next Beanie Baby become way too important to me.

As a rookie birder, I’ve been excitedly marking off each new species I’ve seen and kept careful track of the numbers on the master list I have. In the first few months, I saw about 65 species. Then, the migratory birds moved on, and the number of new bird sightings has slacked off. I’ve probably only seen 6 or 7 new birds since then.

It’s hard not to become disappointed when new bird sightings don’t happen, especially when we’re on a birdwatching outing. I want to be able to check off more birds! Recently after a day of birding at Gibbs Gardens with friends Miki McBride and Craig Taylor, I saw my first Hairy Woodpecker. I had one bird to check off for the entire day.

But that Hairy Woodpecker was not the star of the day. Instead, it was the Red-eyed Vireo baby in the nest that captured our attention. The nest was right next to the walkway and yet was hidden deep in the tree. We watched that baby for several minutes. People stopped as they walked by and asked us what we were watching. We explained it, and they quickly continued on, having no idea of what they were missing.

Baby Red-eyed Vireo in the nest (Photo by Craig Taylor)

Craig Taylor, a birder of 15 years, wrote of the Vireo baby: “When birding, I have found that sometimes the best trips are the ones where you don’t see the most birds, but you see something wonderful and unique that will stay with you for a very long time. This was one such trip.” I agree with Craig. What we saw was a moment of watching God’s divine creation in a very private moment.

Seeing the divine in action doesn’t happen all the time. I’m not saying that God is not at work all the time, because He is. Yet, we don’t always see it, much less revel in it. I pray that God teaches me to revel more in His work and pay less attention to whatever lists have become a priority that day.

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