Wednesday, March 24, 2010
A Wounded Ego
Last evening I was standing on a trail in the woods of Pheasant Branch, quietly waiting for something to happen. The sun was just above the western horizon when a male Barred Owl began to call for his mate. At first there was no response, but he continued calling to get her attention. Finally, though, her half-muted but recognizable replies began to emanate from deep within a tree; she was nestled inside a cavity. Eggs? Perhaps still early for southern Wisconsin Barred Owls, but not impossible. The two birds continued to exchange a dialogue understood only by them, until all that was necessary to say had apparently been said.
Silence befell the woods. Well, almost. I could still hear a few Song Sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, and woodpecker chatter. Feeling very zen-like and mindful to the brim of Birding Nirvana, the peace and tranquility was abruptly ended by a young man (early 20's, I'm guessing) on a mountain bike. Skidding to a stop he blurted, "Hey, can I ask what you're looking at?" I responded truthfully, "Well, at the moment I'm looking in the trees." (I was scanning for owls). I don't think I ever would have anticipated what he was going to tell me next. Overselling his knowledge of avians he said, "I'm interested in birds. I can tell you every bird that's in this conservancy right now. I know all their songs. There are blah-blah number of birds found in Wisconsin annually, and blah-blah total species native to the state. I took blah-blah course work at the UW … biology … birds … blah blah blah …" and soon I was utterly disinterested but nodded along and pretended to pay attention.
I needed an escape, but didn't want to be rude. I confess I was a little annoyed by his deluge of ornithological statistics and lecture, which felt presumptuous about my birding skills and familiarity with the conservancy, what he must have assumed was a lack thereof on my behalf. I was patient. Calm. I continued to smile politely and nod as he kept right on talking. I certainly couldn't deny him his enthusiasm, but I also couldn't purge the thought of quizzing him on identifying every birdsong occurring at that very moment. You know, just to see! Unseen but audible, a nearby Red-bellied Woodpecker began chirring and provided the perfect opportunity. Pointing in its apparent direction I interrupted, "So, what's that one right there?" He paused in thought then guessed, "Is it a Downy Woodpecker?" Ah well, he didn't know. At least he knew it was a woodpecker species, though. I gave him a quick pat on the back to console his wounded ego and said, "Nope! Now back to school with you!"
© 2010 Mike McDowell