Said and Done

Beware birdwatching with the experts ... it can be embarrassing

Three pileated woodpeckers flew in a column tracing capital in their undulating flight. One pileated woodpecker at a time is a fair rarity, three is a bonus.

That sighting was made several years ago in the course of a hike in Vermont. it was in the fall when leaves are down and birds more visible than they are in green seasons. Once in a while you spot a pileated in winter, not often.

These birds are crow-sized, and except for their heads, which are clearly marked with a red and white, they are black. Like all woodpeckers, from the diminutive downy to the larger hairy and golden (flicker), the pileated swings through the air in a series of loops. This undulating flight, different from the flight of other birds, is due to the bird’s closing its wings at the peak of each cast, coasting and falling till, with a burst of energy, it rises again to the peak of its flight.

Crows don’t fly like that. You can’t mistake the one for the other.

Here at this end of Munn’s Ferry Road, we are “birders” in a limited sense of the word. From time to time, over the years, our lack of professionalism has put us in a mild sort of jeopardy.

I can illustrate.

My first tumble in this birding occupation resulted from being tripped up when I made what should have been taken as an innocent observation. I had been invited to go along on a bird search by a dedicated group of hobbyists who head out to find a bird they could add to their “life list.”

My going was a mistake.

Equipped with powerful telescopes, they were looking for a rare duck among a bunch of waterfowl “rafting” well offshore, where you couldn’t separate one duck from another with your naked eye.

My “7 x 50s” were no match for my companions’ telescopes. I would see waves cresting a couple hundred yards out to sea. That was my limit.

Out of frustration, I let it out ... I had spotted an “irascible twit.” My friends had no sense of humor. I was not invited a second time.

I got blind-sided once when I was asked to keep my eyes open for any bird that could be added into a local club’s winter bird count.

I spotted one. There, flying low over the Mount Hermon leaching field, glided a diminutive and handsome arctic tern.

When I reported this “accidental” I got phone calls from two eminent club presidents. They scolded me, they berated me. I was impossible that I had seen an arctic tern.

During my Navy days in northern cold waters I had seen plenty of Arctic terns. On this occasion my experience didn’t answer. I was disqualified. That was the last shot at trying to be helpful in bird searching. I left the field to the experts.

I have one more observation to add to this narrative.

Mother Nature has played an inexplicable trick on us. Genes are not our game.

How could Nature have constructed a piliated woodpecker on one hand and a hummingbird on the other?

In this instance our ignorance really does hurt.

In semi-retirement after 58 years of writing for The Recorder, Paul Seamans of Gill will continue Said & Done on a regular monthly basis. Some of his columns have been previously published.

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