Winter Checkpoint

I was still dabbling with photography walking around aimlessly with my new telephoto lens unsure its purpose when I photographed what I thought was a mockingbird. However, several key features were off. The beak was hooked like a hawk and the bird was perched on a tree. The bird was unwavering as I walked under the tree. It’s gaze fixated on barbed wire across the street. Something told me I had to investigate my original claim. This experience was new.

I am a professional problem maker and problem solver. This task I felt like I could do. There had to be tools around to complete my task, because after all, it is the 21st century. A quick search on my iPhone returned one app which I continue to use to this day. Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Labs allows you to take a picture of a bird, upload it, and after a few seconds, compares your photo with a vast array of photography results delivering an identification match. The process is so fast its almost too good to be true. In my case, there were so many distinguishing characteristics of my weird looking mockingbird, Merlin ID had to be right. I had discovered a Loggerhead Shrike in my own neighborhood.

A cacophony of questions flooded my mind. I know birds sing, can I identify them by call? What marks signify bird class? Can one find birds of color in common locations? What about next year? Will the birds return? Photography requires two hands on the trigger so I couldn’t constantly be using Merlin ID with every capture. I would have to be quick to the draw on bird identification if I wanted to answer these questions.

Seasons have become checkpoints in my life where nature exchanges one experience for the next. Plan well and you’ll be rewarded. I can now identify most common birds by bird call allowing me to photograph what I want and hunker down for those I don’t. There is still so much to learn. Birding, to those involved, is as serious as rooting for your local football team. Never conclusively say this bird is “x.” As you will be wrong 99% of the time. I learned this the hard way when I wrongly identified a juvenile blue bird with a wood thrush sparking a heap of controversy on Facebook. I have learned to leave my super rare sightings to the professionals at eBird. Early fall I identified my first rare Palm Warbler requiring verification between several “official” bird parties. I was elated when my sighting received a verified status. It had to be the highpoint of 2018 for me.

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