It's hard to believe that I almost neglected to mention a big moment from last weekend's foray out to the Illinois and Vermillion River valleys. On the drive back I saw - or rather, I think I saw - what was maybe a Snowy owl. Many of you know of my not-quite-obsession to see one of these birds. Over the past few years I have taken a couple road trips in the hopes of spotting one - but to no avail. The fact that I'm not jumping on the road scouring the state for every other report qualifies me as not-quite-obsessed. But still.
Long story short, I conferred with a local birder more knowledgeable than I who pretty much verified that my alleged sighting (of a big white bird, with traces of black, flying away over the tundra from I-80, seen with one eye while the other was on the snow covered road, at 60 mph) probably couldn't have been anything but a Snowy. So, I don't count it as a sighting - I figure that time will come someday, and I'm happy enough to know that I had a good shot.
It's often times just a blur....
This whole near-miss experience reminded me again how many times over the years I've had to train my eyes to see new things in the natural world. It's not always as easy at it seems. Another of my favorite birds that I am a little obsessed about is the Scarlet Tanager. Now here is a bird that is about as colorful as any in the world yet they're elusive to me. My eyes are in training for this creature.
One of my favorite now-you-see-it moments happened a few years back. A handful of us were being led to see some White-fringed orchids in a local prairie that was being restored. Our leader led us almost toe to toe with the plants, and - no kidding - it took us all about half a minute before we saw them:
I would have felt foolish except that the others in our little group were botanists with way more field experience than I. There's no shame here, it sometimes just takes time to see something new - even if it is an orchid that is waist high screaming "look at me!"
Last summer I saw my very first Bob-o-links. Now that my mind's eye is a little bit sharper I won't just pass by every other blackbird in the field and assume it's another Red-wing out there. This ID business is a fun, but it's often tricky. We're often forced to tease out greens out of greens in the summer, tans out of tans in the fall. I'm just happy to say that I may finally be a bit more adept at teasing out whites out of whites in the winter.