One of the great joys of birding is that it is such a hopeful experience. Wondering what you might see, hoping to catch a lifer, something unusual, or out of the ordinary. I first realized this on a beautiful, crisp fall day several years ago. A large flock of Canada Geese had just landed in front of our place on the Ottawa River. Not so unusual, in fact a pretty common occurrence. I scanned the flock with binoculars, just to check them out and I noticed that there were several Snow Geese with this group. Bonus! A longer, closer look at the Snow Geese revealed that one of them was significantly smaller than the others.
Out came several bird books and between constantly looking at the one goose, comparing it to the books, bird, book back, forth –I finally, with great trepidation, came to the hopeful conclusion that it was a Ross’s Goose! Very unusual for our area, and a lifer for me…if it could be confirmed. So I picked up the phone and called a renowned local birder who can name a teeny, black, fluttering fleck a mile away. He leads several birding walks around the area, and he would know with certainty if indeed we had a rare bird on the beach.
Speaking quickly, I told him what I thought, that it maybe, could be, definitely was different, think it might be and he immediately said he’d be right over.
That’s when the second guessing started. “What if I was wrong?” “What kind of an idiot am I thinking I’d spotted a rare bird?” and other equally uplifting thoughts filled my head while waiting for him to arrive. I kept watching the bird and checking the books, as if wishing could make it true. Within the half hour, my expert pulled into the yard, with a huge, friendly smile, eager to head to the water’s edge and have a look.
It took him a millisecond to spot the small white goose. And I held my breath while he observed it carefully. He had brought a spotting scope with him as well, and he quickly set it up and got the bird in its sites. Now for the moment of truth…and…no. Not a Ross, but a small Snow. It was a moment of clarity…of intense disappointment, followed by complete sheepishness on my part as I immediately began to apologize for wasting his time, and how silly of me and so on and so on.
But he just laughed! And said, “You know the biggest thrill about birding is the anticipation! Just thinking it might be a Ross’s Goose was a pleasure. Grabbing the gear, coming to check it out –it’s all part of the excitement, and it’s what has kept me at this game for over forty years! I’m glad you called me! It made my day!”
A decade later, I now know how to tell the Ross apart from the Snow Goose by looking at the “smile” on the beak. I have been taught many life lessons while birding and I have a happy moment etched in my mind of the day I learned that the thrill of maybe is almost as good as the joy of certainty.