Last weekend I went birding with Mike and Corey of 10,000 Birds fame. Since nothing I’m going to write will surpass the excellent accounts they’ve given of the day, I invite you to peruse those here. In this space, I’m going to meditate on looks, good and bad.

Not mine. The looks we get of birds. I could have titled this “A Tale of Two Birds” if I wanted to be cliche like that. But fortunately for you, I’m above such things.

The first life bird I got on the trip was a Red-necked Phalarope. These are birds that are notorious for hanging out in the remoter bits of the ocean and tundra, and when they do turn up inland they’re quite often in their non-breeding plumage – a study in gray that is lovely, but awfully subtle if you’re trying to make out field marks from the edge of a large body of water. Among phalaropes, it is the females who get the sexy summer threads, while the males stay relatively drab. So we were unusually fortunate in what we found at the end of a bunch of scopes at Jamaica Bay: a female Red-necked Phalarope in breeding plumage, close enough to be seen well through binoculars.

Later in the day, after we’d detoured to Forest Park for a highly-coveted Kentucky Warbler (a life bird for all three of us!) we found a tree that was celebrating spring in the liveliest way – its distant, leafy crown boasted male and female Scarlet Tanagers, male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and a Nashville Warbler – a bird that I desperately tried to see and Mike and Corey went to great lengths to put me on, but I caught only a shadowed glimpse. Then it flew away. Torn, I wondered whether to count it for my life list. So it was with great delight that I saw another one hop out of some bushes at Forest Park’s lovely (if crowded) water hole and into a shaft of sunlight, undoubtedly itself.

It was with less than great delight that I realized, when I got home, that I already had Nashville Warbler on my list. Apparently my first look wasn’t that great either.

There are some birds that I can still visualize easily – my life Black-and-white Warbler, my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak (actually a female, oddly enough, but I can still see her,) the Wood Stork that flew over the IT’s brother’s back yard while we were visiting. And there are other birds that… well, they’re on my list, so I must have seen them, right? I just hope that the former keep outnumbering the latter.

But sometimes you just get bad looks. And the universe is not always nice enough to hand out ways to avoid having to decide whether or not to list them.

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